Posts Tagged ‘therapy’

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I Am Not Toast

November 22, 2013

There’s a scene that recurs pretty much every Saturday and Sunday morning at the Rosenberg household in Massachusetts. My father, toeing the line between anal retentive and obsessive compulsive, fiddles with a toaster that he hates. He has not liked a toaster since they dispensed with their ancient one he loved years ago. No toaster since has provided just the right brown. But at some point the machine pops, the bread springs into the air, its transformation complete, and it’s close enough to satisfactory that he can move on to his precision-based coffee preparations.

I was visiting my parents once, shortly after a therapy session where I had overcome one emotional hurdle only to discover another, larger one on the other side.  Watching my father’s ritual I had the sudden, amusing thought, “I am not toast.” I’m never going to be done.

Sometimes I feel like after 7 years of therapy I should be “finished.” Like there’s going to come a point at which I’ve soothed the little kid, dealt with the scars, come to peace with it all, yadda yadda yadda. But then every time I go through a great phase, another rough patch will emerge sooner or later, dredging up unhealed wounds and patterns in the process. There’s always another bottom to hit.

And I know something about bottoms (heh). The first Buddhist dharma talk I ever went to was the result of my depression and anxiety becoming so unmanageable I would try anything to gain some foothold on my mind, even attend some commie, whacked out “meditation” class my therapist suggested. And although I don’t self-identify as an alcoholic, I have always felt I hit a “bottom” – a fateful Last Drunk point of physical and emotional illness from which I would do anything to emerge.

I hit another one recently that was insidious and subtle, and I don’t know that I’d realized what rough shape I was in until I was on my way back up. Two weeks ago I was in bed, in the middle of the night, unable to stop crying. My days were spent feeling exhausted and constantly napping, my depression seemed to be rearing its nasty  head, I was plagued by eczema and vision trouble, and gaining weight no matter how much exercise I did. I felt broken.

If you know anything about nutrition and health, you may guess where I’m headed with this… Now, I’m one of those people who will expressly NOT do something if you tell me I have to. For example, I still refuse to read Harry Potter (even though I’d likely love it), solely because people told me I “had to.”  (I think it has something to do with a general distaste for and discomfort with  Received Ideas.) So when the whole Paleo, Gluten-Free, Whole30 cult started to infiltrate my Facebook feed, I was pretty hell bent against agreeing with it.

But looking at my symptoms, and talking to a few nutritionist pals, it was pretty clear what had to happen.  As painful as that night was, the bottom I hit was vital – I never could have given up dairy, gluten, sugar, grains, and legumes in one day (not to mention simultaneously going off hormonal birth control) if I hadn’t been desperate enough to do anything to feel better.

The result has been rapid and mind-blowing – not just the physical weight loss and inflammation reduction, but I feel like I have mentally and emotionally emerged from years of fog. I’m singing along to my iPod on the streets, I haven’t needed a nap, I feel strong and vital and happy and like I wish I had hit bottom sooner.

Only I couldn’t have. Bottoms come when you’re ready for them – not just in terms of your own desperation, but all the pieces and external factors have to align before you’re ready to witness your own situation.

This remarkable transformation leaves me wondering, though, what my next bottom will be, because with any luck and certainly with my new found health, hopefully I will not be “finished” for decades to come. Figuratively, and, if the “you are what you eat” adage is to be believed, literally…

I am not toast.

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Boom. Therapy.

January 25, 2013

There are certain statements you never want to hear come out of your therapist’s mouth:

“I’m doubling your rate.”

“Man, I’ve never heard anything like that before.”

“I believe you and you alone are at fault for the misery of your childhood.”

“I suspect you experienced some sort of perceived sexual trauma when you were young, possibly pre-verbal, which is keeping you from having positive intimate experiences.”

One might expect the latter, which I had the pleasure of hearing a couple years ago, to be followed by the psychologist version of the Chris Rock mic-drop. I picture this 60-something, white haired, be-scarfed lady throwing her hands in the air and walking out of the room with a,

“BOOM. Analyzed.”

In my case, she had the decency to remain seated.  Though I thankfully didn’t spend the next year giving sidelong glances to uncles and older cousins, I was left with the gnawing feeling of being betrayed by my memory, aware that if she were right (and she’d never been anything but), and my body and mind were working this hard to keep me from remembering it, whatever “it” was, was likely pretty awful.

Enter BikeGuy.

BikeGuy was an internet dating find, one of those guys who rides around this city in matching, lycra-based tops and bottoms. What happens when a man puts on one of those outfits? Do they constrain their balls so much, thrust their junk so far up into their body cavity that they have no choice but to become arrogant, dispassionate cretons, careening too close to pedestrians, hogging bike lanes, and yelling “ON YOUR LEFT” too loud and too late to be courteous?

Ahem.

Despite his character flaws, BikeGuy also happened to be puckishly handsome, lean, muscular, and, most importantly, interested. To say BikeGuy and I “dated” would be to grossly overstate what BikeGuy and I did. To even say we “went out” would be inaccurate because truly we just “stayed in.”  After a series of emails, one honest-to-god date, and a follow-up of gchats that quickly spiraled into the obscene, he biked his skinny little biker butt over to my apartment on a couple chilly October nights.

Sidebar.  I have to laugh when I hear the adage that anticipation is the best part of sex; my body apparently never got that memo. Panic Attack is probably too strong a term for what I go through, but it’s not terribly far off – usually my stomach busies itself with liquefying its contents while my mouth goes dry and the rest of me lightly shakes. Of course, the thought has crossed my mind that perhaps if I knew a man for longer than a single date, the fear would wane with familiarity. But I have, historically, had a problem with jumping into bed too quickly – a holdover, I suppose, from the overweight middle schooler no one ever had a crush on hidden in my head, who’s still quite convinced if a man is interested, he’s just doing her a favor so she should be grateful and jump at the opportunity before his charitable altruism evaporates and he realizes he could do far better.

(Relax, guys. That’s why I’m in therapy.)

Anyway. Back to BikeGuy. Sorry – no details. Other than, despite his tiny frame, BikeGuy…. well…BikeGuy had a lot to stuff in his lycra… let’s leave it at that. As I explained to my therapist shortly after our evenings together, it’s not that I was in excruciating pain, so much as I felt – overwhelmed? Like the whole experience of sex with him was too much to – forgive me – take in. She responded without blinking:

“Did you feel like you were going to die?”

Now. If one of my girlfriends had asked me this, I would have chuckled, probably, or rolled my eyes. But where my therapist asked me this, I instead burst into uncontrollable, choking, gasping sobs.

So then…. yes?

Mic-drop.  She high fives herself.

I cry for a while, don’t talk a whole lot, and then suddenly this memory floats into view and I decide to tell it. It’s not something I ever repressed – it is an experience that over the years had occasionally surfaced in the bobbing flotsam of my memory swamp – I just never assigned any significance to it. But at that moment, in this context, I felt compelled to mention it.

I’m little. Maybe 4. I’ve been getting chronic urinary tract infections.  Because of these UTIs, I find myself on a gurney, naked from the waist down, revealed by what covers me: a piece of paper with a square hole cut out, exposing the parts of me I’d most prefer be hidden. My mom’s there. A couple female nurses are there. A man is there. I don’t know what the man is doing exactly, but it involves sharp pain “down there,” and he’s getting increasingly frustrated with me. I am crying. I am, as my mother would later say, “Not cooperating.”  There might be some sort of restraint system. After numerous failed attempts to do whatever it is he’s trying to do, he gives up, and I remember knowing I’ve done something wrong, failed some sort of test. There is a transition to another exam, a sonogram, this one administered by a nice lady, and nothing hurts about that. The gel is warm and the wand they use is gentle and round and noninvasive – the contrast of “sharp” versus “dull” sticks out in the memory. And that’s it.

My therapist believes my little kid self experienced this – whatever this was – as a rape trauma, and the panic attacks and discomfort with sex stem from that. Trauma I get but… rape? Come on. That’s a big assertion. But since neither of us know what the hell this was, she suggests I do some digging to see if I can learn anything about the mystery procedure.

Conveniently, that night I have dinner with one of my best friends, who happens to be a neonatal intensive care nurse, and I ask her if any of these memories of mine add up to a procedure she’s heard of. I barely finish a sentence before she calmly says –

“Sure, of course. A Voiding Cysto-Urethrogram or VCUG with Renal Ultrasound.”

Sure. Of course.

Armed with new knowledge and a name I go home and do what I do best: google. Just for the hell of it – just to see if this crazy, insane rape trauma theory is all it’s cracked up to be – I google:

“VCUG rape.”

Lo and behold, there have been a number of studies examining language behavior and memory accuracy of children suffering from sexual PTSD, wherein rather than put a child who was raped through the stress of interviews on the subject, they instead work with children who have undergone a VCUG because they are the most analogous population to rape victims.

Mic drop.

BikeGuy turned out to be even more of a jerk than his outfits predicted, and I never saw him again after our two nights together, but at least he gave me the gift of awareness. I wish I could say as soon as the trauma was unearthed from my unconscious I was relieved of the burden and have had nothing but constant amazing sex and deep meaningful connection in the last year since it all transpired but no dice. It has been a period of healing and self-investigation with some attempts at connection peppered around, still hampered by fear and insecurity. But, hey, that’s 90% of life anyway.

I found a video today made by a medical center that explains the procedure to parents, and instructs them on how to talk about it with their children.  If only we had YouTube in the 80s… What shook me most emotionally was the care and communication of the staff depicted in the video.

Maybe back in 1986, this dude got a parking ticket in the morning, and a stale muffin, and a rotten orange and then someone stepped on his foot and then there was no toilet paper and then he got a bill for unpaid taxes and then his partner called and yelled at him and then he found out his mom was in the hospital and then he stepped into my examination room. Our actions have consequence not just at the moment, but rippling through time and between strangers who will never meet. In 1986 a man had a bad day and attempted a VCUG on a terrified child, and in 2012 a 30 year old woman trembled on her therapist’s chair, discovering she’s unconsciously viewed every sexual partner she’s had as the doctor telling her if she’s being bad or good.

Be nice to people today. Be nice to people every day. But especially if you’re catheterizing a 4 year old.