I was selfish and narcissistic. I was crying because I've been beaten exactly like that--folded belt, raging parents tag teaming their blows, degrading words, not knowing when it would stop. Not ever feeling safe near the person who was supposed to protect and love me. Every time my mother or stepfather removed their belts I panicked, even if they were only undressing. Belts still make me nervous today. Sometimes it wasn't a belt. Sometimes it was fists. Sometimes it was feet. Sometimes it was whatever was near. One time it was a rabbit ears antenna for the TV. One time it was a frozen turkey. Sounds funny. It wasn't. Once my mother, and sometimes my stepfather, was tired I was put in a closet. A very dark closet. Sometimes I would wake up in the closet.
I watched that video and then I went to my first DBT class. There were four other women there, all at least a decade or more older than me. Everyone was friendly and seemed eager and happy to be in these classes. They seemed happy to learn DBT. Everyone, except for me. We went around the table, introducing ourselves, and what brought us to needing DBT. All the women shared long stories filled with self knowledge and analysis and a real yearning for change. My introduction was: I'm Campbell. I was referred to this program by the partial program across the street." There was a very long silence. They were expecting me to continue. I didn't. The leader prompted the next woman to share and she was full of words, wisdom, and a desire to change her life. They all spewed out self evaluations without shame or judgement. I was staring at the space where the two tables merged. My eyes never left that spot, even when I spoke. The only other time I spoke was when the leader was reading the rules of the program. One rule stated: "Clients may not engage in romantic or sexual relationships with other clients." The leader said, "Not that that would apply to us." She meant it wouldn't apply to us because we were all women. Impulsively I scolded her. "That's a very heteronormative statement." No one understood what I was talking about. "I read it as being all genders," one woman said. Dr. K said "Thanks so much for bringing that up. How could we reword it to be more accepting." One thing that annoys me about DBT is all the praise for nothing, like we're children. I kept saying, "I don't have a problem with the rule, just the assumption that it wouldn't apply to us because we are all women." They still didn't get it. I wanted to cry. I stopped talking and stared at the crack between the tables. "They think I'm one of those oversensitive people looking for discrimination in anything. I'm the weirdo that doesn't speak and freaks out over gay stuff in this group. They think I'm a jackass." These thoughts cycled in my head over and over again.
I could barley breathe and I really had to pee but I couldn't go during the break. When I returned to the table the women were talking about some sort of contest and one shouted, "Yeah, and I totally beat you." My mind flashed back to the video and my body tensed and tingled, like a million little ants were crawling all over me. I only vaguely remember the rest of the group. There was a meditation and some kind of metal bowl that chimed like a bell when struck with a special stick. I was lost in the video and I could think of nothing else. When the group/class was over I ran to my car where I became hysterical for absolutely no reason. I thought about what a freak I am and how awful I am for the judgemental thoughts I had about the other women. I called Dr. K and I tearfully told her I can't do the group anymore because my anxiety was just way too high and that everyone thinks I'm a freak. I told her how upset I was about them misunderstanding me and how worried I am that they think I'm such a weirdo for not making any kind of eye contact or acknowledgement that I was part of the group. Dr. K called me and talked to me for a while. She made me feel better and I'm going to next week's group with a dose of klonopin in my veins.
At 2pm I had therapy with CT. Instead of my usual 10 minutes of nothing to say I began the conversation right away.
CT: Hi, how are you?
ME: I'm feeling kind of agitated today.
ME: Um, I spent 30 minutes looking for my phone today in a panic and found it in my pocket and then I watched a video I really shouldn't have watched, and then my dog ate my meds.
She asked what was on the video and I told her the truth. I almost didn't but I did. I told her about my dog eating my meds and how scared I was. CT assured me that one dose of those meds would not hurt her. She asked me how she was doing. I said she's been sleeping for a while because of the klonopin.
ME: But what if I had dropped something really dangerous? I'm such an idiot. I shouldn't have dogs.
The conversation continued this way for a while. I would come up with ways that it could have been worse and reasons why I'm such a fuck up. What I did really could have hurt my dogs and CT continued to tell me that I'm catastrophizing and searching for ways to beat myself up. "You're searching for reasons to be angry at yourself. It was a mistake and it turned out okay. Give yourself some slack. Don't abuse yourself for a mistake."
Me: I deserve it. I yelled at her. I was really mean.
CT: You were scared. It's understandable.
ME: I was really mean and I was really angry. I was more than angry. I really wanted to hit her.
CT: Did you?
ME: NO, but I wanted to.
CT: But you didn't. You restrained yourself. It's okay to have thoughts. What matters is how you handle them. You didn't hit her.
ME: But I was so mean to her and then she rolled over because she was so scared. How is that any different than the man in the video?
CT: You're connecting what happened with your dog to the video of the man beating his child? You feel bad so you're searching for ways to punish yourself.
I began to cry.
ME: He totally lost control. What if I'm capable of that? What if I'm exactly like my mom? I almost used the exact same words my mom used to say to me.
CT: Wanting to hit your dog is different than hitting your dog. It's normal for people who have been abused to have urges to repeat what they've experienced.
Me: I'm just like my mom.
CT: No you're not.
ME: Yes I am. I wanted to hit her. I wanted to beat her and I was so mean to her. I wanted to beat her and throw her in the closet. How is that any different than my mom?
CT: Because you didn't act on it.
ME: Okay, so I didn't do it, but I'm the same mentally.
CT: No you're not.
CT continued to talk about how it's the actions that matter not the thoughts, that it's important to talk about my thoughts like this but not beat myself up for them.
ME: Sometimes when I'm really angry or upset I think about when my mom used to beat me and sometimes I wish someone would hit me today. How messed up is that?. Sometimes I want to be beaten. I want someone to really hurt me.
I totally don't remember what CT said.
CT: Maybe the feelings are so intolerable that you want to get get it out physically. You want to hurt yourself like you do when you're cutting. (Something like that).
Me: Maybe that means I liked it when she beat me. I always knew I would get in trouble but I did it anyway. Maybe I wanted to be beaten. Maybe I wanted to piss her off. Maybe I liked it. Sometimes I think I DID want her to beat me.
CT: Maybe you just wanted it to happen so it would be over with.
Me: My mom and my step dad would beat me until I passed out sometimes and then they locked me in the closet. They told me how much they wished I was never born and wished I were dead. "You're such a fucking idiot. What's wrong with you? Why can't you just be a good girl? Why are you such a filthy little bitch? Why do you keep doing these things to me? Are you retarded or just stupid?"
CT asks me something. I look at her. She's there. She asks me again. "Huh." My mom calls me back. CT talks to me again. "Are you having a flashback."
"Huh?" It's just an automatic response, not really a request for her to repeat herself.
"Are you having a flashback?"
"no" I whisper.
CT is gone for a while. She talks to me some more but she's not really in the room anymore. I know she's there, but she's outside. I can only hear my mother. I can smell her breath, a mixture of cigarettes and crack cocaine. She grabs my face, "Look at me when I'm fucking talking to you."
"Are you deaf? My mom screams at me some more. "Can you hear my voice?" My mom says. I hear CT say the same thing.
CT: Can you hear my voice?
ME: Uh huh
CT: Can you take deep breaths
I try but I can't. I'm lost again.
CT: Okay, no deep breaths. Can you try to cry and let it out?
I'm trying so hard to be present but it's like a tug of war game between the past and the present.
CT: What's the sofa feel like?
CT: Are you gone again?
Me: It's so hard.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry" I begin to cry really hard. "I'm so crazy. I'm so freaking crazy,:
CT: Lets not judge what just happened. You got through it. It's over now? Try to take some deep breaths.
I try, but I'm visibly shaking and my jaw hurts from clenching it.
CT: You got through it. You're okay.
Me: (crying) I don't want to live like this anymore.
CT: I know.
Me: It's going to happen again.
CT: It will and you'll get through it. Don't judge. Don't beat yourself up. Just breathe and try to relax and let it happen knowing you'll be okay.
I continue to cry and I can't stop.
CT: I want you to go home and snuggle with someone furry and just relax for a while.
ME: I'm supposed to go to an art store with a friend.
CT: You don't have to go if you don't feel like it. You can go home and take a nap with your snoring pooch.
I crack a smile.
CT: We have to stop now. Do you need to take a minute? Do you want some tissue?
I take a tissue, wipe my eyes and my nose and then get up to leave.
CT: I'll see you on Wednesday?
CT: Okay, deep breaths okay?
I walk out the exit door and sit in the stairwell for a while before I continue my decent and walk to my car.