Week 12 was very, very difficult. It’s got to the stage now where Paul, quite fairly I think, has been trying, trying, trying to push me as far as he can. To force me into remembering, to force me into feeling. Every fibre of my being rails against this, and attempts almost any method of divergence from what Paul wants, but he is good at not letting me away with that. It sucks. It is profoundly hateful, and I pretty much run out of the crappy little room every week to nurse my metaphorical wounds, something he’s picked up on (not that it’s subtle, mind you). All that said, though, I believe that the worst work is, in the long-term, the most productive – so despite the horror of it all, I think he’s doing the right thing. Maybe one day we’ll get somewhere.
I hadn’t seen Paul for a fortnight when this session came round, owing to being ill one week, and off whizzing round the country the following. To that end, I was greeted with a, “it’s really good to see you again,” when we sat down. I was touched, insofar as a cynical misanthrope can be said to be ‘touched’. As ever, we talked around things for a few minutes – how had I been feeling in general (depressed), how had ‘ They ‘ been (pretty silent), la la la. I ended up telling him about the peccary hallucination and some dreams I’d been having, the latter occurrence not being something I’ve mentioned here recently. The main theme of these dreams was one of danger. The example I cited saw my mother and I in a house out on what are probably best described as moors, in a violent storm. The setting was ethereal and sinister, and laced with menace. The ‘menace’ eventually materialised when I turned round and saw a terrifying figure at the door. I tried screaming for my mother, who had left the room – but I was only able to manage a useless ‘mmm, mmmm!” over and over again. At that point I was woken by A, as I had, apparently, been making the ‘mmm’ noises audibly, showing him that I was very distressed.
It sounds stupidly non-frightening as I type it, just as it did when I told Paul about it. He shrugged at my slight self-castigation, and said that dreams were all about context. ”I had one client who used to dream of children singing,” he said. “She’d wake up screaming each time.”
He thought for a minute or two, then asked me if I thought that the hallucination and dreams were indicative of a memory wanting to come out. I admitted that that had been my conclusion.
“It’s something you don’t want to think about, isn’t it?” he mused. “Yet it’s part of you, you know. But the more that you repress it, the stronger it comes out in external ways – namely, psychosis.”
So began a resistance of an extent not seen since the Nazi occupation of France. My first response was amusing in retrospect; “what the hell am I so terrified of? This isn’t a fucking H P Lovecraft novella.” Realising that he may not be familiar with the wonderful works of everyone’s favourite anglophilic horror author, I qualified it by saying that “my life is not a horror novel.”
“It was,” he responded without pause. “It was the worst horror novel of all time.”
Well, at least you got the novel (ie. fiction) bit right , mate. But anyway…
“The monsters you encountered back then may have been human,” Paul continued, “but they were still monsters. They possessed and penetrated you in every conceivable way.”
I was silent for a while. I didn’t want to have this conversation – but then, I asked myself, why the fuck would I be in therapy in the first place? Good question, my mind responded. After all, it was just sex!
Quite so. “OK,” I started, “I know – obviously I know – that adults are not meant to have sex with children. But really, Paul, it was just sex. What’s the big deal?!”
“I suspect the child didn’t see it that way,” he said, which was a reasonable response with which I could not argue. “Neither was it a ‘game’ – to her – when they went around threatening to cut your fingers off either. You reacted with horror and terror, just like you have to the recent dreams and hallucinations. The thing is, they come about because you can’t bear to accept the reality of what happened. It’s easier for you to say, ‘bah, it’s just sex’.”
My next awesome piece of strategy was to point out to him that resignation had been one of my over-riding feelings in what might have objectively been seen to be one of my worst abusive incidents, ie. the gang rape (not that I termed it ‘gang rape’, oh no. It was “the incident that involved more than one person,” sad cow that I am). “I don’t remember being outrageously scared. Just…accepting of it. This is what had to be done, the end.”
Paul understood that, but still banged on and on about ‘feeling’. He believes that I ‘disconnected’ during that incident because I “couldn’t bear to feel it.”
He tilted his head after a few minutes and said, “it feels difficult to reach you today. Like there’s a gulf between us.”
Paul is, in my view, a highly intelligent and perceptive man, and a very competent psychotherapist. This observation, however, could have been made by an elderly donkey, zoned out on 80mg of Valium.
I admitted it, and sighed, choosing once more to vituperate against myself. “Why can’t I just do this? Why do I always batten down the hatches?”
“I threaten you,” he offered. “I bring the scary monsters and all that is related to them into the room to you.
“The thing is,” he went on, “it’s like you’ve put the little girl in a cellar. She’s safe there; the monsters of the past can’t reach her. However, neither can anything else. What would help her, Pandora?”
I did the dutiful (and, to be truthful, the honest) thing and said, “comfort.”
“And she can’t get that in the cellar,” Paul replied. “You know of attachment theory I’m sure [of course]. I was reading a good example the other day; a little boy falls in the playground at school and cuts his knee quite badly. He keeps a stiff upper lip about it all day, until he sees his mother at the school gate. Then he crumbles. He can only be vulnerable when there is someone trustworthy to ‘catch’ him.
“[ Aurora ] never had anyone to catch her. Thus she was unable to acknowledge her need to be vulnerable, and to be comforted – if she had, she’d have disintegrated completely.”
It was an accurate but bleak analysis. To my surprise, I felt great sadness that I had had to suffer for so long in silence, taking care of myself, growing up before I had time to even understand the concept of the mythical state of childhood, learning to mentally fend for myself no matter what. I assume that this sadness is meant to be ‘good’.
After much rumination, I finally told him in a small voice of the sorrow I felt. He nodded and said, “in my view that bit’s almost as damaging as the physical abuse. Perhaps even more so. You had no idea of what ‘safety’ meant, and my reckoning is that you still don’t. Every time you start to feel safe, something holds you back.”
He exemplified, to my surprise, by bringing up C. His point was that just as I was starting to trust C, in came ‘They’ telling me that C was a “cunt”. (To be fair to ‘They’, they turned out to be right. I should have said to Paul that just as I was beginning to trust C, he told me to fuck off, which actually had far more impact on my view of the man than anything ‘They’ had to say about him).
“So,” he continued, “it seems like I can judge how much you trust me by how far you run away.”
It doesn’t feel like a lack of trust to me, though. I think I do trust him, though how deep that runs I don’t know. I don’t know how deep my trust for almost anyone runs. Anyhow, I reported that it felt more like I didn’t want to be vulnerable in front of him, because “I don’t want to appear pathetic.”
“‘Pathetic’,” he repeated, thoughtfully. “That’s a very derisory word. In what possible way are you pathetic?”
I shrugged in response and looked out the window behind me at the ordinary people outside going about their ordinary lives in their ordinary clothes in the ordinary street.
“I don’t think you’d consider another abused child ‘pathetic’ for appearing vulnerable,” Paul was saying. “Your perception of yourself like that is just another way for you to hide.”
Maybe so, but the statement irritated me slightly. I hate “emotion”. I hate crying. I hate tactility. I hate it all, and I hate it a lot.
“I was an emotionless droid even as a child,” I said to the window.
“Of course; emotion requires a trusting, containing environment,” Paul was heard to say from the other side of the room. “Your first abuse wasn’t a rape [wince] per se; it was the abuse of the trust and safety that you rightfully expected.”
I continued to stare blankly out the window. There is a little church on the right. I breathed in its beautiful architecture, and wondered if people really found the solace they sought within its walls. Where is my place of solace? With Paul? And if so, how can I help myself to get to it with him?
As I ruminated thus, images of many abusive incidents invaded my head. There was nothing new, but they were interesting in that they were all in the third person. I shook my head – as if I was literally trying to shake them out of my brain – and mentioned them in passing.
“But you’ve bitten them back now, haven’t you?” he noted, drolly. I sighed, and nodded. I want to connect with it all, and yet I really, really don’t. I don’t want my mind to continue ‘protecting’ me. But yet it does so utterly unabated.
“How do you deal with emotion now?” he randomly asked. “You’re in a long-term relationship, after all.”
“I’m not sure that either of us would use the word ‘emotion’ in relation to it.”
He tried a different tactic then. “Are you in love?”
That completely took me aback. Oh, fuckery shit and cuntsacks. What a question to have posed. For a few minutes I turned my face back to him and stared at him in questioning horror. He stared back, steadfastly refusing to withdraw or qualify his query.
“I…well, yes, I suppose we are,” I said, eventually.
He raised an eyebrow quizzically and was about to respond, when I said, “I’m reminded of Prince Charles’ epic quote: ‘whatever love is‘”.
Paul visibly winced, and duly took his turn to look horrified. I looked at him defiantly.
He considered my response for a few minutes, then shrugged. “OK, then,” he said. “Whatever love means. What does it mean to you?”
For fuck’s sake! Does he have an answer to fucking everything?!
As I looked away in thought, he added, dryly, “I’m expecting the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the word.”
I laughed quite a lot at this wittily acerbic comment. For someone who sees me only for 50 minutes a week, he certainly knows me very well.
After some consideration, I proclaimed that love was “about friendship, companionship and affection.”
“That’s not exactly Mills and Boon,” Paul replied.
“Thank fuck for that,” I returned.
He laughed and conceded I was right to deride those so-called novels that demean the world of fiction. “But you know what I mean,” he added. “You don’t mention…passion.”
“What, sexual passion?”
“No – powerful, overwhelming feelings.”
“There were such feelings – I mean, in some circumstances of course there still are – but to me ‘love’ is what’s left when you get over the first flush of romance. It happens in all romantic relationships; it’s just life. If you still want to be together after those first months or years, when the honeymoon inevitably ends, then that’s the indicator of the strength of your feeling. That’s love.”
I felt hideously uncomfortable having a discussion about love with Paul. I chose my words carefully; I was measured, but honest, and hoped that would encourage him to move on. To almost anything.
“Who would you go to if you tripped in the street on the way home?”
“Would he be able to take your pain?”
“Who took it when you were a child?”
He must have known that was a cul-de-sac of a question. I said that I didn’t know.
“There’s only one occasion on which I remember crying at [Hotel California],” I said, somehow reminded of the incident. “I think I was about eight. I twisted my ankle on one of their sunken flowerbeds. [Suzanne] even remarked that she’d never seen me cry before.” I continued by telling him that I “pulled myself together” as quickly as the agonising pain shooting through my leg allowed me, and then made a big joke of the whole thing. I then went on to describe a time (again, I was about eight) where Mum and I were in the local park, and she told me to correct my posture whilst walking. This skeletal divergence from my norm caused me to fall, and actually injure myself quite nastily. I haughtily advised my mother that if she had not been so concerned with kowtowing to societally accepted ideas of physical stance, I would not have fallen.
“So instead of showing that you need a hug, you show yourself to be defensive,” Paul mooted.
“Well, I can cry, I just don’t like to normally. I skidded in the car when we were on holiday last week [stupid fucking Irish road system], and shortly afterwards pulled over and wept. I don’t want to see my car hurt. That upsets me.” Even thinking about it made me agitated. My poor wee car
“Something safe to cry about,” he noted. I once again turned my gaze to the outside world.
“I’m putting a lot of pressure on you today,” Paul said. “Everything is sticking in your throat.”
That was a fair comment. I’ve mentioned before that I’m always clearing my throat in session with him, and it was particularly notable on this occasion. I voiced my agreement and apologised.
He said, “words bring up feelings. You can’t bear that, so your last line of defence is to physically resist. The words have trouble coming out.”
I was suddenly really, really frustrated with myself. “What am I so ashamed of?!” I gasped. “What is so wrong with feeling? Why do I want to smash people’s faces in when they demonstrate that they feel things?!”
He once again suggested that I felt threatened by it. “And in here, I am asking you to face something that you don’t allow yourself to face.”
“I don’t know how to deal with it,” I despaired. “I don’t know how to comfort, or to reassure, or to counsel. I can’t deal with it!”
I was reminded briefly of an incident when I was – 11? 12, maybe? My mother and I were visiting the eldest son and daughter-in-law of Maisie and Paedo. Their daughter, now Student McFaul despite having graduated, would have been six or seven. She and I were watching ET together, and towards the end, she started bawling her eyes out.
I sat beside her in baffled alarm. Should I get her mother? Should I get my mother? Should I ignore her sadness? I knew that decorum dictates that one is supposed to put one’s arms around the person and spew out meaningless platitudes such as the inexplicable, “there, there,” but it just wasn’t me to do something like that. In the end, I did put my arm around her a bit, but it felt dreadfully uncomfortable and utterly faked. I felt like a waxwork with a wind-up mechanism.
Anyway, I continued to whinge on about how I can’t deal with other people being “emotional”. And so it came to pass that I began to tell him a bit about the circumstances surrounding my not-quite-step-father’s death. I’m well aware that I’ve hardly ever mentioned that event here; it’s just never seemed relevant. I wasn’t his biggest fan, nor he mine, but we tolerated each other. One day when I was 10 he randomly dropped dead in a shop, thanks to a massive heart attack. It’s massively significant in that it added to my mother’s trauma, but I have to admit that it didn’t (seem to?) unduly affect me.
Me being me, I took the death in my stride and behaved in my usual clinical fashion. I’m not sure if this led to behind-my-back gossiping amongst the assembled adults, but one day when I was in my mother’s room for something, Maisie asked me to sit down, and then spent about half an hour patronising me about how it was OK to cry for not-quite-step-dad. I didn’t feel like crying; I did, however, feel like rearranging the fat bitch’s face until she looked like – well, until she looked better, which would have taken a lot of rearranging.
Back in Paul’s room, I suddenly flew into a rage at this. “Her. She had the fucking audacity to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do, and how I should and shouldn’t feel. Her of all fucking people!”
Paul seemed pleased at the anger, and let me rant for a bit. The rant inevitably led somewhere relevant; in the aftermath of not-quite-step-dad’s death, Maisie and Paedo stayed at our house for several weeks to support my devastated and traumatised mother. For all my criticisms of them, it was an action done with the best of intentions. It spoilt me, in a way, because Maisie would have a nice cup of coffee and a biscuit ready for me upon my return from school, right on time every day, without fail.
Of course, Paedo had some plans for me of his own. If I were to tell you that I had a wendy house in the garden, which had a well-concealed passage behind it, you can guess what the craic was. It didn’t happen often, admittedly; as I told Paul, being as I was nearly 11 then, I was probably too old by then to properly cater to Paedo’s tastes.
For some reason, I went on a monologue along the lines of, “get up, get dressed, go to school, come home, have coffee, head out behind the wendy house, come in, have dinner, watch TV.”
When I looked at Paul, he was quietly shaking his head. When I asked why, he asked if I remembered the story he’d told me a few weeks previously, where a woman who’d witnessed the rape of a child had been particularly distressed by the fact that the child knew what she was doing. I did thus recall. In fact, the tale had haunted me.
“To get to the point where you just regard it as such a nonchalant part of normal life requires an incredible amount of protection,” he told me. “We’re trying to undo that here, but it’s a hell of a task to break it down.”
“I’ll fucking well undo it,” I seethed maniacally, in a sudden rage once more. “Filthy, shameful, disgusting slut of hell!!!”
Paul’s eyes went wide. “Welcome, emotion,” he murmured, wearing a slight grin. “Whose words are those?”
“Who cares? I’m fucking repulsive, repugnant, vile, disgusting…” I stopped, mid-sentence (or mid-rant, if you prefer).
“No, no, no,” he urged, “don’t shut down. Tell me what’s going through your mind.”
“Having sex with someone so much older than you when you’re that young is fucking disgusting,” I ranted. “Especially when he’s married. And my aunt was being cuckolded. It’s so seedy and…well, again, disgusting.”
“It is seedy and disgusting,” Paul said encouragingly, “but you’re directing that at yourself – you’ve got it the wrong way round.”
I closed my eyes and visualised an incident that took place behind my wendy house. “It doesn’t feel that way,” I said to Paul. “I feel defiled and…oh for God’s sake, you’d think I couldn’t speak English…disgusting. But it’s all about me. He’s almost an irrelevance: a means to a twisted end, if you will.”
“Oh yes,” Paul satirised, “you defiled him, you made him do these horrible things. You seduced him. You’re responsible.
“You were a very powerful child,” he concluded. “Am I safe in this room with you?!”
Perhaps some might find his joke in bad taste, but I appreciated his lightening the tone slightly, finding myself able to giggle a little.
“Look,” he began, “all these words and excuses you use – they’re his words and excuses.”
“Whatever,” I said, waving a hand about dismissively. “What kind of a freak has sex with her uncle?”
“What kind of freak forces his niece to have sex with him?”
See what I mean? Answer to everything.
“Two things especially strike me,” he said. “One: you had no choice. Two: in order to survive this, you had to be able to do it. It doesn’t mean you wanted it, or you liked it, but it means that you had to do something to survive. I have a client who became very good at performing oral sex, as it meant her abuser didn’t penetrate her.”
“I understand that, and I didn’t want any of it,” I sighed, deflated. “But I feel like I should have actively hated every single second, rather than just borne it all.”
“How could you have done? How could you have tolerated that in any way?”
“I suppose I’d have ended up in a paediatric bin.” I smiled at the idea, but with little humour.
“One of our biggest tasks in therapy is to get you to a point where you don’t hate [Aurora], where you can feel empathy and sympathy for her. The only reactions you show to her at the minute are anger and hate, and I think that’s very sad.
“It’s time to finish,” he noted, finally. “This has been tough for you, hasn’t it?”
“It’s probably going to get tougher. You do appreciate that, don’t you?”
I pulled on my coat and said, “my view is the tougher the therapy is in the short-term, the more helpful it is in the long-term.”
“Which is an easy analysis for you to make as you run out the door,” he smiled.
I grinned back. “You’ve got me there,” I admitted. “But I do think it’s true.” And I do.
As I was opening the front door to leave, he stopped me and said, “it’s really great to see you again, Pandora.”
I said, “you too, Paul,” and left.
I must be a demanding, difficult client, and his work must be shocking and horrific at times. But it’s good to know that he really does seem to care about his clients, and indeed about me specifically.
It is therefore obvious that he has never worked in public sector healthcare.