A Daunting Prospect

guiltyI was only just writing in my last post about the significant improvement in mood and then I woke two days later, with a severe dose of the blues.

While I’m struggling to understand the therapeutic process – or fully believe in the healing – positive changes are undoubtedly underway. The sudden turnaround in mood wasn’t immediately obvious until I reread my therapy journal from the night before. The words were bold and clear, adorned with question marks, “My attempted murder.”

When Wednesday came along, I really didn’t want to go to my session with Paul. I wasn’t consciously avoiding any connection with the memories of my attack, but I did feel suffocating apathy. I know from experience that something very powerful takes place whenever we choose to a sit with the feelings in therapy, even if they are only resentments for being there.

Paul sensed my unease, “It looks as though you’re finding it difficult to be here today.”

This took me by surprise. He’s one of the most passive Therapists I’ve ever met and not usually forthright with his own observations. We talked for a while about trivialities and then I eventually told him about my journal entry and the change of mood.

“It’s the only issue I haven’t yet focussed on in therapy, but I don’t know how to even begin talking about such a traumatic event. I can easily run through the details, but they always feel more like describing a movie, completely absent of any personal connection. I’ve never even thought about the impact it had on my life, never mind the feelings.”

“This reminds me of the issue you had during the initial months of therapy when you were experiencing dissociation from feeling anything in the moment.”

“I know this is a form of dissociation but awareness does not seem to help, it only adds to the frustration. Whenever I go in search of the feelings, there is only an empty space… nothing. If there are no emotions, what is there to talk about?”

“Do you feel anything right now?”

With great relief, I noticed the clock was approaching the end of our time, “The only thing I feel right now is intense fear, as though a black hole is opening at my feet… and I am slowly backtracking.”

Two days later, it was time for the weekly group therapy and once again, I desperately didn’t want to go. I can see how this was purely avoidance, but my mind was playing tricks at the time. I scrambled to find every possible reason not to go, even sabotaging the journey to keep me late.

I shared with the group how confusing it felt not to be able to talk about the feelings. One of the other members said something so simple that I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself.

“Sometimes it’s easier to identify the feelings, but quite another to feel them.”

That statement’s so true. I can identify the terror and helplessness, the fear and anger, the violation and intense hurt, or I can tell you about how it was the final straw to a lifetime of violence and injustice. The missing ingredient, crucial to healing, is the ability to feel any one of those emotions.

At the start of therapy, I had this general plan of the things I needed to talk about and, morebottling importantly, the emotions I should feel. I couldn’t bear to think about certain childhood memories and the thought of willingly analysing them in therapy was a daunting prospect, but I knew exactly what to expect.

The experience of almost losing my life to a psychotic murderer feels entirely different. Even though I lived with the aftermath all these years, the depth of emotion is completely new territory and any thought of digging up the trauma is terrifying. But, I will be disappointed if I reach the end of this therapy programme in January without a reasonable attempt to connect with the feelings.

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54 thoughts on “A Daunting Prospect

  1. Priceless Joy

    I try to imagine what it must be like to not be connected to the feelings of something so horrible. I cannot imagine it because I have always been connected to my feelings to bad things but then I have not had anything near as horrible as what you went through. If you need to feel those feelings before you can heal from it, then I hope you are able to while you have the safety of a psychiatrist and group therapy. Although it may be difficult to open up around the other therapy clients you may help them connect to feelings they need to connect to to heal. Most important is for you to heal from your horrible ordeal. I truly hope that happens for you Cat. BTW, I Iove the cartoons on your post!

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  2. therabbitholez

    A casual friend of mine earlier this year was also the victim of an attempted murder, we talked last night just after she’d had a panic attack, we talked about the events before and up to the attempt, and she said something similar she can describe the event, but when connecting to it emotionally or trying too, it’s like she has an out of body experience and is just an observer.

    I cannot even begin to imagine what you felt or how you feel about it now, I can see why your reluctant to bring it into the open, but to heal hopefully Paul will guide you through this process.

    Take care xx

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    1. Cat Post author

      Yes, being the observer is common in a violent attack. It’s our way of protecting ourselves, but it’s also important to try to break through that as early as possible, otherwise it might end up repressed for years, like me. Important we all go at our own pace, though, and I hope she has the right services helping, like victims support.

      Thank you, Cay, I think Paul will help me through this part of the therapy, but it’s me who needs to take that leap… I’ll get there for sure… I hope 🙂

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  3. Dawn D

    I am sorry Cat. Sorry those feelings are so difficult to face that your brain won’t let you.
    Have you considered hypnotherapy? It is sometimes a softer way to connect to feelings, because we are in a different state of consciousness, closer to how we felt as a child, when we discovered feelings. And both you and I had a difficult time categorising feelings as a young child because we didn’t have the mirroring of our mothers to help.
    I know hypnotherapy has helped me heal a thing or two…
    I wish for you to find the path that leads you to healing.
    XO

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    1. Cat Post author

      Yes, that might be an avenue if all else fails with this therapy. It’s just finding that courage to take down those tired barriers and step into the feelings (that’s what it feels like), but I’m sure I’ll get there. Thank you, Dawn, for your support, very appreciated 🙂

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      1. Dawn D

        Also meant to say, it doesn’t have to be many sessions. Sometimes, just one is enough, sometimes 4 or 5… it certainly is less time consuming than other methods. But as with everything, you have to be ready to try it, otherwise it won’t help!

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  4. drgeraldstein

    “But, I will be disappointed if I reach the end of this therapy programme in January without a reasonable attempt to connect with the feelings.” Sometimes making something public is a way of putting yourself on record to do something hard. Good luck, Cat.

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  5. Jean

    I followed your links to the actual assault and found, forget where, that you were in touch with the feelings you had back then when you wrote the entry. So I am guessing the dissociation varies in strength and comes and goes, like a tide. That’s pretty damn normal. And I think you have already made a reasonable attempt.

    Dissociation is a gift, it keeps us alive and sane. I don’t think you could have made it through the attempted murder without being dissociated most of the time.

    PS I adore the first cartoon, but I didn’t see how it relates.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I guess I was beginning to feel emotion/tears back in July, but the more intense feelings specific to certain parts of the experience are more of a challenge… I agree, I am making a reasonable attempt

      You’re so right about the dissociation, Paul and I were just saying the same on Weds.

      Ha yes, the cartoon is more relevant to a paragraph I edited out from the beginning… slight blooper 🙂

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  6. Glynis Jolly

    Even reading what you wrote here, I can see the ‘sidestep’ you’re doing. Do you talk to the therapist about what actually happened when you had to face that murderer? Talking about feelings is all well and good, but I would think you need to tangibly attach them to the disturbing incident. Or am I wrong here? ❤

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    1. Cat Post author

      TBH I have told Paul brief details, but was avoiding going over the same old story. I wanted a different way to connect to the feelings. However, after weds session with Paul, I realised I do need to go over the incident in detail and maybe this time the feelings will kick into place. I think they might, but on weds, I just could not get the first words out, it was ridiculous, like being truck dumb. So, spot on once again, Glynis. Thank you

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      1. Glynis Jolly

        I wasn’t all that sure if I was reading your posts with the right perspective. Although I’ve been in therapy myself, I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a counselor who would help me dig… so I quit.

        Going through horrific traumas can have your mind hiding stuff all over the place just to keep you safe even though it may be making you sick at the same time. If you trust your counselor (which I think you probably do), let him keep you safe as you bring out all those nasty freaky memories of that incident. Okay? ❤ ❤

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        1. Cat Post author

          Unfortunately, many therapists won’t help us dig into stuff and my programme is a perfect example, which can be really difficult. The theory is (I think) if they ask you questions about things that you’re not quite ready to face, that can cause problems and does force some people to quit or (indeed!) crumble under the pressure. I can’t remember Paul ever asking me questions during our sessions, sometimes he can’t get a word in, anyway, other times he just repeats everything back at me… a typical therapy tactic that drives me nuts!

          But, our last session, we did talk about keeping me safe while I delve into the unchartered territory, so very insightful once again, Glynis, thank you. This is why it’s so important to write about therapy, other people’s insight is invaluable 🙂

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          1. Dawn D

            That tactic is called mirroring. It’s nothing more than what we do here with comments. Stating things back, making sure you actually hear them, that they make it to your conscious being, and don’t stay in the subconscious and are only being spoken… At least that’s how I look at it now 😉

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  7. Juli Hoffman

    I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. Journaling has helped me through my own drama. Seeking therapy is important too. When something truly awful happens, it takes a long time to process it all. Years even. Every day is its own day.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Juli, yes, it does take considerable time to process the ‘nasties’, but therapy and blogging are two of the best ways. Thank you so much for commenting

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  8. sensuousamberville

    Hello Mr. Cat 🙂

    You have been able to discuss your attack, often in the blog and in the news media, you recite what happened like a rote. It is safer this way, you don’t have to relive it. Perhaps you zone out a bit when you recite it? To talk about it further is to relive it, to awaken the emotions that you have bottled up. This may not be possible though.

    This is true with some of your childhood memories as well. You may discuss them in general terms but to dig deeper is to awaken them. Your mind is protecting you from doing this. But it is not just protection. You do not have to feel the terror again though Mr. Cat, you know it was there, to relive that is not necessarily a part of heeling. You are not emotionless. Your first cartoon, feeling guilty about not feeling the intense emotions perhaps? You should not feel guilt, you should not feel it is important to dig deep into them, to feel that pain again. Almost everyone will have an event of some sort in their past that traumatized them to a point. I am not saying this to belittle your attack Mr. Cat, it would have been truly terrible. We don’t want to relive those events in the past, we have moved on, we are safe now. If we lost a loved one at some point and are now living our life, perhaps even happy with our life, we don’t need to feel guilt that we are not still grieving.

    As we move along and time passes, those emotions become fuzzy, the intensity fades. I don’t want to use the word normal, … but…
    Perhaps you are feeling that this is not? I mean there is not an instruction manual that we are given, to sort out our feelings, what we should feel for each possible event, so guilt at not feeling what we expect we should feel can be almost as tormenting. Anxiety building.

    The event was a long time ago, feeling the same feelings at the same intensity is not likely to happen. As it shouldn’t. I can say I felt sad when my father passed, but I can’t feel the same pain now that I felt then.

    As for the therapy concluding in January. This is not the end of things, as we have discussed, continuing on, perhaps with CBT, to address your agoraphobia, to help with your PTSD, will help sort this out more too.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Ms Amber

      Yes, I do ‘zone out’ during playback and this has served me well over the years. I’m not entirely sure what I expect from delving into feelings, but I do know I need to feel some. Of course, I don’t anticipate the same intensity or the terror and I am safe from the danger, I get all that. Quite what I will feel, I’ve no idea, but it will likely be easier to get through than I initially feared.

      I’ve already talked about referral elsewhere, which is either trauma therapy or CBT. Trouble with something like CBT is that I’m not too good at moving forward with this type of approach and need to first connect with the root of the issue. Things seem to manifest from that point. Quite a lot depends on how much I unravel in this current therapy and that seems to change by the day.

      Thanks Ms Amber

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      1. Dawn D

        Reading these comments just made me realise that I had an episode where I finally connected with my feelings. For me, it was slightly different, since it was something from infancy for which I didn’t have words. But it happened in regular therapy, while watching my child (she was sick and couldn’t go to nursery that day). I started to feel hot everywhere, trembled, cried, and hugged myself. Then I finally managed to calm down and my therapist mentioned the need for me to start medication before we could explore this any further, just to help me stay stable, no matter what it was I was going to get in touch with, because at that point we had no idea. A few weeks later, once the meds were on, I started looking into it again. I had a full blown body reaction to a memory that I had never been able to access, to feelings I didn’t know how to get in touch with.
        It *was* liberating, to finally be able to state what it was I felt that day.
        Of course, what I experienced is nowhere as severe as what you did. Though, to a 18 months old, it must have felt quite frightening.
        I don’t know why I feel the need to share this? I’m hoping it helps you in any way, that you make sense of it 🙂

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      2. sensuousamberville

        CBT involves homework, the harder you apply yourself to it, the more successful you will be. You are at a stage, I feel, where you would do great at it, because you now want to. It makes a difference. It can be a way of learning to cope and then peek into your past to expel your demons.

        With trauma therapy, there are many approaches, you may get into EMDR which may also help you with your past. Also self esteem building. Do what makes you the most comfortable Mr. Cat, you can always try the other later if you feel it may help.

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        1. Cat Post author

          Yes, swing between ‘I want to’ and ‘I would like to’, there’s a slight difference 🙂 with apathy – or is it fear – in between

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  9. D. Wallace Peach

    I’ve no great words of wisdom for you, Cat, only a thought that came to me as I was reading this. Before I share that, I want to say that I respect your process, and that if you feel that healing requires a swan dive into the terrifying feelings of your attempted murder, I won’t argue. If you feel this event sits on your shoulders like a giant beast, then I understand why it must be revealed and excised as a shadow of the past. If connecting with these feelings is truly preventing you from going forward, then follow your instinct.

    My immediate reaction as I read your post was a question. Is this a “must” of a “should”? Do you see this as a necessary step because it’s a tanglible roadblock to moving forward and finding a happier, freer life? Or is it a “should” because you haven’t done it and you think you “should?”

    There is no doubt that the experience was horrendous, and dissociation is a normal response. Dissociating from an event like that is a safety measure that the brain wisely employs. That said, you’ve talked and written about the experience, remembered the feelings and thoughts, acknowledged the profound impact it had on your life.

    My instincts tell me that reexperiencing the feelings of the attack is less important than weeping for all the other parts of you that were stolen – the childlike belief we all carry that the world is at its core turstworthy and caring, that we are safe from evil. These beliefs are replaced by the terrible knowledge that the world can be cruel, murderous, and without conscience. People can’t be trusted. To me these are profound losses that would make me feel very unsafe every time I stepped outside my door.

    It seems to me, that when these feelings are understood and integrated, what’s left is a sober understanding that the world is a complex tangle of good and bad, and there are no guarantees. It’s not going to roll out the red carpet and sprinkle me with fairy dust. What’s left is a stark choice. Do I choose fear and let my clearer understanding of my vulnerability and losses lock me behind my door? Or do I choose life, acknowledge that I’m still here, my finite years still ahead to be lived? Do I use my second chance to venture out into this place and create what’s good – new healthier experiences, beauty, friendship, and love? Because, Cat, that too is out there.

    Okay, I’ve written quite enough. 🙂 I wish you great bravery and much love on your journey. Follow your heart.

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    1. Dawn D

      I don’t know about Cat. All I can say is that I remember vividly my doc telling me I didn’t need to explore the feeling I had of having been raped. But in fact, I did.
      It brought me a lot of peace when I could see that it didn’t happen in this lifetime. (I know it sounds crazy).
      Yet, writing this, I also see how different this is from what Cat experienced. Because for me, it was the feeling that something may have happened, where for him it is a certainty.
      I think you are very right. He needs to follow his heart, at the pace set by it.
      I wish him all the luck in the world to find the peace and manage to open up to the joy that can be life too…

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    2. Cat Post author

      Diane , you’re amazing! Sorry for the delay in replying, I’ve been a little slow but also wanted to mull your comment over for a while. Your words really resonated and they’re beautifully written.

      I’m not sure if I ‘must’ or ‘should’ delve into these feelings. I tend to think that if there’s an issue dealing with emotions, perhaps they are better out than in, although I am not altogether sure of this situation.

      Your instinct about “re-experiencing the feelings of the attack being less important than weeping for all other parts that were lost,” puts a large proportion of this into perspective and gives me food for thought.

      You have a sound understanding about the world feeling a very dangerous place because people can’t be trusted. This is heart of my agoraphobia and unless I work through the emotions, I’m not sure if this unhealthy outlook can ever change, which perhaps addresses my confusion over whether this is a ‘must’ or ‘should’.

      I just love your last paragraph…

      I chose fear for too many years and now fancy my chances of grasping that second chance. Thanks so much, Diane, much appreciated

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  10. cardamone5

    It’s a fine line betwern pushing yourself to make progress, and getting in too deep. Trust yourself, but also be cautious.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

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  11. mandy

    You’ve come so far, Cat. To hear that you shared with the group your inability to talk about your feelings, and get valuable feedback is so great. I can see that you want to finish off this therapy knowing you’ve done all the “work.” There might even be a bit of a panic, like, time is running out, what if I can’t do it, get “done” in time. But you can’t rush it. I thought after I’d written the first draft of my book about 10 times, I was done. But I wasn’t. It was only because I was so sick of it that I wanted to move on. And now-four years later…! I hope you just keep doing what you’re doing now, keep wanting to get those feelings out, knowing it will help.Don’t worry about time running out on your therapy. There will always be more avenues to get you to the end. You’re doing it, Cat. 🙂

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thanks, Mandy, your encouraging words mean a great deal. I did initially panic about therapy ending in Dec/Jan, but now that there are other possibilities it doesn’t feel so bad, although I’d rather not need anymore therapy at all… we’ll see how the next 12 week go.

      The one thing that makes me unsure about writing like you have is the amount of time needed to rewrite and delve into those memories… I can imagine how difficult that is, but in your case, it certainly paid off in healing…lots of healing!

      Thank you, Mandy

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  12. D.G.Kaye

    Your words and thought process are always spot on Cat. You’ve come a long way and I hope you get to have some time with Paul to bring light to that horrific time which you keep locked away in your soul. Maybe it’s time to start unleashing? 🙂

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  13. Alice

    It’s taken me a while to organize my thoughts enough to respond to this. I’ve been on my own travels with mental (un)health the last few years, a process which has included reintegrating more than a few parts of myself lost to trauma, as well. I know exactly what you mean when you talk about being able to run through all the details — yet never access the feelings.

    I wish you well on these next steps of addressing this wound, in whatever way lets you be safe and supported throughout — even as I recognize none of it may *feel* safe. If you have come far enough that your mind has decided to bring this part of your history to the forefront [for me, that’s when a memory starts to feel “hot” and impossible to ignore], that means that your mind has decided it’s ready. I suspect that somewhere inside, a part of you knows with absolute certainty that you can now do this.

    For whatever meaning this may carry for you, please know I’ll be holding you in my thoughts, as you do.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Alice, thank you for giving my post time and thought. It always feels so much more worthwhile whenever someone relates. You’ve been on your own journey and it sounds as though you’re making some progress. I find it difficult to have a mind-set of being comfortable and safer in isolation. I read somewhere that this kind of repressed trauma can lead a person to feel they no longer want to get better or re-join life with friendships and relationships. I do not know how one can turn that around. ‘I would like’ and ‘I want’ are two very different things.

      I like the ‘hot emotion’ analogy, which is so spot on. My danger sign is agitation and rumination.

      How I will manage to talk about my own trauma, I really don’t know. I seem to have been struck dumb in the last two sessions, so desperate to get the words out but they just wouldn’t come. It might not be the right place or that could be a mere avoidance tactic.

      Anyway, I must not rant! Thank you for your thoughts, Alice

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      1. Dawn D

        I just read your comment… Did you consider drawing about it? To get things started, so that you can start explaining your drawing, or, even if it’s just a plan, or… Throwing ideas at you 😉

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          1. Dawn D

            I just remember that drawing, sculpting, helped me while in the psychiatric hospital (and I am not very gifted…). But drawing something helped me realise some things too (like the absence of my father in my childhood home, even though he lived with us, I felt he didn’t have a place in that family…). It’s a good conversation starter!
            Therapists use it with children all the time 🙂

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