Trigger warning: this post contains references to sexual assault and violence which may be triggering to survivors.
While I was in therapy, Lauren and I spent a lot of time defining my goals and working toward them. My goals were always these big, amorphous things like “I want the flashbacks and anxiety to stop” or “I don’t want to be afraid to go to sleep.” Or “I want to remember the good things with Daphne, not just the horrible ending.” And then she would go through each goal and dissect it, breaking things into little manageable pieces - what exactly is triggering the flashback? What is it about that particular trigger? What are the parts of that trigger? What are the feelings associated with it? With what senses am I feeling it? On and on, forcing me to look at all the pieces and then finally trying to pull back and look at the whole picture. Every week I knew what we were going to work on. She gave me homework - writing assignments and mental exercises to get me to try to recall and feel things from all angles. Practicing calm. We exchanged emails throughout each week, she always pushing me to dig deeper, remember more, acknowledge feelings, etc.
It didn’t always feel like it, but by the end, I had actually achieved many of the goals. I am most grateful that I am now able to share great memories of Daph with my friends who knew her. It is still a struggle not to flash directly to the last terrifying hours, but with effort, I can hold onto the good and hold the horror at bay. That alone has made this journey the biggest success of my life.
But there were still a few goals left. Well, those smaller parts of goals that were left incomplete with Lauren’s death.
The Laundromat: The smell of a laundromat has always been one of my most violent triggers. And even though I am fortunate enough to never have to use a laundromat, Lauren always believed that until I could master it, the anxiety would always master me. I never knew why I had the fear of laundromats, and it took me almost a year of therapy to pull together the pieces of why the smell was such a huge trigger - I had been kicked in the jaw which dislodged two teeth. I was choking on blood and the teeth and couldn’t breathe since they had stuffed a shirt in my mouth to keep me from screaming. Those moments of pain and panicked suffocation are now linked with the smell of that shirt. I now understand the trigger, but the smell is still a problem. Lauren had taken me to laundromats a few times, trying to disassociate the smell from the memory. And I had gotten better with it, I thought, until later I walked into a laundromat on my own and had a total debilitating physical flashback. And so, that is still my goal. I have enlisted a few trusted friends who are going to help me with this - gradually increasing my exposure to the smell until I can convince my brain that a laundromat is just a laundromat, and the smell, while once associated with a terrifying experience, is no longer a threat to me. This is a work in progress.
The Accused: I don’t know why, but I have always thought that if I could watch this movie, it would be a sign that I’ve had conquered something. I can’t even explain that. Jodie Foster. Gang rape. That’s really all I know about it. Lauren had thought I had moved to a place where I could watch it, and we were going to view it together. Now I am going to try it with my closest friends at my side. Then I saw a blog where folks all rented a movie from NetFlix and watched the same movie at the same time and then blogged about it - like a book club. And so I thought I would ask any of you if you would care to join me. I know many of you who read this blog are rape survivors yourselves and I would not recommend this. I am already apologizing for whatever triggers you may be experiencing. But if anyone else is interested, I will set up a date and time in the future - let me know if there are days/times that work best for you. I would be most pleased to know that there are people out there supporting me through this.
The whole story: Two years of immersion therapy and I still could not fully retell the story of what happened to me. This was to be the final hurdle but I didn’t quite make it. It still looms in front of me as the finish line. I don’t think I will be able to tell that story here, in such a public venue. But there are those of you with whom I have grown special and trusting relationships. And so I am asking if you would be willing to hear that story, or parts of that story. To hear my confession so to speak, in a safe and affirming space.
The sudden death of my therapist was quite a setback to me. But I think the best way I can honor her is to complete the journey she gave me the confidence to start and the tools to finish. I have lost my safety net. Now I need all the cheerleaders and support I can get.