Yesterday was my first appointment with Sheila since everything happened between me and Rob. We talked about what had happened and how we were dealing with it, and I mentioned that I had been sleeping on an air mattress so I could have my own space. I could see the alarm on her face. She asked me why I didn’t feel safe in the same bed as Robby and I told her how we had cuddled the night before and I felt so vulnerable and scared but I was trying to tell myself that Robby has never done anything to warrant me feeling that way towards him.
Sheila asked me “What’s the worst thing he could do to you?”
“Rape me. But I know he would never do that. In the whole world of possibilities, that would be the worst though.”
“So, what is the worst thing he has done?”
“So that is what you are scared of”
It sounds like a cliche, but it was just like having a light bulb turn on in my head. The fear that I had been feeling about being hurt emotionally had been getting crossed in my head with the hurt from the abuse and I was starting to fear Robby for something he never did, or would do. Yes, he did hurt me emotionally, but I have been withdrawing physically from him as if he has abused me. And I have done it before. So many times. I have had a bad PTSD episode and not been able to kiss or touch him for days, sometimes weeks. We had always accepted that pattern–PTSD episode, withdraw physical intimacy, slowly reestablish physical intimacy–as an absolute. That’s the way it was, so we were just going to have to adapt to it. I can’t believe it never occurred to us that we didn’t have to accept that. I don’t have to let the PTSD fear take over and push us apart. I have to relearn how to separate the truth from what the PTSD is trying to tell me, and the truth is that Robby is my safe place, the love of my life, and has never and will never abuse or molest me.
So now I am working on uncrossing the wires that PTSD crosses. The way Sheila explains it is that a person with PTSD can separate situations, they could go through this and recognize that the hurt was emotional and begin to repair the damage. With PTSD, wires get crossed, so all (or at least most) roads lead back to the trauma that caused the PTSD. It can be starting a new job, having a fight with your husband, getting a negative pregnancy test, practically anything. If there is one wire that can somehow be related back to the trauma, your brain will follow that wire and dump you back into that mindset of fear and vulnerability. And Sheila has said, and I agree, that it is possible to get stuck in that mindset. Your brain wants to do what it is used to doing, that’s why it is so hard to learn to do something you already know how to do in a different way.
Think of how you tie your shoes: bunny ears, squirrel in a tree, loop it swoop it pull (this is what I do). You’ve probably been tying your shoes the same way your entire life. If you were told that you had to tie them a different way you wouldn’t be able to change your habit in one try. That’s why it’s a habit. It’s something you do without thinking. It’s automatic. Even if you know you are supposed to be doing the bunny ears, you might automatically start a different method just because that is what your brain is programmed to do: when tying shoes, use squirrel method.
Essentially, that is what I am going to have to learn to do. My brain has spent probably the last 19 years following the PTSD path, and now I have to learn to follow a new path. The thing is, tying your shoes is an obvious act. There is tangible evidence if they are tied or not tied. Thoughts are so much more abstract. They are constant and generally very subtle. If you don’t tie your shoes you will either trip and fall, or people will tell you that your shoe laces are untied. With thoughts, no one can tell. Well, most people can’t tell. Rob is very good at seeing what is in my eyes and knowing that I am struggling. But the point is that this is something that is internal. It depends on me. And I have a really hard time with internal things. I get stuck really easily, or my feelings get away from me and I feel out of control. To be completely honest, I am scared. I want the PTSD to get better, even if it’s just a little better. But I know it’s going to be hard, painful, long work. Work that only I am responsible for.
Sheila has recommended that I look into something called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). From what I have read it is basically a type of therapy specially designed to lessen the effects of traumatic memories. It doesn’t look like it can cure PTSD (in fact, I highly doubt there is a cure for PTSD) but it can make it less severe. And I am more than willing to do the work for that possibility. We have, for the first time, a period in our relationship where we aren’t just trying to survive whatever life throws at us, but can actually be proactive. So I’m going to take it. I’m going to take this chance to try and heal.