Giving up the Ghost: Shame

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“You know, Emily, most people wouldn’t have survived.” 


I made eye contact with him for a second, then looked away. It hurt too much to look into anyone’s eyes, especially when talking, or mumbling in my case, about the abuse. 


My life was never in danger … what does he mean? He went on:


“I’ve seen people with far less severe histories fall apart and give up.” He was implying suicide. 


“You are a great lady and an awesome mom. The love you have for your kids radiates from your pores.”


Then, he called me a “peaceful warrior.” 


Well, I don’t feel very warrior-like, thankyouverymuch Mr. Therapist. I feel like a disgusting, shameful, sobbing mess. You aren’t even my therapist. You are my son’s hypnotherapist who is helping him with his out-of-control anxieties.


Still, did he really mean that? A peaceful warrior? 


My therapist and I had agreed that my own anxieties were getting the better of me. I was having anxiety attacks at work, and needed benzodiazepines, on top of the Zoloft, to function. We talked about various “supplemental” therapies. Finally deciding that I would try EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and then perhaps some hypnotherapy. The only problem was, I was so anxiety-ridden during the initial EMDR sessions that the EMDR therapist finally asked me, “Are you sure you should be doing this?”


So, I called Josh, my son’s hypnotherapist, and explained the situation. He and I thought a recorded session of hypnosis would help take the edge off my anxiety, so that I could get through the EMDR. So, if you are following this, I needed a therapist, to help me get through therapy, which I needed to help me get through therapy. I was “therapy-ed” out.


It will come as no surprise that I couldn’t make it through hypnosis, without having so much anxiety that I had to ask him to stop recording. He took the blame for calling out that ridiculous “inner child” while I was in a state of relaxation. “And little Emily …” was as far as he got. I began hitting my ears, covering my head, and hyperventilating. Then the pep talk began.


“You know, Emily, most people wouldn’t have survived.”


One week later, I was back in the EMDR therapist’s office. We had decided to work on “shame.” I put the headphones on and held these little vibrating talismans against my wrists. I thought about shame as the pinging sounds in the headphones bounced back and forth, from one ear to the other. I talked about feeling disgusting, feeling layered in shit, and feeling like a gaping, bleeding wound. And then, it was over, and I went home. I wondered how in the world THAT was going to help anything. But, the fortunate and frenetic pace of life as a working mom with four children distracted me from the session.


The following Monday, I had a doctor’s appointment. Dr. T. was concerned that the high amount of Zoloft was causing weight gain and, more importantly, wasn’t helping. He said, “We’re doing this a bit backwards. Most of the time, we are trying to wean people off the anti-anxiety meds and get them to take the anti-depressants instead. You did the right thing by taking Zoloft first (for four years!) but I suspect you will need a benzodiazepine indefinitely.” I fiddled with the prescription, turning it around and around on the table, and pushing it under some magazines. Finally, I said: I haven’t been totally honest with you. There’s another diagnosis.


He said: what’s that?
I said: PTSD
He said: I assume the way you are acting that it is something from your childhood.
I nodded.
He said: And it was some form of abuse.
I nodded.
He said: And from your reaction, it was child sexual abuse.
I nodded.
He said: Was it a family member?
I nodded.
He said: Was it your father?
I nodded.
He said: How old were you?
I said: “I don’t know. I was sixteen when I remembered.”
I said: “There were lots of perpetrators, he was just one of them.”
I said: “I’m sorry.”
He said: “Don’t be. This can’t be Emily’s dirty little secret. The only way to heal from it is to talk about it.”
He said: “You have to talk about it.”


It hit me, finally, after thirty-four years of feeling like I should apologize for being alive, that I’m not to blame for the messed up childhood that I had. This was an absolutely foreign feeling to me, feeling (fairly) unblemished and not at fault. I think the EMDR must have loosened a huge chunk of shame that had been glued to my heart.


When Dr. T. was leaving the room, I made eye contact with him for the first time that day. He held out his hand, and instead of shaking my hand, he just held it for a few seconds.  A huge chunk of corroded shame fell off my heart.

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