I dream that I am standing in Kevin’s kitchen. He’s upset, bitterly ranting about how bad things have been for him since I last saw him. I feel his pain and go to him, tell him I’m sorry, hold out my arms. He comes to me; I hold him tenderly. That dream haunts me for weeks–I cry repeatedly over it. Ironically, I am consumed by worry over someone who’s caused me months of suffering.
I sit with Lisa, my therapist. I tell her how I’m still having intrusive thoughts about Kevin all the time. I also describe my nightmares–disaster scenarios where only I am aware something terrible is coming. In one dream I’m in a large building that I know is about to explode. In another, there’s a giant wave coming. I plead with people to leave with me before it’s too late. They’re all people who have hurt me–friends who’ve pulled away, colleagues I’ve felt diminished and disrespected by, Kevin. The dreams are so disturbing that I sob describing them to her.
“Which would you like to work on,” she asks, “The nightmares or the intrusive thoughts? Which one is more troubling to you?”
We work on the intrusive thoughts. She asks what I’m feeling. I finish the box of tissues telling her how I’m sad and frustrated, defeated, bitter, resentful, depressed. “Anything else?” she asks as I break down again. I wipe my face and blow my nose several times, trying like hell to calm down. I stare hard at the floor and finally rasp,
“Hatred. Sometimes I hate him for causing me this much pain.” I choke and gasp for air. I don’t tell her how much that shakes my sense of self; how having the feeling makes me hate myself, too.
“What’s the negative core belief under all that?”
My eyes dart around the room and then disengage. I don’t know. She asks if I’d like to see a list. I nod. A few of the statements seem relevant; I settle on “I can’t have what I need.”
She asks what I’d like to believe instead, and she might as well have asked me to compute the trajectory of a space shuttle. I rack my brain and feel my eyes glaze over. I finally weep, “I literally don’t understand how it’s possible for me to believe anything else.”
She asks me to set aside whether it feels possible; what do I wish I believed? I hesitate for some time and finally manage “I am able to have my needs met?”
She asks if we can try some EMDR, and when I nod she gets a smaller chair to sit closer to me. She begins waving her fingers back and forth. I watch and begin to cry harder. She speaks in a soothing voice. I squint against the tears. We pause and I blow my nose a few times, lobbing the tissues into the trash. She continues. My face contorts as I struggle to breathe. She pauses. “I’m mad at him,” I blurt out, my voice unusually high. I call him a few juvenile names, cry some more and finally sob, “I don’t want to love him anymore. It hurts.”
“Okay, that’s good, notice that,” she says, resuming the finger waving. My diaphragm begins to spasm. I bring my hand there, continuing to watch her hand and cry. When she pauses I tell her what’s happening. She asks if I’d like to continue. I nod and stare insistently at her hand.
We pause several times during which I recall the muscle spasms coming on when I was distressed in my marriage. I feel myself collapsed mid-run on the roadside screaming with pain. I remember cramping like this on the ascent racing in Asheville–and how much it hurt, and how I fought to keep going. I dig my fingers beneath my ribs and whimper. “I don’t want to feel my feelings,” I whine in agony, “I want to be able to push them away like other people do. I don’t want to feel like this. It hurts.”
She reminds me to let things pass by as we continue. I begin to feel foggy. I just want to go to sleep. She pauses and I blurt in a childish voice, “I’m so tired.”
She asks if we can try a few more passes. I pause, eyes heavy, and nod. Nothing happens for some time; I watch her hand, vacant. She checks in a couple of times and I say, “Nothing.”
I start to see images of all the places I’ve slept in the last two years; the cot at Christian’s, the guest house, my tent, Elizabeth’s tidy, light bedroom, the guest room at Kim’s. I see my old mattress on the curb at Anna and Ray’s. Kevin’s bed. I don’t understand and feel my brow furrowing.
“I don’t have a bed,” I tell her. “I’m seeing all the beds I’ve slept in. I don’t have one.
“Are you sleeping in a bed now?” she asks. I nod. She continues. I hate waking up by myself; it hurts me every morning. Every morning I want to stay and hide there, in the guest room at the friend’s house where I’m living now. Sometimes the cat will come lay down on my solar plexus, where the spasm is now. I tell her about the cat and how sometimes I can’t feel the cat there; she’s little.
Lisa apologizes that I’m still processing when we’re out of time and asks what I’ll do now. “I’m supposed to have choir,” I say, “But I’m so tired. Maybe I could skip it. No, that’d be an asshole thing to do.”
I go directly to rehearsal, arriving late. I close the door softly and walk fast down the aisle, eyeing the music as I join the sopranos just in time to sing the final bars of Eric Whitacre’s “Glow.” I keep noting that my voice is troublingly pinched and strident. When we leave I am irritated at the winter cold. I quite nearly pull in front of an oncoming car leaving the parking lot, catching myself just in time. My eyes smart and something about the way I drive reminds me of him. “Fuck off, Kevin,” I snap, and then I feel the tension in my jaw.
Impulsively, I pull into a gas station to buy chewy candy–and that’s when I acknowledge my simmering rage. I’m uncomfortable with my anger, I can’t figure out how to move it and I want it to go away. I think about various substances that might calm me down and then chafe at my desire to avoid my difficult emotions. There it is; precisely the way survivors become addicts. I dig my teeth into the candy, frustrated I have to experience the feelings to move them out. The rest of the evening is uncomfortable; my neck and jaw hurt, I can’t think straight. I sit with it until it is time for sleep.
I dream that someone I barely know is rude to me in passing. I chastise her for it calmly but sternly, insistently repeating “your behavior is rude and unacceptable.” She apologizes.