When I started therapy, one of the first things we established is that I have a lot of bad memories that I had avoided for a long time. As we spent some sessions talking abut how I’ve coped with it for so many years my T said, as well as or as part of pretending I was ok (see “Me Versus Me”), he suspected that I had probably separated each memory, before storing them firmly away. I can certainly see that, it has always been as if they existed alone, independent from one another, as if they weren’t interlinked in any way at all. Each experience has been essentially “boxed up”, the lid firmly closed and then stacked into a corner of my mind. Though more recently when opening a particularly large box, we have discovered lots of smaller boxes inside, making me realise that it’s not just each “incident” in a box, but in fact some of the memories have been broken down further, each fragment of a memory in a box of its own.
My T turned to me the other week, with a big reassuring smile and said “we really do have a whole heap of boxes to unpack” Oh, I was really annoyed about that I can tell you, I gave him a dirty look I think…
I know he’s right though, we do have lots to unpack. I feel those boxes, I see them, I am aware of their presence. I’ve been able to picture them clearly in my mind. They are of varying sizes, depending on what is inside them. Dark brown in colour, they appear to be made of solid wood. I have pictured them, neatly stacked in a large pile, tucked away in the corner of my mind.
It’s daunting, I’ve feared and at times still do, that pulling out one box may dislodge all the others and the whole pile would collapse with all the boxes tumbling to the floor, the lids crashing open and all that hurt and suffering that has been contained for years would come pouring out, flooding my mind. I was so very afraid of that happening, I was afraid if that happened, it would break me.
How on earth could I handle all that unprocessed horror and pain free in my head?
My T has encouraged me to began to talk about one memory a a time for now, until I have more of a handle on things (I get triggered a lot- flashbacks, nightmares body memories, all symptoms of PTSD -more on that later). We gingerly took the first steps together to unlock the first box, open the lid and slowly unpack and examine the contents. To my huge and utter relief, I found I was able to contain the other memories! They remained locked in their boxes. It wasn’t like a shaken coke bottle, once opened it all just comes frothing out uncontrollably, as I had feared. Instead, the other memories remained locked tight. I can’t tell you how good that felt. I really was so afraid of what would happen when I took those steps in confronting the first memory. It gave me confidence to continue. Since then, I have noticed that on one occasion confronting one box has unlocked another, but still the “stuff” inside has remained intact. When I shared this with my T, he simply said, “containment, and you do it well”. 🙂
Perhaps, I should have had more faith in myself, because after all isn’t that what I’ve been doing all these years? Separating and containing.
One year in and we’ve barely made a dent in unpacking those boxes, while I’ve been frustrated at that, I realise it’s not been time wasted. I’ve been learning more coping mechanisms, he’s been teaching me the tools I need to handle and process the past. We’ve also been dealing with the many issues I have surrounding my past, as well as coping with any crises along the way. I try to see it as clearing the floor to enable us to reach that big pile of boxes in the corner.
There have been some memories that I shared in T along the way but unfortunately it seems I just wasn’t ready for them. I was so numb at the start, I felt detached, as if I was talking about it happening to someone else. I would leave the session, and instantly begin to shove those memories right back down into it’s box and I tell you, they went back in so easily, they seemed to fit so well. It was no effort to close the lid and kick it across the floor back into the corner where it seemed to feel most comfortable. It was a relief that the memory was back where (I thought) it belonged.
Since then, we have talked about two painful memories, I mean really talked about them, we’ve confronted them, spent weeks getting right into the horrible, graphic and very painful details and mostly importantly I’ve been feeling them. The last 3 weeks, we have started to unpack the biggest box of all. That has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done (so far!). Although, I have managed to avoid doing what I did before (simply packing them back up and putting them in the corner of my mind) we haven’t quite accomplished what I had envisioned, which was to unpack each box then discard it, the contents as well as the box itself. I had almost imagined I would unpack each box, throw out what’s inside, then after chucking the empty box over my head, I’d dust off my hands and say “next”!
It hasn’t really worked that way. Instead, I now see a big pile of boxes, neatly stacked together. Then there are two medium to large boxes on one side on their own with their lids now off! The memories have gone back in, for sure, but they aren’t stuffed down, they are just there waiting to be pulled out whenever I wish. There is also the third box (I mentioned above-those memories we are currently dealing with now) which is set aside slightly from the large pile. The third box is now unlocked but the lid seems to close between each therapy session. I’m ok with that, it’s hard work and I know I am progressing. Just a few weeks ago that box was locked tight. I’m moving in the right direction.
I hope one day I won’t have need for those boxes at all, but they have served me well over the years and it’s one day at a time, right? Or maybe that should that be one box….