A Trauma Survivor’s Experience with Therapy

Trigger Warning: Psychological and physical abuse, and suicidal thoughts

Why don’t I post more often? I want to! I have a lot of old blog posts from HubPages that could use a good revision or two and would be better housed here. Perhaps, eventually; or, I will write entirely new content. My main struggle when I want to post on here is whether or not to write about my past and/or trauma healing journey. It’s terrifying. How much can I go into? Am I limiting myself by not writing about it, and acting as though I am not a survivor? Then, I had a thought: What if I wrote about these struggles?

When I do research to “grow” in my journey to heal from my past, or more specifically a life that was completely normal for me and makes lazy self-care days likes today more difficult than words can express, I see the same damned suggestion over and over and over: Therapy!

I can’t speak for other survivors. I can only speak for myself. I have been in and out of therapy and told to go to therapy for the majority of my life. For most of those years, I heard it from my family aka my abusers.

How does one succeed in therapy when the abusers they’ve (hopefully, like me) finally escaped “encouraged” aka taunted them with how badly they “need” therapy?

The first time I was in therapy is a blur. My immediate family and I went to see this family and probably child therapist, when I was very young. I remember playing in the lobby and probably in the therapist’s office with one of those Bead Maze Roller Coaster toys. I don’t remember what was discussed.

That toy perfectly represents what happens to the mind of someone raised by abusers.

My parents divorced when I was almost three years old. Almost every therapist I had as a kid and teenager, at some point, talked about the divorce as if I am scarred by it, reinforcing that it “isn’t (my) fault,” and “it’s okay to cry about it.”

Pause for my confused face.

I don’t remember my dad living in my house. So, why would their split bother me? Why would I think it’s my fault?

Knowing what I do about my family, now, makes me extremely grateful for the divorce. If I had to deal with those two in the same house, I don’t know what I’d do.

My longest time with a therapist was when I was in Middle School until High School. In 7th grade, I held an excess of anger towards my dad. Today, I realize that most of it was likely inspired by my mom’s projected reality and not my own, but either way, that’s probably when I began sessions with that particular therapist.

The court had arranged that my dad would see my brother and I during the week for dinner and every other weekend. Eventually, my brother got busy, leaving me alone with our father. My dad would pick me up for my session or I would walk over there, as it was close, and my dad would take me out to dinner when I was done.

My dad paid for the sessions. I was attempting to work with that woman on my anger and my relationship with him. Sometimes, we had sessions together; however, because of my mom’s input when I went home, I was able to see through my dad’s behavior and the charade of the arrangement.

I was a Level 1 in Usui Reiki when I entered High School. A year or two later, I wanted to be a Level 2. My mom told me that she could not afford it. She never remarried after the divorce, and therefore, only had one income. She told me to ask my dad, who could afford it. My dad refused, mostly because he “didn’t believe in it.”

Note: This post is not about Reiki, enforcing the practice, or the belief in it.

Putting aside whether or not a parent believes in what their kid is studying, it was a passion of mine. I wasn’t hurting anyone. My dad was married to another employed woman. A woman he calls “Honey” at parties, using the most fake sweet tone I’ve heard in person. The kind of tone you only hear in old TV shows, where the women are trying so hard to appear sincere, but they’re stuck in the gender politics of the 50s. My mom used to tell me how my dad needed people to think his life was as perfect as those Leave It to Beaver shows.

The point is my dad was not struggling financially. When I entered college, his actions would cement his true feelings on assisting his children in any way, financially. That’s a story for another day.

The most memorable session with my dad in therapy was concerning Reiki, and it had nothing to do with Reiki itself. The therapist asked me to give an example of a time I asked my dad for something and he wasn’t listening or supportive. Aha! I brought up Reiki.

“There is the issue of the Reiki lessons,” I said.

I don’t remember if my therapist had time to react before my dad said, “I was planning to wait until dinner, but…” and pulled a folded check from his shirt pocket for me.

The therapist and I had two separate realities in this moment:

Immediately, I felt a stabbing pain in my heart that left it heavy and afraid.

The therapist said, “Well, this is a wonderful outcome!”

All the times my mom had said that my dad will only do things for people if it makes him look good was confirmed. He did not have to present the check like that. He was smug. He was proud of himself, as if we were in a sick power game, and not working to repair our parent-child relationship.

There was a similar moment in a session in which my dad cried about our relationship or something. His eyes had tears, but I could tell there was nothing genuine behind them.

My therapist asked me, “How does it feel seeing your dad cry like that?”

I wanted badly to tell her that he’s a bad actor, and that it made me angry and hurt. He doesn’t care if we have a real relationship or not; but how could I? She couldn’t see it.

Shortly before I quit that therapist, I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was excited. I know that sounds wrong, but I was tired of therapists saying, “Oh, you’re fine,” while I was feeling anxious and depressed on a regular basis. This allowed me to see a psychiatrist. I was finally prescribed anti-anxiety meds. I thought this was going to help.

I was wrong about the meds, but the psychiatrist was a breath of fresh air. When we discussed my dad, it was the first time a doctor told me that it was perfectly okay not like my dad.

“I’m not here to convince you to like your dad,” he said.

He had no interest in changing my opinion. He wanted to help me. At the time, I didn’t know it, but this is part of my conditioned belief to need validation to have an opinion or feel emotion; otherwise, I think it’s wrong and feel anxious about it. As if I don’t have enough anxiety as it is.

The next therapist I tried was paid for by my mom. This was a doctor, not a counselor. She didn’t last long. Early on, she commented too much on my Goth style, trying to convince me to dress differently. Obviously, she truly inspired me to change. See my article on the Gothic Subculture.

Yes, that’s the answer to overcoming mental illness: dress how society wishes and ignore your own taste! You’ll feel better in no time!

After graduating college and being unable to afford my own place, the piece of info my mom had given me about my dad turned out to be true about her, as well.

Like any true abuser, she is a master at playing the innocent, proud mother of two at parties. Behind closed doors, she belittled, projected, threatened, yelled, and even stalked me. I was repeatedly told that I needed therapy when I responded to consistent stress, accordingly. Yes, many times, I reached my breaking point. I threw things, and I yelled.

I was in over my head: applying to office positions left and right with no responses. See post about that here. Working low-wage jobs that won’t allow you to work full-time. Researching apartments until I am exhausted, and relearning that I would never afford a normal apartment on my salary, but I made too much to qualify for financial help. I was researching how to leave an abuser, but never finding situations like mine. I had joined online groups in which I was told over and over by survivors that I was living with my mom because of a trauma bond.

Oh, yes, my behavior clearly indicated that I still loved my family and didn’t want to leave!

Eye roll.

That’s sarcasm.

Side Note: After years in those groups, only one person finally gave me useful advice on how to move out without moving to an apartment, and that’s how I left.

I saw no escape from her, and therefore, I wanted to die.

I should have never vocalized wanting to kill myself or die: One day, when I didn’t have work, I was in the room and area of the house my mom would leave me alone. It became my regular go to. Suddenly, she called me over. I rolled my eyes and went. My brother was there. They confronted me about my suicidal feelings, demanding to know why.

Side Note: No matter how much you want to, don’t ever tell the abuser that you know what they’re doing. They’ll never admit it. They’ll up their game.

While in a room away from my mom, I foolishly confided in my brother about her behavior. His response was to give me the same treatment. That’s the day I learned that my brother is not safe, either.

It was terrifying.

They both blocked me from leaving the house, until I agreed to “talk.” That quickly became a game of “You need help” and “Our struggle is worse.”

As soon as I started to open up, they began interrupting to talk about how in need they are. Of course, the conversation had nothing to do with what they’ve done to me; only how hard I make things, illegibly.

I had tried behind her back. I didn’t want therapy because of my outbursts. I wanted therapy to deal with her. I tried three therapists on BetterHelp. They all began the same way: “Try one more time to talk with her,” as if I was misunderstanding her blatant threats and mind games.

Pause for angered confusion.

Try one more time to talk to her? I had been trying to talk to her every day for years. Clearly, she has no interest in listening.

Regardless of how detailed I explained my situation, they all viewed it as a “communication problem” or told me to “move out,” regardless of my financial situation.

Eventually, I realized it was definitely a communication problem:

Don’t tell your abuser things. That is my unsolicited advice. I repeat: do not tell them things! Please. Especially, not things you’re excited about. They’ll never let you be happy. They get insanely jealous by even the notion of you being happy without them. They will break you down, and those things you’re looking forward to won’t happen the way you were hoping.

I did a ton of research over the years I lived with my mom.

When I did secretly move out the first time, my anxiety immediately lessened. I had anxiety in public and at work because I didn’t want her to confront me, but otherwise a lot of things I used to be afraid of felt relaxed for the first time in years. I could nap on the weekends because there wasn’t loud noise and too much anxiety. I could do whatever I wanted without her trying to get attention and energy from me. I didn’t want to die, anymore.

I only went back to my mom once. It’s scary trying to live on your own for the first time. Even when you can handle it, financially. I wouldn’t call it trauma bond so much as panic over handing everything on my own on my low salary.

Within a week of being home, she was back to her usual tricks: actively trying to stress me with meaningless chores and talking to me as though I was an ungrateful and irresponsible kid. So, after a month, I returned to where I was rending a room, telling her I wanted to try, again, and leaving out the bright red glowing flags she was sending me.

She insisted on helping me with items I’d need. She gave me things or bought them for me. She didn’t visit or ask to. Eventually, even visiting her for things got to be too much. As soon as I wake on the door, she wanted me to act a certain way, or do something for her, and when I was too happy on my own, she made sure to ruin my mood.

I didn’t have trauma therapy until I moved to where I am, now. I joined a therapy group specifically for trauma survivors. It helped in some ways, but it was mostly a waste of my time. Therapists still don’t know enough about trauma. They know the basics, but most of it can be found online.

I was hoping to get a personalized version. My therapist told me that she didn’t think she could help me because I already know so much. Thanks online research? When I told her that I thought I was supposed to be in therapy after surviving, she said that it’s not about “supposed to.” I’m not supposed to do anything except what I want. She said that she thinks I can figure things out as they happen.

I haven’t seen her since October 2021. Sometimes, I agree with her. Other times, I don’t. Sometimes, I look for therapists. Sometimes, I don’t know if they can help.

I went no contact with my entire family in November 2021. While difficult, it was the best decision for me.

Trying to live a normal life independently as an adult without a family at all is another issue, but it beats the hell out of the alternative.

Note: This is an original work by the author Social Thoughts on their blog site. 04.30.2022

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