Ask Dr D; ‘I was abused’
So many women carry a secret. A deep dark hidden secret. Sometimes this secret is so buried and disguised and has morphed into aversions, fears or strange behaviour that isn’t even remotely recognised for what it is.
Recently, I read ‘Women Trashed’, an autobiographical book by Joanne Brodie which speaks of her life as a substance abuser, her addiction to prescription drugs, her sexual promiscuity and prostitution. The fact that she came from a respectable, middle class family who couldn’t confront is highlighted, as is the realisation previously blocked, that she was sexually abused by her father. It is also an account of courage and recovery.
The book may not be true to every addict’s or abused person’s story but you will resonate with the power of the emotion, the confusion and the misunderstood gaps in your life.
Joanne’s story reminded me of a powerful therapy session which took place a few months ago, during which the reality of abuse emerged for the first time.
Katie: I think I have made a mistake. I must be crazy. I’m not sure what I’m doing here. I mean thanks for the appointment and all that but … I’m so confused.
DW: You wanted the time and now you don’t know what to say…. how to start.
Katie: Well, I have nothing definite. Actually, you know what … I’m fine…
(Puts head down.)
I’m so stupid!
DW: There’s clearly something that’s really worrying you. Something that’s confusing and hard to talk about because it is not clear and sounds stupid.
DW: (Looks at Katie) – Silence.
What is it Katie?
Katie: Okay. Well it’s … so many things. I just feel that I’ve fallen apart.
DW: What’s changed and how have you fallen apart?
Katie: I’m not coping, with my work, with my boyfriend, with my life.
And I’m a ‘coper’. I’m just not on top of anything and I feel scared. It’s not me.
DW: We need to talk about exactly what you mean… but first tell me when did this start?
Katie: (Thinks) Actually, about six weeks ago.
DW: Six weeks ago?
Katie: I know it was six weeks ago because that’s when my sister had a baby.
DW: That seems like an important event to you.
Katie: It’s been amazing. I’m the godmother. I spend all my spare time with this beautiful little girl, just holding her, looking at her … (becomes tearful).
DW: Yet there is something else.
Katie: Look, I know it sounds stupid but ever since that baby was born I just want to be with the baby.
Katie: But do you know what else? When I’m with men in a room, I somehow begin to feel sick, nauseous in fact and I have this fear like something will happen. Even with people I know, even with my boyfriend who wouldn’t hurt a fly. I just can’t control it. I’ve tried to talk to myself and tell myself how stupid I am but this fear and sickness keeps coming back.
DW: So you don’t feel safe around men and you just want to be with the baby?
Katie: It’s so special being with that baby. It’s like when she looks at me she sees into my soul. It’s amazing yet it sought of goes on…
DW: Goes on?
Katie: Just look at me, I’m such an idiot.
DW: What goes on Katie?
Katie: You see, I have these dreams. Sometimes I kind of have these visions, even when I’m awake (cries).
DW: This is tough to talk about.
Katie: Very and I don’t even know why!
DW: The visions
Katie: Well, I see a baby girl in a cot, it’s not my niece ‘cos she is about three or four playing with a pink bear.
DW: Tell me about the little girl.
Katie (child like voice): The child is happy. The child loves the bear…
Katie: He comes in, he comes in quietly…He plays with the bear and with the child …
Katie: (in adult voice): That’s it. That’s all I remember.
DW: It’s okay Katie, it’s okay… Tell me about the little girl and the man
Katie: I know this child. I know this little girl. I need to protect her. I need to protect Katie.
DW: You need to protect baby Katie because…
Katie: Because, she gets hurt. She gets hurt, she always gets hurt. She gets hurt by someone she loves. (sobbing)
DW: (Takes her hand)
Katie, you know the man.
DW: It’s your dad, isn’t it?
Katie: (Nods vigorously)
DW: (Embraces her)
Katie: Somewhere deep down I’ve known that there has been something wrong. I could never trust men completely. I’ve had the same boyfriend for eight years now but will not marry him…
DW: Remember Katie, little Katie, frightened Katie? What happens to her?
Katie: It’s a game … but I don’t like this game. First he plays with the bear and so do I, then he says pink bear has no clothes on so take yours off too. Then I do. (Cries) Then he looks. Then he touches…
DW: You’ve never told anyone …
Katie: I couldn’t tell anyone, ‘cos I played the game and my dad always said that it was our secret and that he loved me. Then I think I just forgot. Just blocked it out.
DW: So it was the baby, your sister’s baby so beautiful and vulnerable, so innocent and trusting that brought this all to the surface again.
Katie: I can’t believe this… and yet there have been things crazy things that I have always lived with. I should have known.
DW: Like what?
Katie: I can never ever look at naked men it has to always be dark and sexually, the truth is, I’ve never been able to relax not ever. I just think that a lot of women are like me and even though my boyfriend often asks if there is something wrong, I never want to go there.
After my parents got divorced, when I was six, I didn’t see my dad for a long time. He contacted me again when I was a young teenager and I did spend some time. He never did it again, well not directly anyway, but he sought of liked to show off his daughter to his friends in a way which made me feel unsafe and uncomfortable. I avoided going there for years but never quite knew why. Anyway he died two years ago, so there’s nothing I can do.
DW: He might have died but the feelings and the effect of what you went through remain.
Katie: Yes, but don’t you understand I was also too blame. I let him. I hated the game but I still let him.
DW: Katie, imagine your little niece, imagine she was telling you this story, the same story about what happened to her when she was three years old one day. You are her godmother what would you say to her?
Katie: I would f*** ing kill him.
DW: You would be outraged and protective…
Katie: Are you kidding??
DW: But she tells you, she participated, she allowed it…
Katie: But … I am only three (bursts into tears).
DW: Katie, you were only three! You loved your dad. He was supposed to take care of you. He abused you in every way, your trust, your love, your vulnerability…
Katie: (Nods) Of course I can see that.
DW: Now, as grown up Kate you can say no. You can act on your own authority but you couldn’t then.
We need to take away your guilt and heal. Deal with the emotions and heal so you can reclaim your life with grown up confidence.
Katie: I think I know how to start. I think it has already started. When I take care of my niece, I’m taking care of baby Katie too. She has given me a chance to face my past and see it differently.
DW: It’s quite a journey. This is a huge revelation that comes with guilt, anger and sadness never realised or expressed as well as new understanding and explanations for feelings and behaviour never addressed.
Katie: Whew! It’s been a hellova session. You know what I’m thinking – don’t laugh. I’m thinking that my gorgeous boyfriend is definitely not my father. I think he’s had a raw deal and he’s still there, so that has to say something!
Two weeks later:
Katie: It was really tough but I’m so relieved and proud of myself that I didn’t walk out. I needed that push and couldn’t do it on my own. It had to be in a safe environment. Once I understood what it was all about the visions and the sickness have gone completely. I still have a lot to come to terms with regarding my father and the abuse. It will take a bit of time but I feel so much clearer and cleaner.
DW: Katie appeared confused and resistant however, this was a reflection of her foreboding of what was lurking in the deep recesses of her psyche. Through her unexplained deep connection with her niece this was manifesting in her not coping and experiencing uncontrolled fear in certain situations. Actually, she was available and receptive to use the session to her advantage.