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Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Session 8

although it's been nearly a month since I recorded this session, I want to finish the series of blog posts because I won't feel like I'm done processing the Prolonged Exposure Therapy experience until I've written about it. I'm going to cover session 8 in two sections: the first half during which I finished processing my relationship with Scott, my ex; the second half, which I'll write later, starts the process of dealing with the damage done by my mother. I blogged a little about her in doors without doorknobs.

after listening to session 7 in the days preceding this session, I was left feeling a deep sadness. sadness over lost opportunities for myself and for my children. I also recognized deep feelings of self-doubt, of feeling afraid to start homework projects for the class I enrolled in because I feel sure I'm doing it wrong and that I don't understand what I'm supposed to do.

I was also dragging the ball and chain of feeling discouraged because the legal battle I thought had been resolved in court was still ongoing. six weeks past the hearing date and the judgment hasn't been submitted to the judge for signature and legal fees are mounting. therapy bills have taken a huge bite out of my limited resources, and buying groceries and gas the same day overdrew my bank account. everything added up felt overwhelming and I wondered (for about a minute) if taking the plunge into Prolonged Exposure Therapy had been a bad idea. I chose this time to do the Prolonged Exposure Therapy because my next chance would be this fall. I want to be able to do other things this fall, like take more classes at the local college, work toward a new career, and live my life as a free person. I took the risk of signing up the extra therapy sessions and I'm not sorry I did it. still, finding myself flat broke, with maxed out credit cards and huge legal expenses, is depressing.

I find I'm also angry that Scott, my ex, portrayed himself to the family evaluator as the long-suffering spouse who "let" me be right to avoid conflict. according to Scott, I HAD to be right ALL THE TIME. angry? annoyed? irritated? I don't know what I feel about it. what I do know is that he was not long-suffering. he was emotionally absent and when I dared to require his participation in our family relationship I risked verbal and physical abuse. maybe what I feel is resentment?

my therapist suggested following the "mini-arc" of Scott's violent temper tantrum from the conversation leading up to the assault to the assault itself. I went through it once, and again. my anxiety level was lower, my tone more conversational. I recounted the escalation, his excitement over the conflict, his lack of compassion, his disregard for my feelings or the safety of our daughter. I realize I'd expected him to argue or to ridicule me because that's what he did when we were alone. I didn't expect to be assaulted and I don't know why he suddenly felt like he had a right to. maybe it was the adrenaline thrill of seeing me unravel emotionally under his cruelty, but he enthusiastically pushed it as far as he could: all the way to violence.

I also recalled that Scott loved the TV. if he wasn't sleeping, he was watching TV. he wasn't much interested in interacting with me so when I asked for his attention I was already afraid of his wrath for daring to interject myself into his leisure time. I remembered a few times I'd realized his focus on the TV had caused problems. once was when our kids were hungry. Scott was sitting on the sofa, eyes glued to the TV, plate of food on his lap, practically inhaling his food without chewing. both kids were standing next to him. our little girl, two years old, was crying that she was hungry but he paid no attention to either of them. the other event was the time he'd put our daughter into a bathtub, turned on the water and went back to the TV two rooms away, unaware of her screams when the water turned scalding hot. after I rescued her, I never trusted him alone with her again.

I'd wondered why my PTSD symptoms had become so much worse after I divorced Scott. I realized it was because I was trapped in his pattern of escalating even after our divorce. his need to hurt me was his strongest compulsion, far stronger than any desire to protect or keep safe his own offspring. it took me so long to realize how sick he is, to recognize how he manipulated our relationship by using our son to create conflict, by withholding support and mocking me for expressing dismay, concern, fear that I couldn't take care of our children. divorcing him was the catalyst that focused his hatred toward me and intensified his need to abuse me. emotionally, I couldn't fathom how someone who professed love toward me could be so cruel and hateful toward me, although logically I knew it happened all the time.

I don't think think Prolonged Exposure Therapy would have helped me if I hadn't found a way to disengage myself emotionally from his sickness. if we didn't have children together, I could have walked away and regained emotional health relatively quickly, but because we had children and he could use them to hurt me, he did. there was no way to stop him, not for years. if the parenting evaluation had not exposed his alienating manipulation of our son, I believe I would still be trapped in fear and anxiety. the results of the parenting evaluation, as expensive as the process was, freed my son from his abuse and me from his influence so I could have a chance to heal.