Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Session 2
I experienced an unfortunate glitch in my treatment protocol when I discovered that my iPhone's voice recorder application is basically worthless. the recording of session one was there, I swear! then I synched and suddenly it was two seconds long.
since my only homework following session one was to listen to the recording once, I figured I could just as easily read the handout. so I did. and it was good! this jumped out at me:
... if you believe that experiencing flashbacks is a sign that you are losing control, you may try very hard to push the traumatic memories out of your mind. However, the more you try to push these memories away, the more they will intrude on your consciousness and the less control you will actually have over the memories.
my life has been out of control. at its worst, I felt like I was losing my mind. the only relief was to retreat into numbness.
session two delved into my responses to intrusive memories and triggers.
one of the common reactions to trauma, I learned, is avoidance. avoidance is a way to manage trauma-related pain. the problem with avoidance, though, is that often situations that aren't directly related to the trauma are also avoided because they're uncomfortable. avoidance can also lead one to push away painful thoughts and feelings, leading to numbness (aha, so that's why I was numb for all those years!). anger, irritability, guilt, shame, grief, depression are also all common reactions to trauma, and I've lived with all of them for years.
my life has become narrower and narrower as I've worked to avoid the pain. I can't work. I have to have a set schedule and it cannot be deviated from. having to deviate causes heart-pounding fear. every time I've decided not to do something uncomfortable, I've reinforced avoidance as a trauma-management tool because my immediate reward is a reduction of fear or anxiety.
using what's known as Subjective Units of Discomfort, my therapist and I constructed a scale of triggers from zero (at peace, no intrusive thoughts) to 100 (feeling like I'm at the worst moment of trauma). the scale is measured in Subjective Units because what is a horrifying trigger for me, like the feeling of needing something from the father of my children, wouldn't effect someone else negatively.
even the possibility of encountering my neighbor while working in my yard induces anxiety that I've worked hard to avoid, and it seems stupid, so working in my yard ended up on my scale, although closer to the low end. I gave it a 15. I think I've identified that he uses a common tool of the cult I was in, the appeal to authority. it's one that's worth learning to protect myself from. I submitted to group-think, to the cult's leaders, to my ex-husband, and was told it was wrong to question. my job was to submit. my mother raised me to feel wrong all the time, so it wasn't much work for the cult to get me to believe I was wrong when I disagreed with anything. then I end up moving next door to a busy-body neighbor who gives unwanted advice and tries to persuade me with "neighborhood concerns" about my yard and I end up hiding in my house, afraid to go out.
needless to say, spending time in my yard and learning to deal with my neighbor will be part of my recovery plan.
I wish I had more time to write tonight, but this is my third night of listening to the one-and-a-half hour recording of session two made (using the very awesome iPhone application iProRecorder), so I need to get started on it.
tomorrow is session three.