(*Trigger warning: this post talks about childhood sexual abuse and voyeurism in particular).
At the height of my PTSD my doctor recommended a therapist that he felt would match my personality and belief system.
The therapist he referred me to had a statue of Shiva on her office bookshelf. A Mandela printed on silk between the two windows. A wooden labyrinth sat on the corner of her desk. She told me it was a shame that Yoga was so much about health and fitness now, as learning the spirituality and practice of mindfulness of traditional Yoga would really help me heal from my PTSD.
When I got into the waiting vehicle afterward I gave this breakdown to my BHH:
*For some reason I am often identified as New Age-ish, hence my Doctor sent me to a New Age therapist.
*Either God has a sense of humor or else He thinks I’m stronger than I think I am.
*And I hope I’m not making a mistake, but I plan to go back. I believe she will help me and I also sense that God wants me there.
My BHH laughed and didn’t seem concerned. Said something along the lines of: “I have a feeling she is going to learn as much from you as you do from her. ” Had he been concerned, I might have looked for another therapist.
After she suggested Yoga in my initial consult, I told her that doing a Hindu practice wasn’t going to work for me anyway. Because I am a wholly devoted Jesus-freak who takes it all so seriously I don’t even fit in with most Christian churches.
I shared that my PTSD started after my adult baptism by immersion wherein I renounced my protestant baby-sprinkling. And that I think that I had some sort of mental break after that baptism, a break in my spirit which God actually wanted to happen. I had concluded that God wanted me to quit denying and actually deal with my child abuse. But, now, well, now I’m stuck in this anxious-all-day-and-night-can’t-go-anywhere-alone-anymore hell. And I need help with that. She just nodded. Asked me to explain more of my issues with churches and what exactly my child abuse had been. She wrote a lot of notes on her clipboard as I spoke. When I finished she narrowed her eyes and said, “Some of us outgrow our religion at some point. Most people do not though. I am really proud of you for being aware of that component.”
I wasn’t sure if she had understood what I’d just said or if she was thinking I was eventually going to lay down my born-again baptismal status and hang crytsals on my bookshelves. But I didn’t care. I was growing used to being misunderstood; especially my faith. It was just nice to have someone living and breathing giving me that much attention. My friends didn’t know what to do with me, and weren’t comfortable hearing about my crippling anxiety or my recent need to talk about my childhood abuses. In that first appointment my new therapist also asked me if I liked to read. I smiled, causing my too-taut face muscles to twitch uncontrollably, “Oh yes. Love to.”
“What kind of books?” She wondered.
At that point I’d been feasting on self-help books for anxiety disorder, sexual abuse recovery, Christian apologetics, prophetic and discernment titles. Most of those were gleaned from little known independent authors or publishing houses which sometimes didn’t even sell their work on amazon. And lots and lots of blogs and websites, all the time. I was constantly reading something.
“Have you ever read fiction?”
I nodded. “In my younger years I loved it.”
“Well, getting lost in a novel can do the same thing for your mind, letting it rest and regenerate from being so overworked, just as Yoga or meditation can. But it should be a real paper book, not on a kindle. And something that really transports you out of real life for a while. You need to limit your time on computers and screens and also with self-help materials.”
My hands shook as I ran my fingers over the fiction shelves in the back of a used bookstore later that week. It was all I could do to make a few purchases and retreat hastily to my car. I congratulated myself on getting through a public transaction alone and without a panic attack. And nearly every afternoon since I made that shaky purchase, I have treated myself to hours of brain regeneration and healing… by reading through stacks of novels.
I started with offerings that wouldn’t be triggering. No sex, or violence, or tawdry language. I read through The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. The ladies no.1 detective agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, and eventually I found that I could handle more intense murder mysteries and detective series without having added stress symptoms. For instance, I devoured the Laurie R King series about Mary Russel and Sherlock Holmes.
Now, I just look for cheap books whose covers or tag lines speak to me. Violence rarely triggers me anymore. I still don’t care for the gratuitous use of bad language or perversion for the sake of perversion. My convictions keep me from finding enjoyment there. But if a used book costs a buck, I don’t mind dropping it back off at Goodwill mostly un-read.
I rarely visit that initial used bookstore now. It was a bit pricey. Especially when I can smoke through a novel in two afternoons. Last week I picked up a big bag of hardcovers for $2.13 at a church thrift shop that has consistently good offerings. Among my finds was The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. That title kept coming up on my radar this summer so it seemed like I was meant to read it.
I read it in a day. I couldn’t put it down. The narrative is compelling. Her ability to capture extreme trauma and it’s effect on both the victim and on the family and peer relationships is astounding and insightful. It was deep and disturbing but so lightly written that there wasn’t a single part that I found clunky or overly depressing. Not one. I ‘get’ the wide acclaim this novel has received.
I do not, however, and probably will never, understand why people, fictional or otherwise, take comfort knowing that loved ones who have passed on, now ‘watch us’. In the book The Lovely Bones, people in the author’s heaven could even read other people’s thoughts on earth.
As for me, I actually find Luke 16:26 comforting. I believe God knows my thoughts. It comforts me, lets me be real with Him.
As far as others being able to know my private thoughts: I am reminded of a huge and nearly debilitating fear I had as a child. I believed that if my skin was touching another human then they could read my thoughts. I remember lying next to my mother in my bed (she insisted on sleeping with me most nights) and keeping every inch of my body wrapped in a sheet so as not to be touching her at any point. If I awoke in the middle of the night, and found myself touching her, I quickly recoiled and scanned my thoughts to see if I’d been thinking anything incriminating. The lack of boundaries, and the amount of abuses I suffered, led me to guard my mind and thoughts extra carefully. Hence I developed the ‘no touching’ ritual to avoid even that boundary of my private thoughts and feelings being crossed.
I was also a victim of voyeurism, by several adult males within my family. To this day, I am nervous in bathrooms with windows or doors that do not lock and do not feel comfortable showering without a towel or robe nearby for quick cover if someone walks in.
I know these childhood traumas have something to do with me not wanting to believe that all the dead people, good, bad, abusive or entirely loving (if there is such a thing in a human), now have access to my thoughts, or that they can see right through the walls of my house as well as the walls of my heart and brain. Like God can. I just can’t and won’t adopt that belief. Even if I have to sleep alone, tightly wound up in sheets, there are some things I can’t touch.
Reading The Lovely Bones was helpful to me because it made me understand another way in which I am just different from others. And I realized that I’m ok with being different. My New Age therapist was different than most. It’s why my doctor recommended her to me. He just saw two women who were both…a bit different than most.
I’d rather own those differences at this point, than keep pretending to fit in with the majority. If mental health and wellness is simply when the outsides match the insides, then I think I am getting close.