Recently I thought about what I'd want to say to myself when I was just starting therapy. If I knew then, what I know now about the journey of healing from the effects of childhood trauma. Last week I shared Part 1 of a letter to myself. Read on for the rest of my thoughts.
Pay attention to your body during sessions.
Yes, I know, you’d usually want to do anything NOT to pay attention to your body. There’s a good reason for that. You had to separate from your body to survive all that you went through. And there’s so much shame attached to your body that you don’t want to go near it. I really do get that.
But your body is one of the biggest indicators that something resonates with you. Often, your body will respond before your mind registers what’s happening. Your therapist may say something like, “It wasn’t ok for your mother to talk to you about the struggles in her relationship with your dad,” and at first it doesn’t seem to fit. Yet you have an internal reaction—maybe your stomach clenches, or you feel pissed off, or you feel tears stuck in your throat. Whatever it is, try to share it with your therapist. It’s always important, primarily because it’s your felt experience and that matters. But it also can give you and your therapist information about whether something resonates with you.
Another reason to pay attention to your body in sessions (and in general) is that it’s where your emotions are. Since you learned early on to disconnect from your emotions, it’s a way to start to connect with them.
There’s more to therapy than only talking about what happened.
Part of the therapy process is talking about your story, what you experienced, and what you’re feeling. It’s how you start and at the beginning (and throughout), and it can be difficult to say things aloud that you’ve never said before. So, it’s definitely an important part of the process.
But it’s only a part of it. Talking about your childhood experiences doesn’t bring lasting healing and change. That comes from connecting with the felt experience of what you went through. Allowing yourself to know, deep in your body and soul, what things were really like for you.
For example, it’s not just telling the story of putting your mom to bed after she passed out on the sofa. It’s also about connecting with that little girl part of you that had to be a grown up. That had to put aside your fear and your need to be taken care of so that you could take care of her. Yes, it’s much more difficult to share the story that way. But it’s also much more powerful and healing.
I also want to add here that there’s more to therapy than going to your session each week. The work that happens between sessions—journaling, connecting with your emotions, reading, talking through things with recovery friends—all of that is part of therapy, too. In some ways, it’s more important than your time in session.
Feeling scared and resistant is a normal, healthy part of the process.
If you feel fear or resistance before a therapy appointment, then you’re in good company! This process isn’t for the faint of heart. At times it’s freaking hard, and you won’t want to go to therapy or journal or connect to your feelings, etc. This is all normal and will come up at different times in the process.
Try to notice it without judgment and be curious about the timing, particularly resistance. Resistance usually signals the importance of whatever it’s connected to.
There’s something very healing and powerful about having someone witness your story and your emotions.
I think this is one of the parts of the therapy experience that is most healing. You’ve carried around secrets and shame, you’ve minimized your experience, you’ve shut down your emotions—and you had to do that as a child. It wouldn’t have been safe to do otherwise.
As you begin to trust your therapist, other safe people, and the process, you will share more and more of your heart, to speak words that you never thought you’d tell anyone, to allow tears to fall freely, to connect with deep shame while another person is in the room with you. It is so powerful. It’s honestly hard to put words to the experience.
I think part of why it’s so healing is that we are wired for connection, which means we’re wired to share our story. As we do, we start to operate out of what’s true today that wasn’t true in childhood—that it’s safe to tell the story and feel your emotions.
There will be times when you feel weary, want to quit, and are frustrated by the length of your road.
I realize this is kind of a downer, but it’s true and I want to be honest. I wanted to tell you this so that when you have this kind of experience (and we all do, usually more than once) you’ll know that there’s nothing wrong with you. It doesn’t mean that you’re not doing therapy right or doing enough therapy stuff. It just means that you’re human.
God goes ahead of you on the path.
I believe that our Higher Power, whom I call God, has a vision for our recovery and is with us every step of the way. My experience is that God has been not just with me on the path, but a step ahead of me, which means that I don’t have to figure out each next step alone. And I think your Higher Power will do the same for you.
It is all worth it—every moment of every point on the path.
The therapy road can be arduous, scary, and wearying at times. It can also be joyful, full of ‘aha’ moments, and peaceful at times. And everything in between. Each moment along the way is important and it matters. Each moment is part of the healing process and the journey of freedom from the weight of our unhealed wounds.
As I look back on my recovery, I can honestly say that it is truly worth it. You’ll wonder at times if it really will be—I certainly did. But I believe with all that I am, that every moment of every point along the path up to this point, and the path ahead, is worth it.
Peace on your journey,