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Taller, Present, Going Back

I’d started EMDR with a therapist at the VA for trauma when a co-worker at the assisted living center physically assaulted me. My reaction made me realize it was time to start some work I’d buried for decades; the relatively small action of him violently twisting my arm behind my back stimulated a response that had me making mental plans to kill him, and I am a strong believer in ahimsa.

Ed.-In the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist traditions, ahimsa is a respect for all living things and avoidance of violence toward others.

During the first few sessions last year, I made a list of small and large traumas in my life: being born with a cleft palate and the years of surgery, my father’s death in Vietnam when I was two months old (I blamed his death on my imperfection), the father and son who molested me when I was eight, being gang-raped by my peers in the army when I was 20, and the subsequent break and burying of that for 20+ years.

We chose to focus on the smaller, more recent trauma. After working through it, I realized I didn’t need to carry those unfortunate events. I returned to school and work, avoiding intimacy and instead allowing my large, no-longer-carried, but still present damage to sit in my cluttered room, a “Monster in a Box,“ as Spaulding Gray put it so well.

I knew I would return to therapy, but also knew I had to pay the mortgage, stay well, and wait for that mythical time when I was ready. A dear friend whom I had a brief relationship with a few months back sent a text near the end of December saying something like “help, this is killing me.” I didn’t even think about whether or not I would help her, despite how poorly things had ended just a few months back.

I loved her really since the moment I met her, and went, not expecting anything but to somehow help her survive the recent loss of custody of her son. Being with her, loving her, gave me the push to re-enter therapy. Last Thursday I spent two hours cycling through the largest, most painful personal event in my life.

Sexual assault is a common enough experience that the VA mental health clinic has a pamphlet about Military Sexual Trauma. Prior to starting the job, I self-reported the experience as an eight (where zero is nothing and 10 is death) 25 years after three soldiers sexually assaulted me, drunk, in a shower.

During this session I was vibrating with disturbance, weeping, and asked not to dry my tears, over-intellectualizing, referring to myself in the third person, returning to the scene, again and again until I imagined myself as each of the perpetrators.

In the end, we decided that “survivor” reminded me of that song from Rocky, so instead I’m just a human, a human who happened to be victimized by other humans and who wasn’t to blame, wasn’t raped because of anything but the fact that humans occasionally do horrible things for reasons we will never know. I ended up a one on the scale of 0-10, unable to believe I could ever be at a zero for such a profound violation.

Instead of an out of body experience or dissociation, the thought of the event now causes a vague flutter in my gut that I am very, very willing to tolerate. I wasn’t willing or interested in completely letting it go; the thought of completely removing it as significant felt unnatural, as it did happen, was real, and has caused more disturbance, illness, and pain than any other event in my life.

We ended the session with the standard wind down. I left the VA center feeling strangely taller, breathing more deeply, and at the same time feeling like I was missing something, something awful, but familiar, something indelible and old.

I return next week and every week until the work is done.