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Unblurring the Lines: Managing Transference Surrounding Sexual Assault

It hurt. I had all these ideas about how it would feel, smell and taste… but all I can remember is the pain.

Like most little girls, I dreamed of a fairy-tale romance, complete with the castle, white horse and Prince (or Princess) Charming.  I was in second grade when I met him. He was older and went to my school. He liked to play games with me behind the rocks. They were cream colored granite.

Sometimes I would try to count the millions of little black spots that ruined the perfectly smooth and beautiful stone. I would count how many times a cricket would chirp. The world was so still in those moments. I could hear the faint voices of other children playing hide-and-seek, tag and hopscotch; but it was as if they were in another world – one filled with playfulness and innocence.

That wasn’t my world, and it never would be again.

Intercepting Unresolved Trauma

Fast-forward 25 years and I am now an advocate for those still intercepting the wrath of others’ unresolved trauma.

While I truly believe I am on the other side of the pain, it is still so hard to listen to a client recount the horrors of abuse, longing for the days when the monsters were under the bed and not in it.-Jo HarveyHaving worked several years with survivors of sexual assault and addiction, I now focus my efforts on prevention, rather than then appearing in the aftermath of tragedy.

Many practitioners are drawn to the field because of their own experience with intimate partner violence and abuse, so I realize this fact does not make me special or unique, but I often wonder if others share the same struggle to disentangle their story from that of their clients’ and keep clear which pieces belong to whom.

I am fortunate. Enough time has passed that my injured parts have turned into scars. They are not the thin, flat and faint lines you typically see on flesh; mine are thick and raised, ridged and impenetrable.  While I truly believe I am on the other side of the pain, it is still so hard to listen to a client recount the horrors of abuse, longing for the days when the monsters were under the bed and not in it.

It’s still hard not to melt into their story. It’s hard not to remember my own pain.

The Simple Pleasures

As I’ve developed better boundaries, I’ve found myself needing less self-care but giving myself even more. In recovery, the simplest moments pack the most pleasure.  I love nothing more than when my puppy climbs into my lap while I’m drinking my morning coffee and burrows his head deep into my robe. He is so content to hide from the world and escape into his little make-shift cocoon. He feels safe and protected, and I love holding that space for him. What a gift it is to witness and assist with such a crucial tradition of self-care.

With non-stop stimulus, it’s nice to find a blank space where we can just be blissfully alone with our true selves and block out the noise. It reminds me of an infant in an incubator, removed from any danger, in complete isolation so they have an opportunity to heal and grow.

And yet, I can vividly remember a time when being alone was a terrifying thought. Being forced to sit with myself would have been the opposite of healing, it would have been torture. I suppose there really is a season for everything, and recovery doesn’t come with an instruction manual where “one size fits all.” There are countless possible courses of action, some forward, and some backwards, but none appearing linear.

It is so critical to remember that, while our stories and those of our clients’ may have similar themes, they are in fact very unique to the individual.

Healing is Different for Everyone

Not everybody heals the same. Not everybody heals. Sometimes I need to remember not everyone has been as fortunate to find peace, and when I speak publicly about my experience of healing, I always feel sad for those in the room who resent my recovery.

And I get it. When I was still in the throes of addiction and heard someone say ‘keep coming back; it works’ I wanted to vomit and scream “what the hell do you think I’ve been doing here the last several months?” I was simultaneously filled with optimism and rage, hope and jealously, all-the-while asking the question “why not me?”

I didn’t shame myself or create a million reasons this was my fault. I laid there knowing I did not deserve to feel so much pain in my body, mind or soul. This allowing was my first moment of surrender…-Jo HarveyThe truth is my moment of clarity didn’t come while I was in the rooms of AA, or reading self-help books, praying in a Buddhist temple or shopping for homeopathic remedies. It came when I awoke from a rohypnol induced sleep to find myself in a bathtub at the Tampa Bay Intercontinental hotel. Confused, I crawled from the bath to the bed, only to find the sheets had been stripped. I knew I had been raped. Again.

But something magical happened this time, something that had never happened before. I felt bad for myself and was overcome with a deep and pure sadness at what had been done to me. I didn’t shame myself or create a million reasons this was my fault. I laid there knowing I did not deserve to feel so much pain in my body, mind or soul. This was my first moment of surrender, where I just let myself feel everything and I just sat with the pain and loved myself through it the best I knew how. Not having much practice in that arena, I immediately began calling on the people in my life who did know how to love me, and they are still teaching me today how to be patient, gentle and kind with myself.

I knew in that moment I would get sober, because I knew in that moment I deserved a chance to live a beautiful life. While I would never wish that experience on anyone, I do pray that all people could experience the love, compassion and forgiveness that dwells within each of us.

Dr. Clarrissa Pinkola Estes said it best: “We came as Love…We are Love…Some of us are still catching up to who we truly are…” That is the true gift of counseling – to see the beauty in another and remind them when they forget.

Image Courtesy of iStock

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