The woman’s eyes flick around the floor. Her breath is caught up in her ribs, hardly exhaling. Her fists are clenched. Her shoulders shrug upwards around her neck, protectively. The agony of being is raw on her face. Terror and dread and shame and confusion.
But she’s not a substitute. She’s a prison guard.
That is the first conclusion I jump to even before our first session starts. But I am being driven by fear of the unknown; fear of attachment; fear of rejection; fear of being shamed. I’m aware, just about, that I’m not being entirely fair.
‘It’s just a terrible sense of guilt,’ I explain, ‘but I don’t even know where it comes from. I just know that it was my fault. That it was always my fault. So how can I sit here in therapy and complain that I was abused if I caused it?’
‘She said I was too much.’
There. I’ve said it. My shame is disclosed and I tighten reflexively, waiting for the words that will doom me to hopelessness: ‘Yes, you are too much.’
Instead the silence wafts gently between us, backwards and forwards, like a palm leaf.
‘Things aren’t getting any better,’ I whine miserably at the therapist. ‘If anything, they’re getting worse. I can’t sleep. I’m in constant pain. I’m up and down and all over the place. I can’t stay present. I can’t see a way forwards. I can’t stop the flashbacks. I can’t cope. I just … can’t … do it any more …’
I try to take a deep breath, but there’s only space for air in the uppermost part of my lungs. Really I want to run away. Or hide. Or cease to exist.
She bobs her head slightly forward, trying to find me because she knows I’m avoiding her.
Don’t look for me. Don’t find me.