I’ve been struggling with counseling ever since I started to work through the abuse that I experienced at the hands of AA members. This started in about July of 2015 and has continued on to this day. I have made some progress in counseling but most of my healing works has been done on my own time and with my own perseverance.
I see a few reasons for this. First of all, my developmental disabilities make counseling difficult. I have problems figuring out what is best to focus on because I have ADHD, and when I do focus on something I tend to go into hyper focus. Also, since Psychological theory is one of my Autistic sauvant areas I tend to over focus on trauma and such things in a way that is counterproductive to me. When counselors go along with this all it does is reinforce my tendency to over focus on trauma. What I’ve had to do to overcome this is to limit my time reading about trauma and intentionally focus on other things like exercise, earth based spirituality, and even things like television shows.
One example of the problems of hyper focus for me in counseling was my inability to slow down my repressed memories. For quite some time I had problems with hyper focusing on the memories. I constantly tried to put the pieces together and would have repressed memories all day as a result. The counselor I had at the time tried all kinds of methods to slow down the memories: having my adult parts to set limits with the parts that were having memories, having my adult parts listen to what the other parts/myself was trying to say with the memories, and setting aside a certain amount of time to work on trauma per day with my parts. None of this worked, and it seemed like the more she focused on trying to set limits in this way, the more the memories came. Over time, as I said, I taught myself to focus on other things, but setting limits from part to part only seemed to exasperate the situation. It seems as though I have to focus on myself as a whole person in order to slow down rather than parts. I’ve also heard that if counselors focus too much on parts or identities with someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder it can fragment them more than they already are, which I think happened to me and only resulted in more memories as I tried to pull myself back together. The other thing about this counselor is that once she realized that I have autism she no longer wanted to work with me because she’s not versed in it, so I assume that some of the problems I had were due to a lack of experience on her part in dealing with adults with developmental disabilities and Dissociative Disorders.
Another problem that I seem to run into with counselors is that there are a lot of Christian counselors in my area and they tend to be biased when it comes to the spiritual and pastoral abuse that I went through both as a child and in AA (this includes the ritual abuse that I experienced). For example, I found a good counselor back in September but left her a few weeks ago because her Christian slant seemed to make her somewhat limited at helping me successfully work through the sexual abuse that I experienced at the hands of a few pastors/ministers growing up. She didn’t understand why I don’t want to go to church or be in a church. I am extremely triggered by most things relating to Christianity to the point where it is painful for me just to hear just a few minutes of a Christian song on the radio because of my past. When I told her about some of my misgivings about Christianity and triggers she tried to explain to me that that was “their form of Christianity” when in actuality ritual and sexual abuse in the church is very common, as is religious abuse revolving around both fundamentalist and other forms of Christianity as well. I also am aware that some survivors, like myself, do not like and cannot handle all things Christian. But as I said, this counselor and others haven’t seemed to understand that.
The other problem that I’ve had with my last two counselors is that they were both proponents of 12 step programs. Even when I explained what happened to me they still either offered other 12 step programs than AA or tried to get me to look at both the positives and negatives in AA. That is not something that helps me to deprogram from a cult like AA or to recover from ritual abuse.
The counselors that I worked with also seemed very focused on working through the abuse itself but not so much in helping me cope with current day triggers, so I’ve had to figure out for myself what to do by reading about it, talking to others, and calling sexual assault centers. I read in “Courage to Heal” today, for example, which is a self help book on child sexual abuse, that when you get triggered the best way to work through it is to delve into the memory that the trigger is resulting from and work through it. This can work for me sometimes but because I have so many memories and some are repressed I cannot always pinpoint why I’m triggered or what memory it comes from. One thing that happens when I am triggered is that I dissociate, repress, and suppress my emotions, so I have found concrete coping mechanisms like exercise and music to be helpful because they bring me back into my body and help me to work through my emotions, even if I can’t consciously feel them. Writing helps me as well. Sometimes I do have emotions well up when I get triggered and have anxiety attacks, panic, or get angry, but that is less common than dissociation for me. I’ve found that staying calm and breathing helps me through these kinds of situations. Because I haven’t had a lot of help from counselors in dealing with triggers I just kind of do a hit or miss approach when it comes to what helps and what doesn’t, and it seems to be working in the long run. I will admit that I do need more help with it from a professional because so many things trigger me so severely.
Words can really trigger me. Today I was reading Courage to Heal, which I read once a week, and the author talked about the importance of having a willingness to heal. I, of course, freaked out a little because willingness is a big theme in Alcoholics Anonymous. I immediately started wondering if the author and book were biased with 12 step methodology, and because there are a lot of stories with women going to 12 step programs in the book, there definitely is some bias, however I do find a lot of it helpful. So now of course I’m a little panicked about continuing to read it because of this but I will continue anyways. It is hard to find people in our society who can accept the problems in 12 step programs because it’s a big thing to accept, and I do want to read the helpful parts of the book.
I was also triggered the other day on Facebook by a post about gratitude, plus it upset me because the information wasn’t correct for a lot of people. It said something about how thinking about 4 things that you are grateful for once a month will lift depression. This is just not true. I’ve been battling with treatment resistant depression since I started having repressed memories in 2015 and can tell you that thinking of what I’m grateful for would not be enough to life major depression for me. What has lifted it is medications, Yoga, finding things that interest me, and spending time with those I love, including my cats. I still am depressed even today but it is lifting; however, when you’re really depressed you don’t always have the ability to even feel grateful. Depression is really horrible.
I’m seeing a new counselor now for the second time on Saturday. I don’t know her well yet but she seems to understand the problems with the Christian church and didn’t minimize when I talked about what happened there or with AA. She is new at counseling but doesn’t seem as biased as the rest. I hope that it works out. Now that I am on ADHD medications I may have better luck at counseling in general.