This is from my journal for November 1992. I had no idea yet that I was dealing with PTSD, in fact I wasn’t even on medication. This is an account of a therapy session with Karen Collins in Montpelier, who is now retired. Rather than explain every detail, I’ve just given links to what I hope will make sense.
from my journal for November 25, 1992
I took Kiddo and sat there holding her while telling Karen that there was another child, a “wimp”, one who was very sensitive and very emotional, and who had never been given any guidance for how to live with these things. Then I said that I felt like I was carrying this enormous blood-soaked bundle, and I didn’t know what to do, whether to lay it down and leave it behind — which didn’t feel good, but I was tired of carrying it, and I wanted to go to some old wise woman who would look at me and see a vision and know what to do, and give me herbs to drink, or sing over me, or tell me to fast for nine days, or rub myself all over with red ochre and jump in the river and then I’d be fine.
Karen went and got a shawl and wrapped it around some items, she also found a little “wimp” doll. She said she was the old wise woman and we made a cave out of the couch and some pillows. I brought the bundle in and set it down between Wimp and Kiddo. (She deserves a better name — how about “Waif”) I apologized to the old woman for getting blood on her floor, and she said that was OK. I unrolled the bundle and the first item was a colorful party hat. It made me think of the clown costume I keep wanting to make for myself. I asked who wanted to wear it and glanced from Kiddo to Waif. Kiddo reached out for it, but then was aware that Waif wanted it, and then Kiddo wanted her to have it. She put the hat on Waif and they sat together with Kiddo’s arm around Waif. I unrolled the bundle farther and saw there were four objects: a root, a bone, a small wooden horse, and a covered box (a plastic carrot, a plastic tube, a toy car, and a plastic cube). I explained to the old wise woman that the root and the bone were broken off, could not grow, could not heal. The bone was quite fresh and raw, perhaps from some creature who had recently been alive, perhaps the source of the blood. I identified the bundle with the miscarriage that Codi buries in Animal Dreams. I said it was bits and pieces of a childhood that didn’t come off — or of a person that never got it together.
The old woman asked what the horse needed, or perhaps the question was what did I need from horse. I thought about the cave painting of the pregnant mare, and about riding real horses. Then I decided that the real manifestation of horse energy in my life was dance, and that I want/need more dance events like Monday night where I can let myself be carried by the dance and the dancers. The trouble with Heather’s class is it’s just too difficult, the trouble with folk dance, and dancing alone at Bebop studio, is that I have to put out the starting energy. What I want is a movement group with another leader, or one that runs itself without me. I wonder if Jeannie and Beth and I could put together some kind of ‘do it yourself’ movement at Bebop once a week? Anyway, there is the need/want/vision. I don’t have to know the process.
The old woman asked about the root, what did I need to be able to root myself. I thought about my wish for a room of my own, and my envy of Beverly building her own house, and wondered if I could build my own studio, my own place where I could spill paint on the floor and hang things on the walls. I also thought about the odd little shrines at Bread & Puppet, how I could build something like that. Then I think about my poor health, and lack of energy, and the amount of time it would take. In some ways I want a studio now, and in some ways I want the ritual/experience of building it myself. Well there’s no way I’m going to have a studio now, so I guess I could spend the winter working on a design and see what happens in the spring. I really do have “all the time in the world.”
The old woman asked about the bone. I held it for awhile and then said that it couldn’t heal because it was no longer attached to something living, it would have to transform. I had a picture of a box, lined with velvet, ornately decorated like a reliquary, where the bone could rest, as if in a cocoon.
The old woman asked if the bone could go inside the box. I thought about it, then said no. The bone needs more space, and padding, and the box is full of some very fine grained, precious substance — incense, pollen, … fairy dust! I said it was like the box that had gone with Sam through the Quest of Mt. Doom, filled with the earth from the garden of Galadriel. I realized that I had the illusion that I was supposed to scatter this precious stuff far and wide, when in fact it was OK, perhaps even appropriate, to give only a pinch of it to projects that I thought were worthwhile. At least until I know how to replenish the box, I have every right to treat it as something precious and irreplaceable. I said I would put a little in the box with the bone.
The old woman thanked me for sharing such precious things with her, and asked if I would leave the dried blood behind on her floor. It felt a little scary to me but I said yes. Then I took the bundle and hid it in the cupboard to be safe. I brought the Waif doll home with me. (I told Karen that I was a “sucker for waifs” and then had a twinge for Eleanor. Karen reminded me not to get locked in, that there were more options, that I could always make changes.)
From my journal for November 26, 1992
Dream fragment: I find a nest of eggs. It’s hidden in the dirt and dead leaves. As I carefully brush the leaves away I find seven or eight plump mottled eggs with streaks of bright buttery yellow. I think they are meadowlark eggs. They seem to be still warm.
That was an encouraging dream, and yesterday’s therapy session felt very positive, a healing ritual. As I was driving to Montpelier, I realized that I kept expecting to have a session that would ‘solve’ my complex feelings and/or renew my energy, and that this was unlikely to say the least. What I’m up against is so old and so tangled, that of course it’s going to take a long time to unpick the threads. I’m like a woman who finally decided to divorce her husband, and asked him to leave thinking that she would be fine pretty quickly once he was gone. But no, she has grief and guilt to work through, and then all those feelings that she was able to keep hidden while the relationship was top priority. I didn’t realize that I was so deeply involved with Eleanor in such an unhealthy way. The oddest thing is that when she comes by now, I’m glad to see her, have no trouble feeling a lot of affection for her. But of course, the unhealthy part of the relationship, at least from my side, had nothing to do with her, but only with my inability to validate my own needs and set appropriate boundaries.
When I first talked to Karen about opening up the blood-soaked bundle and seeing what it contained, I got terrified and freaked out. I was afraid I would remember some horrible traumatic event. I was strangely relieved when all I saw were a few plastic toys. Then I realized that I was looking at a miscarriage, at the fragments of what should have been a childhood. There was never enough safety for the pieces to come together. This was the result of denial and neglect, not of more overt and violent abuse. But the damage was nevertheless real.
Now I see that for many years — half a century? — I’ve been carrying a bundle of unmet needs. The blood they are soaked in comes from unhealed wounds, and present pain, and passionate attempts to understand. I’ve poured out my blood like water … but I had to look at my needs before healing could begin. What needs have never been met? To be rooted in safety and security, to be rooted in myself, to feel that who I am, just as I am, is OK. To have a strong inner structure that holds me up, a sense of self-esteem, a gentle voice that gives guidance. To be able to express myself through my body/creativity/sexuality, to trust my body to carry me, to trust a community to carry me. And finally to have a sense of myself and my gifts as precious, not to be squandered on any project that presents itself, but to be saved and used appropriately. O yes, I forgot the party hat/clown hat. What about the need to have fun, to be silly, to play?
One of the things my therapist Erica has been at pains to keep pointing out to me is how my mother completely ignored my needs, and somehow I got the message that it wasn’t OK to have needs. I also have often been angry when people talk about being “thankful for the gift of life.” I feel like the gift came to me smashed.