Wednesday, January 14, 2009


"Sometimes a breakdown can be the beginning of a kind of breakthrough, a way of living in advance through a trauma that prepares you for a radical transformation."
-Cherie Moraga

I learned something new about myself in marriage counseling yesterday.

My husband and I were trying to process what has been happening between us over the last few days. Mostly, he was being big and loud, shouting about how I think he's stupid because he likes football and how I make him feel like shit and how it's not fair and how I'm out to get him and on and on, big and loud. I looked out the window and fought back a rising feeling of panic.

The counselor asked him to stop for a few minutes and to look at me. She asked him to describe what he saw. He said, "She looks to me like she's probably realizing she's wrong." The counselor asked him again to describe what he saw. "She looks like she's shaking. I don't know. She always looks like that." Our counselor kept pushing, and finally, he said, "She looks scared."

I had a hard time expressing myself, but "scared" is an apt word to describe what I was feeling. Shaky, afraid, confused, and unsure of what I needed to feel better.

The counselor then began to talk to us about trauma and the ways people react after a traumatic incident. It's not the first time I've heard my reactions to various events in my life as post-traumatic. In my first therapy, when I was about 18 years old, we talked about the trauma of surviving sexual abuse and the trauma of surviving the various situations I'd gotten myself into while acting out in response to the sexual abuse. After September 11th, I talked to a therapist for a bit about my weird responses. For months afterward, I was afraid of blimps, low-flying airplanes, loud noises...I'd startle easily, and I felt a little separated from myself. Now, I'm talking through trauma again, and finding some clarity in understanding my responses to my husband's behavior.

He is doing well, still. Recovery is new, and he's afraid and kind of a mess and unsure of how to deal with the emotions he's been blotting out for years. Sometimes, he doesn't know what to do with himself, and he kind of boils over. When I see that happening, I retreat into primal fear. I am very, very afraid of him yelling, walking around and seeming too big in the room. I am afraid of him going away by starting to use again--going away into his addict. I am afraid of his behavior being so awful that I have to make him go away. I am living in fear of the past coming back, and stumbling over my own psychological patterns. When things are big and terrifying, I have some well-worn patterns of emotional retreat, and I go there quickly.

It's interesting, but identifying the reaction, giving it a name, helped me to see what was happening better, and it also gave my husband an opportunity to hear me and see what was happening. I got some empathy from him, and I think we might both be better able to handle these situations better in the future. Good stuff.