Cognitive Processing Therapy 4.2 (and 4.3)


Photo by Max Titov on Unsplash

The Skill

I started playing soccer my freshman year of high school. It had been a passion of mine for years, but the opportunity never arose for me to play until then. I showed up to tryouts about one week after having ankle surgery and demonstrated an incredible lack of ball skills besides. Somehow, I made the soccer team. My coach saw me as tenacious, teachable, and quick on my feet with “go-go-gadget legs” as my college team would eventually say. One of the things I learned to do quite quickly was slide tackle. I loved everything about this skill. I could strip the ball from almost anyone and be on my feet instantly; running down the sideline before most of my opponents knew what had happened.

Unfortunately, slide tackling on dry ground or turf can be extremely painful. I have had turf burns on my upper thigh/hip more than once. Friction from the ground burns the first few layers of skin off and leaves a very tender abrasion that stings for up to several weeks (especially if you have no self control and continue to slide tackle on that same side). My skin was RAW for over a month one season. It stung and ached. It was tender. It was stripped down and vulnerable.

I went from learning how to slide tackle to a turf burn this week. Raw. Stinging. Aching. Stripped down. Vulnerable.

Learning to Slide Tackle (4.2)

Communication with my therapist made it pretty clear I needed help picking apart my stuck points. I mean, it did not take 2.5 hours for me to fill out ten questions anymore, but I was really struggling. Separating one stuck point from the next to refute my beliefs seemed impossible. One of the ten questions asks, “In what ways is your stuck point not including all of the information?” Each time I read that question I would think about all of the other ways I caused my own trauma rather than the details that indicated there was much more to the story than just what I FELT. Facts.

In session 4.2 I became much more proficient with my slide tackle technique. We went over two or three of my “Challenging Questions” worksheets. My answers seemed to improve with each one, but my ability to see the gray areas or the other side of the story was extremely limited. If my therapist sat across from me and told me why she believed each of my beliefs (stuck points) were not completely true, then I would have gained nothing. She patiently asked question after question to help me make conclusions about my own patterns of thinking, details I was blind to, and concepts I could not previously consider.

During a slide tackle, you cannot slide from behind your opponent, you must keep the spikes of your cleats away from your opponent, and you have to connect with the ball. Not following these regulations restarts the play and gives the opponent a free kick. Learning to challenge my stuck points correctly (just like slide tackling correctly) is imperative to understanding that I did not cause or ask to be assaulted (getting the ball, taking it down the field, and taking a shot at the goal); it is taking back my life (not giving the ball right back to my opponent), so to speak.

At the very end of session 4.2 I turned to a more difficult stuck point. Time was short, and the pain associated with this belief required a much more careful look at the questions. We agreed that, if possible, the discussion would continue during my next appointment.

I had a difficult time pulling myself together the next few days. Despite very little discussion about that last stuck point I had managed to open the flood gates in my own mind. That, mixed with my own accumulating stressors, was a recipe for maladaptive coping strategy stew.

Turf Burn (4.3)

“How would you like to focus your time today.”

Yeah, I still had (have) several things going on that were (are) taking a toll on me: Health concerns, fatigue, a minor surgery coming up, and fear that I am not doing enough for my son who seems to be wrestling with and internalizing his own emotions, to name a few. I threw those things aside. I can take those things in stride, as much as possible for me anyways.

I turned to my “Challenging Questions” worksheet that addressed my third most difficult stuck point (in my mind). “Because I did not stop [it], it was all my fault.” Identifying evidence against my belief was complicated. I allowed specific events leading up to the assault. When you believe you did consent to it, why would you stop it? When you don’t believe you have the right to stop it, how can you? My therapist again asked question after question. I was able to conclude that my belief was a belief of habit, it did not include all of the information surrounding the assault, and it was only focused on one part of the story. Again, new conclusions about old patterns of thinking, details I was previously blind to, and concepts I could not or did not previously consider.

This entire process caused my brain to vibrate and made my ears ring. You see, to help me make these conclusions, I had to listen to other scenarios (maybe made up, maybe true) that were graphic. The scenarios had to be graphic. They had to make me think. I needed to hear them. I needed to make judgments. The scenarios would start the gears moving in my mind, but my mind needed to compare my experience with the scenario. My mind needed to be sure that they were similar enough to be relevant. My mind needed to carefully consider whether I could judge someone else in a similar type of situation as I judge myself. That is when the vibration started. That is when the ringing in my ears started. I felt this tinge of pain, emotional pain. I felt my lips quiver ever so slightly as the scenario pulsed with my experience. I could not emotionally handle what I processed. I was falling. Or floating. It was all happening again. I know my therapist was talking. I could hear the sound. I could not make the words make sense though. I was fighting to hang on to the present while my brain and body were going back.

Music. Floating. Music. Floating. Her voice. Hazelnut. Bright flowers. Floating. Her voice. Heat. I am breathing. I feel my muscles tensing and releasing. I see the flowers, the yellow chair, the blue and white paperclip in my hand. I smell the hazelnut coffee that is now hot in my hand. And then, MISSIO. Middle Fingers. I was in my therapist’s office. The room was safe. She was safe. I was safe. 

I fought the rest of my time in that office to know what was happening and to experience fear, tension, pain, and sadness. We moved on to question four, I think. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.

Ten. The answer to number ten gripped my arm and would not let me walk away without moving forward. “Not stopping someone does not imply consent.”

My mind: “You consented with your actions. Keep quiet. Don’t tell. You did it. You implied consent!”
My body: Heart pounding, body starting to feel numb, head caught in a fog, starting to float.
My will: “Stay here! Do the hard thing.”
My voice: “What does imply consent?” 

We talked. I couldn’t give details. She provided another example. My conclusion: What I did, my response, did not imply consent. It was survival. And, I think I actually believe that.

I had just slide tackled and scraped a few layers of flesh away. Raw. Stinging. Aching. Stripped down. Vulnerable. 

But, for that play, I won the ball. I brought it down the sideline.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s