Cognitive Processing Therapy 6.0

Photo by Edgar Moran on Unsplash
Please Don’t Judge Me For This
My son watches Netflix in the mornings before school as he is getting ready. His latest selection is the epitome of a Hallmark Christmas movie. I am convinced it is only on Netflix because it does not have the typical 5 actors/actresses on Hallmark. It is called “The Knight Before Christmas” if you want to check it out. The knight was sent from the 15th century by a wise woman into the present year (2019) for a quest. The catch was that he did not know what the actual quest entailed. Without going into the logistics of the movie, he became discouraged because he had not identified the quest, and his time was almost up. He confided in a friend he made (who will probably end up being the modern day girl he marries – I wonder if she will go back in time with him or if he will stay with her…) that he felt like a failure as a knight. Her response was this: “Failure only happens when you give up.” It is funny how something so profound can come from something so absurd.
Speaking of Failure
I completed a chain analysis on the maladaptive behaviors I have been using. It was my therapist’s recommendation after CPT session 5 to help me try to identify stuck points I may have been missing. My chain analysis did not help me identify stuck points, which caused more frustration. I mentioned to my therapist that I was thinking about sending the document to her to see if she could identify something that maybe I had missed, but I was feeling apprehensive because of the contents of the chain of events. I sent it anyway. I had an intense feeling of fear and regret as soon as I hit send. Once I was aware that my therapist had read my chain analysis, I had that all too familiar feeling of shame. I actually felt like I was running full speed and ran into a giant glass wall. I was stopped dead in my tracks by a feeling of panic.
The stage had been set for CPT 6. I had not recovered from running into that glass wall yet. Breathing was difficult, and my heart was pounding as I walked into the office. The feeling of shame was sitting like a crushing weight both across my chest and on my limbs. I could not even face my therapist. I don’t think I looked at her at all. I barely spoke.
I filled out the PCL-5 (this is a 20 question assessment that measures symptoms of PTSD), as I do every Tuesday. It was scored. Still no progress since I started this process. There should have been progress by now. I am such a failure. I have been working hard. I have not been sitting on the sidelines. Now the shame is unbearable. My therapist asked me questions related to avoidance behaviors and my thoughts on the PCL-5 scores. I sat in silence. I wanted to speak. I wanted her to know what was going on in my head, but the pain of what I was feeling was having an intoxicating effect on my brain and tongue. I had shared more information about myself than I felt comfortable with, I was terrified that I was being judged and that the person who has walked through this process with me would see me the way I see myself, and now there is evidence that the work I am doing is not good enough. I am not good enough. I am a failure.
I was choking on the lump in my throat. Every breath made my neck and throat burn. Every time my chest rose I could feel the tightness. She told me I was using emotional suppression. I was already feeling so vulnerable, I could not lean into outward expression of how I was feeling.
My therapist asked me what I needed. My mind immediately went to how I used to feel when I was in middle school and high school. I remembered the thoughts that used to consume me. Even back then I wanted to die. I wanted all of the pain to end. I used to think that if someone hugged me and told me everything would be okay that maybe it would be okay. I don’t think I am naïve enough to believe that those things will help anymore, but at that time I would have given anything for someone to ask me that question. When she asked me that question, I was taken off guard. What do I even say to that? Now I was really choking on the lump in my throat.
She asked me how I was feeling, physically. She knew I was in pain from lupus. The dam burst. It was as if nothing else had been safe to react to because emotional pain is so vulnerable, but when something much less vulnerable was the subject, I could not control my reaction. Shame burned like acid down my face. Why would someone who knows me and knows how much of a failure I am be so kind.
Even if my therapist sees me the way I see myself, maybe she understands that “failure only happens when you give up.”
Keep Trusting the Process
The past several weeks I have had some profound realizations. Some of these realizations have changed the way I think for the better, but this week was not about a profound realizations or helpful conversation. This week was about shame, fear, and failure. I expressed multiple times that I needed to stop. This process has been too much. This process is too heavy. Sometimes when I am biking up a hill, I will turn around and ride back down part of the hill to re-establish momentum. It seems counter-productive; maybe it is, but as long as I do not go too far down the hill I feel better. My legs get a short break, my lungs take in easy oxygen, and my mental strength is renewed. Maybe the past two weeks I was headed back down the hill.
Guess what? I am going back next week. I am going to try again. I am going to try to step into the discomfort that I avoided this week. I am going to try to move forward again. I am going to try to trust the process.
I am raw, but I haven’t given up. By that definition, I am not a failure.

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