Tuesday Tears

Photo Credit: Keagan Henman, Unsplash (edited)

Weeks of hard work passed with me sitting in Matt’s Tuesday groups wondering how I could start to heal. I asked him for help with my mind mapping – a practice he uses to process different thoughts (and the shame associated with those thoughts). My volunteerism occurred before I knew what we would be mapping on that Tuesday, so when he told me to turn to page thirty-one, I think the blood left my head. It could have been “What’s On My Mind,” the “Problem Map,” “Situation Map,” “Person Map,” or “Choose Your Topic Map.” Unfortunately (or fortunately), it was the Trauma Map. The problem with the Trauma Map was that I was going to have to talk about my trauma.

I thought of a traumatic event, the image associated with it, and wrote words to express that image in the middle of my page. I then scattered thoughts all around the page. My body started to feel shaky, my jaw tensed, and my shoulders and neck tightened. I rated my distress at a 10 out of 10 and then chose the statement that activated the most shame. From the thought, I thought about the requirement I had fabricated in my mind: “I should never let someone touch me.” Matt’s next step is called the “storyline,” and my storyline was that I was responsible for what happened. What does that say about me; what does my own voice of shame say? I am a terrible and disgusting person. The only way to fix the problem, according to the same voice of shame, was to avoid touch.

My heart was pounding as I spoke, out loud, in front of Matt and the rest of the group of people at Annie’s House, the thoughts in my head. My jaw, neck, and shoulders felt tight, and I felt nauseous. My muscles were flexed, and my jaw was clamped so tight that I developed an instant headache. When I realized how my body was reacting, I tried to relax but couldn’t. Matt walked over to me; right in front of me, and then he squatted down. He asked me to tie the thoughts, sensations, and feelings back to an earlier memory. I panicked, closed my eyes, and felt the shame pulsing through my body as I willed myself to disappear. Matt told me to open my eyes, and when I did, he was staring directly into my eyes. His eyes were radiating softness and compassion, and the way he was kneeling was so open as if he was waiting to absorb the terrible events in my life. He quietly told me to speak the memory out loud. He wanted me to focus only on him, forgetting about everyone else as if they didn’t exist – or didn’t matter. Truthfully, they didn’t matter. It was my story, and I needed to speak it. I described an event that happened in my younger years as Tuesday tears streamed down my face. In as few words as possible, three actually, he repeated it back to me. Then, he had me repeat his words – three words, as well.

Reconnect. I had to reconnect to the present. I closed my eyes and started to breathe deeply; palms up and on my lap. When I opened my eyes, I was still distressed. I was supposed to re-write the story for myself. Maybe the re-written story should have said, “It wasn’t my fault,” but I wasn’t there yet. I’m still not there, but I was and am here: “I want to believe it wasn’t my fault.”

“I went deep inside, where monsters hide. To free my mind and come out alive.”

Several more weeks passed. Every Tuesday, I watched and participated as my peers processed painful situations, again in Matt’s group. The loss of a very special grandmother, the suicide of a brother, repeated rapes or molestations, drug deals that went bad with murders of friends, and more. On this one particular day, Matt told us we were going to do a shame chair practice. During our break, I asked for a turn to sit in the shame chair, and when I returned to the group room, two chairs were facing each other. Both were mine. I took a seat in one of those chairs with everyone sitting in a circle around me, and I prepared myself for the inevitable pain and Tuesday tears.

The instructions were simple. Every terrible thing that I think and say about myself, say it out loud.

“I am stupid. I hate myself. I ruin everything.”

A friend walked up behind me and put their hand on my shoulder. They became my voice. “I am a terrible mom. I am ruining my son’s life. He would be better off without me.” Each person that stood behind me had equally terrible things to say, but I already believed the things being spoken anyway. It was as if I was speaking them.

“I am fat. I am ugly. I am stupid. I fail at everything I do. I screw everything up. I am a terrible mom. I hurt everyone around me. I suck. I have caused my son so much pain. I am a horrible wife. I have caused my husband too much pain. I am unavailable. I have traumatized the people close to me. There is nothing good about me. I don’t belong. I am unlovable. I shouldn’t be alive. I deserve to die. I deserve to be alone. I deserve to suffer. I should kill myself. I am too broken. I will never be good enough. I am unworthy of love and belonging.” The words were pouring out of me the way water spews out of a fire hydrant when the lines are being flushed.

“Stop. Sit in the other chair.”

The other chair was the true self chair. I was supposed to say what was actually true of me. I sat in silence. One person stood, walked over to me, put their hand on my shoulder, and spoke. “I am kind. I am trying…” One by one, the people I had become friends with walked over to me and spoke words they believed were true of me.

“Your turn.”

“I am doing my best. I am trying to forgive myself. I am hurting but not broken.”

Matt put his hand on my shoulder. “I am worthy of love and belonging.”

Tears were streaming down my face – Tuesday tears. “I want to believe I am worthy of love. I want to believe I am worthy of belonging. I am okay. I am loved. I am enough right now.”

“Keep going.”

I looked up at some of the people in the room who I felt closest to and saw love and compassion in their eyes, and at that moment I felt something I don’t typically feel. “I am worthy of love and belonging.”

The entire group of people in the group room walked over to me and put their hands on my shoulders (a difficult thing to handle in more ways than one). This gesture was a symbol of support, love, and belonging.

Sitting in that chair was painful. The terrible things I believe about myself and say to myself minute by minute were easy to say, but the kind words were awful. I would speak something kind and immediately follow it up with a shame chair comment, switching back and forth. However, I know that deep inside of me, there is a voice that speaks love and compassion. I don’t hear it often, but I know it’s there.

Sometimes I need to take a step toward the next telephone pole on that long, steep hill. Sometimes I need to jump off of a small platform at the top of a high pole. Sometimes I need to switch seats, listen, and speak from the voice that, with good and protective intentions, is held hostage by self-hatred and accusatory thoughts.

“I went deep inside, where monsters hide. To free my mind and come out alive.”

Matt Quackenbush, LCSW practices in Utah. He specializes in trauma therapy and utilizes treatment modalities including Internal Family Systems, Psychodrama, EMDR, the Gottman Method, Mind-Body Bridging, Cognitive Processing Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Mindfulness. He leads groups at Deer Hollow and Steps Recovery Center (Annie’s House). He also has his own private practice and hosts a podcast called Finding Strength. You can listen on many platforms: StitcherAppleSpotify. His Finding Strength Facebook page and professional Facebook page are also great resources.

Quote (Lyrics) by Edan Chai Dover and Eddie Anthony Ramirez, “Can You Hear Me Now,” The Score.

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