I’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately. More specifically, I have been thinking about how I am a failure. Does anyone remember my run-in with Cognitive Processing Therapy in late 2019? I do. I made it to the halfway mark in the process and had to call it because I couldn’t change the way I was thinking; TKO. CPT is a sub-type of Cognitive Behavior Therapy and is typically a great form of therapy for people dealing with cognitive dissonance. You either learn to change your thoughts, or you learn to change your actions. Neither felt possible to me because I was convinced that I was at fault for the trauma I was trying to process. I couldn’t refute my own arguments even when they made no logical sense to others. Truthfully, it wasn’t just that I felt responsible for the trauma. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what I felt, or rather what I thought, in a way that I could communicate fully. Either way, trauma won, and I lost. I failed.
I’m not trying to be dramatic, really. I just felt like there was no hope after weeks of seemingly no progress at all. I told myself that if I ever failed at something like this again, I would quit therapy altogether. If an evidence-based, structured technique used for trauma couldn’t help me, then what could? I can only handle so many failures in my life, and I was pretty sure I was reaching my limit.
Things were slipping for me for a while before finally making the decision to go to Steps Recovery/Annie’s House in Utah. While there, I wrote a narrative about my life (because it was required). It was as detailed as I could handle, and it included, among many other things, how I felt and what I thought about one year of my life that I found (find) intensely shameful. My peers didn’t hear about how shameful it felt to me. Instead, they heard the story, and they watched me cry. It was the “ugly cry” with convulsing, hiccuping and gasping for breath. They didn’t know they were watching loneliness, confusion, self-hate, grief, and shame pour out of me. They didn’t know how much I have wrestled with it for years, or how I continue to struggle through the swampland.
I’ve mentioned before that Utah was a great place for me to work through some trauma in a more intense way, and I think it was a great springboard for jumping into EMDR when I returned to Pennsylvania. But, it also leads me to my next painful failure; the one that almost had me walk away from therapy altogether.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing with my therapist here in Pennsylvania started in late March, a few weeks after I returned from Utah. I’ve written a little about how some of those sessions have gone. No doubt, there was progress made from the beginning. However, there was a wall; a few, actually.
I was experiencing some uncomfortable physical feelings which started to cause panic and dissociation both in session and outside of session. I became so fearful that I randomly found a therapist in some other state and emailed her. I had a question I really needed someone to answer, but I felt so much shame and embarrassment about it that I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it with my own therapist. Despite the shame and embarrassment that I still feel, I will probably need to bring it up before moving forward in EMDR because the answer I received did not make me feel much better. Perhaps it normalized what I was experiencing, but I think I was hoping there was a remedy for it instead.
Moral cognitive dissonance issues came up for me with EMDR just as they had with CPT. I was kind of hoping that would fade into the background and disappear forever, but it became more intense instead. The two opposing thoughts and feelings were colliding inside of my head and heart, and they were assaulting my very being. I was feeling awful because every EMDR session was causing shame and self-hatred. I wanted to separate what happened from how confused I felt about it, but I couldn’t notice what was happening in my body and mind without judging it; whether it was as though it were happening in the present moment or with the awareness that it had happened in the past. I am a harsh judge.
I was struggling with the physical sensations, thoughts, and judgments tremendously, and the more I experienced those, the more flooded I became. I tried not to resist, but a part of me seemed to smack the experience away like it was a pesky fly. I tried not to dissociate, but a part of me also left me alone either in the nightmare I was re-experiencing or in a floating cloud of nothingness.
Well, the discussion ending EMDR was a hard one. I heard the words my therapist was saying about why it needed to be terminated, at least temporarily. She had told me before that EMDR isn’t meant to retraumatize someone over and over. The distress is supposed to lessen. This was another evidence-based, structured technique used for trauma, and I couldn’t do it. I failed.
It is a sad, lonely place in my personal world. I feel like I am abandoning myself whichever direction I turn. I have said several times that I need to be fixed. There is something wrong with me. I am broken. The answer I get each time is that I don’t need to be fixed because I’m not broken, and “…there is more right with you than there is wrong…” (Jon Kabat-Zinn).
Truthfully, I’m discouraged. I’ve worn my brave face for a long time, and I don’t want anyone to see that I am terrified as a child may be in the dark during a thunderstorm.
3 thoughts on “I Failed”
Ah, how many times have I said in therapy, “there’s something wrong with me.” How many different therapists have I gone to, only to come to a point where it’s just not working anymore. And yet, here we are – finding a new therapist, trying a new approach, talking about trauma in a new way (or at all) without even realizing we’re doing it until afterward.
Look at us, making progress. Isn’t it terrifyingly wonderful? Do you also find yourself afraid to hope that you might actually be making progress, that maybe you are feeling a little bit better? Because doesn’t that come with a whole different set of challenges?
Challenges that we will also, eventually, look at and say “oh hey I just did that didn’t I. Cool.”
-Megan (from PT)
Your words resonated strongly with me. Persistence and grit have been my strongest allies.
Sometimes I am terrified of progress. I’m terrified because I don’t know what to do with new feelings. I’m terrified because I don’t want to fall backward again. Dealing with those things are terrifying new experiences and challenges, but they are also welcome. The old way was exhausting.
Thanks for reading, Megan.
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