I had a Thai Massage this afternoon – 3rd one in four weeks. That might seem a bit excessive. I get it. It seems like a lot to me, too. I sometimes have to remind myself the purpose of these sessions. There are things that I get from Thai that I don’t get from therapy; a level of healing that doesn’t currently exist for me in any other setting. Because of that, I am able to process through my childhood traumas at a much more rapid rate than I would with just traditional talk therapy. And to me, it feels like it’s a deeper level of processing. Instead of talking myself in circles, or shutting down and refusing to talk, my entire body gets the opportunity to heal from the trauma, regardless of whether or not I can verbalize what’s going on.
My session today started just like all of my others. My instructor worked on my feet first. The flashback was almost instant. I’m running through the woods. Capture the flag. He pushes her down and hurts her. The pain from the memory takes my breath away. I can’t tell if it’s happening again or not. I see the trees; everything is green. I can’t feel my instructor pressing anymore, just him. When it’s over, I want to cry. I was so little. Where was my mom? Where was my dad? Where was my dad’s girlfriend? No one was there for me.
Abandonment. That theme continued throughout my Thai session. I have been working on acknowledging, accepting, and moving on from the neglect that I experienced as a kid. I spent a lot of my session reflecting on that. I thought about how much I had to take care of myself when I was little. I was a latch-key kid in kindergarten. Because my mom worked 3rd shift, I also had to get myself ready in the mornings for school. I can remember setting my Beauty and the Beast alarm clock every night before bed. I remember making my own breakfasts, packing my own lunch, and fixing my own afternoon snack. I remember working on my homework alone, while watching Power Rangers. Independence wasn’t a choice, it was survival.
As my session continued, I talked about how I took care of my sisters. They are 6 and 10 years younger than I am. I stayed with them after school while my parents worked. I kept them in the summers so my parents wouldn’t have to pay for daycare. I raised them. I didn’t always do a good job. I am a “trauma kid.” I grew up with all of the characteristics of a kid who had been sexually abused – every single one of them. I didn’t handle things in the best way, particularly with my middle sister, the sister who is now chronically ill. Even though her and I have discussed all of the things that happened and I have made my amends, I still feel the guilt and shame surrounding the way I treated her and the things I did to her. My therapist says that I need to work on seeing my younger self with more compassion; she says I did the best I could given my circumstances. It’s difficult though. I feel like I’ll always hate the person that I was then.
The massage continued, and it was time for chimes. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do chimes today, but since minimal sexual abuse memories came up during the session, I decided to try. As the chimes started to play, I looked around the room. I see the blocks and bolsters in the prop room; I see the blinds on the windows; I see the wood floor. I hear the chimes. I hear my breath. I taste the minty mouthwash flavor on my tongue. I smell the faint hint of cigarette smoke in my hair. I feel the texture of the blanket. I’m ready.
I laid down on my belly, having gone through my five senses. My instructor pressed hard on my back. All of the weight helped me stay present. I could feel her hands walking up my back, pushing down as I exhaled. I could hear her breath. I could smell the essential oils. I could see the wooden floor. I stayed present for a little while, but then I was gone. The bolster that was next to me became distorted and the room was out of focus. I couldn’t feel my instructor. I was afraid she wasn’t with me anymore. I’m on the porch. Let’s play doctor. The wind chimes are so loud today. I watch as he hurts her. So much fear. My entire body was terrified.
When the chimes ended, I asked my instructor to keep pressing on my back. I could feel all of the hurt and fear being smushed out. I needed my mom when I was little… I needed her but she didn’t care about me. I needed any adult to be present for me. Instead, I took care of myself. As my instructor pressed up and down my back, I felt an overwhelming amount of grief. It’s not ok; the level of neglect that I endured is not ok.
I needed to cry, but I couldn’t get the tears to fall during Thai today. Every time they’d start, I would shove them back down, my mother’s voice echoing in my head, the sting of her palm against my cheek. I’ll give you something to cry about. But now, as I write this, I can’t make the tears stop. I needed her to love and care about me when I was little. I needed her to protect me and keep me safe. I’ll never understand why she didn’t; I’ll never understand why I wasn’t worthy of that.
Growing up, I had always wanted to be a mommy. I wanted a daughter. My sole reasoning was that I was determined to be a better mommy than my mom was to me. I wanted a daughter who could go to bed every night knowing that she is loved, which is more than I had.
My daughter is four now. She is around the same age as I was when my sexual abuse began. I work hard to keep her safe. I talk to her about her body parts, and which ones shouldn’t be touched by anyone else. I practice yoga with her. I try to acknowledge and label her feelings, and model effective coping skills. I try to stay present for her. Being a mom who has a history of developmental trauma is hard. I am regularly afraid that I am fucking up my kid. But at the end of the day, she goes to bed each night knowing that she is loved. She knows that her life adds value and meaning to mine. She is my everything.
These experiences of neglect have shaped who I am. The post-traumatic growth is found in the way that I parent my daughter. The strength and independence that wasn’t a choice when I was little are now clearly defined characteristics of who I am. It is unfortunate that my mother was not, and is not capable of being my mommy. She is missing out on the amazing person that I have become. However, there have been several kind-hearted women in my life over the past 15 years who have stepped in to fill my mother’s shoes when I needed it the most. It hurts that my mother chose not to foster a connection with me, but I have so much gratitude for the women who did. Without the neglect, those relationships may not have formed in the way that they did.
My Thai session ended with a blissful savasana. As I laid on the mat, I felt all of the pain trickle out of my fingers and toes. I am calm. I am safe. I am cared for. This concept of neglect is a lot bigger than I had anticipated. I can tell it will be something that I will have to continuously work on for a while. However, I feel like I was able to make progress in this Thai session. The little girl that I used to be feels taken care of, and the grown woman that I am today feels cared for. Tonight, for the first time in roughly four weeks, I feel at peace with where I am in this process. I know that I am going to heal from this.