Little Earthquakes

My life used to be rather banal. I think. I can’t really imagine that my pre-Dr. T life was anywhere near as interesting—or as anxiety-producing—as my life is now. It’s hard to remember, though. It’s all a bit of a haze…

In my post-Dr. T life, every so often, little earthquakes occur—random happenings that come out of nowhere, slam me upside the head and knock me off balance, leaving me both shaken and stirred. The nature of the event matters little. Good or bad, the impact on my PTSD-addled nervous system is usually about the same. And I inevitably find myself wondering what’s coming next.

Take this month, for example.

Out of the blue, the first week of November, I got an email from my attorney. The subject line read: “[Dr. T] article.” Can you imagine what that did to my heart rate? Yep, through the roof. The “article” turned out to be a PDF of a couple of columns from the Disciplinary Actions section of The Therapist, the bi-monthly magazine published by CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists). The charges against Dr. T and resulting disciplinary actions were there in black and white for all the (California) therapy world to see.

This came as a bit of a shock, not simply because it had been published in the July/August issue—Hello?! Might I have liked to know about this sooner?? Uh, yeah!—but also because I wasn’t expecting Dr. T, who was a clinical psychologist and not a marriage and family therapist, to be written up in CAMFT’s publication. Who knew?

Apparently, no one. What should have been a victory felt more like a mixed blessing. On the one hand: Hallelujah! It’s in print! On the other: You mean nobody saw it?? Of all the therapists I know, no one noticed it?? Good grief! Naturally, one wants that sort of thing to be seen and read by the entire world, if possible.

Additionally, there’s the fact that the charges were taken directly from the formal Accusation filed in December 2008 with the Attorney General’s office. The Accusation contains the “factual allegations” of the case, and unfortunately, there were a couple of things that Dr. T alleged that were not true. (Surely you’re not surprised….) Nothing major. In fact, the things he made up make him look worse. (Have I mentioned that my attorney dubbed Dr. T “The Idiot”?) Still, it’s kind of a bummer to see any of his lies in print, since they’re likely to be regarded as fact, and I bristle with indignation whenever I read them. Ah well. So it goes.

Still, seeing Dr. T’s name and abuses there in print felt pretty darn good, even if it did send shock waves rippling through my system. I happily forwarded the PDF to a few people, including one person who has occasional contact with Dr. T.

I had largely recovered from this excitement when I heard back from said person a day later. The email relayed a recent and truly disturbing incident in which Dr. T had gotten angry at someone, pushed them against the wall and spat in their face. This is the second such story I’ve heard in which Dr. T physically accosted someone and spat at them. What the hell?! Who does that?? Apparently, Dr. T has become increasingly aggressive and volatile during the past few years, and it freaks me out. I feel concerned for anyone who has to deal with him, including his family, because, seriously, isn’t it likely to get worse rather than better? Although no one has pressed charges yet, the most recent victim did file a complaint with the local police department.

Oh, how I wish this man were in jail! Sometimes I wish I had filed a criminal complaint with the police rather than just pursuing the civil lawsuit. But after going through all the legal rigmarole and then the licensing complaint, I just didn’t have the energy or the inclination to put myself through another traumatizing process. I wanted to be done. But still—Dr. T in jail? The world would be a safer place.

After the email, I had about a week on solid ground, and then….

Last Sunday morning I was at my regular community dance jam—my own version of sanctuary and one of the few places I go that feels safe. Several newcomers showed up, including one gentleman who looked a tad familiar. He wasn’t ringing any bells, so I didn’t think much about it. Then, after the dance was over, he came up to me and said, “I figured out where I know you from.” The man spoke softly, apparently not wanting to be overheard. He said, “I think we used to be in the same therapy office—on Telegraph Avenue…” I felt my brain start to get a little hazy as he continued, saying that he was usually waiting for his appointment with his therapist when I was coming out of my appointment with my therapist. (My therapist being…Dr. T.) He said he found it funny that my therapist often came out of his office without his shoes on.

Shit.

See, now, part of the screwy thing about recovering from PTSD is that you just never know what’s going to trigger you. Some things slip on by with only a little disturbance, others whack you over the head and send you reeling, and then there are the ones that kind of creep up on you and, before you know it, the fog has rolled in and you just can’t seem to focus on what’s right in front of your face. This was like that.

So there I stood, staring at him blankly, the PTSD inhibiting my ability to fully access my memories. I couldn’t think very straight, except that part of my brain was saying: Here? Now? Again?? It was, what—a couple of weeks ago that I had to deal with S showing up in my “safe place” and now this?

I needed to say something—I couldn’t just keep staring at him. And I didn’t want to lie and make it all be okay. So this is what I said: “Um, yeah, I ended up suing him for being inappropriate.” (Being inappropriate. Yeah, that’s what came out of my mouth.) The man looked horrified and apologized profusely for bringing up bad memories as I said, “No, no, it’s fine…really….” and mumbled something about PTSD and desensitization and Lord knows what. I didn’t want him to feel bad, so I tried to smile, look reassuring, and smooth it over.

Then he caught my eye and asked me if I wanted to know what else he remembered. I held my breath, wondering what the heck he was going to say. He told me, “You used to come out crying a lot.”

Ah. Yeah. I remembered that. And I really wished I didn’t. I didn’t want to think about the times I left Dr. T’s office feeling alone, devastated, worthless, filled with self-loathing. Those were the times he fucked with my mind rather than just my body. The times when I was crying so hard in the car that I wondered how I’d make it home. Or if I even wanted to make it home.

Seeing me in tears after my therapy appointment, the man had wanted to say something kind, reach out to me, but he’d worried about appropriateness and waiting room etiquette and all that, so he’d never said anything. I thanked him for telling me and wished him the best. He left shortly thereafter. I have no idea whether he’ll come back to the dance.

I made it into my car and onto the road before the tears came. (I’ve gotten really good at holding in the feelings until I’m alone and in a safe place.) A while later, I remembered the man in the waiting room. Of course—there he was in my memory now, the same man, sitting in the chair when I came out of the room. I was embarrassed about crying and didn’t want him to see my tears or my blotchy face, so I always tried to put on a smile and look “fine.” Some things you can’t hide, I guess.

* * *

I sometimes find myself wondering, Is it ever going to end? How long are these little earthquakes going to keep happening, startling me when I least expect it, when I think I’m safe, triggering any one of a zillion memories of Dr. T? A lot of memories are packed into those five-plus years. After all, this wasn’t a one-time thing, some isolated incident contained by time and place—this was five years of different times, different places, different people. How does one sort through and recover from all that?

Happily, it is getting easier. I get triggered less often and when I do, I recover much faster. Even though an email from my attorney can still make me sweat so much that five minutes later I need to change into a dry shirt, a couple of hours later I’m okay. The flooding and overwhelm that used to stay in my system for, often, a day or more (yes, seriously), now clear out much more quickly.

The EMDR seems to be doing its job. And frankly, the little earthquakes do work as exposure therapy, helping to desensitize me to triggers—once I’ve recovered from the initial flooding and overwhelm. It’s not my preferred method for recovering from PTSD and all this crap, but it does work.

Still, if it’s all the same to God and the Universe, it sure would be nice to stand on solid ground for a while.

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Kristi,

    That’s pretty exciting about the article in The Therapist… and I understand the mixed emotions. It’s interesting how some things strike us and trigger PTSD symptoms, and others, as you reflected, roll on by like little ripples just under the surface. Just in reading your account of the man from the waiting room approaching you at your “safe place,” I was thinking, “What? Not this again! Poor Kristi!” It did seem like a bit much. I feel compassion for you, and empathy too.

    When you described leaving your Dr. T’s office so often in tears when he’d messed with your mind, and your crying so hard you could hardly drive home and wondering if you even wanted to make it safely home, memories came swooshing in of the many times I left my T’s office in much worse shape than I’d arrived… all that mental torment, obsession, bondage… so much energy and pain wasted on my “idiot.” Yes, my current, very boundaried, therapist and I have long dubbed T “idiot.” Not with the “The” but I like that, “THE Idiot,” maybe even “THE VILLAGE Idiot.” In his Narcissistic bubble T made such stupid mistakes if he never wanted to be exposed… like allowing me to audio record our sessions as he proceeded to abuse me. Brilliant! …I also dub him “The Evil One,” when I need to briefly mention him for some reason while discussing something with my adult daughters or with my wonderful husband. Sometimes it’s just too loathsome to say HIS name, “T—-.” So instead I’ll say to hubby, “You know, when–” brief pause, in take of breath, sweep of the hand as if batting away a pesky mosquito, “–when The Evil One was messing with me…” Anyway, as I read that part of your post, again I feel that level of empathy that I sometimes wonder if only a fellow recoverer can feel.

    And lastly, I DO believe you will continue to progress as you have been and your stability will increase and spread out to more areas of your brain and your life. You mentioned EMDR in this post and in others and how effective it has been for you. I, too, have read and heard that EMDR is really good with trauma for a lot of people, and I know in my experience, Lifespan Integration ( lifespanintegration.com ) is also an amazing therapeutic model to quickly help the mind process and clear out trauma (similar in some ways to EMDR, but very different in other ways).

    My point? Your hunger for healing, your “tenacity for veracity,” your authenticity, and your perseverance in your own therapy with a powerful model… all of that, to me, spells continued and deepened stability. So, borrowing from the group Pink Martini, “Hang in there little tomato.” 🙂

    Kira

    • Wow, Kira, thanks so much for the acknowledgments and for your honesty and courage in sharing your own story. I can so relate to both idiots’ stupid mistakes and to the uncomfortableness around just saying the name. I’ve gotten so used to calling Dr. T by his first name that I just keep saying it in conversation, but using it also maintains a level of intimacy with him that can be difficult to bear. During the legal process I started simply referring to him by his last name, which has the effect of depersonalizing him somewhat, but I find myself always returning to his first name (with the occasional “rat bastard” thrown in, when I’m feeling a bit cheeky). I sometimes wish I could continue regarding him as something inhuman—the devil, or a demon, perhaps—but unfortunately he is human, albeit a poor example of one, and that is just one of the things I need to face.

      Thanks for mentioning Lifespan Integration. It does look like it’s somewhat similar to EMDR. I’m so grateful that people are finding recovery methods that work for them!

      And, oh, I am so going to borrow “tenacity for veracity”!!! I just love that.

      Cheers!

  2. I was just wondering why no one has told you that ‘little earthquakes’ , the analogy of ‘earthquakes’ is often associated with orgasms. (for many many years) So , i read your article with interest as you used to to describe PTSD. I am also curious that if you read winer’s article 49 , which explains everything about the law, the procedure, the ‘diagnosis’………and explains the PTSD LIKE symptoms, since pTSD is often miss used and missunderstood these days, PTSD is more of a psychotic disorder, or dissasociative , not just things that intensely remind someone of a trauma……but the person can still know the two events are separate incidents. in a true flash -back……..the person can not tell the difference, and it is considered a dissasociated state of psychosis………..
    Just letting you know how these things can be missconstrued.
    I think this site is good ,as long as it doesnt promote the ‘insanity’ of people who have been harmed this way. Those labels hadhave more to do with claiming damages than what actually occurs in reality……. please consider things carefully. know too, that psychiatry has for a long time, more than twenty years, really objected to anyone who had been hurt by a doctor,etc, joining support groups or being informed , like this site offers. They site all kinds of paranoid, and money reasons , or someone who wants to make something up and carry it off……
    thoughts to consider

    • Hmmm, no, I wasn’t aware of that particular analogy. With respect to Tori Amos, who also has a song of that title, I don’t think that’s what she was writing about either. But I could be wrong…

      Truly, anything can be misconstrued or taken the wrong way. Interpretation is always in the mind of the beholder. If I were to consider everyone else’s opinions every time I sat down to write, I’d never write a word.

      Regarding PTSD—specifically Complex PTSD—I’ll refer you to Judith Herman’s book Trauma and Recovery.

      Thanks so much for sharing your opinions. All are welcome here.

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