By A. Hosack, K. Hecht & P. Berman
How can I be so selfish? I hate dreams. I hate myself.
Claire is in Dr. Berman’s office. This was supposed to be a family meeting with Davy. However, at the last moment, Claire had called in and asked for a private appointment. She had her own disturbing week of dreams. She needed to do talk with Dr. Berman before she made some terrible mistake. She had already made so many of those.
“Claire, you sounded so distressed on the phone, what happened?” Dr. Berman asked.
“I am so full of self-hate right now. I just don’t know what to do. I can control my thoughts for a moment but then they are back, bigtime- I could just…explode.” Claire whispered.
“You say you feel like you could explode, but you are whispering,” Dr. Berman asked.
“I don’t know. Somehow, I feel that whispering will keep the anger in,” Claire whispered again.
“Is it safe to let it out? (1-minute pause) It makes sense to me that you didn’t bring Davy if you feel that your emotions are overwhelming. (1-minute pause) Can you tell me about your anger?” asked Dr. Berman.
“You have tried too hard to help me think through important decisions and I am back sliding in a terrible way. I want to make healthy choices but…” (2-minute pause, Claire is crying).
“First you were whispering. Now you are crying. Can you allow yourself to be angry?” Dr. Berman asked.
Claire blew her nose and looked up. “I don’t want to be angry. When I am angry, sometimes I do or say things I regret,” Claire said looking straight at Dr. Berman.
“That sounds human to me,” Dr. Berman said. “It is wrong to abuse someone when you are angry, but telling me what is happening, but not abusing me, is an adult way to work through your anger,” Dr. Berman said matter-of-factly.
Claire sniffed and said, “I would never abuse you. You have always been so kind to me. (2-minute pause, Claire is feeling burning hot shame as she remembers hitting Davy when he wouldn’t come out from under the bed, she had never told anyone about this, and so far-Davy hadn’t either) I have done things I am very ashamed of and these dreams…” (1-minute pause)
“I am the only one here with you. You feel confident you wouldn’t harm me. I think this means you could safely tell me what you are very ashamed of right now,” Dr. Berman whispered.
“I keep having dreams about Larry. They should be angry dreams because he has hurt my Davy. (1-minute pause) I am working so hard, and Davy is working so hard- to end his terrible nightmares. (1-minute pause) I don’t understand myself- how I can I be having dreams where… (1-minute pause) Larry has his arms around me, and I just feel so blissfully happy. (1-minute pause, Claire blows her nose). How can I be happy in these dreams with a man who gives my sweet boy such terrible nightmares?”
“Having a dream of being happy with Larry is not the same as deciding to sacrifice Davy’s happiness and safety to be with Larry.” Dr. Berman said softly.
(2-minute pause, Claire finally looks up at Dr. Berman), “Are you sure I am not sacrificing Davy? In the dream, it’s just me and Larry… as if Davy has no importance at all,” Claire said sadly.
“I hear how that bothers you. But, I know, the Carsons know, and even Davy knows that you truly love Davy and would never push his welfare aside,” Dr. Berman said firmly.
“He is precious so why can’t I let go of Larry? Why would I ever think of him, let alone… long to be with him?” Claire asked.
“Larry has been part of your life for a long time. You need to forgive yourself for needing time to work this through. (Claire looks down and sighs) What does the sigh represent?”
Claire looks up and says, “The dream was so wonderful. Larry was holding my hand
we were walking down the back road behind the school. I was just listening. He was
talking about how much he was learning at work and when we both graduated from
high school, we would get on the bus and move to some great city. I squeezed his hand
and he looked down at me, smiled, and gave me this long, soft, beautiful kiss.” Claire was
crying silently, “then I woke up, back in the real world where Larry gives my Davy nightmares.”
“Claire, that does sound like a wonderful dream. (1-minute pause) Did you ever have a real experience with Larry that was like that?” Dr. Berman asked.
“The woods in the dream reminded me of our special place. When Larry was in a good mood, between school and work we would go to small, private little grassy space surrounded by woods. He always wanted sex first but then, he would hold me in this gentle embrace and tell me about his dreams,” Claire said with a sigh.
“It sounds like Larry had some great dreams for starting a new future. (1-minute pause) But, maybe he didn’t know exactly what he would need to do to get beyond the dream to making it real.”
“We did both graduate,” Claire said defensively.
“I wasn’t criticizing you or Larry,” Dr. Berman explained, (1-minute pause) “I just meant he dreamed about you both getting on the bus. How would you make that part of the dream real? You would need money to go. You would need to know where you were going. (1-minute pause) You would need to find a place to live and jobs to pay the bills. (2-minute pause) Did either of you think about these steps?” Dr. Berman said gently.
Claire was looking down and seemed to be thinking. (2-minute pause) She looked up and said, “I have been trying to remember all the times we talked about our future. You are right, we kind of stopped thinking beyond wanting to get on a bus and leave. (1-minute pause) Of course, we didn’t know that I would be moving in with the Carsons. We might have gotten to that point.”
“True, that was unexpected. You have a long history with Larry. I was wondering whether you might want to start writing some of it down,” Dr. Berman suggested.
“But, if I write down all the good memories, won’t it make it harder for me to stay away from him?” Claire asked fearfully, “I don’t want to do anything to hurt my Davy.”
“Forgetting Larry, (Claire looked startled) is not an option (Claire sighed). He will always have been your first friend and your high school love.”
“I don’t want Davy to know that I love his dad,” Claire said.
“I don’t think Davy should be a part of this. I think these are all your memories of Larry. But, be true to what happened, tell all the details you remember, not just the ones that seem like a perfect dream,” Dr. Berman said.
“There were a lot of mixed or bad times, (1-minute pause) I don’t want to remember those,” Claire said.
“I know that will be hard. It is up to you, but if you want to come to terms with the part Larry should play in your future, you need to think about all of it,” Dr. Berman said.
“I might get really upset and Davy would want to know why. (2-minute pause) He is getting very tuned into everyone’s feelings since we started doing that feeling homework.”
“Would it keep Davy out of it if you only wrote about Larry after dinner when Davy is asleep? Dr. Berman asked.
“Sometimes after Davy is asleep, The Carsons and I do this really peaceful thing. We go outside and sit on a bench behind the house. We don’t say anything. We just sit together, listen to the sounds of the birds and animals, and watch the sun go down. (2-minute pause) I could take my notebook with me and write until I felt anxious, and then put my notebook away and just be with the Carsons, listening to the world.”
“Try that this week. Write the memories that come to your mind first; don’t try to censor them or block them. Try to tell all the details you can remember, who was part of it, where it was, how it started, what happened- from start to finish,” Dr. Berman said.
Have you ever wondered if writing about your struggles might help make them not as difficult? In narrative therapy, retelling- or narrating- the stories of your life is the start to moving from a “problem-focused” way of viewing your history to a “solution-focused” way that emphasizes your strengths. To read about narrative therapy you can consider reading the article below. It discusses a type of narrative therapy used for people like Claire who have a history of complex trauma.
Jongedijk R. A. (2014). Narrative exposure therapy: an evidence-based treatment for multiple and complex trauma. European journal of psychotraumatology, 5, 26522. doi:10.3402/ejpt.v5.26522