Linda Furness, British retractor
During our first session, Mary Beth talked about my aspirations and asked me about my childhood. She said, "What we need to do is to form a contract to say what are the outcomes you want to achieve in your life." She explained that therapy was a process of understanding myself and reaching my potential. This was quite exciting. This was like a hammock, a safety net. I was finally getting myself sorting out, finding out what made me tick, and I would become everything I could be.
I had been constantly living with frustration and disappointment. I never felt fulfilled, despite my achievements. There was always a gap. I wonder now if I was being selfish to be so introspective. She invited me to become extremely self-centered and introspective.
In our sessions, Mary Beth concentrated on negative emotions. I didn't express anger very much. She concentrated on me being able to get my anger out. She used lots of different techniques, but mostly Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis. Very early on, she wanted me to learn the methodology of TA and buy these books. I was going to become intimate and break down barriers, have loving relationships. She helped me understand that I was just playing games most of the time.
Some sessions we would do chair work. She would ask me to imagine my mother or father in a chair. More often, she asked me to become the other person, go and be my mother. It was a strange and scary experience. Sort of like trying to split my mind. But I went along with it.
In April 1993, I left my job. I had a new tall, dark male boss who frightened me to death. He was verbally abusive, didn't believe I could do the job. He was absolutely ruthless. I couldn't respond positively. I became unable to do the work. I ended up leaving by mutual agreement. So I wondered what I was doing to myself, why I was self-destructive. So I was full of self-doubt. I thought maybe I could do freelance, design management and communication. I thought I could speed up the therapeutic process, really get somewhere. I wanted to be right before I could take on another job.
The dreamwork became quite central to my therapy around this time. I came in with more and more dreams and nightmares. This one particular dream led to my sexual abuse accusations. I dreamed I was in the same house with my parents, in a room that had hundreds of bolts up and down my bedroom door. I was quite happy with this privacy, with the door shut, with a male I felt comfortable with. Outside in the hallway, on a cold floor, my mother was sitting on a quilt. I was thinking, Why doesn't she go back to bed? There was a voice, my father's voice, shouting for my mother to come back upstairs to bed. And that was it.
The method Mary Beth used for dream work was to split the elements down. The theory was, each was a part of your psyche. So she said, "Linda, you are the bolt, what are you doing in Linda's dream?" I was into it, like a kid's play, but I felt pretty silly. I had gotten accustomed to this proces, though. I said the bolts are barriers, keeping people out, achieving my own privacy. I could have said anything. I was trying to please her, give her an answer, say the first thing that came into my mind.
So then we went, Door, what do you want? Quilt, what do you want? Mother, what do you want? The quilt was to keep my Mum warm, away from the cold floor. Then we were going to put the dream together. The male wasn't threatening. He was holding me and it was comforting. He was a married man I was in a relationship with at that time, but he was unattainable.
What really bothered me was that my mother was cold, sitting on this quilt. I wanted to put Mum and Dad together again, put her back there. The quilt was bothering me. I wanted to put the quilt on top of both of them. But when I did, I felt a searing pain, a visualization of this quilt on my father, as if the quilt were me. That's when I got the pain, as if I was being penetrated, almost up to my chest. By this time, I was rocking back and forth. It felt so real, I was clenching my fists, nursing myself. This voice came out of me that sounded very childlike. "It hurts, it hurts, stop it, it hurts." I freaked myself out.
Mary Beth was looking fairly concerned, like there was a breakthrough going on. She then had to take me back up to being an adult so I could walk out without being a gibbering wreck. Often in these sessions, I'd get very tearful. I would cry just about every time.
I didn't actually tell her what was going on; I was in a state of shock. She gently brought me round without talking about it at all. At the next session, I said, "I'm very confused, I don't understand the experience." She explained that I had had a body memory, a memory of being sexually abused by my father.
I was open-minded to the fact that this repressed sexual abuse might be why I had been so pained and upset and introspective and putting up a front that everything was OK. Maybe there was this big trauma. She explained that I would have blocked it out because it was too painful to remember consciously. I said, "If it was an abuse issue, it could be anybody. Why would it need to be my father?" I tried to come up with other ideas of who might have taken care of me. She would say, "I think you'll find it's your father who is revealed in the end." Every session, I went in and would deny it. I wanted to under-stand the body memory process, I was intrigued by this. She explained, "Your body is capable of storing the memories in a way that's so traumatic that your brain doesn't remember." I never got more than that; I just had to believe it.
Then I started to have more body memories, when I was agitated, distressed, and dehydrated. I said, "I feel like I can't breathe. I feel hot, like a hot baby in a pram." She asked how old I felt. I said I felt as if I were 18 months old, or maybe up to about four. I thought my father had actually abused me with his penis in my mouth, that's why I was feeling suffocated and phobic, with pain on my chest. It was probably from the weight of him.
I went into a severe depression, almost suicidal. I didn't want to believe it. I was paying my money for absolute hell. I was desperately trying to get her to change her mind, but she wanted me to believe that she was right. It was a struggle of belief systems. And eventually, she won.
I did not really want to believe that anyone had abused me, but because of these body memories, I had no way to dispute it. People I wanted to get answers from were on a track, and they wouldn't get off it.
After the blackest days of my life, on one occasion, I woke up and literally couldn't see, it was total darkness. I thought, "This is the darkness of depression." I told her I just couldn't cope with this. I just lay in bed with my clothes on. I just didn't want this to be the truth. And she would say to me, "These dark days, you have to go through them to become a better person." I had to go through one more dark depression before I got out of it. So she headed me off for another one. It's almost like becoming masoch-istic, I kept going back for more.
Eventually, I accepted that my father had abused me. I became very withdrawn. I still saw my parents, but very infrequently. I didn't say anything to them, but I started to reveal these terrible awful secrets to others. The more people I told who accepted it, the more I thought it must be true. I told all my friends, even very new friends. I was getting my strokes and my attention from these people. You know, "Oh, you poor thing."
Some people told me later that they never believed it and thought I was being brainwashed. Yet even my closest friends went along with it. My closest childhood friend and I were bathing our children together when I burst into tears. I said, "I think I believe it, but I don't want to." She said, "Well, there's no reason not to believe you. What you believe is real to you." I wish somebody had said, "Linda, come out of this."
I finally disclosed it to my brother, and he said, "There's no way this happened. Don't ever accuse my father, or I'll never talk to you again. You really should stop seeing this therapist." To me, that was, "Oh, well, he's in denial." By this time, I believed that my father abused me because he was abused, and my mother married him because she was abused, going on for generations, a family taboo, and my brother was abused as well and was in denial, and he had married someone with an eating disorder who was abused. And if I didn't get better and accept it, I would be an abuser or marry an abuser.
This all gave me a key to everything. It explained why I lost my job: I had transferred my feelings towards my father to my new boss. He was trying to control me and being abusive, just like my father had been.
I decided not to go home for Christmas in 1993. It would have been a sham. Instead, I spent the holiday miserably walking the moors on my own. I just told them I had things going on and didn't want to upset them during Christmas. They were upset, but they said, "If that's what you want, OK."
Then, around Easter in 1994, I went home. By that time, I was thinking, "OK, he did it, but I forgive him. He was abused and he didn't know what he was doing." So I was trying to figure out how to help my family realize this truth. As soon as I clapped eyes on my Dad, I had trouble. We ate together, but I couldn't hack it after the meal. He said, "What on earth is wrong with you? We don't like you any more. You shouldn't see that woman. We don't know you any more."
We had a buster. My mother asked, "What on earth have we done for you to treat us his way?" I said, You'll never get me to tell you." He said, "We've racked our brains, and we can't figure out what we did wrong when you were growing up. You'd better go. I've finished with you. I wash my hands of you." And he left the room.
Mum said, "Before you go, will you come upstairs and talk with me? What is it? Have you got AIDS? Are you a lesbian? Are you taking drugs? Has your father ever done anything bad to you?" That sort of triggered me, and I said, "OK, come upstairs and I'll tell you." I told her that I'd been exploring in therapy that he had abused me. I didn't go into any detail. I never actually confronted him directly. Then I left the house. In retrospect, I think that was a cruel thing to do.
She didn't tell him for a week, going through in her own mind, wondering if it was true. She finally confronted him; they went through medical records. He totally denied that it never took place. She was in a dilemma of who to believe. Finally, she made a decision that this could not have happened. From there, I realized that I didn't have any allies in my family. To me, they were all in denial. I was getting more and more into believing it totally. I was in such deep pain, it was evidence that it was true.
I felt like I understood the pain and why it was there. When I became a whole person, the pain would go away. I had to take on the dark side of my nature and go through it and purge it and accept the terrible truth. Then I could choose to live in a happier frame of mine. I would be one of the few who really understand and can help the rest of the world. I was starting to speak their language, I was taking it all on board.
Once I was saying and doing the "right" thing, my next step began. I went to group induction training for TA. There were aromatherapists, massage people, NHS therapists, psychiatric nurses. I moved from being a victim to being a rescuer. I was on a crusade to save the world by this time.
But I didn't like the former psychiatric nurse who was the trainer. I thought he was playing God. He really got into the sound of his own voice. I asked him about body memories, and he said, "Trust me, all I can say is that the body stores the memories that the brain can't cope with. Your memories are coming out in a safe environment, a lot of inner child work is going on, so you feel safe. The body never forgets." I said, "Yes, but where is the scientific evidence for this?" He said, quite agitatedly, "You must trust me."
I began to doubt it then. One massage guy was hoping to use TA to convert massage clients. He put it to a 60-year-old that she had to have hip replacement because she had been abused. I found that plausible, but where were the facts to back it up? I started to get a bit rebellious.
My Mum, Dad, and brother came to the clinic around this time and met with the head psychiatrist. I was invited to listen. I thought the therapists would get my family to see the truth. Mary Beth told my father that he needed help. As Mum and Dad left, they said, "If she's hurt, we hold you responsible." My Dad was the last one out, and he turned and said, so sorrowfully, "When will this process be finished? Where's the end to all of this?" It touched me, it really touched me. The therapists said to me afterwards, "Those are very sick people; your family is dysfunctional." I struggled with this. I really wanted to go after my family. I got very distressed because they had left me. I was more vulnerable than ever.
I kept awake all that night, and I suddenly recalled the Peter Pan play I rewrote when I was in the Sixth Form. We wanted the audience to shout, "We believe in fairies," and the crew would hoist Tinkerbell on wires. But they couldn't pull her up, so I kept having to go out and urge the audience to shout louder, stalling for time. I thought, "It's just like that play. This is about belief, and it's up to me to choose what I want to believe. I don't want to believe that this is the truth."
I phoned Mum and Dad and told them I felt unwell, that I didn't know what to believe any more. I went home, and at first they were cool towards me. I told them I didn't want to believe it was true. Then my Dad got hold of me and gave me the biggest hug he ever gave me. He looked into my eyes and said, "I thought I had lost you forever." It was at that point that I converted 100%, looking right into his eyes. That was what was missing all my life. I had never had the closeness I wanted from him.
I never went back to the TA people.
Now I'm thinking for myself, I realize that these negative states are normal to us as human beings sometimes, and they don't necessarily indicate that we were abuse. We all know what it feels like when you can't breathe because you're so stressed out. It doesn't mean it's a body memory of oral sex. I've love to discover what it would be like to concentrate on all the positive aspects of your childhood and see how that was in therapy.
For the time being, I'm living here at home, and I'm trying to get myself a permanent job. Even though I am still dependent on them and feeling rather vulnerable, it has been good to be home for a while. Dad and I agree this time was invaluable. We are considerate of each other. I am treated as an adult, with my own ideas and view. I enjoy my parents now.
Every now and again, I remember the therapy process, but I don't allow myself to think of the details. That's why it's hard to talk to you. I wonder if it will trigger me again. I'm talking to you so that others can read my story and understand what has happened to them. If one other person reads this and gets themselves out of this environment, it will be worth it.