Holistic Depth Psychotherapy - Nicole Ann Ditz, MA CMHC

The Invisible Faces of Complex Trauma

"We're like birds that have flown a very long way from their nest. We're like nettles in a garden full of hops. We shouldn't have to hide who we are. Our faces are unseen." ~ Rose Christo

Chrysalis and Butterfly

N. Kwee

"You cannot disown what is yours.
Flung out, there is always the return,
the reckoning, the revenge,
perhaps the reconciliation.
There is always the return.
And the wound will take you there."

~ Jeanette Wintersen


'Kate' is a well mannered and pleasant thirty six year old woman. Her hair is dark with hints of salon red peeking out. It first hangs bewildered below her shoulders until she pulls it back severely, like an unruly child, into a grey barrette. She wears stylish glasses through which she glances at me briefly and then, as though seeing too much, swiftly removes. She carries a beige handbag that she tucks neatly near her feet and pats once as if it were a dog that she is reminding to be still and obedient. She perches sapling-stiff in my forest green client chair. The insides of her thighs and calves press closely together with only her toes fully in contact with the floor. Periodically, she pulls absent-mindedly at her baggy peasant style blouse. Her nails are always beautifully manicured, the tips clean and perfectly defined. She arrives, stopwatch punctual, for every session.

Kate's hazel gaze is direct yet obscure. She seems to be incessantly called elsewhere, as though busy channeling a spirit from a remote universe. Her scleras are egg white except for a faint spattering of red squiggles in one corner. She reaches for her own tissues and blows her nose so quietly that I wonder if she is just feigning a mundane human gesture while forgetting to complete the act. "Allergies," she whispers, vaguely apologetic beneath her breath. I point out the box of Kleenex beside her. She offers me a tightly woven grin while explaining in a faux cheerful voice that she doesn't want to "waste" my supply with her chronic rhinitis. She enunciates each syllable of rhi-ni-tis precisely, handing me a clipped chuckle at the end of her pronouncement. Her utterances hang awkward and thick in the air between us: a blunt and aching disclosure revealing much more than her careful speech intends.

I inquire into why she is seeking therapy. "Well," she sighs, then hurries along, head down, moving briskly on rapid verbal heel like a person caught in a sudden rain storm: "My husband and I don't seem to be communicating in a healthy way. I have been feeling so overwhelmed with the kids and finishing my thesis... everything has felt stressful to me which is not like me at all because I am usually so upbeat, the kind of person everybody comes to with their problems. I don't know…maybe I have been having too much caffeine in my diet. I feel so on edge!" Her hands, slight with prominent bird like bones, flip up in the air then collapse in a crumpled heap in her lap while clutching aimlessly at the barely used tissue. I gaze at the delicacy of her hands and notice how defeated and helpless they appear as they huddle on the slender branches of her thighs.



"She was a stranger in her own life,
a tourist in her own body."

~ Melissa de la Cruz

I eventually ask her, after exploring details of her current life, about her childhood history and whether she experienced any trauma. "Oh, no!" she exclaims. "It was never anything terrible like that! Yes, dad certainly liked his beer and he could be really moody, but he was a good guy and would play occasionally with us kids during the summer, and we had a huge yard with mature oaks... Mom worked allot so she was always exhausted, but that was good because it taught me to be really independent at a young age instead of coddled like so many kids. I learned to take over making dinner for my sisters when I was eleven, and it is amazing what I would dream up!" Her words tumble, collide and blur as they race toward some hoped for finish line where her past could be sealed up like hazardous waste material and then trucked off to an unknown, forever off limits, psychological landfill site.

Kate flashes me a flimsy smile that is sheer and cannot mask a wistful sadness. She tries to sum up her history with matter of fact aplomb: "I actually come from a solid, upper middle class family. I lived in a great neighborhood and attended the best private schools. My parents worked so hard to give me all the advantages they didn't have as kids so I am really fortunate, you know?" Her sentence trails up slope as though she is asking rather than telling me. "I don't know what my problem is, but I probably am just being difficult and whiny like my husband often tells me." She laughs, releasing a hollow little sound, while compressing tissues into a tiny ball which she then tries to slip surreptitiously inside her purse instead of the trash receptacle placed next to her chair.

I listen carefully; I ask deepening questions; I observe closely. Most of all I feel with my mirror neurons, staying attuned to my insides and sensing a light shiver in the center of my chest that spreads like the ripples of a rock tossed into an algae dense pond. When she stops to take an in-breath, her whole being seems to be gearing up for a life or death confrontation. Her fingers tremble slightly as she heaves her diaphragm and shoulders up with air as though dead lifting a heavy barbell, straining with the effort. Her smile looks crooked and slightly off center, scribbled in hurriedly as if she is under pressure to finish a self portrait of a woman whose features have never existed before.

Kate's prosody has an "up and at em" hyperbolic rhythm. She seems sincere in her efforts to show me a facsimile of the person trauma taught her to be and to dodge questions that lack cued responses in her unwittingly forged identity. When I become more pointed, she waves red herrings- turning the wheel of our conversation left or right into friendly digressions, platitudes and rhetorical questions: "We all seem to have something to complain about like taxes, bad road traffic, or our spouses." Other times, she tries to fill in the blanks with politely persuasive and thoughtfully self-deprecating remarks: "You must have so many more serious cases to deal with …maybe I am taking up a spot better used by a person with real issues." Little does she know how much she exposes herself: a shadowy silhouette backlit by her subconscious subterfuges.

Nicole Ann Ditz, MA CMHC, Holistic Depth Psychotherapist

Voice Mail: (401) 573-6396  Email: info@holisticdepththerapy.com

Serving Rhode Island and Southeastern Connecticut