I have a severe phobia of the dentist. I mean severe. It’s the chair. Yes, not the shot, or the drill, it’s the chair. Lying in the chair represents submission, and as you can imagine that terrifies me. You sit back in that chair and open your mouth, and then trust.
Trust is a big issue for survivors of childhood abuse. It is really a struggle for me.
My fear started when I got the reminder call about the appointment. It increased as the time approached. I was emotional and distracted. The day of the appointment I was a basket case, I couldn’t concentrate. I wish I was exaggerating, but I am really not.
As I sat in the lobby filling out the new patient paperwork, I knew that as soon as I started walking toward the chair I would become, emotionally a child. I would be paralyzed by fear and unable to speak up or advocate for myself. I know this because it happens every time I go to the dentist. So I wrote a note to my new dentist and explained my situation. The dentist, bless him, read my note and then came out to the lobby and sat and chatted with me for a moment to put me more at ease. That was wonderful, but still when he said, “Come on back.” It happened. The paralysis set in. I was like a helpless child.
I sat in the dreaded chair, and the hygienist began the cleaning. That’s when it hit me. I forgot to ask for laughing gas for the cleaning. I hate metal touching my teeth, and what do they do in a cleaning but scrape your teeth with metal…argh! As an adult, I would just put up my hand to stop him and ask for laughing gas, but I was not an adult at that moment. I was a helpless child at the hands of an “authority figure”. I could not make requests I could only wait helplessly until it was over.
My body tensed, and my heart rate increased as my panic grew. How could I get myself through this situation. Desperately, and with frustration, I thought, “Why can’t I dissociate myself out of this?” Then a glimmer of hope came to me, “Why can’t I? Where should I go?”
I was ready to mentally transport myself somewhere else. I figured I have been doing it unconsciously since childhood, so this time I would do it consciously. That was my only goal. As I considered where to go…it would have to be somewhere I felt comfortable, and somewhere well-established. Some how I felt that I would not have the “strength” to go to a new place, I needed to go to a comfortable place in my mind I had been to before.
I chose my DID Landscape. This is a common thing among people with DID, to have an organized space in one’s mind for all one’s parts. I don’t want to give too many details about my DID landscape, but suffice it to say that even though there are parts there that have painful memories, and one part in particular that I am avoiding, it is still a beautiful place that I created for traumatized parts to heal. So I went there myself as I have many times before in therapy.
I stood at the entrance and thought, “Now what?” Then, an idea came to me to go to the part of me that holds the memory that causes most of my dentist phobia. That part is a young girl, 4 yrs old (she has a name, but I am not comfortable sharing that).
I approached her and took her in my arms, lovingly. I rocked her and stroked her hair. I spoke to her quietly, “I am so sorry for what happened to you. So, so sorry. I know you are scared, but what is happening now is different. Feel what the body feels now, and see that this is different. I promise, I will never let anyone hurt you again.”
Something amazing happened, the terror I felt eased, a very peaceful, healing feeling replaced it. I felt so good. I marveled at it.
At that moment, the hygenist (who was very gentle) slipped and that sharp metal hook hit my lip. I thought, “Buster, if you do that again we are done.” And I meant it. If that happened again, I would raise my hand and simply say, “I’m done. I can’t do any more today.” No explanation needed, it’s my body and if I say stop, it stops. That is when I realized, I was back in adult mode!!! I can’t express how incredible that felt. I was no longer a terrified child helplessly submitting to whatever the “authority figures of the moment” subjected me too. I was an adult that could speak up for my needs and defend my boundaries. I was exhilarated. I could hardly believe it.
When the cleaning was done, I glanced at the clock on the wall. I was stunned. How could I have been at the dentist for an hour? It literally felt like 15 minutes. As I got up from the chair, my leg muscles, knees and ankles were so stiff and painful that it was difficult to get up (I hadn’t had pain when I came in) but emotionally and mentally I felt like I could fly.
Photo Attribution: Anthony Maragou