My recovery story – the therapy couch

Picture of a therapy couch

My Story

My name is RJ, and I was an incest victim at the hands of my mother.

The incest occurred when I was young, up until the age of 7.

Although the sexual aspects of her abuse stopped around the age of 7, she still viewed me more like her cuddle toy than her pre-pubescent son well into my teenage years.

I never knew any other form of affection from my Mom.

I was like any other boy who wanted the affection and approval from their Mom; but when I started to get a bit older and observant of other boys and their Mom in public, I started to see the difference in how they expressed themselves.

So until I heard the word incest, I didn’t totally know what was going on between my Mom and me.

I was also a nervous, fidgety kid.

So I developed some weird quirks like biting my nails and squeezing my hands together when I was nervous or uncomfortable.

Like other boys, I learned some of the birds and the bees from pornography that my friend’s Dad had stashed in the garage. Another neighbor had his behind a hole in the wall in his bedroom.

That’s when I really learned what incest was, how weird it was made out to be in the magazines and the videos a friend of mine had on his computer.

When my buddy was surfing adult websites on his computer and showed me an incest video from some website, he said something like, “look at this man, look how crazy this shi* is….that’s some f*’ed up shi*”.

I agreed with him to save face, hoping he’d just move on to look at some other video or changing the topic altogether – it was awkward enough as it was, but I’m sure the heat and color of my face going from normal to beet red gave away what he probably thought was embarrassment.

It was actually shame; shame that he was describing the entirety of the relationship between my Mom and I.

AA Dave, the Sundress lady and the Therapy Couch

I spent the next 15 or so years just trying to move on from all of the incest experience without confronting the behavior, my role in it or my Mom.

Not dealing with it really screwed me up, but I never put two and two together that my binge drinking and drug use and my issues getting a girlfriend was tied to what my Mom did to me as a kid.

Until I actually bottomed out from alcohol abuse in my 20’s, I never really considered any form or therapy or help.

Then I got into AA and when I had a job with benefits I was able to go to therapy meetings but they were very expensive.

The other issue was that in the therapy, I was in there to figure out why I drank so much, not to go deep on any incest issues. I mean, I knew the relationship with my Mom was not normal, but still I wasn’t putting 2+2 together.

I was in an open AA meeting one time when a guy stood and told a story about his Mom that resonated with me – he too had a Mom that did improper things to him.

And so he drank himself into jail every couple months with a DUI and driving while his license was suspended.

I got to talking to him over time and I didn’t mention we had a similar experience with our Moms until well into knowing him.

He mentioned that he’d been in and out of therapy himself, couldn’t afford it and gave up on it.

I was desperate for help and by that time, I was beginning to understand that drinking and drugging and all kinds of other behaviors were a result of things that happened to us as kids, so I figured if I could find a therapist who specialized in “kid stuff”, I might get some relief from all the bad behavior that had taken hold of me.

And who better to ask for a referral from than my AA buddy Dave.

He gave me a name of a local counselor who was a woman that had an office 15 minutes or so from where I lived.

The appointment setup was normal enough.

Any time I’d seen therapists in the past, I’d always have a funny feeling beforehand and was always confused about what to share and how much was too much and where to start.

I also had only talked to male therapists; as naive and uninformed as I was, I had no idea nor had looked deep enough into all of these questions that arise when selecting a therapist, much less one that is trauma-informed.

When I arrived for the hour session, I introduced myself and sat down in a comfortable living room type chair across from a couch that was at an angle where the therapist would sit at one end awkwardly sitting length-wise facing me.

The Therapy Couch

Picture of a therapy couch

It was an odd set up; she was also an obese woman and it was Summer.

She wore an enormous sundress covering up her size, but it was actually short and up to her knees, pulling way up.

And she was always moving around during our session.

Not in a way it seemed she was trying to get more comfortable – it seemed more…… on purpose.

These weren’t things I immediately noticed, only in hindsight.

The thing was, I was so desperate to get this incest stuff off my chest that I overlooked some red flags.

So when I started to notice she would periodically pull up her dress above her knee, I would avert my glance and make sure to keep full eye contact or look towards a separate wall behind her.

I gave her the benefit of the doubt the first session – I chalked it all up to “weird” and the couch set up and it being oppressively hot that Summer and her just trying to get herself comfortable.

So I went back. And she started doing the same thing, except the dress crept higher this time to expose herself.

There was no denying it now – she made no attempt to cross her legs.

And there was nothing on underneath the dress.

All while I’m beginning to unload and express what my Mom did to me as a kid.

The consequences of Childhood Sexual Trauma

At the very moment I’m surrendering this burden of a story on a therapist, this woman is flashing me from her therapy couch and exposing her private parts to me!

And yet, I just averted my eyes for the rest of the session and second-guessed myself all the way home; I told myself you’re crazy and over-reacting and she was just uncomfortable and she was having some sort of wardrobe malfunction, even though at a bare minimum she was neglectful in creating a safe space for me to express my trauma, a core principle of trauma-informed care. I know this now.

The mental overload I was experiencing in the session, simultaneously attempting to get the words out about the incest and making sure not to get caught at the therapist with her legs open and sundress pulled up and “carelessly” exposing herself kind of left me frozen.

I didn’t accomplish my goal of sharing my story in that session.

I sat in my car afterwards with both hands on the steering wheel.

And I couldn’t find the words to express what I was feeling, except for that I was conflicted.

I desperately wanted help and to tell my story to someone, yet was this trained childhood trauma therapist actually exposing her private parts to me in a private therapy session while I was trying to do just that?

Could it be?

Was I wrong in wanting to hit the gas pedal and never come back?

My AA friend Dave wouldn’t have referred me to this therapist if he knew she was doing this stuff, would he?

I never did go back to the sundress lady, but I’ve never forgotten about the therapy couch.

I didn’t report her either – I chalked it up at the time I was “over-reacting”.

The worst part was I didn’t go back to ANY therapy for 10 years or so; by then, I was an even bigger mess emotionally, financially and using more substances and doing more stupid stuff that would land me in jail, or a hospital or dead.

As for the therapy couch memory, it never occurred to me; well, I should say I never allowed the memory to be fully processed in a safe setting(in my journal) until recently.

That’s when I realized I was re-traumatized by this therapist on the therapist couch, an almost exact replay of the dynamic between me and my Mom.

In this case, I put myself in the hands of this therapist for my mental care, and she used that vulnerability and access to get her rocks off.

And the second guessing of myself for not speaking up, not walking out when my gut told me something was wrong, and to report her?

I try to forgive myself for all those things, but the insecurity and lack of assertiveness continue to haunt me as an adult.

I keep trying though – the therapy couch story is such a crazy flashback of mine that I’m still in awe and disbelief of…yet here I am.

It’s all part of my story, and it helps to get it out there in the open.

If you or someone you know is in crisis

Call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline  at 988 .

The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 911 in life-threatening situations.

If you are worried about a friend’s social media updates, you can contact safety teams at the social media company .

They will reach out to connect the person with the help they need.


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