Sally, an attractive, 50-year-old woman, entered treatment with the symptoms of depression, feeling trapped, a racing heart, tingling in her lips and hands, hyperventilation and a sense of impending doom. The symptoms started 15 years previously after her car turned upside down and skidded. There were no physical injuries. Divorced for over 30 years, she was still making no real effort to meet anyone new.
During her 3rd psychotherapy session, she shared that she had been molested by Sedgwick, a 40-year-old neighbor, when she was 7 or 8 years old. He touched her genitals on a number of occasions, but there was never any intercourse. Petrified and ashamed, she kept it a secret.
Sally said, “I heard that Sedgwick, that’s his name, lives out in the high desert. He’s been there for many years.”
“Have you considered calling him?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s been over 40 years.”
“I think you’re still suffering from what he did. He’s a pedophile. What he did was terrible and the wound he caused is still raw.”
Sally’s eyes welled with tears. She started breathing heavily and couldn’t catch her breath.
“Are these the same symptoms you described during your first visit?
She nodded and grabbed a handful of Kleenex to wipe her face and blow her nose. “Just thinking about him makes me freeze up inside. I hate that man. I just hate him!”
The next week, as she sat on the sofa facing me, she stared down at the carpet. Minutes later, she took a few deep breaths, looked up and said, “I did it.”
“I called him.”
“I said, ‘Sedgwick, this is Sally’.”
“‘I didn’t do anything’, he said. Can you believe that after 40 years, that was the 1st and only thing out of the creep’s mouth? I didn’t do anything.” Sally leaned forward in her seat and said quietly, “Then he hung up on me.”
I leaned forward in my chair. “What happened then?”
“I called back and his wife answered. I told her everything. Everything… She started to cry and said she was sorry.Very, very sorry. I got off the phone and it took an hour for me to stop shaking. Today I’m feeling pretty good.”
“You look good — stronger, not as anxious or troubled.”
The result was that within a month, Sally was symptom-free. She was on no medication, felt better both at work and in her personal life, and was even considering joining a dating service. I saw her again one year later. Except for the normal stresses of life, she continued symptom free.
Dealing with old wounds has no length-of-time rule. Just having the courage to try is often its own reward.
Art Smukler MD is the author of Skin Dance, a mystery, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, The Man with a Microphone in his Ear, and the blog, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist.