Thing we never talk about: The shrinky shrink 

This is the second half of a post, “Things we never talked about”. Bea and I had been discussing the fact that parts of me were so separated, I truly didn’t know why I had tried to commit suicide. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I thought I was crazy. So did the shrink my parents had found. They found one that agreed with them, one that they liked.”
“Did you like him? Did he try to connect with you?” Bea is curious. I’ve never talked much about this shrink. 

“No. I didn’t like him…..he couldn’t…He was a guy. I was scared…I didn’t like being alone in that room with the door shut with him.”

“Did you think anything about that?”

“I think I just thought I was weird. There was no reason to be afraid of him. I don’t know.” I feel like I sound sort of monotone, numb.

“Your parts really were so split. That’s why you didn’t know why you were scared. But you weren’t weird.”

“Okay.” 

“Did he do any drawing or anything like that with you?” She asks. 

I shake my head. “I can see how hard it would be to deal with a teen who wouldn’t talk to you at all.” 

 Bea says, “Nope, it’s. It hard. You start wherever they are, that’s all. It’s simple, really.”

I shrug again. “He thought I was crazy. He told my parents I was throwing a temper tantrum and trying to get attention.”

“Ahhhhh,” Bea says. “So they took your door so you couldn’t throw another tantrum?”

“Exactly.”

“I really don’t understand how you don’t even try to understand why your patient tried to kill herself. How you don’t start where she is! Ugh!” Bea is angry with him for not looking into why I cut my wrists, for saying it was a tantrum, a fit, a bid for attention. 

“He didn’t ….he label me….lots of things people don’t like….Defiant….but that’s not the word. What’s the shrinky word for someone not following directions, not cooperating?” I ask her.

“Resistant?” She says.

“Yup. Resistant and borderline. That’s what he called me. Labeled me.” 

“Oh….oh yuck. Did you know then that is what he labeled you?” She asks. 

I nod. Then I remember she can’t see me. “Yes. He explained it to me. It wasn’t….what was wrong with me, my behavior, it was me. It was part of my personality. I was broken.” My voice cracks. 

Bea’s voice is firm, maybe firmer than I’ve heard her before, “You weren’t broken. You aren’t broken. There is nothing wrong with you except you experienced some serious trauma.”

Time is almost up, but she talks to me a few more minutes. She wants to make sure I know that she doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with my personality, with who I am as a person. She tells me that It makes sense to her now, how that therapist and other professionals treated me, it’s all because of how he labeled me and the stigma attached to it. All my behaviors that were from trauma were easily explained away as me being borderline. 

“Bea?” I say, after a silence. I’ve pulled the blanket off my head and am holding it in my lap.

“Yes?” 

I pull the blanket over my face, peek out at her. I feel really vulnerable, but I need to say this. “Thank you for starting where I was at. For not forcing me to talk and putting up with emailing and silence. Thank you for still not making me talk and just reading my notebook.” 

“I wasn’t putting up with you. I was glad to start where you were. It’s really not hard. You did all the hard work. We just had to find our way to what would make you feel safe enough to open up to me. If that email, I was happy to email with you and to do the talking in session.”

“I talk a lot now, considering, huh?” I say. 

“You’ve grown a lot and gotten braver. And I’m glad to hear your voice in session, but reading your words is no problem.” 

“Well…..I just……thank you.” I say again. I know how lucky I am to have Bea, but when I think about some therapists of the past, well, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I have her in my life.  

Things we never talked about: teenage suicide attempts 

Trigger warning: suicide discussed 
This post has been difficult to write. This week, especially, I have been very much in a grown up place, very much in the moment, because it is my daughters birthday week. Somehow in session I have been able to dig deeper and let some feelings come up, and while the content of what we have been dealing might not be trauma memories it still isn’t easy at all. Oh, I should probably trigger warning this for mention/discussion of a suicide attempt (I was 16, and I’m not having those feelings in my present day life at all). 

Today is Kat’s birthday, but she won’t be up for long before I get home, so I didn’t think I needed to cancel therapy. I walk into Bea’s office right on time.

“Good morning,” I say as I sit down on the sofa. 

“Good morning,” Bea says back. She settles down in her chair, too.

We start out by talking about Kat’s birthday and the plans we have for the day. I tell Bea how I made Kat home made Oreo poptarts (whole what flour, no white refined sugar, less sugar over all, no weird chemical ingredients) because Kat really wanted poptarts for breakfast but I won’t buy poptarts. I tell her about the birthday scavenger hunt I planned for Kat and her best friend who is coming over later.

 Bea lets me talk until I run out of chatter. She’s interested, and she is chatting, too, but when it is clear I have run out of chatter, she turns to me. “I don’t want to put you in a rough place when you have all this great stuff going on today…….” 

“It’s okay. Somehow I’ve been able to hold it all in between…..I don’t know, but I’ve been okay.” And it’s true. I’ve mostly been okay, too much in the moment to really be bothered by the past, and things that come up go into my notebook and then I’m usually okay again. 

She nods. “Did you do bring any writing?”

“I just wrote real quick last night, because I wanted to explain why I lost my door the second time, I just couldn’t say it so…….” I hand her the notebook. 

Bea flips through it, picks up reading where she had left off before. “This makes sense,” she tells me.

Why I lost my door? Yeah, I know it makes sense. I nod. “Yeah.” 

Bea looks as if she is confused for a moment, as if she is thinking and trying to make sense of something. Then she says, “I had just read the blue writing, from last week? About the house and the walls? How some times it keeps stuff in and sometimes keeps stuff out? You were elaborating on our analogy that asking you to stop dissociating was like taking away the walls to your house.”

“Oh! Okay.” I’m surprised, because I had thought I still wasn’t making sense as I was writing that all out. 

“It’s really good, it makes a lot of sense.” 

I feel…..I don’t know. Pleased? Something good, from having my explanation complimented and understood when I had thought it was crap. 

Bea finishes reading. “I have a lot of questions,” she says. 

“Okay,” I say, uncertain.

“We’ve never really talked about this, that’s all,” she says. 

“Oh, right. Okay.” 

“Why was taking your door a consequence? I’m not understanding why it was a consequence of a suicide attempt. Or really that it needed a consequence.” Bea is truly baffled. 

“It’s because….Kenny….he had come by….I was sitting in the window…….”

“He kisses you.” She says.

I nod. “And then…..I don’t know….but…well.”

I am far away now. Bea asks something about the Kenny thing. I don’t know. She wants to know if I still wanted to marry Kenny or if I was more into other boys at that point. Did I have crushes or like other boys then or was I still thinking of Kenny as Prince Charming? I didn’t have a crush on anyone. I was just numb when it came to that stuff. I thought something must be wrong with me. So I pretended. I got really good at pretending crushes. I don’t say any of this to her. I can’t get any words out. 

Bea realizes I’m far away and hiding and scared. She gets up and grabs my blanket. She hands it to me. “In case this might help.” 

I unfold it quickly and hide under the blanket. “I’m sorry.” I whisper. I feel like I’m weak, hiding under a blanket because a conversation scares me.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for.”

“Okay.” 

“How long after that did you hurt yourself?” As she is saying that, she shakes her head. “No, let’s call it what it is. How long after that did you attempt suicide?

“That night. It was that night. Late. I dunno.” 

“Did you tell your parents? What happened?” Bea asks.

“I….there was so much blood. I was scared. I….I think I just showed them.”

“How did they react?” 

“My mom………she was…….mad…..so mad. My dad…..he wrapped my wrists. We went to the ER. I got stitches.” I look down, at my wrists. I have faint scars there, still. 

“At the hospital, do you remember anyone nice? Anyone who was kind to you?” She asks me.  

I can’t figure out why it matters, but I answer her question, anyway. “A lady, maybe a nurse? I don’t know. It’s foggy.”

Bea says, “Maybe a nurse, maybe a social worker. Hospitals usually have social workers in the ER for things like that.”  

“Maybe.” I agree. “I was so thirsty, she got me a lemonade. And I feel like she cared about me, not about what I had done. I don’t know.”

Bea says something about how that is good, it is good there was someone kind there. I wonder if she asked just because she cares and had wanted at least one kind person there for me. She says how even though the parts of me didn’t know about each other or share knowledge about Kenny, clearly what had happened in the present day to teen Alice triggered another part that just needed to get away from the feelings or the memories. She sees a clear link between Kenny and the abuse and that suicide attempt. 

I shrug, “People asked me why but I just said I don’t know. But the thing is, I was so separated, Kenny wasn’t part of that. I just….I really don’t think I knew.” (As a matter of fact, I really didn’t know until after Bea and I were working together).

“No, of course you didn’t know! You had no idea. You were overwhelmed and scared and traumatized but had no idea why.” 


To be continued……..

We go on to discuss the shrinky shrink, and you can find that in part two of this post. 

I lost my door

Wednesday morning, and Bea and I are talking about school, and how at most schools, it’s the teacher that makes all the difference. We are just chatting, casually, discussing Kat and possible options for school this year.

“I never really had a bad teacher in elementary school,” I say to Bea. “My second grade teacher maybe didn’t teach things the best, but she retired the year after I finished second grade, so she was just sort of done, I think. And my fourth grade teacher didn’t believe me about how much I’d read for reading month, so I didn’t win first place. She thought I had lied, but I didn’t. My dad talked to the teacher and she apologized to me in front of the class and I won first place” 

“Were you upset that she didn’t believe you? Did she call your parents or did you tell them?” Bea asks. 

“Hmmmm…..I don’t remember feeling bad or angry or shamed when she didn’t believe me. I just remember my dad sticking up for me and my teacher apologizing.” I look down at the ground. Stupid spotty memory. 

“So, you remember the good parts. You remember your Dad sticking up for you and your teacher apologizing. That’s okay, I’m glad you remember the good parts, that is a positive thing.” 

“Okay,” I shrug. 

“So, I guess that this version of your Dad seems more involved than I had been picturing. I always pictured your Dad as off to the sidelines, with your mom more front and center,” Bea tells me.

“Well, he was involved, but like…..I don’t know. He helped with math homework, but that’s like something my mom can’t like really do like all that good. You know?” 

“Did your mom delegate things for him to do? Like helping with homework?” She suggests. 

I nod. “Yes, exactly. She would like tell him what to do when it like came to us kids.” 

“He was more present than I originally pictures…..” Bea says slowly, carefully, “Do you think he was aware of things going on?” 

I don’t talk for a long time. It’s as if I’ve tripped and can’t find my feet under me. I finally find a few words. I shake my head. “Nooooooo….No. I don’t. I can’t. I mean. I hope. Because if…I just. No.” 

“Okay,” Bea says. (I’m not sure I’ve given anyone a good picture of my Dad. He’s closed off emotionally, but not because he is shut down emotionally. I fully believe he is on the spectrum somewhere; he is a typical engineer. A good friend of mine described my Dad as “extremely socially awkward, but much more real than your mom.” My dad is okay at formal events, meetings, gatherings because there are set rules for those. He simply comes off as very shy. More casual gatherings, however, he doesn’t talk or interact a lot. He also sticks with my mom, and she will do the social navigating. He’s very protective of me. I think in his way, he might accept me for me.)

“He was always calmer than my mom. Like I’d be so mad at her, and not allowed to say anything or feel, so I’d walk away and slam my door. She took my door away because I slammed it. I’m not sure my dad would have taken it if my mom hasn’t told him to.” 

“That’s just such an invasion of your privacy, of your space. It’s not allowing you to set a boundary.” Bea is angry, so on my side over this. She hates that my door was taken away from me. 

I shrug. “I knew the rules and chose not to follow them.”

She pokes at that. “Is there shame there? Anger? What feelings were there then? What about now?” 

I start to go away. Bea notices, asks, “Is there too much feeling here? Is that why you are far away?” 

She’s using the chart I drew, she noticed the moment I went away, and she knew exactly why. I can’t handle all the feelings. I nod, slowly. 

“This seems to be linked to some thing.” Bea says. “It’s causing a strong reaction, big feelings, even though your affect and your words are saying it’s no big deal.” 

I shake my head. “No….I’m not sure why all the feelings. I knew the rules, I broke them, I lost my door. It’s not like I hadn’t been warned. I didn’t like it, you know, but it was my fault.” 

“And there’s no anger there?” 

“No, I just…no.” I sigh. I don’t even remember being mad at the time.

“Okay. I think there’s a part of me that is thinking how terrible that would be as a teen and how icky it would feel to not have a boundary you set be listened to. I’m mad for you.” Bea laughs. She is angry for me, but it’s. It scary because she can laugh at herself and she isn’t out of control. I wonder if this is what it means to feel anger and to hold it?

After a long pause, Bea asks me how long my door was gone for. 

“A week, I think. So not so long.” I tell her. Why are we talking about this? And why am I struggling to stay present? Ugh. 

Not much later, sort of out of the blue, I say to her “I lost my door a second time.” 

“Were you older or close to the same age as the first time?” She asks. I appreciate how I can say something a little random and Bea will just go with it, acting as if it is the most normal conversation in the world. 

“A little older, I think.” I can’t say more, and I’m going far, far away, as far as I can. 

Bea validates feelings, reassures safety, tells me I don’t have to do anything. Then she asks if I would be willing to step back from the feelings just a little bit? She doesn’t want me to feel like she is using her new knowledge of my dissociation against me. I nod. She asks me about my safe places as a teenager?

I tell her, in starts and stops, in the disjointed language of dissociation. “My grandma’s kitchen, Grandpa’s truck and Grandpa’s boat. My aunt’s barn.” Safe places, yes, but it’s the people who mattered. 

“Did you ride at her barn?” Bea asks. 

“Yes.” 

“Was it a big barn? How many horses did she have?” 

“Just 3. Not a real big barn.” I mumble. 

“Did you find it difficult to be firm with the horses?” Bea sounds genuinely curious. 

“Maybe….at first. But then….my aunt, she pushed me to be stronger and I learned to be strong with them.” 

“That’s a really empowering thing, to have such a big strong animal listen to you and to be able to stand up to the horse, also having your aunt believe in you and push you to be firmer.”

I shrug. I think how my mother hated my love of riding, and maybe my love of my aunt. I think she was jealous. I’m not sure.

We somehow slowly return to they why of the second time I lost my door. 

“I lost my door again. That sounds funny,” I tell Bea. 

“It does sound a little funny,” she agrees. “Do you want to talk about what happened with the door?” 

I don’t say anything, but I think about how my door was taken after my suicide attempt. The therapist at the time told my parents I was acting out, throwing a temper tantrum. They took my door to avoid any more temper tantrums. “Being a drama queen won’t get you attention. There are consequences for our actions.” I can still hear my mother’s voice when I found my door taken away. I can’t tell Bea. She’s already knows about that suicide attempt, about Kenny walking by while I sat in the window. She already knows everything, except the door part. It wasn’t relevant when we discussed this memory before. It should be easier to tell her, she already knows, but it isn’t any easier to say the words. It’s an ugly memory. 

“Do I know about this thing?”

I nod. 

“Is it something we have talked about?” 

I nod. 

“Will I remember it?”

“I think so. I guess I don’t know for sure. But I think so,” I say.

“Is it a teen behavior or a coping strategy parents might not like?”

“I feel like that’s a hard question,” I say. I hurt myself, yes, but I don’t think those coping strategies include suicide attempts. I don’t know. I’m sad. My feelings feel really hurt. Thankfully Bea feels here and with me today.  

“Okay. You don’t have to share today, we can talk about it when you are ready. You don’t have to talk about anything until it feels safe to do so,” Bea reminds me. 

I nod, “Okay.” We sit in quiet and then we talk a bit more about my safe places. 

“I’m just really glad you had those safe places and people. It made me sad to think of teenage Alice not having anyone. That’s such a hard time. Socially, she had to be perfect and then at home she had all the feelings coming out, and she wasn’t allowed to have those feelings. That is such a tough time anyway, and then all of that on top of it. I’m so glad she had safe places.” Bea continues, “I know with your aunt it can be hard because she left, and that hurt a lot, but I’m glad you had her when you needed her.” 

“She really didn’t hurt me. She left. I don’t even think about it anymore. And I needed her that first year of college with the boyfriend but she was gone.” I’m snappy, and irritated. Of course it hurt when she left. It still hurts. But I’m not about to admit that right now. There’s been too much brought up, and with none of it resolved, I can’t bring up more. 

“Well, maybe we should talk about that and process it,” She suggests. 

“Or we could not talk about it,” I reply, in a bit of a sing song tone. 

“Okay.” Bea says. 

“I might…I might just write about the door….it’s just easier to write.” I say. 

“You can do that. Oh, I didn’t forget about finishing your notebook and talking about it. This just seemed to be important today. I could see how hard you were working to stay with the feelings and sit with that uncomfortable feeling without going too far away. You worked really hard, I know that wasn’t easy.” 

“I tried,” I whisper. I’m embarrassed for some reason, and just want to downplay it.

“You did really good.” She tells me. It’s a nice way to end a session, and I feel a little more connected to her than I have been, so I leave feeling a little more grounded. 

Charts

It’s 7:40am, but I walk up the stairs to Bea’s office anyway. I have so much stuff that I need to talk about, I need to make Bea see, make her understand. My notebook is very, very full of all kinds of messy, overwhelmed feelings. 

I had emailed Bea on Thursday, and unsure and uneasy with her response, I finally emailed her back Saturday. I spent a lot of the week making charts, lists, graphs. I was trying to find a way to feel in control, I think. One thing Bea has been insisting we work on is my dissociation. She wants to find what triggers it; why we can be talking about baking and I will be fine, but the moment the subject turns to me and my stuff, I begin to go away. To Bea it seems very sudden, and I’m sure it is, but for me, I can feel that I am uncomfortable with the emotions bubbling up and I can sense, in my mimd, that I am going to feel very scared of this topic. It’s at that point, this split second moment, when time slows down for me, and things get a little bit fuzzy, like I’m looking though a telescope at the world around me; that’s the moment I can make a choice. I can choose to use those grounding skills Bea has so diligently taught me, or I can go far, far away from the bad scary stuff in the present. And please don’t tell me the present is safe, nothing bad is happening there. The feelings are there. The memories are there. It’s not safe there. Not in the very least. 

In my email I explained that Parts were split, and fighting over what was the best thing to do with these charts I had made. One chart in particular had everyone stirred up. I had created a chart showing what I am feeling on one side and what my reaction is on the other side. For example, the right side of the chart says,” feelings start to grow, and can be named and recognized.” The left side of the chart says,”Really uncomfortable. Danger! This is not safe to feel these things.” Grown up real me is excited about this chart, it makes sense, Bea will understand it, and I am excited to understand more about how my dissociation and my system works. The little girl is scared that if Bea knows how dissociation works, then Bea will take it away because Bea doesn’t want any of the parts to dissociate, Bea says we have to be more present to deal with the trauma. Every part is conflicted over this. So, I emailed. It was a bit messy, but I wanted to talk to Bea about this. The little girl was so upset over not being able to tell Bea something because she was afraid Bea would use it against me. I also wrote about how alone I felt, but I couldn’t say that I felt as if Bea was there but not HERE. I was too afraid that she would tell me it was my fault she was far away, that I was too draining, too difficult. So I simply described the far away and all alone feeling. 

Bea’s response was fine. There was nothing wrong with it. And maybe if I weren’t so hyper alert to any changes in her behavior towards me and therapy, then it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. She addressed the loneliness, saying, “the being so alone feeling sounds like a part that has no access to an attachment figure.” And then she went on to discuss the fear over letting her in on the secret of how my dissociation works, “The part that doesn’t want to tell sounds like a good protector part. I think the grown up should assure that part that you will only share with me as much as feels safe. I don’t need to know any secrets, unless you think it would help you. There is no reason to alarm parts of you that have organized this system of keeping you safe. We only want the grown up to be more in control of the system.” Even though her response was fine, it left me with a sense of not being seen, of being alone, as if I had dove down to the middle of the ocean and there was no one on the surface to pull me up. I felt left. It felt as if she didn’t care, she was just replying to get rid of me. Finally, I gathered up some courage, and emailed again. I told Bea the little girl really had been looking for reassurance that Bea was safe to share secrets with, that Bea wouldn’t use secrets against me to hurt me or to get what she wants. The little girl needed reassurance that Bea had no ulterior motives, no tricks. Bea responded, and it all felt off. She wrote, “My thought while reading the beginning of your email: *Well of course I’m not going to use that against you*. It seemed so obvious to me, but I understand you actually needed to hear it! Please be reassured that this is a collaborative effort, and I don’t have any ulterior motives.” Why does her email feel both causal and authentic, but then so formal and rigid? I don’t understand, and I don’t write back. 

So, at 7:40am, I walk into Bea’s office. I’m planning on sitting in the waiting room, because I know I am early, but Bea sends me in, even with my protests that I can wait. 

“Go on in, I’ll be right there. I’m just going to warm up this tea,” she says. 

“Okay,” I say back. 

By the time I’ve sat down and gotten cozy, Bea is in the office, too. She sits down, and I blurt out, “My mother in law is moving 5 minutes away and hubby isn’t really seeing the big deal of this and I just found out last night but I’m freaking out and I really don’t want to waste my session on her but I need to talk about this all a little bit but I have a whole notebook full of stuff that I really need to talk about.” 

“Whoa. That’s a lot! She’s moving 5 minutes away from you? I know that can’t be an easy thing to have found out.” Bea says, her face holding this look of shock and anger at the awfulness of this situation, at the audacity of hubby’s mother. 

(I don’t want to waste a lot of blog space on this woman, either, but for those of you newer to my blog, 2 summer ago, my mother in law (aka MIL) —- who never liked me and always caused problems between hubby and me—- flipped out on me in public, and then attempted to take us to court to take Kat away from us. I have nothing to do with my mother or father in law since then. Hubby still sees them. I didn’t allow him to take Kat over there for a long time, but for about a year, Kat has occasionally gone with hubby to visit for no more than an hour. Hubby’s sister doesn’t talk to MIL, and her daughter’s don’t see MIL either. MIL, we are all pretty sure, has narcissistic personality disorder. I’m sure she is moving closer to all of us to be difficult, to find a way to weasel her way back into our lives.)

I vent about MIL, and about hubby and the whole mess. Bea listens and understands. Eventually I stop venting and pull out my notebook. “I don’t want to waste all my time on her. I have so much in here.” 

“Okay.” She takes the notebook from me. “We can talk about whatever you want to or need to talk about. This isn’t wasting time.” 

I shrug. “I just….ugh. It’s like I don’t want her to take all MY time for dealing with my stuff. I don’t know. But I’m done talking about her for now.” I laugh, because I’m sure we will be talking about MIL again soon. 

Bea nods, and starts reading. “Ahhhhh. The little girl was really feeling worried about it not being safe to talk to me. I need to apologize for not realizing that was her fear, that she needed an emotional connection and reassurance from me that I wasn’t going to hurt her. I think my response was just an everyday life Bea response, sort of that first instinct, not so much from my wiser self. I don’t know if it’s summer, or what it is exactly, but I haven’t been able to be very deep lately. I’ve been much more on the surface, and not seeing the deeper stuff. I’m sorry because that isn’t helpful to you, and I know you are very sensitive to those shifts, and you can easily internalize that to be about you. This isn’t your stuff– it’s my stuff, and it’s something I’m working on.” 

If I were braver, I would say to Bea: *I’m glad you told me that. I have so much mom stuff popping up lately that I’m already feeling this loss of an attachment figure, or I am realizing that mom was never there for the real me anyway, or something, that this distance I have been feeling of you not being here, this feeling of being disconnected, it is 1000 times worse because it seems I am losing attachment figures all over the place, and I really am alone.* Instead, I simply nod. 

Bea continues reading, letting that drop for now. I think how in the past she would have actually reassured the little girl, she would have made sure that parts knew she was there, and wouldn’t hurt them. But this more surface Bea doesn’t do that. She stops reading and looks up. “I wondered what you and your brother had talked about.” I and told her via email that I had talked to my brother. “So you really remember and see the same things about your mom. This….the playing with Legos IF there was a full set with directions, that really speaks to her needing to hold everything very rigid, very controlled. She couldn’t allow free play, or messy play. That probably would be very scary for her. But that couldn’t have been easy on you. Reading this, there is so much pain there.” Her voice is sad for me, but I can’t let down my guard right now. 

Bea reads about my heartache over my mom not loving me, and she reads the pages and pages I wrote after nightmares, during flashbacks. Those pages are full of confusion, and anger and hurt. Some of them are written when overwhelmed and unable to control it. Some were written when I was trying to control everything, and you can see it in my handwriting; messy, large and loopy cursive versus teeny tiny perfectly formed print. She stops reading periodically to say something empathetic and kind, or to ask a question. 

Before she gets to the end, but as our session is close to over, she stops and says, “I hope the little girl, and all the parts, I hope you know, I would never hurt you. I won’t use anything you share with me against you.”

I shrug. “Maybe. But you can’t promise that. Maybe you really do want me to stop going away and….I don’t know.” 

She nods. “You’re right. I can’t know for sure. But if there was a part of me that you picked up on, a part that just wants to make it all better for you, make it easier for you, help you…..if there is a part like that, then because we’ve talked about it, and I’m aware to be paying attention for that within myself, I would be aware of an impulse to ‘fix’ you, and I would curb that impulse.” 

I’m not sure what to say. I value Bea’s honesty, it is one reason I trust her. But I sort of hate that what she is saying isn’t what I wanted to hear from her. It’s how I know her response is real, and it feels caring. She cares enough to be honest with me. I hand her 3 pieces of paper. One is a list of different far aways, another is a list of how to make things real, and the last (and only chart Bea hasn’t seen before) is about what triggers dissipating. 

“Ahhh. This is good. It’s really good, really helpful. You did some hard work with this.” 

“Thanks.” I whisper it.

“This makes so much sense. When you start to feel too many feelings, that triggers danger signals, and you go away. This makes total sense. This will be really helpful with our work. I think the thing is to stay between the pink and light green on the present side of the line. Because while even keel is nice, and that’s where we want to function in our day to day lives, we heal when we are on the edge our window, right?” Bea is excited, I can hear it in her voice.

“Yeah. I know. It’s just….well, I don’t know how to stay there.” 

“I know, it’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable. We can use the other side of your chart, somewhere in the pink and blue writing, that says it is being more logical and more in your head. We don’t want to go too far into the pink but that being in your head, being more logical can help you feel calmer and safer when you get overwhelmed. We can go between the two, staying on the edge of your window. This is great, because it shows us right where your window is and what triggers your need to dissociate, what signals you that it’s time to go away.”

Bea is talking more theory and logic right now, but I’m okay with it. She doesn’t feel quite so far away as she did earlier. I think it’s because I shared my chart with her. I had been a little proud of working on that, and I can feel Bea is proud of me, and excited to have this explanation. “Okay. We can try,” I tell her. Little Alice is still afraid that having Bea direct me to leave a memory and ground myself again, will feel like rejection, like she doesn’t really want to deal with the memory. 

Before I know it, Bea is telling me we have just a few minutes left. I’m not so far away now, so I nod, and easily pack up my bag when she hands me back my notebook. 

“I didn’t get a chance to finish all of it,” she says, “And I do want to read it all and talk through it. You have enough there to keep us busy for months!” Her voice is light, not worried in the least. 

“I’m sorry. I just….there was a lot in my head. I don’t know.” 

“No, you don’t need to be sorry. This is good. It gives us….or at least me, a general idea of what is going on, what is coming up. Okay?” She checks in with me.

“Yeah. Okay.” I say. 

We chase for a few more minutes and then we say goodbye and Bea smiles when she wishes me a good day. 

There but Not Here 

There are some seriously huge shifts happening in my life right now. Big things, or at least things that feel big even if they don’t sound big when I write them out. One would think that these shifts would make things more clear to me, when instead all they do is make things more muddled and mixed together. 

The mom stuff that has been coming up since around Mother’s Day is unfortunately still very much here. It’s not going away anytime soon. It seems the only way out is through the pain and grief. I have to find a way to move through the pain of the hard truth that real me, authentic me, isn’t good enough for my mom and never was. It’s why I went to such lengths to be perfect. It’s why I never could tell her or show her my true self. My mother doesn’t love me, she can’t accept me or see me. She loves Ms. Perfect. 

There is this giant ache inside me, an empty space that can’t seem to be filled lately. It’s a hole that was created when I realized real me isn’t good enough for mother. I’m not super close with my little brother, but we had a good talk (via text) this past week. We discussed how mom plays with our kids the same way she played with us. She would play board games, that had structure and rules. She would color, do paint by numbers. She would build Legos if they were a full set that had the directions. She rode bikes, went for walks, took us sledding and skiing. She kissed us good night, said “I love you’s” and hugged us good-bye. She did things with us, which makes it all the more confusing. Its not as if she was just completely gone, or wrapped up in herself. She simply needed everything to be very structured. There was (still is) a wall around her that even her children couldn’t penetrate. There was no such thing as free play with her. 

“No moments of connection at all this weekend?” Bea is surprised that I spent the whole weekend before the Fourth of July with my mother and there was no connection there whatsoever. She came to my home, and I’m still hurt and angry enough that I was able to use good boundaries with her, and simply be myself. (Two notes about this– One, this must be what Bea is talking about when she says anger is telling is something, it is energizing, it helps me set boundaries. And two, even if it was just because I am hurt and angry, I am awful proud of myself. I set boundaries with my mother. I was ME all weekend. I actually looked at her and said ‘well, this is how we do it in my home’ when she got upset that I wasn’t cleaning dishes as I cooked breakfast, and when I left the spilled waffle batter my 13 year old nephew spilled while making waffles until he was done making all the waffles. Then, we cleaned it up together, with me assuring him it was no big deal, not a crisis at all. I was ME!) However, the impact of that, of my mother’s clear disapproval and disappointment is only now beginning to be felt, almost a full week later.  

“No….it’s just…..we were just two grown ups. It wasn’t…..she just….I wasn’t…” I shake my head. I have no words. 

“What about those little inside jokes that families have? Those light hearted moments?” Bea asks. She is searching for something, it seems. Either she doesn’t really get how emotionally dead my mother is (and I don’t think that’s it, because we have laughed about her having the emotional capacity of a cardboard cutout), or she is feeling her way around, trying to see what it is that needs to come out. 

I flinch a bit. I can’t think of any inside jokes my mother has, unless you count her *joking* about me being a drama queen, or telling her *funny* story about how I talked so much, from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed– I truly wouldn’t shut up and I would even follow her into the bathroom to continue talking, I just drained everyone with all that talking. People were grateful for silence when I went to bed. I know I have light hearted jokes with my family now— me, hubby, Kat. We have jokes, we laugh about mishaps and silly things that happened. I can’t think of any right now, but I know we have them, and with them comes this warmth, a comfort, a sense of belonging. 

Bea notices the flinching. “Goofy kind jokes, not mean jokes directed at you. You were a kid, being a kid. Nothing more.” 
I shrug, as if it’s no big deal, but inside I’m glad that she caught it, that she saw the flinch, that she knew why I flinched. 
“Do you have any memories as a kid of cuddling up with your mom, or just being spontaneous? Just being silly, relaxed? What do you and her do now that gives that same sense of connection?” Bea asks. 

I want to scream at her, I want to throw the wooden blocks that are in a box next to me on the floor. I want to walk out. NO. No, I don’t have those memories, there is nothing I can do to feel connected with my mother, unless I want to be perfect again. But she wasn’t not there. She interacted with us, we had a very busy schedule, always going, going, going, doing, doing, doing. But snuggles? Open ended play? Messiness? Curling up in bed in the middle of the day to read a book and that ending in a pillow fight? Creativeness that wasn’t reigned in and structured? It was not to be tolerated. Instead, I shake my head no, slowly and carefully. 

It seems Bea isn’t really here after all, she isn’t really seeing me. She’s not getting it. I can’t be me and be Ms. Perfect. I can only be one or the other. It’s gotten harder and harder for me to have Ms. Perfect running the show. I don’t want to feel fake anymore. I just want to be me; messy, imperfect, talkative, loud, emotional, worrywart, goofy ME. I don’t want to pretend anymore. But by choosing authenticity, I’m not longer on the same side as my mother. She can’t love what she can’t tolerate in herself, she can’t accept or see what she can’t allow to exist in herself, and so, real me is something to despise, to pray for, to fix; she is a cancer that must be excised from Ms. Perfect. 

It hurts. It hurts to realize that had I been myself as a child, I would have been rejected, not accepted. It is painful to realize that any attachment I had with my mother was between her and Ms. Perfect, and that I will never have that connection with her. It hurts that I’m not good enough. It doesn’t matter what I rationally understand, it hurts. This is pain and grief and intense loneliness. It’s unbearable. 
I’m deep in this grief and pain, I’m drowning in it, and Bea is nowhere. She’s somewhere on the surface, not able, or not willing to dive down with me. Her absence has created some giant hurt feelings, and an even more intense alone-ness. I’m hurt because she promised to be with me. And while she’s there, she’s not really here. She told me we had the whole summer, (because there weren’t many breaks planned, just a day here or there to be missed) to work through all the memories and dreams and fear and disgust and shame and horror and hurt that have been bubbling up since Mother’s Day. But she’s not really here after all. 

Morning time 

I wake just before 3am. I’m covered in sweat, my heart is pounding, I can’t breathe and I’m trapped. I can’t seem to move my legs, or sit up in bed, something is pulling at my legs, twisting around and I can’t escape. My body feels as if every nerve is over exposed, and my emotions are raw and seem to be draining out of me, making my feelings apparent to anyone who enters my breathing space. Eventually I realize I can move, that it’s just my sheets, tangled from all the tossing and turning I’ve done. Even after I realize that, I’m too agitated to stay in bed. I get up, but can’t focus on anything. I can’t think to clean, or pack my bag and lunch for the day, I can’t think to organize more summer school work or activities for Kat. 

I can’t seem to go far away to defend myself and everything I’m feeling is too much. Bea would say that I had swung from hypoaroused to hyperaroused. In the past, when I got like this, my answer was also self-injurious behaviors. Instead of going right to cutting, I grab my phone and headphones and pull up an audio book. I put Hagrid’s leash on him and go for a walk. 

I have to keep pausing and rewinding my book, so I finally just stop playing it and enjoy my neighborhood in the early morning. Lots of people in this neighborhood and the one next to mine are into gardening, so there are lots of gorgeous flowers to look at. Several people have morning glories planted and they are beautiful. One road runs alongside the canal, and I watch swans swim back and forth. Another road runs along side the lake and I enjoy being near the water. It’s blue and sparkling in the early morning sun. After my walk, I stop and the beach and sit on a swing at the playground and meditate as I watch the waves. 

 

More boundaries 

Boundaries. Boundaries have been very much at the forefront of therapy the last few weeks. Boundaries are hard, they feel frightening to me. Bea says that dissociation is a boundary, and it’s the only boundary the little girl had, so I learned to use it very well. I learned to use dissociation to keep uncomfortable, scary things out, but I also learned to use it to keep things— like emotions, or thoughts– inside. It’s automatic for me now, to go away. And dissociation is the only boundary I truly feel safe setting. 

Three weeks ago, Wednesday:

The little girl is so present today, she is driving the ship, and she is frozen and scared. Nightmares of Kenny and my mother not being there are very present and very real right now. 

Bea tells me that she could really sense the vulnerability and need to be cared for and how easily the little girl could be confused about who is safe. She says she can feel and see how when the little girl is in this submissive state it would be so easy for her to be hurt by a bad guy. Bea says that this is a reason we need to work on boundaries, that being dissociated was a good boundary for the little girl but the grown up can have other boundaries, boundaries that can empower her and not put her into a submissive place. 

The grown up me gets what she is saying, and is fully behind it, but Little Alice? She doesn’t understand, and is suddenly very frightened that Bea wants to hurt her. I end up in a weird here but not here at all place, and Bea and I end up emailing a few times before the next session.

Two weeks ago, Monday: 

I’m scared walking into Bea’s office. I’m aware enough now of my parts to know its Little Alice who is scared, and the teen who is feeling so wary and mistrustful. I sit down and curl up on the couch immediately. Quickly I dig through my bag and almost throw my notebook to Bea. “Here,” I whisper to her in a feather soft voice. 

Bea takes my notebook carefully. “You’re really feeling a need to protect yourself today. I think I’m going to get your blanket for you and just set it next to you.” 

I shrug, and Bea sets the blanket next to me. She starts reading, and when she pauses to reply to something I’d written, I throw the blanket over my head, terrified and embarrassed. I had written out this fear that Bea wants for hurt me in some way, explaining how to the adult this notion is silly and embarrassing, but to the little girl there are so many parallels to be drawn. Kenny listened to the little girl. Kenny wanted her around. Kenny liked her. Kenny wanted to spend time with her. Kenny didn’t need her to be perfect. Every one of those things could also be said about Bea. I wrote about how I– the adult– knew Bea wouldn’t hurt me, but Little Alice heard Bea say it, and was scared. 

Bea sits up, feet on the floor, and leans forward. “In therapy, there is this idea…..hmmm, it’s abstract, in a way. Can I be a little shrinky for a minute?” 

I shrug. It takes a long while for me to answer. I know Bea wouldn’t ask if she weren’t sure it would be helpful, and I know she is finally able to understand what shrinky is and why it scares me, so I finally whisper, “Okay.” Even after agreeing, I still feel very apprehensive. 

“So, there is the idea of transference and counter transference, right? So the idea is that these things take place in what we call third space. It’s sort of like a thought bubble that is between us, where thoughts or reactions that aren’t really part of who you and I are occur. So, when I can sort of feel this feeling of how easy it is for the little girl to be hurt when she is in a submissive state, when I can feel how Kenny might have felt, those feelings aren’t part of me. They are part of third space, of the thought bubble. Does that make any sense?”

“Maybe…..a little.” I whisper. Little Alice does not like this idea of a giant thought bubble separating her from Bea, and the teen is not sure about this idea, that it is true, but she’s willing to at least think on it. 

“I know this is hard. I know it’s really scary for the little girl. That’s why it’s important to have the adult online with the little girl. You both need to be present. Little Already will feel so much safer with the adult present, too,” Bea says to me. Instantly, I am farther away. Little Alice wants Bea, she doesn’t want the grown up. She knew Bea didn’t really want her. 

Two weeks ago, Wednesday: 

The little girl wrote to Bea a lot in my notebook. She is scared of so many things. Bea reads and replies as she reads. “I don’t want to get rid of the little girl. That is not why I asked if we could have the adult on board with her. I don’t want her to go away, that’s not what I was suggesting at all. Can I talk to little Alice? Would she let me do that?” 

I shrug. I don’t know. Everything feels mixed up, and the adult me is embarrassed over my reactions, and the little girl is scared and sad and ashamed. 

“Okay. Little Alice, you can just listen if that is available to you. If not, that’s okay too. I don’t want to get rid of you. You aren’t too much. You didn’t make me feel anything bad. You are okay just as you are. I want you to feel safe, and I think if you let the adult on board with you, you will feel much safer more of the time. It’s okay if you aren’t ready to let the grown up on board the ship with you, yet. I can hold you and contain all your stuff, and I can support the grown up while she learns to be on board with you and keep you safe.” 

I don’t say anything, I just shrug again. The little girl hates this. She hates everything. She ruins everything, and she is sure this is all a trick. The trick is that Bea will get the grownup part to always be with the little girl and then Bea will leave because if the grown up is on board then Bea will be able to say “see? Healthy normal adult. You don’t need me anymore, I can leave now.” 

“It’s a trick.” I finally whisper. 

“No, no tricks,” Bea says gently. “I know Little Alice was tricked in the past, so it’s okay if she needs to wait and see, but I can promise her this is no trick.” 

The little girl is unsure she believes Bea. She just can’t trust that this isn’t a huge trick. It hurts to not trust Bea. 

Last week, Monday: 

Bea is reading my journal again, because I have no words. 

Leaving. What is the deal with my fear of being left? Bea asked me about that last week, why the little girl is so sure that Bea will leave, that hubby will leave. I’m not entirely sure. I’ve never really been physically left, except when my mother went to the hospital when I was nine. The fear of being left seems to stem more from emotionally being left. It’s more this unspoken rule of *if you aren’t ABC and don’t do XYZ, then you don’t belong, you won’t be accepted, and we will leave. We won’t be able to love you or want you.” It’s every therapist leaving (or perhaps more accurately, allowing me to leave and not fighting for me), it’s my first grade teacher not following up on the picture of monsters I’d drawn and told her that the monster comes in the nighttime and plays games and hurts you. It’s my aunt who divorced my uncle and left the family, but she didn’t stay in touch with me, even though she was more like mom to me than my own mom at times. It’s my Dad being checked out (because his personality is to not deal with emotions and to be sort of zoned out in his own head) and my mom emotionally leaving me time and time again. It’s this sense that if I need too much, if I’m not perfect, if I don’t be exactly what others need me to be, then they will leave me, they won’t love me, or want me. This obsessive fear of people leaving me could be because I have been more real, admitted mistakes, shown my imperfections, had feelings and displayed them, showed my vulnerabilities and admitted to having needs. These things are dangerous in my world, it’s breaking all the rules and it is very scary.

“All of this makes sense. It all makes perfect sense why people leaving would be such a big deal, why it would be a real fear. This is all a big deal, and when it’s all put together, it’s a pattern, in a way. And now, here, you are breaking that pattern. You are having feelings and I’m not leaving. That’s different, and scary and hard to trust. It takes time.” 

We talk about leaving a little bit more, and Bea reassures the little girl (as much as she can be reassured) that she is not leaving. Then, she asks if she might share something with me from her SP training over the weekend. “I try not to bring the trainings up, or to bring anything that might feel too *SPish* into our therapy time because I know it can be really triggering. But I think this might be helpful and relevant.” 

“Okay….” I say the word slowly, like molasses pouring from my mouth and mixing with the air around me. 

“At training this weekend, we were working with and learning about child parts. I know this is more of an internal family systems type child part, so these are very integrated parts of non-traumatized people. Your parts are more separate, I know that, but this still was helpful for me, and I think it might help you, too. The person I was working with, their child part was definitely running the ship, and it didn’t feel to me like his adult was online at all. I asked if the adult could come back online a little bit, and instantly he was fully back to adult and the child part, the child feelings, were gone. The trainer told me that sometimes, when people have to hold everything on their own as children, when they have no healthy adults around to go to, or can’t go to adults to help, if a therapist asks for the adult to come back a little bit, the child part feels this to mean the therapist doesn’t want to deal with it, that the child should just take care of it on their own like they always had to.” She lets that sink in. “I was wrong. I should have let the little girl just be, and not made her feel as if she had to deal with it all on her own. It’s no wonder she has had such big feelings about being all alone and having no one. I can handle anything the little girl needs from me, I’m here for her and I’m not leaving. I’m glad she trusted me enough to tell me she didn’t like me asking her to let the adult on board with her.” Again, Bea pauses, and I feel some relief that she isn’t going to be trying to force the little girl to let the adult on board. After a moment or two, Bea continues, “We need to work on building resources for the adult, so the little girl can feel safe with the adult one day. That is the goal at some point, because Little Alice will feel so much safer with the adult around. That is something to work towards, not something to do right away. And it will take as long as it takes, there isn’t any rush.” 

I shrug. I know I should say something, so I whisper, “Okay,” even though I’m unsure it really is okay. It sounds like she is apologizing and saying she is wrong for rushing the little girl to let the adult on board, but the ultimate goal is for the grown up to always be *online*. Once again, adult me understands and fully supports this. The little girl, however, is hurt. In her mind, Bea just wants to get rid of her. 

This week, Wednesday: 

I’m far away. Between a nightmare I can’t speak and Bea talking about boundaries and SP, I can’t be here. It’s too much.  

Bea pauses, and suggests that a pillow might be nice to hug. She picks up a giant fried egg stuffed animal type thing. “This guy is so soft. I sometimes feel like hugging him. I wonder if a pillow or stuffie would feel like a boundary, if it would feel different than the blanket or the same. Here, feel how soft he is,” she says as she tosses the fried egg stuffie in my direction. I’m instantly back in the room, or at least most of me is. I toss the egg back to Bea. She gets up to set the blanket next to me, and as she does she talks, “If you want anything else to hold, you know anything in this room is available to you. We could experiment with different things, play a game to see when you need stronger or larger boundaries, and when smaller ones will work.”

*No. No game* I think to myself, and I go far away, almost instantly. 

Bea’s talking, asking questions that are too hard to answer. “Is there something that signals you to go far away? Is there an emotion or a feeling?” I don’t respond, and so she continues. “You and I, we’ve been doing this a long time, and one thing I notice is that sometimes it is easy for you to come back, and other times it is very difficult. Like when I threw the stuffed fried egg to you, you came back pretty quick, but if I asked you to look at the flowers right now and be in the room a little more, I’m not sure you would. Maybe some of it is about control?” 

I want to tell her that it’s not like that, not exactly. I want to say that it’s more about what is being talked about, and why she is wanting me to come back. I want to say if I need to come back to get ready to leave or if she is talking about normal everyday things, then it feels safe to come back. The content of the conversation in the room is safe. But if she is asking me to come back, because she feels I need to be more present in order to process what we are talking about, then it’s a no go.  

Bea talks and I listen, and we sit in silence. “I don’t like silence. It is scary,” I say. 

“I know. It’s why I usually talk to fill these silences, and it would be very easy for me to do that. But I wonder if I’ve dome you a disservice by doing so. Maybe I am blocking things that might otherwise come up by talking.” Bea’s voice is very serious. 

I shake my head. This is uncomfortable. I hate this. Tears well up, and I angrily brush them away. I don’t like what she is saying. Some part of me, not the grown up part, maybe the teen part is really hurt by this. How can Bea feel like this? If she hadn’t talked and filled the terrifying silences, I would have left therapy. I never would have been able to write to her like I did. I would never have begun sharing anything with her. I wouldn’t be healing, I wouldn’t be where I am. So how can she say that filling the silence was a disservice? It’s like she is once again comparing how we did things in therapy before SP with after SP and only the SP way is the “right way to process trauma”. Why does it matter how it is processed? Isn’t the point to feel safe enough in the therapy relationship to be able to share the ugly stuff, all the feelings, the things that are scary to say out loud, with your therapist? Well, I felt safe enough because of how we did things. It’s like she is saying none of that stuff counts because it wasn’t the *right* way, and that she has to change everything so that we are doing things *right*. I hate it. I hate this, and I want desperately to say all of this to her, to have a conversation about it, but I can’t find any words. 

She says something about how in order to work through my nightmares we have to give my adult more resources, I have to be able to stay more present, to control this going away a bit better and that this child needs to be able to allow the adult online to help. It’s not all said at once, but for some reason, my brain lumps these words together. Little Alice wants to stomp,her feet and scream. It’s not fair! Bea won’t help with Nightmares until I do all these things. It’s like being told I’m not good enough to be helped, or being punished for needing to go far away in order to set a boundary. But it’s not fair. Why do I have to do all these things I hate, that are uncomfortable, just to work through another scary thing? It’s not fair. 

By the end of session, I’ve said nothing and I leave feeling disconnected, sad, frustrated and a little angry at Bea.