When the undertow grabs hold

On Monday, the teen was feeling really embarrassed that she had told Bea how feeling cared about brings up all these icky, bad feelings, and wasn’t sure she wanted to go to therapy. Things were floaty and just off feeling, and it was really hard to stay grounded and connected.

Once I am settled in my place on the couch, and we chat for a bit, Bea asks me who is here today. I tell her that I don’t know, because I don’t. I feel odd, not here, and sort of numb, not real. I feel almost like a ghost or something, like I don’t quite exist. We continue on with the surface talk, mostly because I keep directing us back that direction. This sucks. I want to feel connected to her, and right now I don’t feel connected to anything.

Finally, Bea asks if I might want to look at my notebook. I get it out and flip through it. “There’s sort of old stuff in here. From October 22. Because we didn’t look at my book for a while.” I keep flipping pages as I am talking.

“Well, we can start at the beginning or with something more recent. Really it’s whatever you need to talk about, whatever is coming up for you,” she says softly.

I shrug. “It doesn’t matter, I don’t know.”

Bea waits, and I continue to just flip through pages. I’m wasting time, I know it, but I can’t seem to stop myself. (Thinking back, I think the teen was wasting time, not wanting to feel anymore exposed.)

The silence starts to make me feel panicked. “Just read the last thing I wrote and then go back to the beginning. Okay? Because it doesn’t really matter.”

“All right. We can do that.” Bea leans forward a bit, and I hand her my notebook. “This is a new notebook. It’s so pretty.”

I nod. “It’s the Harry Potter limited edition moleskin notebook. I love it.”

“Can I read from the beginning? Would that be all right?” Bea asks carefully.

“Sure. It’s fine,” I tell her.

It doesn’t take long for her to pause in her reading and look up at me. “The teen was really mad at me, huh? I can understand that. It’s really painful to have me sort of show her what she didn’t get from her mom growing up.” Bea sounds sad, and understanding and calm and kind and just so very much the Bea that the teen loves, it sent me spiraling. Or, rather, it sent the teen spiraling.

“No, no. I’m not mad anymore, I really wasn’t mad at you. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Panic fills my voice. I’m not floaty or spacey anymore, but I am definitely out of my window.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about. You are allowed to be mad at me.” Bea says firmly. Her words are kind, though, and I’m able to calm down enough that I can breathe again.

“I said I hated you,” I sob. “I didn’t mean that. I didn’t.”

“If you did, that would be okay. I can handle it. I’m strong enough to handle all your feelings, even hating me.”

“I don’t hate you. I didn’t hate you. It was just….I was mad and I hated that you weren’t my mom. No….that came out wrong. Wait. I mean, I hated that….it should be my mom, not you. I was mad, I hated that it wasn’t her.”

“I know. I know that. I understand. It hurts. It hurts so much that your mom didn’t have the capacity to give you what you needed.” When I peak out from behind cloud pillow (when did I even grab him and hide my face?!?!) she’s sitting criss cross applesauce in her chair, and leaning in towards me.

All of this came about because I had been able to stand up to someone and set a healthy boundary in a kind and respectful way and feel safe and supported while I did it; something I have never experienced or done before. I had been alone when this happened, but I knew Bea would support me. Even if she disagreed with me, I knew that she would still be there for me, that she would try to understand my viewpoint. I can’t really explain it, but even though she wasn’t there, it was like she was there, helping me feel supported and contained while I spoke. I didn’t become dysregulated once. Afterward, I thought to myself, *this is what secure attachment feels like. This is what it feels like to have a secure base.* It was exhilarating and at the same time devastating. It didn’t take long for all kinds of feelings to pop up for the teen. Mostly, those feelings were anger and pain over the fact that her mom didn’t give this to her growing up.

“I want to be mad at her, you know. But she….she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t handle anything. I can’t be mad at someone so broken. So I don’t know who I’m mad at. Not you. Not my mom.” I sigh. This is so hard.

“Maybe no one. Not being mad at me, that might be a new experience for the teen.” Bea suggests.

“That’s not fair. Yeah, she’s angry alot, but she isn’t always mad at you. And most of the time when she is mad at you it’s because she is scared.” The adult comes back just enough to defend the teen, which is unexpected.

“That’s true. I’m sorry,” Bea says.

“Okay. I’m not mad right now, okay?”

“Okay. What are you feeling?” Her voice is curious.

“I….just….I can’t be mad at her. Mostly that is what I feel.” I’m hiding behind cloud pillow still. I would really like to have a blanket to hide under, but I don’t want to ask, and Bea hasn’t offered, and it’s probably time to go anyways.

“Why not? Why can’t you be mad that your needs weren’t met? Thats a legitimate thing to be angry and rageful about.” Her tone is matter of fact now, like this is just something everyone knows.

“Because…….” The words get lost before they are even fully formed.

“Because why?” Bea asks. She is annoying me (the teen). Doesn’t she know? Can’t she put two and two together? Do I always have to spell things out for her?

“Because I don’t get to be mad. I’m not good enough! I didn’t try hard enough to do things, to be what she needed, I was always always needing more. I don’t have the right to be angry when all I ever did was screw up and make things hard for her!” I shot the words at Bea, and then hunch into myself, hugging cloud and crying.

“So only people who are good enough ―as defined by your mother― have the right to be angry?” Bea asks. Ugh. She has this innocent, playing dumb tone to her voice. I hate her again. She is asking me questions to prove a point and I don’t want her to prove a point.

“No. That is not even what I said. But all she wanted was me to be normal and I couldn’t even do that.”

“From where I am sitting, a lot of your feelings and thoughts were just like a normal teen. And you were totally normal given your history.”

“I hate it when you say that.”

“How come?”

I shrug. “Don’t know.”

“Maybe because if you are normal then you aren’t special?” Bea asks.

“No. It’s not like that. No one want to be special like this. I feel crazy. Its crazy making.”

“What is?”

“Me. My stupid feelings. I want to be cared about but then when I feel cared about I end up….well….feeling icky. That is crazy.”

“Well, it feels crazy, and it is normal for you, for what you went through.” Bea says. She sounds like Bea again and the anger towards her dissipates, but I still hate being called normal.

“It doesn’t make sense to me.” I shake my head.

“Well, I think that you had to be so defended for so long, and being cared about for so long came with strings attached, expectations, and the knowledge that you would only be cared about if you were behaving and performing well. Listen, okay? This is important. I don’t have strings or expectations. I care about you just for being you. I’m here because I care about you, about all the parts. That’s it. Okay? I know that is hard to trust, and it is difficult because as soon as you feel my caring all those defenses kick in. If you can try to just let in one little drop of caring, just allow one drop to make it past your walls, then you can feel cared about and still feel safe.”

“Maybe. Maybe I can try.” I whisper the words.

It’s not long before it’s time to go. We went over time, and I tell Bea I’m sorry.

“I’m not,” she says, “There was some stuff the teen really needed to get out.”

“Okay.” It’s all I can get out.

We say goodbye, and Bea wishes me a good day.

I really don’t know why therapy felt so off. I am pretty sure it was me, though, not Bea, considering I had been feeling off kilter for several days. It’s more than the eating thing. I still feel weird. I tried to journal and nothing really came out. I don’t know what my deal is. I probably should tell Bea that things (and me) felt weird and off on Monday and that there is so much going on with the teen, all these crazy, strong emotions and this self hatred that is so huge I (the grown up) can’t begin to fight it, and how the teen’s feelings are like an undertow, drowning me. I’m just not sure I can. I feel really apprehensive that if I try to explain, she will make a thimg out of something that is not a thing, or she will somehow inadvertently say something that feels invalidating to the teen, and then the teen will freak and we will be right back in the middle of another rupture where Bea claims its all about the past and the teen feels more and more unseen by her, and everything spirals out of control. The worst part is, I’m not sure if those are my feelings or the teen’s feelings. Because they feel like mine, and yet…….it could be the undertow taking hold.

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When the teen thinks your doctor called you fat

Monday was weird. Therapy felt weird. (I’ll do a separate post about therapy.) I was sort of numb and tired and just not really with it. I’ve been feeling weird and off kilter since Thursday or maybe Friday. I’ve gotten so much stronger and capable in the last five years. The teen is still really strong though, and her feelings are like a tornado roaring through me and destroying any grip I have on reality. The thing is, there is a thing that the adult think needs to be discussed, although she is feeling quite embarrassed over it. The teen is adamant that it not be discussed or acknowledged, and she is feeling so much shame and self hatred over this, it’s unbearable. I saw my doctor on Tuesday. It was just a med-check appointment because of all my fibromyalgia meds.

Trigger warning! Talk about eating disorder and weight. If you continue reading, I ask that you please try not to judge my behavior. Please be kind. This is such a sensitive and embarrassing topic for me, a lot of my eating stuff ties into my mother’s eating disorder and the shame I felt my whole life over not be thin enough for her.

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For the first time in my life, my doctor brought up concerns about my weight gain. Always, always in my past there have only been concerns about weight loss. But now this.

I know I have gained weight, I know I haven’t been making healthy choices, and I know there have been so many times that I have binged but not purged in the since the awful rupture in April. I know I have spent a lot of time avoiding exercise and hiding in my bed these last 6 months.

The teen is livid with herself. She hates everything about this body. She is ashamed and disgusted and it was awful to have weight brought up like that.

My doctor is wonderful. She was kind and not judgmental at all. But it doesn’t matter, not really. That discussion was all the teen needed to take over and unleash ED. Sometimes, my eating disorder creeps up on me, like when I realized that I have been binging since the rupture. Other times, it sneaks up on me like when I have the best intentions to eat right and exercise, and before I know it I am restricting and only eating a limited number of foods without purging. And then there are the times, like now, when the teen takes over and begins severely restricting right away.

It’s only been a few days, but the thing is, the teen feels better, less overwhelmed and crazy. Things feel slightly fuzzy and distant all the time when you are restricting and that feels safe. I’m not sure I want to stop this, to stop her. I’m not sure I can stop it. I know this is a bad path to go down. I know it’s not healthy, or smart. But really, I just want to lose the weight and show up to my next appointment not so fat. I don’t want another talk. I’m not sure the teen can handle another talk.

I know I should talk to Bea. I know this, and the grown up me wants to. The teen though, is so, so strong, and she does not want to talk to Bea about any of this. She does not want to tell Bea that her doctor called her fat (okay, not exactly what happened, but for the teen, it’s exactly what happened) and she doesn’t want Bea to agree with her doctor. There’s also this little voice in her head, in my head, that says I am too fat, no one would believe that I have been restricting for the past week. The voice says that if anyone did believe it, they would be glad, because I am gross.

I don’t know where this leaves me. I guess I just needed to write about this, to try to sort it out, to at least not lie to myself.

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Teens and shrinky cupcakes

So, we talked about the shrinky cupcake. I had been okay all week. Emailing had given me my connection to Bea back, and up until Wednesday morning, I was okay. As I walked into her office, though, the teen’s anxiety, embarrassment and hurt took center stage in my head. I did what I always do in those moments; I shoved the teen aside and let Ms. Perfect run the show.

Bea isn’t fooled by Ms. Perfect any longer, but she will let Ms. Perfect have her bubble of perfection for a bit before Bea pops that bubble. We talked about Halloween and school activities I had organized, and I showed Bea pictures from the Halloween festival in our town square. (Side note, I would love to live in Stars Hollow because the town seems so great with all their wacky festivals, but in all actuality, the town that hubby and I live in is very much like stars hollow― complete with the town square and a gazebo, a diner with great coffee and many, many festivals for weird and wacky things)

Eventually Bea said, “I think Ms. Perfect is here today. I can tell because of the here-not-here feeling and the upbeat chatter. I’m wondering if there are other parts that would like to talk but are feeling scared or upset?” Bea really doesn’t pull any punches anymore when Ms. Perfect is around. I hate it sometimes, but it is a good thing because if you aren’t straight forward like that, Ms. Perfect is very good at avoiding things and changing the subject.

As soon as Bea outed Ms. Perfect, all the teen’s feelings rushed back in. I looked at my hands, picked my fingers, and didn’t answer.

“We need to talk about the cupcake.” Her tone was gentle and calm, but firm. She wasn’t going to budge on this.

I grabbed blue cloud pillow off the couch and hid my face. “Maybe you do, but I don’t need to talk about it.” The teen’s words shot out from my mouth before I could gain control of the situation.

“I know. You really don’t want to talk about this. I just think that I upset you, and you have every right to be mad at me. But we do need to talk about this.”

“Why? Why do we have to talk about something that wasn’t even a thing until you turned it into a shrinky thing?” I snapped.

“I guess, well, because I did turn it into a thing and we need to talk about that. Otherwise, it is like how you grew up, and that can feel lonely and awful. I think its better, even if it feels hard and uncomfortable, to air things out. I don’t want things festering and sitting between us, and I know you don’t like it when things feel like that. It makes the relationship feel unsafe.” Bea answers slowly, like she is trying to find the words to explain to me why she thinks it’s important we talk this out.

“But I wasn’t upset! I was fine. It was all fine until you turned it into a shrinky thing. I wasn’t upset until you did that.”

“It really upsets you when I make things feel shrinky. I wasn’t trying to do that. I know did, and I’m sorry. I was worried, and I wanted to make sure you weren’t stuck with bad feelings, like worrying that I was expecting something of you because I gave you a gift, or feeling like I crossed a boundary that you had set by telling me earlier in the week that you were ignoring your birthday. I didn’t want you stuck with that all week.”

“But I wasn’t! I was fine! I didn’t feel any of those things! I wasn’t stuck with any bad feelings until you made everythung go shrinky right before you were leaving and then I was stuck with those feelings for a week!” My face is buried in cloud pillow, and I feel like I am yelling because there is anger in my voice, but while the words come out short and snappy, they are said barely above a whisper.

“Okay. I thought you looked uncomfortable when I gave you the cupcake. Maybe that is my stuff, and not yours. Can you tell me what you felt when I gave it to you?”

I sigh. “That it was nice of you.”

“What about below the surface?” Bea pushes, just a bit. The way she says it, it’s like a gentle nudge.

I stare at the floor, at my hands, at the bin of stuffed toys sitting on the floor near me. After what feels like forever, I ask, “Can I have the blanket?” Sometimes I say *my* and other times I say *the*. It seems to be the little girl and the grown up who will ask for *my blanket*, and the teen who refuses to call it hers, even though Bea calls it mine.

“Sure.” I hear her get up, and then she covers me with the blanket.

I sit there, hiding and not wanting to talk, trying to find the words. Realizing that my parts all felt differently, I decide I can safely and easily talk about the little girl and maybe the grown up’s reactions. “The little girl……for her, it really was simple. She was happy to get cake.” I shrug.

“It makes sense that different parts felt different,” Bea says. “I’m glad the little girl was happy.”

“The…..the grown up……that was…..well, she thought it was nice of you, but it also made her….sad…..sort of nostalgic for…..I guess for birthdays in years past, for the time when she would have danced in here singing about her birthday and expecting a cupcake because, well, I guess because Grandpa believed she was a gift and should be celebrated and she believed it because he did. And thats not……it doesn’t feel like that anymore. The last time my birthday felt like that was six years ago, before Grandpa was sick. I don’t……its sad because things won’t feel like that again. So maybe that is what you saw. It didn’t have anything to do with you. Just sadness and nostalgia for the way things used to be.” My voice cracks as I mention Grandpa, tears streaming down my cheeks as I speak.

“He loved you so much. He really did. And you do deserve to celebrate and to sing and dance on your birthday if you feel like it again. You lost a lot, and it is understandable that you would be sad about it. If that is what I was picking up on, I am truly sorry for making it a thing and upsetting you. And I apologize for not fully picking up on that sad feeling.” Her voice is warm and caring as she talks to me.

“It’s okay. None of the parts are really upset or mad anymore.”

Bea waits, to see if there is more, and when I don’t she asks, “And what about the teen? How did she feel?”

I groan. The teen doesn’t want to discuss this. “That it’s fine. She’s not mad anymore.”

“If she was, that would be okay. And I understand why she was mad with me,” Bea says simply.

“I’m not mad.”

“Okay.”

We sit quietly, Bea waiting patiently, and me trying to find the words, to figure out how to put them together to make sense. “I don’t…..the teen doesn’t….(I was having a lot of trouble keeping the grown up in charge, so while I did try, the teen was definitely running the show.) ……like talking about relationships with the person……you know?”

“I know. It’s incredibly uncomfortable for her.”

“Why is this so hard for me? It’s impossible,” I grumble, frusterated with myself.

“It definitely feels that way, doesn’t it? Why do you think it’s hard?”

Frustrated, and feeling like Bea literally just did the shrink thing of turning a question back around, I snap, “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be asking!”

Bea chuckles softly. She enjoys the teen’s snark. “Very true. I think it’s because for so long the teen had no voice, no one but Ms. Perfect had a voice, and so some of it is learning that it’s okay. I think some of it is when the teen did use her voice, it wasn’t very well received. I want to know what she has to say, and I promise to listen and to try to understand.”

I sigh. Take a deep breath. “I……..I thought….” my voice wobbles. “I thought it was………………. nice. I liked that you thought……………. about me not just here (in Bea’s office). It….it was like……it made me feel like you cared. It……….felt……..good.” I feel vulnerable, exposed. This feels dangerous. I do not like to tell people when they make me feel cared about, or that I like feeling cared about.

“I do care,” Bea tells me, in her serious voice. “I know this feels vulnerable, and uncomfortable, but these are all good things to feel. And it is safe to feel them.”

“No. No no. This isn’t……not good. It’s not okay.”

“Because it feels like too much?” Bea asks.

“No. Yes. No.” Frustrated, I snap at Bea again, “I don’t know! Okay? I just don’t know how to explain this.”

“That’s okay. Just take your time. There’s no rush.”

“When……..as soon as……if I feel cared about then…….I think what you felt, what you noticed was…..I felt like you cared, and that felt good but right away, then I feel bad and I can’t…….it’s just…..so then it just has to go away, all the feelings I just have to shut them down.” I shake my head. I’m not making sense.

“Why do the bad feelings come up?” Bea’s voice is the soothing one she uses for the most hurt parts of me.

“Because……..” I don’t want to answer this. The teen doesn’t want to answer this. I feel tears falling again, shame heats my face and every muscle in my body is tense and shaking. I only want to run away. This feels too painful to say.

“Because…..?” Bea prompts.

“I…..it’s like……..I don’t get to……I mean, because I don’t have the right…………………. to want ………..people ……….to care…………..about me……………I’m not good. I can’t……I can’t do this. I’m sorry, I can’t.” Huge, wracking sobs come pouring out of me. I can’t stop shaking.

“You don’t feel like you deserve to be cared about. That is painful. And it is not true. You do deserve to be cared about.” Bea has tears in her voice. I’ve made her sad.

I want to tell her it’s more than that. I want to tell her that bad things happen when you feel those good feelings of being cared about. I want to tell her that I desperately want someone to care about me, just me, even with all the bad and messy and complicated pieces that make up who I am, that I want that, crave that, but it’s not okay. It’s not okay because I don’t deserve that, and when I think I have it, very bad things happen. So I can’t. I can’t feel the warmth of being cared about without all the icky feelings creeping in. I want to have a way to explain this without sounding like a crazy person. But I’m unable to weave the words together in a way that makes sense.

Bea doesn’t ask for more explanation, and she doesn’t tell me to stop crying. She just sits with me, letting me cry until my sobs slow and I can breathe again. She murmurs things about the teen really not liking herself, and how that is painful, and how the teen got so many negative messages about herself, and how she really does enjoy the quirky, snarky teen. Bea reminds the teen that if the teen were 21, she is someone Bea would have a beer with (this was something Bea told the teen a long time ago when the teen accused Bea of liking Ms. Perfect and only wanting the teen to be like Ms. Perfect.)

As awful and painful and uncomfortable as it was to talk about, and as unfinished as the conversation felt to the teen who still feels a need to explain better, strangely, I feel lighter. Nothing bad happened, Bea is still here, she didn’t call me crazy or seem confused by the complicated mess of my feelings around being cared about. And, the teen wants to write some in her notebook to share with Bea. She want to sort it out. She doesn’t want to feel bad anymore.

Shrinky 10-24

A week ago, I had a birthday. Well, almost a week ago. It was hard. I tend to cope by avoiding my birthday. This year, I really wanted to avoid it. I miss my Grandparents so much, it still hurts. Bea, however, had other plans.

Wednesday, October 24……..

I walk into Bea’s office, acting like it is any other day. I have stuff to deal with, namely this collision of attachment stuff and my mom and my Grandparents and my uncle dying unexpectedly and Kat’s challenges, and all of this, and the time of year have collided to trigger the teen like nothing else. Of course, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to deal with any of this. It’s painful.

Bea greets me like normal, and when I am settled on the couch, she hands me a small bag. “I don’t usually do this, but I was thinking about you yesterday, and so I did.”

I take it and open the bag to find a carrot cake cupcake. My heart feels warm. “Thank you,” I tell her.

“You’re welcome,” she says, and then I start talking about Kat, and regular things. Bea tries to interject a few times, to switch the subject, but I don’t let her. At one point she makes the observation that while I had been really, really far away on Monday (I had just come back from a three day trip with my mother), today I am far away, but it is more of that here-not here variety, where I seem very present but am really still far away and talking nonstop seems to be a way of controlling what is happening around me. I ignore her observation, though it isn’t wrong. Before I know it, she is telling me we have about 15 minutes or so left, and she wants to make sure we haven’t missed anything because she will be out of town Monday.

I sigh. Pick my fingers. Look at the floor. Whisper, “I did write.”

“Do you want me to read it?” Bea asks.

“I dunno. I don’t, there isn’t time to talk about it now.” Suddenly, I just want the hour (yeah, we only got an hour today which is unusual) to be over.

“Well, we could take this opportunity to do some work in the present moment. We talk about reach, and grab or push, and attach in SP. I gave you a cupcake for your birthday, and that is a type reaching.” Bea is speaking slowly, and I don’t like it. I don’t like what she is saying, and I want to tell her to shut up. But I don’t. I don’t say anything at all. So she continues, “What did it feel like when I gave you the cupcake?”

I shrug. I don’t say anything. It’s a cupcake. It was a nice thought. The little girl and the teen liked that she thinks about me even when I’m not right there. That meant something to them.

“Well, I want you to know that you don’t have to take the cupcake, you could tell me no. And I guess I should tell you, it was from my heart, I wanted to do something for you, but also, I guess I was thinking that it is sad you don’t want to acknowledge your birthday, and I wanted the little girl and the teen to know it’s not forgotten and your day still matters.” She says the last part gently, carefully, as if she knows it could set the teen off.

And it does set the teen off. “Stop it. Stop being shrinky! I hate it when you get all stupid and shrinky! Why are you making a thing out of something that wasn’t even a thing? You always do this. Just stop talking. I have to go.” I start to sit up, to put my new perfect fall boots on.

“Will you wait? For a minute? Please. I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to be shrinky. I really wasn’t. It was shrinky though. I just wanted you to know you didn’t have to take something from me, that whatever reaction you had was okay, and that there weren’t expectations around it.” Bea says. She is calm, grounded and so very much here and present and the teen hates her for it.

“Ugh. You didn’t……you always ruin everything! Just when I was feeling like you are here and safe and it is okay, you do this! And you do it just before you are leaving so now I get to feel like you are gone (out of town) and that you aren’t even here (emotionally). I hate this. I can’t do this right now. And it’s time to go anyway.” I stand to leave. The teen wants to throw the cupcake at Bea, but instead I leave it on the couch. I don’t want it anymore.

I walk out, and Bea doesn’t try to stop me. That feels bad, too, even though I am the one leaving. If she had tried to stop me, I would have been really mad. As I leave, she gently but firmly says, “I am here. I’m not leaving you.”

The rest of the day passes by quickly, and Thursday does, too. It’s Friday before I email her, and then only to request a schedule change for Kat. Bea doesn’t respond and I am hurt, until I realize she wouldn’t just ignore an email. I email again to see if she got my first email. Bea texts me in response, and she is just so very Bea. Something has gone wonky with her email and so her emails are not being sent. But she had gotten them both. We text a bit, and she gives me a different email address to use if I want to email more this week.

We end up touching base a few more times, and while we don’t go much below the surface, I feel more connected again. Now it’s Tuesday night, and I will see Bea in the morning. The teen’s anger has dissipated, and all that is left is embarrassment. I feel anxious about seeing Bea tomorrow. The teen is afraid Bea is mad at her for acting like a brat. She’s also afraid that Bea will bring it up, and she would rather forget it. But she wrote about it, so if Bea reads her notebook, she will see that the teen was really upset. The teen knows that it will probably be talked about, and deep down she knows it will probably be okay― uncomfortable, but okay.

The little girl….5 years ago

Every time I sit down to write, to try to put all my thoughts and feelings onto paper, I find a reason to avoid doing so. I think it is partly because I don’t know what to write, and partly because I am still attempting to avoid feeling at times.

This summer was good, and busy but weird in some ways. With Bea being gone for three weeks to Europe, I had to work to stay more on the surface of things. September seemed to be about getting Kat back into the school routine and opening up all the turmoil of the teen in therapy. Now it’s October, and while the feeling of October is very real, I also feel like I am finally coming up for air.

Fall has been hard for Kat. She is struggling with a new class, and a new teacher. Being older is proving to be difficult for her, with more complex social expectations and her confusion about unspoken social rules. She’s also started puberty early, so I’m sure some of her challenges have been more difficult for her to navigate, because hormones and all that. Needless to say, the puberty thing threw me for a loop. I am not ready for this and it has been hugely triggering.

Days with Kat have looked like this since school started:

6:30am fight with mom about wearing clothes to school. Finally decide to wear the same too thin tank top and gym shorts she wore yesterday and the day before. Keep in mind, she won’t wear underwear or a camisole or training bra. She won’t wear deodorant. And all these things? She should be wearing, but I can barely get the kid into clothing every morning.

8:15am drop her off at school with our good bye ritual. She cries and asks me to stay. I leave anyway, feeling heart broken and like I am letting her down somehow.

3:15pm I pick her up from school

3:40pm I notice she has taken off all her clothing in the backseat, but now I’m on the highway and there isn’t much I can do about it.

4:00pm get home, and the moment we get in the door, the meltdown starts. Forget getting clothing back on her, or getting her to bathe. She cries and screams about clothes and school and kids who don’t follow the rules and a joke someone told that she took seriously and on and on. This will go on until at least 6:00pm, maybe later. If it goes past 8:00pm, I will give her a melatonin and a benedryl because I need her to calm down so she can sleep. If I’m lucky, she will be asleep by 10:00pm.

It’s never ending, and I don’t know how to help her. None of my tools have been working. I feel helpless. I’m sad for her, because she isn’t happy. And I’m sad for me, because I can’t fix it.

I have our old team of speech, ABA and OT working with insurance to get approval for short term services. But that will take time.

Two weeks ago, I asked Bea to start seeing Kat again. She agreed, and I felt relieved. We had a good conversation about it all, actually.

“So….Kat still doesn’t know you are my therapist. She knows I go to therapy, just not who I see….I feel like I made a mistake by not telling her. I don’t know.” I tell Bea, sighing.

“Remind me, why didn’t you tell her?” Bea asks.

“I was going to, I had planned to, but then when I went to tell her, and I started by saying how you see grown ups too, she made it clear that she was glad I wasn’t seeing you without her there, and so I just left it. Sometimes I wondered if that meant I should have found myself a different therapist, but Kat was three. And I just….” I shake my head, not sure how to explain.

“You were drowning and you needed help. You couldn’t let your three old dictate that. And you getting help is a gift to Kat. It really is.”

I nod. “I just feel guilty about it now that she is older.”

“I get that, but I don’t think that guilt is deserved.” Bea pauses for a minute, thinking. “You know, I don’t usually see parents and kids. If I’m seeing a kid first and the parent asks to be seen for their own issues, I will often meet with them and help them find another therapist. You were different though. I even remember the session we had with Kat right before you reached out. I remember I had been talking to Kat, and saying something about little girls and all the things they can do, and how grown ups job is to keep them safe, and I looked over at you and you were really far away. That was unusual because you were always so present with Kat. But that day you just gone, and it was maybe a day or so later that you reached out to me.”

“I’m glad you agreed to see me, that you didn’t try to send me to someone else,” I say quietly. I feel a little shy; I didn’t know she had seen me even back then.

“You know, I didn’t really have a reason, it was just instinct, but I thought if I sent you to someone else, you wouldn’t have gone.”

“No, I wouldn’t have. I think it was different because I had a relationship with you through Kat, so on some level, I trusted you.”

“Yeah, yeah that makes sense. Looking back now, I think you were so far away that day because something I said got the attention of the little girl. I think 5 years ago, it was the little girl who decided then and there that I was safe and I could help her, and that was that.” Bea smiles as she says this.

I nod, slowly. “I think so. I think it was the little girl that decided she had found someone she could tell her secret to.” My face flushes. This feels too seen, exposed and vulnerable.

“I am so glad she found someone to tell, and I feel very honored that she chose me.” Bea tells me.

It’s strange, how seen a simple conversation can make me feel. I’m amazed that she remembers that moment from so many years ago. Does this mean I have had an impact on her, too? That I have helped her grow and learn, too? Because that is sort of interesting to think about.

I’m not the same person I was almost 5 years ago. 5 years ago, I was struggling. I think my worlds were colliding in a way. Ms. Perfect could no longer run the ship because this grown up part that did not want her daughter growing up feeling the same way I did was trying to run the ship. On top of that, nightmares and flashbacks and half formed memories I didn’t want to believe and insomnia and mood swings were plaguing my life. Being a mom, having a daughter, had triggered all kinds of crazy in me. I needed help, and I took a chance in asking. I never would have believed so much would come from that.

October

October is a feeling,

It’s heavy and leaden

Trapped in the cold.

October is a feeling,

It slices and it cuts

Without thought or purpose.

October is a feeling,

It’s hollowed out

And numbed.

October is a feeling,

It fills the empty cavernous space

Inside of me.

October is a feeling,

It’s a birthday wish unanswered

Floating lost upon the wind.

October is a feeling,

It’s just me alone

Missing you.

October is a feeling,

It’s longing to celebrate

One more day with you.

October is a feeling,

It’s the place

Where greif still reigns.

💔

Repaired: part six

On Wednesday, July 11, I walk into Bea’s office, feeling scared, but not as scared as I have been. I feel vulnerable, too, and it shows when I walk in, unable to look at Bea. Today, she notices, she sees me.

“I was really glad to get the teen’s email this morning. To know that she is able to feel some of those things. And I want her to know that she is right. I do care.”

I don’t say anything, just sit down, my face reddening. Bea already has my blanket sitting on the couch.

“You know,” she says slowly, as I grab a pillow to hide behind, “Let’s just notice for a moment we are safe. That nothing bad is happening. Maybe feel the pillow in your arms, hear the birds. Just take a moment. We aren’t in any hurry. We don’t have to rush into anything.”

I try, I really do, but it’s hard. I’m so scared that I have made a bigger mess.

“We don’t have to do anything today, we don’t have to talk about anything. Maybe we just need to focus on safety and being here this morning. That’s okay. Take a moment, think about what will help you feel safe. What do you need?”

I do think about it. At first, I don’t know, I’m uncertain. But then I relize what I do need. “I need…..I don’t….I need for…….. this to be fixed…..if….I can’t do nothing today because until we talk about it and it’s…..resolved, I’m going to stay worried and anxious.”

“Okay. We can talk about things. I think to do that though, you have to stay here, at least here enough to talk. What is the anxiety connected to?” Bea asks.

“I don’t know. Something bad is going to happen.”

“Okay, good. That’s a starting place, right? What are the things you worry about happening?”

“There’s no list, not…I guess it’s like nothing, no things to write down, not something I can tell you. I’m not worried about anything…..just something bad is going to happen.” I stumble over words and explanation. This is difficult to describe.

“Is is more of a feeling, just a general sort of thing?” Bea gets it.

I nod. “Yeah. I guess so.”

“So, I think that sort of generalized worry that we cannot pinpoint is our trauma brain. It’s normal, and the feelings are real. This is again where we have to tell ourselves, feelings aren’t facts. I can’t promise you nothing bad will happen, because bad things do happen, but we also have to realize that it’s not likely. Right? I mean, what are the chances a plane is going to crash into my office?” Bea’s voice is sympathetic, but she isn’t going to let me worry about things unlikly to happen.

“No……it’s not that……..not like that……I don’t worry…..it’s not worries about accidents. More….it’s maybe more about people.” I don’t know how to say what is in my head. I don’t know that I have the words or the language to really define it. I just know that the general something bad is going to happen worries aren’t about accidents or things like that.

“Okay, Okay. That’s good. This is helpful. Is it more worries that people will let you down somehow, or is it more worries that people will hurt you?”

It’s too much, and overwhelmed, I hide under my blanket, hugging cloud pillow to me. “I don’t know, people……. leaving me, rejecting me, not wanting to deal with me.” I wish I had the words to explain the fear I have surrounding my relationships.

“So, attachment stuff then. When attachment stuff is triggered…..that fear, that worry that something bad will happen, it’s very real. Attachment trauma, there really isn’t a list of worries. It’s very young, such early stuff, it’s from this time when we were too little and too helpless to care for ourselves, and so any rupture, any sign that our people were leaving us, that would have meant…anniliahtion back then. Developmental trauma, attachment trauma, this is all to do with very early years, so young we probably have no memories of it. With you, I think the trauma of sexual abuse compounds and even confuses the issue, but…this, what you are describing, it is attachment trauma.” Bea is speaking slowly, but with certainty.

“So….not crazy then?” I ask.

“Not crazy. This is a real thing, and when it’s triggered, it is incredibly scary and incredibly painful. I’m not sure I realized how deep…..well, how deep your attachment trauma runs. I see now I wasn’t seeing that, and I’m sorry. I’m aware of it now,” she tells me, and I think how well I have hidden this from her. I know when my impulse to freak out over a relationship is not *normal* and most offen, Ms. Perfect is really good at stopping those reactions.

We sit quietly for a moment, and then Bea asks me if I am here. “Here enough,” I say.

“Are you here enough to talk?” She checks.

“Yeah….it’s just hard. But I am here.”

“Okay. Then we will talk about all this scary stuff. Slowly, and as safely as possible.” She is using the voice that she uses when she is speaking to the little girl, that gentle, soothing voice.

“Okay. I can do this.” I hug the pillow and I feal my stomach twist in fear, but I mean what I am saying.

“I want to start by saying I am sorry I didn’t recognize your cry for help. I think, well, I know my own stuff got in the way. You are right about that. I was hurt, and I reacted from that hurt place. It doesn’t make it okay, but I was really struggling with how you could think those things of me after all this time, given our relationship, and I reacted from that place. I chose to ignore it, because in my hurt, I read it as rage.”

“But I— the teen doesn’t have a relationship with you! You don’t know her anymore than she knows you. I mean…that’s unfair.” The words jump out of me, frustrated and slightly angry.

“You’re right. We were building a relationship when all this happened. But you are right, we don’t have a relationship. Not yet. I didn’t think of that. It also….well, as I said, I was expecting coping skills like reality testing, to kick in. But I don’t even know what coping skills the teen has. We need to spend some time on the relationship, working on that safety and trust, maybe building some skills.” Bea sounds….well, like she means it when she says she wants to work on a relationship with the teen.

“There were no coping skills. That’s why I emailed you! I just wanted…..” I trail off when I realize what I was about to say, horrified that I had been about to admit to wanting anything.

“Wanted what? You just wanted…..?” Bea prompts me after several seconds tick by and I don’t continue.

“I…well, I just….ugh. I told you thing get all twisted in my head. I told you I go to the dark and twisty place where everyone hates me and……I mean, I thought…I just….I wish you had just said, *Alice stop. You’re in the dark twisty place. Those things aren’t true.* Or something.”

Bea is silent, thinking. I can hear her fingers tapping on her chair. “I don’t know that I could have done that. I don’t want to presume to know what is going on in your head, or to impose my reality on you as the true reality.”

“Maybe ask me then? If I’m in that place? I don’t know. I mean, sometimes I know I’m there, sort of, but…….it’s too risky to say it or ask someone, I just…I don’t know. But you not acknowledging those feelings, that just made them true in my mind. And then I did rage. Before, if you had just been able to say, “Those things aren’t true. I know they feel bad, but they aren’t true, I don’t think those things. I think you are in the dak and twisty place, you need to come out and I’ll be here waiting. I think that would have changed this. That’s all I wanted. Not….logic and explanations.”

“You wanted me to help you stop the distortions. Which is what my boundary of not responding to them was meant to do. It felt like responding to them would reinforce them.”

“Ignoring them reinforced them.” I tell her..

“I see that now. I think….I was feeling this need to set a boundary, but I set the wrong one, and even when I was clear that a boundary was needed, I maintained a boundary that was unhelpful.”

“I get not wanting to reinforce distortions, but can’t you acknowledge them without doing that? Can’t you just reassurance they are not true?” I don’t understand.

“You know, that’s a boundary. You wanted a boundary set. I just set the wrong one. I’ve never felt a need for boundaries with the little girl. I think the teen wanted a boundary set, and I was picking up on that.”

“No….I didn’t want a boundary. Boundaries are mean, they mean go away, you are a bother, I don’t want to deal with you….. no! I don’t like boundaries. And I don’t want you to change everything.”

“I’m not changing anything. Anything that changes we will do together. I’m not going to spring a bunch of changes on you, okay? But we need to talk about boundaries. Boundaries aren’t bad. They don’t have to feel bad to either person. Like right now, you have set a boundary. The blanket is a physical boundary. But even with the boundary there is a connection between us, there is attunement and a feeling of us both being present. I don’t see the blanket as a go away….it is what you need to feel safe, and so I feel glad you are taking care of yourself, that you can set a boundary and feel safe. And, dare I say, that boundary making you feel safer…… perhaps it makes it possible for us to feel more connection than we would without the boundary.”

I shake my head. “I don’t like boundaries. Boundaries are scary.”

“They can be. But I think once you feel, experience healthy boundaries, well, then they aren’t so scary.” She says gently.

“They are. Well, I guess I don’t really know about boundaries. My Mom’s boundaries are…..I weird. Maybe just all over the place.”

“Like your therapist’s have been lately?” Bea sounds, disapointed in herself, or something.

I think about what she has said. “No… not like that. Hers…..either they didn’t exist, I think….like, I just….I did what she wanted, dressed how she wanted, acted like she wanted, I was…like I just was part of her…I don’t know.” I sigh, not sure how to explain this.

“There’s a shrinky word for that. Enmeshment. It means your mom viewed you as extension of herself.”

“Yeah…..and I was loved and accepted and we were close as long as I was…..well, being like her. But if I didn’t….if I diagreed….she just……I don’t know. She would be upset. Then she set these boundaries….over silly things. Like really, truly, silly things. Like one time, I didn’t like these one shoes that she liked and so I just like got a different pair and she was really not happy with me. There was a boundary set then. Well, I think anyway. Silent treatment.” I blink away tears. It still hurts now, thinking about it.

“That is a boundary. Wow. No wonder me ignoring your feelings about me expressing anxiety over insurance was painful. It felt like I was giving you the silent treatment.” Bea’s voice has that sound in it, the one that means things are falling into place and she is making sense of things.

“You know….I don’t….I mean….well, you know what, never mind.” Words tumble out of me, a mess of them, blocking what I really need to say.

“Whatever it is, you can say it. I’m listening. It’s okay,” Bea reassures me.

“I don’t like it when you say it was just about you expressing worries over insurance. That’s not the story, not at all. I wish you would get that.” I whisper the words, cringing as I say them.

“You’re right. That’s not the whole story. But I do want to say, it’s important that we discuss insurance…that the adult and I talk about those things.”

“But it wasn’t a conversation! It was you freaking out and not even aware of what was going on for me! You can’t say it was us having a conversation, because you were talking…..at me. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, it isn’t about insurance! It’s about how you were talking!” I feel like I am shouting, but really, I am speaking firmly, and louder than usual.

“You know….what you wrote, asking me to imagine the situation, and describing it from your viewpoint, I….well, I have been that client before. I have had my therapist not be as present as I needed, and I have left sessions feeling unseen and unheard and hurt.”

“Except this wasn’t even my session! Not really. You can not compare the two. We have had sessions where you weren’t as attuned as I needed, and I’ve left feeling bad. But this, no. Wednesday was something else. It wasn’t my session, because I never….this was nothing about me, it wasn’t a case of I shared where I was at and you weren’t super present. This was you talking and spinning out from the moment I sat down. It wasn’t even a session! I mean, I don’t even know why I was there.” I’m being blunt, but I can’t, I won’t sugar coat it.

“You’re right. The two things don’t compare. Which I was going to say, that I have experienced the unattuned sessions, and so I can imagine how painful this was, how scary. I am so sorry, I really am. I knew the it was bad, I wanted to stop, to erase it, to have a redo, because I knew it was bad. And I am so sorry,” Bea says, sadly.

“I know. I know you are sorry. It’s okay. It was a bad day and a bad mistake, and I can’t pretend it didn’t happen, or call it something it’s not, but I’m not mad or upset or hurt anymore.” As I say the words, I realize they are true.

“If you were, that would be okay,” she reminds me. Bea worries that I forgive to make sure people don’t leave me.

“No…It’s okay. Honestly, I was more hurt and upset that I was ignored when I was hurting and scared. I just wish you had said to me, from the first email, *hey, listen, those things aren’t true. I don’t feel that way at all. You need to get out of the dark twisty place so we can talk, because I can’t help you when you are there. So come out now, I want to help you.* You know?” I say.

“Now that, that sounds like you are channeling your Grandma.” Bea sounds like she is smiling.

“Yeah….that is something she would say. She didn’t….well, she would just tell me what was and wasn’t okay. She didn’t….she made things very clear. I guess that is boundaries?”

“Yes. Your Grandma had good boundaries.” Bea agrees.

“She really did, if I think about it. She didn’t….not like mom. Grandma didn’t ignore me when I messed up or didn’t agree with her. She just, well, she just said it. Jusf plain, just like that.”

“And I’m thinking that while I was feeling it would be harsh or feel cruel to just say, hey you are twisting things, maybe that sort of bluntness feels safe to you because your Grandma set boundaries in that way. Straight forward, honest. I need to channel your Grandma, not your mom. Because in my concern of behaving like your mom and trying to avoid it, I did exactly what I was trying not to do.” Bea sighs.

“Well, you definitely don’t remind me of my mom. More of my grandma. Not age wise, but just….you feel the same, sometimes.” I shrug. It’s not something I have words for. “Like hubby feels the same as my grandpa sometimes. He reminds me of him, he always has.”

Bea laughs. “That is a very big compliment. I know how much your grandma means to you. Thank you.”

“Am I right in saying that what I was wanting from that first email was reassurance and to be told I was in the dark and twisty place….which you said was a boundary. And you felt it was me raging and so there was this feeling of needing to set a boundary……so we both really wanted the same thing?”

“Yes, yes, you are. We both did want the same thing.” Bea chuckles again.

“So….next time….maybe you can set a different boundary sooner?”

“Yes. I can do that,” Bea agrees.

I break the silence by saying what pops into my head. “Hey, you did what you said you would!”

“What do you mean?”

“When……when we talked about Kathy, and I asked you what you would have done…..and you told me? Do you remember?” I ask.

“Yes. I remember that.”

“Well….this rupture, you did what you said you would do.” I smile. Something about that feels right.

“I did? Well, thank goodness I did what I said I would!” Bea laughs, but she is sort of serious, too.

“Yeah….I’m glad you did what you said you would.”

Her tone lignt, Bea says, “You know, that brings up the whole question of enactment. Maybe you needed to see if I would do what I said I would, or maybe I needed to see if I would do what I said……it’s so interesting……”

“Don’t get shrinky,” I say, cutting her off. “And I definitely didn’t cause this mess on purpose.”

“No, enactments aren’t a concious thing. It’s all completely unconscious. But it is interesting, especially in this situation…..”

I cut her off again. “Don’t be shrinky!” I recognize this as a boundary, a need for her to not be shrinky so I can feel safe and secure knowing that Bea is Bea and not a cold analytical shrink.

“You brought it up,” she laughs.

“Just talk to your shrinky friends about this,” I tell her. It’s such a teen response, that I laugh, too.

Laughing, she agrees. “Okay. But the grown up might want to talk about this one day, and when she does want to, we can. It will be okay.” .

“Maybe. Not now.” I am stubborn.

“No, not right now. When you are in it, it’s the wrong time for shrinky. I get that. So not right now.” She is so calm, so sure, so caring again. Bea is herself again, she is really back.

“I think it’s okay. I feel okay, this is okay. Nothing bad happened and you did what you said you would.” I breathe out relief and fear and anxiety and anger as I say the words.

“Yes. Nothing bad happened. Actually, something good happened,” Bea says kindly.

“Yeah. And it’s new. Something new. And it was ok.”

“Yes. I think you grew a lot, even if it’s not something we want to happen again, I think there will be more growth and learning, more felt experience from this. I think there was a lot of new things in this for you.”

“Yes. You listened. And didn’t want me to just agree and be…whatever you wanted.” This….this means so much to me. I don’t have words for it, but there is a lightness where the fear of not being what she wanted used to be. The fear isn’t gone because it is old, old fear, but there is less of it there.

“No! Never. I want you to just be you. You are enough. Just like you are, you are enough and you deserve to be seen and heard and cared for just for being you.” Bea is adamant, and while I think she has said this before, everytime she says it, it sinks in a little more.

“Is that….is what I wrote, what you said true?” I ask quietly.

“That I care?” Her voice is neutral, maybe curious about what part of what I wrote.

“Yeah.” Shame floods me as I confirm her guess.

“Yes. Very much so. This is a real relationship. Just because it is therapy doesn’t make it not real. If it weren’t real, and I didn’t care about you, you wouldn’t have been able to hurt me. What you wrote, all of it, is true. Absolutely. I care.” She means it, I can hear it in her voice.

“Okay,” I say. It’s all I can say, because I don’t know how I feel about this. It’s….I want her to care, and I care about her, but I don’t….well, I guess I don’t want to matter. I’m afraid to matter, and there is something painful about having the whole of me accepted so openly. I blink back tears.

After a while, I ask Bea to tell me something regular, and so we talk about dogs and coffee and clothes. When I leave her office, I feel drained, but also more present and peaceful than I have felt in a while.

The wound will never be erased, the scar remains, but it’s not a bad thing. There is beauty to be found in the scars that make us who we are.