Peeking out between my fingers

“You survived.“ Bea always says this to me. But did I? I’m not always sure. On good days, I think yes, she’s right, I survived. But when triggery days turn into weeks and then months, I don’t feel like I survived. It doesn’t feel like the past is in the past; it feels current, present, as if all the bad things are happening again. When things with my daughter trigger me, it’s confusing. Things get so mixed up in my head. Watching her, being there through her experience, it’s not so different from how I experience a lot of my memories. It’s like watching something on a screen, knowing it’s real but at the same time holding this belief that it’s not me. Except, everything I see in my nightmares and in the ick in my head was me. It all happened and was real and it’s all me, even if at times I feel so strongly that I wasn’t a part of the ick, that it’s some other little girl who is hurting and scared.

“You rescued yourself.” Bea writes to me. But I don’t think so. I didn’t do anything to stop him or save myself. It just ended. He moved or I got too old or something. It ended, but I’m still here, stuck, waiting for it to feel over. Every time I think it finally feels like it’s over, in the past, I fall all over again. What’s the point if I just keep ending up here? It’s not that I want someone to rescue me. I just wish someone had a magic wand they would loan me and I could wave it and erase all the ugly truths of my life.

There’s this part of me that is fighting for control of the ship right now. She is so shut down. She’s avoided everything since the holidays ended. Avoided Bible study, girls nights via zoom, texting or talking with friends. She’s avoided talking to Bea and has mostly managed to stop other parts from talking. I haven’t been writing in my journal or emailing with Bea or even blogging. There’s real fear there that any of those things might break me out of this dark and noisy prison I’ve created for myself, and that might mean feeling again. It’s noisy here because I always have a movie or tv show or audio book playing. Constant noise to drown out the ugly and the feelings. But it’s been two and a half months. The prison walls are starting to crack and nothing I do seems able to stop the cracks from deepening.

The grown up me (the “Just Me-present day real life me”) has felt locked away, lonely, sad. But even with that, there’s a fear of being freed. Feelings are scary. Triggery days and nights are their own kind of prison. And yet, no matter how hard parts of me are willing to fight to avoid feeling, thinking, knowing the truth, there’s another part of me that won’t ever stop fighting, breaking down walls, peeking out from behind hands hiding my face, searching for the words to tell my story and make sense of it all so that maybe one day, there will be some kind of peace that doesn’t mean dissociating away from my life.

When Everything Fractures

Fracture. Rupture. Shatter. Puncture. Breach. Rift. Tear. There’s so many words to describe having the ground break open beneath you, to paint a picture of having everything you have built split in two in a single instant. Those words never quite manage to really describe the pain of that moment, or the agony of the aftermath, though, do they?

Things are not okay with Hubby. Truthfully, from where he sits everything is fine and as it always is because I’ve given up talking to him about the turmoil and questions and doubts swirling around in my brain like a tropical storm. There’s too many threads all tangled together for me to even begin to really sort it all out. I can’t tell what is the past being triggered and what is present day adult me.

Therapy lately has been about that, and nothing else. It’s been about trying to sort out what is past feelings being triggered, what stuff belongs to the parts, what stuff belongs to Adult Alice, and about anger. Anger has been a major theme, starting with trying to figure out if I am angry. I think some parts of me are very angry.

I don’t have a great track record with anger. I don’t like anger, and no one really ever modeled anger for me. The times I remember my mom showing anger were not examples of healthy anger. I remember her giving the silent treatment a lot, and I remember once she threw a glass punch bowl at my Dad (it hit the wall and shattered). Throwing the punch bowl was extremely out of character for her. She didn’t do feelings, even happy wasn’t really acceptable, unless it was a little happy with calm on top. There was no jumping around screaming for joy in my childhood home. There was also no yelling, or crying, or moping about. My relationship with anger was simply to push it down, bury it, pretend it away. The flip side to that, of course, are the moments where I get triggered and scared (usually in regards to not being seen or heard, or feeling like I am being abandoned) and anger pours out of me like fire. Rage, Bea calls it. I hate that word, but she’s not wrong. So, we have been talking a lot about anger, and what does healthy adult anger look like when it is expressed? What does it look and feel like to stay within the window of tolerance and be angry? Spoiler alert, I still don’t have an answer to that.

In our last session we touched on something else. If Hubby can’t -or won’t- own his stuff, then how do we even begin to repair this rupture? Bea’s answer was something about how all I could do at that point was to own my stuff, and control what I could control. She went on to say something about how what I could control was knowing where I stand, what I believe, and being firm in that and not allowing hubby to change it.

“How does that help anything?” I asked her.

“Well, it’s a boundary,” she said.

“But how does that change anything, or make anything better? How does that help? It doesn’t fix anything,” I argued. I didn’t want to just set a boundary of what I believe and move on. That doesn’t feel right to me. Setting a boundary like that doesn’t solve any of the hurt or betrayal that hubby’s words have caused. It doesn’t stop me from feeling like he’s not the person I thought he was. It doesn’t stop any of the triggers that come with that.

“Well….” She said it slowly, like she was thinking, and then she finally told me she wanted to give an answer, but she needed to think it through more.

I suggested she email it to me because at that point we had run over a few minutes so time was up anyway.

Bea emailed me her answer, and as I read it, my heart sank into my stomach. That’s all it took, a few minutes to read an email and the ground caved in, yet again.

What punctured my trust and safety with Bea was this: I guess the “how will that help” boils down to the sad fact that we can ultimately never depend or rely on another person, even our spouse, to make us feel okay. We ultimately have to be okay standing alone. We do expect our spouse to share our values and basic beliefs, so that is hard to compensate for.  I don’t really have answers for any of it—it seems like you have to land in a place with it that lets you find some peace.  It still seems right, though, that the ultimate goal is to be okay within you—that you can’t control anyone other than you and your parts, which can be frustrating and disheartening, but unfortunately real.

Why then, has she spent years telling me it is okay to need people? Bea is the one that taught me I didn’t have to be alone in Miss Perfect’s world or in the dark and twisty place. She showed me I could trust people, and let them in; that people could provide support and help create a sense of safety. She is the one that pushed me to tell hubby about my past, for the sole reason that he could support me, that I deserved to be seen and loved and supported by him. She taught me about healthy boundaries, but also that letting safe people in was a good thing. I was great, I was amazing at being alone, at needing no one. My entire life was structured around keeping others at a distance, at never letting anyone in. Bea changed that, she showed me there was another way to live. So what the hell is this? Because it sounds like, to me, that she is saying Miss Perfect had it right all along. If that’s true, then what was the point of all these years of therapy? If that’s true, then what was the rest of it?

I feel like I am on the edge of a crisis. No one is who I thought they were. First Hubby. Now Bea.

Crack. Fissure. Burst. Separate. Divide. Schism. Split. Rupture. Not one, but two relationships I so carefully built have shattered.

Spinning in circles

One of my favorite metaphors Bea has used to explain her job as my therapist, as my secure base, is this idea of me spinning in a circle—- the way you do as a child— and getting so dizzy from spinning I can’t always see where I am going, and Bea standing there watching me spin around and around. At times she may need to stand very close, and at other times she can give me more space, but she’s always there next to me, keeping me from crashing into things and helping me to slow or stop the spinning when I need to. The one thing she can never do is spin with me because then she won’t be able to see where I am going and keep me safe, and she might even get too dizzy and crash into me.

Tonight I spun around in intricate and never ending connecting circles. I bounced around from hurt teen, to scared little girl, to grown up who just can’t process this, to worried mom (because how do I make it okay for my daughter that her father voted for a bad, bad man?). I circled through hurt, scared, dismay, sadness, worry, anger, confusion. And all the while, Bea stood next to me and kept me from crashing into things. I had worried she would spin with me, because I know where she stands on the issue (because we have discussed it, and honestly, even if we hadn’t, I’d still know just because of who she is.) but she held still, and helped me slow my spinning.

“I told him I can’t understand how he can vote for a man who hurts women, who thinks it’s okay to hurt women, a man who is a rapist, and he told me I was either naive or stupid to think that Trump is the only one in the White House that is a rapist. Hubby said it’s just as likely Biden is a rapist. He said women make claims about rape that aren’t always true. He said that being a rapist doesn’t mean you can’t be a good president and that it’s not a reason to not vote for someone.” I cried as I told her this, struggling to breathe and feeling the hurt of these statements all over again.

“Oh, ouch. That hurt, I know. Those words, of course you got very triggered.” Bea’s voice was empathetic, and present. She was real and here in this conversation with me.

“I just don’t…how can he say those things? To me? I mean…it’s….he’s…this isn’t who I thought he was. I just…it’s not okay.” I stumbled through the words, just saying them hurt.

“I don’t know. I don’t think there is a clear answer. But it makes sense that you would be triggered by this.”

“He’s like Kenny.” I choked the words out, shaking as I sad it. “He’s not who he acts Ike he is.” I bursted into tears.

“It really feels like that, doesn’t it? And that doesn’t feel safe at all, especially for those younger parts. But I know there is a grown up who is exactly who she says she is and she will keep the parts safe, and I will help her do that.” Bea’s words reassured me some, and I was able to settle enough to find words.

I still jumped around, talking about parts and feelings, but Bea was able to follow my thoughts.

There really isn’t any making sense of this.

The little girl just can’t understand how the person who is supposed to fight the monsters, the person who she has always believed would keep her safe no matter what is the same person who is supporting a monster.

The teen is mad. And her world feels rocked. How can he do this thing that hurts me so much? How can the person who is supposed to love and care for me do this and not even see or care how much this hurts me? If he really believes women lie about rape all the time, what does he think about me? Does he even believe me?

The mom is worried. How do I explain to my daughter— our daughter— that her Dad voted for a mean man? That her Dad voted for someone who doesn’t respect women? How do I even begin to help her make sense of that?

The grown up— who I think of as me, the real me— well, I have no idea how I feel. My heart feels broken. I feel like I’ve lost one of my safe people. I honestly don’t want to talk to him anymore about this. Bea assured me that when things aren’t feeling so intense, hubby and I will talk about this and we will work through this. But honestly, how can I trust him right now? I feel like if Kat hadn’t voted with me and then gone to stand with her Dad, seen who he voted for and shouted out “Dad, why the fuck are you voting for that asshole Trump?” Hubby might have lied about who he voted for. For all I know, when he said he voted for Hilary 4 years ago, that was a lie.

I told Bea I just felt broken and lost and so sad that I had lost one of my safe people.

“It sad, terrible and painful actually, to feel like that. But you have other safe people you can lean on right now,” she reminded me.

“I only had three,” I whispered.

“Three? I think you have more people you are real with and can lean on than 3.” She listed my friends, my brother, my cousin.

“No…I, well, yes, I have more people in my life than I used to that I’m just me with but….my safe people….that’s different.” As I said it, I realized that my safe people are those who act as a secure base in many ways, and they are those who the parts see as safe. It’s different than the authentic relationships the grown up has with people.

“Okay, yeah, I see that. So hubby, and who else?”

“Kay. But she can’t…this isn’t…I can’t even bring this to her.” I explained to Bea why Kay knowing this about Hubby would be so very bad and not helpful. “So that just leaves you.” My voice dropped off, shame that Bea is so important to me flooding me. Why does this always happen? Why even now do I feel like such a freak, so broken for needing her so much at times?

“Who?” Bea asked, because I’d gotten too quiet for her to hear.

“You. You’re the third person. I’m sorry.” Shame just buried me as I said this.

“I can be one of your safe people. I just didn’t hear what you said, that’s all. You don’t need to be sorry.” Bea wasn’t rocked by this revelation, but even so, I still feel worried that I admitted this.

I switched gears again, talking about simple child like feelings of it all, because those were the most triggering of it all. “I think it comes down to this. I think this is what I mean when I said I just want someone to explain it, to make it okay. The simple thought of the little girl is that bad people side with bad people. If Trump is scary and mean and doesn’t care about hurting people how can someone I trusted side with him?”

And Bea answered the little girl simply and honestly. “I don’t know,” she said, “But I think that good people like Hubby can make mistakes, and still be good people. I think hubby must be seeing something we can’t see. And I still believe that hubby will fight monsters for you and keep you safe because he loves you.”

“I don’t know if I can ever believe that again. But I feel a little better. Well, not better, but I don’t feel like throwing up anymore and I feel like I might be able to sleep tonight.”

“That’s good, that means you were able to coregulate a little. I’m glad you don’t want to throw up anymore.” We were getting ready to hang up, but before we did, Bea added, “Tomorrow, if you need anything, I’m here. Let me know.”

I felt a little less alone and little less triggered, and I even managed to sleep for 4 hours that night.

Who did I marry?

Please be kind if you comment on this post. I’m feeling very vulnerable right now, still not done with all the feelings of the hopeless part of me, and this has only flipped my world even more upside down. I’m not feeling very adult at the moment.

Therapy this morning was a bit of a waste. I just couldn’t get past this need to stay on the surface, and by the time I was even able to acknowledge that I was staying on the surface, it was 9:38 am. Bea said she thought a lot of people need to be sort of surfacey and just focused on coping right now, because even though I don’t talk about it a lot, the state of the world, and Election Day (week?? Month???) is so stressful and challenging for so many, but she also said that I still had time left to bring up anything I needed or wanted to.

All I could say was that I needed to talk but I couldn’t because I knew she would be on my side and I really need her to not be on my side, but also, if she’s not completely on my side that is scary too, and I need her to be here and not detached and neutral or shrinky. Yup. Crazy talk, right? I was being unreasonable, needing Bea to be all the things, but she didn’t act like I had crazy head.

She tried asking what it would mean if she wasn’t on my side, and I couldn’t get the words out. She tried asking why whatever part was there was so scared and triggered, and I couldn’t explain.

Finally, I managed to tell her, with many starts and stops and silently berating myself, that what I really wanted was to ask if she had time for a phone call later. I thought she was going to tell me no, but instead she kindly explained she wouldn’t have time until after 6:30pm. That was actually good for me, so we agreed she would call me at 7:00pm, and that I would try to email her what was going on before that.

I told her she didn’t need to reply if I emailed because I would know we would be talking tonight, but when I sent it, she responded anyway. I’m glad she did, honestly. I needed the reassurance that she could have this conversation.

All that to say, I am struggling with this a lot. I almost don’t want to post about this, but at the same time this is big, and I don’t even know what the fallout is going to be.

If you’ve read this blog for a while then you have read about Hubby. He’s a good man. A good father. He’s kind, and he’s gentle, and strong and supportive and he would do anything he could to make me and our daughter happy. He respects women. He believes in my dreams, and he supports me. He’s loved me through years of feeling broken, sat up with me after nightmares, came home from work when the flashbacks were bad. He held me when I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks after my Grandfather died, and he did it again when my Grandma died. He has found ways to celebrate and keep the memory of my grandparents alive. This man would go to the ends of the earth, and fight monsters to keep us safe. Except he voted for the monster. And I don’t understand. I can’t wrap my head around it. I’m lost, and confused, and one of my safe people is no longer safe. How can the hubby I thought I knew, be the same hubby that voted for a monster to stay in office?

I think I just might punch him

I don’t know if this was ever published or not. I thought it was, but now it’s in my unpublished posts, so I’m going to re-publish it I guess. 🤦🏼‍♀️ I wrote this on October 22.

It’s Wednesday. When Bea logs into therapy, I feel suddenly shy. Bea says a cheerful hello and I look down at my toes and mumble hi.

I think we talk about the weather and Halloween and kids and technology and other random things as I jump from topic to topic. It helps, though, because I start to feel less in the far away and more here. I’m not exactly here, but I am here more than I had been.

Bea seems to know that I am more here and so she says, “I know there is other stuff for us to talk about today, and I think it’s important that we try to work on it for a little while if you feel up to it.”

My hands fly up to hide my face, but I manage to set them in my lap again. “I think….well, I think I know and you know there is bigger stuff but I’m sort of avoiding it or tip toeing around it a little bit.”

“I think that’s okay to do for a little while. In fact, I think it helps you to talk and start to feel a little more settled before we dive in.” Bea is right of course. This has been true since the beginning of my therapy, which is how I originally had 90 minute sessions. I hate that covid and teletherapy have shortened my sessions to an hour. Why did I agree to that at the beginning of all this? Oh, right, because I thought it would be maybe three weeks in total and I hated therapy on a screen. I never imagined it would be months, and probably at least a full year before we would be back in person. I also assumed that once back in person (after a couple weeks, once covid was over) therapy appointment times would go back to normal. But that didn’t happen, and now my time is shortened and I feel a little bit like I agreed to something without really knowing the full ramifications, without questioning what shortening time would mean exactly. But the last time I brought it up, Bea just said that on days when she could give me a longer session time, she would. She never answered my question asking if I could ever have my old time back. Ugh. This is all so frustrating. Today, though, she has more time to give, and so I get to do my talking about nothing thing before diving in.

“It feels a little more like you are here when we talk for a little bit of time,” I whisper.

“Yeah, of course it does. I think you need to time to see what I feel like to you, if I am still me, still how you expect me to be,” Bea agrees.

“Yeah.” I nod my head.

“I was so glad you shared the journal page with me. That really helped things click into place for me.” Bea slowly starts to shift our focus.

My head goes fuzzy again. I cover my face with my hands and this time I don’t move them away.

“This feels so hard, doesn’t it? I know you have been feeling really bad, so bad there aren’t a lot of words. But I am glad you found some words. I’m glad this part we are getting to know could share. She feels really scared and frozen and so sad, and no wonder! This memory of it’s over but not really over, it was terrible.” Bea pushes a little.

I blink back tears. “I’m being so dumb. I know we talked about this already. I shouldn’t need to talk again and again. I’m sorry.”

“No, no sorrys. We did talk about it just a little. But we talked more factual this is what happened, not so much the feelings, the intensity of how bad this really felt. You had hope, you felt free and then all of it was just yanked away. How could this not feel bad?”

“I don’t know. I just…..I can’t get unstuck. I can’t make it stop.” I sigh. I feel broken, damaged.

“I could be wrong, but does this feel like the biggest feelings you’ve really had connected to a memory?”

“I don’t know. It’s the worst I’ve felt in my whole life. I wanted to die.” Tears stream down my face uncontrollably as I finally admit to Bea that I’ve never felt worse. I hide under my blanket. I don’t like to cry in front of anyone.

“Yeah, it was really painful. It was too much, too much for you then, and you had to go away. This part, she had a really yucky job, to hold all these feelings and keep them really far away from the rest of you. She held all this really bad stuff all by herself for a really long time, but she doesn’t have to now.”

“I just really, really want everything to stop.” I cry.

“I know. She really wanted everything to stop then. She did survive, though, and it did stop. It stopped.” Bea says softly.

“It’s not stopped. Nothing can stop him. Nothing can make it better.” I don’t think Bea knows what she is talking about. Nothing feels over or stopped right now.

“It feels like that now, and it might have been true then, but it did stop. She’s safe now.” Bea tells me again.

“You don’t know!” I argue. I feel like Bea isn’t getting it, she doesn’t understand.

“I do know. I know because I am on the outside and I can see the big picture. On the inside, it feels like time stopped, and you are trapped in this really bad place, this hopeless place. But I’m on the outside, and I see how time kept moving. I know the grown up who survived because of the parts. I know the little girl, and all the parts of the teen, and Ms. Perfect and even the one the others don’t like. I know that this new part, she is not alone now, and she is safe now.” Bea speaks firmly, but it’s still caring and gentle and so very much Bea.

“But I am alone.” I whisper-whine.

“She was so alone, and it was really awful. But she doesn’t have to be alone, or scared or frozen anymore. Really bad things did happen, but they are over now. She survived.” Bea tells me again.

“No. It’s never over. It won’t ever be over.” Why can’t I stop crying? At this rate, I’m going to cry myself a lake of feelings to drown in.

“It sure feels like that, doesn’t it? But the truth it that it ended and she is safe now, and she doesn’t have to be alone now. Everything is okay in present day reality. No one can hurt her in the present. And I think if we can help her see that, if we can get this part to rest, then you will start to feel a lot less alone and frozen in your current life.”

“Do you want me to go away?” I ask tearfully. The little bit of grown up Alice that has been working so hard to maintain any bit of control is no longer able to do so.

“No, gosh no!” Bea says quickly, “I don’t want you to go away, not at all. I would like to help you feel not so alone though. I know it feels really bad to feel so alone.”

“You can’t help. No one can help.”

“No one did help you then, but people can help now.”

I shake my head. “No.”

“It really doesn’t feel like anyone can help, does it?”

“No one can stop him. He always gets what he wants. No one can so anything at all.”

“No one stopped him then, but there is a grown up now who is very capable and won’t let anything bad happen again. He won’t ever hurt you again.” Bea informs me.

“Even grown ups can’t stop him.” Does’t she see? No one is able to beat him.

“No grown ups protected you, did they? But you know what? If I were there, I would stop him.” Bea says seriously.

“You can’t! He’s too big and you would get hurt.”

“He feels all powerful, doesn’t he? But he’s not bigger than me.”

“How could you stop him?” This part doesn’t really believe Bea can stop him.

“I could call the police. Maybe I would punch him. I’m very angry for how he hurt you, how he hurt all the parts. Yes, I think I just might punch him.” Bea doesn’t sound scared of him at all.

“Because you are bigger?” I question.

“Yes, and stronger.”

“And the police would really come and stop him?”

“Yes, the police would make him stop forever.” Bea assures this scared, hopeless, frozen part that wants to disappear.

“Forever, forever? Like the real forever?” It’s definitely the hopeless part running things at this point in my session.

“Yes, forever,” she says.

“Can I ask you something?” I whisper it, shyly.

“Of course.” Bea answers this like it’s no big deal.

“If you really were there would you wait for the police to come and stop him or would you leave?”

“I would do neither. I would stop him right away, and then I would call the police. And I wouldn’t leave you alone. I would make sure you were okay.”

“I like that answer.” I’m feeling much less alone at the moment. “What if I wasn’t okay?”

“Then I would sit with you, just like I am doing now.” It’s such a simple response and it’s said like that is a given, because what else would Bea do, besides sit with me and be there?

“What if I cried? Would you be mad or go away?”

“I wouldn’t be mad or go away.”

“And if the police came?” I’m waiting for her to say that then she would leave becase the police would take care of me.

“They would make him stop for good. He wouldn’t be allowed near you again.”

“But he lives next door.” My voice is scared. In my mind, there is never any getting away from him.

“Well, they would talk to the parents, too, yours and his. And the parents would have to keep him away from you.”

“But they would not believe me. I’m a drama queen and I tell stories and I make things up to get attention. That is what she would say.” I’m crying harder now, because I know my mom would not believe me, and that hurts just as much as this despairing feeling.

“I think the police might convince her. And if they didn’t, remember, I would be there, too, and I would tell your mom that you are not being a drama queen, and you are telling the truth.” Bea’s voice is strong, and firm, and I believe her, she would have tried to make my mom listen.

“Maybe she wouldn’t believe you. Maybe he would just be back to babysit me and be very mad with me.” I tell her.

“That’s a big worry, but do you know what? There is a law in our country and it says parents have to protect kids. And if parents know someone is hurting their kid, and the parents don’t keep their kid safe after that, they can get in big, big trouble.”

“What if they broke the law anyways because they really just thought I was lying?”

“Then you would tell me, and I would believe you. I would make sure you were safe,” Bea promises. Then she adds, “And you know who else I would call?”

“Who?”

“Your Grandma and Grandpa. And I bet they would help me keep you safe.” She’s right. If they had known in real life, they would have protected me.

“Maybe I could stay at their house for more than one night.” I feel some hope creep in, and that’s scary because I know how easily hope can be crushed.

“I bet you could!” Bea says, excitedly. “And that would feel so good to be really far away from him.”

“Maybe I could stay with them for a lot of nights.” I suggest.

“That would feel really safe, wouldn’t it?” Bea asks me.

“Yeah. But maybe….is it mean to want to be there and not with my Mom and Dad?” I feel guilty that I want to be with my Grandma and Grandpa and not my parents.

“No, I don’t think so. I think it makes sense, right? You weren’t safe at home, you weren’t protected by your parents. You always felt safe at your grandparents, and they would protect you, and you would be far away from Kenny. I think it would take some time to really trust that your mom and dad would protect you.”

“Maybe….yeah, I think so,” I agree. We sit quiet for a minute. I feel calmer than I have in weeks, and the grown up me is finally able to get somewhat back online. “This is a little ridiculous, isn’t it? I mean, I know we can’t go back and you can’t really be there.”

“No, I can’t really be there, but it’s not ridiculous. When parts are so stuck in the past, they don’t know the difference between then and now. And for our brains, imagining a different outcome, just doing that can start to rewire things a little, change how we feel about a situation. If it helps that part to think of me being there and stopping him, then I am all for that. She deserves to feel protected, and she shouldn’t have to suffer alone anymore. She’s held the worst feelings all by herself, but she doesn’t have to anymore.” Bea sounds like Bea, she feels like Bea to me again. I breathe a sigh of relief as she talks.

“I did a….sort of silly thing, I guess. Yesterday, I was trying so hard to find words and I just couldn’t, because even saying that I felt really HUGE sad didn’t seem like enough, so I googled….well, I googled feeling words.” My face is a little red now but I’m still hiding under my blanket, so Bea can’t see my embarrassment.

“That was a good idea. Did you find any words that fit?”

“I made a list….I just, well, if I didn’t know what a word meant I looked it up in the dictionary and then I wrote it on a list if it seemed right. So I made this long list, but it feels sort of…..dramatic.”

“What kind of words did you find?” Bea asks.

“Do you want me to send it to you?” I don’t know if I am hoping she says yes or if I am hoping she says no.

“Yes, I would like that very much.”

I get my phone, and copy the list into email. I send it to her.

Melancholy Despondent Angst Anguish Worthless Despair Trapped Pain Anxiety Feels like heart will burst from sadness Anguish Confused Vulnerable Ashamed Hurt Scared Sorrow Loss of hope Despondent Inconsolable Distraught Paralyzed Disillusioned Betrayed Isolated Desperate Crushed Terrified Shocked Hopeless

It’s not long before Bea’s phone dings with an email, and she reads it. “Are these words in any order, or just written out? Like is the first word the most intense?”

“No, no order, just written down. I’m worried that you will think it’s over the top, drama queen,” I whisper.

“I don’t think that at all. I think this is a really terrible way to feel. Is this feeling like a soup of all these words, all at the same time?”

I nod my head, but then remember she might not be able to see on a screen like she can in person, and I say, “Yes.”

“Well, between this word soup and the journal page and talking to the new part today, I feel like I can really imagine just how awful it was for her. She was so little, and to feel like this, of course she just wanted everything to stop.” I love how Bea points out to me how *normal* my feelings are.

“So you don’t think I’m being a drama queen?” I double check.

“Nope. That isn’t something I have ever thought about you. I think of drama queen more as an action.”

“What…..what do you mean? Like…like crying or saying you are feel really bad?” I stammer out the question, feeling uncertain or confused.

“No, feeling how you feel, sharing that, crying, those feelings are not being a drama queen. That was your mom, it was her stuff that made her feel like that because she couldn’t handle big feelings, maybe any feelings,” Bea reassures me.

“So….then what is being a drama queen? I think I don’t really know…..I think…maybe it’s like I worry, I tell you I am worried you will think that because mom might think it and then she would go away but I think I ask you, I tell you I am worried because I really just don’t know what a drama queen is and I don’t want to be that way and make you leave,” I admit.

“Well, I think it is action….maybe action that is a little bigger than the feelings or situation call for. But also, it isn’t negative, or it doesn’t have to be. Yes, your mom called you a drama queen and it really hurt because it was a way to put her inability to handle feelings on you. That blamed you for having too big of feelings, for feeling anything at all. It made you too much, and it made it your fault that she couldn’t handle it. But I would absolutely call my daughter a drama queen, and it is not a bad thing.” Bea laughs, a soft quiet laugh that is nice. “Did I tell you about the hornet’s nest when she was here this summer?”

“No…”

“Well, my daughter and her boyfriend and my son and his girlfriend went out walking in the woods, and they ran into a hornet’s nest. Now, when this happened, everyone got stung, but my daughter was running through the woods, tearing off her shirt and screaming. Her boyfriend carried her home, and then she spent the day on the couch, with the rest of us bring her ice packs and Tylenol and whatever else she thought would fix it. I’m not saying it didn’t her, but her reaction was just a lot bigger than maybe one would expect. But you know, that’s just her. Or, here, there was one day where both my kids fell and hurt their legs. My son, he just went back to his dorm and rested with ice and pain reliever. My daughter, she called an ambulance, and went to the hospital. Her injury was just a cut, a scrape really that didn’t even need stitches. But my son? When he finally went to the hospital, his leg was broken in two places! That’s just my daughter, though, it’s part of who she is, and it’s not a bad part at all.”

The whole time Bea is talking, my head is spinning. This feels like a new concept, and is very different from how I think of being a drama queen. The crazy thing is Bea doesn’t sound judgmental, or like she thinks this is a very bad thing about her daughter. She sounds like she loves her daughter even with the drama queen stuff. She sounds happy telling this story. And, this idea of a drama queen is not me. I know that. “So, having feelings is not being a drama queen?” It’s part question, part statement.

“Having feelings, even really big feelings is not being a drama queen. Having feelings is part of being human. You just really didn’t get that modeled for you.”

“My grandpa wasn’t afraid of big feelings,” I proclaim.

“I bet he wasn’t.”

“Not even mad scared him. One time, I was real mad, I don’t know why but I was super angry and you know what he did?” The grown up Alice is mostly gone again, with Little girl running things.

“What?” I can hear happy curiosity in Bea’s voice.

“He got the whole entire bucket of his dog Candy’s toys and took them outside and we threw them at the tree as hard as we could and it was okay to be mad.” I smile as I remember this moment. It’s like so many other little moments I had with my Grandparents.

“That was really smart of him,” Bea chuckles.

“It is pretty goofy though, isn’t it?”

“Oh, I don’t think so! It’s what I would have done. In fact, I have a bucket of toys for kids to throw at the wall when they feel that big mad.”

I smile because I like that Bea does this, too. “I don’t know what I was so mad about.”

“That’s not the part that mattered, I don’t think. What mattered was Grandpa being okay with your mad feelings.”

Out of the blue, the intolerable feelings of being alone and hurt and hopeless hit me. “Bea?” I ask, and my voice breaks as I say her name.

“I’m here.” Her voice is reassuring, my calm in this cyclone of feelings.

“Would you really stay with me and stop him forever?” I ask doubtfully.

“Yes, I absolutely would! If I could go back and be there, I would scoop you up and get you far away from him, and not just far away in your head, but the real kind of far away, and he would never hurt you again. I would make sure of that.” She’s so certain, so positive, that I start to feel like I could believe her.

“And you are not leaving?”

“I am not leaving. I will not leave you. when if we aren’t here, together, like right now, I am still here. You aren’t alone.”

I feel like crying. It’s way past time to say goodbye, but I really don’t want to. Saying goodbye feels like all the safety and protection I have been feeling will just evaporate. I can’t hold onto Bea if she isn’t talking to me or writing with me. I don’t want her to disappear.

“Alice, I am here, even when it doesn’t feel like it. You can reach out and double check if you need to. Can you hold onto that?”

“I can try. Just don’t leave forever, okay?”

“I’m not leaving at all. I can hold you and all the parts in my mind, even after we hang up.”

“Okay.” The word comes out a whimper. I feel like Bea ending the session is breaking my heart. Why do I feel like this? What is wrong with me? I hate being this needy, feeling so alone and desperate for Bea to be there. The shame of needing, the vulnerability of it all sends me far away again.

The end of session is fuzzy. My head feels slow, foggy, filled with sand. When things get less fuzzy again, we talk about grown up things, grocery shopping and boring normal everyday stuff like that. I tell Bea the things I forgot to get at the store yesterday, and how I had a panic attack in the middle of the cereal isle and was afraid to move for what felt like a long time, so I had to just pay for what I had and go home. Bea tells me it’s okay, I can go back to the store today if I need to, it is no big deal. We make a plan for the panic. When we say good-bye, I feel sad but not like I’m dying.

This feeling, this part

Bea and I spent most of Monday and Tuesday emailing; her trying to show me she understood how bad I was feeling and reassure that she was there and not leaving and very much herself, and me crying about how bad I felt and how much Bea didn’t feel like Bea.

Bea wondered if these feelings are a part that didn’t know her, if maybe that was why she didn’t feel like Bea to me. Once she said it, that felt obvious to me. Yes, this is a part. So we wrote back and forth but nothing felt very understood at all. In fact, I felt more alone than ever.

I spent a lot of time on Tuesday sitting in the hot tub and journaling. My hot tub is my covid birthday gift this year. It’s nothing fancy, just a blow up one, but hubby set it up in the garage with my porch swing and a pink rug and twinkle lights and curtains that let me close out the rest of the world. I love it. So I hid in my hot tub and journaled. I took photos of a journal page and sent it to Bea. Until that point, I think she was there, and wanted to help, but just couldn’t find her way in, past my walls, and I couldn’t find words to say how I felt, or find a way to let her in, but once she read that journal page and was able to say that she thought she understood, things changed a little. I felt like maybe she might really be there even if I couldn’t feel it.

Journal page sent to Bea.

Bea wrote back:

Alice,

I understand this part now, I think. She seems like a frozen in place part from the It’s Over/It’s Not Over memory that’s so unbearably emotionally overwhelming. I’m glad you wrote all of the nuances of the thoughts and feelings from that time. It was good for me, too, to see it all written out. I guess this part simply exists to hold this most awful batch of feelings—and no wonder it feels so lonely. She may not know anyone else at all:(

Bea

I responded to her pretty late:

That makes me feel better. Can you help her now?  Because I can’t help her. She’s too strong. Her feeling are too strong. This feels like it can never be fixed, will never be better, will never stop hurting. I don’t know how much longer I can feel this way, can do this. I wrote one of my email responses a lot of times because I just needed to edit out all of my too muchness.  But this part, these feelings it’s just too much for me to handle. I’m afraid of it all. 

Even though it was late, Bea responded that she would try to help in the morning and that this part being so frozen made a lot of sense to her.

I went to bed holding onto the fact that Bea understood and wasn’t going anywhere.

This is not October

I don’t want to do therapy today. I just don’t. I’m trapped in circular cycle of despair. It goes like this: I feel numb, with all these feelings and landmines underneath the numb. I can’t cope with the landmines on my own, it’s too BIG, too overwhelming. I build walls and go far away and feel empty and numb because the feelings are too much. The feelings leak through the walls anyway, and I feel panicky and alone. I need Bea, I need to not feel alone with this, I need her to contain it for me. I can’t feel her, though, because I am too far away. That means she can not contain it for me, or soothe me. So I feel more panic, more alone, more overwhelmed and I go farther away, which only makes it feel more like she is not here.

I log on anyway and when Bea says hello and good morning, I say hi back. My voice sounds wooden, hollow. Does it sound like that to her?

We talk about Kat, about school, about Halloween. Bea asks questions, and I answer them on autopilot. Eventually she asks about my birthday.

“My parents are coming. It’s fine. It all just feels far away.”

She nods her head. “That will be nice that they are coming. Usually you have a whole birthday week, right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” She’s right, I do, and this week is birthday week. I just can’t get into celebration mode, though. (The back story is my Grandpa and I share a birthday. He and I had Birthday Month, and it was always really special. We loved our birthday. He always said I was the best birthday present ever, and that no gift would ever top the day I was born. He made me feel special and loved and like I was very important. He died right after I celebrated 29 and he celebrated 79. My birthday is bittersweet now, and for a lot of years, I didn’t celebrate at all. I miss him terribly. He was my favorite person on the planet. I wish everyday that he was here.)

“I haven’t forgotten about October being hard,” she says softly. When I don’t say anything, she continues, wondering out loud if that is part of what is going on.

I’ve denied that this feeling is the October feeling, and I still don’t think this has anything to do with October. It took two years, maybe three years of therapy to recognize that there is this October feeling, this pattern that has emerged. But once we saw the pattern, we worked to change it. Parts got less out of control, and I developed better coping skills and even though I always have this echo of the October feeling it is manageable. But THIS, this overwhelming, needing to disappear, wanting to die feeling? This is not October. Finally, I just bury my head in my knees.

“What’s happening for you right now? Can you tell me?” Bea asks.

“It’s not October. October is feeling like I am a failure, like I can do nothing right, like everyone is mad at me, hates me, is going to leave me because I am horrible. October is being mean and mad and pushing everyone away before they can leave me. October is sad, and it’s the teen freaking out, and it’s out of control and acting out, and wanting to die, and even I usually know I’m not acting okay, I am being mean and crazy but I can not stop it. THIS is not October. You know that! You know what October is.”

“No, this doesn’t sound like October. You’re right, I do know what October is and that it is really a hard time.” Then, she adds in her gentle voice, “But remember, I am not inside. I don’t know what things feel like inside, and I don’t think you have ever really described what October feels like. I only see the outside of it, that it is out of control, and painful and that there is lots of suicidal ideation happening. But I can see now that this feeling is not October.”

I don’t respond, but I am relieved she is finally getting it.

Bea talks, but I am farther and farther away, and it’s too hard. This is too hard. I’m alone, even though Bea is right here, talking to me, trying to help. When she asks me if I can describe the feelings that are too much, her words break through the fog.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know. I can’t, I can’t because you are too far away and it’s my fault anyway and I can’t do this.” The words are jumbled and repetitive and I know I am not explaining well at all. I hate this. Bea doesn’t feel like Bea, I can’t tell her anything, and I am trapped all alone in a head filled with nightmare images, overwhelming emotions and landmines.

“Why do you think it’s your fault?”

“Because. Because I am far away and that makes everyone feel far away, so I should not be so far away but I can’t stop it, I can’t do this by myself but I am alone because I can’t be here.” I’m whiny, I know I sound whiny but I don’t even care.

“Well, I think last time we met you felt like I was less far away after we had been talking for a while,” she says lightly.

“I can’t talk to you right now. You don’t feel like you.” I throw my blanket over my head as I say the words, afraid she won’t like that I am telling her this.

“Hmmmm. I feel like me, just Bea. I wonder who it is that feels like I am not me? Is there a part here that doesn’t know me, maybe?” Bea is so inquisitive. Usually I like that about her, but today I really hate it.

She might be right. It might be a different part that is here. This part, she’s not a teen part, or the little girl, or Ms. Perfect or the slutty part. She feels different. All of this feels different. But I can not say that. I don’t know why. I just can’t. So instead I whisper whine, “I don’t know. I’m just stuck. There are no good choice right now.”

“Yeah, this really does feel like a stuck point. It feels like we have been bouncing between stuck places for a while now. Either stuck in feelings and trauma or stuck in the numb place.”

“Are you frustrated?” I ask.

“It is frustrating, isn’t it? This is a hard place to be. Stuck places are always hard, and they always feel difficult and frustrating,” Bea responds.

I freeze. I knew it, I knew it. She is frustrated with me for not being okay, for not talking, for being far away and for anything and everything else. Vacantly, I say, “I knew you were frustrated with me.”

“No, not at all. No, no. I’m not frustrated with you or with the stuckness at all! Oh gosh, I’m sorry that was confusing. I meant that I know it is frustrating for you.” Bea’s words rush out, fast, like she just wants to make sure I understand she is not annoyed with me, or mad at me, or anything else.

“Okay.” I shrug, but she can’t see me because I am still hiding.

“I wonder if there is something I can do to help you feel like I am here, or to help any parts that don’t know me feel safe to share how they feel?”

“I never want you or anyone to fix things for me…..” I start to say and then I trail off because the second half of the sentence is too hard to say.

“I know. And I am a terrible fixer,” she says.

I feel crushed, and I start to cry. “I just wish this one time you could fix it.”

I think she says something kind and caring back, but I don’t know because that little bit of vulnerability sends me so far away I have no idea what is happening in the here and now.

“Alice, I think you’ve disappeared on me. I can’t see you, so I don’t know for sure but it feels like you are really, really far away. This is too far. I know you need some distance to feel safe, but I need you to come back a little, okay?” Soothing but firm, Bea pulls me back a little bit.

“Yeah.” I’m hollow and dead inside except not really because my voice breaks as I speak and the sobbing starts again. “I feel like my world is ending and nothing will be okay ever again and I just want to disappear. I spend all my time hiding in my head, and I can not stop it. I don’t get anything done, I’m not doing anything I should be doing. I just hide in my head.”

“That is a lot. This feels like new feelings, the depth of all this pain.” I think that this is meant to be soothing, but it feels so much like an analytical observation.

I have no words the rest of our session, I just vacillate between being numb and sobbing.

At 10:00am, echo reminds Kat to take her medicine. (I set this reminder for the summer, and now I can not figure out how to cancel it. Every time I ask echo to cancel all reminders, timers, routines, she says I have nothing scheduled. I also can find nothing in the app. It’s beyond annoying.)

“It’s time to go,” I say.

“Yes, but we can take a minute to try to get you back to a place where you can cope,” Bea tells me.

“I’m not coping, I’m not okay, I can not do this. There is no going back to a coping place, because I am not coping,” I snap at Bea.

“I know, I just meant to get to a place where you aren’t so upset….” her voice trails off. She sounds like she feels helpless.

“Whatever. It’s fine, I’m fine. You have to go, just go,” I tell her.

“Maybe this is a time where you could email me later. I have sessions until 6:30 tonight, but if you email, I will read it and write back then, okay?”

“Okay, sure, fine.” I’m wooden and numb and dead inside again. I sit frozen under my blanket.

Bea says something, but I don’t know what. I feel a sense of her not wanting to leave me like this and feeling helpless to comfort me.

I sit and cry for a few minutes after she hangs up. I don’t know how to stop this. I feel like I am dying, like my world is ended, like I am all alone in a place of complete darkness. I am not coping, I am not okay, I am not functioning. In all the ups and downs and scared feelings and aloneness and trauma and pain and confusion, I don’t think I have ever felt this bad before.

Metal Walls and Black Holes (part two)

“I can’t do this by myself.” I whisper the words, a barely there ghost like whisper.

“You don’t have to. I am here,” Bea says firmly. When I’m silent, she asks, “Do you feel anymore like you aren’t alone? Can you feel me here at all?”

I think about it. I’m not sure. “Maybe…..not like I feel it but I know it….sort of logical, maybe? I don’t know. Talking with you, and you listening and then when you get it, I know that would make me feel like you are really, really here. I just don’t feel it. So I guess so it’s sort of better.”

“That makes sense. I’m glad you can at least know I’m here, even if you can’t really feel it. You don’t have to be alone now. You were hurt so bad and so alone and not protected. You don’t have to be alone or hurt anymore. You deserve to feel protected and cared for.”

“Bea?” This comes out as a question, in the way kids will say *Mom* as a question.

“Yeah?”

“If he….if before was because I mattered, then why….that night when he…..why would…I mean….why did he if I didn’t matter and he didn’t love me and I’m not special, why did he do it?” I’m tripping over my words, my thoughts and my questions tumbling together in my head.

Bea is quiet for what feels like a long time. “Well,” she finally says, speaking slowly, carefully. “Well, I don’t think any of this, before or after was about love for him. He knew, sometimes bad guys know that kids need to feel like they matter, and he used that to get what he wanted. I think that all of this was about what he wanted and his pleasure. It was about power and doing what he wanted, and he used whatever he could to get you to go along with him.” She sounds so, so sad as she is saying this.

“Oh. It was mean,” I say.

“Yes, it was very, very mean.” Bea’s voice sounds funny.

“Are you okay? Did I do something wrong?” There’s a worry there about upsetting Bea, but it’s sort of dulled down from how it would normally feel.

“Yes, yes I am okay. I just wasn’t sure how to answer your question. I didn’t want to make you feel bad. Sometimes answering questions that…the answer might hurt, it feels wrong to me. I will always answer your questions and I won’t lie to you. I just…I feel very protective of you and of all the parts, and I was feeling some….like I didn’t want to tell the Little Girl about Bad people existing. I was feeling, am feeling protective over her.”

“I know monsters are real. They don’t look scary though. Just regular.”

“Yes, you do know that, don’t you? You’ve known that for a long time.” Bea breathes, and it’s the kind of breathing you do when you are trying not to cry.

“It’s okay. I’m not really upset,” I tell her.

“No, you are too far away to feel upset right now, aren’t you?”

“Yeah…..I wish I never wanted to be special, though.”

Bea won’t let that belief stand. “You did nothing wrong. Everyone wants to feel special and like they matter. Everyone wants to feel loved. He was wrong! He preyed on that need, he was a monster. You didn’t deserve to feel hurt then, and you don’t deserve it now. It makes me so mad that he is out there free, living his life and you are still hurting because of what he did, because he was selfish and mean and used you.” Bea stops talking, and then says more gently, “That longing to matter? That is that attachment seeking system, and it is a good thing. It’s okay, it is a good thing to want to attach, to want to matter to someone. Okay? I want you to know that.”

I feel like Bea speaking about attachment and needing to matter to others in this caring voice is very, very dangerous. The walls start to feel as though they are softening. “Stop, no, no, no. Just no. Stop. please, please, no.” I shake my head, cover my eyes even though I am still hiding under my blanket.

“Okay. Okay. I know that’s hard to hear right now. We can talk about something else.”

The walls harden back into place, and I slowly peek out from under my blanket. “Did you ever play that computer game where you click on the boxes and you are trying to avoid hitting the landmines? I can’t think of what it’s called.”

Bea shakes her head. “I don’t think so, no.”

“Oh. Well, there are lots of bombs and you click on the boxes and try not to hit them. That’s what my head feels like right now.”

“I can see that. I’ll try very hard not to hit any landmines, okay?”

I shrug. “I don’t know where they are. But it seems I keep bumping into them anyway. I hate this.”

“I know. What would it mean if a landmine was triggered?” Bea asks curiously.

“I….I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

“Okay,” Bea agrees.

We talk about how my being able to tell her in an email that I was upset is a big change. When I say that it’s different than what would have happened two years ago, maybe even a year ago, Bea smiles. “What is different do you think?”

“Well, before, I might have been hurt but I would have seen you not noticing under the surface stuff as you not caring, maybe a sign you were leaving me, or somehting and I would have been so hurt and so upset about it that I would have emailed but probably not been very nice about it.”

“Yes, maybe so. This time, though, you just said like *hey, this really hurt when I felt like you didn’t see how badly I am feeling and how not okay I am.* That wasn’t mean at all, but it was good sticking up for yourself, it is important to be able to tell people how they have hurt us.”

“I never wanted to be mean before, it’s just so much would spin out of control, I would be so triggered and panicked and scared. Relationships really terrified me, you know.”

“I know, the very idea of any relationship, any attachment was very, very threatening to you.” Bea says. She sounds proud of me.

“It’s still a little scary, sometimes,” I say.

“Well, yeah, of course it is. You were hurt in relationships, by attachment figures, by people who were supposed to care for you and love you and keep you safe. It’s always going to be a little scary to let people in after that. But you can choose now to let them in anyway, when you know they are safe, right?”

“Right. I choose now. Mostly.” I smile at Bea. I am so grateful to her. I worked hard, but I never would have gotten to this place without her.

“Reminder. Leave in 5 minutes to pick up Kat.” Every Amazon Echo in the house blares the reminder. We’ve run way over my hour.

“I’m sorry, I made us run over,” I apologize.

“Don’t be sorry. I had the time, and I think you needed it. I’m glad we had some time to talk today.” Bea smiles.

“Thanks.”

“Are you okay to go get Kat?” Bea asks.

“Yeah. I’m okay to go get her.”

“Okay. I’ll see you and Kat on Thursday, then.”

I nod my head. I hate that Wednesday is cancelled, but I’m glad she was able to see me today.

“Bye,” we say in unison, and I log out of teletherapy.

Metal Walls and black holes (part one)

It’s been a long time since I have felt this detached. I’m so far away that I can’t even remember last week’s therapy sessions. I only have the vaguest sense that I spent one of those sessions avoiding everything and began a tangent of talking about big things that have changed. It’s not a bad thing to think about, and I did end up making a list of things that have changed. It’s nice to see it all listed out. Some things shift so slowly, I only really notice when I think about what’s different now.

I end up upset after therapy on Monday, hurt that Bea seems to think the triggery, flashbacky, overwhelmed mess that I have been for months has shifted, and things are feeling calmer to me. She says I have seemed to be in a more reflective mood, and that things seem more settled. They don’t feel settled to me. Things are not calm inside. I’m hurt that she doesn’t see this. I spent almost all of Monday’s session feeling trapped, unable to find a way to tell her how bad things feel right now. I open my mouth several times to tell her I feel like I’m dying, like nothing is okay, that I feel so completely hopeless and numb I can’t find words to describe it at all. Instead, I continue talking about things that have changed in the 6 years since I started therapy. Why do I do this? Is there some part of me that stops me from speaking the words I really want to say?

It doesn’t take me very long after our session ends to email Bea and tell her that I am not okay. I calmly write that I don’t feel settled, that my feelings are hurt because she thinks I am okay, because she only saw the surface stuff. I write that I feel so far away, so numb, so alone, and her only seeing the surface feels terrible. It doesn’t take her long to respond. She tells me that she knew there was more, but that she felt as if she couldn’t find a way in. She tells me that she tried fishing around for a way in, but the walls were too thick today. She apologizes, and validates my hurt feelings, saying that she is sure it is really painful and lonely to not be seen. She asks me what I and the parts need from her. I don’t know. I need her to not feel so far away, but I’m the one that is far away, not her.

We meet again on Tuesday, and this time Bea has a way in, sort of. I’ve sent some of my notebook pages to her. (I’ll put those in a separate post https://fallingdowmtherabbithole.wordpress.com/2020/10/16/notebook-pages-metal-walls-and-black-holes/).

I log into teletherapy after I get settled in on the floor with my pillows and blankets. We say hello, and chat about nothing for a minute.

“I was really glad you were able to tell me your feelings were hurt,” Bea says.

I cover my face with my hands, embarrassed.

“It’s okay. I really was glad you were able to find your voice and share that with me. And I am really sorry you felt so hurt.”

“It always hurts when……..people don’t see under the surface.” By people, I mean my attachment relationships– Bea, Kay, and Hubby.

“Yes, it feels too much like reliving your childhood, where no one saw all the hurt underneath that Ms. Perfect was hiding.” Bea says softly.

I nod. “Yeah. It feels lonely.”

“I know. And I want to say that I did know there was more under the surface. I just couldn’t find a way in.”

“Well, I….it feels like…..” my voice trails off, scared to say the words.

“It feels like what?” Bea pushes a little to try to get me to finish my sentence.

I shrug. “There’s my famous filter again.”

“Yeah, that filter is tough! And it’s protected you for a long time. But it’s safe to let the filter go for a little while. Do you think the part that filters things can trust that?”

I shake my head and hide under my blanket. “I don’t want you to think I am being a drama queen,” I whisper.

“Hmmmm…I know that is a real fear, but that’s not me, right? That is something your mom said, that she believed about you, not something I think about you.” The reminder is gentle, and kind. It could sound angry or frustrated, but the way Bea says it, it is reassurance she doesn’t feel that way.

“I know. You always say you don’t think that about me.”

“Alice, in all seriousness, everything you have been through, all the trauma, everything, it was so horrible, I believe that anything you want to do, or think, or say, none of it will ever make you a drama queen.”

I sit in stunned silence for a minute, maybe longer. For probably the millionth time I wonder, was it really that bad? I don’t ask her this though. Instead, I spit out the words I was trying so hard to say earlier. “I feel like…..you know those commercials, I can’t think of which ones, but the ones where everything is grey and awful and sad and then the people find some miracle yogurt or medicine or whatever and everything is colorful and bright and happy? I feel like the before in those commercials.”

“Ahhhh. Things feel really bad right now. I could tell from your notebook pages how terrible things are feeling. That is a good description.”

“I feel really alone. Everything is far away and muted and I’m just numb. Except I don’t know if I get to say that, because there is sad, and maybe other stuff, and its big, really big, maybe too big, and I know it’s there, it’s just too far away to feel. So I don’t know if I get to call that numb.” I’m still hiding. It might feel childish, but it also feels safe, and safe trumps childish.

“I think you can call it whatever you want, but numb is a good explanation. Reading your writing, I was struck by the way the sad was described. I think there is a lot of grief to work through. That’s a big piece of trauma work, to process that grief. Grief is vital to healing, to moving on. I know it hurts, but try to hang on to the fact that getting to a point where you can even be aware of that grief is huge.”

I don’t say anything, because it feels like Bea is leaving. It feels like what she is saying about grief is her declaring we are at the end of things to work through. I shake my head at myself. No, I tell myself, no, no, no. Bea is not telling you that you are almost done with therapy. She is not kicking you out or leaving. She feels far away right now because you are far away. Everyone feels far away right now, even Kat. This is a you problem, not something Bea is doing to you. “Bea?” I say, tentatively.

“Yeah? I’m listening.”

“You feel too far away, and this is too big and I’m all alone. I don’t want to feel like this.”

“I know, I know you don’t. I am here, and I’m not going anywhere. I know this is scary but I’m not afraid of the big feelings, okay?” She speaks soothingly, the way I might speak to Kat when she is so distressed that anything I say isn’t landing with her anyway. “Are there things we can do right now to help you feel a little more connected? Like maybe feel your blanket, it looks fuzzy and soft. Or snuggle Hagrid? Can you listen to my voice and know I’m here with you even if you can’t feel it?”

“You just feel far away. I think it’s me. I’m too far away or too numb, or something. I don’t know. It’s like I built these walls and I was trying to….it’s like the bubble but not…this is….ugh…” I sigh, frustrated that I can not find the words I need to explain how or what I am feeling.

“No, I don’t see Ms. Perfect, not today. In fact I haven’t seen her in a long time.” Bea tells me.

“Well, yeah, because Ms. Perfect is…..I don’t know. She shows up for short things, like….I don’t know….it’s not, well…the bubble is light and bouncy and well, bubbly and stuff and this is….”

“Heavy.” Bea fills in the word for me when my voice drops off, and she’s absolutely right. This is heavy. There is such a huge weight to it, suffocating me.

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s so heavy. There’s this black hole of sad and other icky stuff and big feelings, and I just….I can’t look at it, I can’t even acknowledge it really, it’s too much and I just can’t so, I tried….it’s like I tried to build a wall around it but instead I built a wall and locked myself in with the black hole and there’s no windows or doors or anything and I can’t find a way to get out….or to even open a window to let anyone in.”

“I think you must need to be really far away to feel safe. Even if it feels awful, and you aren’t okay, I think the distance you need to be from the world, from yourself– and still feeling not okay– I think that tells us how badly this hurt you, how much it felt like your very existence was being annihilated.” Bea sounds so sad. Is she sad for me?

“I thought….well, you know….I just…it was over. I thought it was over and I wasn’t even sad, or anything but….not happy, I don’t know the right word….”

“Relieved?” Bea suggests.

“Yeah, maybe. I think so. Relieved. But then…I was wrong, it’s not over. And I am not special now, this isn’t because he loves me, I don’t know why now, and it is like everything is broken and none of it will ever be okay or anything else and I can’t, well, I just….” I sigh. This is so hard to explain. “I think that it was like…..before that night, I had this….it wasn’t normal, right? The stuff with him, it wasn’t normal.”

“No, it was not normal,” Bea agrees.

“But it was my normal. A fairytale. Well, maybe a twisted sort of fairytale, but a fairytale in my head. I had a story I would tell myself.”

“Yes, it was a game, he loved you, you were special.” Bea knows the story well.

“Right,” I say. I’m speaking more than usual, but I’m detached, cold, not here and definitely not feeling any of it. The feelings all live in the black hole I am working so hard to avoid. “So, I had this story I told myself, and it was normal, everything was okay. I was okay. But then, that night…..everything changed. It wasn’t over, and I wasn’t special anymore, either. My story didn’t work anymore. I couldn’t make sense of it, there was no understanding, no nice story to tell, and so then….I think I wanted to die.”

“Yeah, I can see that. There were no good choices emotionally that night.”

We are both quiet for what feels like a long while. Maybe Bea talks, or I talk, and I’m just too far away to even remember exactly what was said. Eventually though Bea says something about how I did come back to some sort of feeling that I loved him, or was going to marry him. I really don’t want to talk about this, but the words fall out of my mouth anyway. “I had to fix it.”

“Fix what? Fix it how?” Bea asks. I think I have confused her, but I don’t know for sure. I can’t sense her. Part of it is doing therapy on a screen, but most of it is that I’m too defended to feel her presence. She sounds like Bea, she looks like Bea, but she doesn’t feel like Bea to me.

I don’t answer the question. I’m not sure how to explain the thoughts swirling in my head like a hurricane. The thing is, everything changed that night in the cabin. It was the summer before 5th grade. That’s the year that the eating disorder really started. It was a bad year. And then came the sex talk at church and I realized what exactly was going on, and how sinful and bad I really was, I had to fix it. In my mind, the only way to to fix the whole sex before marriage sin and avoid going to hell was to marry the person. Yeah, I know. It wasn’t sex, the sin was not mine, blah, blah, blah. But it felt like it was mine, and desperate to fix it, I once again had a “crush” on him, and wanted to marry him. Typing this out makes it sound crazier than it feels in my mind. I don’t explain any of this to Bea. It feels too hard, like too many words to say.

When it’s clear I am not going to respond, Bea heads in a different direction. “What happened after? Did vacation go on as planned, were you able to have fun?”

I feel confused, like my head is filled with sand and I can’t think. “I…..I don’t know.” I shake my head, trying to clear it. Things feel….wrong. “I….I really don’t know. I just….ummm…This is crazy. I have no idea.” Panic hits me, hard and out of nowhere. In an instant, I go from numb and far away and feeling like I’m buried alive to terror that I don’t remember what happened after. It’s like not remembering means I didn’t survive.

“Hey, Alice, you are okay. I know, I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you are safe now. You did survive. Not remembering what happened after, that is okay, that just tells us how far away you had to go to protect yourself and survive.” Bea’s voice is reassuring, and calm, and she’s still my safe person.

The panic doesn’t last long., As Bea is talking, I shut down again. I think now it’s because the panic combined with me feeling Bea’s presence and her being safe is too much. It threatens to melt away the heavy metal walls I have constructed, and I need my walls. I hate them, but I need them.