if you have an eating disorder, if you self-harm, if you have been sexually abused, those things are mentioned in this post. Please read with caution
I’m making progress. It’s slow and twisty, and doesn’t really feel like progress right now, but still, it’s progress.
Driving to therapy today, my stomach was a twisted bunch of knots. I could feel, in my body, that I was anxious. I was running late, I knew what Bea was planning to talk about, and I knew what I was planning to talk about. I also hadn’t seen her since admitting that I wasn’t really okay; that cutting and restricting my eating are now daily occurrences. But still, I was feeling an emotion in my body, and recognizing it. I’m not sure that has ever really happened in my life.
I arrived, and walked in, and my defense of “perfect me” kicked into high gear. I went into chatty mode.
“Good morning, ” I said, setting my things down, and sitting in my usual spot on the couch.
“Good morning,” Bea said. She seemed to be sizing me up, trying to figure out what was going on in my head. Before she could get out a question, or start with any serious talk, I jumped in with a Kat story, and some updates on how things had gone after Kat’s last session with Bea. We chatted about that for a little bit, and then, finally, she looked pointedly at the clock and said, “well, we should really switch gears, and try to talk about some of your stuff.”
I hid my face. This was not what I wanted to do. Not at all. It’s hard, to be an adult and be in therapy. No one is making you go. No one is forcing you to be there. You have chosen to be there, of your own free will, because you know you need help, yet it’s still so hard to talk, to get out the words, to say what needs to be said. I always feel like I am being a difficult teenager by not speaking, instead of the 30 year old woman that I am.
“Did you bring you drawing?” Bea asked me. She was referring to a drawing I had done, last week, of how I see the inside of my head. It gets difficult to explain (and is really another post in and of itself) but I feel like I have a “room” in my head I go to when I want to be more detached from things, more numb. It’s not true dissociation, exactly, but perhaps a precursor, or a very, very mild form of it. In trying to explain how I had been numb and dissociated and in the room and now was back in the room because I wasn’t okay to her last week, I ended up drawing out how I picture the inside of my head for her. Unfortunately, the one I drew in therapy wasn’t exactly right, and so I went home and drew it again. I took a picture, and sent it to her, along with a very detailed explanation. After that, Bea “got” it. And then she wanted to know what it was like to be out of the room.
I nodded, In answer to her question, and pulled out my drawing of my “internal landscape”, as well as my explanation of what it is like to be out of the room. And then I handed them over.
“This is awesome, so rich,” Bea told me, “This visual just puts it all in perspective, it all makes perfect sense.”
I don’t say anything, I just stare at her, feeling a little bit silly and exposed.
“Can I read this? The what it’s like to be out of the room?”
“Yeah,” I say.
And so she reads. Bea is a fast reader. She’ll read about how I felt more connected, how if felt like I could feel what others were feeling and not just intellectually understand, she’ll read about the giggle fest I had with Kat and how I couldn’t stop being silly. She’ll read about how I started to feel like I could maybe give up the idea of who I “should” be and just be who I was, or at least have the freedom to find who I was. She’ll read about how all these emotions hit me from all sides, the anger and shame at myself that might have swallowed me whole if I named it, the guilt, the fear and anxiety that were stronger than I ever felt. She’ll read about how I was more connected to my body than I remember being, and how that’s when those terrorizing physical memories started.
She nods, and looks up. “This is all good stuff, so much good stuff. But then there is some scary stuff too, isn’t there? That’s why the cutting started? And the restricting?”
I’m looking down now, but I manage to whisper, “yes.”
We sit in silence for a minute, and then Bea asks me what I’m thinking.
I struggle to get the words out, and when I do they are choppy and whispered. I’m afraid of the answer; a yes or a no is frightening. “Can nightmares be memories?”
“Sometimes. It depends on the nightmare, on the symbolisms, how much symbol is is in it, what is happening in it. But, yes, they can most definitely be memories, or parts of them can be memories.”
I’ve managed not to hide my face, but I’m still looking down, and I can’t get anymore words out. Thankfully, Bea helps me. “Are you having a new nightmare?”
I nod. And then, feeling terrified to even speak, I say, “it’s all new.”
“Do you want to try to tell it to me?” Bea asks.
I had written it down a few nights ago, it never changes, it’s always the same. I pull it out of my notebook, and hand it over to her. And in that moment, I thank God that she just accepts my difficulty and fear of speaking, and that she takes the papers and reads them. I also hide my face, I don’t want to see her reaction, and I don’t want her to see me.
“Is it the same, everytime?”
I nod my head, whisper, “exactly the same. Nothing changes.”
“How long have you been having this nightmare?”
“A week? Two?” I guess. Time smushes together, I can’t be sure.
“It’s very vivid, it feels too real to be just a nightmare. I agree with you that it’s a memory,” Bea says, and I feel,better, less crazy.
“It’s so real. So, so real,” I say.
“Does the nightmare end where you stopped writing, or does it go beyond this?” She asks. Oh, Bea knows me too well by now. I couldn’t write the rest, I can’t face the rest.
“There’s more,” I say, and I think I can’t breathe now, but I manage to hold it together somehow, “I’m so scared in it.”
“Yeah,” she says, “when you wake up, do you remember what you feel? Or do you feel anything?”
I’m curled into myself now, as far back from her as I can be, and as small as I can make myself. I can’t focus, I’m not really “here” anymore, I’m more “there.”
“I’m scared. I’m alone. All alone. No one to help me. I need to hide, just go hide……” My voice is a whisper, and my words are choppy and laced with fear.
“Alice. Alice,” Bea says, “We need to back up. We need to come back a little bit…..”
Her voice is fuzzy sounding, but eventually I’m listening, and she’s naming 5 things she sees, 5 things she hears. I’m more grounded.
We talk, but no more about that nightmare. Bea tells me about an eating disorders conference she went to this weekend. I listen, and I know she wants to ask me what I have been doing, food wise, but she doesn’t.
When I’m more calm, I ask her if I’m crazy. She tells me no. “But I feel crazy,” I say.
“Well, yes, trauma therapy can make you feel that way. All these emotions bubbling up, and memories that you didn’t know you had, and flashbacks popping up, and nightmares, and lack of sleep, and anxiety…..it’s crazy making, and can make you feel crazy. But you aren’t crazy.”
“I do crazy things, though,” I tell her.
“They aren’t crazy things. You aren’t bad, either. You needed some heavy duty coping skills for what you were dealing with all your life. You found those coping skills in disordered eating and cutting. They aren’t the best tools for your tool box, but they work, you know they work, they are hard for you to give up, they give you that sense of control you so desperately need to have. The more you heal, the less you’ll need those things. You aren’t crazy, you don’t do crazy things.”
I’m afraid I’m going to wear her out, but I risk it anyway, ” Are you tired of waiting for me to stop taking this so slow? Are you getting annoyed with me yet?”
Bea just looks at me kindly, and shakes her head no, “I told you when we first started meeting that safety comes before all else. You need to feel safe. If taking things slow is what makes this safe, then that’s good, that’s all that matters. I told you I was committed to take this journey with you, I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere.”
I nodded, “okay.”
I really hope she’s telling the truth.