I’m not sure if there is anything triggering in this post. There isn’t any major talk of sexual abuse, or body image, or anything else, but it was a very intense therapy session for me, and so, for some reason, I still feel like it could be triggering, because things were mentioned all over the place. So, just keep that in mind as you read.
Nervously, I drive to Bea’s. I still enjoy the drive, though. I haven’t loved driving a car like this since I had my little 2-door Sunfire. I love my Spark. This is a fun car to drive. It just zips along, it feels happy to me. I can’t explain it. I also love the features. A text message beeps, and I hit the “Siri” button on my steering wheel.
“Siri, check my messages, please.”
“You have one message from Hubby. Do you need tea or coffee? It is not on the grocery list?” Siri reads the message, “would you like to reply?”
“What would you like to say to hubby?”
“No coffee, yes tea.”
“Sending message now.”
I love, love , love this car! And then the music flips back on, and I arrive at Bea’s all too quickly. I grab my bag, head across the street, and up the stairs to her office.
Bea is sitting in her chair, sending an email. She is just Bea, normal Bea. And suddenly, I feel a whole lot better. “Hi,” I whisper, sitting down in my spot.
“Hi,” she says, “I’m just finishing up this email, okay?”
“Sure,” I say. I’m early, and I am happy to sit and have a few minutes to calm myself. Putting the fact that I might agree I need to talk about eating and that I maybe could have an issue on the table, and opening it up for discussion is so very scary. Bea has tread very, very lightly thus far, and backed of when I have said to, and she has never made it about me. But I’ve always had a rule in place: we do not ever, ever talk about my eating. Now that rule is gone, I don’t know what will happen.
Bea finishes her email, and we discuss Kat for a few minutes. Not only is it a safe subject, it’s also a subject that needs to be talked about, because I need to know what Bea is thinking in terms of Kat’s progress, and Bea needs to know where the ABA stands, what is going on with Kat at home, and all that.
“Well, we’ve spent a good 15 minutes on Kat. I want to make sure we get to you. I’m not going to let you spend the whole session on Kat,” Bea tells me.
I smile, because I remember the weeks I spent doing exactly that. Bea is learning what I do to avoid things. Although Kat did need to be talked about then, for sure, as I was really needing some extra parenting support. “Okay. But we do need to talk about Kat. It’s not a waste, you know. It is something that needed to be discussed.”
“Well, how about you? How did Thursday go? How was hubby’s award dinner? And how was Friday– your birthday?” Bea asks.
“It was okay. The dinner was fine, okay. Hubby did good, he ended up having to give a speech. And I made it through it, played my part. We stayed the night there, I didn’t sleep good, so hubby called the desk and asked for late check out. I dozed off and on from 6 am until 11, had a soak in the hot tub in the room, and then we drove home. It was just me, hubby and Kat at home. It was quiet and nice. I made pancakes for dinner, cake batter pancakes and put candles in them for all of us to blow out. I was happy on my birthday because it was quiet and easy. It was what I wanted.”
“That’s good, and being able to sleep late when you didn’t sleep that night, that’s a birthday treat!” Bea says.
I nod my head in agreement, “Seriously. Between Kat’s nightmares, and my own, plus my inability to fall asleep, it’s like having a newborn or worse.”
Bea smiles at that. “What about Hubby’s awards dinner? Did you end up having fun?”
I struggle to answer that. What can I say? I should
smile, and say, “of course. It was a great night. I had a fantastic time.” I don’t say that though, it’s not true. But the truth seems wrong, too. And so we sit in silence for a while. Finally I say, “I’m not sure what to tell you. I want to give you the right answer, but that’s not the way I felt.”
“Hmmm. I don’t see this as a right or wrong answer. It’s just how you felt. That’s all. I don’t care about ‘right’ or ‘perfect’. I care about what really happened.”
Slowly, I shake my head no. And then I say, “no. I didn’t really have a good time. It’s tiring to be in a crowd like that.”
“Why? What makes it tiring?” Bea asks, “is that how it always has been, or just this instance? Do you know?”
I think about it for a bit, and finally I say, “It’s just tiring pretending all the time to be what I’m not. I have to be so perfect and chatty and charming, but that is not me.”
“Then what is? If that isn’t you, what is you?” Bea asks. I knew she would go there, the minute the words were out of my mouth. I stare at the floor. I’ve already gotten to the point of burying my head between my knees and curling into myself. I don’t answer, I don’t know. “What are the feelings?” Bea asks, surprising me with another question.
This one, I can answer, in a way. “I can tell you my thoughts. Not feelings. I don’t know feelings. But I know thoughts. I can give you my thoughts from the dinner. Maybe.” I tell her. I’m scared to do this, but if I can, if I can really explain what goes on in my head versus what people see on the outside, then Bea might begin to understand me. I’m just not sure I can let someone be that close to me, know me that well.
“Okay, that would be good. What were your thoughts?”
In my head, I understand that the only way she is ever going to really, really know me is if I tell her these things, if I let her in. Because she can only go by the clues I give her, by what she sees, and what she sees is the pretend me, the facade. So I need to tell her what goes on inside the facade.
I shake my head. “This is hard. I don’t know if I can. I’m afraid you’ll find me crazy. It’s all circular thoughts. Just nonsense. And too many ED thoughts. I’m embarrassed.”
“What, things like that lady is too fat for that purple dress or that guy is really stupid and needs to shut up?” Bea asks. Maybe she is simply trying to get a reaction, to make it safe for me to tell my thoughts, or she really thinks I’m that mean and critical of people.
“What?!?” I’m horrified, “No! I don’t think about other people like that. I think that stuff about me. Like, ‘why did I choose the green dress, black is better, black makes you look thinner, green was the stupid choice, what is wrong with you?’ That kind of stuff.”
“Ohhhh. Your thoughts, your criticisms are turned inward. All onto yourself, then. That can’t make it easy to be around people, or in a big group.”
“There’s more, it’s not just that. It’s searching out exits, making sure no one is too close, figuring out how to make sure no one hugs me…..it’s thoughts of no one look at me, no one too close, being to fat, trying to figure out how to not eat this or that, why is that guy staring at me, where are the exits, how can I move away from this person, oh god don’t let them touch me, my thighs are touching, were they touching last night, why did I eat that chocolate bar, that’s what did it, why are people staring at me, oh crap, what were they talking about? I lost time again, okay, I can fake it, I think I need to hide, where is the bathroom, I can’t do this, just smile, it’s fine, don’t mess up, this dress shows my arms, I hate my arms, why didn’t I bring a wrap to hide them. People are going to wonder why I am not covering my fat arms, they think I’m gross, oh my god, I am so self centered, what is wrong with me, I need to check the exits, that guy is blocking my way to the closest exit, this is no good, he needs to move, and on and on. They circle around and around like that.”
Bea is quiet for a moment, and I dare to peek up. She looks part sad, part in some kind of wow, like she has just realized something, or understood something. “That is tiring. Some of what you are talking about, the exits, making sure no one can touch you, that is all hyper vigilance, it’s PTSD symptoms. It’s trauma related, it’s normal in your circumstances. It’s not crazy. It’s so very common,” she tells me, and then, when she speaks, it’s carefully, as if she doesn’t want to upset me, “it’s interesting to me that you have the same feelings inside as the ‘wallflower girl’ the one with social anxiety, who is probably wishing to be you because you have constructed this coping skill that allowed you to be seen. And it is a skill, a positive one; social skills are very important, and we can use this as a positive skill not a coping mechanism, not a way to hide and pretend one day. You crested this elaborate coping skill, this way of being okay, and it allowed you to function in way that was and is socially acceptable.”
I don’t understand everything she is saying. All I know, is that I had no choice but to be socially acceptable. And so I say what I’m thinking, no filter, I just spit it out, ” I had no choice.” It comes out whisper quiet, weak and like it was a struggle to speak at all.
“Why not? What if you didn’t do all those things, if it fell apart, if you weren’t socially acceptable?” Bea asks.
I curl further into myself, and I whisper the words. “I wouldn’t be good enough.”
I have to whisper them twice more, and Bea has crept forward to hear what I’ve said. I can’t say of outloud. This is hard enough.
“Good enough for what?” Bea asks when she is back in her chair, and not too close to me again. She says the words quietly, and slowly, as if she already knows the answer and knows I’m going to break into pieces when I answer it.
Love. My mom. Hubby. To be liked. All are answers. But I can’t say it. So I sit, the words trapped in my throat, bubbling up, but unable to fully form. I can’t turn my fear into reality. The tears are there, too, waiting, hovering, in my eyes, in my mind, because they know they are about to be called upon.
When I don’t answer, and can’t speak, Bea says it for me. “Love?”
Her answer is my sobs, that suddenly appear.
“You had to be perfect, to perform well to earn love. To be cared for. You strived to give perfect, and really believed if you fell short, your mom wouldn’t love you, care for you, want you. That you wouldn’t have attention, care, love from your mother if you couldn’t perform to her standards. That’s a real fear for a child. Every child needs attention, care, love. How scary. How lonely. No wonder you learned to put everything away and be perfect, act a certain way.” Bea talks, and I manage to nod and tell her that yes, this is exactly how I felt. I’m crying so hard I can barely talk.
Eventually, I calm enough to talk, and I apologize for crying. “It feels like all I ever do here is cry lately. I’m sorry.”
“You need to cry. You need to grieve, to heal. You have a lot of hurt to heal from, and this crying is want needs to happen. I’m glad you can cry here,” Bea tells me. I think she is being weird and shrinky, but she isn’t giving me she “shrink feeling” (I really need to write a post explaining that I think) it’s okay.
“I hate that you know all this about me, now. That you really know my outside is always okay, even if I’m not, and that you know all my crazy thoughts,” I say.
Bea sighs. It’s not in the “tired impatient way” but more in the “thinking how to go about this way.” Finally she says, “I think you were really isolated. And I think you didn’t have anyone to trust, growing up, and I think the sexual abuse and the abusive relationship only added to the idea that people can’t be trusted.”
I don’t say anything, I’m not sure. I’m wondering just how much damage my parents did. Are they the reason I can’t trust anyone? Are they the reason I am so afraid that Hubby will leave that I cling desperately to him while simultaneously picking fights to keep him from being close? I always secretly thought maybe I was broken, missing whatever it is that allows people to be close like that. But now I am wondering. Maybe I am not missing parts after all.
“What about friends? In middle school, high school? Did you talk to your friends? A lot of times by then kids are moving away from their families and creating their own circles,” Bea sounds curious.
I shake my head. “I had fake friends.”
Bea nods, she knows what I mean. It’s the friends you have because you are both popular; you are in the same social group, therefore you are friends.
“What about cheerleading friends, or gymnastics? Did you have friends there?”
“No….cheer was school. Gymnastics was work.”
“Those two sports are high in body image issues, and eating disorders. Weight, shape, how you look, all of that plays a big part in those two sports,” Bea says. It’s the first mention of body image or eating disorder stuff all session. She asks me how I felt about the cheer and gymnastics, how I felt moving my body, if I remember, what I thought, if I remember pressure to be thin or stay a certain size.
“I didn’t want to do either. It was my mom. She wanted it. So I did it. And I was good at both. Mostly. But I hated it,”
“When did you start gymnastics? And cheer?” Bea asks.
“Gymnastics was….maybe 7 or 8? It was the summer. And cheer was 7th grade. So, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th. Well, part of 10th.”
“So you quit cheer? Why only part of 10th?”
I so don’t want to get into this right now. Maybe I really don’t want Bea to know exactly how eating disordered I was. “I did home study the second half of 10th grade. Because that is when things really fell apart, that fall. So I,had home study, but you couldn’t participate in extracurriculars if you were doing home study.”
“And didn’t your friends visit you? Ask why homestudy? Weren’t they worried?” Bea asks.
I want to tell her my friends didn’t really like me, I was just a placeholder; a cheerleader, blonde, popular, smart, cute. I left and someone else would take my place. It would be amazing if they even noticed. “My friends were fake.” I say. Shaking my head. I don’t explain that my parents had the story worked out; I was bored, I was going to try community college as a dual enrolled student.
“So why homestudy?” Bea asks.
I shake my head at her. “Not today.”
We circle back around to trust, and Bea says she sees me as someone who while surrounded by people and loved by those in my life, I’m isolated, and always have been. I don’t know any other way. “You never had a chance to trust another person with yourself, with who you are. You didn’t get to learn that it’s safe to do that, the way you have shown Kat it’s safe for her to trust herself with you, you mirror her feeling back to her, you validate and don’t judge, you love her and accept her for her– she’s perfect in your eyes because she is wholly uniquely Kat. You didn’t get that. How could you have felt it safe to trust? You are trying to figure it all out now. It’s a process. It’s a long process. You took a huge step today.”
I thought I was going to therapy for my kid. Then it was anxiety, maybe past “issues.” Then it was to resolve trauma. Now, I’m finding out I have so much more to work on and work through. I’m going to be in therapy for life.