I’m really excited driving into therapy, this morning. I really can’t wait to tell Bea about the way that I was able to sit in the chair at yoga, (to get the full story on that read this ) and I also want to tell her how I kept talking to Hubby, and he has agreed to do the workbook. I think she will be proud, maybe, but more than that, I think she will be happy and excited with me, and that’s the feeling I want; for someone to understand how big this was, and to be excited alongside me.
Walking in to Bea’s I realize it’s cold. I can feel the coldness of the air when I breath it in. Hmmm. That’s new, it’s not something I usually notice randomly.
“Good morning,” I say, poking my head around Bea’s office door. I’m a little early, and I don’t want to intrude.
“Hey, come in. It’s cold out this morning!” Bea is looking at the fact I have no coat on.
“Yeah….I hate wearing coats when I drive.” I set my things down, and plop onto the couch. I still curl up, hugging my knees to my chest, but I’m not hiding. I’m just comfortable.
I end up going off on a tangent about coats and wearing coats in the car, and how puffy coats really aren’t safe to be worn in the car, especially for kids in car seats — they should not wear puffy coats because the harness can’t be tightened to the child, and children have actually ejected out of their carseats during accidents. Bea has never heard of this, so I explain it to her.
“Okay. Remember this, we had chatted about safety in the beginning of the session. Because usually, when you bring something up in the beginning, then whatever we talk about in the end links back to that. It all connects. Things come up for a reason.” As Bea is talking, she nods her head at me, because I am giving her my best disbelieving look.
We talk about the email I sent her on Tuesday, about talking to Hubby. I tell her about Kat’s elephant hunt at Rainforest Cafe. I tell her about how Hubby was tired when we got home and so I asked him if we could talk the next day. I tell her how I couldn’t sleep that night, and so I ended up making a plan for how to talk and stay calm, and I tell her that I found a workbook and Hubby had agreed to do it with me.
“I think that text you sent him was really authentic, it was your voice, asking for what you need. And that’s what this is all about, asking for what you need.” Bea looks…..not proud, but glad, like she is experiencing the happiness I am feeling at having sent Hubby that text. It was a big deal for me to continue asking him to talk to me. “A lot of times, for guys, doing something together is how they feel a connection. So going on the Elephant hunt– even planning it as a surprise for Kat– might have made Hubby feel more connected to you. How did it feel when he agreed to do the workbook with you?”
“Surprising. Happy. I was a little afraid to keep asking him to talk, and I wasn’t sure what he would think about a workbook. But I don’t want things to stay how they are. So, I had to ask.” The last part is tentative, quiet. I’m not so sure I want to admit it that things feel that bad between Hubby and me.
“What workbook did you find?”
I pull my iPad out of my bag and open the kindle app and hand it to Bea. “It’s this one. I downloaded several samples of workbooks and I liked this one best. So, I just got it, and put it on both our kindles’ apps.”
Bea flips through it. “Do you feel like the worksheets are good?”
I show her where the worksheets are in the table of contents, and that clicking on each one will take you to it.
“Hey, this one is about attachment!” She’s excited, after all, we have been discussing attachment a lot lately.
“Well, that’s what the whole workbook is based on. It’s called emotionally focused therapy, and I guess the therapy is all about attachment theory with marriage– exactly what you were talking about with me and Ryan,” I tell her. I explain how I had researched the therapy, and how effective it had been found, as well as how the goal of the therapy is to create a secure base for each partner in the couple.
“That’s perfect. I need to write this down, and get a copy for my office, I think. I think that some of the people I work with would like that workbook. I don’t do couples, as a rule, but sometimes I end up with a couple if one person I’m seeing really trusts me and just wants the husband seen with her for a few sessions.” Bea hands the iPad back to me, and looks at me. “You really did a great job finding all this, learning the types of couples therapy and choosing a workbook based on what would go along with our work here.”
I shrug. “I’m good at research. If I know what I’m looking for, I can usually find it, or learn about it.”
“It’s a skill, Alice. A skill that you use very well,” Bea says in her ‘trust me on this voice’.
“So, I went to yoga yesterday instead of today because Kris is out of town today,” I can barely contain myself. I just know Bea is going to be excited that I sat in a chair at yoga.
“How was yoga? We didn’t talk about it last week at all. ”
“It was good, we did this exercise….well, I’ll explain it, but you might have to do it to understand. Although that backfired with Hubby. I was so excited yesterday, and I told him all about it. He didn’t get it, so I was like, ‘maybe you have to do it’ so I had him do it and of course he has no problem doing it! So he still didn’t get it. But anyways.” I describe the exercise to her, and how it works. “So I couldn’t do it. I was just frozen there. Really frozen. I mean, I asked her like, ‘you want me to do what?’ But then, as soon as she confirmed that yes, I was to sit down backwards without looking, I felt anxiety, and scared. I was just frozen. But then Kris talked me through it, and I managed to sit in the chair! And once I calmed down, I did it again, and it was easier the second time.”
Bea is smiling, a big smile, and she looks proud of me. “You worked through the frozen feeling! Alice, I think it’s amazing that you sat in a chair. Now I want to try it. Can I try it?”
“Yeah, you can try it,” I say. I’m glad she wants to try it, to really understand. Bea sits forward in her chair, but I direct her to scoot more forward than that, so her knees are directly in line with her ankles. And then to stand up, to a squat just above the chair.
Standing, Bea laughs. “You would have no problem with this. I would have to sit back no matter what! I’m not as strong as you are.” I direct her to then sit back, without looking. She does hesitate for a moment, but then sits back. Looking at me, she nods. “There is a moment of fear, of really strong, ‘what if nothing is there’ fear. I think that would be natural. Hubby might not have felt it because men are taught to block so much out. The hard thing is to teach men to get back in touch with their feelings. It’s like, well, in a way, it’s like you were, Alice. Shutting down, blocking out all feelings, right? So even fear doesn’t get through to Hubby, and he could sit back easily.”
I nod, it makes sense, and explaining it in relation to how I had blocked my feelings, well, I can understand that. “You and Kris, you both sat back pretty quick. Even if you hesitated, and felt a moment of fear, you sat back, I froze. I froze for a long time.”
“Because the fear triggers flight-fight-freeze in you, your body reacts quickly to that fear because of the PTSD. Someone else…..I have one guy who when he is triggered has the ‘flight’. He just leaves. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 minutes in, or 50 minutes into a session. He leaves.”
“Well, he comes back, right?”
“No. Once he’s triggered, and leaves, he doesn’t come back that day. It’s flight. You, freeze. It’s your body’s reaction to fear, because of the trauma. Sexual abuse survivors tend to have the freeze response. It makes the most sense. It’s escape. It’s leaving, in a way….it’s that dissociative response. So, it’s not surprising that you froze. The exercise triggered fear in you, which triggered the freeze response.” Bea still looks proud, even as she is explaining all this.
“I……it wasn’t a nice feeling. Being frozen, I mean. It didn’t feel nice.” I’m trying to think of how to explain this to her. This is a time I wish she could read my mind, or that I could open my head and pour my thoughts out. I want to really describe what it was like to feel frozen.
“No, it’s not a good feeling. It is protective, though. I’m really interested that you were present enough to really be aware and recognize that you were frozen. That’s pretty huge. Do you remember having conscious thought then?”
“Hmmm…no..not really thoughts. Not like the steady stream of thoughts I normally have, anyways. I knew I was frozen, scared. I knew Kris wanted me to sit back, and I was present enough that we were talking still, not a conversation but she was trying to reassure me I could sit back. And, I noticed that my breathing changed, to really fast and shallow. I never noticed that before. But it was more back of my mind noticed. I was mostly focused on trying to get over being so scared so I could sit back. I wanted to sit back.”
Bea picks up her tea, and takes a drink. “It seems to me that this was a little like a trust fall. You had to trust Kris that that the chair was still there, and you had to trust you body to remember where the chair was when you sat back. This is the body piece that we talk about. Our work here is more abstract dealing with words, but it’s really the same thing. In the yoga, you acted it out, and worked through the freeze response, with your body. Here, you do freeze when talking about a trauma memory, often you freeze in the same spot, the same position, you don’t notice it though. Once we get past talking the trauma memory, and you start to come back, you ‘unfreeze’. This– in yoga– was really acting it out fully with your body, and working though the freeze cycle. Because you did trust Kris, you sat down. So you had a positive outcome in the freeze cycle, maybe for the first time. That is really huge. Even if you don’t know it, exactly, that can change your world view slightly, maybe make you feel like the world isn’t quite such a scary place.”
“Maybe that’s why this feels so huge? I don’t know. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. It just feels big to me.”
“If it feels big, then it is big. Right?” Bea asks. I love this about her. She doesn’t question that something is big or important. She believes if it feels like it is, it is, and that is all that matters. It’s something I have tried to remember outside of therapy. “What did it feel like, when you very first sat down?”
“Stupid, silly.” I look down at my feet when I say this. I’ve kept my head up for most of the session, only looking down a few times, like when Bea talked about sexual abuse and the freeze response.
“I thought you were excited? How does that fit?”
“Well, okay…ummm.” I think about it. “First was relief that the chair was there. And maybe some disbelief, too. That it really was there. Then, it was like part of me felt all this panic and anxiety, like I had been blocking it out and it hit me. But part of me was kind of…gone. It was strange because I was present enough to feel my breathing get super fast, panic attack fast, too fast. And Kris started doing the breathing that works for me. Then, when I was calmer, I felt stupid and silly for not just sitting down and trusting that the chair was there, I mean I knew the chair was there, it was stupid.”
“Your logical mind was coming back on board,” Bea says.
I nod, agreeing. “That’s when I got embarrassed. So then, I just hid my face, but Kris told me how everyone reacts with some fear, and she talked about how I might have reactions that are big in different yoga poses or exercises, and that’s expected, and it’s okay and we will work through it. So, I started to feel better. That’s when I felt excited. Because I did it, and I was okay. Everything was okay.”
“You stayed really present, in that, in all those feelings. That’s what we want you to be able to do with the trauma memories. To have some dual awareness, one foot in the now, one foot in the past, so that you aren’t retraumatized. I’m just so impressed that you stayed with that, the whole way.”
“I think Kris was worried. She had me stay over, doing extra stretching. She asked if I could stay longer and do some extra yoga. I know I’m scary when I freak out, but I really did try to explain to her that I’m okay, and that I’m a pro at functioning no matter what and always being okay. I don’t think she believed me. She asked me when I saw you next, and seemed a little relieved it was today.” I sigh. I am that person that’s always okay, I’m not 15 anymore, and I have my daughter and Hubby to think about.
“I can talk to her, let her know you are okay. She doesn’t know you as well as I do, is all. And if you did have a yoga session where something was brought up for you, you can always get ahold of me, even if you aren’t seeing me the next day.” Bea tells me.
“You should call her, anyways. Go do yoga, I think you would like her.”
“I want to do yoga, I like yoga. I’m not limber, though. So I’m not good at yoga.” Bea grins at me.
“Well….I’m supposedly really flexible but…..I don’t think Kris would make you feel like that. She’s just really…happy..?” I’m searching for the right word to describe her. I can’t seem to find it. “I don’t know. She’s just real. We laugh in yoga. It’s not all serious and stuff. It’s fun, and I feel really hopeful when I leave usually. It’s good. I think you would like it.”
“Maybe after the Holidays are over and things settle down. You look like you would be good at yoga, because you move like a dancer,” Bea says. I do a double take, and get a “who me?” expression on my face. “Yes, you. You don’t see yourself that way, I know. That’s why I’m telling you. You’re graceful.”
I’m embarrassed, so I shrug, and change the subject. “Kris and I made up a map of where and what I have been feeling things in yoga.” I pull it out. It’s a simple outline of a body, where we have highlighted where I’ve felt my body, and what I felt.
Bea takes it, but she looks at me. For a minute, I think she is going to insist that we have the conversation about accepting compliments and then one day beginning to believe them. Thankfully, she lets it drop. “This is great, I love this. Do I get to keep this?”
“No,” I shake my head, laughing, “We’ll add to it every week, so you can see what is changing easily. I was going to keep a list for myself, and Kris takes notes, anyways. But then, I thought that you like visuals better than a list, so this made more sense and was easier to see quickly what was different or new. So it’s an easy way for everyone to communicate.”
Bea hands the body map back to me. “I like it. It’s a great idea.”
We’re silent, drinking tea and sitting comfortably for a minute.
“This whole session, I’ve thought you are really in competent, get things done mode. You seem more confident. And this is different than your fake confident. The trauma stuff, some of your uncertainty, not likening you, that isn’t gone. But you seem more sure of yourself, too.” Bea knows me, now, there isn’t a doubt about it. “This confidence, this is new, but it’s real.”
“I think I am. I didn’t know it was noticeable. But I feel a little more sure of myself. A little more like okay, I can do this, and be okay. But I really believe it this time, it’s not just a thing I’m telling myself. I think that chair exercise changed something.” I tell her.
“I do, too. Working through a freeze response, in a safe environment, with a positive outcome, it does change things. But I think that the change for you started with trying new patterns with Hubby; asking him to talk about the fighting, then finding the workbook, and getting him to agree to it. That was big, too.” Bea is smiling again. She’s been smiling a lot today.
“Yeah, all of that was big. It’s all new things for me.”
“So, do you think that the real you is starting to come out? And that she is confident?” Bea asks.
I shrug. “Maybe.” But that doesn’t feel very real to me.
Bea waits. She’s patient like that. And smart enough to know when to wait.
“The real me is confident, and competent,” I say.
Bea smiles, and with that, we end the session on a very high note.
I walk to my car.
Today, at least, I’m confident. Competent. Smart. Loving. Silly. I’m a survivor.