trigger warning. I had a major flashback in therapy today. Trigger warning for sexual abuse descriptions. Please be careful when reading. I want everyone to be as safe as possible.
I slept fitfully last night, and wake up still tired. A screw up with my doctor’s office and the pharmacy has left me without my fibro medication for almost three days. My body hurts, everywhere. Thanks to yoga, thanks to being more present, I’m more aware of just how much pain I am in. It’s not a good start to the day. I have no choice but to take my pain medication, which doesn’t always help, and some alieve on top of that.
Things seem circular to me today in therapy, and I’m not sure which questions or answers cams first. It ended up being a rough session.
I leave my shoes outside Bea’s door, because it has snowed, and walk into her office.
“Hi, Good morning.” She smiles at me.
“Hi.” I smile back. I feel guilty, I hadn’t written out my nightmare, I couldn’t do it. It was too much, too hard. I don’t really want to face it.
We talk about nothing, the weather, snow boots, my refusal to wear “real” shoes. Currently I’m wearing a pair of Toms– they are wool, and fleece lined, and don’t require socks. They are the closet thing to ballet flats I can possibly wear in this weather.
Eventually Bea asks about Thanksgiving plans. I tell her I’m not sure yet. “Thanksgiving is next week, Alice.”
I look down. “I don’t want to think about it. I’m avoiding it.”
“What do you usually do?” She crosses her legs, looks at me.
I sigh. “I go to my parents, and we go to my mom’s family. Kat goes with me. Hubby goes to his family. We always split up for Thanksgiving.”
“When is the last time you were at your parents?” She sounds concerned. When I look up at her, she looks concerned, too.
“The wine tour.” I all but whisper it. That weekend. The weekend of the horrid flashbacks. I was stuck in my old bedroom, not very long after disclosing what had happened for the first time to Bea, and then I had gone back home. It was like I was 5 years old again, 7 years old again, 10 years old again. Alone, confused, unsure, hurting, scared. It was horrific. I spent the weekend faking a migraine, hiding in my room, buried under the covers. All I wanted to do was hide in my closet, hide away where no one would ever find me.
“I thought so. I think that having a plan, a list of coping skills in place is going to be a good idea. I want you to be prepared. Especially if Hubby isn’t going with you.”
“It will be fine.” I shrug, brush off her concern. It has to be fine. There isn’t a choice in the matter.
“What makes you think that? Is it the busyness? Or the traveling? Or the fun? Will you be able to focus on Kat, on self care techniques and enjoy the holiday?” She lists off questions, but they all stream together, into one question. She seems to be asking if I really believe that it will be okay.
“I just….it has to be. I need it to be okay because I need it to be okay. Because I have to go there for thanksgiving, and I have to be okay.” I look down, again, I am quiet in admitting my wanting to fake it.
“What about you? What do you want to do? There isn’t a right or wrong thing to do. It’s just deciding what’s right for you now.”
“I don’t know. My mom needs me to go.” I tell Bea.
“Sometimes, we make a choice for other people, we do things for them. For our mom, our kids, our husbands. Right now, though, you are just finding your voice. I really want you to listen to it.”
I shake my head. I don’t know. I don’t want to go. I want to stay here, with Hubby and Kat and have a nice peaceful day. I want to be cocooned in the safety and love of my little family. I want to stay here, where I can be just me, and nothing more, where me is enough. “I want to be here. It’s easy here.” I sigh, and put my head down on my knees.
“You’re real here. Now you know about being fake, and it probably is really hard, and feels very fake to you.” Bea gets it, the difficulty in dealing with my family. “It might not be so hard this time though, as last time, because last time you were dealing with the abuse and your anger at your mom. We haven’t been really focused on anger at your mom, lately.”
Everything is overwhelming. I don’t want to think about Thanksgiving. I hate Thanksgiving. A holiday that revolves around food, eating, essentially condoning binging. It sucks. Don’t eat, or try to limit what you eat and everyone stares at you. If I eat what everyone else it, I’ll have to vomit. I don’t explain that though. I don’t want to talk about food, about eating.
Bea looks at me. “Do you usually like going?”
I don’t know, I’m unsure, yes, no, maybe.
“Holidays can be really hard, can’t they? There is so much anticipation, and work and expectations put on one day.” Bea voices part of the reason I don’t always love holidays. It’s tiring, trying to make everyone happy, see everyone, do everything in a day. But I also used to love the busyness of the holidays. Now I find it overwhelming.
“I’m just…really confused.” I blink back tears. I don’t want to be this upset.
“It is confusing. And overwhelming. This year, things are different for you. It’s the first time that you can really see how much you had to hide, even from yourself.” Bea drinks her tea, gives me a look that can only be described as full of compassion.
“Everything is real now,” I say.
“Yes, and you are real, too. You are finding out who you are. In a lot of ways, all the work you have done the past few months, you have been rewriting the story, to tell the truth about what happened when you were a kid, and that makes it easier to be real, but it also makes it harder to fit into our families’ roles for us sometimes.”
I shake my head. “They were part of my family. His family was part of my family.” I’m sad. I don’t know how to understand this, make sense of this.
“Do your parents still see them? His parents?”
“They’re best friends, of course. Once, twice a week. I don’t know. They go out. Have lunch.” I sigh. I wish they would go away, not be so close.
Bea pauses for a minute, weighing what she is about to say. She speaks carefully. “It’s almost like it would be easier if this were a great uncle who were dead and gone, not a family who is still very much a part of your family’s lives. Stills friends. Still around. Now you can really see how confusing it all was….and..how twisted together your lives are. He was at your wedding. And you survived that. But do you see why that little girl had to hold everything inside? How deep she buried everything? How else could she have gone on, day to day life? Why it’s so hard for her to talk now? She has a voice now, even if it’s hard to speak.”
“Yeah.” I bury my face in my knees, “I just want everything to stop.”
Bea sighs, blows her breath out like she is breathing to stay calm. “I just had this flash of fantasy, of calling up your mom and telling her you aren’t going back to that house, telling her what he did to you, how he hurt you, telling her that it’s not your problem to deal with, and they all need to work it out and get emotionally healthy, and then they can have you back. And that he won’t ever be allowed near you again.” She sounds stubborn and serious, like she really could be my lion at the gate.
I freeze. I don’t know if anyone has actually ever voiced protective feelings over me like that, wanting to just make my family fix themselves, and no more Him in my life. Because my face is still hidden, I feel safe enough to smile a little. It’s nice to feel protected for a minute. I don’t realize it then, but it’s in that moment, the wall I had built between us, the line that I had drawn in the sand, disapears.
“Of course, it’s a fantasy, real life is far more complicated, and I would never betray your confidences,” Bea reassures me after a minute, seeming to know that I need to hear she isn’t going to call my mom.
“What would you do if you saw them?” Bea asks.
I pause. I have no idea. I’ve seen them, of course, multiple times over the years. Heck, I’ve taken Kat to swim in their pool. I haven’t seen them since I’ve told. But what else would I do? Smile. Say hi. I don’t know.
“They don’t live next door anymore, do they? They moved, right?” She asks me.
I nod my head. They moved. But they lived next door, my whole life, growing up. They lived right next door.
Then, I’m gone. It’s summer, I’m next door, swimming. These are the worst memories. The ones that have happiness around them, cheerful laughs, safety at the edges. But he still manages to corner me in the back bathroom, and I say nothing, do nothing. Why? Why didn’t I call out? Why didn’t I scream? I was scared. Scared of being caught, in trouble, found out for being naughty, bad. I was scared he would hurt me, I didn’t know what it was called then, a name for it then. I knew it hurt, hurt inside. I cried. The kind of tears that leak out of your eyes when you rip off a band aid, because it hurts. I think he might have liked my tears. I’m wearing my pink and white checkered one piece. With the ruffle. I tried to say I didn’t feel good and wanted to go home. Later I did go home, saying I was sick. I told my mom I was sick. She thought I had a fight with Jackie, she didn’t believe I was sick. I didn’t want to play with Jackie that summer. But my mom and her mom were best friends. There were family trips. BBQ’s. Fireworks. All the summer activities had to happen. Like usual. Like always.
Bea knows there are no words here, not really. And words I do have, I’m afraid to use. It’s only fear here, really. She doesn’t realize at first that I’m gone, that her question has sent me away. But when she asks about Hubby, I nod, but she’s far away, and Hubby seems really far, a dream. I think my nod clues her in, but I’m not sure why. Maybe something else does it. I think I am acting “normal” on the outside, but I don’t know what I look like from the outside, I only know that inside, things are very busy in my head, there is a lot going on, and that is where my attention is. Bea asks another question, something about Hubby, I think. I don’t know. I think I nod at her, I’m not really paying attention to her, I’m too afraid of the events in my head right now. This time Bea is more intrusive, louder, and she asks me if I’ve just gone away or if I’m somewhere scary. Trying to reply to her is hard. In my head, where I am, I’m frozen, I cant speak. But, it’s really 2014, and I’m in Bea’s office and I can speak. So, answering her is hard work. It’s like working through being frozen, forcing my vocal chords to work, my tongue and lips and teeth to move and form sounds that make up words. “Not a good place.” I get the words out, not a sentence, but words.
“A very scary place, that’s what it looks like. This is a good time to work on having the dual awareness. To stay more aware of the present. Then it doesn’t have to be quite so scary where you are. Can you hear the clock ticking?” I nod. I can hear Bea’s clock ticking. It’s by my head. “The traffic just outside? The cars driving by?” I nod again. “Okay. Good.” She keeps her voice low and soft, soothing. “One foot here, and one foot there. This is safer to work with the memory.”
I listen to the clock and to Bea with one ear, but the rest of me is back in 1993. I’m afraid. I don’t understand. Confusion and fear are overwhelming. I curl into myself, hug my knees tighter, chew on the ends of my hair. I don’t even realize I’m doing it, until much later.
“I know there aren’t always words in that place to describe what you are feeling, what’s happening. Can you tell me anything?”
I shake my head. Tears fall down my cheeks. “Scared. I….I…alone, no one can help me…..I..feel sick.” I’m shaking, just scared, so scared. “No words.” I shake my head.
“A scary place, with no words to explain it. That can make the scary place lonelier, and scarier sometimes. Are you at your house?” Bea is calm, and she speaks in a way that makes me wonder if she does understand what it’s like to not have words to put to this experience as it’s happening.
“Next door.” It’s a whisper. The words are hard to get out, a secret broken. Something happened next door. At his house. He hurt me there, too. With people around. In the sunlight. Monsters don’t just creep in the shadows, and hide in the dark. Saying these words, even a whisper, it’s real now. It’s scary.
“Next door. At his house. That’s a scary place. Do you remember going home?” Bea sounds like she is talking to a little child. Maybe she is, in a way.
I think for a minute. I told Jackie’s Mom I was sick, and she had Kenny walk me next door. My mom didn’t believe I was sick; she thought Jackie and I had a fight. But I did go home. My body relaxes a little bit, I feel that happen. Maybe it’s the yoga, but I’m having an easier time recognizing things happening in the present. I nod to Bea, yes, I remember going home.
“You went home. You survived, you went home.”
I sit, Bea sits with me. I’m not alone. Maybe this is what people refer to as holding, or containment in therapy. I don’t know. I just know I sit with the memory, and it’s scary, and awful, and I have no words, but I’m not alone, and Bea continues to let me know she is there and that she sees how terrible it is to sit with.
Eventually, the memory hits a dark spot, and I panic. I can’t breathe, I want to move far away but I can’t, I can’t move. I’m frozen by fear, and I’m pinned in place by his weight. I gasp for air, and alternately sob.
Bea talk softly, reassures me that I’m safe, that I’m okay. She tells me the clock is still ticking in the present. I nod, but I’m still terrified. My stomach is twisted in knots. I’m hot, clammy. She tells me she knows I am in a scary place.
I scrunch further into myself, and cry. Not loud sobs, but quiet tears. Tears that I blink away ans fight, but I can’t move to brush them off my face. I end up burying my face in my scarf, wanting to cover my head, and hide. I don’t know understand. He’s supposed to be my friend! What did I do? I think I might have asked that out loud, but I’m not sure.
Bea sounds sad, now when she speaks, calm and okay, but sad. She tells me I am safe, that I haven’t done anything wrong, that he did something awful, but it was him and not me. I don’t know everything she says, it’s the kind of stuff you would maybe say to an abused child, not to a 31 year old woman. I half listen, and half believe what she is saying; well, I believe that Bea believes it. Soothed by her voice, I start to calm down. I’m amazed that I am calming down, even stuck and terrified. But I’m calmer.
“How old are you?”
Ten. I’m ten. I can’t say the words. I shake my head. I want to tell her. I just can’t get the words out.
“Is this a memory where you are older or younger?” Bea tries asking another way. I still can’t answer. I’m frozen, terrified, stuck.
“I’m going to guess older,” she says gently.
I nod. Vaguely, I wonder what clued her in, how she knew, when I haven’t really said anything about what is happening in my head. How she knows.
In my mind, I’m stuck in the darkest part of the memory, the worst part, the most confusing part. How could he go from being someone I knew, trusted, to a person who is hurting me? I don’t understand. He was my best friend’s big brother. He was my friend. He was my babysitter; my parents trusted him. He was supposed to take care of me, watch out for me. He was supposed to be like a big brother me.
“Alice? I think it’s time to come back now, okay? I don’t think it’s good to stay in this memory much longer, not right now. Can you hear the clock? Do you hear the traffic? What about the sunlight? Can you see the sunlight streaming in the window?” Bea speaks slowly, not rushing, gently, and I because I had managed to maintain more awareness of the present, I’m able to come back fully to the here and now. “I think you were able to go back there because you are ready to deal with some of those a memories, even if it’s by emailing them and not talking about them in session. But this way, you weren’t alone when you were back there, and now the little girl is ready to have her voice. If that’s by emailing, we can email. Okay?”
I nod. I don’t want to think about that right now. I want to shut away all the memories, lock them back up. Get rid of them. They’re too awful.
“Hubby comes home tonight, right?” Bea asks.
I nod, again. There is a lot of nodding going on today. I have my knees curled to my chest, and my head is resting on them, but I’m not hiding my face. My eyes are open, and I’m watching the sunlight move across the wood floor.
“Did he get a deer?”
“No, no deer.”
“Does he eat the deer?” She asks.
I wrinkle my nose. “Yeah. He eats it. Ugh. He has to cook it outside. Or in the garage. Not in my kitchen.”
Bea laughs. “It does seem gross, doesn’t it? Venison is supposed to be really healthy, though. I guess if this was two hundred years ago, we would get over it and eat deer.”
It’s my turn to laugh. “Nah, we would just plant beans and sweet potatoes.”
“Okay, now I’m hungry for lunch!”
Laughing, we say goodbye, and see you tomorrow (for Kat’s session). Bea tells me to email her if I want, to drive safe, to have a good time at yoga. I think she is worried. I must not be hiding my hurting, physically or emotionally, as well as I thought.
I climb in my car, and realize something. The wall, the line, the “something weird” between Bea and I is gone. I’m okay. Well, not okay, but okay. She’s here, she’s not leaving. have a safe person to call on. I’m not alone anymore.