Bea and I spend a portion of my appointment this morning discussing Kat and her nightmares. She reassured me that we Hubby and I are handling things quite well, and doing a very good job. Whenever we start to discuss Kat, it can be hard for me to switch subjects because I have so many doubts about myself as a mother, but Bea eventually steers the conversation to me.
“Wasn’t it just last week that I was saying you would be able to sit here next week and be okay? And look, here we are. So, I’ve really been wondering what happened? How this weekend went for you?” I can see it in her face, and hear it in her voice; she really did wonder how I was. I’m surprised. During her weekend, at least a moment, she wondered how I was doing, what has happened.
I’m able to keep looking at Bea. I want to tell her the whole story. I tell her how I texted Mom on Thursday night and told her I couldn’t come this weekend because my car wouldn’t be fixed in time– it needs a new engine. I smile, because I’m proud of myself. “She asked a few different ways for me to come anyway, and I just stuck with my original answer, and continued to say that I loved her and missed her. I invited her to come visit out here.”
Bea looks at me and she has this look on her face that seems to say she is happy, proud, amazed. I don’t know for sure. “You kept your boundaries. You set them, and kept them, even if it was hard. In a way, you did for her what you do for Kat; what good parents do, setting appropriate boundaries and then holding those boundaries in place.”
I shake my head at her. “I’m mad, so it wasn’t hard. I just….well, they came to visit. On Sunday.”
“Wait a minute! I do want to head about this visit, but wait a minute, back up. You don’t seem mad to me! I think you were firm, but kind. That’s not mad, or mean. It’s necessary for everyone in healthy relationships. I see this as very, very healthy for you.” Bea wants to back up my story, even though I want to plow on ahead. I can tell by the look on her face that she isn’t going to let me plow on ahead, either.
“Well. I’m mad. Old mad, not new mad. I don’t know. I just… I mean…it’s not mad like I want to scream. I just feel….” I stop talking. I don’t know what I feel, because I feel too much right now.
“So, it’s not mad like a rage mad.”
I shift in my spot, curl up a little more, hug my knees to my chest. I’m looking down at the floor. “No. Not that kind of mad. Quiet mad. I’m mad that my mom wasn’t who I needed her to be when I was a kid. So it was easier…I just…..I’m not mad now, really. Not exactly.”
I look up at Bea, and then down again. I don’t know how to explain this feeling, I don’t know the name, or what it is. She waits moment to give me time to keep talking, but when I’m quiet, she says, “You aren’t used to asserting boundaries, to being firm with people. This might be the first time in your life you set a boundary and held it in a healthy way. That has to feel weird, and new and different. But I don’t think it’s just mad all on its’ own.”
I shrug. I don’t like this conversation. It’s uncomfortable. The only words I have are mad, and I don’t know.
“Well, is this mad bad?” Bea asks me.
Well, crap. I don’t know. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s not…I mean…I wasn’t mad-mad. Just mad. I’m sorry. Ugh. I don’t know. It might not be all bad.”
“Ahhhhhh. This mad is energizing.” Bea stares at me, and seems to think. “Mad is not bad. You don’t apologize for being sad, do you? Why apologize for being mad?”
“Well…I apologize for crying. That’s maybe apologizing for being sad. I don’t know.” I shrug. I’m not sure. I’ve never thought about it. I actually look at her when I say this, which is something I don’t do a lot in therapy. But I’m feeling brave today.
She just looks at me with kindness. “Yeah….you do. Do you think you don’t deserve to have needs? To have feelings, to take up space in this world?” She speaks in a way that implies I most certainly do deserve to have these things, whether or not I believe it.
I’m looking at her as she is speaking, but then it’s too much, and I have to look down. I can feel that familiar shrinking into myself feeling, trying to be invisible, wanting to disappear, hating the fact that I am too needy. I don’t answer, I have no answer. I just want to disappear. This conversation is making me really uncomfortable.
“A very wise person,” Bea smiles, and changes her words, “My therapist– said we are all like boats going through life; no matter how hard we try, we all make wake as we travel in this world. We all effect the world, and those around us. You can avoid your mom, pull away, hide and the effect is that she wonders if she is a bad mom and she is hurt. Or, like you did this weekend, you can be more honest, set a boundary, and the effect is your mom had clear expectations and rules set up, and knew what was really going on and what she could expect of you. Having needs isn’t bad, no matter what, those needs get expressed. It all depends on how you choose to express them on how you effect the world. We all have needs. Everyone of us. And regardless of if we go through life trying to hide our needs, or go through life putting them out there, either way we are effecting the world.”
I shrug. I’m not joining this conversation. “Well…I don’t know. I’m not liking this conversation.” Bea nods at me, acknowledging what I’ve said, although I suspect she already knew that without me saying a word. “So, my parents showed up at the worst time….” and I proceed to tell the story of swimmimg Sunday Funday
When I get to the part of my mom telling me she admires how I parent, I get teary eyed. Bea looks at me. “That makes me want to cry. It’s so much what you needed. After all the work you have been doing the last few months, you really needed that connection with her.” And her eyes do look misty.
I nod my head, agreeing. “I wanted to cry then. I really did, and it felt like we were just there, together. I don’t know. I was ready to start talking, to test the waters with Kat’s story. But she got up to get coffee. She ran away.” I look away from Bea as I say this, because the empathy and understanding in her eyes is more than I can take at the moment. I gaze at the far wall, the one that has turtles and under the sea creatures painted on it. I don’t look that direction often, and so its a good way to keep myself grounded right now.
“Ohhhh. That was hard. You have this moment, and you were ready to share something big. She left you.” Bea can be so very, very validating. She pauses though, as if to let that message sink into my thick head before she continues on, “Can you think how hard that one moment was for her? How much that took? How scary it had to feel? She probably had to run away. Think how scary it is when you connected with me, and with Hubby really on an emotional level for the first time. That was scary. It still feels scary.”
“I know. I was just sad. It was more than I thought…I don’t know. She was just so there. It was like she was really talking about me.”
“Yes, she saw you. She really did see you. It’s almost like she was saying she wished she could have parented you differently.” Bea says.
I agree. I continue on with the story of the day, and Bea stops me again, when I get to the part about Dairy Queen and ordering what I wanted. “How did that feel?”
Again, I don’t want to think about this. I want to hide away. I shake my head at her, a silent plea of don’t go there.
“What did your mom order? What did you order?” Bea asks.
“She had a salad. I had a kid’s meal. I always get a kid’s meal because you get ice cream and a slushy with it. I had grilled cheese.” I smile, because I was proud of ordering what I wanted to order.
Bea smiles too. “I didn’t even know Dairy Queen had salads.”
“Apparently not very good ones.”
She leans forward, and looks at me seriously. Maybe more serious than I’ve seen her look before, however because I don’t spend much of my session time looking at her, it’s hard to say how often the serious look crosses her face. “I guess the question is, did you throw up?”
“No.” I look at her. I’m not sure she believes me. For a minute, I feel 13, when no one believed me about my eating habits. “No. I really didn’t.” I look Bea in the eye this time, when I say this.
She smiles, just a bit, the seriousness fading. “And how did that feel for you? Was it hard?”
Again, I look down, not wanting to think about anything. This is too much. I don’t want to think about how it felt, I’m not sure. Strong. Hard. Bad. Great. Like I screwed up. But also defiant. And then later that night, fat, like I had gained 50 lbs from one meal. I don’t know, so I don’t answer. I don’t want to talk about this. Bea doesn’t offer me an out, she doesn’t save me from the silence, this time. Finally, I say, “I don’t want to talk about this, I don’t like this.”
“Okay. I liked how happy you were about ordering your choice in food, in choosing a grilled cheese. You were like a little kid, just seeming very happy and satisfied with yourself, that’s all. I liked that.” Bea tells me. She looks happy, glad that I felt this way and shared it with her.
“I was proud of myself. But now….I don’t know. I want to tell you about my Dad, anyways. That’s more important.”
She turns and faces me, and waits for me to speak. I have her full attention, like always, but this is some thing she wants to hear about– my Dad. I tell her how we were swimming, and the story of how I learned to swim.
“He said he never would have thrown me in like that if he hadn’t known he could get to me, and if he hadn’t known I trusted him to save me. I told him I….” I have to stop speaking, because this is harder, and tears are threatening to fall now. “I don’t know who ended this moment, me or him. Me, I think.”
“We’ve talked so much about your mom, we really have never explored your Dad’s capacity for emotional connection. It’s hard to say. And that’s a moment, him teaching you to swim, when he was your secure base. That’s something you do come back to. I knew there had to be a moment when you had a secure base at least some of the time, because you have so much strength and this internal sense of yourself, that you are finding and learning to come back to.”
I stutter through my words, this time. Bea’s had barely penetrated at the moment. “I…I did always trust my dad to save me.” It’s all I can say.
I look up at Bea, and understanding crosses her face. “I can see why you would want to break that connection. There’s so much left unsaid, in that statement, and between you and your Dad. I don’t get the sense that your Dad knows, or has any idea, though.”
“No…I don’t think he knew. But….but…I don’t know. He was supposed to save me. I believed he could always save me. I believed he would save me,” I say, and the tears that have been filling my eyes brim over and fall. I had been looking at Bea, but as I blink the tears away as hard as I can, I turn my head, and finally, I cover my face.
“There’s still a lot of grief to be worked out, let out.” Bea says, “He would have saved you if he had known.”
“I don’t understand myself. I don’t. I should be happy. Yesterday was good. I should be happy. Why do I feel so bad?” I’m so confused. I can’t believe I’m admitting this confusion to Bea. I never would have admitted this a month or two ago; I would have felt too crazy. Now, though, I just need her to explain me to myself.
“I imagine it’s a mixture of feelings. Happy and sad. Bittersweet. There’s grief for what you didn’t have then, happiness for the connection yesterday, maybe anger, it’s a lot of feelings mixed together, it’s not just one feeling.” Bea is leaning forward, elbows of her knees, bent towards me, but she sits far enough away that she isn’t in my space.
I cry for a few minutes, and then again I say in a miserable way, “I don’t understand.”
“Well. It’s that holding two opposite ideas at once, like we talk about. You can be happy and sad at the same time. This is a lot to be taking in, to have happened this weekend. It’s powerful, to have your parents see you and validate you and connect with you in the moment. It makes sense there would be a lot of feelings,” Bea says.
“It was good stuff.” I’m frustrated with myself. It was all so much good this weekend. I was excited to tell Bea about it. Why do I feel so terrible?
“Yes, it was good,” Bea starts to talk, but I cut her off, asking “Why do I feel so bad then?” I look up when I ask her this, uncover my face and wipe away my tears.
“Maybe because you think you don’t deserve to feel connected to your parents, for them to see you and love you, because they don’t know everything, because you think they won’t feel the same if they knew. Because you feel you don’t deserve love and kindness.” She says this softly, gently, but it still makes me want to hide. She sees too much.
I withdraw a little, distance myself, hug my knees and curl into myself. I don’t answer. I don’t know if she’s right. Maybe. I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s too much to think about. All I know is that it’s too much to face, too hard. I shake my head at her, I’m not talking about this. We sit like that for a while, me withdrawn into myself, Bea waiting.
Eventually she tells me that it’s hard to set new patterns, to try new things, but that I had done it, and that the outcome had been good, positive. She tells me that a family is like a mobile, that you can not turn one part of the mobile without turning and changing the other parts. She thinks things are changing, and I maybe will find things changing even more as time goes on.
“Were you surprised?” I ask her.
“Well…yes. In a good way, a happy way. I was surprised.” This is one of my very favorite things about Bea. She doesn’t lie, even if it means admitting she was surprised, or that she has made a mistake. “This is a weekend that I think we can really see where you are growing and moving on this journey, on your path. Look how far you have really come. Sometimes you can’t see the forest from the trees, but I think you can right now.”
“Yeah. I can.”
I really can. Even 3 months ago, this would have been unimaginable. Now, I was me with my parents. I’m thinking of testing the waters with them. I admitted to my therapist I was angry, and maybe, just maybe I didn’t feel as bad about being mad as I used to. I ate junk food in front of my mom, and didn’t throw up. I felt strong, and good about myself, and I even felt like my parents saw me, and not the pretend person they want me to be. I’m able to look at Bea when I talk, more and more often now. I’m able to sometimes tell her when I don’t like the direction she is steering the session in, or the questions and statements she is making. I’m getting stronger. I’m finding me. I’m healing. And my life is feeling fuller because of it.