She “gets it”

I’m sitting in my usual spot in Bea’s office, curled up on the couch, against on of the squishy white and paisley pillows. She’s looking at me from her chair like she is waiting for me to talk. We’ve said our “hellos”, and gotten situated, but I have nothing to say.

“I think you want me to talk? But I don’t really have anything to talk about?” I finally say, breaking the silence.

“Ahhhh,” she says, nodding. I pick at my scarf. I’m afraid that if I have nothing to talk about she is going to tell me I don’t need to be here twice a week. “Let’s start with what you did between Monday and today. How you have been feeling.”

“Ummm. Okay. Tuesday, ummm…” I have to think. What did I do on Tuesday? Not much. “Oh! I got my car back! I went and got my car on Tuesday and now I have navigation again.”

“And that has to feel good, to have your car back. Is it all fixed now?” Bea asks.

“Mostly, they had to put a new engine in it. But they didn’t get the radio, the my link system fixed. Because they only tested it with blue tooth and I use it with the cord, plugged into the car. It has to be plugged into the car for the map to work. And I always use the map. Which the guy said just use blue tooth when I’m not using the map, but I was like, no, I always use the map, always. Which he seemed to think was kinda weird, but, he also said my link should work with map because both are made for Chevy. So, I don’t know. I have to take it back to have that looked at.” I shrug, it’s not a huge deal, but I do want siri hands free to work when I have bringo maps running. I like both, and use both.

“I wonder….this feeling of not liking to be lost. Have you ever been lost before?” Bea is looking at me, curiously, with that look like she knows something, or has an idea about something.

“Not really lost. Because I aways have my GPS. I don’t really go anywhere I can’t get to without it. Even with it, you can get a little lost, for a minute until it resets itself or reroutes you.”

“I told you about when my husband and I got lost in the woods?” I nod, yes. “Well, that helplessness, panic, it’s similar to trauma feelings. I wonder if not getting lost, having navigation, for you, is a way to control that, to not feel like that again. Have you thought about what you feel when you take a wrong turn, and you are waiting for the map to reroute you? When you are a little lost?”

I’m listening, and I can see a parallel, I can understand what she means, what she is saying. “I’m scared. I feel like I might be lost forever. If the GPS didn’t reroute me, I’d probably freeze……………if I know this is…..I mean……what am I supposed to do about this? Not use my GPS?”

She smiles at me. “Use your GPS. I think anything that makes you feel safe and in control is a good thing, it’s not something to get rid of, just to be aware of, to know where it comes from. That’s all.”

I don’t say anything back, I’m just thinking for a minute. I grab my tea and hold it to keep from picking at my fingers. “ When I got there, the guy, he wanted to see what I was doing with the radio my link system because they tested it, and they said it was all fine, but I insisted it wasn’t.” I’m staring at my orange to go mug, I can’t meet Bea’s eyes, I feel like too much of an idiot. “So he wanted to go out to my car. I just went. I didn’t even……I don’t know……it was dark, 5:20, they were closed in 10 minutes, no one was really around, I went with him to the back parking lot, my car was way out, dark parking lot, I just didn’t think until I was sitting in the car and had set up my phone for him. Then I was like ‘oh crap. This wasn’t smart.’ I don’t know. I’m so stupid.”

I’m not sure if I’ve explained my moment of stupidity well, or not, but Bea gets it, she understands. “I think when we experience trauma, we forget, or maybe we have never felt that we have a right to safety. You always have a right to ask for safety. In that instance, I don’t think you would have been out of line to ask him to bring the car up to the garage. But, I’m not sure I would have, either. My mind would have been going 200 miles an hour, ‘well he works here it would be stupid for him to do something/ don’t go to a dark parking lot alone/he would lose his job, it’s fine/just ask him to pull the car up/I don’t want to offend anyone…. You know, that kind of thing.”

Now I look up at Bea. It’s really okay. She doesn’t think I’m an idiot. “My mind was really blank. Frozen. I just followed. I don’t know. It wasn’t until we were in the car that I really realized this might not be a smart situation.”

“That makes sense. It makes sense that you froze. That’s your reaction to trauma, and a man suggesting a situation that your mind perceived as dangerous, it makes sense you would freeze. But then you functioned through the rest of the time he was there, looking at the radio? You were okay?”

I want to tell her I was back in the room in my head, and I just went through the motions. I don’t though. “Yeah. I…functioned.”

Bea reaches down and grabs her tea. She has her red travel mug today. She hasn’t had it the last few weeks, she had thought she lost it. She has to be happy to have found it. It was one of her favorites. “I’m wondering if your more adult relationship has more of an impact on how you relate in these situations, than Kenny does. I feel like Kenny effects a lot, maybe many things, but I wonder if that adult relationship effects how you relate to men in general, or feel about men in situations like that.”

I shrug. I’m not sure where she is going with this, or exactly what she is wanting me to say. Well, Bea would say that she isn’t wanting me to say anything, except whatever I want to say. Ugh.

“I have a feeling, I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that the boyfriend doesn’t effect you as much as Kenny, the impact is not as big. This might be a good time to talk about the boyfriend, maybe see if we can work on the dual awareness that is so important, before we work on more Kenny stuff.”

“Okay…..” I say, uneasy. These memories are clearer, more recent. More and less confusing, in some ways just as difficult as my childhood. More violent, so in some ways it easier to see that he was a bad guy. I don’t know. “Why is is not as bad?”

“Well…” Bea pauses, and takes a breath. “I don’t want to minimize what happened with the boyfriend, because it was horrible. But with Kenny…the developmental stages you were at, the lack of safety you had, the duration, the confusion, the young age. All of that trauma. It set you up for the boyfriend.”

“Oh. Okay.” My voice sounds small, far away to me, because I’m already half gone, thinking about him. About Brian.

“How did you meet?” Bea asks.

Im staring at a bucket of puppets on the floor, I can see the bottom floor the doll house, the blue rug that Bea’s chair is sitting on, but in my head, I’m back at a party. College kids everywhere, music playing so loud your whole body vibrates. I’m wearing tight white pants and a short pink boat neck shirt, pearls, my (colored) blonde hair straightened and then curled with a round brush. I feel fat, but my friend Heather has dragged me out to this frat party because her boyfriend is in the frat. I don’t want to be here, and so I’m drinking. I don’t drink, ever. I also still have many of my eating disordered behaviors, including skipping meals. I hadn’t eaten that day, so the alcohol hits me fast. I end up drunk, and sick. Heather had introduced Brian and I earlier in the evening.

Bea interrupts my thoughts. “Don’t go too far away. Come back a little, okay?”

“Right…we met at a party.” I shake my head, try to clear it a little, but I end up back at the party anyways.

“Was he cute?” Bea asks, bringing me back, again.

Why is it so hard for me to answer this? Yes. Yes he was cute. Out of my league, cuter than should be dating me. I thought he was so good looking. I finally just nod my head yes at her, I can’t even speak the words to agree. Why exactly is this conversation so embarrassing?

“Dark hair?” And Bea isn’t going to let it go, either.

My face feels hot. I have a sudden inclination to fall back on my hair colorist training and use technical terms she wouldn’t understand, but I know that has to be the bratty 15 year old part of me. I swallow some tea, take a breath and force myself to speak. “He had dark hair, dark eyes. He was always tan.” Preppy, but not too preppy. Toned, but not crazy built.

“Where was he from?” She asks when I go silent again. I name a town not too far from my hometown.

“That’s weird how we never met, before, huh? Growing up so close to one another?” I say.

“So, you met at a party. Who’s party? Did someone introduce you?”

“A frat party. My friend’s boyfriend was in the frat.”

“Was he in the frat?” Bea leans back in her chair, relaxed, calm.

I shake my head. “He was friends with someone.”

“So did he ask you out? Ask for your number and call? What happened?”

I stop talking, withdraw away. I feel 18 again, young and dumb, embarrassed by my mistakes and afraid of getting in trouble. And one of the biggest mistakes keeps rushing into my memories, taunting me. I slept with him. Not that night. But willingly, soon after, I slept with him.

“Alice? Don’t go too far. Let’s take a minute. Hear the cars, the birds. Can you feel the couch under you? Hear the clock ticking? Look around, what can you see?” Bea waits a moment, gives me a chance to get grounded, and then asks again, “How did you meet?”

“We were introduced. But…I don’t know. I never drank. But that night, I was drinking. I forget why. But it didn’t take much…..and I was….really drunk. So drunk. Stupid.”

Bea is kind when she speaks, her voice full of understanding. “Because you were 18. You were away from home. You were experimenting, and you were a teenager, you were doing what you were supposed to be doing. That’s why.”

“I was so drunk. I drank way too much, for someone who never drank, someone my size back then. He took care of me.” I’m looking down, at the floor as I talk and remember. When I do look up, my eyes dart all over the room, I can’t focus on Bea, it’s too much.

“Took care of you,” she says the words slowly, like the is digesting them, trying to understand and make sense of them. “What does that mean?”

“‘I got sick. I was throwing up…he held my hair back for me.” I sigh. “He drove me home. To my apartment. Walked me to my front door. That was it. He called later that day to check on me, asked if he could take me eat. I said yes. I thought he was nice. A nice guy.”

“Yeah…I would have thought he was nice, too. How did you get away with having an apartment and not living on campus in the dorms, the first year of college?”

Does Bea think I’m lying? I don’t know. I feel under the microscope, like she doesn’t believe me. “Community college. Remember, I graduated early. I was a sophomore, almost a junior at that point.” I tell her.

“Oh yes, that’s right,” she says, like it’s no big deal. I decide it must have been no big deal. There aren’t many college sophomores who are just 18 anymore, I don’t think.

“Do you remember how long it was before he got violent?” She asks this softly, in that gentle non-intrusive way she has.

Not long…I don’t know. A month and a half. I think. After I slept with him. It was a week, maybe, I don’t know, time is fuzzy then…I told him I couldn’t again, I was waiting for marriage. Then he got mad. Then he blew up. Then….then….well. Then, everything changed. My life became a nightmare for the next year. “I…I don’t know. Not long. I think…..” I trail off, I can’t voice everything right now.

“What do you think?”

“He was jealous. Maybe from the beginning, I don’t know. I thought it was sweet…that he wanted my time, my attention, but now…looking back…I don’t know. I just…I don’t know….I thought he was nice, he seemed nice.” I feel like little girl lost. Trying to understand how someone can go from so kind to the monster he turned into.

“It probably did feel good, jealousy can make us feel,special, wanted. People don’t start out mean. It’s the same as Kenny, right? An attachment has to form, be created, and that can’t happen if he had treated you like crap, then you would just walk away. Right?” Bea says.

I shrug, I guess. I don’t know. I’m not sure.

“It’s hard to think about having an attachment to someone who hurt us. Was this your first boyfriend? Your first love?” Bea says this like it is already a given, like it’s not shameful that I would have loved him. But I don’t know what I felt. I thought it was love. Whatever it was, I don’t even want to admit it myself. I freeze, withdraw in my head. “Was he your first boyfriend? Did you date in high school, have boyfriends? I didn’t really think so, but I guess we haven’t really talked about that.”

“I dated….but no, not really, no boyfriends. He was my first boyfriend.” The first guy I loved. I look at Bea, briefly. I feel sick, panicked, not here. Her face says it’s okay, and helps me be more present. I breathe. Okay. I’m okay.

“It’s hard to wrap our heads around loving someone who hurt us.”

I shrug. I don’t want to talk about this. It’s too much. I can’t keep thinking about this, about loving him. I’m still too confused over this.

“One thing we never did talk about, was after you left, what happened. Did he leave you alone? I know about the shower, and you calling Kay. But then what?” Bea says.

“No….he left me alone….I think….I don’t know. Kay…she answered my phone, the door. She stayed with me. I don’t know. I didn’t want to know….I just…I was a mess…..”

It seems like it finally makes sense to Bea, why my best friend knows so much more than Hubby, why I run to her over Hubby. “She was really a protector, then. She really protected you.” Bea’s voice is full of awe. I’m full of awe, when I think of Kay, back then, too. She was just 20, only a year older than I was, and she took on this mother protector caretaker role. She was more than my best friend, then, and now. How and why she loved me so much to care for me in that way, I don’t know, but I’m forever grateful that she did, and that she does.

“Until after…..I found out I was pregnant….” I look up at Bea then, and there is nothing in her eyes but understanding. Of course, this isn’t news to her. We’ve been over this, before. She really isn’t judging me. She looks sad, compassionate. But she isn’t judging me. I have to look away. I can’t do this.

“That was like adding insult to injuries. I can’t imagine much worse. That had to be such a shock, just to think, to feel it wasn’t really over, even after you had left.”

I shake my head, “I’m not…I’m not talking about this. No. Not what I did. No. But after….after, I was a wreck. I was cutting, worse than ever before. I wasn’t eating….anything I did eat, I threw up. Crazy. I was crazy. Kay got tired of picking me up off the floor, of putting me back together, of trying to fix me. I don’t know. She called my mom.”

We’ve been through this before, too. But Bea doesn’t act bored, or like its old news, or as though she is sick of hearing about it. She doesn’t back me up, either, or press the issue I skirt around, each and every time it comes up. “You were using every tool you had to hold yourself together, in a horrible crisis. You were doing everything you could to keep yourself together, to be okay. They might not have been healthy coping tools, but that was all you had, all you knew. You were strong, even then, you were trying to survive this terrible emotional crisis. What did Kay tell your mom?” How does Bea do this? How does she see, when even I can’t, that I was doing the best I could? How does she have such compassion for that 19 year old girl, when I just want to scream at her, when I hate her guts?

“I don’t know for sure. That I was cutting again. That my anorexia was back. That I was throwing up. That I needed help. That I was failing all my classes…..and they came. My parents came. My mom hated her for a long time.”

Bea knows why, instantly. “Because Kay knew you weren’t perfect?”

I nod. “Yeah. I was so mad at Kay. I didn’t talk to her for months…six months, maybe. She kept trying though. She never left.”

Bea smiles, and I think she gets it, now. She knows why Kay is the person I trust most in this world. “What was that drive home like? With your parents?”

With that question, I’m gone. All the feelings of failure wash over me, as if they had never left. I look away from Bea, turning not only my face but my body, too. I not only remember the feeling of I would rather be dead, but I can feel it, deep down, to the center of my being for a moment. I shake my head, clear it.

I can feel Bea’s gaze on me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that she hasn’t turned toward me, but has stayed seated in her regular place. She won’t crowd me, or make me feel like she’s too close. I know this. “That had to be a really terrible feeling. Like going home with nothing.”

I shake my head. Not because Bea is wrong. She’s read my mind, in a way. But because it was awful. “They didn’t really care. They weren’t there. They showed up. But they weren’t there. They wanted me fixed, but I was just the failure, again. She never even asked what was wrong… was just back to therapy and nutritionists and get better, get fixed. That’s all. Be perfect again.” My voice is hollow, far away. I’m numb. I can’t feel this. It’s too much, too hard.

“Did you talk in therapy? About him, the relationship?”

“I tried. The first therapist….I tried. But……I left. I couldn’t. I left, and the new therapist I just…I got fixed. I pretended, I became perfect again. That’s all the mattered anyways.” I turn to Bea now, and I smile, then I giggle. “See? I run away if I start talking. It’s kind of big that I stuck around here.” What I don’t say is I had Kat to keep me here, and I had become attached to Bea more quickly than I wanted to admit, feeling like I needed her.

Bea smiles. “I’m glad you aren’t alone anymore, no one should be alone like that.”

Our talk turns to Kat, and therapy tomorrow. We talk about toys and play, and how things evolve and change. We talk about play therapy. As we discuss play therapy in general, I really want to ask a question, but I feel a bit silly. Gathering some courage, I finally say, “Can I ask you something?”

Bea looks at me, and I think she doesn’t like that I am asking permission to ask a question. But she smiles at me and tells me, “Yes, you can ask anything.”

I sigh, and remind myself that I’ve already cried over my story with my barbies, so nothing can be more embarrassing than that. But….I’m not embarrassed. I realize, Bea didn’t find me silly at all, maybe it hadn’t been. Bea has told me before that if we haven’t dealt with our feelings of grief, anger, our sadness, our mad, our confusion, anything else, all of our trauma feelings, they stay frozen in time. That’s where all the frozen in time parts of me are from, and that’s the parts that need to be allowed to speak. That’s where the little girl comes from. So some of those feelings might be old, and childish, and seem silly to the parts of me that continued to grow and weren’t frozen in time. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to be dealt with.

“You called the way I played with my barbies trauma play? My story, the sleeping beauty story?”

Bea nods her head. “Yes. Because of the repetitiveness. The way no secrets were allowed, and the little girl in the story was saving herself.”

“But…” I don’t know how to ask this, exactly, or what the right words are, and I stumble through it. “I never…..there was no…..I mean…..Kat always locked people up…..I never had any…… know…like….” I trail off, unsure of exactly what I am trying to say.

Bea gets it, though, and she fills in the words. “You never re-in-acted the trauma. Your play was more hopeful. It was more about helping you to keep hope that an end was going to happen, that you would be saved, I think.”

“If my parents….if I had been sent to therapy for some reason, then someone would have recognized it?” I ask. This scenario never would have happened, but I still need to know. The past can’t be changed anyway, but I can still explore different outcomes. Somehow, this soothes me, helps me put together the puzzle pieces, understand my life.

“I guess it really depends on the therapist. I hope that any play therapist would pick up on the fact you were playing the same story over and over, but some might not. I would have focused in on the no secrets thing, and wondered about that. I would have had my character ask what secrets?” Bea speaks slowly, she is thinking as she talks.

“I’m not sure I would have answered, anyway. Maybe, I don’t know.” I wonder. What would that have been like? To have someone like Bea, when I was a child, ask me about secrets? Would I have felt safe enough to tell her even one secret? To maybe tell her that my mom was sick, that I was scared, that I wasn’t as perfect as everyone thought? To say out loud that my parents didn’t love me, that they loved this perfect girl that didn’t really exist? Would I have felt safe enough to tell her how Kenny played with my barbies, perhaps? Or to even tell her about the the secret game eventually? I don’t know.

Bea senses I’m off in daydream what-if land, and she brings me back. “Your parents wouldn’t have sent you to therapy anyway, would they have?”

“No. They wouldn’t have. I just wondered, anyways. You know.”

“Yeah, I know,” she says. And she does. I believe she gets it. And I’m so glad to have a therapist who “gets it.”

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