I’m running late. It snowed last night, and the plows haven’t really plowed the roads. And everyone in front of me is driving half the speed limit. I give up and text Bea. She says it’s fine, and to drive safe.
Finally, I get to her office, park my car, and run up the stairs. I walk into the office. “I’m so sorry. I really was expecting that to take so long!”
“It’s okay. It gave me a chance to make a cup of tea,” she smiles as she sits down in her chair. I follow, and sit in my spot on the couch.
We start off talking about Kat. Her play skills, her social skills are really improving. We talk about her ABA therapy, and school, and some of the themes that have been showing up in Kat’s play, what they could mean, how we want to respond.
Finally, I say, “This is so important, and we need to talk about Kat…..but if we don’t talk about my stuff, I’m going to end up at home, upset that I didn’t.” I feel selfish saying this, but I say it anyways.
Bea smiles at me, “Yes, very true. And I think we have pretty much wrapped up the Kay stuff, anyways. So, what is coming up for Alice, today?”
I need to go back over the bad memory. It’s not gone, not better. I need to try to talk about it. But I’m afraid, and so I turn the conversation back to Kat.
Bea goes along with it, although she has to be thinking I’m crazy. “It’s so hard to know what to do with her, when to set and enforce a boundary, and when enforcing it will just make her internalize that as she’s wrong,” I say.
“Yeah,” Bea says, nodding. “Yeah, she’s tough. It’s very hard to know with her when to enforce a boundary or not. One that is always to be enforced, though, is she can’t hurt you. So you would tell her that ‘mom needs to keep my body safe. I can’t let anyone hurt my body.’ Or something like that. So she’s not even directly in what you are saying.”
“It’s hard though, when there are games, or toys that are okay sometimes, but not always…sometimes they upset me.”
“Like what?” Bea asks.
“This ‘beastie’ game where she chases me and tries to lick my arm or face or whatever, and I call her a beastie. We played it in the pool, so that was better. But now she wants to play it all the time. And it can be upsetting.” What I should say is triggering, but I’m afraid of seeming dramatic. I don’t know.
“I think it’s acceptable to say that you don’t want to play something right now, and then give options. Like, we could play a or b, or we can play that game later.” Bea makes it sound simple, and like I’m not crazy.
“She has barbies. I put them downstairs, but she will bring them up. She wants me to play with them. I can’t.” I hide my face, now. The whole time, my head has been up, and I’ve been able to look at Bea. But now, now I’m ashamed of myself. For multiple reasons, not the least of which is that I can’t make myself play barbies with my daughter.
“You played with your barbies a lot. I get the feeling they were very important to you, growing up. And central to your trauma story. And the story…was it Skipper?” Bea asks. She sounds understanding, she doesn’t sound like she thinks I’m insane.
I nod. “Yeah. Skipper.”
“Kenny ruined your game, he locked Skipper up and basically said your parents would hate you for what you had done. He shifted all the blame from himself onto you. Barbie was more than Barbie for you, that was hope.” Bea says.
“It has to be really confusing for Kat,” I say. I want to go back to talking about Kat because that is safe.
“Possibly. I think the same approach would work as for the beastie game, though.”
“No….you don’t understand. I can’t play Barbie right now. Not at all, not ever.” I hug my legs to myself and make sure my face is hidden. I’m so embarrassed.
“This is a big trigger for you,” Bea says. And that’s it. She doesn’t condemn me for not playing barbies with Kat. She doesn’t tell me I am the worst mother ever.
“They’re in..I mean….” I stop myself. I don’t know how to explain this. In my fragmented memory, my barbies and my giant Barbie house are constantly in my ugly memories. I stared at Barbie a lot when he hurt me.
“They’re? I can’t guess this one.”
“Um…they’re in bad memories. Not just the story….” I’m shaking. This is really upsetting to me.
“Only bad memories?” Bea asks.
“No…lots of good. But the bad stuff…it’s too much. I can’t right now.” I pick at the hem of my pants, willing myself to leave my fingers alone.
“What barbies does Kat have?” Bea asks.
“Disney princesses. The ones that are Barbie.” I shrug.
“Does she have sleeping beauty?” Bea takes a drink of her tea.
“I don’t know….I don’t remember,” I tell her. This is crazy making.
“What dolls does she have?” Bea won’t leave this line of questioning.
I rack my brain, but as soon as I do, I’m gone. I can’t deal with this Barbie crap. “I don’t know.”
“So you’re that dissociated from it, from the barbies.” Bea take a drink of tea, and seems to really be thinking.
I hide in my head. I shouldn’t have tried to have any conversation. And why did I even bring this up?
“I’m thinking….well, I’m wondering if we could use this somehow. Use Kat’s barbies to play out several endings to the story. The story isn’t over, the little girl survived and now she is healing,” Bea says.
Hmmm. I’m not sure. Part of me likes this idea, but mostly I think I would feel silly, trying to play barbies with my shrink. I don’t say anything back. I start to cry, and try my hardest not to.
“There’s a lot of grief for what you lost, that needs to happen. And it will, in small pieces.” Bea acknowledges my tears, but she lets me cry.
“I was so mad at my mom for leaving me alone!” I blurt it out. After, I want to glue my mouth shut, I can’t believe I said that out loud.
“Yeah…of course you were. I think this memory feels so bad, because in a way, you really were alone. Your secure base was gone. No one was being direct with you, no one was really comforting you, saying to you that it wasn’t your fault that your mom was sick.” Bea switches gears with me.
I’m afraid right now. I can’t tell it, but I’m stuck in this awful memory, and I am so alone. “You don’t know what I did.” I start crying again. I’m miserable, and my head is a mess. I think I might be topic jumping, but I’m not sure now. It all blurs together.
“I think it’s time to start thinking about accepting that Kenny was in control. Not you, not the child. The little girl needs compassion, she did what she had to do in order to survive.” Bea is firm but still kind and understanding when she says this to me.
I shake my head. “I don’t believe that at all.”
“Oh, I do. Emotional survival. That little girl did what she had to, to survive emotionally. She needs our compassion, and understanding.” Bea tries to convince me, but I can’t see it.
“I can’t…everything is so messy and confusing. I don’t understand.” Tears flow freely down my face now, but I have my head buried, so it doesn’t matter.
“I don’t think there is understanding. How can we ever understand another person hurting a child like this?” She says, sounding sad for me, again.
“I’m sorry,” I apologize for my tears. I really need to stop doing this crying thing all the time.
“No apologies. You are okay. There is a lot of grief that needs to come out today.”
“I’m bad..I kissed him…my mom left me. I’m so angry at her for that!” I circle back around to the memory, the feelings, the before.
“You weren’t in control. You were a child looking for comfort. Your mom was gone; not only did you feel like she left you, but you felt like it was your fault.”
I sit silently, just thinking. I don’t know what to say. Bea talks to me, but I can’t listen. I had planned to talk about shame and trust today…two things keeping me from telling the story, the memory.
I miss almost the entire session, gone away in my head.
Finally, as we are wrapping up, I look down at the floor and say very quietly, “I’m ashamed.”
Bea doesn’t respond right away. “You’ve never admitted to shame before.”
“I don’t want anyone to know that’s how I really feel,” I tell her.
She sits with me, for a bit, and then says, “I think you have to start facing the idea of the child not being the one in control. That the only way out of this, the only way to heal, is through acceptance.”
“I’m scared. I can’t face it. I don’t know how.” I cry some more.
Bea sighs, and takes a drink of tea. “It is scary. But I believe you face it by doing exactly what you are doing.”
“I think I really need to try to talk about this memory…on Thursday.” I’m freaked out that I am planning to talk. But now, it’s also taking over my life. I hate that this is even something I have to deal with. I’m not sure I’m strong enough.
“Okay, we’ll see how you feel, if you are up for that on Thursday,” she agrees with me.
“I’m scared to talk,” I tell her.
“I’ll be right here. We will make sure we stay on the edge of the memories, not getting pulled in, because there is no reason for that. We’ll be very careful. You’ll be safe.” Bea assures me. And in this, I do believe her.
Even after we say goodbye, her words ring in my head. “You face it by doing what you are doing.”