I walk into Bea’s office 10 minutes early.
“It’s cold today!” She greets me.
I laugh, as I take my boots off to leave on the rug. “You know it’s cold out when even I am wearing boots!” I hate boots. I hate footwear in general. Socks. Shoes. All of it.
Bea nods, and we spend a few minutes talking about the weather. Then, she switches the subject on me. “Kris emailed me an update on yoga, and how things are going. She’s really pleased and impressed with you. I’m really happy to see how much you are able to recognize and talk about in your body now.”
“Oh, good. She was going to write you a note, but decided to email instead. I did let her know that you only have limited access to email right now, so you may not respond right away.” I hold my tea in my lap, fiddle with the lid.
“Oh good. I didn’t reply yet, but I will. I had several urgent emails this morning I needed to reply to first. I didn’t have anything from you, though. ”
I shake my head. “I couldn’t get any words out.” For weeks now, since this began, I have struggled to get words out, to be present, to function. It’s a case where a big part of me actually wants to talk, but I can’t find the words, and I am beyond tired and frustrated with myself.
“Ahhh.” Bea nods. We talk about yoga, and the dual awareness I have become able to use. She tells me she sees that I am more grounded and present, and that she notices I do use the breathing from yoga to help calm myself. Yoga in combination with talk therapy (Bea) has really been life-changing for me.
After a pause in the conversation, I start awkwardly talking.”I um…I don’t want to talk about this, but my Grandma is in the hospital. She was admitted Monday night. She had chest pain. They did exploratory surgery yesterday, and found an artery that was 99% blocked. They fixed that one. There are a few more they will still have to do, but it would have been too hard on her if they did them all at once. So she’s okay.” I don’t look at Bea when I tell her this, because if I do, I might cry.
“That must have felt really scary, to have her in the hospital like that. I know how much she means to you,” Bea says. Then she continues on, “That really was the best way they could have found a blocked artery, though. It’s scary, but for your Grandma, that was the best thing that could have happened.”
I nod my head. She’s right.
“Did your parents go down there?”
“No. Grandma said not to. She wants everyone to come down as planned, so she can have fun. Her brother and sister and best friends are down there. So she was okay. My dad called me, on Tuesday, to tell me. I knew something had to be wrong when he called. But I got to call my grandma and talk to her on Tuesday night. She sounded good. Mad because ‘old people’ don’t know what an iPad or a charger for one is.” I laugh. My grandma is feisty, in all the right kinds of ways. She loves with her whole heart. She’s funny and kind. She makes people feel like they belong. She makes me feel like I’m okay, just like this. I don’t know what I would do if I lost her.
Bea seems to follow that train of thought, because she tells me how people are living longer and longer. She talks about her mom who is in her 90’s and still going to the gym. It’s reassuring. Grandma has lots of time left here on earth, I hope. I need her still.
After a minute, we both stop talking and sit in quiet. I drink my tea. Bea pulls a tube of Chapstick out of her pocket. “I think you were thinking about talking about the memory today?”
“I can’t,” I manage to say, and the words are ghosts of themselves, barely even here.
Bea nods, and seems to think for a few minutes. “We’ve talked about childhood, and we know what happens in college, and after. But what about what happened ages 12-18? We have the outline of therapy, and your parents wanting you fixed, cured. But what else? I know about cheerleading, and I think we’ve talked about horseback riding. I feel like I’m missing a big part of your story.”
I shake my head, look down. I don’t cover my face, but I hug my knees tighter to my chest, curl into myself. I don’t want to go here. It’s too much. There’s nothing here to help Bea understand me. I wasn’t me. I was whoever I was supposed to be.
“Did you have boyfriends?” She asks. It’s a simple question, but one that sends me reeling. “Did you date? How did you feel about boys? I’m missing the link in development…usually in middle school, girls in a group might call up a boy and giggle and laugh and say ‘so and so likes you,’ middle schoolers are known for having a boyfriend first period and breaking up by lunch. That kind of thing. Do you remember that kind of thing?”
I’m confused. Why is she asking this? No. I had girlfriends who did call boys up, who had boyfriends in middle school. I didn’t. I hid behind the fact that I was younger, and a Christian. I stayed on the outskirts. If a group of girls was making a phone call and I was there, I never allowed it to get to me. That was easy to do. Teen girls are self centered, so it’s no big deal to always turn the conversation back to your friend and avoid yourself.
“Sometimes…well, we’ve talked about how having sexual feeling start so young is too much to handle developmentally. But in high school, developmentally, you should be having sexual feelings. Sometimes, girls who have been abused might be promiscuous. They might feel very powerful to be in charge. Or they might feel frozen and unable to do anything.” Bea is looking at me, searching for what fits with my story. Not this. This fits later, after college, after that relationship. But not in high school. I avoid talking, staring into space. Here, but not here.
Bea is still talking, but I’m too gone to focus on her words. I can, however, focus on her voice. I’m glad she talks, even though she says she shouldn’t. Finally I manage to say, “I didn’t want anything to do with boys.”
“Mmmmhmm. Did you ever date, then?” She asks.
“Sure. In groups.” I had to date, it was the ‘normal’ thing to do. And I was nothing if not normal on the outside. “I dated Paul. From my church. He was maybe my boyfriend.” I shrug.
“Did he seem safe?”
“Well, yeah. He was from my church. He believed what I did.” I haven’t really ever thought about it like that.
“Did Paul, or any other dates ever kiss you goodnight?” Bea asks. She says it quietly, but straightforward, like its normal and fine.
I freeze. I don’t know. I don’t remember. Great. Another piece of the crazy. I feel like crying. “I don’t know.” The answer is automatic, almost wooden sounding to my ears. Then I realize my mistake and correct it. “I don’t remember.”
“Clearly you were dissociating from that. It was too stressful for you, too much of a reminder of the trauma.” Bea is far away, and fuzzy. I know I’m supposed to practice dual awareness, but right now, I need to go away. “I think you were already exceptionally good at going away. I feel like I don’t have a sense of you during this time frame, it’s blurry for me, but if you were dissociated a lot of the time, then you probably feel like it’s blurry, too.”
I feel floaty, and calmer. It’s better here. Really, someone should find a way to explain dissociation without all the scientific mumbo-jumbo. Because it’s hard to understand when you read about it written in such technical terms. I don’t feel the couch I am sitting on, my feelings are numbed out, I feel hazy, floaty; like a glass of good wine can make you feel.
“Okay, let’s just take a moment to come back a little,” Bea suggests. “Feel the couch, your tea mug, hearing the clock. You’re in my office, in 2015.”
I nod. “I’m okay.”
I know there is some more conversation here, but I’m not sure what we talk about. Snippets of it make there way into my memory. Horseback riding, and why I left. Friends. Dating, maybe. I’m not sure. Do we talk about prom? Probably not. I think she asks if I have a memory or a sense of when things ended with Kenny. I don’t. It’s blank. I had thought it was younger, 9 or 10, but there’s the memory that isn’t a memory of when I’m 12, at the cottage up north. I’m so sure he’s done something. Bea says again how blocking this out would be normal, that after the church sex education when I was 11, it would have been too much for me. I think I say something about when I was 15 and Bea says yes, she remembers. She maybe says something about my ‘safe’ story, at my friend’s sleepover. I don’t say anything back, but in my head I think about the fact that I couldn’t move, couldn’t even bring myself to get up and leave the situation.
“This…did you ever wonder if this was happening to other girls? Or did you think you were alone?” Bea is asking what seems like random questions, but I might have missed a whole lot while dissociated.
“I thought it was just me.” I struggle to say the words. There’s more, but I can’t get it out. What I want to say is that I thought I was just bad, dirty, gross, naughty. I don’t know.
“Because you were bad?” Bea looks a little sad, but calm. She’s okay. And she’s right; those are the words I could not say.
I can only nod my head. That’s all.
“Yeah…..the sad part is, with 1 in 4 girls being victims of sexual assault, you really weren’t alone.” Bea has the look on her face, the one that says she is going to give me the ‘Kenny did this, not you. He has the blame, not you. He is the perpetrator. And it is perplexing as to how he can still be living in this world” talk. So I’m surprised when she says, “What about K? Were you two friends then? Did she know Kenny?”
“Yeah. We were friends. Not like now, but friends. She knew him, yeah.”
“How did she know him?”
“Acquaintances, casually. Through me, Jackie. I don’t know.” I shrug.
“I’d be very interested to get her take on him,” Bea says. My take on Kenny is twisted and weird, and not anything I can completely share.
“I don’t know if K knows. She might. But I don’t know. And I can’t ask her. Not right now. And I don’t want to have to explain if she doesn’t.” I shake my head. I have no idea what secrets of mine K might have, because of our time living together and my nightmares where I talked in my sleep, my crazy dissociative states where I would cry and talk incomprehensibly after Brian. But, either way, I can’t ask. I don’t want to know what she knows. I don’t want to be so exposed.
Bea shifts in her seat, and looks at me. She gives the ‘Kenny is the perpetrator, he holds the blame’ talk. We talk about the fact that I wasn’t in control, and that is scary. Maybe scarier than being a bad girl. I’m grateful she keeps trying, and it’s odd to see her mad on my behalf. I don’t know. She’s not out of control angry, but she is mad. She thinks this whole thing is unfair, shouldn’t have happened. It’s odd to see that.
After that talk, she pauses and looks at me again. “Wait. There is room here for the part of you that feels the blame, feels ashamed. I forgot, I got so distracted in talking about how he is the perpetrator, that I forgot to look at that part. And that feels like the part that we are trying to deal with right now. So whatever that part wants to say, I’m listening. I accept that you feel blame and ashamed and anything else you feel, and it’s okay right now.”
I think I want to cry, what she says is so nice, so accepting. But I don’t know if it’s true for everything. Which only makes it seem bittersweet.
“I can’t. I can’t.” I feel bewildered, shaking my head, telling my therapist I can’t talk about this, even though I want to.
“You’ve already talked about the hard parts. The feelings, what you feel like instigated it.” Bea sounds a little fuzzy, but I’m here. She’s right, I have talked about really hard things. But this feels worse.
“It’s worse,” I finally mumble.
“Do you feel like you instigated more?” Bea is perceptive, thankfully.
I don’t answer. I can’t. It’s complicated. Yes, is the simple answer. But it’s more. “I can’t.” I shake my head at Bea, a silent apology for being so unhelpful.
“Even that’s too hard. This is a hard memory.” I’m relieved. She gets it. “Your answer leads me to think yes,” she says.
“Is this….” Bea cuts herself off, and starts over. ” I feel like we have developed our own language, our own way of talking, communicating.” She smiles at me. I smile, because she is right. We’ve found what works for me. I’m just thankful Bea is willing to go with it. “Does this have the r word?” (words scare me. Rape is a word that is upsetting to me. Bea will use the real word, sometimes, depending on my emotional stability. Now, she knows it would be a bad idea to use the real word. And so we go with the r word, instead.)
I nod my head, barely. Bea catches it though.
“Those are worse, harder. It makes sense. The memories where you are older are the ones that feel harder to me.” Bea sounds like she has nothing but compassion and kindness and caring for me, but I can’t look at her. I can’t risk it.
“It’s because–” I cut myself off. There’s my filter, again. I think. Do I really want to go here? Because I know where this will lead.
“You were saying a because….” Bea prompts me.
“Because I participated in those.” I fling the words out, fast. Like I’ve ripped off a bandaid. I wait to be scolded for participating, for being bad.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought. It feels like you participated more, but you were only doing what he had taught you. This wasn’t your fault.” She take a drink of her tea, shifts in her seat.
“We’ve really mostly stayed away from the tights memory, today. That was what you wanted to talk about today, though.” Bea comments, like she is observing what has happened so far in session.
I shrug. I’m back at the tights memory, back at self hard and self blame and unable to talk. “I’m back there.” I say, but I whisper it.
Bea knows I said something, but the words dissipated in the air before they got to her. “What did you say? You are?”
“I’m there. We circled around. I’m back there,” I say it louder this time.
“Ahhh. Yeah,” she says, and sighs. I think she says something more, but I don’t know.
“I kissed him.” It’s quiet, shame covers my words.
“Who’s to say you wouldn’t have ended up there, anyway? Without the kiss?” Bea pushes me, we’ve been over and over this so many times.
“I don’t know.”
“Right. We can’t know. But he should have stopped it, then. The truth is, he was a pervert, and that kiss may not have caused anything.”
“I can’t…I want to talk about this, and I can’t. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I’m there, half here, and I can’t talk, still. I’m so scared Bea will leave me, be angry with me. I should know better, by now, but I still doubt. I’m still afraid that if I trust someone, truly trust them, they will leave me or hurt me. Or both.
“What is it that feels bad about talking?” Bea asks softly.
“I don’t know.” Standard answer, but this time it means ‘I have an idea but I’m afraid to tell anyone.’
“Does it feel like you would be betraying Kenny? A part of you might feel that way, I don’t know. That bond…well it would make sense. It’s like telling means you have to give up the good parts,” Bea speaks cautiously, but she means what she is saying. “This is really common among incest survivors. I don’t know how it effects things when the perpetrator isn’t family, but I imagine it could be the same response, the same feelings, quite easily. It’s a struggle to work out, to see the good and bad side by side.”
I have no response. Can’t answer that. Can’t ever tell that.
“Is it that there are no words, or that it’s saying the words, telling that makes it scary?” Well, crap. Why does Bea have to be so smart?
“Both. I don’t know. I don’t have words for a lot. And words I do have, I don’t want to use. If I tell, it’s bad. No one can know the truth….then they will…….” (Everyone will hate me are the next words. But I can not say them.)
“Well, the thing about feelings is that the truth can be colored by them. Right now, you have all these feelings, you can’t look at this objectively. My idea of the truth will be very different from yours.” Bea tells me more about how emotions color our truths all the time, and how they aren’t always telling us the truth.
“It’s the truth. I know.” I say. I’m adamant.
“Do you think that I would think differently about you?” Bea sounds hesitant to ask this, because she knows how I feel about the idea of discussing the therapeutic relationship, or really, any relationship. But she asks, because I sure as hell will never bring this up.
I nod. I hate admitting this; it’s like admitting to an attachment to her, that I never wanted to feel, and certainly don’t want to admit it to her. It makes me weak, vulnerable. It’s frightening.
“I wouldn’t. I don’t.” She sounds sure, confident. But she has no idea.
I shake my head. “You don’t know.” Is all I say. But that’s enough, she gets it.
Bea looks at me, and all,of a sudden, it’s like something clicks for her.”This, this belief you are bad, pretending to be good, this is where this belief started. Where the split between good and bad really started.”
I nod. She’s right. I never realized before. That this splitting was so far back. “I have the pretend me….”
“The ‘good’ you?”
“Yes. She’s the good me. The one who is always okay, always in control. She’s perfect. Or tries to be, needs to be.”
“She sounds like a protector. That part got you through life,” Bea tells me. In the back of my mind, I’m a little afraid that she is going to decide I’m looney tunes, but I almost don’t care. I need to talk about the parts of me.
“Then there is the real me…..”
“And she is?”
“Just me. Not good or bad. Both, I guess. I don’t know.” I shake my head.
“Who gets the real you?” Bea asks.
“Hubby, K, you, Kat.”
“So people you trust, people you can feel safe with,” Bea clarifies.
I nod. “Yeah.”
Bea nods, too.
“Then there’s the last me.” I think that sounds odd, and my speech is quiet, so Bea doesn’t hear completely. She questions me, confused, I think, by the language I chose. Maybe I forgot to say there were 3 me’s before we started talking. “There’s the bad me.” I stare at my tea mug, too afraid to even move. This was a bad idea.
“Yes. The bad part. But that’s only a part. It doesn’t take away from the good mom, the creative girl…”
I cut Bea off. She’s not getting it. The bad part is me. It’s in everything, it’s everywhere. It’s the real me. “It’s everything. The bad part is everything. It’s not just here sometimes, it’s the real me.”
“Okaaayyy. But what about the other real you? The one I know. You said she was the real you.”
“No. I meant, um…the other word for real? Like more here, more real. Not the real me,” I’m scrambling, trying to understand and make sense and explain it.
“Authentic?” Bea supplies.
“Yeah. Yes. Authentic. I meant authentic me.” I say.
“So the bad part feels like the real you?” Bea asks. I nod, yes. I’m not very present, yet again. I’m afraid of this conversation. Scared and unsure if it’s really what I want to do. Bea would say I was protecting myself during telling by dissociating.
“The good you isn’t pretend. Is the kind, generous person I know pretend? Is it pretend when you connect with someone and can genuinely say they are nice?” Bea questions me.
I don’t answer. Finally, I shake my head. It’s not pretend.
“I think we need to look at this bad part of you, talk about it. You’ve accepted that it’s there. Is that part intolerable for even you to know?” She is quiet when she says this, tentative.
“No. Yes. No. I know her. The bad me is here all the time.” I say. I’m irritated. I think she doesn’t get that bad me is ME. I know all the parts because I live with it everyday.
“Do you feel like I’m not getting this?” Bea asks quietly.
“Maybe. Yes. No. I don’t know. I’m sorry.” I shrug.
“You don’t have anything to be sorry for. I just feel like it’s feeling to you they I’m not getting this. Maybe this is one of the times you could draw out how you see these different me’s?” She suggests.
“No. I can’t.” (I can see how I would draw it, but I can’t do it)
Bea accepts this, easily. How is she always so calm, so accepting? Would she be this accepting if she knew the truth? I doubt it.
“It’s like, little stuff makes up the bad me…..like…when I don’t do the dishes, even though I’m supposed to, and hubby ends up doing them, that’s the bad me.” I’m trying to explain, but it’s an impossible task. How do you ever completely explain your internal experience to another person? You can’t, not really.
“That’s interesting,” Bea says. Oh, how I hate that word. It makes me feel like she wants to say, ‘that’s crazy,’ but she can’t, so she says interesting instead.
“Why?” This is a demand, and the word comes out easily, but still a whisper.
“Well….” Bea seems to mull over what to tell me. I think my whys are always difficult to answer. “I would have put that with the authentic you, because it’s just real life stuff. Most people would just be glad the dishes got done.”
“I feel guilty and bad over it. That’s what I mean.” I’ve never told anyone this, how I really feel deep down. It’s nerve wracking.
“Some of that is your personality, the ‘not good enough.’ And some is the ideals you hold. In your world, the ideal is they you do the dishes because it’s your ‘job.’ And anything less than that is unacceptable, because it’s not the ideal. Hubby doing the dishes is like cheating, like failure. It’s not okay for you.” She gets it.
“What would you have put in the bad me?” I ask.
“Well it doesn’t matter what I would put. These are your parts, only you know what they each hold. Not me.” Bea says. I give her a look, and she shrugs. “I would have put bigger things: the blame you think you hold for Kenny. The college relationship. The abortion. I don’t know what else. But the big things.”
Ha. I thought it was a given the big stuff was there. And any sex stuff. “That’s there, too. It’s both. Big things and little things.”
This whole thing is so hard. I can’t believe I’m telling her that it’s like there are 3 of me, and that the real me is the bad me. I’ve written that to her, last week, maybe, but this, explaining it, is different. I can’t talk about all the things the bad me holds. This is a part of me that feels big and is real, but it’s also the part of me I bury and hide. It’s vulnerable and I can’t let anyone know this me, because then they would know the truth, and hate me for it.
“We need to work on this,” Bea tells me. My first thought is, crap no we don’t.
“This is really twisted with the memory…maybe I need to work on this first before the memory can be dealt with?” I ask, my heart sinking. I know I need to talk about this. But it’s scary to open yourself up like this.
“Maybe. Or maybe, if you share this memory with me, and see that I won’t leave you, won’t abandon you, won’t change my mind about you, won’t see you differently, then maybe it will feel safer to share the bad parts,” Bea is talking back in her regular volume, and she is being very clear and direct about this. She wants to make sure I’m hearing her.
But I can’t. I can’t tell her. Can’t tell anyone. Everyone would hate me, they would leave. And she’s hit on my big fear. I can’t let her know it. Plus, she would think about me differently. She would see me as all bad. The truth. Hubby would leave; take Kat and run, if he knew. I don’t know. I can’t do it.
We talk a little more about bad me and good me and authentic me. We talk about how hard it is to talk about what I remember right now.
“I’m scared,” I say, and the words are little girl tiny, and I feel like I’ll always be alone if I don’t figure out a way to talk about this.
Bea has gotten good at picking up on my moods, on where I am. Something clues her in that I’m gone, getting too far into a memory I have no words for. “We need to start trying to come back, a little. You are safe now, here, in 2015. Now you’re in my office, and my office is safe. Very safe.”
I nod my head. It is safe in her office. “I need to talk about this. I need to sleep again, function again. What if I never can talk about it?”
“We will get this out. It’s coming out, little bits and pieces at a time,” Bea says. “It’s hard for you to do this work, and it’s hard for you to see how far you’ve come. It’s hard because you have all the feelings, so raw and so new. So we process parts of the story a little bit at a time. We just take this slowly, so you are retraumatized and we work through it. Right now, you are down the hole…not to mix metaphors, but it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. But I can see, and I can tell you that you have come a long way in six months. Your story might not be a narrative, but it will be.”
I shake my head. “Sometimes I think so. Other times, it doesn’t seem to be. If I think about Kat, when she first saw you..you told me to sit with her feelings. I just remember, on the outside I was smiling and nodding and I’m sure I was doing whatever I could to show you I understood. But inside, I was like ‘crap! I have no clue what she is talking about. I hope I can google this. If I can’t google this, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ And I went home and googled it. Which didn’t help. I was quite confused.”
She laughs. “I had no idea.”
“That’s the point, I’m a good pretender,” I remind her.
“Yes, you are. The only time I ever wondered was when I was so excited about everyone– all the toys– healing, and you were just blank. But I like to think I would have realized something was up eventually and helped you through Kat.”
“I don’t think you would have figured it out, not of I didn’t want you to,” I say, a little smile on my face.
“Maybe not, but I hope I would have. A lot of times- well, it’s most often moms who bring their children- but a lot of times, therapy for children is family therapy. If a mom doesn’t know how to validate her child, give a child emotional support, she most likely never got it herself. So, I can teach her, by providing a safe holding space for her. I can hold her feelings about motherhood, show her how containment works. So, through a relationship between mom and I, the child can then get the emotional support that he needs because now mom understands what I am talking about; she’s experienced it.” Bea explains. “Of course, it’s not the same as the work you are doing. But I like to think I would have been able to help you a little bit.”
I nod. I get it. She’s also, in a round-a-bout way explaining why I can sit with Kat and feel her feelings with her. I understand now, what that means, because it’s been done for me.
It’s a struggle to leave. I’ve shared too much, talked too much about the bad me, and I’m feeling afraid to leave, shaky, memories are too close to the surface. I sit and drink tea, try to calm down.
“I’m okay,” I finally say, standing up. I’m afraid that once I leave, something very bad will happen. It’s frightening that Bea knows this much about me right now, and I have to leave her and what I’ve told her. I want to stay and make sure she doesn’t decide I’m terrible.
“Yeah?” She asks. I don’t think she fully believes me.
“Yeah. I have yoga, now, too. So that will help.”
“Okay, good. Yoga will be good, get you out of your head a little bit,” Bea stands up, too, stretching.
We say goodbye, and I head out the door to yoga, running late.