I email Bea over the weekend. Since Thursday, I have been trying to find a reason to be angry with her, to quit therapy. I can’t find a reason, except that I am scared of how close she is now. I tell her that I am scared of seeing her on Monday, that I’m having really bad anxiety, that I am heading into “not okay” territory, that I don’t want to follow my usual pattern of pushing people away, that I am feeling very insecure. I ask if she is angry with me.
She emails back, with the best response she could have:
I can only imagine how difficult it was to let someone into that place where the worst of secrets live–that it exposed too much of the vulnerable part of you. I understand what a great responsibility it is for me to know those things, and just how important it is to you. I am not in any way angry with you for anything! Why don’t you think about what would help you to feel the most safe on Monday? (aside from not coming, because I think that would just make it worse!) I am happy to accommodate anything that would help, from facing my chair the other way, to letting you completely lead the entire session, to anything else you might think of that would give you that sense of control. This is a collaborative effort,–we’ve worked through rough spots before, and I know we can work through this one as well.
We email back and forth through the weekend. I’m feeling calmer, and less anxious about showing up on Monday. When she responds to my fears of trusting another person, I know she gets it:
I think I might kind of get a piece of the not wanting anyone to know the most awful thing about you. In a way it really is–though terrible–your most precious secret, and so not just the sharing of it, but the who you share it with is very important. That person cannot trivialize it, or suddenly just go away, or act like you’re not important. There is a huge amount of trust at stake in revealing something so huge. All I can say is that I get that, and I intend to treat it with the importance it deserves.
I cross the street to Bea’s office. It’s in one of the houses downtown that has been converted to a store. The lower level is a speciality toy store, and Bea’s office is upstairs. I love that her office is downtown; I love the atmosphere here, love getting a coffee and walking around after my appointments when the weather is nice. As I let myself in the door and head upstairs, I’m holding my breath. I pause outside the office door, wondering if I can do this.
“Good morning,” Bea says, quietly. She’s sitting in her chair, waiting for me and doing something with the art supplies.
I duck my head and dart for the couch. “Hi,” I say back. It’s a loud whisper, and I’m amazed I could even find my voice. I curl up right away, hugging my knees to my chest. I keep my head up, but look down at the floor. I can’t look at her.
“You made it,” she says, still speaking quietly to me.
I nod my head, and then whisper “Yeah.”
“Was it really hard to get here today?”
“Yeah. It was.” I’m still looking down at the floor, sitting as far back as I can.
“I’m glad you decided to come to therapy today,” Bea says. I wonder if she had been partly convinced I wasn’t going to show up, even though we had talked about in our emails that me showing up and reestablishing a sense of safety was the most important thing. And quite frankly, it is a pretty deal that I did show up.
“Okay,” I whisper to her, nodding my head.
“In your email……one thing that stood out to me, that I know you don’t like to talk about, is the relationship between you and me. You said you might push me away.” As Bea is speaking, I put my head down and cover my face. She continues, “I think that’s natural, when we reveal a part of ourselves that feels so vulnerable. I meant what I said in my email; I know what a risk of trust this is, and I know what a great responsibility it is to have this secret. I plan to treat it with the respect this deserves.”
As she is talking, I go from feeling super panicked to calmer. I think I believe her. She means what she is saying, that much I know.
“Nothing has changed for me, nothing. My opinion of you hasn’t changed. Nothing about the relationship has changed for me. It’s changed for you. But it hasn’t changed for me,” Bea says. She sounds very serious about this idea that knowing it has changed nothing for her.
I don’t respond, I really can’t. I just sniffle a little. I feel like crying with relief.
“I’m not sure, I can usually go by what I’m feeling to help me know where you are, but I don’t want to put feelings on you that aren’t right. I was feeling sad, but now I’m feeling kind of this relief. And I hesitate to say this, because I don’t want to jinx this, but dare I say it, a sense of acceptance.” Bea is speaking almost tentatively, as if she is being very careful towards me.
I’m not sure. Relief, I think is here, and maybe acceptance that what she is saying is true. There is so much swirling in my head, so many feelings,thoughts, emotions, that I can’t figure out what I am feeling. I’ve disconnected from a lot of it.
“I don’t know. And I really mean I don’t know, it’s not I don’t know but really I don’t want to say.”
“That’s okay. You don’t have to know what you are feeling. Maybe it’s nothing, that could be an option, too.” Bea reassures me, and reminds me that it is okay to not have the answers all the time.
It’s quiet for a few minutes, and I try to figure out what I’m feeling. I have no idea. Maybe nothing. Maybe too much to deal with, to separate out. I think about what I need to tell Bea, how I want to explain exactly why it’s so awful that I let her read it.
“I didn’t know you hadn’t seen Kay since November. Did you want to talk about that? It seems like it might be a relatively safe thing to talk about. I want us to get you back to a place where you feel safe here.” Bea tells me. “What happened with Kay? Has this happened before?”
I don’t say anything. I’m staring at the purple blanket that covers the couch. I don’t know how to answer this. I have been avoiding Kay since she confronted me about my eating. I don’t want to go there.
“Was there something else you maybe wanted to talk about?” Bea asks, after I’ve been quiet for a while.
“No. I don’t know.” I shrug my shoulders. “Kay…..she just…she gets um…”
“You said in your email she was getting too nosy.” Bea prompts me.,
“Yeah….she just gets too nosy….she was pushing me about eating…..I don’t know. I’ve been avoiding her.”
“I can see how it would be easier to avoid someone who is pushing you to look at that things you don’t want to deal with.”
“Yes, exactly. But she knows me, so I still get text messages and voicemails from her telling me I can’t avoid her forever, that she knows what I’m doing, saying to stop avoiding her because she misses me.” I know how lucky I am, how rare it is that I have a friend who recognizes my need to push people away, and who still sticks with me.
Bea chuckles at this, at the idea of my friend texting me to stop avoiding her. “So has this happened a lot in the past? It seems like she is familiar with your defense mechanism.”
“Weeeellll….” I draw the word out, thinking. “I wouldn’t say a lot. But yeah, it’s happened before.””
“What caused it before?”
“Same stuff…when I got engaged, she pushed me to tell hubby about the college boyfriend. I avoided her for months. She kept texting me that I couldn’t avoid her forever, because she was my maid of honor.” I turn my head the other direction, stare at the red, blue, and grey pattern on the couch pillow.
Bea laughs, again.
“Kay is funny,” I say.
“Yes, she is. She sounds interesting.” Bea says, and I can hear a smile in her voice.
We talk about my friendship with Kay. Bea really knows nothing of my friends, or their lives and how they combine with my life. We talk about how Kay was out here, going to college and that’s the reason I chose to come here for cosmetology school. She’s surprised, because she had thought that I has chosen cosmetology school because Kay was there. In reality, Kay chose cosmetology school after she saw how happy I was in my career. Bea remarks that when I chose to move out here, and go to school for something that was more creative, it was almost like I finally had my independence and freedom. (Thinking about it now, she is quite right. However, that is a whole separate post.)
We talk about how I met hubby, and our first date.
“A friend of mine from cos school introduced us. She set us up. I wasn’t very happy about it, because I really didn’t want any boyfriend at that time. It was too late, though, by the time I knew what she was up to, to back out.”
“So what happened? How did he ask you to go on a date?” Bea sounds curious, and…maybe happy? This is a more cheerful, and different kind of thing than we normally have talked about.
“Well, hubby asked my friend to ask me if it was okay for her to give him my number. I said sure, and he called. He asked me out to the rain forest cafe because he remembered I has mentioned liking that place when we were at the setup dinner.” I smile, despite myself. He always has been so very good at paying attention to what I liked, and small things I said.
“That sounds like hubby,” Bea says, chuckling. “I didn’t know when you guys took Kat there a few weeks ago that there was all this history with rain forest cafe.”
We talk about how hubby just conveys this sense of being a safe person. We talk about how I yell at hubby to push him away. I admit that I get scared of pushing him too far away, of ruining my marriage. Bea suggests that if I could explain to him that I’m yelling to push him away because I’m afraid of letting him too close, that could go a long way. She says that before things ever get to the point of ruining my relationship with hubby, we would have hubby come to a session and we would explain my defenses to him. She asks me if I have tested hubby, pushed to see if he will lose it on me. I tell her that I have, and cringe in shame at the way I sometimes treat the man I love. She tells me that it is normal for woman who has been in an abusive relationship to test the boundaries of the person they are with.
“Things were getting a little better, until I threw this latest fit. Hubby is so normal, and I’m so….just so….not.” I shake my head, feeling broken.
“What was the latest fit?”
“That workbook. It was….the questions were too much, I refused to answer them, acted like a brat. I said it was stupid..hubby was trying to be nice, ask why I didn’t answer them, and I just yelled at him, threw this big fit like I was teenage me.” I can feel my face flush; even weeks later, I’m embarrassed about the way I behaved.
“Were the questions about closeness?” Bea asks.
“I don’t know. I have them,” I tell her. I really don’t know if they are about closeness. They were all about attachment; past and present.
“I’d be interested to know what they were.”
I take a deep breath, and grab the worksheets out of my bag. “You have them here?” Bea asks me.
“Yeah.” I hand them to Bea, still not looking at her. I’ve had them sitting in my journal for weeks, thinking I would talk about them with her at some point.
She shuffles the papers, and I can hear her flipping through them. “These are all about closeness. Answering these would make you feel really vulnerable.”
Bea talks through some of the questions, helping me to find the answers. She suggests that I answer the questions, and if nothing else, have hubby read my answers. She says I can always tell him that I’m not ready to talk about my answers, but that I want him to know these things.
“It’s scary,” I whisper.
“Yes, it is. Maybe one day, as you start to open up to hubby, you will be able to ask him for space, instead of yelling to accomplish that. This would be a start.” What Bea is saying makes a lot of sense. It’s just hard to comprehend that I will be able to ever drop my defense mechanism.
“This isn’t so bad. I’m okay being here. Talking like this isn’t so awful,” I tell her, because the thought enters my mind and I’m pleased that I’m feeling calmer about being here, and not as shaky or panicked.
“Good, that’s good,” Bea tells me, and I’m sure if I looked up at her, she would be smiling at me.
We talk a little more about hubby. Bea says that looking at his is answers on the worksheets, she believes he is coming from a secure attachment style, and while I may have had a secure attachment when I was a very little kid there is interference because of the abuse, and emotional difficulties with my mom, and the feelings that my mom didn’t protect me. I state again that I am broken, and hubby is normal. Bea stops me, saying that there is a reason hubby is in this relationship; maybe he isn’t comfortable with closeness, either. By the end of the conversation, she has me convinced it’s going to be okay, and that I can at least fill out the worksheets and use them to talk to hubby about things.
“I feel like we are in a good place right now. We could wrap things up now, unless there is anything more you wanted to talk about,” Bea says.
After thinking about it, I say, “I’m 50/50 about it.”
To be continued…….