I’m curled up, comfortable on the sofa in the therapy room. Bea and I have been chatting about our dogs, Kat, and yoga for the last 20 minutes. I’ve been able to face her, look at her while we talk. Coming to therapy today was good; it wasn’t hard at all. In a way, I have a sense of freedom in Bea’s office now, because Bea still accepts me even knowing some of the worst things about me, so I can pretty much say anything and it will be okay.
Bea looks at the little clock on the table by the couch, and gives me a pointed look. “How do we transition to talking about you, your stuff…what do you want to talk about today? Do you want to go into heavier stuff? It’s really up to you.”
I groan. “Don’t leave it up to me.”
“You did great talking last time. And you really seem calmer today,” Bea says.
I look down at the floor, avoiding her gaze. “As long as I ignore all the other stuff, I’m fine. I’m great.”
“Mmmhmm. It can really feel like you are living two parallel lives at times. The stuff in the past, and your life in the present.”
I nod my head in agreement. It feels like those parallel lives have collided recently. “I told hubby we needed to redo that chapter in the workbook.”
“What did he say when you told him this? Was he upset after you had been the one to call the workbook stupid and get mad about it?” Bea asks.
“No. He was just like, ‘okay.’ I told him he didn’t need to redo anything, I just needed to redo, well finish, the last chapter. And he said, ‘okay.’ He didn’t even ask why or anything.”
“I don’t think men always wonder about things or have as many questions about something as we do.” Bea takes a drink of her tea, and pauses as if giving me a chance to talk. When I don’t, she continues, “The questions are relatively simple, and the answers are simple, too. It’s the vulnerability that is complex, and maybe the parts of you not matching up that makes it harder to answer. Wasn’t one of the questions about self-worth? Feeling worthy of deserving help?” She goes on to talk about how parts of me have good self-worth, are proud of things I have done and know I deserve to be cared for, but other parts of me don’t believe I deserve to be cared for or treated kindly, or even loved.
Bea is talking, but I’m not really listening. I’m curling further into myself, feeling more and more disconnected and fuzzy. It doesn’t take long for me to be quite dissociated; I was already disconnected from my body when I arrived this morning. She doesn’t completely get it; the part of me that has good self worth is fake. It exists because I “should” like myself. It exists as the part that does what is expected, makes sure what happens is supposed to happen, it’s the part that is right and okay and good.
“Are you having trouble staying here? I feel like I’m having trouble staying grounded,” Bea says.
I nod. I have that nice dissociative floaty feeling. Bea’s voice seems muted, like she is speaking to me through cotton.
“I think I understand what you mean about not feeling your body. I feel like I have gone up into my head and things are a little fuzzy.” I can hear Bea taking several deep breaths. “I’m going to just take a few moments and feel my feet connecting to the floor, feel my legs against the chair…see if you can join me….it is such a relief to be back in my body.”
I bury my face in my knees, and shake my head. It’s not a relief to be in my body, not at all. It’s not safe. I don’t want to feel my body. I fight back tears I have been holding in since last night.
“Can you say what is coming up for you?”
I shake my head again, and tears slip through the cracks. At that, the damn bursts, and I can’t stop crying. I do my best to cry silently, although I’m not sure I’m fooling Bea at all.
“There’s a lot of grief that needs to come out. You have been holding this in for so, so long,” Bea says, confirming that I am not hiding my tears at all. She lets me cry for a few moments, and then asks me if this has to do with what we have been talking about the last few weeks.
I don’t know how to answer. I push back my tears and finally say, “Yes and no.” Then I cry and cry. I just can’t stop crying.
Bea tells me it feels like I am so alone, and she asks if this is old or new stuff. I shake my head and tell her I don’t know. She tells me she knows it’s hard to find words sometimes when we feel so emotional. She asks me if I’m feeling sad and scared or just sad.
“I— I don’t know.” I’m shaking and crying and I can feel my breathing bordering on panicky.
“Is this a memory? Maybe you are more with the feelings? Or both?” Bea is trying to help me figure it out, explain it.
I shake my head. I can’t answer that one. I don’t know how to explain. It’s so messed up.
“Feelings?” She asks.
“Both.” I manage to get out. And then, “I’ve been trying not to cry since last night.”
“Ahhh. You really need to cry then, get it out. It’s no good to hold in our tears.” Bea sounds so sympathetic, so kind and understanding, it only makes me cry harder.
I shake my head at her. I don’t want to cry, I hate crying.
“Did something happen yesterday?” Bea asks me.
I nod and mumble, “Hubby….” But I can’t finish the sentence after all.
Bea waits for a minute, but all I can do is cry. “I’m guessing this has to do with sex?” She finally asks me, speaking in a soft voice.
I feel like I’m falling apart a little, shrinking with humiliation, dissociating because it’s easier to deal with things that way. I nod my head, barely, but it’s still enough that Bea can tell.
“Did you initiate or did he?” She asks me.
“Him.” I say through my tears, unable to say more.
“I know it is uncomfortable to talk about sex — I think this is where having a therapist of the same sex is really beneficial. When I was seeing my therapist and the subject of sex came up, I was hiding under my coat discussing it, and I couldn’t even look at him when I left! So I know how hard it can be to talk about, but I think we should try to talk about this, because something has obviously upset you a lot. And hopefully having a female therapist will make this a little bit easier.”
I’m shocked. And I suddenly feel way less insane and stupid than I ever have before for hiding the way I do in Bea’s office. Bea hid under her coat? What?!? She really gets how hard this is to talk about? I nod my head at her; I can try to talk about this.
“What happened? Did you go away?” Bea sounds matter of fact, like we could be discussing the weather.
I can’t answer. I shake my head. All the while, I’ve still been crying and crying. It’s like now that the tears have started, they really are going to drown me, and I’ll never be able to stop crying.
“I’m only asking because you’ve said before you just go away and it’s fine, but this is clearly not fine. I just…I don’t want you to be retraumatized from having a sexual relationship in your marriage.” She explains to me gently.
“I always go away, and it’s always fine, and I always cry later,” I say. It’s true, and the crying is the one part of what happens when I sleep with my husband that I neglected to tell Bea. Obviously, hubby doesn’t know. I just cry later, in the bathroom, or silently in bed. And it always is fine. Bea maybe says something that isn’t exactly pleased about my crying after going away but I’m trying too hard to get the next part out to really be paying attention. “I went away last night to a scary place in my head.” Once the words are out, the silence in her office is overwhelming, and I feel terribly exposed.
“That was a real trigger for you. Was it the memory we’ve been dealing with?” Bea’s voice is so kind and understanding.
I nod my head yes. I hate this. I absolutely hate this. “I couldn’t stop it. I just couldn’t stop it.”
“And he didn’t notice?”
“No.” My voice is far away, and even though I can’t stop crying now that I have unleashed my tears, I’m numb.
“Ideally, he would notice, to stop and help ground you.” Bea tells me.
“No. He can’t know. No.”
“Your husband is a good man, a safe man. I really believe that. I think, I know, he would be horrified if he were here and saw how badly sex with him were affecting you.”
“I won’t tell him. I can’t. I won’t hurt him, no.” I say the words as forcefully as I can through my tears and shakiness.
“I know, it doesn’t feel safe. Alice, I’m feeling protective, I don’t want you retraumatized over this, and the last thing you need to be feeling like is that hubby is the perpetrator. You deserve to have a safe and fulfilling sex life. You do. I really believe that starts with nonsexual touch. When hubby came in and we talked, he was on board with that. There should be no place safer than his arms. Just being able to cuddle in bed, to feel safe. He said ‘Alice isn’t a cuddler’ . I get that, I do, but you said he can hold your hands and that feels safe. That’s something to build on.” Bea sounds adamant, but kind, and maybe a little sad. Is she sad for me? I’m surprised.
I shake my head at her. “He can never know.”
“He doesn’t have to know what feelings you are dealing with, or even what memories, but he needs to know that when you have sex, you have flashbacks, you get lost in scary places, you go away. He needs to be able to help ground you. If he was a guy who didn’t get it, who didn’t care to get it, I would probably tell you that we would work on this to make it safe for you in your own head, but he is a guy who wants to help you, who wants to get it, who will work to get it.”
“I’m too scared. I can’t do it.” I whisper to Bea.
“Even that feels too close, just to let him know it’s hard to stay present. What if you brought him here? Or send him in without you, if that’s easier,” she suggests.
“I can’t. I can’t.” I tell her. I’m sorry, because I know Bea is trying, but I’m too afraid.
“It’s a scary idea, to let him close. To let him be able to help you. To think about needing him.” Bea is able to somehow put into words what I can not.
“I don’t want to need anyone.”
“Wouldn’t life be simpler if we didn’t need anyone? But then, that’s the beauty in being human, we need each other.” Bea says.
“No. I won’t ever be needy,” I say. I want to shout it out, scream it at her, but I’ve only just stopped crying and barely have control over my voice.
“I don’t see you as anymore needy than anyone else I’ve ever met. I think you are just normal,” she tells me.
“That’s not true! My mother told me I was needy.” In my head, I shout this at her, but in reality, the words come out strained and quiet, full of hurt.
I think I’ve surprised Bea, that this isn’t what she was expecting to hear from me. “When you were a little a girl and followed her around talking?” She asks me, almost cautiously, maybe feeling her way around this unexpected statement.
I nod my head. Yes, when I was a child.
“Children….children are needy. That’s how they are supposed to be. Look at Kat.”
“No. She told me, when I was a teenager, I had always been like this– that I was exceptionally needy, I wore people out and drained everyone dry.” I snap the words out, but they only sound sad and hollow to my ears, not frustrated and angry as I intended them to sound.
“Oh. We know she didn’t have all the emotional resources to deal with a child, and some kids are more needy than others, and some kids, as their needs are ignored, they become more needy. It’s an attachment thing. But you, everything I have seen of you now, as an adult, is not needy. Your needs are no greater than anyone else.”
I don’t respond, because I don’t want to argue about this, neither do I want to even try to explain how much I go out of my way to not be needy, to explain how much I force myself to stop my neediness.
“This seems like a logical next step for us to work on, the stuff with hubby. Maybe just exploring what about letting him, or anyone close is scary would be good. Hubby is your closest attachment figure, and I do think it would be worth it to explore getting closer and letting him in and being vulnerable to him.” Bea says. She maybe says more, but I’m dissociated again, and her voice is fuzzy, and gone. I’m very afraid to even talk about the idea of why letting people close to me is scary and threatening.
After a few minutes, Bea says, “Alice, I said we were going to stop at 9:30 on Thursdays so you aren’t late to yoga anymore, and it’s 9:25. I’m going to stick to that, so we need to start getting grounded again, okay?”
I nod my head at her, and start trying to ground myself with her help.
“Did you really hide behind your coat?” I ask her.
“Yes, oh yes, I certainly did,” she assures me, and I feel less alone than I have felt in a long time.
We talk about a few random things, kindles, and books, yoga, and other things. I manage to lift my head quicker than normal, and face Bea faster than I usually would. It’s okay. She’s not looking at me any differently than she ever has. She gets me, she knows some of the worst parts of me, and it’s really okay. I smile, and say good-bye.