It’s Sunday night, and I’ve just sent Bea a very long and detailed email about Kat; I’ve also stated in it that I feel guilty, but I don’t want to spend my whole session talking about Kat– I feel like I could because it’s so easy to talk about her and so not easy to talk about my stuff. It was a great weekend, until I was triggered so badly this morning that I can’t snap myself out of it. I need to talk to Bea about it, and I know it’s not going to be easy.
I’m so triggered, I can’t settle myself to sleep. I am restless and uneasy; it’s that uncomfortable wired feeling, like I’ve had way too much coffee and am unable to shut off my mind or my body. I give up on sleep around 3:30am, and make an actual pot of coffee. I might as well have some coffee and try to relax before getting ready for therapy.
By the time I walk into Bea’s office, I’ve had 2 pots of coffee, a venti skinny vanilla latte with an extra shot of espresso, a cup of black English breakfast tea, and am on my second skinny vanilla latte with an extra shot of espresso.
“Good morning,” I call out to her as I take my boots off in the hall.
“Good morning, I was just sitting here trying to decide if we need the extra heater on today.” Bea looks peaceful sitting in her chair, waiting for me. She’s wearing black and grey today, which is always strange for me because I am so used to seeing her in colors. I smile as I think to myself it must be the opposite for her– strange when I am not wearing black or grey.
“It’s up to you, whatever you think.” I walk into the office, set my bag and coffee down, take off my coat and get comfortable. I’m smiling and animated, the picture of happiness and calm. It’s not real, but I’m great at playing pretend. Pretend no one touched me, pretend my mother had no idea, pretend everything is fine, pretend I am a good girl, pretend I am a good wife, pretend to enjoy sex with my hubby, pretend I have the flu and not bulimia, pretend, pretend, pretend.
Bea turns on the little space heater while I get settled, and as she returns to her chair, she says, “I got your email this morning. So let’s make a point not to talk about Kat today. What is on Alice’s mind today?”
I smile. “I didn’t mean we couldn’t talk about her. I figured this way, I’ve already said it all, and you can just reply. So it’s faster.”
Bea twists in her chair. She looks a little serious. “Why don’t we talk about Kat at the end? I want to make sure we talk about what you need to talk about. We need to try to end by 9:30am today, so that gives us plenty of time to really talk about you today.”
We sit in quiet for a minute, and then I say, “How about you talk about Kat really quick now?”
Bea smiles and shakes her head at me a little, but we end up spending 10 minutes discussing Kat, and how everything she is doing is all good stuff; she is processing through her trauma and healing. “Soooo….you went to your parents’ this weekend?” Bea asks me.
I nod. “Yup. We left of Friday.”
“This is the longest you have stayed over by yourself in a long time, isn’t it?” Bea means by myself, as in without Hubby. Kat was with me,
“Yeah…the last time we were there was Christmas.” Wow. I can’t believe it had been that long between. I’m silent after that, unsure what to say now.
“How was the visit? You look good, bright eyed, dressed cute, like things are maybe good,” Bea says.
I laugh a little. I’m so good at this facade, I’m fooling Bea again. I wish she would stop falling for it. “I’ve had 2 pots of coffee. So I’m quite bright eyed. Sleep…I just couldn’t…I don’t know. So. Yeah.”
“What about taking me through an overview of the weekend? Maybe that will lead into being able to talk about some feelings and things,” Bea suggests.
“Okay,” I agree. I tell her about the new toy– Goldie blox– that I bought for Kat and my Dad to play together and how awesome it is. I give her the whole story of the company, because I’m just so amazed by the woman who created Goldie blox. I tell her about going tubing Saturday, and show her two videos. Then….I get to Sunday. “Sunday, I just packed up, Kat played with my parents a bit, and my mom made me go through a bunch of pictures with her.” It’s strange, because it’s the pictures I want to talk about, and yet I attempt to breeze right by them.
“Pictures? That could be triggering,” Bea says, latching onto the thing I desperately want to talk about and avoid at the same time. “Pictures are memories of the past, and your past is hard to handle right now.”
I look down at the floor, shake my head a little. I have all these words in my head, and yet I can’t get any of them out.
“Was there something in the pictures that triggered you?” Bea asks sympathetically.
I still can’t talk. I finally nod. Yes, there was something that triggered me. I’m afraid I’m going crazy, or did something awful, or something really bad happened. Or maybe all three. I don’t know.
“Were these pictures of your whole life?” I nod, yes.
“Was his family in them?” I nod, yes.
“Was he in them?” I freeze, and then manage to nod. Yes.
“Oh. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. I’m sorry for that.” Bea says, and the amazing thing is, she sounds it. Like she can imagine how awful it was, and she really is sorry that I had to see those pictures.
I cover my face with both hands. “It’s okay.” I tell her, and my voice cracks a little. It’s actually not okay at all. Another bomb has been dropped on me. I can’t handle all of this.
“That must have felt really confusing. To be looking at pictures, and putting on a happy face and cheerful voice, talking about old memories, but to have something completely different happening in your head. That’s completely invalidating. It’s part of where that ‘I’m crazy’ feeling comes from, I think.” Bea is doing the talking thing for me, where she says things I might be feeling, or they relate to what is going on, and, as always, what she says helps me feel a little less freakish, and more normal. “You probably haven’t really even had time to process this, the weekend, yet.”
I shake my head. I’ve been mostly frozen in my head, trying to function.
“If it weren’t for the pictures, how would you rate this weekend?”
“Good. Really good.” I smile. It was a great weekend, minus the pictures.
“Ahhh, I’m so glad to hear that. The last few times you’ve seen your parents, they’ve been more open and authentic with you. Was it like that this weekend?” Bea picks up her tea and takes a drink.
I keep staring at the bucket of puppets on the floor by Bea’s feet. It’s clear, with colored hearts on it, and puppets are over flowing. I have an urge to pick one up and hug it to me. I don’t. “No…I don’t know. It was just…normal. I don’t know.” I shrug. While Bea is right when she says that I was in the moment during a lot of our activities, I also feel like I was disconnected to the point of not knowing where anyone was emotionally. I change the subject, “I made your list from Thursday into post it notes.”
“Is that what you want to talk about?”
“No……..I want to talk about this.” The words are so quiet, there is no weight to them, and they float away before I can grab them and take them back. The neon sign in my head is flashing STEP AWAY from this memory, this mess. RUN, GO FAST it flashes, but it’s too late. I can’t step away; I need to know.
“The pictures? The weekend?” Bea questions.
“Okay. Let’s try to stick with this, then.” She sounds very calm and gentle, but determined.
I feel like I want to change my mind, say forget it, but I don’t. I try to stick with it. When I finally do talk, it’s difficult to form the words. “Do you….do you remember…..”
Bea gives me time, but when I don’t continue, she prompts me. “Do I remember what?”
“Um…that summer…the one we went to the cabin and my parents stayed home?” I’m shaking as I speak. I hate this.
“And you went with his family?” Bea asks. I nod; that’s the one. “Yes, I remember. That’s the summer you feel something bad happened. You were what? 12?”
“So, going into 7th grade.” I shake my head. No.
“8th grade?” I shake my head again. No.
“6th grade?” Bea sounds surprised as she asks this. I shake my head. No. I can’t find words, and so I hold up 9 fingers. I feel like an idiot, but Bea doesn’t comment on the fingers. “Right, 9th grade. I forgot you graduated so early,” she says.
When I don’t respond, she continues, “That’s an age, then, especially going into highschool, that people you knew would have been dating kids their own age……if you were 12, that makes him 23. I’m surprised he even was still going on family trips.”
“22 depending on the month,” I correct her. “Mandy was still going, she was older…that year..maybe the next…I don’t remember, anyway, that was her last year….she got married. She had her own family.”
“What were the pictures of?” Bea asks.
“Normal stuff. Swimming in the pool. Camp fires. My brother eating a giant s’more, like he always does.” We talk about the cabin, and how it was more of a resort neighborhood with high end cabins for rent, not the rustic camping cabins Bea has been picturing in her mind. I smile, thinking about two or three families staying in a small rustic camping cabin together. My mother would have lost it. I remember the kitchen being huge and beautiful. Definitely high end, the cabin was fancier than our house in some ways, and had cleaning service just like a hotel. I tell Bea a few memories; staying up late, campfires, my dad and the other dads feeding the raccoons weird stuff, including beer.
Even after that, I still can’t find words. It’s so frustrating. “I wanted to talk, why can’t I just talk!?” I whine. I know I’m being childish, and whiny but I can’t stop myself.
“There’s so much emotion sitting on top of the narrative, it’s hard to get it out,” Bea suggests.
I nod. I guess. I don’t know. I feel numb. I feel like every emotion under the sun has hit me all at once. “I’m afraid I’m going crazy.”
“You aren’t. Crazy people aren’t afraid of going crazy,” Bea assures me. “It’s cognitive dissonance. You are still holding this as a secret, as something to be kept quiet. No one really knows what is going on, with the exception of me, and that can be crazy making, too. It’s very invalidating, to constantly have to stuff your real feelings, your real self, your real story away.”
I shrug, I don’t know. I want to ask her if she is upset that she is the only one who knows, my sole support. I want to ask if she is sick of this nonsense, and if she is going to leave me. I’m sure she will, it’s just a matter of time before she realizes how bad I actually am. I want to tell her I’m sorry I’m so needy and there’s only her. I feel guilty. It makes me think about telling someone, just to lighten the mess Bea gets dumped on her by me.
“I feel a little lost. I usually have an idea, can feel what you are feeling, but I’m not sure where you’re at right now,” Bea says.
I shrug. “I don’t even know what I’m feeling. I’m lost. Confused. But I have no idea what I feel.” The office is quiet, and I can hear myself breathing, unsteady and wobbly. “My parents….there was a picture, that summer, my mom was there, I was so confused. I had to ask my mom…oh geesh, I think she thought I was crazy….I had to ask her, ‘isn’t that the summer you and daddy stayed here?’ And they did stay, but then they drove up and the other parents left and my parents stayed.” I feel dazed. I wouldn’t believe it if it weren’t for the pictures of that summer. “I don’t remember that. I forgot…” I sniffle, crying because I’m frustrated, and scared that I am crazy, and because I feel confused and like things are still so messy.
Bea doesn’t say anything at first, or if she does, I don’t hear it. “It’s interesting that you forgot the week your parents were there,” she says simply. “That must feel really crazy making, to look at pictures of events you don’t remember at all.”
I shake my head. I don’t know. I’m lost. Numb. Drowning. “I need to know.”
“Not knowing can be worse than knowing sometimes,” Bea agrees.
I shake my head. “Why? What did I forget? What happened? Why?” I’m not yelling, but my voice is agitated, frustrated, maybe panicky. I’m freaking out, obsessing about it.
“Well….often times when people repress, or dissociate memories, it’s because it’s too much to handle. Like if a girl is being abused by her father, she is likely to block the abuse out, to repress it, so that she can function and live her life. You looking at the pictures with your mom, and repressing all those thoughts and feelings until you were gone, is a perfect example of how this is adaptable, how this skill helps us survive. I wondered, when you first said you forgot the week your parents were there, if this were another example of a time when you felt they should have known something, or dome something and they didn’t…….now, I don’t know, I can’t know what it is, or why you repressed it. I think, until you remember, you won’t know why you repressed this.” Bea explains all of this gently, and slowly enough that I can take most of it in.
I sigh. “What….I always knew. I always remembered that stuff happened with him. So why not this?!?!” I blurt the words out, and I know they don’t make a lot of sense, there is no context, exactly, except the context in my head.
Bea picks it up pretty quickly. There is a moment of shock, where she thinks I’m speaking about the forgotten week, and then she puts it together. “Yes, yes, you did always remember the game, but everything was really repressed; all the feelings, the thoughts, a lot of the memories and details. Not remembering this is your brain’s way of telling you that you aren’t ready to remember.”
I shake my head. “I am. I need to know.”
“So often, people repress these type of things, and it isn’t until a level of safety is reached that they start to come out. There are woman who have never had a PTSD symptom, and their abuse happened 30 years ago. When they have that level of safety, and the memories and feelings come back, so does the PTSD. It’s really more common than you think.” Bea continues to explain to me, the best she can, what is happening; she wants to normalize this so I’m not so alone and so crazy feeling. “Therapy can provide even another level of safety sometimes. It becomes safe to remember, because if there is something triggering you to self harm, maybe even suicidal ideation, a person has their therapist to fall back on, to help contain the big scary feelings, a safety net of sorts.”
“Is that….it’s why I remember more than I ever did? Why I have all these details and more memories than I knew I had?” I ask this, but it comes out sounding like a whispered statement.
“Yes. You were finally in a place you felt safe. So you started to really remember.”
I whine and cry and stay frustrated a while longer. And then, I finally ask the thing that has been bothering me, one of the reasons I haven’t slept. “What if I did something awful? What did I do? What did I do?”
“I did wonder…if maybe something happened that you felt was your fault, that you were holding the blame for. We already know how hard it is for you to feel responsible, or to feel like an equal party…..but also how difficult it is to see that you hold no blame, and to accept a loss,of control….it’s something we have been dealing with. You weren’t an equal party, and you hold no blame. No matter what happened.” Bea says softly.
“I can’t…I can’t do this. I can’t. No. It’s too much. I just want it all to stop. To go away. To disappear. To stop. Just stop. ” I say. I’m near tears again. This is just too much.
“I know. It’s so much. Maybe, your brain is telling you that you need a break, that you can’t take anymore right now.” Bea suggests.
Sitting silently, my face still hidden, I bite my lip, dig my nails into my palms. “My envelope…do you still have it?” It takes a lot for me to ask about the ugly thing I wrote.
“Yes, I still have it. Do you want it back?” Bea asks, and there is nothing in her voice that tells me what she is thinking.
“No! No, no. I don’t want it.” I rush the words out, stumbling over each other in their haste. I don’t want that awful thing back. “Not right now. No. I just…it’s…that’s the thing.” My fault. Blame. I can’t say it out loud, but I think Bea knows what connection I’m making. “I can’t deal with it. I just can’t. It’s too much, too bad.” And I hate that Bea knows, that the ugliness in that envelope is in her head because of me, because I’m too weak to handle it on my own, because I’m selfish.
“I know it feels that way. I don’t see you as bad. You aren’t bad. But I know it feels overwhelming,” Bea doesn’t let much time pass before she speaks this time. “This could be your reason why you can’t remember. But no matter what might have happened that summer, you have no fault. You were a child, he was an adult. There is a definite power imbalance. Even if you saw him now and got involved…..I’d still say it was abuse, even if you felt it was willingly. He victimized you, brainwashed you, trained you to respond to him. That’s abuse.”
She makes it sound so bad, so awful. Like I had no control in regards to him, like a part of me still might not have much control. “You make it sound so bad.”
“It really was that bad.” She states back to me.
We sit in silence, but not scary silence. It’s a quiet that feels like Bea is there, like I’m not alone, like it’s okay. Maybe this is what they mean by holding and containment in therapy. I’m not sure. I feel more like a child version of me right now than grown up me, and I hate that, too.
Bea says something about starting to get grounded, to come back and be able to go face the day, and asks me something about my list with post its.
It helps bring me more into grown up mode; lists and any OCD activity is the more ‘grown up me’, and it helps me feel more grounded in a way. Well, grounded away from the ugly stuff, because my head is busy with organizing, but floaty and gone from real life. If that makes any kind of sense. “It’s a lot. You can look at it, though.” I get my art notebook out. I’ve only titled each page something off the list we made last week, and then put post its with feelings, thoughts, random stuff, onto the page. They are color coded, of course. I left space to draw or paint, but I haven’t done a thing. I go to hand her the notebook, and then use it to cover my face, hitting myself on the head with it. I sit there slightly dissociated for whatever reason, for a moment, and then hand it to her.
Bea flips through the notebook. “I like this, this is excellent. There is so much here.”
I shake my head. “I was supposed to be able to give this to you today. That was my plan. The stupid pictures ruined it.” I’m so mad about this. Yet another thing, ruined. I can’t even look at pictures without being triggered.
“This, here…the anger being numb and gone or all there out of control. We need to work to find a middle ground.” She says this kindly, understanding, and there truly is no judgement in her voice, but I feel like I’ve done something very, very bad by admitting to being angry like that. I’m afraid something bad is going to happen, and so I find myself holding my breath.
Bea flips through the notebook, pausing and reading. When she gets to the end, where I’ve got post its stating my world view, (what she would call my out dated world view, one that is no longer helpful) she sighs. “And this…it’s all negative. I think that….I just have this feeling that as we are working to empower Kat, we need to empower you, too. I’m just not sure how at this moment, but that’s what I feel needs to happen. You deserve to hold onto the happy moments. The good stuff. It wasn’t all bad, even though it’s the ugly stuff that is overshadowing everything right now.”
I shrug. I’m selfish and entitled and mean. I definitely don’t deserve to be “empowered.” Someone should probably take me down a peg or two. Then maybe I’d stop with the meanness towards Hubby, stop failing in my wife duties; too lazy to do laundry and clean and cook….it’s like I act as though I’m above it all. And then Kat, well, she deserves so much better, seriously, way better. But she’s stuck with crazy mommy, who yells and panics and cries and is a freak show. Ugh. No, no, Bea, I don’t need to be empowered. I need to be knocked down a bit. That’s what I want to say, what I want to explain. But she is so tired of my negativity, of my sadness. I’m afraid she is going to quit me if I don’t get happy and positive really quick.
“I could really spend another hour right now with you on this notebook,” Bea says. “But I said 9:30am, and I need to stick to that. I’m going to put my chair away, so I don’t sit here and start diving into this. I need to set and stick to boundaries, or how will you ever be able to set and stick to boundaries in your life? I’m supposed to be modeling that for you. I’m a bad therapist with time boundaries.” She slides her chair back over to the side of the desk on the far wall, by the door.
I giggle at her. “You aren’t a bad therapist.” The words are automatic, but I mean them. Good grief, I’ve been seeing her over 6 months. That’s the longest I’ve ever stayed with a shrink. And I haven’t run away, or skipped appointments, or anything else. I’ve felt like if, but for whatever reason, I’ve managed to tell her and work through it. She’s an amazing therapist.
As I’m pulling on my boots, Bea says something, but I only catch the end of it. I’m back inside my walls, facade firmly in place, and so I’m not paying as much attention to things as I should be. But inside my shell, I can hide and be safe and let everyone see the perfect me.
“I just don’t want you to feel like you missed out on enjoying Kat while she was young, or that you aren’t living your life,” Bea is finishing saying.
I smile at her. “I’m fine. I have a lot of fun with Kat, I’m not missing anything.”
“Okay….life is too precious to be missing out on because of what he did to you.” Bea sounds and looks a bit uncertain, like she’s not sure she believes my party line of “I’m fine.”
I shrug, say good-bye. Bea wishes me a good day, and I wish her the same. I head to my car. When I pay the parking attendant, I smile and chat, laugh with her and wish her a great day. I can fake my way through happy, I can pretend to be perfect. But I wonder; what is it like to be truly carefree and happy? I wonder what I’m missing, what normal people feel like. Are there circle thoughts running wildly through their heads? Do they feel like a huge fraud? Do they feel mostly alone? Do they want to disappear?
I sigh, and let lthe tears fall again as I pull out of the parking lot, and head back to my life; the one Bea keeps reminding me is too precious to miss out on.