“So? I’m anxious to know, what happened with Jaime?” Bea asks me. We’ve had a few minutes of chit chat about the time change, and about Kat, and the weather, and now she’s done with that.
“Well…Carly is taking the case back over in two weeks when the insurance reauthorization happens. So Jaime will still be supervising, with Carly supervising him and Leslie assisting him for the next two weeks. And when Carly takes it back over, Leslie will be assisting her, because Carly really isn’t supposed to be taking cases, so that’s the only way she can do it.” I feel like I’ve done something wrong. I hate that I’m the person who complained, who whined, who made waves. I feel like I’m mean. I don’t like this feeling.
“And you’re happy with this?” Bea has a a questioning look on her face. I’ve just described the best case scenario we could hope for, but I don’t sound happy about it.
“Well….I am. I just feel…I don’t know.” I shrug. How do I even start to explain this? It’s messy. And silly. I’m being ridiculous.
“Have you spoken with Jaime?”
“No. Oh no. Why would I? I mean, Carly talked to him.”
“For closure, maybe.” She says this so simply, like it’s just easy and normal. Common place.
“I just…well, I feel mean,” I say.
“You feel mean?” She repeats it back to me, wanting clarification that I don’t really know how to give. I stay silent, unsure and feeling unsettled by this whole conversation. “This whole situation has to bring up a lot of feelings, and some of them are yucky feelings.”
“Maybe it’s because I think how I would feel, and I assume that’s how Jaime is feeling. So I feel mean. I don’t want to be mean. I don’t like it.” I shrug. I don’t really know why, or how to to explain this feeling I have. It’s just mean. I feel like a mean, bad person.
“You weren’t mean. It wasn’t mean to ask for what you feel is best for your child. It wasn’t mean to have a voice. This is such a hard thing, really, for women in general I think, to have a voice, to say no, to handle conflict. We’re taught not to.”
I’m curled in my usual position, and I wiggle me toes around on the edge of the couch. I’m anxious and trying so hard not to pick at my fingers. “I don’t like conflict, that’s true. I don’t like making people feel bad.”
“In life, there is conflict. But Jaime is responsible for his own feelings. You aren’t responsible for his feelings.” Bea picks up her tea off the little blue plastic bin holding wooden blocks that she’s moved next to her chair.
We talk around this issue, and somehow get into the fact I dealt with conflict all the time at my job. I tell her how my co-director and I used what we called the poop sandwich to deal with conflict. Basically, when you need to tell someone something they need to work on, you give them something they are doing good at, then the opportunity for growth, and then another thing they are successful at. It works really well. “That wasn’t personal. It was easy, because it wasn’t personal.”
“Either was this. This wasn’t about Jaime’s person. You’ve said you like him, that he’s a nice guy. It’s about the fact he wasn’t a good fit for your family.” Bea shifts in her seat, and looks at me. “A lot of times, if it’s not a good fit for the client, it’s not a good fit for the practitioner, either. I had a mom interview me last week. She was looking for a therapist for her teenage daughter. I just had a feeling it wasn’t a good fit, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take that case, and she called a few days ago. She left a message, thanking me for my time and said she wasn’t sure this was the right fit for her daughter, but she appreciated my meeting with her. And sure, for a minute, I had that ‘I’m not good enough for them’ feeling, but then reality set in. I realized I didn’t want that case, and I had been feeling like it wasn’t a good fit.”
I sigh. “For all I know, he could be thankful to be rid of the crazy mom and crazy kid.”
Bea laughs. “You aren’t crazy. But yes, you don’t know what he is feeling. But what you are feeling, that’s what matters.”
We talk some more around this. Conflict, boundaries, saying no, feeling guilty, having needs. Kat enters into the discussion; I’m working harder to set boundaries with her and it’s really difficult for me. Once again, I feel mean when I do it. Through the whole talk, though, I realize something:
I’m afraid to say no, set boundaries, cause conflict, because I’m afraid of making other people feel badly about themselves. I feel I don’t have the right to make other people feel bad, to have needs that might cause conflict or upsets; I am supposed to make them feel better. I also assume other people think I don’t have the right to complain or have needs, and that they will think badly of me for doing so. It’s why I rarely speak up, and when I do, I’m usually angry that I’m speaking up because I know I’m going to feel guilty for doing so. I’m also usually upset or angry about the situation I am speaking up about, or at least it has to be something I feel really strongly about.
I don’t have the words to explain this to Bea at the time of my session, it’s just more of a feeling; something I know, but can’t explain yet. But I realize I understand why I’m afraid to speak up.
“I’d say you already have a great tactic for dealing with conflict, even in your personal life. The poop sandwich is a fantastic thing. Really.” I think I’ve impressed Bea. I smile a little at that. “I think that dealing with conflict is something we all, as women especially, struggle with. It’s why I keep stuttering through this, because I struggle with it at times. We’ve spent the last few sessions dealing with this more surfacey present day stuff—”
I cut her off, terrified she is going to tell me I don’t need to be in the therapy twice a week if I’m using my appointments to talk about little present day conflicts. She has no idea how screwed up my head is. I have to speak up. “I know, I’m sorry. It’s silly to have been wasting time–”
Bea cuts me off. “It’s not a waste of time. I think it’s very important. Because, you don’t like to deal with conflict. So you bury it all, and then you blow up. And you have been blowing up lately.” The words are neutral, or maybe even understanding, but I’m so embarrassed by my bad behavior that I hide my face.
With my hands covering my face, I shake my head. “That was an accident. Things like that don’t usually happen. I’m usually much better at keeping it inside.”
“You’ve had a tough month. A tough few months. A tough year.”
I keep my face hidden. She’s right. In so many ways, this has been one of the hardest years, and then again, it has been one of the very best years. I’m not lying about who I am anymore. Well, I’m not lying as much anymore. I can be myself, whoever that is, and I never could do that before. I have someone to really talk to, and work through things with; even though it sucks, it’s better than having all the crap buried down deep and affecting me without my realizing it.
“You deserve to take a break from the hard stuff. No one can stay immersed in that forever, all the time. It’s too hard. And if there are no memories bubbling up, no triggers hitting you, no nightmares plaguing you, then this is a calm time. Strange as it may sound, it’s the calm times when you want to practice conflict resolution. Even if it’s something small, if you can practice those things when they aren’t a big deal, and you are calm, it will be easier when you aren’t feeling so calm.”
I nod my head, and then bury my face more. “Two things. One, I get what you are saying but it’s hard.”
“It is hard,” Bea says.
“And….there’s no….nothing bubbling up because I can’t remember. So I haven’t brought it up, because I don’t know what to say, and I’m afraid, and I’m kind of avoiding it,” The words come out; a stampede of them, loud and on the verge of tears.
“Ahhhh. Have you been thinking about that a lot?” She’s quiet when she asks me this, and her whole tone seems to have changed from the conflict discussion. There’s still strength in her words, but it’s more underneath, covered by a softness.
I shake my head. “I don’t know.” Yes. All the time. I dwell on it in quiet moments, trying to figure out what I’m missing, what the hell I did. “Sometimes.”
“Are there feelings about it?”
“I just….I wonder what I did that was so awful. What did I do that was so bad I can’t remember?” Now there are tears, and I push them back. I won’t cry, I won’t break. It’s not going to happen. Not now.
“I know it feels that way.” I think she maybe says more, but I don’t hear it.
“I feel like a crazy person. It feels like this isn’t even my life,” I tell her. How can it be? I’m missing parts of it. What else am I missing? I always knew I was missing things, but now I have proof.
“It can be so invalidating to not remember things. Your mind is doing its job, protecting you. These kinds of memories are state dependent……This is the summer….did you always know something happened?”
“No….well……I just always felt like something happened, but I have no memory of anything happening. It’s just a feeling. It always has been just a feeling.” I shake my head.
“If you have a feeling something happened, it probably did. Your mind probably knows something, your subconscious remembers enough that you can feel something happened. I believe you that something happened that summer,” Bea says.
I’m astounded. She believes me. She BELIEVES me. I don’t even believe me. “How can you just believe me? Just like that?”
“You’re mind knows. You haven’t been wrong about things yet when you have had a feeling and we have explored it. It’s been my experience, that when trauma victims have a feeling about something, it’s true. It happened. I believe you,” she says it again. Three simple little words, but they mean the world to me.
“I need to remember. I was even thinking about pulling those pictures down the other day.” I didn’t, I chickened out. But I thought about it.
“I think that speaks to how strong you are feeling right now. How much calmer things really are,” Bea says.
I want to correct her, tell her that yes, they are calmer, but it’s because I’m trying so hard to be perfect wife for hubby, that I am back to almost completely numbed out and locked up in that room in my head. I don’t though, because when I get like this, a few things happen:
1) I get protective of being miss perfect, and I won’t let anyone break through the walls and ruin my facade
2) I need people to figure it out on their own, and break the walls down with a sledge hammer. If I have to tell them that I’m falling apart inside, and just showing the world “Miss Perfect”, then it doesn’t mean anything. In fact, it means they didn’t care enough to figure it out on their own.
3) My ED behaviors tend to come back full swing when I get like this, which means I don’t think as clearly as I should be thinking.
4) I isolate myself from everyone when I feel like this. Keeping up this facade is tiring. I quit texting, emailing, talking on the phone. I think about my friends, but it’s rare that I’ll reach out to them, even though I do still care.
So….yeah. I really need Bea to see I’m not okay on her own and ask me; just ask me if I am okay. Then, I’d feel like she had seen past fake me. I need people to care enough to be able to see past the fake me, to realize when I’m faking it. If she asked the question, are you really okay?, it’s like I would have permission to say no, I’m not okay. Right now though, the only thing my brain will give me permission for in real life is to be okay, always okay.
“I was thinking they might trigger memories…if I wasn’t looking at them with my mom,” I say.
“Yes, they very well could. Do you have any memories of that trip?” Bea asks.
“Yeah, I have some memories. All of the first week. Just….yeah.” I mumble into my scarf when I talk.
“As we’ve talked about before, memories are stare dependent. We need to wrap up here in a few minutes, but next week, we could start with the memories that you do have. You’d have time to sink into that state, and we could see what else may come up then. If you feel up to it, and want to try that.” Bea suggests.
My whole body feels ice cold for a second. In truth, as much as I have obsessed over not remembering, and focused on that piece of it, and told myself I need to remember, I haven’ t thought about the things I do remember. I’ve almost purposely pushed those memories away. I don’t want to think about it. Even the mundane, regular memories I have of that trip frighten me, give me a sick feeling. It’s bad. The whole trip has always felt bad to me. Something not good happened.
“Okay.” I nod. I want to try this, thinking about those memories here, where I am safe, with Bea.
It’s the best place to do this.
“I just…well, I just want to say if you go online and look up repressed or dissociated memories…there’s a lot there.” Bea pauses for a moment, takes a breath. “There are some people, who have worked very hard to discredit this…they call it false memory syndrome, and they say that these forgotten memories aren’t real. Reading that stuff will make you feel crazy. Please stay away from it.”
“Okay,” I look out from behind my hands. I’m a 31 year old woman playing peek a boo. Fantastic. “I read about it in one of the books you gave me.”
“Oh, courage to heal. I think those people who claim the memories are made up, that repressed memories are not real must be abusers,” Bea says. She looks sad and maybe a little angry; the good kind of angry, like it’s not okay to say that dissociated and repressed memories are false. “As a trauma therapist, and as someone who has experienced trauma,” she gestures to me as she says that, “there are things that many people would find odd or may think can’t be real, but we know they are very real. Like the child part of you. That’s very real, but you can’t really discuss that with society. But, in an odd way, that’s the one positive you got out of this. That child part of you is the part that knows how to play with Kat, and can really see how she is feeling, and can really be on her level.”
I nod my head.
“I had a supervisor once, who told me that the age you, as a therapist view your trauma client as, or the age the client feels, is likely the age she was when the abuse took place.” Bea pauses, almost like she is letting that sink in for me.
I want to ask her what age she sees me as, but I’m afraid to do so. I realize any age she gives me will upset me. I think about the fact that I am always saying I feel like a 5 year old for doing this, or that I feel like a bratty teenager. Sometimes, in my head, I feel 13. I think it’s why I connect to a lot of television shows and movies that are geared toward a teen audience. I like young adult fiction when I read. And I forget I’m not the same age as my 9 year old niece when I’m playing with her, or my 19 year old nanny when I’m talking to her. All were ages of my abuse. I was 5 when it started with Kenny, and just 18 when it started with Boyfriend.
Bea looks at me, and seems to understand that I am trying to wrap my head around this idea of things like child parts that never integrated and repressed memories and dissociated states. “It’s a weird thing to think about, isn’t it?” She smiles at me.
“Yeah. It’s weird. But okay.” I smile back.
We sit in silence for a minute. “It’s hard to have these things that you can’t talk about, or be open about in public. It can make it hard to feel real, or to feel like that part of you is real. But that’s the part of you that can play on Kat’s level, and see what will be fun for her in homeschool and how to help her learn. It’s the part of you that has allowed you to be more open minded about learning and what teaching is, and how kids learn. It’s the part of you that fights so hard for Kat, because that’s the part of you that really gets her.”
I think about this. “It’s a strange positive, then. In a yucky way. But that, this, is a good thing.” Although, because I’ve always prided myself on being grown up, it’s hard to admit I have these child parts. But, it’s a relief too, in so many ways, to acknowledge them.
“From a yucky, awful situation, that never should have happened, is a positive that allows you to understand your daughter.” Bea takes a drink of tea, and smiles.
I don’t say it, but I think to myself that maybe Bea is right; Kat and I always say that we take care of each other, that we are best friends and that she is stuck with me, and I am stuck with her for life. We say that we are learning together. We’ve learned about emotions and feelings together. We’ve learned about autism together. We’re learning about anxiety and yoga and mindfulness together. We’re learning about impulse control together. We are learning to accept negative situations, and to sit with yucky feelings.
Maybe Kat was born to the right mom, and she and I are just growing up together.