Please be careful reading this. It might contain triggers, as I talk about the sexual abuse.
My head is foggy even walking into Bea’s office this morning. I think I’m getting a sinus infection, to top it all off. I had stopped at my favorite coffee shop and ordered a red eye with vanilla syrup, hoping it would break through the sleep deprived fog I was experiencing. No luck.
“Hi..” I’m tentative, unsure of what she will be like this morning after my freakout over email about my daughter. I still harbor a fear that she will turn shrinky on me.
“Hi. I’m just catching up, organizing myself for the week.” She smiles and gestures at the datebook in her lap.
“It can be hard to come back from a trip. I always feel like there is so much to do.” I set my bag on the couch, and curl up. “How was your trip?”
Bea tells me a little about things she saw, how the weather was, small details like that. And then she looks at me and says, “It seems like there was a lot going on here this week.”
I cry about the situation with Kat, freak out, dissociate, worry. Bea listens and reassures me that I’ve done everything I can do. I shrug, stare at the floor. “I don’t want to do the wrong thing. What if my mom was unsure and wondering and then decided it was impossible and made the wrong choice?” I cry. I’m on unsteady ground. Horses or zebras? I just don’t know.
“I’m going to do my best to be your reality check. That’s why I wrote to you that any parent would be upset and confused and struggle with this. Your reaction is so normal. And the thing that I see as a big difference between you and Kat, is that you have given Kat opportunities to talk. You weren’t listened to or given opportunities to talk. As far as hubby acting like you are crazy, I think you are just making sure the horses aren’t really zebras. You are being vigilant and careful, and that’s all you can continue to do.”
I nod. “Okay. Right. Okay.” I focus on my yoga breathing, and we talk about it all for a bit more time.
“You said in your email that your were having physical memories from this. It’s easy to see why the past and present are getting tangled and confusing.” Bea broaches the subject of my physical memories gently.
“I can’t…” I shake my head. I can’t talk about this. We do talk about bladder infections and being sore as a child, the horror of it all.
After I’m silent for a few minutes, Bea asks if there was anything else that came up this week. I just stare at the floor, hug my knees tighter.
“I mean, this was enough, more than enough. It just seems….well, I wanted to check in that there wasn’t anything else.” Bea says softly.
Burying my face, I shake my head. “I can’t….” There’s too much. I don’t know where to start. Everything is a mess, hitting me and overwhelming me.
Bea waits, calm and just there with me.
“I can’t say it.” I tell her. In my head, I add that I thought I could, I wanted to, but I can’t.
“Do you want to say it?”
I nod. Yes. I want to.
“Can I do anything to help you say it?” Bea asks.
I shake my head. “I wrote it down. I wanted to talk about it.”
“Do you want me to read it?”
I think about it. I wanted to be brave and say it, and where it’s written is in an unedited and messy collection of thoughts from therapy sessions, or things I want to eventually talk about. Finally, I nod. “Yeah.”
“Okay.” Bea agrees.
“Maybe then it will be easier to talk about.” I shrug. I hope.
“Maybe.” Bea speaks quietly.
It takes me a minute to move, to grab my iPad out of my bag and pull up pages. I scroll through the list of random thoughts, of things that I had been thinking since she popped the bubble. I hand it to her.
She reads it, and I scrunch into myself. I’m scared that she is reading my unedited thoughts, but a part of me is relieved. I can’t do this alone. I need her, and I hate that I need her, and I’m terrified that I need her, but there it is, anyway.
“Should I keep reading?” She asks. She has gotten to the separation break I put between thoughts.
I shrug. “It’s not related…..you can. It doesn’t matter. It’s just all random thoughts. I don’t know. You can read it all, that’s okay.” I feel half gone, dizzy. But it is okay if she reads it. I can’t keep hiding from her, and I can’t keep pretending. I might as well let her have my unedited thoughts. I cant say them, but having her read them is the most honest I can be.
Bea reads. She pauses and speaks to me while she reads. “It’s been a really hard few weeks. So much is coming up, and happening. And you have done some serious thinking. It seems like the idea of none of this being your fault is starting to work its way in. I’ve heard you say, maybe three times now, that it wasn’t a choice, that you had no control. That’s hard. To really think about that helplessness, and vulnerability, it goes right to the core of the trauma, right to the fear and all the terror that it caused.” She keeps reading, and again pauses to comment. “You had something written about this memory, with his sister. It sounds confusing, and frightening. It makes me wonder what else was going on, how it was…..did you want to talk about this?” She asks gently.
“No, no. I don’t want to talk about that, no. Not now. I can’t, I’m sorry.” I’m shaking my head, and tears falling down my face.
“There’s no sorry. It’s okay,” she says, and it’s real and she means it, she is not upset at my refusal to talk about this.
I hide my face, I’m so full of shame. It’s all just too much.
Bea continues reading. “This…the dance and the jealousy. That’s so normal. It’s normal, and should have been healthy. It should have been safe. Little girls have crushes. It happens. And it’s normal. There are no repercussions, no hurting. You were hurt, but that’s not how it was supposed to be.” Bea says firmly.
I shake my head. I don’t know. I can’t think about it. I liked him. I can’t believe I’m allowing her to read about it. That I’m not running out the door.
“This is really deep work. I think a lot of these feelings are at the core of it all. Did you think when we started down this path that you would be digging this deep? Finding these feelings?”
I shake my head. “No. I had no idea. I never imagined I would be able to talk like this.” Which, granted, isn’t talking like some people can do, but for me, this is so much. It’s not what I thought I would be doing in therapy. I didn’t know I had all these feelings so buried in my soul.
“This…..everything you have written is about how you felt towards him. How did he feel towards you? Did he ever say anything, or make promises to you?” Bea asks the question slowly.
I sit for a long time. I think she keeps reading, talking intermittently to respond to what I have written. I’m not hearing her. I’m mostly back there. “He said…..I was special.” The words are strained and quiet.
Bea instantly is listening to me, even with my face hidden, I can feel her listening and paying attention. “Yes, he would have…..” I’m not sure what else she says. I’m floaty, her words are hazy.
“He said he understood me. That he would take care of me.” The words come out stilted and jumbled. Somehow, Bea still knows what I’m saying.
“Was this when your mom was sick? Near that time, or before or after?” She asks.
I don’t know. It’s just what I know, that he always understood me, that he was supposed to be there and make things okay. After a while, I blurt out, “He said he loved me…when…you know.” My voice trails off at the end.
“When did he say it?” Bea asks.
“When….we were….he was….you know. He said he loved me.”
Bea pauses for a minute. “R word?”
I nod. Yeah.
“I almost said when he had sex with you, which I think is how you were going to say it. But I didn’t. That wasn’t sex. That was the r word.” She tells me.
I can’t respond. I’m out of words.
“I’m guessing this memory…..when you were 12, at the cabin….is it another thing you blame yourself for? Another thing you see as your fault?” She asks softly.
I nod. “Yeah…kind of…yeah.” It’s not exactly that. It’s so messy. I can’t think. I don’t want to admit to it, think about it.
“Do you want to talk about this?” Bea asks me.
“No…that’s all I wanted to say. I’m confused. I don’t know. I can’t….can’t now.”
“That’s okay. That’s okay,” she soothes.
She’s back to reading, and I’m sitting, crying off and on. But it’s okay. I’m not alone. It isn’t so bad to let these feelings out.
“The shrink thing. Oh, I’m sorry for that, for making you feel like that,” Bea tells me.
“You haven’t gone shrinky on me long time. But I finally figured it out, and I just…well, I wrote about it. I don’t know.” I shrug, I don’t want to talk about this.
“Perhaps it is a defense for me– to be shrinky. It’s something I will be mindful of.” She says thoughtfully. Bea means this, too.
I can’t believe it. She’s saying I may not be wrong in my feelings about the shrinky things. I’m relieved, and shocked. It’s okay. Nothing bad happened, even though I have been super honest this session. She’s still here. “It’s okay,” I say to her. Because it is. “You haven’t been shrinky since the time I told you not to be.” Well, there have been the few times she has been, but she has prefaced it with a statement of ‘at the risk of being shrinky…’ so in my mind, that doesn’t count. She was aware of it.
“How are you feeling about Easter and going to your Mom’s?” Bea asks me.
I shake my head. I can’t think about that. “I don’t…I mean…I have been ignoring my mom this week. There’s so much..” I can’t say it, can barely feel it, but there is a huge anger at my mom for not being there, and for what the 12 year old memory contains.
“It’s okay to be mad at her,” Bea reminds me.
“No. For you, anger is okay. For me, it is not. It’s mean and scary.” I say.
“I know. It still would be normal to be mad at her. So many abuse survivors I have worked with are more upset and angry with the parents who didn’t protect them, than the person who abused them. It’s normal under the circumstances to be upset. So much of this with Kat is hitting so close to home.”
I shift, turning my head, but still hiding my face. I wipe my eyes. “How did she not know? Did she give up? Where was she?” I feel like I’m yelling the words at Bea, anger sitting under them, not contained, not safe.
“I know. How can you not wonder that? We don’t know. We can suspect she has her own trauma history, that she wasn’t strong enough to face facts, that she may have known subconsciously but blocked it from her reality, because it was too much to handle.”
I cry. I want to yell and swear and stomp my feet. But I don’t. However, the desire to do so is new, and so I figure in some ways, this is improvement.
“I find myself wishing your mom were sitting on the couch next to you, witnessing all the pain and hurt and fear and anger you have right now. That she would have hurt and horror on her face, shock. Because you have told me, and I know, in a lot of ways she was a good mom. And a good mom would be horrified at what she missed, and want to comfort her child.” Bea says.
I think she talks more. I don’t know. All I can think is that my mom wouldn’t be able to handle this. My hurt, my anger, she would fall apart under the weight of it all. The picture Bea paints would never happen. My mom doesn’t do ‘bad’ emotions. No. It wouldn’t happen. I shake my head at her.
“I want to give you plenty of time to come out of this, to go on with your day not so stuck in the past,” Bea tells me, and now I know she is aware of how gone I am. But I still have one foot here, and that is different than it used to be, too. I’m making progress in small ways.
“I have to go shopping for Easter.”
“Kat hasn’t shot the Easter Bunny yet, has she?” Bea asks me, laughing. She is referring to Kat’s plan to hunt the Easter Bunny, shoot him and take all the eggs for herself. (I so wish there was a sarcasm font for this next sentence.)Yeah;That’s my kid.
“No…he’s still safe, as far as I know.” I smile, despite myself.
Bea talks about present day things, and encourages me to take a vacation, even just an overnight, to get a break from it all. I think she thinks I’m depressed. I’m not. It’s not depression. It’s something…but it’s more just too much, too many triggers, too much coming up, too much everything. It’s not depression, not when I can still go out in the world and smile, and hide the hurt I have inside. I’m okay, as long as I can function, and stick to the routine I have created for Kat and I. And I’m still able to do that, mostly. This week, last week, have been bad, but I slowly getting it together, again.
As we are talking, I really want to ask her a question, but it’s more past related and I’m afraid because she has said it was time to come back and I don’t want Bea to be mad at me. I start to talk, but cut myself off.
“What is it?” She asks me.
“Nothing. It’s more..past. I don’t know if it’s okay to say it.” I tell her, and I’m again shocked at my honesty.
“Go ahead. I want to know, if you want to tell me,” she says sincerely.
“Okay.” It takes a minute to gather enough courage to speak. “Even if it wasn’t my fault when I was younger, even if I didn’t have a choice then, I had a choice when I was older, when I was with the college boyfriend, I stayed. I chose that.” I think I haven’t shared some of the things he did, that I excused and stayed with him even after those horrible things. I think that my fear of anger comes from my family never expressing it, and so as an adult I have no idea what to do with it, and it comes from the boyfriend, because he had no problem expressing anger; he was mean and scary when he did. So, my main experience with someone expressing anger is mean and scary.
“Ahhhh,” Bea says, and I can picture her nodding, and her face looking serious but kind as she takes in my words and thinks. “Well, yes, you had a choice, but not really, not exactly. By that time, I think you felt you deserved to be treated badly; you had taken in the idea that you were bad and dirty and believed it so deeply. And, with the other…even when you were older, there was a power imbalance, because of the relationship you had with him when you were little. It twisted things, changed things. A power imbalance like that doesn’t really go away. Even if you got involved with him now for some reason, I would feel it was not really a choice you were making because of that imbalance.” Bea goes on to talk about how in the therapy relationship, there is an imbalance, and how there is a law where we live that a therapist can not date a client for two years after the therapy is terminated, but many people feel that power imbalance remains forever, because in the beginning of the relationship, the therapist is viewed as someone with answers, with the ability to help, and as it progresses, a therapist is viewed as someone to contain all the hurt and other big feelings, it’s a definite power imbalance, with the therapist holding more of the power. I eventually block her out, because even though I know it’s not her intent, I hate thinking about the idea that she has all the power in this relationship and can leave, or change things at her will, and I can do nothing to stop her.
“I need to think about all this. It’s too much right now to figure out.” I say.
“It is, it’s a lot. Think about it, write about it, work with it,” Bea suggests.
I think Bea senses that she is losing me, because she asks me something, and we talk for a few minutes. She reminds me that she views working with someone and hearing their feelings, and their stories and helping them heal as a privilege, as an honor, and she is always mindful of that.
“I am trying to find one thing I’m grateful for everyday. And today, I’m grateful to be here with you today, this morning, to have this time with you, and share this work with you in our space,” she tells me.
“Wait….what? Why?” I ask shocked.
Bea doesn’t answer right away. She takes my question seriously. “Because, this is important work. You’ve been able to go deep and the willingness you have to face these things and go there is inspiring; you have so much courage. Because being able to be here for you is an honor. That’s why.”
My face feels hot. I’m embarrassed. I don’t like it when people say nice things to me. And she is really sincere; she means it. Which only makes it harder for me to accept. “Oh.” Is all I can mange to say.
It’s a struggle to leave, to pick up my head and face Bea after being so honest and vulnerable. When I finally do pick up my head, grab tissues, wipe my face, and take my iPad back, I still can’t look at her. I stare at the floor. I finally raise my head and look Bea in the face. It’s okay. She smiles at me, and it’s just Bea, not someone who thinks I am disgusting or bad. We say our goodbyes, and I tell her I’m going to use the restroom before I leave, and as I’m gathering my things, I can hear her heating water for tea, and checking her phone for emails. It’s reassuring, to hear the normal everyday sounds of life. It makes me think that even though I’m out of control, things will be okay.
All day, I keep thinking about her words. She believes in me. And even after reading my raw and honest thoughts, she said it was important work I was doing and that she was grateful to be working with me. I don’t understand it, but what she said is huge. Something has changed. I think I’m starting to trust her, really trust her, like I’ve never trusted anyone in my life.