Coping with hell

I’m in Bea’s office, curled on her couch, holding my chai tea in my hand. I feel like I can finally breathe, like I can relax, like I can just be. I can stop trying to pretend I’m okay, I can stop feeling guilty that I can’t seem to pretend anymore. We’ve talked about Kat, and how she played on Friday in therapy. It concerns me, but Bea seems to feel it was good, although she can see why it would feel disturbing to me. I try to hold on to the idea that the play means Kat is working through her stuff.

“So how was it, being back at your parents?” Bea asks, switching subjects from Kat to me.

I stare at the floor, play with the rubber band around my travel thermos. I don’t want to answer. I want her to know, but I don’t want to have to tell it all. It’s too much.

“You were sick, did that get better? There was a lot you were dealing with already before the weekend.” Bea looks at me. She’s referring to a situation with Kat, that had sent me into a panic, emailing Bea and begging her to help and make it okay, to give me a reality check. I had known, that being sick, and all the flashback crap I was dealing with, I wasn’t objective. Bea had emailed back quickly and reassured me, as well as pointed out several things that gave me a reality check.

“It got better. I was okay. We left for my parents Saturday.” I tell her this, and my voice feels a little robotic.

“Did your mom have stuff planned?” Bea asks.

I nod. I look up at her. “It wasn’t a good weekend.” My voice cracks, and tears threaten to fall.

After a minute, when I don’t continue speaking, Bea says,”You know, I think Easter is a hard holiday, maybe the hardest. It’s all about purity, and renewal, about joy and innocence. Even on the surface, the symbols of Easter, bunnies and baby chicks are about new life and sweetness. That can be hard to be around, hard to feel, when so many ugly truths are sitting inside your head. It can feel like you are completely at odds with everything the holiday stands for.” Her voice is kind, and understanding. Everything she is saying makes sense.

I start crying, cover my face. I don’t want to do this today.

“Did you go to church?” Bea asks.

I shake my head. “No…I…no.” I lose track of the conversation, but somehow I’m telling her how hubby came to church one year, probably the first year we dated. “We always go to sunrise service. It’s really beautiful,” I tell her. “Hubby was surprised…..he was raised baptist (at this point, I will apologize to anyone who identifies as baptist. I realize not all baptists are like this, but this is how hubby was raised.) so he was surprised how my church was.” I ask Bea if she knows much about the baptist religion, and she shakes her head. “It’s hellfire and brimstone, it seems like you believe because you are afraid not to. There’s no dancing, no singing. It’s very strict. His parents didn’t follow that….but, it’s the church they went to, so the God hubby came to know was scary.”

Bea doesn’t tell me what she believes, or even if she goes to church, but when I get worried she could be baptist, and I could have offended her, she assures me she is not. “My husband did go to a baptist church, and then he became Lutheran, so I have a little familiarity.”

“Okay. My dad was Lutheran, my mom was Methodist. I was raised non-denominational. It’s about the most lax you can get. We sing, we wear jeans….well, my generation wears jeans…it’s about God loving us, forgiving us, not about being afraid. So Hubby was surprised. He doesn’t do church now, though. But I couldn’t…I just couldn’t do sunrise service. My mom went. I stayed home, I said I was feeling sick.”

I lose track of the conversation again. Bea is talking about church, Jesus, God. I don’t want to have this talk. While I had been explaining hubby’s experience and mine with church growing up, I had lifted my face to look at her. Now, I hug my knees to my chest, bury my face.

“Do you know who Jesus hung out with?” Bea asks me.

I sigh. “I don’t want to have this conversation.”

“Okay. Can I say something about Jesus the man, the person? No theoretical religious speak from me, I’m not a religion scholar.”

“Okay.” I’m too tired to argue. And part of me really does want to have this conversation.

“Jesus hung out with the poor people, the sick, the prostitutes. He hung out with the people looked down on by society. He didn’t hang out with the high and mighty. My mom….she was an immigrant, she was poor when she moved here. Eventually, she moved to a more affluent area, that was heavily Christian and a lot of the neighbors had been talking about the gays, and the poor, and the riff raff, and saying terrible things. She finally got mad– and my mom doesn’t get mad, so this was a big deal– and she said, ‘who do you think Jesus would be hanging out with if he were here? The very people you are putting down!’ And she was right. There’s a new book out, Zealot, about the life of Jesus, as a man. The author is Muslim, but his wife and mother are Christian. He writes about Jesus and the good life he led, the people he spent his time with. And he says, even though he doesn’t believe Jesus is the savior, he wants to follow his example, because he led a kind life. That’s who Jesus was. I think your version of God, of forgiveness and love sounds about right,” Bea’s words come out in a rush, and I can hear pride in her voice when she speaks about her mom standing up for her beliefs.

“I’m not talking about this.” But I file the name of that book away in the back of my mind for later. I wonder, did Bea read it? Or has it just been one of those newsworthy books?

“Okay. I do think this is going to be important in your healing. I know it’s caused you a lot of pain. And I know I started talking on and on. I’m sorry,” she apologizes. I’m surprised. I wasn’t even feeling upset or mad, or anything, but her apology, and acknowledgement that I had asked to not discuss it but she got lost on a tangent, soothes me. It makes me feel like I have worth, like I’m allowed to speak up. Like it’s okay.

I lose track again, and then I’m telling her it was a bad weekend. “Saturday…” I shake my head. “Saturday….” I can’t get past that word. My breathing speeds up, my heart is racing. I’m shaking, and my eyes are darting around, even with my head down. I try to shrink into myself, scoot back, be small. I’m afraid. I can’t talk. I need Bea to know, but I can’t talk. How am I going to tell her? Can I text it to her? Is that stupid? I don’t know. I can’t do this. I need to hide. There is a closet in Bea’s office, it’s filled with toys and art supplies. Can I hide in the closet? Probably not. She’ll think I’ve lost it for sure if I try to go hide in her closet.

“Something really bad happened. Something very scary happened on Saturday,” Bea says. She doesn’t sound worried, or upset, or anything. She sounds fine. Her voice grounds me a little. “Did your mom pull out more pictures?”

I want to shake my head, but I can’t seem to.

“Okay. Did his parents come over?” She asks.

No. Not his parents. I can’t think. I just keep replaying those few minutes over and over.

“I wish I could just pull this out of your head, so you didn’t have to say it,” Bea says. She knows how hard talking can be for me. Sometimes, once whatever it is, is out there, I can talk around it, without naming it again. But the actual naming of it is painful.

I’m crying, and shaking, trying to control my breathing. I don’t want to have an anxiety attack.

“Is there anything I can do to help you, to make this easier?” Bea sounds like she might be a little sad or something, I don’t know. Like she really wants to help me and it pains her that I’m struggling so much.

I shake my head, hold my knees tighter. “There’s nothing you can do. I just want it to go away.” The words float out, a whisper, a plea, but they don’t come easily. Every syllable is a fight.

“It’s just really hard. This was really a bad thing,” Bea says. She knows it wasn’t good. I don’t know why, but I know, deep down to my bones that she believes me. It’s okay.

We sit in silence, Bea just being there, believing me and wanting to help, and me, trying to breathe and calm myself.

“Did you write it down?” Bea asks me.

Her question knocks me of kilter for some reason. “Yeah. Yeah I did write it.” I’m surprised. I wrote it down. Why didn’t I think of that?

“Is it here?”

“Yes…well..it’s in my iPad. On my list…it’s unedited. I don’t really turn in things unedited.” Except last week, I gave her the whole list, unedited and messy, and it was okay.

Bea gives a small laugh. “That’s something we have in common then. I don’t have many things I’m OCD about, but editing things is one of them. I won’t judge,” she says, and then almost as an after thought, she adds, “You might not get an A, though,” with a small chuckle to let me know she is joking.

I smile. “I don’t know. I need to have perfect grammar, and get an A.”

Bea laughs for real now. “Alice, you’re funny.”

I smile, laugh under my breath quietly. “I know.” And we both laugh again, as I lift my head and wipe my eyes.

I grab my iPad out, pull up the list and scroll down to where I wrote about Saturday. I sit, staring at it. I don’t move. Bea is quiet. It’s okay to give it to her, I tell myself. It takes some convincing, but I hand it to her, and immediately bury my face. I don’t want to see her face when she reads it. I don’t want to see any emotions play across it that may mirror my own. I don’t want to see nothing, either. No matter what her initial reaction is, I’ll be upset. Why is it that there is no pleasing me? Was my mom right when she said no one would ever make me happy, there was no pleasing me, I put people in impossible positions, I’m so needy, I take and take, I drain people of all they have? I hide because I can’t face Bea right now.

She reads about Saturday.

He brought a cake. Saturday afternoon. I can’t even write about it. He said hi to me. Like it was normal. Hi to hubby. My mom chatted with him, like he is the perfect person he pretends to be. Hubby talked to him. They had a conversation. I stood there. In the kitchen, frozen. There was a knife in front of me, and I thought about grabbing it, cutting. I didn’t. He left, I smiled, waved, said nice to see you, bye, happy Easter. Oh my God. What the hell is wrong with me? I can’t do this. I think he knew. I thought he might tell hubby how disgusting I am. He knows I told the secret. It’s crazy, I know I sound crazy, that there is no way he could know, but I swear he knows and it’s not okay. It’s not okay at all.

While she reads, she makes an mmmhmm sound, and then, “This is terrible. Very terrible. No wonder you feel like this, it is horrific. Your own personal hell, knocking on the door.”

I’m afraid, suddenly, that she is going to make me talk about it. I don’t know why I’m afraid of that. She’s never made me talk about anything. She’s talked and I’ve listened in uncomfortable situations. But she has never made me talk. I’m done hiding and lying and pretending though, so I say, “Please don’t make me talk about this.” My voice is tiny, and scared. But she needs to know what I’m feeling.

“I won’t,” she says seriously.

She continues reading, even though there is nothing more about him being at the house. It’s a list of the weekend, of things I dealt with, things from now and from the past that were in my head. Last time she had read something on my list, she asked if she could read the rest of it. This time, she just reads, and that’s okay. I had almost said to her to read it all anyways.

“This is your voice,” Bea sounds excited, like she has discovered something amazing. “Right here, in your writing, you are finding your voice. This is your voice: ‘I’m so tired of lying. I’m tired of saying I’m okay when I’m not. I’m tired of smiling when I want to cry. I’m tired of not being mad, when I should be mad, and hiding from mad so well, that I can’t even feel it.’ That’s you. That’s real.”

I listen to her reading my words back to me, and realize they are true. I’m tired of it all. I just want….I don’t know what. To be real. To be me and not afraid, to have a life, my life, without hiding.

“This is good, this is you finding you.” Bea sounds almost giddy. I don’t know why, but her happiness makes me feel lighter.

She goes back to reading. Next on the list is the memory of the kiss up north, when I was 12. I’m feeling hazy and light headed when Bea talks to me. I can’t focus on her words, can’t grab onto them. All I have is this overwhelming sense of rejection. He pushed me away. He didn’t want me. Why? What did I do wrong? My mother was horrified by my actions. She didn’t dig deeper. Why? What did I do wrong? They both left me. I can’t escape this feeling of alone. Isolated. Confused and hurt.

“There’s nothing before, nothing after. What was I thinking?” I finally say to Bea.

“I don’t know,” she tells me honestly. It’s one of the things I admire about her; she is honest and up front. She won’t lie to me. She says something about it being okay to be angry with my mom.

I shake my head. “I can’t….I don’t know. It’s so messy.”

“It’s going to be messy for a while. It just is.” She says, matter of fact about it.

I shrug. “Hubby talked to him. They talked.” I sound shocked.

“That was really scary. Did hubby say anything about it to you?”

“No. It was just a normal chat. I hid in the kitchen.” I’m shaking again, and all those feelings are threatening to come out. I shove them down. I can’t do it. I need to be numb, or at least as numb as I can be.

“There has to be rage there, even if you didn’t feel it. You wrote about the knives, looking at them, thinking about cutting. But you didn’t cut. I wish you would have wanted to hurt him.” Bea says. She pause a moment, and backtracks, “That was a strange thing to say, I’m sorry.”

I shake my head. I get it. “I think you just want so badly for me to be mad at him, and not to be hurting myself. That’s all.”

“Yes. The truth is, I’m mad about the injustice of it all. I’m mad at how badly you were hurt, and how much you were isolated and shut down and hiding all these years. It makes me so angry. But, I have to separate that anger from this work. Because if I’m going to walk with you on your journey, I can’t push my feelings.”

“That sounds hard,” I say. I’ve thought about it before, how hard that has to be, but we have never talked about it.

“Sure, it can be. As you know, we’ve experienced my feelings getting in the way. But you told me you needed to feel like I was on your side, not trying to get you to do something else. So I backed off on the hubby stuff. At times, I want to say, I’m calling your parents and giving them a piece of my mind, I’m emailing kenny and telling him all the damage he caused and to stay away, and send hubby in here, drag him in here and I’ll set him straight.”

I smile, despite myself. I feel protected for a minute, safe. Bea is acting like my lion at the gate. “You can’t call my parents, or email kenny.” I laugh. “I might let you have hubby, though.”

Bea laughs. “You can send him in whenever you are ready. I’m here.” There’s something reassuring in her words. Just the idea, when I’m ready, she’s here. That’s huge.

A realization is slowly forming in my mind. “I told you to back off.” I say slowly.

“Yes, you did.”

“I told you to back off, and you did. And it was okay.” I say, slowly again.

“Yes…?” Bea says, an unasked question in the air. She doesn’t know what I’m getting at. I’m not exactly sure, either, it’s something I feel, something I can’t quite get into words.

“I didn’t think about it. I just asked. I said I needed to feel like you were on my side. I wasn’t afraid to say it. I didn’t second guess myself, or anything, I just said it, and it was okay.” In my head, I add that she didn’t get mad, that she listened, she was still there, she didn’t leave.

“Ohhh. I would say we have a good working relationship then. You know it’s safe to ask for what you need. That’s good, you are learning to say what it is you need. And it’s okay to have needs.” Bea says.

I don’t say anything, just nod.

“Have you talked to Hubby about anything? How did he handle your snapping at Easter?” Bea asks.

I shrug. She’s read the part of my list that says:

I could not pull it together this weekend. I skipped church, I’ve never done that on Easter ever. We always go to sunrise service on the bluff. I did not go. I couldn’t go pray and sing and worship and proclaim that I’m saved, and act like life is perfect. I could not find my facade. I couldn’t fake anything at all. I was mean, short tempered. I snapped at so many people, including my mother. My poor mother and hubby took the worst of it. I couldn’t relax, couldn’t calm down. I couldn’t be present, I didn’t want to socialize, or talk, or be around noise. And anyone who messed with that was snapped at. I tried, and tried, but I could not fake it. I don’t seem to have it in me anymore, not like I used to. I’m so tired of lying. I’m tired of saying I’m okay when I’m not. I’m tired of smiling when I want to cry. I’m tired of not being mad, when I should be mad, and hiding from mad so well, that I can’t even feel it. I couldn’t fake it. So I claimed I was still really sick. I hid. I took a bath and cut myself with someone’s razor. I stuffed my face with Reese’s eggs and the cake he brought, and threw up. I coped. Not well. But I coped.

“My mom….she just acted like it was because I was sick. She needs it to be like that.”

“I guessed that,” Bea says.

“Hubby…well, there was one point where he gave me that look…the one that says I had gone too far….but he just pushed it all away,” I tell her, sadly, “I married my mother.”

Bea laughs at that, and then turns serious. “I was thinking that same thing, except, Hubby has the capacity to be different, to really be there for you. When we told him your past, his reaction and his plea to me to help him know how to help you the day he came in, those things show me he can change. You just have to be willing to open up to him. If he knew what you were dealing with, if he had an idea…send him in here for tune ups on a regular basis, so he stays aware and doesn’t fall into detached mode, I think it would really help, thing would be different.”

I sigh. “That’s scary.” As much as I trust Bea, the idea of hubby and Bea talking on a regular basis terrifies me. I’m not sure I like that idea. I’m paranoid about people in my life hating me, finding me annoying and needy, and to have them talking about me….I don’t know.

“It is scary. It’s an idea. When you are ready.” She pauses, and then continues, “Did you guys talk about you being mean?”

“No. It’s not worth it.” I sigh. I’m tired, so tired. “I tried to talk to him. Friday. It was…not okay…confusing…..I don’t know. Didn’t you read it?” I’d written about the sex and the questions and how messy everything got.

“No, I didn’t see it.”

I sigh. I’ll probably kick myself for doing this, but I tell her that it’s above the Saturday thing. She scrolls up, and reads. I cringe, knowing what she is reading.

“He wanted something solid, a reason, something he could fix,” Bea says.

I nod. “He can’t handle my not okays and I don’t knows. And that is a lot of what I have.”

“This was a good conversation for you guys to have. You told him you weren’t okay. That was big.” She keeps talking, but I’m not listening. She’s right, I did try to open the conversion, and that was good, but I don’t want to hear her talking about sex.

“It’s okay to have needs. You see allowed to have them. It’s not bad to want sex.”

I freeze. I don’t say a word. Inside, I’m shouting at Bea. You’re wrong, you’re stupid. Shut up, stop it. It is not okay to want sex, to like to be touched. Bad girls like that. Dirty girls, slutty girls. It’s wrong,wrong, wrong, bad, bad, bad, shut up, you are wrong, it’s not okay. I’m lost in the tirade in my head, holding it back, not allowing the words to escape. How odd, how very, very, strange that I’m normally fighting to get words out, and now, I’m fighting to keep them in. I won’t be mean to Bea. I will not be mean to the one person I trust and believe in.

“I want us to slow this down, to start coming back, to try to get to a good place.” Bea says.

Her words cut off the angry rant in my head. I nod.

We sit for a minute in silence, and then I say something about my mom, and it being hard ro be around her.

“I imagine it is right now. You might have to back off for a little bit, take some time for you again, like you did in the beginning. Going back there, to your parents, has given you lots of good things more recently, but I imagine being back in that house is like time stopped, in some ways.”

“There’s so many things now…grandpa’s anniversary memorial, Mother’s Day, June birthdays….” I sigh.

Bea stays quiet, and then she gently reminds me that I have choices.

“I don’t have to go,” I whisper. “But I’ll feel bad…she’ll feel bad…I don’t know..”

“Yes. We don’t have to figure this out right now. What’s important to remember is that you have choices now, you are aware you have choices, you aren’t powerless.”

I think about that. A year ago, I didn’t realize there was a choice, that I could choose to not go to family events, and that the world would not end if I did that. Now, I know I have a choice. I have a choice.

“You lived through your worst nightmare, in some ways, this weekend, and you survived it. You coped,” Bea tells me.

“I feel like one of the zombies on hubby’s video game,” I confess.

“Half alive?”

I nod. She gets it.

“How could you not? It’s almost unfathomable for the psyche to understand. It will take a while to process, I think.”

“I’m tired. I’m just so tired,” I cry. I don’t mean tired like I want to go to bed. I mean tired like emotionally beat down, like I can not take another thing.

“I know. I know.” She soothes, in a voice that might be used with a child, gentle and calm. “You survived, you are here. You are back in your world, your life, your house and routine, with your things. He’s not here, he’s there. Even your parents can’t come visit without your permission. This is your world here. You survived, you coped.”

I sniffle. I think of how I coped this weekend. I was mean, snappy. I was dissociative. I cut myself multiple times. I picked my fingers to a bloody mess. I stuffed myself and vomited. I stepped on the scale and obsessed over the numbers. I coped. “Not very good,” I finally say.

“Doesn’t matter. You coped, you survived, to come back to your life. You survived a version of your own personal hell.” Bea says. She’s serious, too. She isn’t condemning me for how I coped.

“I like my life,” I tell her. And I do. When I think of my friends, my daughter, homeschool, our ABA team, our gym, our routine, our neighbors….I like my life.

“I do, too. I want your life,” Bea says, laughing.

“You can’t have it.” I laugh. “Well, if you take it, you gotta take all the ugly stuff, too.”

“I suppose that’s true of anyone’s life. We all have ugly stuff with the good stuff.” Bea turns serious, and contemplative. “You might not see it, or feel it, but you have come so far. You really are healing. You’re just in the middle of the hardest part, the feelings, the confusion, the trying to understand something that is beyond comprehension. You’re digging down deep.” Bea sounds….almost proud or something. Pleased, maybe. I don’t know.

“I think….when I think about it, it feels like I have changed. I can talk more. I know feelings, I feel them. But I don’t know…it hurts more. Things are more real and they hurt more…..” I trail off. I’m not sure what I’m trying to say.

“Yes. This part does hurt more. You’re more present than you used to be. You do talk more, and have your feelings. You’re seeing it might be okay to have needs. You’re finding your voice.” Bea smiles at me.

I sigh. “It’s hard.”

“It’s very hard. A lot of people don’t get to this point. But you’re here.”

It’s silent again, maybe each of us digesting what we have just talked about.

I sit up, grabbing my things. I look up at Bea, and feel like crying with relief. The only thing on her face is kindness and caring. “I’m okay,” I tell her. “Well. Not okay. But you know.”

We talk about the plan for the rest of the day and the next few days. “I think it’s going to be important that you really try to stay grounded in the now. To remember you are here, and safe, that you survived.”

Somehow, as I’m leaving, sitting on the edge of the couch, we start talking about Kenny having a kid. I don’t know how that came up. I bury my face in my hands for a moment.

“He has a little boy, right?” Bea asks me.

I nod. “They thought they were having a girl………..the ultrasound showed a girl….” My stomach turns. I remember how sick I felt at the thought of him having a daughter. I wonder, if he’d had a girl, would I have said something?

“How old is he?” Bea asks me.

I think. Was I living here, or back home at the time? Or in college? I can’t remember now. I think it was when I was living here. “9? 8?…..I think he’s 8 now. I can’t remember. I was relieved when they had a boy.”

Bea looks unsure of what she is about to say. “I’m not sure it always matters,” she says slowly. And now I know why she seemed reluctant to say what she was saying. “It makes us feel better that he doesn’t have a little girl, but I’m not sure it always matters.”

I look down at the floor. “Sometimes…..I feel guilty….” I can’t finish the thought.

“Because you didn’t tell?” Bea asks.

“Yeah. What if he….and I could have stopped it by telling?” I stare at the blue of the rug, let it go blurry. This conversation hurts.

“It’s not for you to worry about that right now,” Bea tells me softly. She says something else too, something comforting and kind, but I’m not listening fully.

“I’m the adult. I should…I don’t know…it’s my job, as a grown up to be responsible.”

I don’t remember what she says. It’s the right thing, kind, and reassuring, and not a lie. She doesn’t placate me.

Bea helps me come back present, grounded. I leave with her reminding me that I survived, that I got through it, I coped.

I didn’t fall apart completely. I didn’t put on my miss perfect facade. I was mean, and I hurt myself, I let my ED take control for a while. But I survived the weekend of my own personal hell. I coped. As bad as things are, I feel like things are changing, I’m changing…and it hurts and is hard and I’m on unsteady ground, but I think it’s going to be good, eventually.

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3 thoughts on “Coping with hell

  1. Bea says a lot of very smart and insightful things. She seems very attuned to you. I’m glad you made it through this weekend. There will be more sunrise services when you’re ready. And she’s (or rather, her mom) is absolutely right – I wish more Christians behaved like Jesus the person instead of some bastardized version created to oppress other people. What Would Jesus Do, indeed.

    Xo

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    • This just made me smile….the “what would Jesus do, indeed” was perfect. 😊

      You’re right, there will be more sunrise services, if and when I’m ready. The whole Jesus thing is really very complicated in my head right now. Bea is probably right, I will have to deal with it to be able to heal, because it was such a big part of my life. But it’s one of the hardest things, I think. I don’t know. I’m lucky to have Bea, she is really smart, and I do feel like she understands me.

      I hope your trip is still going well. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You are discovering your voice and your strength! I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have Kenny suddenly show up at your parents’ house. I’m so sorry that you had to deal with it, especially at a point when you were already feeling so worn down. But you did survive the weekend despite everything! And without resorting to the Miss Perfect mask. You let some of the genuine you show. I’m so impressed!

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