Monday morning, and I’m in my usual place on Bea’s couch, curled up but relaxed. She’s sitting across from me, in her chair drinking tea.
I’m talking about the weekend, about Mother’s Day. “I was up before everyone else….Saturday night was rough, I didn’t sleep, really. But it was okay when morning rolled around. I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then when Kat and Hubby got up we ate, and snuggled. They did some yoga with me, which was really nice. And have me some flowers and cards. Kat signed her name and wrote ‘happy Mother’s Day” on the one from her, and I was so proud of her. She worked really hard to do that. Hubby told me it took a week for her to get all the letters written down. And he gave me a note saying that I should take myself shopping for new clothes. It was such a good morning. I didn’t rush around cleaning, either. I mean, I cleaned the day before, but just my normal cleaning. I didn’t go moving things around or hiding them just to appease my mom. I left my house like my house. And it was okay, I felt really good about that.” I’m smiling, and happy. The morning with my little family was so nice, so good.
Bea smiles, too. “It sounds like a really good Mother’s Day. And you didn’t change things for your mom, which is empowering. That had to to feel good, strong. Did you feel anxious later about it?”
I shake my head. “No, not really. I just….I’m tired of always trying to be perfect for her. This sounds bad, but it’s not: I give up. I’m never going to be good enough, perfect enough for her. So I give up trying.”
Bea nods. She gets it. “It sounds bad, but it isn’t. It’s a really positive thing. To realize your mother’s standards are impossible to reach, and to choose to be yourself. That’s a great thing!” She smiles at me, and I think she is maybe proud.
I don’t try to explain to her exactly why I think I was able to just be myself. I was able to be calm on Mother’s Day, even let the house be a bit messy, cluttered. Normally I would rush around, attempting to make my home look like a replica of my mothers– perfectly clean, not a speck of dirt or dust in sight, no clutter, no mess, everything has a place and is put on its place. I didn’t do that, though. I swept, did the dishes, dusted. My house is clean. But I have a 4 year old and a husband who like their things with them, setting out within easy reach. It creates clutter. But I let it be. I dressed in a royal blue jersey knit sundress that I knew my mom would approve of, but left my hair curly (I did tame the curls but that is something I normally would do). I did my eye makeup but left my face free of foundation– I’ve stopped wearing it and my skin is better for it. Yes, the roseaca still shows up but it’s better now that I’m not dumping makeup over it, trying to hide it. I left the calendar up, with all my shrink appointments right there, in black and white. I didn’t stress. And why was I able to do this? I think it was partly because of Bea. Because she has been so accepting of me, I’m starting to be able to accept myself. I’m starting to be able to believe hubby accepts me as I am, and that has helped, too.
And, I hate that. I hate that I am so damn attached to her, that because she has become my “secure base”, I can feel comfortable and okay being just me. That because she accepts just me, I can accept it, too. On one hand, I realize this is what parents are supposed to do, what I am trying so hard to do for Kat, but I am not 4 years old, I’m not a child. I might have stuck parts, I might have that little girl part who runs the show sometimes, but I’m still an adult. I’m 31 years old. I don’t want to, I should not be attached to my therapist like this. It feels like I’m….I don’t know. I don’t understand it, but it feels almost shameful to need Bea as my “secure base”. This is new, to have this. I think my best friend Kay has always accepted and somehow seen “just me” but I never attempted to be just me with her, I always worked at being perfect. So this is different, new. And I’m not so sure about it all. It feels unsafe, shameful, scary, wrong. I didn’t realize exactly how much Bea and her opinion of me mattered until Saturday when I was getting the house ready for Mother’s Day. I don’t want her to be my mom, this isn’t me being attached because of something like that. I have a mom who I love and who I wish could be more real with me, and I still have hope that we will have an authentic relationship one day. So this isn’t that. But it’s attached, nonetheless. And I hate it.
I don’t say any of that to her, though. I can’t and I won’t admit attachment like that, and I certainly will not discuss it. No way, no how. And so we sit in silence while I think about this.
Bea breaks the silence. “I’m trying to figure out….I’m getting this slightly dissociated feeling, it’s not strong, but it’s there…I’m trying to figure out if it’s coming from you or me?” She seems to be searching for words to describe the feeling, and is maybe a little at a loss for them. It’s okay, though, because I know exactly what she is talking about.
“It’s me,” I say, confidently. This, I’m sure of.
Bea nods. “You seem very rational and very here…yet there is this not quite here quality…..”
I jump in. “This is the thing I always try to explain. It’s the not here, not real feeling but I am here enough and able to connect with people so they feel connected but I feel it’s not real…I don’t know. It’s the feeling of being gone and numb but able to function, and function well. You don’t notice when I feel like this, people don’t notice it.”
Bea takes a drink of her tea before she speaks. “Usually I don’t feel the dissociation from you until you are farther away. This doesn’t feel like far away.”
“No, it’s not far away. It’s….” I have to stop and think, try to figure out how to explain this to someone else. I am glad that now she really, truly knows what I am talking about when I say I’m dissociated but here and functioning. “My parents….this is from them. I mean…when they arrived, like as soon as they got to my house, I felt this. The not real thing. Where everything feels numb, and fake, and it’s easy to function and not be upset by anything. It’s…I think it’s from them.” Now, writing this, I realize I should have explained to her this is what I mean by living in my head, by being in a room in my head and looking out through a window.
Bea is listening, and nodding, encouraging me to keep talking.
“I think…I think I never noticed it before, but I was so here in the morning, it was a big change in how I felt,” I finally say.
“It sounded like the morning was very grounding for you. When you were telling me about it, I could feel how present in that moment you were, how grounded you were celebrating with Kat and Hubby. It would feel like a big shift, to go from that to this.” Bea agrees with me.
“I think…..” I’m really afraid Bea is going to think I’m nuts, or completely discount what I say next, but I say it anyways,”I think that this was my normal. It’s how I went through life, and I didn’t know any different until recently. So I just…..I think because I was so present with Kat and Hubby, it was just really noticeable. And I’m so much more aware of what I’m feeling and where I am now, that I noticed it. It’s the first time I ever noticed it. And I think it’s what used to be normal for me.”
“I think so, too.” Bea agrees with me. I breathe a small sigh of relief. She notices and smiles at me. “I wonder if your mom experiences dissociation, or maybe has this same feeling as her normal. We assume she may have been abused, we know emotions are hard for her, and so I just wonder.”
It’s something I have never thought about. “Then I would have maybe learned it from her, in a way. So this here but not real, not here feeling might be her normal and I would have never known a difference. And then it would be all the easier to dissociate when….well, you know.”
“Yes. It’s a theory, anyways. Just something else to think about.”
I wonder about it. It could easily be true. My mother is known for not noticing when she is injured, or hurt. Like the time she ran a 5K race on a fractured leg. Or the times she has bumped into something and caused a bruise or split her skin (she has thin skin, literally, and it splits open easily. Where the rest of us might just bruise, she will bleed.) and she doesn’t notice until someone points out she is bleeding.
“Another thing to think about, is what do you want to do with the relationship with your parents? Do you want to try for an authentic relationship? Or are things okay the way the are now?” Bea asks.
I shake my head at her. “I don’t know. I’m sorry, I just really don’t know. I can’t tell them the truth, so there’s always this…this thing there……..” I trail off, unsure what I’m trying to say.
“There will always be that elephant in the room,” Bea supplies.
“Yes. But they…I’m not sure they can be more, give more, anyway. And…I don’t know, it’s just hard. I don’t know.” I stop and think, gather my thoughts as best I can. It’s actually easier for me to do when I feel like this. All the spinning thoughts are farther away, my head feels clearer in a lot of ways. “It’s like I have two different lives.”
“Yes, it’s very much like you have two separate lives. Absolutely.”
“There’s the one I have here…and I’m more real, better, I don’t know. I’m just more me, more present now. Then there’s the one with my parents….it’s almost two lives with them, too, though. There’s the perfect life, the fake one, that’s the one they live. Then there’s the truth of what really happened.” I shake my head. It’s so hard to describe. “I feel very split when I see them.”
I look up at Bea, and she gives me a look that says she understands, and it’s okay. I haven’t covered my face yet this session, but my eyes have been moving around the room, avoiding looking at her full on. She smiles at me, letting me know it’s okay. “It’s a hard thing to feel so split like that. But it makes sense that you would. It’s nothing that is going to be solved today, or right away. Your relationship with your parents and how you choose to relate to them is just going to evolve over time, I think. We’ll see what happens,” she says softly.
I nod and don’t say anything. I’m ready for a subject change, but I’m not sure I want to talk about anything else. (We end up talking about coping behaviors, but that will be another post.)
We do some grounding work, but I still feel not real and like I’m in my head. Bea wanted to get me back to my new normal, but it always seems to take some time to bounce back after I see my parents. I just never realized exactly why, or what was happening.
I use the restroom before I leave, and check my phone before I leave. I have a text from my friend Jasmine: “I need to talk to you about the nanny. Call me when you can.” We share our a nanny, who also happens to be Kat’s ABA tech.
When I exit the bathroom, I say bye to Bea, and tell her that jasmine has texted me, and she might be getting an email later because I have a bad feeling.
“Okay, let me know what is going on,” Bea says.
“Thank you,” I tell her, and then I wish her a good day and head to my car to call Jasmine.