I need to place a trigger warning. I feel like there is a lot of triggery stuff in this post. It’s taken me a few days to even decide to post it. I’ve been raw, and triggered and afraid. And this post is raw and vulnerable, and authentic. It just also is probably full of little triggers. So please take care when reading.
I’m sitting in the car, writing a note to Bea. It’s been one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in a long time. I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell Bea that, or if she will notice. I’m in that place– the here but not, able to function and smile and pretend okay, for the most part– place. Even though the bubble is gone, even though I can’t pretend like before, I can still pretend enough to fool most people. I’m not sure where Bea falls these days. She felt the way my parents made me feel, she finally got the feeling I kept trying to explain to her, so she might pick up on it. But I’m not sure. So, I’m writing her a note. Because I am pretty sure I can hand her a note.
I walk into Bea’s office, and smile. “Hi, how was the conference? I hope it was better than you expected.” The social graces are immediately out of my mouth, ingrained and automatic.
“Hi, good morning,” Bea greets me. “There were some good things. Actually, a lot of the stuff that was good, I think was useful in terms of Kat.” She grabs a folder and hands me some papers from it. “I copied some of these for you. I thought you might find them interesting. It’s about the neurobiology of attachment.”
I scan through the sheets, and we discuss them. As we discuss attachment, and how this applies perfectly to Kat’s behavior on Friday and how her attachment challenges are playing out, I blink back tears, and grit my teeth. Of course she is having challenges with attachment. I’m screwing it all up. But I can’t tell Bea that. So I attempt to nod and smile at what she is saying.
“So, enough about all that,” she says, turning the conversation to me.
I shake my head, shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know.”
After a pause, Bea says, “I started reading the book and the workbook. I didn’t get very far. It seems simple, to me. Basic. I hope it’s good. I don’t know. Her training was so amazing and great and I just really want this workbook to be helpful and not just…I don’t know. Did it seem basic to you?”
I have to shift my thinking, dig through my fuzzy brain. “No…no. It’s..it seems very ordered. Like step by step. You know? I didn’t get very far. I got really stuck…after the teenage part.”
“Ahhh, yes. I remember, you said that. Did you do the exercise or just read if?”
I stare at the floor for a while. I’m afraid if I answer, she will ask to see it. “Yes, I did it. But I don’t think I did it like they wanted.” I rush the words, afraid if I don’t say them now, I won’t ever say them.
“I don’t think there is a right way to do it, and I’m sure whatever came out needed to come out.”
“I don’t…it’s just..I barely remember it. Those years.” I sigh.
“I’m sure. I’ve heard about the big things, the stuff that had a big emotional impact. But the day to day surviving stuff….well, that would be fuzzy. Those years are hard enough for most people. Let alone trying to find an identity with all the pain you were dealing with….” Bea says.
I’m only half listening. I’m thinking it was like I was two different people. The perfect girl that everyone knew and saw, and the broken horrible person I really was.
“You graduated a year early, right?” Bea asks me
I shake my head. “16. I was 16. I turned 17 that October.”
“That’s young. How did that happen?”
I shrug. “I was smart. And an October birthday. So I started kindergarten young. And then I skipped a grade.”
“When did that happen?” Bea sounds a little surprised. I’m not sure she realizes how smart I really was, or how much my parents really pushed.
“Do you know why? Or how?”
I shrug. “I was bored.”
“Who instigated the move? Do you know?”
“Probably my parents.” I sound bitter. Maybe I have a right to be. I don’t know.
“You’re having a hard time staying here today,” Bea says. So she has noticed. I guess I haven’t been hiding it as well as I thought from her.
I shake my head, clench my fists and dig my nails into my palms. “I have had a hard time staying here this week.” It feels like I have to fight with myself to admit it.
“What happened this week?” Bea asks softly.
I shake my head. I can’t. I just can’t tell her. I can’t really tell anyone.
“Do you want to take me through what has happened each day since we last saw each other?” She suggests.
I shake my head. No. No I do not want to do that. For one, my memory has already gone fuzzy for the week, so I don’t have much to tell, except the standard things that happen every week.
“Okay. Thursday we saw each other, and then Friday morning was Kat’s session. And you seemed good. Things seemed good. You sent me that email about perfect, and that was so good, such a place of peace. I did think about you over the weekend, on Monday morning during our usual session time. And I thought I hadn’t heard from you, so things must be good. I did check email, and I did wonder, but I thought we had left off at such a positive point, and so your week was going good.” Bea says.
I stare at her wood floor, and dart my eyes over to the blue rug and back to the wooden floor again. In a way, I’m thankful she thought about me. That she cared enough to think about me. Finally I whisper, “I didn’t know what to say.”
“Ah. I get that. If it can’t be put into words, then how can you send an email?”
I nod. Exactly.
“You look like you are very much feeling like the little girl right now. Vulnerable and alone. But you aren’t alone. I’m here. And you have a grown up part, too. A grown up who is very capable of running the ship.”
“The grown up is messing everything up. She’s not doing anything right.” My voice is dead, flat, hollow.
“How is she messing everything up?” Bea asks softly.
I shake my head. How do I explain that the little girl part of me is triggered and frozen and afraid and hates herself, but the grown up part– the part who is supposed to be able to be in control and be okay and rational and take care of things– is falling apart, is angry and mean and hates the little girl, too?
“Do you want to talk about what made you go so far away all week?” She asks.
“I can see that. It must be a pretty bad trigger, or something bad that was triggered. I have a feeling you have it written down somewhere in your bag, and you’ll share it when you are ready.” She says softly.
“Of course it’s written down. Everything is always written down. I’m always writing.”
“It has to unfold when you’re ready. We can just talk about how it feels, or how you feel, make a plan for the rest of the day today. You don’t need to share anything until you want to.” She says.
I nod. “Okay. I might want to. I don’t know…..I feel bad.”
“How do you feel bad? Is it bad, like bad because of a memory? Bad because of something you did? What kind of bad is it?” Bea asks.
“I don’t know. It’s just bad. Really bad.” I whisper.
“I’m sorry for this. I should have had a plan in place for you, with me not being here for a day, and you missing a session.” Bea tells me.
I shake my head. “It wouldn’t have mattered. I…it wouldn’t have changed things.” What triggered me, wouldn’t have changed if I had seen her or not, had a plan in place or not. It happened. I think it was bound to happen. And I can’t avoid the trigger.
“Well, maybe not. But you wouldn’t have had to be alone with it. You could have called me, even when I was gone at the conference, you could have called me.” Bea says. She has that tone in her voice that says she means business, but her voice is still kind.
I laugh, just a little. “I won’t call you, Bea. For Kat, sure. I’ll call. For me? No. I wouldn’t have called, plan or no plan.”
“Well, I want you to know it’s okay to call. You can call me. For you. Some therapists think that you shouldn’t allow clients to call you. I think, the kind of trauma and attachment work I do, it’s a tiny world sometimes, a lot of times I’m the only one who really knows everything. And I’m acting as your secure base. So if calling me, and touching base for a few minutes when you are feeling so bad, like now can help, I think that’s okay.” Bea explains her viewpoint, quietly, confidently. I don’t respond.
I think it would be wonderful to call her sometimes. Yesterday, I thought about calling her. When I couldn’t breathe, when I was sobbing, hiding in my closet, frozen. I thought about calling. But I didn’t have permission from her to call, I didn’t know if it was really okay. Now, I have permission. But I still don’t ever plan on calling. I won’t be that needy. I won’t allow myself to behave like that, no matter how much I want to.
“I lied to hubby yesterday. He asked if I was okay. I told him yes. And then I had to call the nanny to come get Kat,” my voice breaks, and I blink away tears, “Because I’m not okay. And that is no good. I have to be okay. It’s the rule. I have to be okay. Always. All the time, I’m okay. But right now, I’m not okay.”
“I know. I know you aren’t okay. But we are going to get you as grounded as we can, and we are going to make a plan to keep you safe before you leave today. It’s going to be okay. It’s okay to not be okay. You don’t always have to be okay anymore.”
“How could I just lie to him? And then to not even be able to take care of my child? What’s wrong with me?” I cry.
“You obviously didn’t even feel safe then, admitting you weren’t okay to him, and you called the nanny, you took care of yourself and Kat. You used your available resources. Just like your are using your oldest resource– dissociation– right now. We don’t want you to always rely on it quite so much, but you are doing what you have to in order to get through this.” Bea says.
I don’t respond to her, I don’t know what to say. I am staring at my bag, debating about getting out my journal and handing it over. I’m not sure, though.
“Let’s try to be as present as you can be, okay? Whatever from the past that is intruding in your now, it isn’t happening. It’s over. It’s just me, and you here. And you are safe here.” Bea tells me.
“I don’t want to be present. I don’t want to have to feel. Being present hurts,” I say. Because half the problem is my present. It’s not just my past right now, it’s my present that is triggering my past, and my present that is making me feel guilty and ashamed and like I want to disappear.
“I know. I know it does. I think you have to feel it to move through it, to get past it.”
I shake my head. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t get it. I pull my journal out of my bag. I sit, just holding it for a minute.
“Is that a new journal?” Bea asks.
“Yeah. I go through them quick. You know.” I go through a journal every few weeks. It depends how much I write on my iPad journal, how much I handwrite into my journal and how much I handwrite onto loose leaf binder paper. Yeah. I really do write and draw and doodle a lot.
I flip through the pages to yesterday’s entry. Where I finally figured it out, exactly, and got it into words. I stare at it, flipping through the pages, thinking. Did I really want to do this?
“It looks like you drew something in there? Some bright colors?” Bea says.
I flip open to that page and hold it up. “I was just doodling. I was having a panic attack.” I shrug. It’s nothing.
“It’s really very pretty. Did it help?”
“It was better than just sitting there.” The remark comes off slightly smart, but it’s not meant to be. It’s simply the basic truth. I’m not sure it helped. But doodling mindlessly is better than sitting there panicking, and I can’t write when I’m that worked up. So, I doodle.
“It looks like it’s even hard to think about handing your writing over,” Bea says gently.
I nod. “It’s just that…I didn’t write this to be read. It’s not..”
“Not edited. Not neat. I know. It’s like giving a piece of yourself up. It’s very private. I know.”
“And messy, messy thoughts. I write emails for you. I write this for me.”
“It’s authentic and personal. I’m okay with messy and authentic and personal. And I respect and am very honored every time you have let me read what you have written for yourself.” Bea tells me.
“I’m not so okay with being messy and authentic.” I say quietly.
I slowly place the ribbon between the pages of my messy, personal writing, to save the place, and close the book. I hand it to Bea. And then, for the first time, all session, I bury my face.
“Believe anything is possible.” She reads the quote on the front of my journal. It’s one of the reasons I chose this journal. “I like that.” And then she starts to read. I think I might be sick. I hate myself. She is going to hate me. She’ll have to call hubby and have Kat taken from me. I don’t know. I’m a bad, bad person.
“It’s the age,” she says. She isn’t done reading, but she’s gotten the gist, most of it. And so now she knows. And yet, she sounds kind.
She finishes reading and pauses for a moment. I sit, my face buried in my knees, arms wrapped around my legs, curled in the fetal position sitting up. I pick at my fingers, dig my nails into my palms. “My daughter is my trigger,” I say. She’s read it all, she knows now. My voice breaks and I cry. My daughter is my trigger. I can’t look at her without being triggered. I can’t see her without seeing me. I hate myself. I hate the little girl. I look at my daughter and I see me– the little girl me. I hate the little girl me. I look at Kat and I see someone I hate. As if that is not enough, the present me then hates herself for feeling this way. And this hatred, this anger I feel at myself is so intense, so big, so all consuming, I am burning alive in it. I had thought I hated myself before. But that was small compared to this. This is painful and huge and it feels like pieces of me are dying inside.
“This,” she says, “this is so normal. So common. It’s the age. She’s the age you were. It’s projection; you wrote it yourself. You look at her and see you. It’s so normal in situations like yours. It’s okay. A lot of people hate the little girl.”
I sit, numb and far away. I’ve spent my life dissociated. It’s a skill I’ve earned, and perfected. How to be dissociated and still here enough to listen, to know what is happening. If I don’t write it down, if I don’t record it on paper, it will turn fuzzy and I’ll forget. But I can appear to be paying attention and there, yet still be far away and safe.
“You wrote it here, what you see, what you feel and think. ‘But I see her and then I see me and I’m scared and overwhelmed and so, so mad because how could I do those things? What the hell is wrong with me? I am gross, a child whore, bad, wrong, it’s not okay, not okay, and then I yell at her….when I should be yelling at me.’ You aren’t any of those things…..” Bea is reading my words to me, and I can’t listen. I’m cold and numb inside, as soon as she begins quoting me. That sense of dread, that things are real now.
I can’t say it. I can’t tell her I hate the little girl. I should, I know I should. Bea already knows, really. But I can’t say it. “I’m a horrible person,” I say. It’s the closest I can come to telling her she is right.
“You aren’t. Let’s think about this rationally. How much control, how much power does a five year old have? How much control did the little girl have?”
I don’t answer. My head is spinning. None. No control. All of it. The little girl seduced him. She did it. She had no control. She had all the control. No matter the answer, I lose.
“She had no control. She couldn’t stop it, she didn’t do it. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t cause it. She had no control over anything–” Bea answers her own question, but I cut her off.
“Stop it! Stop!” I scream the words at her, but she continues speaking.
“Little girls don’t have power like that. She had no control–”
“STOP IT! SHUT UP! Just shut up!” I shout at Bea. I’m shaking. I’m scared of her words, and I’m mad at her. How can she say this? How can she talk like this?
“That’s right. Get mad. Be mad about this. Get mad at me,” Bea says. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I realize she is trying to make me see, trying to get me out of this dark place and pull me back into the sunlight where she is firmly anchored.
“I don’t want to be mad. I can’t feel it. I don’t want to be mad, I’m not okay, I can’t do this,” I tell her.
“You can. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anything the little girl did. Little girls don’t have power like that. The little girl wasn’t in control.” Bea says firmly.
Suddenly, I’m scared. There is no mad in me, just fear. Little girls don’t have power; I don’t have power. I’m frozen, I curl up as small as I can. “Please stop. Please just stop. Please. Please. Please stop.” There is no anger behind my words now, only tears.
“Okay, okay,” Bea says. Her whole tone of voice changes. She doesn’t sound firm anymore. She sounds gentle, like she is talking to a child. Maybe, in a way, she is. “It’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” I tell her. I don’t know why I’m apologizing. Just that there is this big feeling inside me that I need to say I am sorry.
“You don’t need to apologize to me. You have nothing to be sorry about.”
“No….I don’t know. I just….it’s just this…maybe because I am sorry for crying, or whining, or for not being okay, or for being needy or taking time, I don’t know. I just….just say okay.” I fight to find an explanation, where this need to apologize comes from. It’s the best I can do.
“I don’t think you are whining, or being needy, or anything else. But I’ll say okay.”
“I’m damaging my daughter. I’m so afraid. Of everything. I’m not okay,” I say softly. It’s almost a whisper, really. My biggest grown up fear. That I’m going to damage Kat beyond repair.
“No, you aren’t. She’s okay. You are taking care of her. She has support people in place. She is okay.”
“I have to make this stop.” As I say the words, I see the same picture in my head that I’ve been seeing all week. Fifteen year old me, cutting my wrists. The picture is on replay, on a loop in my mind. It pops up at random times, at times when I am feeling lower than low, at times when I want to disappear, at times when I want everything to stop. I’ll never copy that image; I could never hurt my husband and child and parents like that. But sometimes, it feels safe to envision an out.
“I think when you find compassion for the little girl, it will stop. I think you have to feel this to be able to find the compassion. You were finding it, I believe that. But just like in child development, when we move forward, there is sometimes regression. I’m not surprised you fell into this bad place. You were in a peaceful, positive place. Now you’ve regressed a little. And that’s okay. Healing isn’t linear. This time, you have more resources, more support than before. You know what it feels like to feel peaceful and authentic. You’ll get back to that place, I believe that. But it all starts with compassion for the little girl. Maybe…..maybe when you are feeling so badly about how this is all effecting Kat, maybe that is where your compassion is.”
I don’t respond, yet again. But I take her words in, roll them around. Think about them. Maybe.
“Have you talked to hubby since he asked if you were okay?” Bea asks, breaking into my thoughts.
“No..no. I haven’t said anything. I can’t. He’d hate me.” The tears start up again. Two rivers, flowing down my cheeks.
“I don’t think he would hate you. I think he would understand, if it was explained to him. Or you could just tell him you are having a hard time, that you need some extra help right now,” she suggests.
“No,” I sob. “I have to be okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.”
“Except you aren’t okay. And that’s the old wold talking. In your new world, it’s okay to not be okay.”
“I can’t. He’d hate me. He’d take Kat. What am I supposed to say? Our daughter is my new trigger and I’m freaking out all over the place and I’m so not okay and I’m really dissociated and and afraid?” I wish I could sound sarcastic, but I don’t. I sound like a scared little girl, who can’t stop crying.
“Yes. I think that would be a perfect thing to say.” Bea sounds very matter of fact.
I cry. While I cry, I think. “Can he call you? So you can explain it to him?”
“Yes, absolutely. He can call me,” she says without hesitating.
“I have appointments most of the day, but I should be done around 7. So, say anytime after 7:30?” Bea tells me.
I nod. “Is that too late?” I don’t want my craziness, my wrongness, to disturb her evening.
“No, it’s fine. If I don’t answer, leave a message and I will call back as soon as I can,” she says.
“Okay. Maybe I’ll tell him.”
“Okay,” Bea says, and her voice sounds firm now. “We are going to make a plan. What you are going to do the next few days to stay safe. If we make a plan, write it down, I know you will keep to it. So we are going to make a plan to keep you safe.”
Her voice makes me feel like I am in trouble somehow. It’s the school principal, I mean business voice. “I just…I need a minute. Please.” I whisper.
“Okay. I do want you to have a plan to stay safe. I feel like you need to have confidence in me, that I can keep you safe. No one protected you before. But I will protect you now. I will keep you safe.” Her voice sounds kinder now. It’s still firm, but she sounds like Bea again.
I take a breath. I focus on what I see around the office. I wipe at my eyes. Finally, I lift my head up. “Okay,” I tell her.
We start making a plan. It’s not extravagant, it’s simple and easy to stick to. Where Kat will be, who she will be with. When Hubby will be home. What I will be doing during free hours. What I will do when I have Kat with me. Most of it is easy to write up. When we get to my free hours, it becomes harder.
“What are you going to do when you are alone?” Bea asks me.
Hide. Cut. Binge and purge. Panic. Thoughts flit through my mind. I’ll never say them aloud. “I just want to hide.”
“Okay. I know. I know that feels safe. But I don’t think it actually is safe for you. We need to find something to soothe you, something that can feel safe but help you be grounded in the present.” Bea says.
“No. I don’t want…I really just want to hide.” I shake my head. How do I make her understand this?
“What about taking a walk? Going for a swim by yourself?” Bea throws out ideas, probably a lot of them are good ones.
“Those…none of those feel safe to me.” I’m frustrated. We aren’t going to agree on this. I need her on my side.
“We’re taught that it’s not good for people to use old coping skills like this. That it keeps trauma alive. The past isn’t here, it’s not happening now,” Bea tells me. She sighs. “Maybe hiding is okay for a little while. Maybe it’s what soothes you right now. Is there anywhere you can hide that isn’t your closet?”
“I….I used to go to the beach. To hide. To get away.” The words come out softly, jerkily. I don’t always like to think about that time of my life. When I would go and sit, in the sand and beach grass and watch the water, listen to the waves, feel the sand trickling between my fingers. I could close my eyes and just be. I could be anyone, anywhere. That was my safest place.
“I suppose your beach now doesn’t count?” She asks, smiling.
I shake my head. “No…it’s..no.” It’s busy. The whole neighborhood is always there. Houses are right across the very narrow street. It’s not the same. My deck is more private, quiet. I can see the water from there, and I am surrounded by trees, leafy and green. Maybe I could try sitting out there.
“Okay. Is there anything else that might work?” She asks.
“I…you know what I really want to do? I want…………I want to drive to the airport, buy a plane ticket and go to my Grandma.” I blink back tears, again.
I think I may have surprised Bea, a little. She doesn’t know that is my ultimate running away plan. I have Kay to run to, and my friend Reagan. But running to Grandma in Florida is my biggest, safest running away plan. After a moment, she asks, “Is that a possibility?”
“No. Not now.”
“You want to go to your Grandma’s because she is safe. She would take care of you. You want to feel taken care of right now,” Bea says. She gets it.
“I can’t go to my Mom, because I would have to take care of her.” I sigh. Even if I ‘let’ my mom take care of me, I would still have to pretend to be okay, and make everything perfect, and that is how I would be taking care of her.
“I know,” Bea says.
“I’m being so selfish,” I say. I want to kick myself. I have a child to take care of. A child who has become my biggest trigger. And I’m talking about how I want to run away to my Grandma so I can be taken care of. I’m selfish and mean and awful. I need to be trying to fix this trigger problem before it damages my daughter.
“You aren’t. Everyone wants to be taken care of sometimes. It’s okay to want to be taken care of. That’s why I want you to feel like you can call me. So you don’t feel so alone. So you can feel safe and protected and cared for. And that feeling is why we need to make a plan. So you can feel safe and protected. It’s one way I can protect you.”
I don’t respond. I’m not calling her. It’s just not going to happen.
We finish out the session writing a plan to keep me safe for next few days. I won’t see her Monday morning because of Memorial Day, so we schedule for Tuesday morning.
I don’t really feel better when I leave, but I know I’m not alone. And I have a plan.