I arrive at Bea’s early on Thursday. The last few weeks of sessions have been mostly talk about hubby and Kat, the latest nonsense his mom has pulled, and Kat’s school and ABA stuff. And, of course, we have worked on me focusing on the present moment, through the use of coloring. I’ve done my best to avoid feeling overwhelmed with feelings when I’m supposed to be present, and have found that talking about random day to day stuff seems to work quite well.
But today is different. While the last few weeks have been better; I feel less like I’m watching my life from a far away place, and more able to function, they have also been full of nightmares and flashbacks and memories and too many feelings. I can’t keep doing this on my own. As uncertain as I am about fully trusting Bea again, I need her. So, on Monday, I had brought my notebook and had her start to read through it. Everything in there is unfiltered, and not written for her. I have been writing after waking from the nightmares, and after or during bad times when flashbacks hit, or when I’m stuck in my closet, hiding. These are the type of journal pages I typically tear out, that I have never shared. But now, I’m choosing to share them, because everything feels more real to me than it has in a very long time, and I am scared.
We say our hellos, and then we sit in silence. For me, it’s uncomfortable and awkward. Finally, I raise my eyes to Bea’s, and say, “So?……”
“I thought instead of me starting things off by asking questions today, I would see if anything came up for you, what you felt a need to talk about.” She smiles kindly at me, and I can feel all that anxiety come up. Crap. I did want to talk today, but how and why does she know that?
I shake my head, “No, nothing.” We sit in that weird silence for a another moment or so, and then I turn to a safe topic: hubby and Kat.
After a while, Bea turns the conversation back around. “Did you want me to finish reading your notebook? Or was there something else? I felt like we cut things short on Monday.” I’d needed to leave early on Monday because of plans with hubby and Kat, and Bea hadn’t pushed anything very much, not wanting me far away when I went home to spend the day with my family.
I shrug. “Yeah, you should finish reading it.” I dig it out of my bag, and hand it to her.
As she takes the notebook from me, she says, “I bet there is a lot more in here now.”
“I didn’t actually write anything……I mean….I typed….” I look down at my hands, and feel my face redden. “I was um…picking at my fingers. And I picked badly enough at my thumb that it hurts to hold a pen and write…….”
“You haven’t picked in a long time,” Bea comments.
I shake my head. “Well, I’d been painting my nails with that gel polish. It’s thick, so it’s hard to pick, your nails aren’t sharp like normal nails with it. I used a different brand this last time, and it just….it wasn’t as thick. So…..I picked. I didn’t even know I had done it, until I tried to write, and it hurt. Then…..well….. I don’t know.”
She says something about how even after all this time, it’s still a habit, a coping skill that I use almost unconsciously. “Do you still….even with the polish, are you still making the motions of picking, do you think? Or do you think that you picked because your nails were sharper this time?”
“I…..I don’t know. I’d guess I still do it, I just can’t break the skin. But I don’t know.”
We discuss it a few more minutes, ending with Bea stating, “I think choosing to paint your nails so that you can’t pick is a form of self care. Painting your nails can be seen as pampering, but also, it’s doing something to keep yourself from being harmed. So, regardless of anything, the choice to paint your nails is self care.”
I feel a little bit…I’m not exactly sure, maybe hopeful? Self-care. I’ve been performing an act of self care, and it’s not something I have felt guilty for.
Bea starts reading, and I sit, knees curled to my chest, half hiding my face in my knees, while she reads. I have more for her to read, on my iPad. What I had mentioned to her that I’d typed. I’d written about this struggle the little girl and teenager parts are having with trusting her, with feeling safe.
In the fall, I don’t when….I had emailed, after you had sort of picked at the scab that had formed over the summer. And I felt like so much was in that email, it wasn’t just this little thing, there were so many scary feelings and vulnerable moments in it. It took you 2 days to write back. I want to be really clear— adult me understands that we get busy, or that we read an email, mean to respond and then later have that “oh crap” moment of realizing we didn’t. It happens to me all the time with phone calls, or little things I meant to do and life just gets in the way and time slips by. So, adult me gets it, and was okay. But the little girl, she felt like she must have done something bad, something wrong. She spent 2 days very scared and worried that you were gone. Just typing that is hard. I don’t want to admit it. She doesn’t know where she stands. She is on hyper alert for any changes, any sign of you leaving, or of being rejected, and she just isn’t sure it’s safe to talk anymore. Change means different to her, and when she has found something that feels safe, changing that means it’s no longer safe and that she can not trust it. She’s having such a hard time, and I think she needs to talk, but she is afraid that it will all be different now. Too many things have felt different to her the last 6 months and she is uncertain what that means now. Any trust she had in your reactions or talking to you, it feels like a lot of it is gone. Even though adult me knows this is not true, that you really haven’t changed, that you aren’t going to react differently to anything I say than you have in the past, the little girl isn’t sure she believes that. It’s like starting over in some ways.
I’d written more than that, but that was the gist of it. The little girl feels shut down, and not okay. She feels like she had this person– Bea— who was there, and who was standing up for her and helping her find a voice, and that person just changed so much that she’s gone. And that was what I wanted to talk to Bea about. I needed her to know the little girl really needs some support and containment, and to talk and be listened to.
Bea finishes reading, I hear her close my notebook. “What jumps out at me is how very much alive the past is right now for you,” she says softly.
“Some days. Not….not all days are bad days,” I whisper, stumbling over my words. I’m thinking that it’s different, but no different than it ever is. It’s just that anything she has ever read that I’ve written about nightmares and flashbacks had been edited, and edited and filtered until it is safe enough to give to her to see. But now……now I need for her to see how bad it is, to really get what the little girl is dealing with on a nightly, and almost daily basis.
“Did…..” Bea starts to speak, and stops. She sounds hesitant to say her next words. “Did your mom find your underwear and get upset……was that all the same day?” She’s referring back to the majority of my flashbacks I’d written about; Kenny raping me, my mom finding my underwear.
I’m quiet for a while. It feels like forever, but it’s probably no longer than a minute. “I ummm. Well….I guess…I’m not….I mean….” Again, I’m stumbling over my words. “Yeah. I think so.”
Bea says something, I’m not even sure what.
“I don’t really know. Not for sure. It’s all so blurred together in my mind. It feels like the same day. I think….it was at night, clean up before bedtime. I don’t know, though.” I shrug, trying to act like its fine, but inside me a voice is screaming that I can’t admit to not knowing something, because she will decide I’m a liar, she won’t believe me.
“It doesn’t matter either way,” she tells me. “It was an awful thing, and then to feel like your mom was mad at you, blaming you, for it. That was horrible, painful.”
I don’t say anything. I thought then, that she was going to ask me if I wanted her to read whatever I had typed. She didn’t. She started to talk about all the places trauma is stored, in different parts of the brain, the body. “I think our job, right now, is to continue working on resource building, so that when we do go back to processing some of this trauma stuff, it will be helpful and less traumatizing.” She talks about how coloring and being present by focusing on that is using one sense, but we have more stepping stones to get to before we are ready for sensorimotor therapy. She says that it won’t be for a long time, and she knows I’m not ready now, but when I’m ready, we will work through this stuff.
As she is talking, in my mind, I run away and hide. I go far away. My feelings are hurt. She doesn’t want me to talk. All her reassurances, all the times she has said I can still talk, she just shut me down, and told me no talking about trauma stuff. I handed her this notebook, full of my fears and scariest thoughts and questions, I put myself in this horrible vulnerable place because I wanted her to know how terrifying it is to be in my head these days, and she barely responded. Where is Bea? Because this person, this does not feel like Bea.
Her voice drifts through the fog, words don’t penetrate, but the sound of it does. I don’t move, don’t respond at all. I think she keeps talking, attempting to draw me out. I don’t care. I just do not care anymore. Why am I bothering with all of this? She doesn’t want to listen to me. She just wants me to follow directions and get to a place where I have enough resources to do sensorimotor therapy. Then, I’ll be allowed to talk. A part of me wants to scream at her to just tell me what I have to do, what things do I need to accomplish, so that I can do this therapy I don’t even want to do, just so I can be allowed to talk?!?!!? But I sit, still and quiet. Inside, I’m sobbing with hurt, and feeling left. But outside? I’m fine.
“I’m going to get the list of the different far aways, okay? I feel like that might help us.” I hear her words this time, far away and fuzzy, blurred around the edges sounding.
She reads through it, reading the 3 choices she thinks are most likely. She numbers them, and I think she has to repeat it more than once, before I hear and respond by holding up a finger.
The whole time, she is working to draw me out, and I am just thinking, I want to go home. I even consider asking her if I can go home now, but there is this irrational fear she will tell me no. Or, even worse (and likely) she will want to discuss why I want to go home. So, I keep quiet. I tell myself to sit up, to color in my damn picture, and to just get through the last bit of this session, and then I can go home and hide.
Eventually, I do sit up, and I choose a few colors, and start to color. I feel very mechanical, and my voice sounds wooden to me when I answer Bea’s questions. She asks me about normal things, nothing deep, or upsetting, not even asking me to focus on the present. I don’t offer up any form of conversation. There’s a part of me that feels as though I am behaving like a brat, but I don’t really care.
“Do you know what helped you to be able to come out of being so far away and sit up? What helped or allowed you to start to come back?” Bea asks me, finally going for something deeper.
I refuse to look up, or look anywhere but the markers and my picture. I shake my head. “I don’t know,” I say. But in truth, I do. I’m not much more present than I was before I sat up. I’m just doing what she expects me to do, what I’m supposed to do, so that I can leave.
“I wondered if it was maybe about the power dynamics. Me, asking you to sit up, to do something, to try this thing that is difficult and hard for you…..I just wondered if maybe, it was partly that? Because you were able to sit up when I began to be upset about my picture and the colors I had chosen. That leveled things a bit, maybe, put me in a more vulnerable place, too. Power dynamics can be very subtle. It’s something I’m always trying to be aware of, because I don’t want to be the high and mighty therapist, that doesn’t work well for trauma clients, for anyone, to feel a power differential like that. It’s not safe feeling. And, I’m aware of it on a personal level, too, because whenever I’m in the position of lesser power, I tend to push back, I don’t like not feeling on equal footing.” She says. (A lot of what she said is lost now, but that was the general idea, anyway.)
I hadn’t even noticed. And if I stop and think about it, I tend to be okay if the other in a relationship holds more power. Maybe it’s because I’ve always felt that way– younger, weaker, not as smart, pretty, talented, good, whatever, as other people, and maybe it’s because I often tend to feel like a child playing at being a grown up in a room full of real grown ups; so, of course they know better than me, right? I don’t know. “I wasn’t thinking that…it wasn’t….what you said makes sense. It just…it’s not something I thought about or even noticed.”
“Okay.” Her tone is easy, neutral, calm. “I just wondered.”
After a moment, I realize that I did think, when she was upset about the colors she had used and voicing that aloud, that she was working really hard to get me to engage with her, and I was being a brat, so I just needed to get up, and do what I was supposed to be doing.
We color in silence, and Bea looks at the clock after a few minutes. “Whoops, it’s after 11,” she tells me.
“I should go,” I quickly say, and begin gathering my things.
“It’s okay. I don’t have anyone right after you, we have time to finish up. We can take a few minutes.” Her tone is gentle, and kind, her voice is soft. It’s like she’s trying not to spook me.
“It’s okay, I’m fine,” I insist. I finish throwing my stuff in my bag, putting my markers away.
“Why don’t we each choose a picture for next time before you leave?” She suggests.
So, I pick up a coloring book, and flip through it. I select a picture at random. I don’t even remember now what I chose.
I hand her my the picture for next time, along with the one I’d finished today. We say goodbyes and I feel as though I run out of her office and down the steps, out into the street.
She does not want me to talk. She doesn’t want to hear my story anymore. I’m too broken, too much, too needy, to screwed up and crazy and she doesn’t care about anything except sensorimotor therapy and I don’t even want to do it. I hate it. It’s the worst thing in the world, and it is ruining my life.