This could be triggering. I put a giant trigger warning around the most– or what I think would be– the most triggering part so it’s easy to skip over, but please be careful reading this regardless.
Friday evening and I’m emailing Bea in a panic. She emails back almost right away, and we go back and forth for a few emails. She ends up telling me she can see me tomorrow at 3:00. At first, I feel ridiculous and wrong and I’m worried about taking the appointment. I tell her part of me wants to come in and part of me thinks it is silly. She responds by telling me it is a good idea, and that she will see me at 3:00pm, if I can make it. I give in to my panic, and email her that yes, I will be there at 3:00pm.
Which is how Hagrid and I are here, in Bea’s office, sitting in my spot on her sofa, on a Saturday.
“I shouldn’t be here,” I tell her.
“Why? Because it’s a Saturday? I’m okay with you being here. I see nothing wrong with you being here.”
“Because….because I know your last appointment is at 2:00pm on Saturdays.” I feel my face flush. She should be off work now. Instead, she is stuck here, with me.
“Well, yes, usually. But I made the decision that I could see you at 3:00pm for an hour. I’m okay with that.” Her voice is very clear and strong right now. I can’t look at her, but I imagine she looks calm and okay.
“I’m just….I’m worried..I’m afraid…..” The words fall away. I’m afraid of this unnamed thing, but I’m also afraid of saying it out loud.
“What are you afraid of?”
“That…that it…I’m afraid you….that I’m…” I shake my head in frustration.
It’s like a switch flips for Bea, and she gets it. The puzzle comes together and she finds my missing words. “You’re worried that this is too much for me, that I won’t be able to handle it and that I’ll leave?”
I burst into tears, in that way that is usually reserved for children. It’s part fear, part relief that the words are out there. “Yes.”
“I’m not leaving. I’m okay. I can handle this. You aren’t too much, this isn’t too much, and I’m not leaving,” Bea says, her voice firm and strong and serious. She isn’t leaving.
“You’re not leaving?” The little girl needs to double, triple check things.
“No. I’m not leaving.”
“You are okay?” I hate this needs to double check, but I also have to make sure.
“I am okay. This isn’t too much. You are not too much.” She reassures again. I wonder how she manages to reassure so often, to answer the same questions, time and time again and not sound annoyed. I would sound annoyed.
“Okay,” I say. Hagrid jumps into my lap, and I bury my face into his fur. Deep breath. He smells like outdoors, like grass and sunshine.
I tell her about the mess Kat’s school is creating, and the pressure it is putting on me. “It’s just another thing, another thing that I have to fight for, and I have to….it’s another….” I shake my head. Deep breath. “I’m trying so hard not to fall. And now…it’s one more reason I have to balance. And I’m so scared. It’s too much. I can’t…I’m not a grown up right now and I am failing left and right and I can’t do this.” I continue on, in this crazy girl speech, my words coming faster, and my breathing speeding up, too. I talk and I talk and I talk. Maybe more than I ever have; I talk as if I’m writing in my notebook. “And I’m just…I’m tired. I’m tired. And Kat knows, she knows I’m not present and I can’t make myself be more present and all she wants is for me to play like mommy plays, and I can’t make myself do it. I can’t be present like that. I’m damaging her.” I burst into tears again.
It’s so important to me to be there for Kat, to be a good mom. I don’t care about being the best mom, or even about doing things the way culture or society dictates as correct. I want to raise an emotionally healthy, aware, child. I want my child to know she is worth something, to not be afraid to say how she feels, or what she thinks. I want her to believe her opinions matter, and count. I want her to feel loved for who she is, and who she chooses to be. I want her to feel supported and contained. I want to raise a child who knows how to be present, to live in this moment. I want to raise a child who is as okay with anger and sadness as most people are with happiness and joy. I want her to feel strong and to be independent but to never feel alone. I want so much for her, but none of it centers on who she will marry, or what college she will go to, or what profession she will choose. I only want her whole self to be healthy and happy. After that, anything is okay with me.
“It’s okay. Yesterday, I saw no signs of you damaging her. She’s okay. She was playing a game of needing all the animals and me in our safety fort, so I would say she is seeking security in a healthy way, and may need a bit of extra security, but not in a bad way. She is okay.” I believe what Bea is telling me. I don’t think she would lie about Kat, because it is too important to her and me that kids get what their needs met.
I start to say something about hubby, somehow we got on the subject of hubby. But I can’t. “It’s not….this isn’t about hubby, but I was thinking….I never had to ask you to make sure Kat was okay before, because I knew, if I fell, Kay would make sure Kat was okay, and hubby knew I wasn’t really crazy. I knew she would make sure they were both okay. And she would watch them, and make it okay until I could put myself together and be okay again.”
“It’s a big loss then, even bigger than we talked about. Losing Kay means losing a very big safety net.” Bea says sadly.
“Yeah.” I blink back tears.
“I noticed you said until I was okay. What would you need to be okay, if you fell?” She asks.
I shake my head. I have no idea. I don’t know what I need. It’s not that my parents didn’t meet my needs, because they did, and they loved me, but emotional needs, well those weren’t really allowed. So I have no idea what I need, because I have pushed those down for so long. “I don’t know. I really truly don’t.” I look up at her, desperate for her to believe me. I use ‘I don’t know’ so often to avoid talking, I want her to know this isn’t that.
“I wish… Hubby. He doesn’t see me, unless I’m okay or….ugh. I made things so much worse. I’m such an idiot. I just…I messed it up and things are worse. I almost emailed you. This morning, or last night, however you want to look at it, but it seemed silly when I would be here in a few hours, so I didn’t. I didn’t write it. And now I can’t say it.” I squeeze my hands into fists, push with my nails. It’s not exactly conscious and deliberate but it’s sort of planned….almost like its auto pilot, a habit now, when I’m anxious, overwhelmed.
“Did you have a fight?” She asks me softly. She sounds concerned.
“No. No. We….he doesn’t see me unless I’m okay or when…..he sees me when he…….” Deep breath, and push hard with my nails, but I don’t feel calmer. I let myself float away, and the next time I speak, my voice is far away. “He sees me when he wants something from me.”
“A word on the list?” Bea questions, carefully. In a dull, sort of muted way, I feel surprise that she didn’t say the word, and relief.
I nod. “Yes. And I thought….I just….I wanted….I thought he would…I thought it might help……it just made things worse. It wasn’t a good idea.”
“You thought that if you did, then maybe he would feel closer, and you would feel closer and seen and heard and cared for?” She manages to articulate the thoughts I am struggling to put into words.
I nod. “And it didn’t work!” The tears fall as the words come out, and it’s like I’m yelling at her, or the world, or something, for the unfairness of it all.
“It didn’t work. Does….it…usually bring him closer and make you feel seen?” She’s being been careful not to say anything that would add to my already triggered state.
I shake my head. “It usually ends…..bad. It’s not…he just wants me fixed then. It doesn’t make us closer when I flip out.”
“Ahhh. This feels really hurtful and bad, but we can look at it like an experiment that didn’t help.”
“It was stupid.” I shake my head at myself, at my stupidity.
“Not at all. You have all these body feelings going on, and this emotional upheaval, and you just want to be seen and heard. Validated and understood. Mirrored. And this feels really bad. Why wouldn’t you try anything to make it stop, to get some relief?” Bea’s very good at taking my side, and being on my side, even when I’m against myself. “So, what did happen? How did he act?”
“Nothing. Nothing happened. I didn’t….it wasn’t….” I want to say I was not there. I was gone and scared and really frozen in my head. “I didn’t flip out. And he must went back to ignoring me.”
“He ignores you?”
“No. Yes. Not like…just…he doesn’t see me. And he doesn’t…we don’t talk. He doesn’t ask me things.” It hurts. Even when I told him I was going to therapy today at 3, something highly unusual, he didn’t say anything at all. He just nodded, and when I was getting ready to leave, he said he forgot I had that thing today. Even my own kid realized I was going to my ‘shrink doctor’ and told me she hopes I had a good talk.
“Okay. So what made things worse?”
“The….feelings. They got stronger. It….he…I don’t know….made them more here.” My face heats up, and I can feel the bright red flush of shame, marking me like my own personal scarlet letter.
Bea thinks for a minute. I can tell she is thinking because I see her chair swiveling from side to side, and it’s silent in the room. “Do you remember when we talked about how triggers can become linked? So eventually the original trigger, from the trauma, is not longer the trigger at all?”
“Yeah….” I say it slowly, not sure where she is going with this.
“Well, it makes sense to me that the feelings would be ‘more here’, if the triggers linked and hubby became a sort of trigger.” She tells me softly.
I don’t say anything, but I nod my head. I get it. It makes sense. But oh my god, I need this to stop.
“Okay. I’m wondering what you are feeling now? I’d really like to send you out of here with some sense of relief, of knowing it will be okay. Because I really do believe it will be okay, but you don’t feel it. And that’s all right. But I’d like for us to try some things to see if we can’t help make this lessen a little.”
“You mean, what I’m feeling right now? This minute?”
“Yes. What is the most upsetting thing you are feeling right now?” She repeats. “What image or thought or feeling?”
I sit for a long time, my knees pulled to my chest, my head down, face buried. “It’s a feeling.”
“Okay, good. Can you tell me?” Her voice has gone soft and gentle, to match the smallness of my own voice.
“It’s on my cards. You read my cards?”
“Yes, yes I did read them. Do you have them with you?”
“You want me to get them?” I ask her.
“When you can. I know you’ve gotten into this kind of frozen state, and it’s hard to feel safe to move. So when you can, yes.” I see her chair stop moving, and she is very still, now.
“If I get them, you can read it and I won’t have to say it?” I have to know it’s worth it to move, to fight through this frozen feeling.
“Yes. I can read it,” she says.
“Okay.” Deep breath. “Okay.” I slowly shift how I am sitting, but it’s not much. I start to talk about baking, making small talk as if I am perfectly fine. I let the switch in my head flip, so I can sit up and move and act fine. I’m talking about using lavender as a flavor– something I’ve never done before or tasted– as I reach in my bag and get my cards. I go a silent, mid-sentence when I read the top card. I shove it to the back of the pile quickly, and Bea starts talking about a restaurant in town. I focus on her words, and even though I’m spacey and between the then and now, I manage to listen to, and focus on her voice. I find the card I need, and hand it to Bea, while dropping the others back into my purse.
She looks at the card, and I bury my face again, embarrassed. “Ahhhh. This makes sense. And I’m reading this and thinking there is a lot we can do here, a lot we can try.”
I start to cry, at the realization that she now knows what I’m feeling, what is happening for me. The tears are a mix of fear and shame and relief.
“Can we try some things?” She asks me gently.
“Okay.” I agree, but then add, “I’m scared.”
“I know. You are so, so scared. This is so scary. This whole memory is about feeling that vulnerability. It’s so scary.” She’s talking the way you talk to a scared child, and it’s what I need right now.
“You won’t go?” I ask her, terrified she is going to leave me alone in this.
“Nope. I’m not going anywhere. We are going to do this together.”
The little girl wants to ask Bea to hold her hand, but the rest of me is shouting ‘danger! Danger! Danger!’ and so I say nothing, except, “okay.”
“You couldn’t say no then, although you clearly wanted to. ‘No, no no. Words in my head, but no words in my mouth.’ You were frozen, too scared, too vulnerable and small to say no then. But you are grown up now. You are big now. You can say no now. We can say it together. Do you think you can do that?” She asks me.
“I’ll try.” It’s a whisper. I’m afraid to fail. This whole time, I have been crying, off and on. The tears are back.
“Okay. You are a grown up now. You can say no. You couldn’t then, but you had every right to do so. We can say it now.” Bea says more, but I lose the words.
“What if I didn’t have the right?” I ask her.
“Oh, you did. You had every right to say no. You just couldn’t, because you were little and scared. But no matter what, you have that right, to say no.”
“What…” I shake my head to clear it. “You really don’t think this is my fault, do you?” It’s like a peice of a very large messy puzzle clicks into place. Something about her words, her tone of voice, I’m not sure what, but it clicked into place and I feel sure that she doesn’t see this as my fault.
“No, I don’t think this is your fault at all.” She tells me.
“What if….I mean, well, what If I did something bad before this, and I just don’t remember the before?” I mumble the words, terrified she might agree with me, hoping she won’t, but knowing, deep down, she will; if I did something before, I deserved whatever happened after.
“It wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t change what I think,” she says simply, as if it should be clear, as if it is something everyone should know, like the fact the sky is blue, or honey is sweet.
And I believe her. She doesn’t blame me. Even after all she knows. She does not blame me.
We try a few times, but I’m unable to say ‘No’ with her. “It’s just a stupid little 2 letter word. It shouldn’t feel this scary.”
“Because it means facing how vulnerable you were then, when you couldn’t say no. It’s okay. Maybe that’s not the place to start. Maybe we start with the body feelings.” She pauses, and then she reads the top part of my card.
“Picture in my head. Knees held together. Really, really tight. Hands on ankles, pulling. . Gentle but not.”
She’s read my card out loud. Her voice was matter of fact, and she did not sound disgusted or overwhelmed. Huh. “Do you see this now?” She asks me.
I nod. “I feel it.”
“Okay. Don’t go too far away. Can you feel your body? Does it want to do anything? Maybe stand up, or push, kick?”
“I want…” I stop my words before they can escape.
“Get rid of that filter for the moment, it can come back later, but we don’t need it here.” Bea encourages me.
“I’m trying,” I assure her. I pause for quite a while and make some random small talk. “I want to pull my legs up and hold my knees together.”
“Okay. Okay, that’s good! So, like you are sitting now. Can you focus on your knees?”
“I’m really scared. So scared. He’s…I…I’m so scared.” I whisper.
“I know. You are really scared. But you aren’t little anymore, you are grown up! You’re strong now. And you your knees are very, very strong. Can you feel how strong they are?” She’s talking softly, but her voice is sort of serious again.
“I don’t feel like a grown up right now,” I cry.
“I know you don’t,” she says, and she says it in such a way that I know she gets it.
She talks about how my knees are very strong, and how when I was little it was scary because someone could move them, but no one can now. She has me focus on my knees, and that feeling of holding them together.
“No one can make them move?” I ask her, not sure I believe it.
“No one. No one can make them move, no one can open them.” She is firm on this.
“No one can make them move,” I tell her. My voice is a little louder, a little stronger and I feel a little calmer.
“Do you feel like you want to say no, now?” She asks me.
I still can’t. It’s silly, but the idea of saying that insignificant, two letter word, it’s just too much. So, I shake my head. “You’re still here?” Fearfully, afraid that she is leaving because I can’t do something.
“I’m still here. I’m not leaving.” She reassures again. How is she not sick of this? “Is there something else your body wanted to do?”
At first, I shake my head, but then I whisper, “Hands…..push them off.” I cringe inward and feel cold.
“Okay. You wanted to push. Yes! Do you want me to hold a pillow and you can push it away?”
It’s quiet, while she waits for my answer. Finally, I tell her, “Monday. Let’s just…Monday.” I know that the hour has to be up, and I’m afraid to do this and end up in another tail spin when I’m feeling a bit more calm, a bit more solid.
“Okay. We can pick this up on Monday.” I hear Hagrid jump down, and prance around her chair while she pets him. She tells him she is really proud of me, and she is celebrating how brave I was.
I take a minute, sitting there, and when I sit up, I look at the clock. It’s 4:15. We went past her one hour time frame. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, it’s past an hour, I’m sorry, I’m going.” I’m scrambling to get my things and get out of there. I’m going to be too much for her. I’m going to take too much, and need too much and she is going to leave.
“Breathe. Breathe for a minute. I knew, when we started with the knees, that we would be past the hour. I looked at the clock, and I knew that. I made that choice. I was okay with it. It’s okay. No one is mad. No one is in trouble. Breathe.” Bea speaks firmly, and she is looking directly at me when she says this.
“No one is in trouble?” I double check.
“No one.” She says.
And so, I breathe. We spend a moment talking about grown up things, random things like cooking, or cleaning, or walking the dog, going out to dinner. And then I breathe. She reminds me that when I feel scared, or have those body memories, to remember how strong my knees are and that no one can make them move.
When I leave, I don’t feel better, but I feel calmer. I put on my playlist of “survivor/fighter” songs,and blast the music on the way home.