It’s 7:40am, but I walk up the stairs to Bea’s office anyway. I have so much stuff that I need to talk about, I need to make Bea see, make her understand. My notebook is very, very full of all kinds of messy, overwhelmed feelings.
I had emailed Bea on Thursday, and unsure and uneasy with her response, I finally emailed her back Saturday. I spent a lot of the week making charts, lists, graphs. I was trying to find a way to feel in control, I think. One thing Bea has been insisting we work on is my dissociation. She wants to find what triggers it; why we can be talking about baking and I will be fine, but the moment the subject turns to me and my stuff, I begin to go away. To Bea it seems very sudden, and I’m sure it is, but for me, I can feel that I am uncomfortable with the emotions bubbling up and I can sense, in my mimd, that I am going to feel very scared of this topic. It’s at that point, this split second moment, when time slows down for me, and things get a little bit fuzzy, like I’m looking though a telescope at the world around me; that’s the moment I can make a choice. I can choose to use those grounding skills Bea has so diligently taught me, or I can go far, far away from the bad scary stuff in the present. And please don’t tell me the present is safe, nothing bad is happening there. The feelings are there. The memories are there. It’s not safe there. Not in the very least.
In my email I explained that Parts were split, and fighting over what was the best thing to do with these charts I had made. One chart in particular had everyone stirred up. I had created a chart showing what I am feeling on one side and what my reaction is on the other side. For example, the right side of the chart says,” feelings start to grow, and can be named and recognized.” The left side of the chart says,”Really uncomfortable. Danger! This is not safe to feel these things.” Grown up real me is excited about this chart, it makes sense, Bea will understand it, and I am excited to understand more about how my dissociation and my system works. The little girl is scared that if Bea knows how dissociation works, then Bea will take it away because Bea doesn’t want any of the parts to dissociate, Bea says we have to be more present to deal with the trauma. Every part is conflicted over this. So, I emailed. It was a bit messy, but I wanted to talk to Bea about this. The little girl was so upset over not being able to tell Bea something because she was afraid Bea would use it against me. I also wrote about how alone I felt, but I couldn’t say that I felt as if Bea was there but not HERE. I was too afraid that she would tell me it was my fault she was far away, that I was too draining, too difficult. So I simply described the far away and all alone feeling.
Bea’s response was fine. There was nothing wrong with it. And maybe if I weren’t so hyper alert to any changes in her behavior towards me and therapy, then it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. She addressed the loneliness, saying, “the being so alone feeling sounds like a part that has no access to an attachment figure.” And then she went on to discuss the fear over letting her in on the secret of how my dissociation works, “The part that doesn’t want to tell sounds like a good protector part. I think the grown up should assure that part that you will only share with me as much as feels safe. I don’t need to know any secrets, unless you think it would help you. There is no reason to alarm parts of you that have organized this system of keeping you safe. We only want the grown up to be more in control of the system.” Even though her response was fine, it left me with a sense of not being seen, of being alone, as if I had dove down to the middle of the ocean and there was no one on the surface to pull me up. I felt left. It felt as if she didn’t care, she was just replying to get rid of me. Finally, I gathered up some courage, and emailed again. I told Bea the little girl really had been looking for reassurance that Bea was safe to share secrets with, that Bea wouldn’t use secrets against me to hurt me or to get what she wants. The little girl needed reassurance that Bea had no ulterior motives, no tricks. Bea responded, and it all felt off. She wrote, “My thought while reading the beginning of your email: *Well of course I’m not going to use that against you*. It seemed so obvious to me, but I understand you actually needed to hear it! Please be reassured that this is a collaborative effort, and I don’t have any ulterior motives.” Why does her email feel both causal and authentic, but then so formal and rigid? I don’t understand, and I don’t write back.
So, at 7:40am, I walk into Bea’s office. I’m planning on sitting in the waiting room, because I know I am early, but Bea sends me in, even with my protests that I can wait.
“Go on in, I’ll be right there. I’m just going to warm up this tea,” she says.
“Okay,” I say back.
By the time I’ve sat down and gotten cozy, Bea is in the office, too. She sits down, and I blurt out, “My mother in law is moving 5 minutes away and hubby isn’t really seeing the big deal of this and I just found out last night but I’m freaking out and I really don’t want to waste my session on her but I need to talk about this all a little bit but I have a whole notebook full of stuff that I really need to talk about.”
“Whoa. That’s a lot! She’s moving 5 minutes away from you? I know that can’t be an easy thing to have found out.” Bea says, her face holding this look of shock and anger at the awfulness of this situation, at the audacity of hubby’s mother.
(I don’t want to waste a lot of blog space on this woman, either, but for those of you newer to my blog, 2 summer ago, my mother in law (aka MIL) —- who never liked me and always caused problems between hubby and me—- flipped out on me in public, and then attempted to take us to court to take Kat away from us. I have nothing to do with my mother or father in law since then. Hubby still sees them. I didn’t allow him to take Kat over there for a long time, but for about a year, Kat has occasionally gone with hubby to visit for no more than an hour. Hubby’s sister doesn’t talk to MIL, and her daughter’s don’t see MIL either. MIL, we are all pretty sure, has narcissistic personality disorder. I’m sure she is moving closer to all of us to be difficult, to find a way to weasel her way back into our lives.)
I vent about MIL, and about hubby and the whole mess. Bea listens and understands. Eventually I stop venting and pull out my notebook. “I don’t want to waste all my time on her. I have so much in here.”
“Okay.” She takes the notebook from me. “We can talk about whatever you want to or need to talk about. This isn’t wasting time.”
I shrug. “I just….ugh. It’s like I don’t want her to take all MY time for dealing with my stuff. I don’t know. But I’m done talking about her for now.” I laugh, because I’m sure we will be talking about MIL again soon.
Bea nods, and starts reading. “Ahhhhh. The little girl was really feeling worried about it not being safe to talk to me. I need to apologize for not realizing that was her fear, that she needed an emotional connection and reassurance from me that I wasn’t going to hurt her. I think my response was just an everyday life Bea response, sort of that first instinct, not so much from my wiser self. I don’t know if it’s summer, or what it is exactly, but I haven’t been able to be very deep lately. I’ve been much more on the surface, and not seeing the deeper stuff. I’m sorry because that isn’t helpful to you, and I know you are very sensitive to those shifts, and you can easily internalize that to be about you. This isn’t your stuff– it’s my stuff, and it’s something I’m working on.”
If I were braver, I would say to Bea: *I’m glad you told me that. I have so much mom stuff popping up lately that I’m already feeling this loss of an attachment figure, or I am realizing that mom was never there for the real me anyway, or something, that this distance I have been feeling of you not being here, this feeling of being disconnected, it is 1000 times worse because it seems I am losing attachment figures all over the place, and I really am alone.* Instead, I simply nod.
Bea continues reading, letting that drop for now. I think how in the past she would have actually reassured the little girl, she would have made sure that parts knew she was there, and wouldn’t hurt them. But this more surface Bea doesn’t do that. She stops reading and looks up. “I wondered what you and your brother had talked about.” I and told her via email that I had talked to my brother. “So you really remember and see the same things about your mom. This….the playing with Legos IF there was a full set with directions, that really speaks to her needing to hold everything very rigid, very controlled. She couldn’t allow free play, or messy play. That probably would be very scary for her. But that couldn’t have been easy on you. Reading this, there is so much pain there.” Her voice is sad for me, but I can’t let down my guard right now.
Bea reads about my heartache over my mom not loving me, and she reads the pages and pages I wrote after nightmares, during flashbacks. Those pages are full of confusion, and anger and hurt. Some of them are written when overwhelmed and unable to control it. Some were written when I was trying to control everything, and you can see it in my handwriting; messy, large and loopy cursive versus teeny tiny perfectly formed print. She stops reading periodically to say something empathetic and kind, or to ask a question.
Before she gets to the end, but as our session is close to over, she stops and says, “I hope the little girl, and all the parts, I hope you know, I would never hurt you. I won’t use anything you share with me against you.”
I shrug. “Maybe. But you can’t promise that. Maybe you really do want me to stop going away and….I don’t know.”
She nods. “You’re right. I can’t know for sure. But if there was a part of me that you picked up on, a part that just wants to make it all better for you, make it easier for you, help you…..if there is a part like that, then because we’ve talked about it, and I’m aware to be paying attention for that within myself, I would be aware of an impulse to ‘fix’ you, and I would curb that impulse.”
I’m not sure what to say. I value Bea’s honesty, it is one reason I trust her. But I sort of hate that what she is saying isn’t what I wanted to hear from her. It’s how I know her response is real, and it feels caring. She cares enough to be honest with me. I hand her 3 pieces of paper. One is a list of different far aways, another is a list of how to make things real, and the last (and only chart Bea hasn’t seen before) is about what triggers dissipating.
“Ahhh. This is good. It’s really good, really helpful. You did some hard work with this.”
“Thanks.” I whisper it.
“This makes so much sense. When you start to feel too many feelings, that triggers danger signals, and you go away. This makes total sense. This will be really helpful with our work. I think the thing is to stay between the pink and light green on the present side of the line. Because while even keel is nice, and that’s where we want to function in our day to day lives, we heal when we are on the edge our window, right?” Bea is excited, I can hear it in her voice.
“Yeah. I know. It’s just….well, I don’t know how to stay there.”
“I know, it’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable. We can use the other side of your chart, somewhere in the pink and blue writing, that says it is being more logical and more in your head. We don’t want to go too far into the pink but that being in your head, being more logical can help you feel calmer and safer when you get overwhelmed. We can go between the two, staying on the edge of your window. This is great, because it shows us right where your window is and what triggers your need to dissociate, what signals you that it’s time to go away.”
Bea is talking more theory and logic right now, but I’m okay with it. She doesn’t feel quite so far away as she did earlier. I think it’s because I shared my chart with her. I had been a little proud of working on that, and I can feel Bea is proud of me, and excited to have this explanation. “Okay. We can try,” I tell her. Little Alice is still afraid that having Bea direct me to leave a memory and ground myself again, will feel like rejection, like she doesn’t really want to deal with the memory.
Before I know it, Bea is telling me we have just a few minutes left. I’m not so far away now, so I nod, and easily pack up my bag when she hands me back my notebook.
“I didn’t get a chance to finish all of it,” she says, “And I do want to read it all and talk through it. You have enough there to keep us busy for months!” Her voice is light, not worried in the least.
“I’m sorry. I just….there was a lot in my head. I don’t know.”
“No, you don’t need to be sorry. This is good. It gives us….or at least me, a general idea of what is going on, what is coming up. Okay?” She checks in with me.
“Yeah. Okay.” I say.
We chase for a few more minutes and then we say goodbye and Bea smiles when she wishes me a good day.