Trigger warning!! This is the second half of this post. In it, Bea and I talk– fairly in depth– about a teenage suicide attempt. Please read with caution.
“The suicide attempt,” she says slowly, “Was that it, or did you try again later? Because I would imagine with no one was addressing the pain, with no one trying to understanding why, all those overwhelming bad feelings wouldn’t just disappear. I think that with trauma and these awful feelings, it is normal to think about dying. I know we haven’t talked about it, but you have written before about not wanting to be here anymore, and we have emailed about why you wouldn’t follow through on any plans, and what to do if you felt like you might. But I’m not sure I’ve stressed the fact that I believe when we experience such extreme traumas that our minds find ways to survive, and sometimes that includes the idea that if things get too bad, we can end it. It’s an escape, right? You aren’t crazy for having these feelings. And that why I would imagine that as a teen, those awful feelings didn’t go away, and maybe you tried to escape them again.”
It is hard to talk, I feel as if I am encased in a thick layer of quilting batting. “I….” I start and stop like that several times. I want my blanket, but I can’t ask. The words won’t come.
“Do you want your blanket?” Sometimes, it is as if Bea is a mind reader. I nod my head. She gets the blanket, unfolds it and holds it up on front of, letting it drop gently to cover me. I feel cared for when she does this, like she wants me to feel safe, like it matters to her.
“Okay. See if you can feel this boundary, that you are safe. See if having that solid boundary, feeling the blanket there, see if that will allow you to be more here.” Bea’s voice is soothing and soft.
I hold up 4 fingers under the blanket. Of coarse Bea can’t see that. “Four……four times.” I whisper. It’s six or seven if you count college after the boyfriend, but I don’t want to go there.
“Four times? You really were just begging for help, for someone to see you and no one did. I just want to tell that teen girl she is seen now, she’s not alone now.” Bea’s voice is kind, but there’s an edge to it, a tone that says she is so angry with the adults in teen Alice’s life. “Did you have to go to the hospital?”
“No.” I say, finding it funny. My parents couldn’t have me in a hospital. It would ruin that perfect image of our family. Then I think about it, and say, “Well yes, I guess. I mean, sort of. The ER. Not the hospital. I…”
“Did you cut yourself everytime? Or were there other things?” Geesh. Bea isn’t shying away from this. She’s of afraid to talk about it. It feels invasive, in a way, as if she is trying to unlock a box full of my secrets, but on the other hand I am glad that she isn’t shying away from this topic. I’ve never been allowed to talk about it.
I shake my head. “Other things. You know the first time…..before I cut my wrists.”
“Can you remind me? I’m sorry, I think I need a memory jog.” Ordinarily I would be hurt that Bea forgot something about my story, but since this was a story told only very quickly as to how I lost my therapist Cathy, I’m not surprised that Bea can’t really remember.
“This is hard to talk about.” I mumble the words.
“I know. It’s not normal conversation. But it is okay.”
“It’s….I mean….always it was just ignored. I mean, like, I knew that I was to pretend nothing ever happened. The Kenny stuff…..it might have been known, it might have been ignored, but it was me pretending it away, it was me splitting parts away and not even knowing what happened…..but this….it was just the rules. Don’t talk about it. Pretend it never happened. It’s different.” I try my best to explain, but I’m not sure I’ve made sense.
Even though I can’t see her, I picture Bea nodding. Her voice has that *light bulb* moment quality to it. Something just clicked for her. “I can see that. It’s something that was definitely known to your parents and a deliberate choice was made to cover it up and hide it.”
“Yes!” She gets it. “So it’s….hard to talk about. I’m breaking the rules again.”
“It’s okay. We can take our time. When you are ready.”
“No….I want to….I think…..it’s just…..hard. And I wanted to say why it is hard.”
After another long pause, I speak. “I……… overdosed.”
“The first time?”
“What did you take?”
“Tylenol. Just Tylenol.”
“What happened? Did you tell your parents?”
“I….I’m not sure. It’s fuzzy. I was throwing up. I think they found me. Or caught me? I don’t know.”
“But you ended up at the hospital?”
“At the ER.”
“How did they treat you there? Were they kind?”
“I….I’m not sure…..I don’t remember getting there. I just….I remember when I woke up.”
“What happened when you woke up?”
“I….I was….I mean, it was, my mom was checking me out. To go home. I was. The nurse….”
And then it’s silence because I can’t get the words out. Bea waits, and then she reassures. But mostly there is a lot of silence. Finally, words begin to find their way our of my head and into the room. “It…..I feel like I’m making this a big deal when it’s not. It’s silly.”
“You think it’s silly?”
“Well, it’s just, it’s not even a thing. But I’m having a hard time talking and so it seems a big deal but then when I say it, it will be like, well that’s silly.”
“I don’t think it’s silly. I think it has some significance if it’s a struggle to talk about. Clearly this impacted you in some way.”
“It…..I was……the nurse. He was telling me……I might throw up more and if it was black not to panic it was okay.”
“Because of the charcoal?” Her voice is matter of fact.
“Yeah. Because they pumped my stomach. And then….I had clothes there to put on. To go home. So he was to help me get up to get dressed.”
I pause again. I can’t tell this story. It’s not even a big deal. It’s not a trauma memory, it’s nothing, and Bea is going to think I’m an idiot. Yet, I can feel the panic in my belly and my chest, I can feel myself wanting to run, to hide, to disappear.
I know we have to be running out of time and I don’t want to hold this until next time and I don’t want to write it in an email. The words come out in a rush. “There was a catheter and he reached under the blanket….under my gown to remove it. I….I freaked out….” Oh my God, the shame of this behavior is going to kill me. I’m going to die, right here, on Bea’s sofa, of shame.
“Of course, of course you did. It was a trigger, a trauma reaction. It is a big deal. It was a big trigger. Did anyone realize? How did they react?”
“They……it’s fuzzy….they held me……a shot…..” My words are quiet and I’m pretty far away.
“They gave you something to calm you down?” She asks, sounding like she can’t believe I was treated that way.
“A shot. And then he finished removing the catheter and helped to get me dressed.” I can feel the sharp prick in my right arm, the fear inside me of having my arms held down, and then I can feel the fear and anxiety being covered up, blocked somehow, and everything is numb and fuzzy again.
“Ugh! I’m sorry! You didn’t deserve that! You didn’t need that. You needed someone to see this trauma reaction and help you.”
“I was just crazy. The crazy borderline girl. It didn’t matter.”
“It does matter. You weren’t crazy. This is revictimization. It’s doctors and other helping professionals not seeing trauma signs and not helping, just treating you like a label, like you were something needing to be fixed. You weren’t then, and aren’t now. You aren’t broken. You aren’t crazy.”
“I just…..I thought something was wrong with me. Just me….being crazy. Acting out. Being broken.”
“Ahhh….the parts didn’t know about each other then. The teen didn’t know all the trauma and how she could be triggered. She had no idea. You had no idea back then why you behaved in that way. It’s not like now, where the grown up you knows about the other parts and has an awareness.”
I nod. “Yeah.”
Bea is not happy that no one saw I had a trauma reaction. She is angry for me that no one realized what was going on, and no one helped me. I don’t know why I do it, but I stick up for all the people who didn’t see, and didn’t help. “It was almost 20 years ago. I don’t think anyone knew about stuff like this then. No one talked about it.”
“That true, it’s been more in the last ten years that trauma and trauma responses, PTSD and dissociation have been talked about in the therapies world and the medical community. But I still can’t believe– I believe you– but I can’t fathom that not one nurse or doctor there thought to ask you what happened, why you got upset, how you were doing. I know that 20 years ago it was everything was more of a medical model. But it makes me angry for you! You deserved better! You’ve had so much trauma. Adding more from helping professionals, it’s just unfortunate.”
We sit in silence for a few minutes. I slowly pull the blanket off my head, holding it over my face and peeking out over the edge of it like a little kid. I’m still afraid to look at her. I’m terrified of seeing disgust, or disinterest, or something bad. I don’t know.
Before I leave, Bea looks at me, making eye contact. “We can’t go back and change things now, as much as I wish we could. But what we can do is listen to the teen, and validate her pain and help her see that there is nothing wrong with her, that she is not crazy or broken. We can help her to feel heard and cared for. I hope that she’s listening to this now. Can I tell her something? I hope you know you aren’t alone now. You don’t have to hide any of this anymore. You don’t have to be perfect. I won’t leave, you can’t make me leave, even if you aren’t perfect. I’m here, and I see you.”
When I finally leave Bea’s office, I feel as if I have been wrapped in a warm hug. I’m exhausted, and sad for what the teen needed but didn’t get, but I’m secure in the knowledge that Bea is here.