When the undertow grabs hold

On Monday, the teen was feeling really embarrassed that she had told Bea how feeling cared about brings up all these icky, bad feelings, and wasn’t sure she wanted to go to therapy. Things were floaty and just off feeling, and it was really hard to stay grounded and connected.

Once I am settled in my place on the couch, and we chat for a bit, Bea asks me who is here today. I tell her that I don’t know, because I don’t. I feel odd, not here, and sort of numb, not real. I feel almost like a ghost or something, like I don’t quite exist. We continue on with the surface talk, mostly because I keep directing us back that direction. This sucks. I want to feel connected to her, and right now I don’t feel connected to anything.

Finally, Bea asks if I might want to look at my notebook. I get it out and flip through it. “There’s sort of old stuff in here. From October 22. Because we didn’t look at my book for a while.” I keep flipping pages as I am talking.

“Well, we can start at the beginning or with something more recent. Really it’s whatever you need to talk about, whatever is coming up for you,” she says softly.

I shrug. “It doesn’t matter, I don’t know.”

Bea waits, and I continue to just flip through pages. I’m wasting time, I know it, but I can’t seem to stop myself. (Thinking back, I think the teen was wasting time, not wanting to feel anymore exposed.)

The silence starts to make me feel panicked. “Just read the last thing I wrote and then go back to the beginning. Okay? Because it doesn’t really matter.”

“All right. We can do that.” Bea leans forward a bit, and I hand her my notebook. “This is a new notebook. It’s so pretty.”

I nod. “It’s the Harry Potter limited edition moleskin notebook. I love it.”

“Can I read from the beginning? Would that be all right?” Bea asks carefully.

“Sure. It’s fine,” I tell her.

It doesn’t take long for her to pause in her reading and look up at me. “The teen was really mad at me, huh? I can understand that. It’s really painful to have me sort of show her what she didn’t get from her mom growing up.” Bea sounds sad, and understanding and calm and kind and just so very much the Bea that the teen loves, it sent me spiraling. Or, rather, it sent the teen spiraling.

“No, no. I’m not mad anymore, I really wasn’t mad at you. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Panic fills my voice. I’m not floaty or spacey anymore, but I am definitely out of my window.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about. You are allowed to be mad at me.” Bea says firmly. Her words are kind, though, and I’m able to calm down enough that I can breathe again.

“I said I hated you,” I sob. “I didn’t mean that. I didn’t.”

“If you did, that would be okay. I can handle it. I’m strong enough to handle all your feelings, even hating me.”

“I don’t hate you. I didn’t hate you. It was just….I was mad and I hated that you weren’t my mom. No….that came out wrong. Wait. I mean, I hated that….it should be my mom, not you. I was mad, I hated that it wasn’t her.”

“I know. I know that. I understand. It hurts. It hurts so much that your mom didn’t have the capacity to give you what you needed.” When I peak out from behind cloud pillow (when did I even grab him and hide my face?!?!) she’s sitting criss cross applesauce in her chair, and leaning in towards me.

All of this came about because I had been able to stand up to someone and set a healthy boundary in a kind and respectful way and feel safe and supported while I did it; something I have never experienced or done before. I had been alone when this happened, but I knew Bea would support me. Even if she disagreed with me, I knew that she would still be there for me, that she would try to understand my viewpoint. I can’t really explain it, but even though she wasn’t there, it was like she was there, helping me feel supported and contained while I spoke. I didn’t become dysregulated once. Afterward, I thought to myself, *this is what secure attachment feels like. This is what it feels like to have a secure base.* It was exhilarating and at the same time devastating. It didn’t take long for all kinds of feelings to pop up for the teen. Mostly, those feelings were anger and pain over the fact that her mom didn’t give this to her growing up.

“I want to be mad at her, you know. But she….she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t handle anything. I can’t be mad at someone so broken. So I don’t know who I’m mad at. Not you. Not my mom.” I sigh. This is so hard.

“Maybe no one. Not being mad at me, that might be a new experience for the teen.” Bea suggests.

“That’s not fair. Yeah, she’s angry alot, but she isn’t always mad at you. And most of the time when she is mad at you it’s because she is scared.” The adult comes back just enough to defend the teen, which is unexpected.

“That’s true. I’m sorry,” Bea says.

“Okay. I’m not mad right now, okay?”

“Okay. What are you feeling?” Her voice is curious.

“I….just….I can’t be mad at her. Mostly that is what I feel.” I’m hiding behind cloud pillow still. I would really like to have a blanket to hide under, but I don’t want to ask, and Bea hasn’t offered, and it’s probably time to go anyways.

“Why not? Why can’t you be mad that your needs weren’t met? Thats a legitimate thing to be angry and rageful about.” Her tone is matter of fact now, like this is just something everyone knows.

“Because…….” The words get lost before they are even fully formed.

“Because why?” Bea asks. She is annoying me (the teen). Doesn’t she know? Can’t she put two and two together? Do I always have to spell things out for her?

“Because I don’t get to be mad. I’m not good enough! I didn’t try hard enough to do things, to be what she needed, I was always always needing more. I don’t have the right to be angry when all I ever did was screw up and make things hard for her!” I shot the words at Bea, and then hunch into myself, hugging cloud and crying.

“So only people who are good enough ―as defined by your mother― have the right to be angry?” Bea asks. Ugh. She has this innocent, playing dumb tone to her voice. I hate her again. She is asking me questions to prove a point and I don’t want her to prove a point.

“No. That is not even what I said. But all she wanted was me to be normal and I couldn’t even do that.”

“From where I am sitting, a lot of your feelings and thoughts were just like a normal teen. And you were totally normal given your history.”

“I hate it when you say that.”

“How come?”

I shrug. “Don’t know.”

“Maybe because if you are normal then you aren’t special?” Bea asks.

“No. It’s not like that. No one want to be special like this. I feel crazy. Its crazy making.”

“What is?”

“Me. My stupid feelings. I want to be cared about but then when I feel cared about I end up….well….feeling icky. That is crazy.”

“Well, it feels crazy, and it is normal for you, for what you went through.” Bea says. She sounds like Bea again and the anger towards her dissipates, but I still hate being called normal.

“It doesn’t make sense to me.” I shake my head.

“Well, I think that you had to be so defended for so long, and being cared about for so long came with strings attached, expectations, and the knowledge that you would only be cared about if you were behaving and performing well. Listen, okay? This is important. I don’t have strings or expectations. I care about you just for being you. I’m here because I care about you, about all the parts. That’s it. Okay? I know that is hard to trust, and it is difficult because as soon as you feel my caring all those defenses kick in. If you can try to just let in one little drop of caring, just allow one drop to make it past your walls, then you can feel cared about and still feel safe.”

“Maybe. Maybe I can try.” I whisper the words.

It’s not long before it’s time to go. We went over time, and I tell Bea I’m sorry.

“I’m not,” she says, “There was some stuff the teen really needed to get out.”

“Okay.” It’s all I can get out.

We say goodbye, and Bea wishes me a good day.

I really don’t know why therapy felt so off. I am pretty sure it was me, though, not Bea, considering I had been feeling off kilter for several days. It’s more than the eating thing. I still feel weird. I tried to journal and nothing really came out. I don’t know what my deal is. I probably should tell Bea that things (and me) felt weird and off on Monday and that there is so much going on with the teen, all these crazy, strong emotions and this self hatred that is so huge I (the grown up) can’t begin to fight it, and how the teen’s feelings are like an undertow, drowning me. I’m just not sure I can. I feel really apprehensive that if I try to explain, she will make a thimg out of something that is not a thing, or she will somehow inadvertently say something that feels invalidating to the teen, and then the teen will freak and we will be right back in the middle of another rupture where Bea claims its all about the past and the teen feels more and more unseen by her, and everything spirals out of control. The worst part is, I’m not sure if those are my feelings or the teen’s feelings. Because they feel like mine, and yet…….it could be the undertow taking hold.

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