They always saw me

Last week, therapy was more light hearted. Well, maybe not light hearted, but not majorly trauma centered. We talked about Bea, and her meeting the teen halfway. We talked about how it is scary to trust. The teen wrote that she wants to trust Bea, but she is afraid of her, afriad of Bea leaving, not being able to handle the teen. The teen thought she might test the water by talking about the party she’d gone to, and her therapist at the time, and the giant mess that followed. She thought maybe she could talk about the suicide attempt after the church’s sex education, and the way her parents handled it.

In the end, the conversation became about my Grandma. After that suicide attempt, my parents had forced me to behave as if things were normal. We went to my birthday party, at my grandparents’ house.

“They’d told everyone my stomach was upset, that I’d had a migraine earlier that day. I don’t know. I didn’t want cake. And I’m standing there, in the kitchen, and my Grandma asked me if everything was okay, if I was okay. I could have said something. I didn’t. I just, I said I had a headache.” I tell Bea.

“It would have been hard to say something,” she says, and she is as understanding as she always is.

I shrug. “Yeah, well. I just, I remember thinking I could tell her why my stomach was upset, the truth. But then there would be questions, and I didn’t want……I didn’t want to disappoint her. To have her……to have her know what I had done, because….I wanted….I could be just me with them. I didn’t want to lose that.” Tears are falling as I say this. The teen is sad that she couldn’t tell, and all the pain of wanting to talk but being afraid of losing the relationship because of what I’d done, all that pain is just so present in this moment. The grown up, though, is so mad. Kenny, my parents, they warped my head so badly that I couldn’t even tell the people I trusted the most. I spent most of my life pretending to be what my parents wanted so I would be loved, and that led to me needing so much more, it gave Kenny a way in, and it locked me in a prison where I couldn’t even ask the two people who did accept me for me, to protect me. I couldn’t risk losing the acceptance and love that my Grandparents so freely gave. It makes me sad that all of my experiences told me I couldn’t fully trust even my safest person.

Bea and I talk about this for a while, with Bea concluding that it would have felt too threatening to the teen to risk telling them, and that it may have even felt like it would destroy my safe world if I let the trauma out into it. And then we talk about the good memories I have with them as a teen. Trips my Grandma took me on, and weekend nights at their home, and showing off my prom dress to them on my way home from the mall. It feels like a betrayal to my parents, but I really did look forward to sharing my life with my Grandma and Grandpa. They were always just so proud of me, they always loved me so much, and they always thought I was wonderful, smart and beautiful– not perfect, though. They didn’t need or want perfect. They wanted me.

Sometimes, I think if they could have seen me this last year, running the PTO, leading a girl scout troop, getting a job as a teaching assistant/para pro, setting healthy boundaries, standing up for myself without getting nasty, and just really living my life, they would be surprised. But then I think, they wouldn’t be surprised at all, because they always saw me.

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A Conversation with the Pastor

I met with the Pastor. And it was good.

It’s 12:45 on Friday afternoon and as I pull into the church parking lot, I’m too nervous to think. Like filled with anxiety, too nervous to even eat today, nervous. Maybe this is a terrible idea. Maybe this is a big mistake, maybe I am going to be wasting his time, maybe, maybe, maybe. I’m spinning out, and thinking it might be best to just leave, to not go inside.

Instead, I do what I tell the kids in my class. I take a big breath. And then another. And another. At school, we use what we call “drain breathing” and I use it now. How it works is this: you take a big breath in and picture that breath as you letting calm things in. Then you let out the breath, and you picture it like a drain, getting rid of all the upset. This breathing works for me, maybe because I have used it so often with kids in my class that it feels safe, or maybe because it is less focus on feeling the body, or maybe because I am getting slightly more comfortable with body sensations. Whatever the reason, this is helpful. So, I breathe in and out, and give myself a pep talk. “You can do this. You are an adult. You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to. Alex is just a person, just like I am. I’m okay. This is okay.”

At 12:56, I walk inside, and sit down. A minute later, Alex walks over to my table. “Are you Alice?”

I nod. “Yeah. I’m Alice. It’s nice to meet you.”

The cafe area of our church is really busy, so he suggests we go sit in the middle school students’ space.

“I was just saying that I really need to tell people I will meet them in front of the students’ space, or by the welcome desk. Because I end up going around asking people if they are meeting me. It’s just a little akward.” He laughs as he says this, and I relax a little bit.

The student room is being used, so we end up in th nursing mothers’ room instead. Alex asks me first, because that room is closed off and only has one door, unlike the students’ space which is all clear glass and windows with huge open doors.

“That’s fine,” I say, “As long as we aren’t stopping someone from using it.”

“It’s really meant to be used for weekend service times, so it’s okay. And besides, this is a really cozy room. I’ll prop the door open, too.”

“Okay,” I agree. He lets me walk in first, and after I sit down, he chooses a chair that leaves me closer to the door. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it’s something I always notice.

He doesn’t make any small talk, just simply dives right in. “So, tell me about yourself, about what is going on, why you reached out.”

I freeze. Crap. This was dumb. So, so dumb. Why did I think this was a good idea? “I…I don’t know.” The old, automatic answer is back. I take a breath. Calm goes in, scared feelings go out. “I’m feeling really nervous.” I whipser.

“How come?” The question is straight forward.

“Umm. Well. I…because these things…they aren’t easy to talk about, they are uncomfortable. And there is a lot of fear in talking.”

“It is scary to say things outloud. There is power in it, too, though. When we say things out loud, it takes away some of the power it holds in our lives. Let me ask you this; what was it that convinced you to reach out?” He looks right at me when he asks this, and there is no judgement or annoyance in his face.

“It started with the starting over series. I just…it made me think about…that maybe I could move past this. But I just, I didn’t know how, or what I needed to do exactly. But it made me think it was possible. And then, well, you said if anyone had something they needed to start a conversation about they were welcome to do so, and you gave your email address. That….well, that’s what I do, it’s how I work through things, I write. So it just….. (I want to say it seemed like God had made a way for me to reach out, but I don’t. Because who am I that He would make a way for me?) it seemed like suddenly there was a path.”

He nods. “Can you say what it is you need to move past?”

I look at my hands, at the ground, anywhere but at Alex. “I……I’m mad at God. Well, on one hand I am so mad at Him, and on the other, I feel…guilty, unforgiven.”

Alex sits forward his seat, and looks at me. “Okay. Okay. Let me start with this. Do you know that it is okay to be mad at God? Anger, well, actually, all of our emotions, they come from God. And He welcomes your emotions. Being angry with God, it doesn’t make you a bad person. You are allowed to be mad at Him. Do you know that?”

I shake my head. “I don’t feel as if I have the right to be angry. There’s this…..guilt, it’s….I’ve made so many terrible mistakes.”

“What are you angry about?” His question is straight forward, so it’s not threatening but I still find it hard to answer, and so Alex continues. “The apostle Paul wrote about being honest about our mistakes, our sins, because that is where God shows his strength. It’s not in our perfection that God shines, but in our brokenness. Paul writes about this thorn in his side, and how he talks about this thorn in his side wherever he goes. And it doesn’t really matter what that thorn is. We all have sin, we all have stuff. We all have a thorn in our side. And to God, sin is sin.” Alex holds a hand level with the chair, “A lie,” and he holds his other hand above his head, “or murder, and everything in between, is all the same in God’s eyes. Now, they may have different consequences here on earth, but to Him, they are all equal.”

I sigh. “It’s so easy…well, not easy exactly, to admit to my parenting mistakes, or mistakes I have made in my marriage. The things that I have messed up in my adult life. But things from my past, it’s so much harder.”

“Those things have more power over you right now, they are harder to speak out loud.”

I nod. “If….logically, I know this isn’t my fault, but emotionally….it’s so very, very complicated.”

“Can you set the emotion aside for a minute?”

I look down at my hands again, twist my rings around my fingers. “I grew up (over there) and it’s….well, I joke that it is the bible belt of (state). Church is what you do there. It’s white, and conservative, and wealthy and you go to church. (This city) was culture shock when I moved here. I love it here, but it was culture shock. Anyway…..it was just…church was what you did where I grew up.” I stop talking, unsure how to continue.

“This is your story, and it is unique to you, but I can guarantee that awful things happening in the midst of church, or even because of church going people is not new to me. It won’t be anything I haven’t heard before.”

A small laugh escapes from me. “You might be wrong.”

“I could be. But I’m pretty confident that I’m not.” He’s just matter of fact again, gentle, but matter of fact.

“Okay. Okay. My cousins lived next door to us. And it was wonderful, and it was terrible.” I stop talking for a minute and breathe. And, that’s also the rest of the secret, the one I have never told, not to Bea, and not here in my writing. I’ve always said that Kenny was like family, that his parents were so close to mine that we called them aunt and uncle. The teen needed it that way. It made it less awful in her mind, to say he was like family, instead of that he was family. Again, it’s complicated and messy, and I don’t know why I told the truth to Alex about who Kenny was to me, but it felt right, and so I did. “My cousin, he’s eight years older than me. He sexually abused me. I was five. It…..it went on for 11 years.” I stare at the ground, unable to look up. “I….I, this….I didn’t know, it was just…I don’t know. I didn’t even know what it was. Not until…..well, in my middle school, at the time, they did this thing where they split up the boys and girls, to talk to them….” I trail off, struggling to continue.

“Yes, I remember that,” he says softly.

“My church offered an alternative. So my parents, they signed a form that I was not to attend the school talk, and they sent me to the church one. Probably half my class did the church talk instead. But that was when…….I realized what it was. What I had been doing. That I had committed this giant sin. And even if logically, I know that I didn’t……it is like ever since then I have been unforgivable.”

“That was not your fault.” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Alex looking at me. He sits forward again, and lays his hands flat on his legs. “I come from a very broken family. I was sexually abused for years. Healing from that, it has been, and is, a very big part of my story. It took a long time, but it is totally possible to come out the other side. Helping others who were hurt in this way, that has become part of my story. God has used that brokenness and hurt in me to help others.”

I stop breathing for a moment. Alex was sexually abused. He gets it.

“What happened to you was evil. But not your fault,” he repeats again.

“You sound like my therapist,” I say.

“Good,” he smiles, “Maybe you need to hear that from more than just her. It is the truth.”

“I know. Logically, I know. Most of the time, anyway. But emotionally……it gets complicated.”

“I know it does. That still doesn’t make what happened to you your sin. It’s not your sin. Even if there were times you liked it, even if there were times you sought it out, wanted it, it is not your sin to own. You have no fault here. Everything traces back to that five year old girl who didn’t understand, and didn’t ask for this. When you were seven, eight, nine, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, whatever happened, whatever part you think you had in this, it all goes back to that little girl who had something so evil and wrong done to her. And what happened to the nine year old, the twelve year old, everytime he hurt you, it was wrong, and it was evil, and you were never at fault. There isn’t anything to forgive where God is concerned. This isn’t yours to be forgiven.”

“I’m just so mad. I’m tired of being mad, I don’t want to feel like this. I want to move forward, I don’t want to keep feeling guilty and condemned and mad.” I blink back tears.

“Tell Him. Tell Him you are mad.”

I shake my head. I can’t do that. I’m afraid.

“He already knows, but He is always inviting us to have a conversation with Him. I’m guessing the mad is in wondering where He was, why He allowed this to happen to you?”

“Yes,” I whisper the word, covering my face with my hands as I blink back tears. I will not cry. I don’t like to cry in front of people. I will not cry.

“Ask Him. Let Him show you where He was in those terrible, painful moments. Maybe you need to forgive God for not rescuing you, for not stopping it.” Alex says this like it is just…..well, normal to talk about a person forgiving God. I can’t begin to wrap my head around this, I definitely do not believe I have the right to forgive God. But there is something there……I’ll think about this later.

Alex asks about feeling mad at anyone besides God. “I’m angry at everyone. At the one who hurt me, but at others in the family, too,” I tell him.

“Yes, yes! You should be angry. You have a right to be angry at this cousin who hurt you so badly. Have you told your family how you feel?”

I shake my head and stare at my hands. “No. They don’t know.”

“None of them knows?”

“My therapist, and my husband. That’s it.”

“Okay. Okay. I’m not saying you should tell, or that you have to tell, but I’m assuming this guy is still in your life?” There isn’t judgement in his voice, just sadness.

I nod. “Sorta. Not so much anymore. I….well, since I had my daughter, I avoid seeing him as much as I can, so he’s not really in my life so much now.”

“How are you ever going to really feel safe, really be able to go visit your family without being retraumatized, if there is always a chance you could run into him? Shouldn’t the people who didn’t protect you be held accountable and help to keep you safe now?” Alex asks me.

“You sound like my therapist again,” I tell him.

He nods. “Good. Why haven’t you told your family?”

“It would destroy my mother.”

“But it’s destroying you,” he says softly.

“I just can’t do that to her.”

“You haven’t done anything. You didn’t do this. You didn’t ask for this. Your cousin hurt you. You were the one who was hurt, the one who is suffering and struggling and being hurt everytime you are forced to see him, and yet, here you are, trying to protect everyone else.” He sounds sad. “This isn’t something you should have to deal with on your own. I’m glad you are starting to reach out to others besides your therapist, it’s brave of you and a good thing for you. But don’t you deserve to have the support and care of your family that you didn’t get then, now? It’s not your job to protect your mom.”

“Except it is. Or, it used to be.”

“No, it never was your job. Even if you thought it was, it wasn’t.”

“No, it wasn’t. Logically, I know that. But it was put on me. You have to understand, my mother, she, well she is……she has a pretty severe eating disorder. When I was growing up, if I messed up somehow, she would get worse.”

He nods understanding. “It was your job to keep things going smoothly, to keep your mom healthy. But really, it wasn’t your job then, and it is not your job now. Wouldn’t you want to know if your daughter had been hurt like you? Wouldn’t you want the chance to support her and love her through her journey of healing?”

“Except I have intentionally created a relationship with my daughter where we talk about everything— good and bad. My parents, they never wanted anything more than smiles and rainbows and unicorns.” Saying this out loud hurts. It’s the truth, and it’s nothing I haven’t said or thought before, but these words, they hurt. Maybe it is the idea that parents must be intentional in how they talk to their kids, and mine weren’t.

“And that’s painful, and it makes it harder for you to understand that God wants to hear all of it. He doesn’t want just sunshine and unicorns. He wants the storm clouds and the rage and the tears and the questions. He isn’t afraid of any of those things. He wants to hear it all. I know that as a mother, you want to hear everything your daughter has to tell you. I feel the same way as a father with my boys. It may not be what we grew up with. We are breaking that cycle, and the way we relate to our children, in wanting them to come to us, in welcome them and all their feelings, their triumps, their mistakes, that is how God feels about us.”

That is something to think about. It’s not how I have thought of God. Maybe I have unconsciously made God to be like my parents, only wanting perfection, and nothing else is good enough or deserving enough. I mull that over for a moment and slowly nod. “Maybe.”

“I can’t tell you what to do, but I agree with your therapist. It’s not healthy for you to keep seeing this man who hurt you. It’s not fair to you. That anger that you feel is the result of this boundary that was horrificly violated. You have a right to feel safe in your life. You’re angry because you were hurt, and angry because you weren’t protected. And you have every right to be angry, even to be angry at God.”

I nod my head. “I just don’t want to be angry anymore, to be in this place of feeling so bad.”

“What would that look like for you? To move out of that place?”

I spin my bangle bracelet around my wrist. “I’m not sure. To feel like I’m forgiven, like I belong to God. To not feel guilty. And…..I guess to not have to see my cousin ever again, or to at least….I don’t know. To know he won’t hurt me or anyone else ever again.”

“Well, the first one I can assure you, you are forgiven. If you believe He is who He says He is, and you prayed that prayer, then you are forgiven. You are His daughter, and He loves you. That, I can promise you. You are His daughter, and you are loved and forgiven. He wants you to have a full life. He wants you to feel safe. If that means setting a boundary of not being around this person without giving an explanation, then that is okay. If that means breaking your silence, then that is okay, too. You don’t have to do anything right now. You have time, and you are working to move forward.”

I’m silent, and simply thinking about what Alex has said.

“Has this cousin ever even acknowledged what he did?” Alex asks.

I shake my head. “I don’t think he even thinks he did anything wrong. It’s always just him acting like things are normal. And I just go along with it. I danced with him at my wedding.” I laugh, this sort of disgusted little laugh. I shake my head. “It’s not funny. I laugh, but it’s more just….” I’m unsure how to finish that sentence.

“The incredulousness of it all? If we don’t shake our heads and laugh at the crazy shit in our lives, then, well, we might break.” He goes on to share a story of his own that is another one of those things you just have to shake your head at and laugh.

“Yeah. Exactly that.” I smile because he gets it.

“You know, you mentioned that writing is helpful to you. Have you written a letter to this cousin? Not one you have to send, just one for yourself, to let out some of that anger. That was something I found helpful when there were all these feelings, but I wasn’t yet ready to hold anyone accountable.”

I want to ask him about telling, about breaking his silence. I want to ask what happened, what did it feel like, was he scared, does he feel safe now? Instead I say, “I do write. Writing is easier than talking. I spent a whole year of therapy only writing, never talking. Talking still scares me.”

“How often do you pray?” Alex asks gently.

Shame washes over me. I shake my head.

“Okay. It’s okay. I only ask because, well, I assumed that if you are angry, and you feel inforgiven, and you don’t like to talk, prayer might be difficult right now.” He looks at my face, and I’m trying so hard not to cry, and feeling so embarrassed I cover my face with my hands again. And then he continues talking, “It’s okay. Maybe you could write to God, instead of talking outloud. If writing is easier, then write to him. That’s an okay thing to do. He made you, and He knows you. Write to Him.”

“That….I think I can do that.” I’m smiling because it’s such a simple answer, but something I have never considered. It’s a place to start, a step that I can take.

The meeting place

I just had this image of taking everything out and setting it on a table under a bright light to examine it, but I got this awful too exposed feeling, and thought, no, that’s too vulnerable, too much. Now I have this image of a dark tunnel, and there is light at one end, and darkness at the other end. The teen might be stuck in the darkness right now, but I can reach out my hand, and come halfway to her. I can wait in the middle until she is ready to meet me there. And it’s her choice, she has a choice. But I’ll be there, waiting for her.

Bea said this to me on Wednesday. I don’t really remember a whole lot of that session. The teen was really present, and she was really upset. She had worried all week that Bea wouldn’t come back and be Bea. It’s happened before. There hadn’t been much writing in my yellow notebook, but the teen had a poem she had worked on all week. She shared the work in progress with Bea.

We talked about how there are so many things that make it hard for the teen. So many people let her down, hurt her. She just can’t trust Bea. She is afraid all time that the moment she does share something, open up more, the next moment Bea will leave. Adults failed the teen, time and again. The very ones who should have wondered where all this pain was coming from only wanted to cover it up. The first therapist the teen trusted didn’t believe her story and interogated her. The second therapist she trusted never pushed for deeper understanding, simply focused on the teen’s eating disorder behavior and her self harm behaviors. The teen trusted her one aunt, but that aunt left without a word (and while that had more to do with her uncle and the aunt’s own stuff, it hurt, a lot). Every person the teen ever trusted either hurt her, left her, or both.

“How do I know who to trust? How do I know that you can deal with me?” The teen asked Bea.

“I suppose you have to take a little leap of faith and test me a bit.”

“I don’t think that will work. If you know I am testing you, it’s easy for you to say or do the right thing. But….it could just be pretend. I mean, I’m sorry, I’m scared. It’s, well, it is your job to make me trust you, and so why wouldn’t you say or do the things that will make me trust you if you know I am testing you? Just because you pass the test doesn’t mean that you will really be able to handle me or that you won’t leave.” The teen is snarky and frustrated, anger colors the undertone of her voice. She’s not really angry though. She is afraid that what she is saying will make Bea mad, or hurt her feelings or upset her, and it is easier to be mad at Bea before she gets mad at the teen. Confusing, dark and twisty logic all around.

Bea doesn’t get mad. She doesn’t appear to be upset. “So many people really did let you down. So many people weren’t who they said they were, and didn’t do right by you. I understand that this is hard, that believing I could be different is almost impossible to do. And you are right. At some point, I probably will mess up, and I will fail in some way. The beauty of relationship, though, is that we can talk about it, and work through it. I will admit to you when I have messed up, and take responsibility for that. I think if the teen looks back at my relationship with the little girl, and with the grown up, she will find times I have messed up. But she will see those things were able to be worked through. She might also be able to look back and see the times I have gotten it right, the times I have been there and was deserving of trust.”

“What if that isn’t enough?”

“Then I’ll wait. I feel confident that I can handle all of the teen’s stuff. I’m not afraid. I know there is a lot of confusing, difficult, ugly things to unpack. And I’ll be here when she is ready. We have time to just keep having this conversation. The teen needs to get to know me. I get that that will take time, and I’m not worried.”

“There’s just so much stuff to deal with.”

“I know that, and I’m okay with that,” she says gently. And then she is talking about unpacking everything and I’m feeling to exposed and vulnerable just listening to her. As soon as I start to feel that, she says, “I just had this image of taking everything out and setting it on a table under a bright light to examine it, but I got this awful too exposed feeling, and thought, no, that’s too vulnerable, too much.”

I breathe a little sigh of relief hearing that, and then she says, “Now I have this image of a dark tunnel, and there is light at one end, and darkness at the other end. The teen might be stuck in the darkness right now, but I can reach out my hand, and come halfway to her. I can wait in the middle until she is ready to meet me there. And it’s her choice, she has a choice. But I’ll be there, waiting for her.”

The teen wants to cry when she hears those words. They sound like this fantasy, that someone would come join her in the darkness, would meet her halfway to walk the twisy tunnels in her messy head. Mostly, though, it is too much to even hope that Bea’s words are true. And she thinks that Bea shouldn’t walk into the darkness, that she shouldn’t get that close. The teen doesn’t trust Bea, exactly, but she cares about Bea and she doesn’t want to contaminate her. This isn’t right. Bea should be running from her darkness, Bea belongs in the light. If she meets the teen halfway, she’s going to end up hurt and running from the teen eventually. The teen really can not deal with being left.

I don’t remember how things ended on Wednesday, or even if the teen responded to Bea’s words. What matters is this: All week, the teen has seen this image of a dark and twisty tunnel. Some places in the tunnel feel safe, they are a place to hide. Other parts of the tunnel are scary and confusing and cause things to get mixed up. But she can see light at one end, and in the light is a beautiful garden, with flowers, and butterflies, and a perfect weeping willow tree where she can still hide if she needs to. And in the middle of the tunnel is Bea, just waiting patiently. She’s made a cozy meeting place, with bean bags, and blankets and flashlights. Maybe Bea can go back to the light if she needs to, and come back to the meeting place when the teen needs her, just like the teen can go back to the darkness and come to the meeting place when she needs Bea. Maybe the teen can take a few steps towards the meeting place. Maybe she can think of something small to trust Bea with. Maybe she can do this. Maybe she can heal.

Dark and twisty

It’s Wednesday. The Wednesday before Bea leaves for a trip, to be precise. I won’t see her for seven wake ups. I won’t email, or text, or have the option for a phone call. I have to practice having her unavailable when she is out of town because this summer, when she goes on her big trip, she will be unavailable for twenty wake ups. That is a long, long time. And I hate it.

But right now, it is Wednesday, and I am in Bea’s office. She is reading my notebook, and I am hiding.

A few weeks ago, Bea and I had been discussing a timeline, where Kenny was when I was a teen. Things seemed unclear, because I had memories of him leaving when I was around teen age, of him going off to college and feeling very abandoned by him. That didn’t add up, though, if he was 10 years older. The grown up simply went on facebook, looked up his brithday including the year, and made a chart. He was 7 when I was born in October, and he turned 8 in June. That makes him 12 the first time I remember him touching me, and 15 or 16 the first time I remember him raping me and I was 11 or 12 when he left for college. The fact that I had been wrong about his age didn’t really bother the adult, or Bea, but it upset the teen a lot.

I’m afraid. I am afraid you are mad at me. Because I said he was 10 years older, but he isn’t. I was wrong. He is only 8 years older. So now you are probably not happy with me because I have basically lied about this for the last 4 years and so now you must be angry and upset and maybe now you think I lied about everything, that I have been wrong about what happened all along but you can’t say that because you would have to deal with the mess that that would create and and all my upset and no one wants to deal with that. So you tell me you aren’t mad, but really, you are.

When she reaponds to this fear, it’s with gentlness and empathy, but her tone is also firm. She wants me to really hear her. “I’m not mad at you. Not in th slightest. I think it even makes sense that you had his age wrong. Let me tell you how I am seeing this. From my perspective, we have always heard about Kenny from the little girl. She is the one who has shared her story, and her feelings, with me. Now, what did she know about age? What do kids think about age? They know when people are old, like mom or dad old, or grandpa old, or even when someone is an older kid. Kids will routinely pick round numbers, like 20 or 50 to describe how much older a person is. To the little girl, Kenny was old. He might have been the cool older kid, but he was given responsibility from the parents to watch the younger kids. That would have made him old in her mind, but he’s definitely not 20 years old. So, he must be 10 years older. That’s one of my thoughts on this. The other is that it doesn’t matter. Not really. His age helps us make the timeline clearer, but it doesn’t change anything. It doesnt change what he did.”

“But….I…maybe….ugh. Okay.” I stumble over my words, struggling to get them out.

“What is it?” Bea isn’t going to let me get away with pretending it’s all okay.

“Things get twisted in my head. Its dark and twisty in here. I just….I don’t know. I tried to write about it.” I sigh. I just want her to read what I have written. That is easier than speaking.

“Okay. I’ll read what you have written.”

Things get all twisted in my head. Everything gets twisted. It’s like this. On Monday, you said that we should deal with stuff then, so we didn’t dig up stuff right before your vacation. The grown up hears that and is secure enough in this relationship to remind you that it doesn’t work like that, that we can not plan when stuff comes up, and we end up laughing a little bit about it. The littl girl hears that and just shrugs. She doesn’t feel like that statement even pertains to her, because she is believes you will be there if she needs you, and that you are coming back.

“This….this is huge. For the grown up and the little girl to feel safe in our relationship. This is a big thing. And I think this is why we can deal with the teen’s stuff now.” Bea’s voice has a smile in. She sounds proud of me.

But the teen….things get twisted. There’s so many conflicting thoughts and beliefs.

(1) you care and don’t want to leave the teen upset and alone for a whole week with a mess.

“That’s true. I don’t want to leave you alone with hard stuff.”

(2) you don’t want to deal with messy stuff right now and this is a nice way to tell her that.

(3) the teen shouldn’t be thinking that (#2)

(4) she should be fine with this. What is wrong with her that she is upset over this?

(5) this stings a little. It’s like rejection.

(6) fine. I just won’t talk at all. That will make sure nothing is dug up.

(7) bea just doesn’t want to deal with me

(8) this is silly. Just stop being a drama queen

(9) push all this nonsense to the side. Forget about it. This is not even a big deal.

“All of this tells us a lot. But the underlying feeling I get from this, is that the teen doesn’t believe she deserves to be cared about. The first thought, that is the correct one, it’s exactly why I said what I did about diggers stuff up. The rest of the thoughts seem to be talking the teen out of believing someone can say something nice to her, or care about her and mean it.”

“I guess so.” I mumble.

“Writing out the thoughts is helpful for us, because we can…I know this isn’t a good word for the teen…study thoughts and work with them. I wonder though, if after writing out the thoughts, if the teen could write about why the nice one, the caring one, can’t be true. Could she do that?”

“I can try.”

“Okay. Let’s try that then. Let’s see if that can help us work though the dark and twisties.”

I’m not sure it will help, and I’m not sure I will even know what to write. Twisting things is automatic for the teen. It’s not something she even thinks about, it happens in the blink of an eye. But she will try.

Who do you trust?

I don’t remember how we ended up here, discussing this. I was up and down all last week, and Bea and I shared several emails back and forth– some with words, and some with emojis. She’d suggested that we try to work though some of the stuff, and I’d gotten quiet and bit farther away than I had been. Somehow, though, we are talking about painful things.

Bea has asked about friendships that the teen had. “I imagine that holding the secret was a lot, and made things really hard and painful at times. Was there ever a friend you thought about confiding in?”

I shake my head. She can’t really see that because I’m hiding under my blanket. “Who would I tell? They were all friends with Ms. Perfect. They like her, not me.” It’s whispered, and I want to cry. I’m sad, and it hurts that no one was friends with me.

“So even friendships were really kept separate,” she says, understanding coloring her words. “That’s a lonely place to be. Can you tell me about this part, the one that says no one likes her? Is that the part here now?”

“I…it’s the part that says if people really knew me, they would hate me. It’s the part that….well, the grown up doesn’t believe that anymore, except sometimes that part is very strong. I end up believing that hubby hates me. But….well. People like Ms. Perfect.” I shrug. Whatever. I don’t care that people like her and not me.

“Ms. Perfect was very good at her job. She kept you safe. She helped you function and excel. But it was lonely, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“And Ms. Perfect was very good at keeping this hurt and angry part away, wasn’t she?“

“She has to. No one wanted to deal with me.”

“It definitely felt that way, didn’t it?” Bea’s voice is gentle and kind, and her words are meant to be understanding and soothing. They don’t feel that way, though.

“It WAS that way. I was a problem, something to be fixed. I didn’t matter, except to get rid of me, so I couldn’t cause more problems and ruin everything.”

“Your parents….they did want to fix you, I know. I don’t think it was really about you. It was about their inability to contain your feelings, they lacked the capacity to deal with those hard things. It can feel very helpless to listen to a teen’s pain.” Bea is explaining and talking, and trying to help because she doesn’t want me to feel as if there is something inately wrong with me.

Her words are not helping, they are only making me angrier. Everything she says is blurred together. She’s still talking when I snap, “I don’t care!” The anger and frustration in my voice scare me, and I start crying.

“I know. I know. You’re right. It doesn’t matter why, or the theory of why. This is about you feeling unwanted and unacceptable. Parents are supposed to be able to help hold all those complicated feelings we have as teens, and you needed someone more than ever, because of your trauma. You had all kinds of extra complicated and painful feelings. It’s not fair, they didnt do their job of helping you with your feelings.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“What are you sorry for?” She sounds legitimately confused.

“I was so snarky.”

“I can handle snark,” she says softly. “I can handle your anger, too. I can contain it and be with you in it.”

I shake my head. “I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

“I’m not mad at you.”

“I don’t want you to get mad at me.” I tell her.

“I have no angry feelings towards you,” she reassures again. After a moment, she asks, “What would it mean if I did get mad at you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what did it mean for the teen if someone got mad back at her?”

“I……my mother does not like mad. If I got mad at her….she….she didn’t like me then.” My voice breaks a little, and fresh tears fall. Why did I bother putting makeup on today?

“What would she do?” Bea asks the question carefully, like she knows it is going to dig up pain.

It takes me a while to answer. The words swirl around and around in my head. They are right there, and I know that saying them out loud will turn the ache in my belly into a shap pain that I can’t ignore. “Silent treatment. She…….ignores me until I stop being mad.” Unable to hold back my tears any longer, I bury my face in Bea’s cloud pillow and sob.

“That’s really painful. Your mom really didn’t like mad. She wouldn’t even acknowledge you when you were angry. That’s hurtful. You go ahead and have your feelings about that. I’m right here, and I can handle whatever feelings you’re having. I can promise I won’t ignore you if you get snarky, or mad. And if I do get mad back—although I can’t imagine that happening and I am not mad at you in anyway— that will not mean I don’t like you, or I am leaving or that I don’t care.”

“I just….I worry. I am worried.” I tell her.

“I know. The teen had to be so careful, and she had to worry all the time, didn’t she?”

I nod. “Yeah.” I wipe my face and squeeze cloud pillow again. “I….this is so hard.” I start crying all over again. Ugh.

“I’m right here. Why don’t you take a few minutes and just have your feelings? I know it is hard to sit with them, but you can do it. I’m right here.” Bea speaks softly to me.

“I really don’t want you to be mad at me. I’m sorry.”

“Alice, I’m not angry with you. You don’t have anything to be sorry for with me.” She reassures again. Even now, after me forcing her to sound like a broken record, she still just sounds like Bea.

“But I am sorry,” I whisper.

“Who are you saying sorry to?” She asks.

I know what she means, but I don’t like these sort of shrinky questions. “Why can’t I just be saying sorry to you?”

“Well, you could be. Maybe there is something a part of you has felt or thought that was sensored so I don’t know about it. But as far as I am concerned there is nothing between us that you have to be sorry for.”

I know then, what I am sorry about. I just can’t get the words out. “I…maybe….what if I did do something? Maybe…..I just…..well, I think…..Ugh.”

“Whatever it is, I can hold it. It’s okay.” Her voice is soft, and her tone is caring, empathetic.

“I……I can’t tell you. I just can’t. I’m sorry. I worry that you are….I mean, I’m sorry, but I don’t know….what if you really can’t handle it and you are just saying what I want to hear so you dont have to deal with a freakout, and I know, I’m sorry, I just worry all the time that…..”

“You worry that people aren’t who they say they are.” Bea finishes my sentence in a sad, quiet voice.

“Yeah. That,” I agree.

“That’s a scary place to be, to not know if you can trust someone. It’s lonely.”

“Yeah.” I whisper the word, waiting for her to be angry with me for not trusting even her, after all this time.

“Who do you trust?” She asks gently.

“I….I don’t know….I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?” She asks. When I don’t answer, she guesses. “For not trusting me?”

“Yeah.” I’m crying really hard now, and my answer comes out garbled.

“Well, I think the teen has a lot of good reasons to be wary of trusting anyone. As far as I am concerned, she doesn’t really know me, just like I don’t really know her, yet. Trust takes time. We can work on it. We have time. And I’m here; I’ll be here for her regardless of if she trusts me.”

“Ok.”

“Maybe the teen could do some writing about trust?” Bea asks.

“Yeah. Maybe,” I say.

We start to wrap things up after that. Bea goes through a simple grounding exercise that she narrates to me. I can choose to join in, or just listen to her. Usually, I just listen to her voice and it’s enough to bring me back to my present day life.

When I leave, I am a little off balance, but okay. The teen part is so strong, and so present right now. It’s hard to feel like my grown up self.

👱🏼‍♀️💎💅🏻👠👛🤸‍♀️📓☎️ (aka the teen)

The teen showed up a few weeks ago and hasn’t left yet. I don’t think she is going anywhere, this time. Typically, the teen shows up when she feels threatened, or believes something is going to hurt another part. All the work Bea and I were doing around SP (mostly trying to expand my vocabulary to label sensation. It’s actually the same approach we used with emotions. We talked about talking about emotions, and what words might be used to label them) definitely triggered the teen, but I beleive the teen showed up because of the recurring nightmare I’ve been having for over a month now.

Typically, the teen shows up, gets mad, causes a rupture and then the little girl freaks out, the stuff that triggered the teen is put away so that repairing the rupture and helping the little girl can be focused on. It’s actually a very smart, and very effective system. However, I don’t want to continue repeating that cycle everytime something gets too close to all the teen’s pain. The teen stuff must be worked with, worked through. Most often, the ruptures the teen causes are focused on something Bea said or did, or didn’t say or do. The teen is very, very good at twisting words and actions and making even innocent ones seem malignant. She’s always done this– in actions or words of others she finds hatrd, disgust, apathy. She finds warning signs that someone is leaving, she finds clues that inform her trusted people hate her and want to get rid of her, and she hears in the others words a message of “I dont care about you, you are an unwelcome obligation.”

In order to avoid this twisting of words, I asked Bea to please not respond to email with words, but to use emoji imstead. It felt so silly, asking that, but it has helped. I’m having a hard time right now, with all the intense feelings and all this pain that has been triggered. I often feel like I am breaking, shattering, into a million pieces from the pain of it all. I knew with the teen triggered and present all my feelings would be even more intense and I would need Bea outside of sessions. I also knew I might survive another rupture where it feels like she left. So, emoji. The teen can’t twist pictures so easily. Partly because she can assign her own meaning to them, but also because when Bea sends emojis in response it is usually something like this: 👂👁🤝🐶👟👣🌱🌷⛅️🥗🍫🍺. Which the teen interperts as: I hear and see you, and I am here. I took the dog for a walk and saw some flowers, it was partly sunny out. I had salad for dinner and chocolate and beer later. Now, that could be wrong, but based on what I know about Bea, and on the simplicity of communicating with pictures, it seems likely I’m right. The thing is, the 👂👁🤝 really is reassuring that she is here, and the rest of her message (whatever it is) always just feels like she is still Bea.

Where all this will lead, I don’t know. The teen is just as vulnerable as the little girl. In fact, there really is no surface place to go with the teen. Anywhere you try and stand, you will fall through– right into the mud. I’m not sure what that means in terms of working through this pain. I know most of the little girl hurts still exist within the teen; they are simply amplified by the teen’s intensity. I’m scared. I feel like this is something I have to face if I am ever going to live a full life, if I am ever going to be able to have real deep relationships (with someone other than my therapist), if I am ever going to be able to get rid of some of the very worst of my triggers and responses to those triggers.

I feel like I’m heading into a great abyss, with no map to help show me the way.