Monday: part six, she wants to hear what I have to say 

Here we are! Part 6; the very last post about this session. Gah. If you read all of these, you should get a cookie. I can’t send you home made cookies or cupcakes over the Internet, so go buy some, or something, okay? 

Bea goes back to reading, and I hug Hagrid close to me, grateful to have him and the comfort he offers. What did I ever do without him? 

And on Thursday (or maybe it was Monday?) you asked me to remind you of the October stuff. I really couldn’t, just couldn’t say all of it for whatever reason. Even thought I know you know, even though I’ve written and even maybe talked about some of it before, I just couldn’t. So here’s the list.  

I overdosed in October when I was 14

I left Brian in October and then I found out I was pregnant in October. I had an abortion in November right around thanksgiving. The time is blurry. I know it’s crazy sounding. I just know it was like right before break. I don’t know. 


my grandpa died two years ago, November. Also before thanksgiving. I don’t remember the exact day. I feel like I should. I remember what I was doing when my mom called. I remember that night. It’s like watching a movie of myself. Not real. But I remember the events, just not the day or the date. 

grandpas birthday is October 23, and mine is the 24th. The last time I saw him was our birthday party, two years ago. It’s stupid but I feel like seeing grandma…..when she hasn’t planned to be here….seeing her in the fall, it’s so much like the last time with grandpa. I have this irrational fear I’m never going to see her again.

“I knew there was a lot in October. This is a lot,” she says, pausing from her reading.  

I want to talk about Brian. The boyfriend. I’m having nightmares about him again. It’s sort of that time of year, I guess. We met in early fall. And I left in the late fall. So. I don’t know. Maybe that’s all it is. But a part of me really just wants to tell you my nightmares — memories, really–about him. But they are awful and disgusting and it’s……I don’t know. They are scary, but scary in this very grown up something very bad and disturbing is happening way. It’s different than Kenny memories. But just like with Kenny, I was usually agreeing to do whatever it was Brian wanted me to do. It was easier that way. But now, it seems more shameful. So I’m…maybe embarrassed?…….afraid of your reaction and what you will think?….I don’t know. Something. I just……I want to talk but I am afraid. And I’m sure you are probably sick of this. I know I’m always afraid but when I decided I want to talk, I do end up talking after going through all this talking of being afraid. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I can’t just talk.

“I am not sick of you in anyway. I’m not mad or frustrated. If you want to talk about talking, about being afraid, about being unsure, I want to hear it. I’m not sick of that at all. This is hard stuff. It’s tough to believe it’s safe to tell, to talk about. If you want to talk about it, I want to hear you talk about it. I want to hear your stories, what you have to say, your feelings. I’m not upset at all. I enjoy working with you, and I am not going anywhere. I am not leaving.” Bea speaks so adamantly, so seriously, every word has weight and meaning, I believe her. In that moment, I believe her. And I feel so safe. 

“Do you want to talk about the boyfriend?” She asks me after a moment,,

I nod, slowly. “I’m afraid. But I think….maybe. I just….you don’t know. I…the things….I did…I just….” I can’t explain, but a part of me wants to. The things I agreed to do, the things he forced, they play in a loop in my mind lately, awake or asleep. It’s sick. 

“I’m not going to judge you. I haven’t yet, and I won’t now. I can promise you that. This wasn’t your fault.” 

I shake my head. “It’s not so simple.”

“It never is as simple as black and white. But I’m not leaving you, or judging you.” Bea says, 

I nod, “okay.” 

“We need to wrap up in a minute, I want you to have some time to get grounded,” Bea says gently. “We can talk about the boyfriend on Thursday if you want, that will give you some time to think about it more.” 

“Okay, Thursday. Maybe. Or we talk about talking?” I ask, afraid of beinf reprimanded. 

“Sure. We can so that, too.” Bea agrees easily, and I remember her earlier words. 

I want to hear what you have to say. I want to hear your stories. I’m not leaving. I’m not mad. I’m not judging you. 

I’m not sure anyone has ever said words like that to me– ‘I want to hear what you have to say’– and I feel deeply cared for and valued right now. I spend the rest of my session working on picking my head up, looking at Bea, moving my body; coming back to the present. The whole time this is going on, a part of me is simply basking in the warm sunshine of Bea’s words. They feel like a fantasy, pixie dust sparkling in the air, nothing more than an illusion. But they are real words, and there is real true meaning behind them. And so I sit and soak up the warmth provided by her words. 

“She wants to hear what I have to say.”  

When I flipped the switch

This post contains memories of sexual abuse. It’s not extremely detailed, as my memory is not all there, and I have a hard time with most of the actual words, but it does tell the story of what happened when I flipped the switch in the boyfriend. It could be triggering, so please be careful and take care of yourself when reading.

Traffic is terrible today, and of course I’m running late. I’m running late because I overslept. I never oversleep. But today I overslept. Which means I fell asleep at 4:30am and didn’t wake up until 7:40– twenty minutes before my appointment with Bea. Luckily when I sent a frantic text message, she was still able to see me.

It’s 8:40 when I finally arrive, ten minutes after I had said I would be there. I rush up the stairs, and find Bea sitting calmly, not stressed or upset in the least.

Taking my boots off outside her office, I say, “I am so, so sorry. Traffic was terrible, I can’t believe I overslept.” I’m still shaking my head as I walk into the office and set my things down on the couch next to me.

“It’s okay. I’m just happy you overslept. Because that means you were sleeping.” Bea smiles at me. She means this. I think she might be going insane. Maybe my craziness is rubbing off on her.

“No. No it’s not okay. I don’t oversleep. I never oversleep. I don’t even need to set an alarm. I should have set an alarm. I’m really, really sorry.”

“It’s really okay. It worked out. I was still able to see you, and you slept.”

“I know, but I should have been on time. You shouldn’t have to change your schedule because of me. I had to text Kris and see if we could move yoga back, too. This is just so not okay,” I tell her. I’m curled up on the couch, trying to relax, to calm down, but I can’t. I’m tense because I’ve screwed up. I’ve broken several cardinal rules of mine– don’t be late, don’t make others have to accommodate me, and never, ever oversleep.

“There’s that ‘should’ again. Was Kris able to be flexible?” Bea asks. She’s still smiling.

“Yeah, she said it’s fine, and she’ll see me at 11:00am. But people shouldn’t have to be flexible for me.” I sigh. I’m so angry with myself.

“Why not? If she and I can be flexible with the time, and everything worked out, and no one is upset or hurt by this, why isn’t it okay?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. It just isn’t.”

“Can you see that I’m not upset? That I’m happy you slept?” Bea takes a drink of her tea, and looks at me.

I nod. I can tell she is not upset, and I believe she is happy I slept. Not thinking about it, I reach up to adjust my ponytail that I’d hastily thrown my hair into, and laugh. “Well, here’s my hair. Not straightened, or blown dry, or even having the curls fixed. Just my mess of hair.” My hair is crazy. It’s a spiral curl mess of a lions mane, huge and untamable. I didn’t have time this morning to fix the curls or tame it, so it’s thrown in a side pony, that just touches my shoulders. When it’s straightened, my hair reaches the middle of my back.

Bea laughs with me. “It’s pretty. My daughter’s hair curled like that when she was younger, but the older she gets the less curl she has.”

I shake my head. “It drives me crazy. But I guess the worst thing that happened today is I had to leave my hair like this.”

Bea nods at me. “It’s not so bad, then?”

I grudgingly agree. “It’s not so bad. Everything managed to work out.”

“And I’m still just so glad you were sleeping.”

I sigh. “So, I know I’m not supposed to talk about Kat anymore, but she burned her hand on the fireplace. She might bring it up tomorrow, I don’t know. But it was pretty bad.”

“We can talk about Kat; and I would find it curious if you hadn’t brought this up,” Bea tells me, and then she asks what happened.

I tell her how Kat had touched the wood burning stove, which was really strange because she has always been so careful about hot things and followed the no touching rule. I tell her how I was so proud that Kat used other coping skills outside of her pacifier– which we are working on not using during the day– and how she asked for things she needed. I explain how awful I felt, and how we cuddled and how I gave her the new board games I had ordered for ABA early, and the special teddy bear tea party we had, and how brave Kat had been.

“You handled that all so well,” Bea says, after hearing the whole story.

“Thanks.” I take a drink of my chai tea (no milk, just tea) and smile. “It was rough. But she seemed okay by bedtime.”

We pause for a minute, drinking tea and I think about what we said we would talk about this time around.

“So….last time we had said we would continue with the story of the boyfriend. We kind of left off on the cusp of things turning bad. Have you thought about the idea that you didn’t flip this switch?” Bea finally breaks the silence, and I immediately curl my knees tighter to my chest and set my tea down.

“No…I did write out the rest of it, though. In case I can’t tell it.” I shrug. This is hard.

“Even though this is hard, I get the sense it’s easier to talk about than Kenny, and it’s easier to find words and put words to what happened,” Bea says softly.

I nod at her. “Yeah. I think so.”

She waits, which is a little unusual for our sessions, but I don’t feel panicked at the silence. Eventually, I start talking. “I slept with him. That was what started it, I think. You know this, already, though.”

“Yes, but I don’t have the story. How it happened, what happened. And, like I said before, we are at a different point now.” We’ve talked about how therapy is not a straight line, that it’s like an onion, peeling back layers and revisiting things happens often.

“We’d gone out, our 3 month anniversary. And we went back to his place, but his roommates had the living room taken over, so we went to his room to watch a movie. Which wasn’t unusual, it wasn’t strange. And, I don’t know……….I don’t know what happened.”

“Was it like things had been progressing and went farther than you intended this time? Maybe going a little farther every time?” Bea prompts me, but she seems a little far away. I’m partly back there, remembering.

I shake my head, bury my face in my knees. “No……” I know what I want to say, but getting the words out is embarrassing and difficult. “I wasn’t one of those girls who did everything but….you know….just so they can claim to technically still be a virgin. I was really waiting. Kissing. That’s it, that’s all I ever did.” I can feel how red my face is, and I’m so thankful I can hide my face. There is no way I could actually look at Bea right now.

“Mmm-hmmm,” Bea says, letting me know she is still listening. “So you were truly waiting.”

“I just….I don’t know. Things went really fast, and too far…I couldn’t stop it, or say no. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.” My voice is quite, and I can feel the way I felt so stuck and unable to do anything but go along with him. “It was like I was just stuck, I don’t know.”

“Frozen. Was it like being frozen?” Bea asks.

I nod. “A little.”

“I’m not surprised, with your history. Whether you were thinking about it, acknowledging it, or not, that had to be a big trigger for you, it had to be really hard.” Bea’s voice is gentle and understanding.

“I don’t know…..I don’t even remember actually….I mean, it’s just kind of gone. I know what happened…but I don’t really remember it.”

“You probably dissociated. It makes sense, with a trigger like that, how you would dissociate and not really remember what happened.”

“After…I was so upset. So mad at myself, guilty, horrified. It was awful. And he was….happy. Like it was this big deal, such a good thing.” I shake my head, and blink back some tears.

“Did you tell him then, how you felt?” Bea asks.

“No…no. I couldn’t. He was so happy. I couldn’t say anything. It was later, when he came over a few days later, I think. That’s when….that’s when I told him. But you know this story, too.”

“That’s okay. There’s always new things we learn when we tell a memory again. And we are talking about something different, and at a different point now.” Bea sounds so calm, so sure of the fact it’s okay for me to tell the story again.

“It was a Thursday. He came over, we were going out. And we were on the couch, kissing.” I can feel myself shaking, now, because this is getting to the ugly part of the story. “I knew I had to tell him. I should have told him right away. But….I don’t know. I didn’t. We were kissing, it was okay, but then he moved his hands from my hair…..down….I pulled away, started talking. I didn’t think. I said never again, it was a mistake, that it should never have happened. I didn’t think. I was so selfish. I didn’t realize it would hurt his feelings. He argued with me. That he would marry me one day, so it was okay. I said it wasn’t the same as being married, I was waiting. He said a person can’t just take that back. I said I was forgiven, and waiting for marriage now. He said that no good Christian boy would ever want me now, I was tainted, ruined………” I stop talking, try to catch my breath, stop the tears that are falling.

“That really hit you where it hurts. He knew just what to say to hurt you,” Bea says, sympathetically. “I wonder what happened in his life that made him so hurt by what he considered rejection. You found a spot where he was vulnerable, and it likely had nothing to do with you, but with him and his feelings….feeling vulnerable, not being able to handle rejection. It’s my guess that you would have hit this vulnerable spot in him no matter what, at some point. It wasn’t anything you did.”

This is a foreign idea, that it wasn’t me, it was something in him that was unable to handle anything he felt as rejection, and I immediately reject it. “I don’t know. We argued. I was mean, he tried to convince me it was okay to have sex again. He said I had liked it. And I said….” I pause here, upset, shaky. This is where things get fuzzy and hard to talk about. Ugly. Taking a deep breath, I finish my sentence. “I said I didn’t. I didn’t like it. And he slapped me.” Just the words shock me into silence.

“Were you stunned?” Bea asks, and her voice is soft and even.

“I couldn’t believe it. It seemed fake. I don’t know. Just…not my life.” I feel like I’m in a daze. Stunned is a good word, I still feel stunned that he hit me. “He pushed me…..I fell and hit my head on the table…I don’t know….”

“Where were you? Standing?”

“No…no, I was still sitting on the couch. I never moved. I just stayed right there.”

“Okay. A what was next?” Bea asks.

“I….I…there’s a blank space, I don’t know what happened then. I just…it’s not there.”

“Is there anything after that? Something more you remember?” Bea’s voice is quite, kind, calm. She’s okay, which somehow means I can be okay to keep talking.

“I remember being on the other side of the coffee table….near the fireplace. And I…well, I just um…my clothes……” I’m struggling now. I don’t know if I can get through this. The words are hard.

“Were your clothes ripped?”

“No…not on. Not folded. I was so upset they weren’t folded.” I’m sick to my stomach. I don’t know what I’m doing.

“Where was he at?” Bea prompts me.

“I…right there. Touching me…he was going to prove I liked it.” Tears are falling now, and I feel frozen there, and scared.

I think Bea says something to me, maybe asks a question, or says something about his inability to accept rejection. I’m not sure. Maybe she says how scary that had to feel. I’m a little bit not here, lost in my past.

“He…he made a list then. This is when he made a list….” I have to stop talking for a minute, but that’s okay. Bea knows about his list, we’d talked about this before. His list…where he listed out, telling me everything my body was doing, how I was responding to his touch. I cringe. I’m sick to my stomach, and feel like I might throw up. “He said….he said that no…..” I can’t get the words out. I’m incrediably ashamed. And knowing what I know now about my childhood….it’s worse.

“What did he say?” Bea questions, sounding full of compassion.

I shake my head, and we sit in silence for a moment. “He said no virgin acted like I had in bed…that I was a slut…” I break into bigger sobs, now. I’m still so hurt by this, and now knowing I hadn’t been a virgin….well, that adds a whole new layer of hurt.

“I wonder how he even knew that. I feel like he was saying what he knew would hurt you…” I can hear Bea talking, pointing things out to me, putting my memories in a new light. I can’t listen or pay attention though. She doesn’t get it, I did this.

“After….I threw up. And he was nice again…I showered, he got me soup.” The words sound wooden to me. I don’t elaborate, because Bea and I have talked over this part quite bit.

“He normalized it, and made everything more confusing for you.”

“Do you see? Do you get now how I flipped the switch?” I ask her. I feel timid and afraid. I want Bea to understand, but I don’t want her to hate me or think I’m this disgusting slut.

“No matter what you said, or how you guys argued, or what vulnerable spot you poked without meaning to, he didn’t have a right to hurt you like that, he didn’t have the right to rape you.”

I shake my head at her, forcefully. “I never even said no.”
“You said no, very clearly. When you told him it had been a mistake and never could happen again, that was saying no.” Bea insists.

I don’t remember much of the session after that, although I’m sure I argued with her, or possibly shut down. We talk about saying no, his vulnerable spots, how it’s confusing and strange the things you remember and forget. I wonder, and Bea wonders what happened with my clothes; how they were removed, and what happened surrounding that. I say again that I don’t remember, and that I wish I knew.

We end the session with Bea reiterating that he would have flipped eventually, that maybe his sense of rejection made it happen sooner, but that it wasn’t my fault. She talks about how giving up the idea of fault means I have to give up the illusion of having control over this. And she says that on Monday she would like to hear about the next time the switch flipped in him.

“Okay. On Monday,” I agree.

I’m sure we spend a few minutes talking about normal things, light conversation, but I can’t remember what. By the time I call goodbye as I walk downstairs, I feel steady and okay– or at least as okay as I feel these days.

Driving to yoga, Bea’s message about control, and blame and the boyfriend reacting badly to something from his last that made rejection intolerable to him plays in my head, and I turn it over and over.

The one where I ramble to avoid talking about real things

Monday morning. I wake up late, likely because I didn’t fall asleep until 4:30am. I rush to get ready, and head out the door. Driving to Bea’s my head is full of things to talk about, and yet I’m oddly calm. It’s like I’m partly removed from the thoughts of what I need to talk about in therapy, slightly numbed to it all, so while I can feel the hurt and tears deep inside, the rest of me is immune to it.

When I walk in, Bea says hello, and hands me a bag from the woman who owns the toy store downstairs. This leads to a conversation about toys, and Kat, and Valentine’s Day. I had called on Saturday to buy the Huggtopus Kimochi and a few new emotions. Huggtopus is a purple octopus, and Kat loves him, she is always asking for him. (The kimochis are stuffed animals with small stuffed emojis, and are really great for helping kids with learning emotions. I honestly think that they have helped me, too, through Kat.)

“I thought the Huggtopus was perfect for Valentine’s Day. We have Cupid leave Kat a basket, kind of like the Easter bunny. It’s nuts, but I just love the magic of it…and you only get to believe in that kind of stuff for so long,” I explain, as I set my things down and get situated.

“I agree…that’s really a cute idea.” Bea sits down, too.

I feel nervous suddenly, and not sure I want to talk, so I start rambling about how we don’t have a St. Patrick’s leprechaun because last year Hubby tried to have the leprechaun cause mischief and Kat didn’t understand it and was upset. She did not like the green toilet water, or having things messed with. Bea chuckles at this, because Kat is funny. This somehow leads to talking about birthday parties, and party planning, and we discuss themes we have done. I find pictures of Kat’s birthdays and show Bea the huge backdrop I painted for her Curious George birthday two years ago, and the sweet shop I created when she turned 2. We talk about how I love to really plan a theme out, and do something creative and unique with it; its turns out that Bea was the same way when her kids were little.

I’m not sure if Bea realizes I’m stalling, or that I’m rambling because I have anxiety about talking today, but we talk about a situation with Kat that does need to be discussed, and I show her some videos of Kat’s play that I recorded on my phone. We talk through that, and then Bea says, “We’ve used almost your whole session to talk about Kat, again. How do we transition to talking about you?”

I shake my head, I’m clueless. “We really did need to talk about this stuff, it’s kind of a big deal.”

“Yes, we did, and I usually meet with parents when I am seeing a kid. But maybe we need to decided ahead of time if a session is to be used to talk about Kat. We can start scheduling that.”

“Okay, we can do that. Then I won’t go home and be mad at myself that I didn’t talk.” I take a drink of my vanilla chai tea, and wonder if I can even come to a session and not discuss Kat as a way to avoid things.

“Let’s use the next half hour to talk about you. What does Alice need to talk about?” Bea asks.

I agree with using the next half hour for me, and then end up asking a question about Kat and delaying things a little more.

Eventually, Bea looks at me, and I am pretty sure she knows I have been stalling. “Let’s start with how you felt after last session? I didn’t mean to upset you like that, bringing up the boyfriend, but you did manage to pull yourself back together pretty quickly.”

I nod. I had to pull myself together. I had yoga to go to, and the pharmacy after that, and Hubby had wanted to go out to lunch that day when I got home from appointments. I don’t say anything about that, though, and instead I just shrug. “I don’t know. I was okay. I went to yoga, that was good. I just….I don’t know. I tried to write about it, and I couldn’t, not really.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” Bea nods at me, “It is a hard thing to think about. How have you been sleeping?”

I put my head down, hiding my face. I don’t get it; I can sit and look at her, hold an articulate conversation and as soon as the subject turns to me I can’t face her and I lose my ability to speak. “I haven’t been sleeping…” I try to think back. “Thursday was a nightmare, and I never went back to sleep. Friday I didn’t sleep until late, and woke up an hour later. Saturday….I couldn’t sleep, and finally fell asleep around 7:00 and Kat woke me two hours later. It’s not good.”

“This is exactly why it’s okay for you to take a nap. I always think if there is a nightmare after a therapy session, that is important to talk about.”

“Okay,” I agree, even though I really don’t want to talk about this particular nightmare. Bea waits me out, so I add, “It’s not a memory, not a real thing. It’s just a nightmare.”

“Is it a trauma nightmare, or a regular nightmare?” She asks me.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, trauma nightmares don’t usually change, regular nightmares can. Regular nightmare have more symbolism in them, trauma ones might have symbolism but it’s usually thinly disguised. They have more real elements.” Bea says.

I still don’t know. “Both? I don’t know. Maybe more trauma, but it….I don’t know.” The nightmare is weird, so it’s hard for me to know what to call it. All I know is it’s not a real memory, not like some of my bad dreams.

“Have we talked about this nightmare before?”

I shake my head. “No.”

“Should we talk about this nightmare?”

I hug my knees tighter, pick at my fingers. “I want to say no. But I think maybe yes.”

“We don’t have to talk about it. You are allowed to say no,” Bea says gently, and I think she adds something about me learning it is safe to say no, the same way my daughter is learning it’s okay to say no and to disagree with people.

“It’s silly how much a dream is scaring me. It’s just a dream.” I’m not sure if I’m talking to Bea, or trying to convince myself that it’s not scary to talk about a dream. “I think yes, we should try to talk about it.”

We sit in silence for a minute or so, and then Bea rescues me from having to figure out how to talk about this.

“Is Kenny in the dream?” I shake my head no.

“Is the boyfriend in the dream?” I shake my head no, again.

“Someone……someone………um……there’s someone there.” I struggle to get any words out, to begin to explain this dream. It’s almost too horrible for words. “I don’t know who.”

“Okay, so there’s you and someone. Is there a sense of being all alone with this someone?”

“Yeah…yeah.” It’s this completely isolated feeling in the dream, like there is no one else there at all. It’s not a good feeling.

“How old are you? Young or older?” Bea asks.

This is so hard to answer. “Both….it’s like….ugh….both.”

“Both?” I think Bea sounds surprised.

“I…I kinda grow up in the dream.”

“Okay…..that makes sense, we were talking about how the past affected you in college with the boyfriend….we had linked the two together, so that makes sense,” Bea says.

There’s silence because I can’t say anything. I don’t have any words.

“Where are you in the dream?”

“My room.” It take me a minute to get any words out, but I manage to.

“Your childhood room?”

“Yeah,” I sigh. I feel shaky and scared just talking about this.

“Is it light or dark in your room?”

“Dark. I never see him…I can’t see his face.” I cover my head with my arms, needing to hide more.

“Are you afraid in the dream?” Bea asks.

I think about it. “It’s more like panicky scared…I don’t know..does that make sense?”

“Yes, that makes sense. Is it a feeling that you can’t get out of the room?”

I nod my head, but that’s not quite right, I don’t think. “It’s more like…….I’m stuck.”

“Does it feel like being frozen?”

“Yeah…yes, like that. I can’t move, can’t leave.”

“Is he hurting you?” Bea asks this quietly, and her voice is kind, but the question still sends fear racing down my spine.

I don’t answer right away. I sit and feel scared. I can think the words I need to say in my head, but there seems to be a disconnect between my thoughts and my mouth. “It’s the r-word. I’m little and it happens, and I grow up some and it still is happening and I keep growing up but it never stops. It’s just over and over until I wake up.” The words tumble out, falling over each other and arriving in a rush.

“Ahhh. Of course that’s scary. It’s like you can’t get away from it, can’t escape.” I think she might have said more, but I don’t remember now. She sounds like she gets it, and knows how awful this dream really is.

I don’t say anything, and Bea finally talks some more. She suggests that the r-word is really at the root of it all, and she doesn’t know why that makes everything seem so much harder, but she suspects that it’s because the r-word means a complete loss of control, and it’s really hard to give up that control. She says that she thinks I need to process this, and work through it and talk about it, that this is the next step.

Somehow, we get back to the subject of self blame and Kenny and the boyfriend and how they parallel each other. “I was trying to explain….last week……I don’t know….I don’t think you got how it’s my fault, what I did to change him, I don’t know….”

“The boyfriend? I don’t think there’s anything you did that made him like that,” Bea says.

“No…I did…you don’t understand yet. I tried to write it down, but it didn’t make sense, I couldn’t explain it good enough, it was really hard….” I trail off. I had spent the weekend thinking and writing, and nothing explained it so she would get it.

“I wonder why it was so hard to explain it in writing?” Bea questions.

“Maybe I just couldn’t find the right words. I don’t know. I just couldn’t.”

“Do you think it’s because you didn’t have anything to do with him being mean, and that’s hard to face?”

I shake my head, and think about it. “No….it’s like I need you to understand how he was before, how nice he was….but I’m so disconnected from that, I can’t explain it well.”

“That makes sense, having to split the before from the mean boyfriend,” Bea agrees.

After a while, I say, “Maybe I should tell you about the boyfriend.” It comes out tiny and unsure.

“Maybe you should, we could talk about about him. Do you want to talk about him now, or save it for next time?”

I think about it, and then I start to speak. “You know he was nice?”

“Yes, I know he was nice.”

“We met a party. You know this part?” I ask, because I’m unsure what I have shared and what I have only thought in my head.

“Yes, I know about the party.” Bea sounds understanding and sympathetic.

“He was just so good. He understood my waiting until marriage, and was okay with that. More than that, he was supportive….he thought it was strong of me, that no one waited anymore, I don’t know. He went to church with me, even though he didn’t believe….I think I thought I could change that. I don’t know. Everyone liked him, he was just so nice. And smart. He was smart, too.”

“What was he studying?” Bea asks.

Oh, I don’t want to answer this question. I seriously don’t. I shake my head. “You don’t want to know.”

There’s a pause, and then Bea asks again, “Really, what was he studying?”

I laugh, but it’s nervous laughter. I so don’t want to get into this. I shake my head. I can’t get the words out. This is ridiculous.

“Psychology?” Bea guesses.

She’s right on target. “Yeah. Psychology. He wanted to help people. He cared.”

“Oh yes, all the crazies study psychology,” she says lightly, joking.

I giggle, feeling better, nervousness gone. She’s not going to turn this into a thing– or at least, not right now.

“Great…that makes me feel safe,” I joke back, and we both laugh for a moment.

“I….it was like I flipped a switch in him. I don’t know.”

Bea says something, but I don’t really hear her. I’m a little back there, in my head. Trying to figure out where I messed it all up.

“I feel like we have talked about this…I think I have told this memory already.”

“Well, that’s okay,” Bea’s voice is even keeled, she sounds like she means it.

“Don’t you get tired of hearing the same stories? Won’t you get annoyed?” I ask. I have this huge fear that repeating myself is a bad, bad thing to do; this belief that telling the same story again, needing to talk over something again is being too needy.

“No,” Bea sounds like this is a surprising thought to her, the idea of being annoyed and tired of hearing a story again, “I won’t be hearing it in the same way, because you are at a different place now, and we are working on something else now. So no, not at all.”

I nod my head. I’m not sure I fully believe her, but I believe her enough that I’ll tell the story again. If I can. Because last time, I didn’t tell the story in full. Maybe this time I can.

“I’m thinking this might be a good place to stop, and pick up here on Thursday. That way we don’t get into anything too…hard.”

“Okay.” I agree with her. I’m not sure I want to talk about ugly stuff right now, even if my head is full of it.

“It might also let you think about it, that maybe you aren’t to blame for flipping the switch,” Bea suggests.

I shrug. I don’t know.

Bea says something about control, and that as long as I can think I hold some responsibility for what happened, I don’t have to give up control. So, in order to let go of self blame, I have to accept I had no control. In a way, blaming myself is protecting me from how horrible it really was.

“That’s really confusing, it almost doesn’t make sense,” I tell her.

“Well, yes, but do you understand?” She asks. It seems important to her that I can understand what she is explaining, even if I can’t change my thinking and my feelings.

“Yeah. I can understand. Now, let’s talk about something good. I have to be able to go to the grocery store and function.”

Bea laughs, and asks what I have to get at the grocery store. This leads to an explanation of Hubby’s new fancy gourmet grilled cheese obsession, and what I exactly I do to make the grilled cheese– homemade bread, two kinds of cheese, turkey, bacon, tomato, jalapeños, and horseradish sauce. Bea agrees that is fancy.

I leave laughing, promising to share my easy bread recipe if she ever wants it. I feel like things are okay, even if I have a lot to think about.

She “gets it”

I’m sitting in my usual spot in Bea’s office, curled up on the couch, against on of the squishy white and paisley pillows. She’s looking at me from her chair like she is waiting for me to talk. We’ve said our “hellos”, and gotten situated, but I have nothing to say.

“I think you want me to talk? But I don’t really have anything to talk about?” I finally say, breaking the silence.

“Ahhhh,” she says, nodding. I pick at my scarf. I’m afraid that if I have nothing to talk about she is going to tell me I don’t need to be here twice a week. “Let’s start with what you did between Monday and today. How you have been feeling.”

“Ummm. Okay. Tuesday, ummm…” I have to think. What did I do on Tuesday? Not much. “Oh! I got my car back! I went and got my car on Tuesday and now I have navigation again.”

“And that has to feel good, to have your car back. Is it all fixed now?” Bea asks.

“Mostly, they had to put a new engine in it. But they didn’t get the radio, the my link system fixed. Because they only tested it with blue tooth and I use it with the cord, plugged into the car. It has to be plugged into the car for the map to work. And I always use the map. Which the guy said just use blue tooth when I’m not using the map, but I was like, no, I always use the map, always. Which he seemed to think was kinda weird, but, he also said my link should work with map because both are made for Chevy. So, I don’t know. I have to take it back to have that looked at.” I shrug, it’s not a huge deal, but I do want siri hands free to work when I have bringo maps running. I like both, and use both.

“I wonder….this feeling of not liking to be lost. Have you ever been lost before?” Bea is looking at me, curiously, with that look like she knows something, or has an idea about something.

“Not really lost. Because I aways have my GPS. I don’t really go anywhere I can’t get to without it. Even with it, you can get a little lost, for a minute until it resets itself or reroutes you.”

“I told you about when my husband and I got lost in the woods?” I nod, yes. “Well, that helplessness, panic, it’s similar to trauma feelings. I wonder if not getting lost, having navigation, for you, is a way to control that, to not feel like that again. Have you thought about what you feel when you take a wrong turn, and you are waiting for the map to reroute you? When you are a little lost?”

I’m listening, and I can see a parallel, I can understand what she means, what she is saying. “I’m scared. I feel like I might be lost forever. If the GPS didn’t reroute me, I’d probably freeze……………if I know this is…..I mean……what am I supposed to do about this? Not use my GPS?”

She smiles at me. “Use your GPS. I think anything that makes you feel safe and in control is a good thing, it’s not something to get rid of, just to be aware of, to know where it comes from. That’s all.”

I don’t say anything back, I’m just thinking for a minute. I grab my tea and hold it to keep from picking at my fingers. “ When I got there, the guy, he wanted to see what I was doing with the radio my link system because they tested it, and they said it was all fine, but I insisted it wasn’t.” I’m staring at my orange to go mug, I can’t meet Bea’s eyes, I feel like too much of an idiot. “So he wanted to go out to my car. I just went. I didn’t even……I don’t know……it was dark, 5:20, they were closed in 10 minutes, no one was really around, I went with him to the back parking lot, my car was way out, dark parking lot, I just didn’t think until I was sitting in the car and had set up my phone for him. Then I was like ‘oh crap. This wasn’t smart.’ I don’t know. I’m so stupid.”

I’m not sure if I’ve explained my moment of stupidity well, or not, but Bea gets it, she understands. “I think when we experience trauma, we forget, or maybe we have never felt that we have a right to safety. You always have a right to ask for safety. In that instance, I don’t think you would have been out of line to ask him to bring the car up to the garage. But, I’m not sure I would have, either. My mind would have been going 200 miles an hour, ‘well he works here it would be stupid for him to do something/ don’t go to a dark parking lot alone/he would lose his job, it’s fine/just ask him to pull the car up/I don’t want to offend anyone…. You know, that kind of thing.”

Now I look up at Bea. It’s really okay. She doesn’t think I’m an idiot. “My mind was really blank. Frozen. I just followed. I don’t know. It wasn’t until we were in the car that I really realized this might not be a smart situation.”

“That makes sense. It makes sense that you froze. That’s your reaction to trauma, and a man suggesting a situation that your mind perceived as dangerous, it makes sense you would freeze. But then you functioned through the rest of the time he was there, looking at the radio? You were okay?”

I want to tell her I was back in the room in my head, and I just went through the motions. I don’t though. “Yeah. I…functioned.”

Bea reaches down and grabs her tea. She has her red travel mug today. She hasn’t had it the last few weeks, she had thought she lost it. She has to be happy to have found it. It was one of her favorites. “I’m wondering if your more adult relationship has more of an impact on how you relate in these situations, than Kenny does. I feel like Kenny effects a lot, maybe many things, but I wonder if that adult relationship effects how you relate to men in general, or feel about men in situations like that.”

I shrug. I’m not sure where she is going with this, or exactly what she is wanting me to say. Well, Bea would say that she isn’t wanting me to say anything, except whatever I want to say. Ugh.

“I have a feeling, I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that the boyfriend doesn’t effect you as much as Kenny, the impact is not as big. This might be a good time to talk about the boyfriend, maybe see if we can work on the dual awareness that is so important, before we work on more Kenny stuff.”

“Okay…..” I say, uneasy. These memories are clearer, more recent. More and less confusing, in some ways just as difficult as my childhood. More violent, so in some ways it easier to see that he was a bad guy. I don’t know. “Why is is not as bad?”

“Well…” Bea pauses, and takes a breath. “I don’t want to minimize what happened with the boyfriend, because it was horrible. But with Kenny…the developmental stages you were at, the lack of safety you had, the duration, the confusion, the young age. All of that trauma. It set you up for the boyfriend.”

“Oh. Okay.” My voice sounds small, far away to me, because I’m already half gone, thinking about him. About Brian.

“How did you meet?” Bea asks.

Im staring at a bucket of puppets on the floor, I can see the bottom floor the doll house, the blue rug that Bea’s chair is sitting on, but in my head, I’m back at a party. College kids everywhere, music playing so loud your whole body vibrates. I’m wearing tight white pants and a short pink boat neck shirt, pearls, my (colored) blonde hair straightened and then curled with a round brush. I feel fat, but my friend Heather has dragged me out to this frat party because her boyfriend is in the frat. I don’t want to be here, and so I’m drinking. I don’t drink, ever. I also still have many of my eating disordered behaviors, including skipping meals. I hadn’t eaten that day, so the alcohol hits me fast. I end up drunk, and sick. Heather had introduced Brian and I earlier in the evening.

Bea interrupts my thoughts. “Don’t go too far away. Come back a little, okay?”

“Right…we met at a party.” I shake my head, try to clear it a little, but I end up back at the party anyways.

“Was he cute?” Bea asks, bringing me back, again.

Why is it so hard for me to answer this? Yes. Yes he was cute. Out of my league, cuter than should be dating me. I thought he was so good looking. I finally just nod my head yes at her, I can’t even speak the words to agree. Why exactly is this conversation so embarrassing?

“Dark hair?” And Bea isn’t going to let it go, either.

My face feels hot. I have a sudden inclination to fall back on my hair colorist training and use technical terms she wouldn’t understand, but I know that has to be the bratty 15 year old part of me. I swallow some tea, take a breath and force myself to speak. “He had dark hair, dark eyes. He was always tan.” Preppy, but not too preppy. Toned, but not crazy built.

“Where was he from?” She asks when I go silent again. I name a town not too far from my hometown.

“That’s weird how we never met, before, huh? Growing up so close to one another?” I say.

“So, you met at a party. Who’s party? Did someone introduce you?”

“A frat party. My friend’s boyfriend was in the frat.”

“Was he in the frat?” Bea leans back in her chair, relaxed, calm.

I shake my head. “He was friends with someone.”

“So did he ask you out? Ask for your number and call? What happened?”

I stop talking, withdraw away. I feel 18 again, young and dumb, embarrassed by my mistakes and afraid of getting in trouble. And one of the biggest mistakes keeps rushing into my memories, taunting me. I slept with him. Not that night. But willingly, soon after, I slept with him.

“Alice? Don’t go too far. Let’s take a minute. Hear the cars, the birds. Can you feel the couch under you? Hear the clock ticking? Look around, what can you see?” Bea waits a moment, gives me a chance to get grounded, and then asks again, “How did you meet?”

“We were introduced. But…I don’t know. I never drank. But that night, I was drinking. I forget why. But it didn’t take much…..and I was….really drunk. So drunk. Stupid.”

Bea is kind when she speaks, her voice full of understanding. “Because you were 18. You were away from home. You were experimenting, and you were a teenager, you were doing what you were supposed to be doing. That’s why.”

“I was so drunk. I drank way too much, for someone who never drank, someone my size back then. He took care of me.” I’m looking down, at the floor as I talk and remember. When I do look up, my eyes dart all over the room, I can’t focus on Bea, it’s too much.

“Took care of you,” she says the words slowly, like the is digesting them, trying to understand and make sense of them. “What does that mean?”

“‘I got sick. I was throwing up…he held my hair back for me.” I sigh. “He drove me home. To my apartment. Walked me to my front door. That was it. He called later that day to check on me, asked if he could take me eat. I said yes. I thought he was nice. A nice guy.”

“Yeah…I would have thought he was nice, too. How did you get away with having an apartment and not living on campus in the dorms, the first year of college?”

Does Bea think I’m lying? I don’t know. I feel under the microscope, like she doesn’t believe me. “Community college. Remember, I graduated early. I was a sophomore, almost a junior at that point.” I tell her.

“Oh yes, that’s right,” she says, like it’s no big deal. I decide it must have been no big deal. There aren’t many college sophomores who are just 18 anymore, I don’t think.

“Do you remember how long it was before he got violent?” She asks this softly, in that gentle non-intrusive way she has.

Not long…I don’t know. A month and a half. I think. After I slept with him. It was a week, maybe, I don’t know, time is fuzzy then…I told him I couldn’t again, I was waiting for marriage. Then he got mad. Then he blew up. Then….then….well. Then, everything changed. My life became a nightmare for the next year. “I…I don’t know. Not long. I think…..” I trail off, I can’t voice everything right now.

“What do you think?”

“He was jealous. Maybe from the beginning, I don’t know. I thought it was sweet…that he wanted my time, my attention, but now…looking back…I don’t know. I just…I don’t know….I thought he was nice, he seemed nice.” I feel like little girl lost. Trying to understand how someone can go from so kind to the monster he turned into.

“It probably did feel good, jealousy can make us feel,special, wanted. People don’t start out mean. It’s the same as Kenny, right? An attachment has to form, be created, and that can’t happen if he had treated you like crap, then you would just walk away. Right?” Bea says.

I shrug, I guess. I don’t know. I’m not sure.

“It’s hard to think about having an attachment to someone who hurt us. Was this your first boyfriend? Your first love?” Bea says this like it is already a given, like it’s not shameful that I would have loved him. But I don’t know what I felt. I thought it was love. Whatever it was, I don’t even want to admit it myself. I freeze, withdraw in my head. “Was he your first boyfriend? Did you date in high school, have boyfriends? I didn’t really think so, but I guess we haven’t really talked about that.”

“I dated….but no, not really, no boyfriends. He was my first boyfriend.” The first guy I loved. I look at Bea, briefly. I feel sick, panicked, not here. Her face says it’s okay, and helps me be more present. I breathe. Okay. I’m okay.

“It’s hard to wrap our heads around loving someone who hurt us.”

I shrug. I don’t want to talk about this. It’s too much. I can’t keep thinking about this, about loving him. I’m still too confused over this.

“One thing we never did talk about, was after you left, what happened. Did he leave you alone? I know about the shower, and you calling Kay. But then what?” Bea says.

“No….he left me alone….I think….I don’t know. Kay…she answered my phone, the door. She stayed with me. I don’t know. I didn’t want to know….I just…I was a mess…..”

It seems like it finally makes sense to Bea, why my best friend knows so much more than Hubby, why I run to her over Hubby. “She was really a protector, then. She really protected you.” Bea’s voice is full of awe. I’m full of awe, when I think of Kay, back then, too. She was just 20, only a year older than I was, and she took on this mother protector caretaker role. She was more than my best friend, then, and now. How and why she loved me so much to care for me in that way, I don’t know, but I’m forever grateful that she did, and that she does.

“Until after…..I found out I was pregnant….” I look up at Bea then, and there is nothing in her eyes but understanding. Of course, this isn’t news to her. We’ve been over this, before. She really isn’t judging me. She looks sad, compassionate. But she isn’t judging me. I have to look away. I can’t do this.

“That was like adding insult to injuries. I can’t imagine much worse. That had to be such a shock, just to think, to feel it wasn’t really over, even after you had left.”

I shake my head, “I’m not…I’m not talking about this. No. Not what I did. No. But after….after, I was a wreck. I was cutting, worse than ever before. I wasn’t eating….anything I did eat, I threw up. Crazy. I was crazy. Kay got tired of picking me up off the floor, of putting me back together, of trying to fix me. I don’t know. She called my mom.”

We’ve been through this before, too. But Bea doesn’t act bored, or like its old news, or as though she is sick of hearing about it. She doesn’t back me up, either, or press the issue I skirt around, each and every time it comes up. “You were using every tool you had to hold yourself together, in a horrible crisis. You were doing everything you could to keep yourself together, to be okay. They might not have been healthy coping tools, but that was all you had, all you knew. You were strong, even then, you were trying to survive this terrible emotional crisis. What did Kay tell your mom?” How does Bea do this? How does she see, when even I can’t, that I was doing the best I could? How does she have such compassion for that 19 year old girl, when I just want to scream at her, when I hate her guts?

“I don’t know for sure. That I was cutting again. That my anorexia was back. That I was throwing up. That I needed help. That I was failing all my classes…..and they came. My parents came. My mom hated her for a long time.”

Bea knows why, instantly. “Because Kay knew you weren’t perfect?”

I nod. “Yeah. I was so mad at Kay. I didn’t talk to her for months…six months, maybe. She kept trying though. She never left.”

Bea smiles, and I think she gets it, now. She knows why Kay is the person I trust most in this world. “What was that drive home like? With your parents?”

With that question, I’m gone. All the feelings of failure wash over me, as if they had never left. I look away from Bea, turning not only my face but my body, too. I not only remember the feeling of I would rather be dead, but I can feel it, deep down, to the center of my being for a moment. I shake my head, clear it.

I can feel Bea’s gaze on me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that she hasn’t turned toward me, but has stayed seated in her regular place. She won’t crowd me, or make me feel like she’s too close. I know this. “That had to be a really terrible feeling. Like going home with nothing.”

I shake my head. Not because Bea is wrong. She’s read my mind, in a way. But because it was awful. “They didn’t really care. They weren’t there. They showed up. But they weren’t there. They wanted me fixed, but I was just the failure, again. She never even asked what was wrong… was just back to therapy and nutritionists and get better, get fixed. That’s all. Be perfect again.” My voice is hollow, far away. I’m numb. I can’t feel this. It’s too much, too hard.

“Did you talk in therapy? About him, the relationship?”

“I tried. The first therapist….I tried. But……I left. I couldn’t. I left, and the new therapist I just…I got fixed. I pretended, I became perfect again. That’s all the mattered anyways.” I turn to Bea now, and I smile, then I giggle. “See? I run away if I start talking. It’s kind of big that I stuck around here.” What I don’t say is I had Kat to keep me here, and I had become attached to Bea more quickly than I wanted to admit, feeling like I needed her.

Bea smiles. “I’m glad you aren’t alone anymore, no one should be alone like that.”

Our talk turns to Kat, and therapy tomorrow. We talk about toys and play, and how things evolve and change. We talk about play therapy. As we discuss play therapy in general, I really want to ask a question, but I feel a bit silly. Gathering some courage, I finally say, “Can I ask you something?”

Bea looks at me, and I think she doesn’t like that I am asking permission to ask a question. But she smiles at me and tells me, “Yes, you can ask anything.”

I sigh, and remind myself that I’ve already cried over my story with my barbies, so nothing can be more embarrassing than that. But….I’m not embarrassed. I realize, Bea didn’t find me silly at all, maybe it hadn’t been. Bea has told me before that if we haven’t dealt with our feelings of grief, anger, our sadness, our mad, our confusion, anything else, all of our trauma feelings, they stay frozen in time. That’s where all the frozen in time parts of me are from, and that’s the parts that need to be allowed to speak. That’s where the little girl comes from. So some of those feelings might be old, and childish, and seem silly to the parts of me that continued to grow and weren’t frozen in time. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to be dealt with.

“You called the way I played with my barbies trauma play? My story, the sleeping beauty story?”

Bea nods her head. “Yes. Because of the repetitiveness. The way no secrets were allowed, and the little girl in the story was saving herself.”

“But…” I don’t know how to ask this, exactly, or what the right words are, and I stumble through it. “I never…..there was no…..I mean…..Kat always locked people up…..I never had any…… know…like….” I trail off, unsure of exactly what I am trying to say.

Bea gets it, though, and she fills in the words. “You never re-in-acted the trauma. Your play was more hopeful. It was more about helping you to keep hope that an end was going to happen, that you would be saved, I think.”

“If my parents….if I had been sent to therapy for some reason, then someone would have recognized it?” I ask. This scenario never would have happened, but I still need to know. The past can’t be changed anyway, but I can still explore different outcomes. Somehow, this soothes me, helps me put together the puzzle pieces, understand my life.

“I guess it really depends on the therapist. I hope that any play therapist would pick up on the fact you were playing the same story over and over, but some might not. I would have focused in on the no secrets thing, and wondered about that. I would have had my character ask what secrets?” Bea speaks slowly, she is thinking as she talks.

“I’m not sure I would have answered, anyway. Maybe, I don’t know.” I wonder. What would that have been like? To have someone like Bea, when I was a child, ask me about secrets? Would I have felt safe enough to tell her even one secret? To maybe tell her that my mom was sick, that I was scared, that I wasn’t as perfect as everyone thought? To say out loud that my parents didn’t love me, that they loved this perfect girl that didn’t really exist? Would I have felt safe enough to tell her how Kenny played with my barbies, perhaps? Or to even tell her about the the secret game eventually? I don’t know.

Bea senses I’m off in daydream what-if land, and she brings me back. “Your parents wouldn’t have sent you to therapy anyway, would they have?”

“No. They wouldn’t have. I just wondered, anyways. You know.”

“Yeah, I know,” she says. And she does. I believe she gets it. And I’m so glad to have a therapist who “gets it.”

So….I’ve been hiding

I’ve been hiding. I think I’ve fallen deeper down the rabbit hole.

I started this blog because I wanted to show the world an honest look at an abuse survivor’s life. It’s been a really rough week and a half or so. I’ve been hiding from everyone. I’m not even sure where to start. Most likely, I will make a few short posts, all in the next day or so (hopefully) to cover this last week and then some.

It al started with a flashback while I was home alone with my daughter. Damn PTSD! It sucks. I’m lucky, I can usually have some sort of control over my flashbacks. I’m also usually aware, to some degree, that I’m still “here” in the present, and the flashback is “there” in the past. This flashback…..well, it wasn’t exactly like that. It came out of no where. My daughter was playing with a sleeping mask her grandmother had given her, and she slipped it over my eyes. It triggered a flashback of my abusive relationship. I haven’t even gotten the story out in therapy, so no details today. Let’s just say it’s not a pretty story. I did not maintain that quality of knowing I was “here, not there” and I wasn’t really in control. It was bad.

I did not hurt my daughter, but I did yell at her. I scared her. She has a really hard time understanding emotions, because of her autism, so seeing these big emotions come from mommy was scary. I cried after the flashback. Like I said, damn PTSD. I texted the nanny to come early, and thank God, she was able to. I let my kid eat marshmallows for lunch and watch movies while I cried and freaked out in my head. By the time the nanny arrived, I was pretty dissociated.

I spent the rest of the afternoon hiding in my closet. Yes. My closet. My actual, physical bedroom closet. Sometimes, abuse survivors do things that seem crazy. I feel like this might be one of those things. But when I admit this to Bea at my therapy session on Monday, she acts like this is completely normal.
“What does it feel like to hide in your closet?” She asks me.
My head is spinning, doesn’t she realize that I, a grown woman, just admitted that I hide in my closet like a little child? I don’t know what it feels like. I just like it there. “It feels like no one can get to me there,” I finally say. It’s not a feeling, but it’s the best I can do.
“So it feels like it’s safe?” She asks me.
Safe. Yes, that’s it. I think. It’s my safe place. I nod at her.

And that, my friends is what started my further descent down the rabbit hole.

Grounding solutions

to my fellow abuse survivors, as always, please read with caution. I have put triggering material in italics to the best of my knowledge.

Bea is talking, but I can’t hear her. Things are too hazy, I’m too far gone to really pay attention to what she is saying. Nothing is okay.

“I have no idea what we have been talking about the last twenty minutes,” I finally manage to say.

Bea looks at me, kindly. She has nothing but compassion on her face and I can barely stand it. “I know. That’s why we need to find grounding techniques that work for you. To help you stay in the present. So it’s not so easy for you to fall into your trauma memories.”

By this point, we have had this conversation many times, in session and in email. I know exactly what happens when we start with the grounding techniques, but I don’t have the words to explain why. Just the idea of starting to “ground” myself at this point is enough to raise my anxiety level. I don’t want to talk about why, I don’t want to say the words.

“Can you tell me what you are thinking?” Bea asks me.

I shake my head no. I don’t want to go there. I can’t say the words. It’s embarrassing. It seems silly.

We sit in silence for a few minutes. She seems comfortable with it. I struggle, picking at my fingers, starting at the floor, scooting back into the corner of the couch as far as possible. Finally, I say, “Ok. I can try to explain…….explain why grounding is scary.”

Bea nods, but she doesn’t say anything. Feeling really stupid, I tell her I think I want to turn around. Bea, being Bea, shows no judgement and simply says, “okay.”

I turn around, and then I start telling one memory of my relationship with my abusive ex-boyfriend. I decided to start with telling the end of the memory, as Bea and I had talked about before I fell down the rabbit hole.

I threw up. I couldn’t help it. Luckily I’m close enough to the tile lining the fireplace in the living room that I manage to turn my head and miss most of the carpet. He’s nice again because he’s proved his point, and so he cleans up the vomit and settles me on the couch with a blanket. He says he going to go get me soup and I mumble something that sounds incoherent to my ears about taking a shower. I could have left then. But I didn’t. He’s being nice again and I’m really confused. And no one can know. So I go to the bathroom. Bea remarks on how extremely confusing that had to be. She seems to understand, even now, how I can’t get it straight in my head.
I take a shower. A long shower. It’s as hot as I can stand it but I think I could boil myself in bleach water and I would still feel dirty. I’m so surprised when, during one of my pauses in telling this story, Bea starts talking and she understands this need to shower, this feeling of never ever getting clean again. I believed no one would ever understand this ever. And she really gets it.I use my room mates soap and shampoo because I ran out earlier in the week. Cucumber melon body wash. Bioloage shampoo. Two smells that still can make me sick. The water gets cold and I sit down. I’m freezing now but I feel stuck, like I can’t move. I got out eventually. Got dressed, put myself to bed. But I don’t remember that.
The very end of the story is he brought me vegetable noodle soup and a movie. A walk to remember. And he was nice. So nice, taking care of me like I was really sick. And I’m more confused. It’s like he is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Where’s the switch so next time I can flip it back to the nice guy sooner? I don’t remember the movie. I haven’t watched it since, and I spent the night really zoned out, I’m counting down the hours until chem class in the morning. Then I can get out of here for a while.

It takes me a few minutes to collect myself, but I’m surprisingly okay. Of course, I know now that I was pretty dissociated while telling the story, but at the time I didn’t realize that. I managed to share the beginning and the middle of the story with Bea that day, and my grounding struggles began to makes sense to her.

Now, dear reader, some things my therapist was already aware of at this point that you aren’t aware of: I was raised in a very Christian home. I believed in waiting for sex or sexual acts until marriage. I had struggled, off and on, with eating disorders, self harm, OCD, and other behaviors prior to leaving for college. I had been dating the boyfriend for a while, and had made a mistake one night and had slept with him. Okay, now you are mostly up to speed.

My room mate is out. She was always out, even on school nights. My parents were paying the majority of the rent on our apartment because Lindsey was supposed to watch me. But she is hardly around, and I’m glad because we aren’t really friends. She’s a family friend, but that’s it. He comes over, like he does most nights. It hasn’t been very long since that first time we had sex. I don’t have a good timeline in my head for back then, so I don’t know how long. A few days, I think. We’re supposed to go out. Tap room has underage night tonight, and that’s the only night I can go. But first I want to talk. I need to explain that I can’t have sex again. That it was a mistake. That I believe God forgave me, and that I’m going to wait for marriage. He kisses me hello, and we move to the couch. We’re kissing on the couch now and I’m thinking that I should be talking to him but it can wait. But when he moves his hands from my hair down to my chest, I move them, pull back. I start talking. Explaining. I don’t remember what I said. I know it was stupid of me to tell him then. You don’t start making out with your boyfriend and then tell him that you can’t have sex again, that it was a mistake.

He argued with me. He told me that he would marry me one day, so it was ok. He told me that once you do it, it doesn’t matter anymore, you can’t just take it back. I argued back. He smacks me. That’s the first time. Open hand. Across my left cheek and eye. Holy cow, does that hurt. It’s out of nowhere. Why did I think this was going to end up ok? He’s so calm. Not yelling, but mad. Or something. Scary. He’s telling me I liked having sex with him, no good Christian boy is going to want me, I’m a slut. And I still don’t know to keep my mouth shut. I tell him that I didn’t like it. The next I know I’m falling of the couch, my head is hitting my coffee table. And then the next thing I remember is I’m on the other side of the coffee table and my clothes are piled next to me. He’s touching me there. Between my legs. He kept saying he would show me how much I did like it. That he would make me….I can’t say it…type it, write it. I just can’t. I just remember feeling cold and stuck in my head. It was like there was no way this was really happening. I didn’t even think to say “no” or to try to get away. I just laid there. He kept telling me what my body was doing, insisting that I liked it. I felt sick. Nauseas and cold and horrified at what he was saying my body was doing. And then his mouth, tongue between my legs. And then… I can’t say it. I didn’t really know what was happening until he told me. So he was right. It’s like those words are burned into my mind. I can hear it, hear his voice like he’s right here, “see. You are a little slut who likes it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have…..” And I just remember thinking he was right about me. And then I rolled over and threw up.

I tell Bea, then, after that first time, he realized that it upset me. It’s like he got some……pleasure from that. So he would hold me down, and do things, and list out what my body was doing. So I have this list in my head, and it’s everything from how I was breathing to if I moved. So you try to get me to focus on my body and all I can hear is his voice and it’s like I’m back there, just right back there in my nightmare again all over.

Bea, of course, understands. She tells me that this makes perfect sense. She says, “no wonder you have disconnected from your body,” as though I am normal.

We come up with things I can do for grounding. I can chew gum, but I discover that mints work better. I find that naming things I can see help me stay in the present. I find that while smells can help put me back in the present, they can be tricky because of my migraines, so mints and naming what I see and hear are the best techniques I have found.

Talking about talking

for my fellow survivors out there, this post talks about sex, and my opinions/associations with sex at the moment. I have attempted to put triggering material in italics, but please read with caution

As I had decided, I emailed Bea. I told her I wanted to talk about things, that I wished I could explain the flashback I was having in her office, but that I didn’t know how. I told her that so many of my memories of the relationship with the boyfriend had to do with sex, and I couldn’t use the words to tell the memories. I also told her that while I believed she believed she wouldn’t judge me, it seemed more like a nice fairy tale than a true story.

She responded that it seemed as though I was really grappling with trust, and that I was trying to decide if it was safe enough to tell any of these more difficult and scary trauma memories yet. She also acknowledged that it can be painful to talk about sex because it goes against the proper demeanor we set out into the world with each day, and that when there are horrible acts associated with sex it can be unspeakable. She suggested we could talk about sex in general as a way to work up to the other stuff.

I felt like I was testing her; that I would really only know if it was safe to talk to Bea about the boyfriend if I shared a memory, and this memory in particular could help her see why her grounding techniques were more triggering to me, not less. But that was only if I could manage to share it. I wrote her back, stating I felt like the only way to kmow if it was safe was to start talking. I also told her about my inability to talk about sex, and explained that even talking about sex in general would be difficult. I may be a married woman, and I may have a child, but I avoid sex as much as possible. I leave the room when sex scenes come on tv when watching a movie, I skip them in books, or better yet, just avoid the books that would have them in the first place.

Clearly, my anti-sex attitude intrigued Bea. She wrote back with many questions, and two statements. She wanted to know :
when did sex become twisted and bad? it just always was
was it ever a good thing?no
were you ever curious?no. I didn’t want to know about it
were there ever positive feelings towards sex? never. Sex is dirty

Bea suggested that I might tell the memory starting from the end. She said that can be easier sometimes. She said it reaffirms to the person doing the telling that they survived the memory, and that often times, the aftermath or the ending of a memory is less emotionally charged.

She also stated in that same email: One thing to remember–sex gets very complicated because there can be arousal and good sexual feelings associated with horrible things. Bodies react and that can be very shaming and confusing for people.

And that was the statement that sent my world into a tailspin. I didn’t know exactly what she meant, but I’m no dummy, and I had a pretty good idea. I didn’t email her back for a few days, and when I did, I dropped the subject of the boyfriend. I sent her the question that changed everything.

Breathing to be grounded

“I don’t know. I just don’t know,” I’m mumbling, my words can barely be heard over the hum of the air conditioner in Bea’s office.

“What is your breathing like?” She asks me, again. She is ever patient.

I continue to stare at the floor. I can’t tell her. I don’t know. I have no idea what my body is doing. I don’t want to know. The idea of trying to know makes me feel panicked. I can’t do this. I feel frozen, but what I really want to do is run out the door.

Bea is still determined that I learn to recognize some of my body signals and use breathing to ground myself. I’m extremely resistant to this idea, and I can tell this makes her curious, but she hasn’t questioned me, or pushed me on the why yet.

Bea starts explaining the idea of grounding and using breathing to ground oneself. She is demonstrating how to use belly breathing again. I’m doing my best to block out what she is saying. I don’t know exactly why, but everything she is saying is making me want to go far, far away.

I scoot back into the corner of the couch, as far as I can, and scrunch into myself as much as I can. I don’t think of it then, but now, writing this, I wonder what Bea saw, noticed, thought. I hug my knees to my chest, and hide my face in my legs. I make myself as small as I can, and I start to really dissociate. This doesn’t work completely in my favor, though, because as I begin to leave the present, I start to have a flashback. And then I’m shaking, and terrified, and helpless. I’m back in hell.

Bea notices this, and she asks me where I am. “With him,” (him being my abusive ex-boyfriend) I manage to choke out, my voice sounds foreign to my own ears.

She reminds me that I’m safe, that I’m here in her office, that it’s not then. A part of me is aware of this, my flashbacks never take me fully “back”, I always retain some degree of awareness of the present, but that doesn’t lessen the fear or the dread that I am feeling. She asks if I want to tell her what is happening.

“Yes. No. I can’t. I can’t.” I’m shaking and terrified, there is no way I can share what is happening in my head. I hate myself. If she knew, if anyone knew, they would hate me, too. I’m sick over what I did, over what happened, I can never let someone know. I’m so confused, so lost, so alone.

Bea doesn’t say anything. I can imagine that she is looking at me. I try to curl into myself even smaller. “You’ll hate me,” I finally get out. I have to turn the words over and over in my head for a good ten minutes before I can actually form them and get them past my teeth, lips, tougne. Talking in therapy is hard work.

“I won’t,” she says, “but you need to feel safe telling.”

At this point, I am getting more and more lost in my memories, and more and more upset. Again, I turn the words over in my mind, and I struggle to squeeze them out through my throat, past my teeth, I am barely holding on and I know I need something, and so I manage to say to Bea, “Please. Just talk.” And so she does.

Bea talks, and talks. I don’t remember what she talked about to be honest. That’s the idea, though. Nothing calms me like someone talking about simple, everyday, mundane life stuff. So Bea talked, and I gradually came out of my flashback.

I’m calmer on my drive home, but things still feel slightly hazy and surreal to me. I decide that I will send Bea an email and ask her if we can talk about talking because I don’t know how to do this. How does one ever really begin to share the painful details of a sexually abusive relationship?

Are you still here?

When Bea asked me “Are you still here?” during that first therapy session, I thought she was nuts. Then, she began to talk to me, little by little about dissociation. What is dissociation? The dictionary defines it as the disconnection or separation of something from something else or the state of being disconnected, and separation of normally related mental processes, resulting in one group functioning independently from the rest, leading in extreme cases to disorders such as multiple personality. Everyone dissociates. If you have ever driven home after a long day at work and not remembered the drive home, that is dissociation. That is the “normal” end of dissociation.

When people experience trauma, one reaction they can have is to dissociate. It is a defense mechanism. For me, dissociation feels like I “live” in my head, and am disconnected from my body. It’s as if there is a room in my head, with glass doors so that I can see and be aware of what is going on around me and function very well– but everything is a bit dulled down. I am almost always a bit dissociated, and this is my normal level of dissociation. There are sheer curtains, and heavy curtains on my glass doors, and a closet in the room in my head. I can close either set of curtains or go hide in that closet. Of course this was all mostly unconscious for most of my life, and it took me a while to accept that I dissociate. Once I accepted it, I was able to describe to myself and Bea how my system worked.

I first was willing to accept dissociation, when I told Bea the ending of my abusive relationship. I’m going to share the same details I shared with her, I will place anything that may be triggering to other survivors is italics.

I was in the shower. I was hiding from him, I thought I had locked the door. I don’t remember why I was hiding. He came in the bathroom, and he was mad. He was scary, he had that look on his face. I was frozen. He shoved me threw the shower door. My apartment at the time had a glass shower door, and when he shoved me into it, I went right through. Glass shattered everywhere, and I landed on my face. Bea asked me at this point if he was yelling, but I didn’t remember if he was yelling, in fact my memory is silent. The next thing I remember is being dragged into the hallway, and then my memory is blank until I am in my bed. I have some specific memories of being in my bed with him, but I’m not at a point where I can talk about, write about, or even really “look” at those memories. I do remember that there was blood on my brand new pink sheets and I was really ticked off about that. I told Bea that, and I said, “Isn’t that strange? I remember that stupid detail, but not the big stuff?” She told me that was normal. He eventually became bored with me, like he always did, and left. I laid in bed for a while, just frozen. Then I called a friend, and I left. I never went back.

It was with that memory that Bea was able to to explain dissociation to me. She was able to normalize the memory gaps and the small insignificant details I remembered. She explained it as a defense, as what happened was so traumatic my mind split the memory to make it “safer”. This is why I have no sound in this memory, this is why there are missing parts, this is why there are insignificant things I remember. It is a normal reaction to abnormal events.

It still took me a while to even begin to connect the dissociation with that particular memory to my everyday life. When I did, I was scared, worried, embarrassed, I wondered if I was going crazy. I also doubted that a person could dissociate that way. After all, wasn’t dissociation being completely not here, not functioning? I emailed Bea, asking if a person could be dissociated from their body all the time and still be functioning. She told me that yes, it was completely possible for a person to dissociate in the way I was describing. And that was when I began to admit to myself that I dissociate. Now, I have a way to describe it, and I’m not so embarrassed. I will easily tell Bea when I’m “not here” or when our last session is hazy because I was not really present. I’m also learning grounding techniques. That’s just a fancy way of saying things you can do to help you stay in the present. But that is a whole different blog post.