Defense and boundaries 

The rest of the week after Monday’s slightly odd session, I avoided thinking about much of anything. When I did stop for a minute and dig a little deeper, I thought about boundaries. I thought about how boundaries growing up in my family were very skewed. I never heard the word no. Seriously, my parents never said no to me. I think it was partly they sucked at setting boundaries, but also I knew what I could ask for and what wasn’t okay to ask for. I knew all the unspoken rules and nuances from a very young age. And I followed all the rules, because I didn’t want to be left. I don’t understand, how my parents could have such solid strict boundaries when it came to keeping out emotions and negative stuff and then have no boundaries in other ways. 

I realized that, for me, this idea Bea had when we had our most recent rupture, that we could disagree and still be on the same side was new to me. I hadn’t experienced that before. Where were the boundaries my parents were supposed to have to help me become myself? Where were boundaries that taught me it was okay to say no? Where were the boundaries that helped me learn where I ended and where others began? 

Therapy brought up discussion about which of the five F defenses do I default to. I didn’t know. It came up as Bea and I were discussing my behavior of running from Kay, and Bea wondered aloud which defense I used most. As we talked, she said she thought I used friendship/attachment cry the most. 

I laughed. Inside, I grimaced. “Nope. No way.”

“You don’t like to think that attachment is your defense. It is scary to think that,” Bea said.

I shook my head. “Yeah….but I don’t think that’s it.” The thing is, with Bea, it might be. But I have worked really hard to go against my instinct to run away from her. I want to heal. I want to grow and be healthier. I also know what *normal* looks like, and it’s not normal to run out of a therapy session or to run away from a new friend just because they have said or done something that was triggering. I say as much to Bea. 

“That makes sense. You can walk out here, if you need to. That is okay.” Bea says. She suggests that I might think about this defense stuff and boundaries and relationships this week. And so I do. 

I think and read a lot, and I decide that flight is my defense. The more I read about the five F’s the more I was sure flight is my primary defense. 

Flight is any means the individual uses to put space between themselves and the threat. It may involve sprinting away from the perceived danger, but is more likely exhibited as backing away or, particularly in children, as hiding. Avoidance is the go-to symptom of a flight response to uncomfortable feelings. Whether it be out of anxiety or acute stress, these are the people who are harder to connect with for many good reasons. They are the ones who try desperately to avoid any sort of intimacy or vulnerable moment with others by keeping many interactions at some surface level because that feels safest. Flight types appear as if their starter button is stuck in the “on” position. They are obsessively and compulsively driven by the unconscious belief that perfection will make them safe and loveable. As children, flight types respond to their family trauma somewhere along a hyperactive continuum that stretches between the extremes of the driven “A” student and the ADHD dropout running amok. They relentlessly flee the inner pain of their abandonment and lack of attachment with the symbolic flight of constant busyness. When the obsessive/compulsive flight type is not doing, she is worrying and planning about doing.
Going by that, even my dissociation is a type of flight. At first glance, it seems as if it is possibly a freeze response, but dissociation is my way of avoiding uncomfortable, scary situations. For me, it is all about going far away. It is about leaving and avoiding. I share this with Bea, and she finds it very interesting. She also agrees with me.  

The other interesting thing I found was a description of how these defenses work in a *normal* person. 

Walker (n.d.) outlines four basic defenses that most people use in life, but which in CPTSD become fixated and maladaptive due to ongoing trauma. These include the Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn and a number of hybrid types. 

When the Fight response is healthy an individual will have solid boundaries and the ability to be assertive when need be, whereas in CPTSD the person will become overly reactive and aggressive towards others.  

With a healthy Flight response, the individual is able to recognize when a situation or person is dangerous and withdraw or disengage whereas those with CPTSD will tend to isolate themselves socially to avoid threat. 

A healthy use of the Freeze response ensures that a person who is in a situation where further action will exacerbate things, stops and reassesses.  

And finally a Fawn response ensures that the individual listens and compromises with others, while someone with CPTSD will adopt a people pleasing approach to avoid conflict. 

I stayed pretty much on the surface, and In this more analytical mode. I think it felt safer, in some ways, just in case Bea wasn’t actually back. 

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Friendship 

Monday’s session was much of the same as Thursday’s at the beginning and then we spent some time discussing a Kat and her weekend of meltdowns. I’m thankful she will see Bea this week. I wondered, but didn’t say, if maybe missing a week of therapy effects Kat more than we think it does. My thought process was along the lines of Bea providing some extra holding space and containment for Kat’s BIG feelings and BIG worries, because while I do my best, my container is sort of leaky, and I struggle to hold my own crap at times. Although, I do think I now have separate containers for myself and Kat, but both still have lots of holes. Which is where Bea comes in. She holds the stuff that leaks out. Maybe that theory is way off base. 

It was the end of the session that got interesting. Bea had asked before she left on vacation about friendships, and if I noticed friendships forming now that were maybe different from friendships that were formed when Ms. Perfect was running things. I didn’t really answer then, but I ended up writing about three woman who I think I may be forming friendships with. All three have kids that Kat is friends with, which is how we met, but they also seem very authentic and real, their parenting values are similar to mine, we each have a similar quality of quirkiness, of nerdiness. Two of these women I have spent time with outside of having our kids with us, and it was really nice to have grown up conversations, just someone to have girl talk with. I stayed me, most of the time, and I didn’t leave our outings feeling drained and in need of a lot of quiet, down time like I usually do after a social engagement. 

I’ve noticed that the more real and authentic I am being, the less exhausted I am. I’d written about this in my notebook, along with a lot of other things, but the friendship thing is something Bea was really interested in today. She asked a lot of questions about them, and I talked a bit, but I also felt a little embarrassed. Why am I, a grown woman, having to discuss new friendships and how to navigate those new friendships, with my therapist? I mean, I am very appropriate in social settings. I am competent and confident in speaking to anyone, really. Or at least Ms. Perfect is. She isn’t afraid of people. She doesn’t let them in, but she is great at focusing on a person, being polite, talking to anyone and everyone and getting along with all kinds of people. But me? I have no idea how to be that person. I’m okay in social settings, maybe a little awkward, maybe a little preoccupied with whether or not people are perceiving me as weird, or crazy, or needy, or annoying, or any other thing that would separate me from them. But navigating and building real friendships? Yeah, I’m lost and uncertain, like a middle school girl who doesn’t fit anywhere. 

Bea asked about close friendships, if I felt like any of the women were people who would end up as close friends. 
I smiled and shook my head. “I don’t do close friends.” 

Bea paused for a moment. “Maybe you do now.”

I shook my head. “Nope. I don’t have close friends. It’s not something I do. I do surface stuff. I prefer to play by myself in my sandbox.” I’m joking, but I’m also a little bit serious. After all, if I play alone in the sandbox, no one can mess up the design I have for the sandcastle, or think my idea is silly, no one can throw sand at me and hurt me, and no one can smash my castle. I’m safe in the sandbox all alone. 

Bea laughs, a small delighted laugh that says she enjoys my stubbornness, and my humor. In a silly voice she says, “Well, Alice, now, you are gonna make close friends.” We both crack up. 

In a small voice, I say, “I HAD a close friend. I HAD Kay. I don’t want close friends again.” 

Bea doesn’t respond right away. “You did have Kay. She was a very close friend. And maybe you really don’t want close friends. But I’m thinking there are all different kinds of friendships. Like my friend I walk with? I see her a lot and we do a lot together, we’ve already texted this morning about something, but things are sort of on the surface with her, she just doesn’t have the capacity to go to difficult places. But she is still a good friend. We have a lot in common. Then I have a friend who I see rarely, but when we do get together, there is a deeper connection, and time spent together feels much more meaningful. I have a younger friend, from my old job, who I have a lot of fun with, but we have a deeper friendship, too. Oh, and then my friend Julia, she’s weird. We have a lot of shared history, both of us have parents who passed away (I already knew Bea’s father had passed away, we discussed that when we worked through grief over my grandpa), and she can go to those grief filled places, but anything else, there is a wall and she will not go there. So, maybe there are all kinds of friendships. I think Kay was unusual; most friendships aren’t like that.”

“I know….I know it was maybe one sided in a lot of ways. But she did talk to me, too. Actually, she was quite the open book. But…..I don’t know.” I shake my head. 

“I wonder…I know her friendship was important, but I wonder if you were acting something out with her?” Bea is thinking out loud again. 
I groan. She’s heading into shrinky thinky territory, but as I’m not feeling very emotionally connected, I don’t really care. “I don’t….I mean…..well maybe.” I think for a bit. 
I think in my head, and Bea thinks out loud. “You were always shutting her out, disappearing. I wonder if you were acting something out with that.” 
“Well, it’s not like I shut her out for no reason. I mean…..well, like, if I was going to treat you like I did her……” I’m embarrassed to admit this, because there have been times where I have thought of running, of disappearing on Bea. “Like, when you brought up relationships in the past and talked about them even though you knew I did not want to discuss relationships— now it’s been okay— I would have just not come back. I’d have walked out and not looked back.” 
“But Kay, when you did that to her, she didn’t let you shut her out.” 
“Well. It’s like…….if something came up in conversations and upset me, she’d see it. Where I would be working to hide it, and others would not notice, or maybe they noticed and I am not so good at pretend as I think, and they ignored it. Kay would see it and she’d call me out on it. She wouldn’t let me pretend. She’d push to know what upset me.” I shrug. 
“Usually, I’d tell her and we would talk and then I would disappear for a few weeks.” 
“Boundaries……” Bea says slowly. “She wasn’t respecting your boundaries at all.” 

“Maybe…..” I say. I don’t want to agree with Bea right now. I can see where she is coming from, but I feel like that isn’t the whole story. “I mean, she put up with a lot from me…..I was a lot. So maybe she felt like she didn’t need to listen to any boundary I set.” I’m not sure.

“Well……..let’s say something comes up in conversation that upsets you, it’s touches on those vulnerable places. You don’t want to talk about it, so you pretend everything is okay. A friend who notices and asks you about it, they say something like ‘hey, did something just upset you? Are you okay?’ If you say you don’t want to talk about it, that is an authentic response, and a boundary. A healthy friendship would respect that boundary. If you say nothing is wrong, that is maybe coming more from Ms. Perfect, but still, a healthy friendship would respect that boundary.” 

I nod slowly. “That’s Reagan. She asks, but won’t continue to push or ask about it. She hears the boundary, I guess.” I don’t think I’ve ever thought of pretending to be okay as a boundary, as a choice, as a way of saying ‘no’. I’ve always thought of prefect as building a wall to keep people from knowing the real me that they would inevitably hate. 

“That is a healthy relationship.” Bea says.

We continue talking about friendship and boundaries, and when it’s time to leave, Bea says, “I think this is important. Maybe this is something to do some writing with, if you feel like it.” 

I nod. It might be. I’m not sure I want to talk about friendships. I’m not sure what I want to talk about, though. It seemed like so many big things were coming up before Bea’s week long break (to be fair, she was only gone for 4 days, it was just I saw her on a Wednesday and not again until Thursday), and they have just disappeared. I’ve detached from her and don’t really feel an emotional connection. Part of me wants to stay that way, talk about the shrinky side of things, because when I feel like this, I can. The other parts me are desperate to feel emotionally connected with Bea again. I don’t know which part of me is going to win.

Vacation before and after  

The session before Bea went on vacation was painful. I really don’t remember anything about it, other than Bea noticing right away that I wasn’t present at all, and my telling her (as I hid under my blanket) that it hurt too much to be present right now. She had said the session before that I could take something from her office to use as a transitional object, and I had sort of laughed it off. That last session though, she asked if I wanted to take some thing, and I nodded yes. The little girl really wanted a stuffed animal or something, something comforting so I could feel like Bea was there. The grown up part of me couldn’t even go there. Eventually, Bea and I settled on me taking her favorite pen, the one she keeps in her purse to always have with her. 

While she was gone, I kept a notebook and used her pen to write in it. I wrote a lot about attachment stuff, and tried very hard to make sense of and understand the attachment issues I had been experiencing. I also spent a lot of time filling the pages crying about her leaving, and my fears she wouldn’t come back or my worries that she was not going to be herself when she came back. I wrote that I hated her for making me trust her and then leaving me. It was a very long 8 days. The beginning was harder, it hurt more, but as the week went on, I could feel myself distancing from Bea and not really caring if she came back or not. I shut down those deeper places in myself, and stayed a bit more on the surface. That was almost a welcome relief. Of course, when Thursday rolled around, I was anxious all over again. 

Thursday’s session felt like a bit of a waste. I gave Bea the notebook I had kept while she was away. I saw that she was back. I didn’t feel like we connected, though. I felt very off, and was almost sad that I hadn’t cancelled. Sometimes it feels better to not reach out or show up at all, then to show up and not feel connected to. It felt a lot like Bea and I were in the same book, but on separate pages. I just didn’t feel that emotional connection. She was there, though, and she did show up, and when I was lost and had no words, she talked and I listened. It was really surface feeling, although we did talk a bit about relationships and attachment. I cant fully remember the session to be honest; I was pretty disconnected and fuzzy feeling. It was one definitely a *finding our rhythm after a break* type of session. 
Bea didn’t get a chance to go through and read my notebook, so she took it home to read. 

Burning down the house

My next few sessions, after I set a boundary by telling Bea ‘no’ were all about relational stuff. After that session where I said no, I was terrified Bea was angry with me. I was so afraid she was going to leave, I couldn’t email her. So, I wrote in my notebook. I wrote a lot in my notebook. I took my notebook with me to therapy that next session. 

When I arrived, I didn’t want to walk in to her office and look at her. So I didn’t. I walked in, staring at the floor. I couldn’t find any small talk, I couldn’t even manage to say hi. Where is Ms. Perfect when you need her? I sat down and pulled out my notebook, handing it to Bea while simultaneously curling into a ball and burying my face in my knees. 

“Did you want to start with your notebook?” Bea asked. 

I nodded. 

Bea didn’t say or do anything for a few moments. It was like she was trying to decide the best way to proceed. “I’m just going to get your blanket, just so you have it if you need it. It looks like you are needing to hide today.” 

She sets the blanket down next to me. I’m glad, because I really do want to hide. 
She starts reading my notebook, where I have basically freaked out over saying no to trying a memory exercise because it would be an SP thing, imagining all the awful things that will happen, that should happen. I wrote and wrote about how this was all because of SP, and SP was the worst thing ever, and I hated it and she was turning into an SP therapist. We had talked in a session previously where she had admitted that there were things from SP that just made sense to her, and felt natural and so they had become part of her way of doing therapy. She had said that she was always careful with me, to not do those things, but as they became more ingrained in how she practiced therapy, sometimes they slipped out. I had said I felt like this issue we were having, my freaking out, was an SP thing. Bea continued to insist that is was a relational thing. She said that SP was the thing that brought out these relationship issues, but if it hadn’t been SP and her changing, it would have been something else. 

“I want to say, before I start reading, that this feeling of being on opposite teams, it feels to me like it kind of another *all or nothing* thing, that we either have to believe exactly the same thing, or we are on opposition teams. I don’t see that. To me, we are on the same team, and we agree about most things, but as separate individuals naturally we don’t agree on everything. We are looking through different lenses so of course we see our own view, and even if we can understand the other’s view, we don’t have to share it to be on the same team.” 

Now, this was almost 4 weeks ago, and looking at this again, I’ve had a something click into place for me. This feels very much like mom stuff to me. I never got to be me with my mom, I never really got to be a separate individual. There was this unspoken rule that we had to like the same things, agree on everything, that there could be no differences. Even when I moved away to college, and wanted to put pink streaks in my hair, I called my mom to ask her opinion (or rather, get permission). She said she supposed doing something wild and crazy was do be expected of a college student, so to go ahead. 

I didn’t say anything in response to Bea’s words. I wanted to believe her, but what she was suggesting was really hard to believe. It wasn’t my experience. I felt alone, and hurt, and terrified. I started crying. 

“Alice, it’s going to be okay. I know it was hard to come back today, but it is going to be okay.” Bea says softly. 

I sob harder. “It’s. Not. Going. To. Be. Okay.”

“Are you firing me?” Bea asks. She is sort of serious, and she isn’t ignoring my tears or upset, but her voice has a playful quality to it.

“N-n-nooooooo,” I sob. 

“Okay. Then whatever it is, whatever Is written here, we can work through it. Okay? We can get through this.” Her tone says she is all serious now. 

“O-o-o-okay.” Shakily, I lift up the blanket, and throw it over my head. Unfortunately, I don’t unfold it al the way, in my rush to remain hidden, and so I have to fumble with it. I end up getting myself covered and hidden with some finagling. 

Bea reads.

I feel like you are on a separate side when it comes to SP, like you are always on a separate side. I hate this. It feels like everything I was afraid of happening with SP is happening. 




“I know. I know you really feel like we are on separate sides. We can disagree and still be on the same side. I really believe that.” 

I can’t do this. I can’t make you change your beliefs, and I would never ask you to. But I can’t work with you when it feels like we are on opposite sides. 




“Well, you aren’t asking me to change my beliefs. But if you are feeling like this– that we are on such opposite sides that you can’t work with me, then it is my job to step back and see how I can help you not just feel like, but know, that I am on your side. It is my job to fix this, okay? And I do believe we can fix it.” 

I really do hate this. It’s not okay. I don’t understand why you can’t be just regular, human, therapist Bea, and if new things you learned will work or be helpful, then use that piece of it and leave the rest. CBT always felt shrinky but you just use some parts of it, like feelings aren’t facts and reality checking. It didn’t mean you had to turn the session into a set in stone CBT session, you used the relevant parts and left the rest. 




“Well here….me being just regular Bea……this is what I was saying the last time, that I can be me and use SP techniques. I really think we are on the same page about this.”

I think with SP it feels like any response you have is forced or because SP says so. I can’t trust that. It turns you into shrinky Bea who is following a set format and whose responses aren’t real but are set out guidelines designed to elicit certain reactions with the end goal of the transformation piece. 




“Ahhhh…..it is feeling very manipulative. I imagine it is hard to trust what another is saying or doing when you are afraid of being manipulated. I’m not trying to trick you, or saying something just to get you to do something. I bring things up to get you to see patterns, to try to change things that might be adding to challenges. I know it’s hard to trust that, and only time and experiencing that as true can really help. And we have time.”

But you were different. You were real, just human, flawed Bea with real emotions and your responses felt like they were you sharing your genuine response with me, not a feeling or response being dictated by the therapist part of you. That’s why I trusted you when I never trusted any other therapist. It’s why when everything seemed completely screwed up, like when you had emailed with hubby, I still trusted your respect, words.  




She laughs. “Flawed. Yup. That’s me. Flawed and human, and bound to make mistakes.”

Inside I’m having a panic attack, but outside I’m frozen and calm, and gone. I can’t do this. I don’t think this can be fixed. 

“I really do believe that as long as you stay, and we work through this together, it can be fixed. It’s only when someone leaves, when they run away, that we don’t get a chance to fix things, and they can’t be fixed then.” 

Maybe I’m a broken trauma client. I know everything in SP says that separating the meaning making narrative from body sensations and feelings. focusing on the body, on the here and now, is less overwhelming, less scary for trauma clients. But for me, it’s this black hole of danger, a not okay, pit of terribleness, it’s not okay. This is a mess. 




“You aren’t broken. I think it’s just that you have dissociated feelings and body sensation and being present from yourself that it feels very unsafe to feel those things. You have to learn to tolerate it again, just like with yoga, you had to learn to tolerate having any focus on your body, being even a little more present. It’s a process, and every time we practice, we open that window a little more. But you aren’t broken, no matter how much that it feels that way.”

Maybe I should be done. I can’t keep doing this. I hate this. I’m not okay. This is destroying me. I feel like I’m going to end up losing you no matter what, so why prolong that? Why prolong this hurt? At the end of the day, you are an SP therapist and I am not an SP client. Better to quit now than end up more hurt because we can’t be on the same side and I can’t talk to you and I’m numb and alone and not really here anyway and all I want to do is go away. 




“It really must feel horrible and lonely to feel like I’m here but you can’t talk to me because we are on different sides. No wonder it was so scary to tell me no, to feel as if you were placing yourself on a separate side.”

I know we don’t have to believe the same things to be on the same side. But this feels bigger than that. It’s like a foundation or something. It’s like we had been building a house together. Your half was different than my half, and that was okay because we had the same foundation, we each used wood to build our house. But one day, you changed out your wooden foundation for bricks. Which meant you could add brick to the rest of your house, but my house can’t support the things your house can. Maybe my house isn’t strong enough to help support the things you have added and so my house is collapsing under the weight. So, it seems like the only thing to do is burn down my half, run away, and start over. 




“You don’t need to burn down your house. You just need someone to help you renovate. I’m here. We don’t need to burn the house down. Nothing is ruined. We don’t need to start over, we just work to build and renovate the house we already have. And we don’t have separate halves of the house, there is no line splitting the house, separating us.” Bea’s voice is sort of….insistent that I don’t burn down my half of the house. She’s insisting we rebuild together.    

Knowing you are there and would respond and care about me, that just hurts. I know, it’s crazy. It’s sort of like I feel as if I’m going to lose you, or feeling this divide between us, it hurts knowing you are there. Ugh. Being and sounding like a crazy person is awful. 
This all just feels unbearable. I’m embarrassed because I can’t even figure out how to explain what exactly is so upsetting, it’s like I know some thing is painful and bad, but I can’t put my finger on it, and so I’m embarrassed to be this upset over………what? Something I can’t name. 




“It’s okay. It makes sense to me. This…..relational stuff can be so painful. Unbearably painful at times. You don’t need to be embarrassed. Really. It’s okay. I get it.” And then, she proves to me that she gets it by sharing a story about herself and her own therapist, and some painful relational attachment stuff that cropped up a long time ago. She tells me about the feelings and her reactions, her behaviors (she doesn’t t share what the attachment challenges were, or what her ‘issues’ were). She gets it. “I don’t….it’s not like that for me, now. Whatever the relational stuff was, I eventually worked through it with my therapist and now, well now, I can take him or leave him. I don’t need him like I once did. It’s nice knowing he’s there, but it’s not that painfully attached feeling. I think that does happen, eventually, if things are worked through.” 

It’s not fair, Bea. A year ago, I was terrified you were turning into an SP therapist, and I thought I’d have to leave, you reassured me, you said *i have no intention of turning into an SP therapist.* AND THEN YOU DID IT ANYWAY. You said I had a choice about SP. But you changed everything. I didn’t get a choice to have my therapist turn into an SP shrink. That is most certainly a choice I did not make. So how do we get past that? 
I hate this. I hate SP. everything is all screwed up. I can’t fix it, I can’t be a good client, I can’t do this. I shouldn’t be here anymore, I just want to disappear. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you did this for me and I, and ungrateful, bratty drama queen, who just can’t be good. I feel like this won’t be okay. I just want things to feel safe again, I want to be able to talk to you. And I am not sure that will ever happen. This hurts. 




“I know this hurts. I can see that it is hard for you to be here right now, and I can tell there is a lot of pain and sadness around all of this. I don’t see you as bratty, I see you as scared, as terrified of these changes. I can see you hating SP because it was a catalyst of these changes and it feels like SP is the cause of this pain you feel between you and I. I know it feels like I am turning into an SP therapist. I’m not. I would not call myself am SP therapist. I am just me, just Bea who is flawed and human, and real. Sometimes I use CBT or DBT strategies in therapy sessions. Sometimes I use SP stuff. Sometimes I use developmental attachment stuff from my infant mental health training. I use lots of things to work with people. I could never give up the other methods I use. I think it is hard for you because you have been here as I learned SP, and as I was unskillfully working to integrate it into my regular style of therapy. Now it’s more integrated, and I try to be very conscious of that and not use it in your sessions, but it is more natural, more mixed into my therapy bag. You don’t need to leave, and I don’t need to leave. We both can stay and we can be on the same side. I’m just me. I’m not leaving or changing who I am at my center.”

“I don’t have to leave? You aren’t leaving?” My voice is tiny and tear filled. 
“No, you absolutely don’t need to leave. I’m not leaving— well, I am leaving for vacation in a week, but I am coming back.” She says. The added part about her vacation is reluctant. 

I sob harder. “You are leaving. You are leaving because of me.” Panic is erupting within me. Bea is leaving. I was bad, and she is leaving. 

“Nope. This isn’t because of you, or because of anyone. I’m leaving to take my son back to school and then to spend a few with my husband. That’s all. It’s not because of you, you could never make me leave.” 

“You’re coming back?” Tears are still running down may face and I feel a little numb. 

“Yes. I’m coming back. I’ll be leaving on Friday after work, and I’ll be back home on Wednesday afternoon.” She says calmly. 

My heart freezes. “I won’t see you all week?” 

“Not on Monday or Wednesday, I won’t be here. I could see you Thursday morning?” She is gentle and kind with me, her voice is soft. 

“Okay. Thursday morning.” I agrees, sadly.

“We still have next week Monday and Wednesday, and you can email me. I know it’s scary to email me when I’m not here, but you can email and I will answer and I will be real and not shrinky.” She reassures me as best she can. 

Then, because I’m hiding under the blanket and I’m a little bit far away, Bea asks me how I want to come back to the real world. 

“I don’t know.” I whisper.

“What do you need to feel safe to come back?” She asks. 

I honestly don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t ask. I tell her that I truly don’t know. 

“Should I leave the room?” She asks. 

I have an immediate reaction to that, and so I shake my head. No, don’t leave the room. 

“Turn around and not look at you?”

I shake my head. That feels better than her leaving but it’s not okay either. 

“Do you want me to move my chair closer?”

I shake my head. No. 

Bea suggest a few more things, and an answer to her question begins to form in my mind. “Go away, bit don’t leave. That’s what I want. How crazy is that? It makes no sense. I can’t do this.” 

“It’s not crazy. It’s that push- pull dynamic. What if I turn to the side, so I’m not facing you, close my eyes, and keep a connection by talking with you?” She suggests. 

“Okay.” I agree, feeling lame, broken, defective. Why am I acting like this? It takes me a few minutes to pull the blanket off my head and sit up. I can’t look at Bea for a long time, but when I finally peek my eyes at her, I see she is sitting side ways and has her eyes closed. 

“Would it be okay if I opened my eyes? I won’t move, I won’t leave.” 

“Yeah. You can open your eyes.” Now that I’m more present, Bea’s closed eyes feel as if she is shutting me out, like maybe she doesn’t want to see me. 

Bea opens her eyes, and I feel a bit better. I slip on my shoes, gather my things, fold the blanket. I stand up, and walk to the door. Only then does Bea turn towards me. She smiles and wishes me a good weekend. I smile too, and wish her the same. 

Saying No

I’m restless tonight. Nothing feels right. I don’t want to read, or watch a movie. I can’t focus on listening to a book, and when I try to write, everything that comes out is gibberish. I’m so far behind on my blog, I don’t know where to start. On top of that, the last time I posted all was good– better than good, actually. Now things are…..well, I’m not quite sure what they are. Interesting, maybe is a good word. Confusing. Difficult. I’m not sure. Using words, finding them, reading them, writing them, hearing them, holding onto them and mixing them together to form sentences and paragraphs and pages, that is my superpower. And if words are my super power, then attachments and relationships are my kryptonite. 

I don’t understand my reactions, my feelings. I write and I think and I read and research and I am no closer to understanding it. And while I have a person who could help me understand it, I’m afraid to discuss it with her. It’s uncomfortable and painful to admit to needs and wants and attachments. All the feelings popping up right now, they are confusing. I can’t sort it out in my head, things don’t make sense. Maybe this is something that isn’t ever going to make perfect sense in an intellectual way. Maybe it is something I have to feel. I’m not sure. Right now, I feel a lot of sadness and pain. I feel sort of frozen in place, afraid to do anything, but my chest by my heart hurts, and I feel a hot then cold flash over my heart, and my body feels hot, like my whole body is blushing, and I feel empty, lonely, this pull to reach, and just as instantaneous is this freeze, don’t! stop! danger! feeling, and I can immediately list off at least 5 reasons the person or persons I want to reach for would not want me. 

I’m unsure how to explain this attachment stuff going on, or what triggered it. In some ways, for me, this very big reaction I had to Bea came as a shock. It was a normal therapy day, or normal as far as therapy goes, anyway. Bea and I had been working on sleep, and I was really struggling with some nightmares and memories, but I couldn’t verbalize or write about them. Bea suggested that we try a resourcing exercise, one where I could think of a good memory, a time in childhood when I felt safe. 

I’m still not quite sure what happened. Bea smiled at me, and said, “Can you think of a memory, or even maybe more of a collection of memories, a feeling, of a time you felt safe? If I stop and do this exercise, I can think of family dinners at my grandma’s house in the summer. She had a wonderful porch, with comfy chairs and a swing, and the grownups would sit outside, and I would dig in the grass by the porch, or search for rocks, or swing on the swing, but I always had this feeling of being watched, being looked after, and being very safe. For me, it’s not one specific memory, it’s just every summer visit to her house as a child all mixed together.” 

I’m half listening, enjoying her sharing this memory, taking some of the vulnerability out of it by sharing herself, but I just……I can’t do it. I have memories, I have several I can think of, and yet, I can’t tell her. It’s that I don’t want to tell her my good memories. Its that I’m positive once I share the memory she will want to know what feelings it brings up now, in present day life. She will want to know what the sensory experience is. And I can’t go there. I just got Bea back, after feeling like I was going to have to quit because sensorimotor therapy isn’t something I want, and she is turning into a sensorimotor therapist, and I was devastated, heartbroken that I was going to have to quit. Somehow, we worked through that. She’s not tied to sensorimotor, and I’m not fully against it. We learned that my challenge is less about the type of therapy and more about needing that emotional connection and not feeling it when Bea had tried sensorimotor in the past. When that emotional connection is not there, I feel as if Bea doesn’t care, as if I’m just patient number 47, diagnosis PTSD with a side of crazy, and that she doesn’t want to deal with me, and that its about analyzing and making sense of the problem, not about working with a person and seeing them and liking them for who they are. Yeah, that emotional connection piece is a way more huge for me. So, you can see why I did not want to do this exercise. 

Bea gave me some space, but when I didn’t say anything for several minutes, she prompted me, “Maybe a memory with your grandparents?” 

I sighed. I shook my head. And then I pulled my knees or my chest, buried my head in my knees, and curled into a tiny ball. 

“What is happening for you? This idea of a good memory is causing a reaction, maybe a need to protect yourself?” Bea noticed my reaction, of course she noticed, and yet I feel a dull flash of surprise. 

I curl more into myself, making the smallest ball I can. I wish my blanket were near me, and as if she read my mind, Bea hands it to me. I cover myself, hiding under the blanket. I still haven’t said a word to her, and she pushes a bit, asking me again about what is happening right now, where I am at, what is making me feel this need to protect myself. I don’t know how much time passes before I whisper, “I’m ruining everything.” 

“What makes you say that? Why are you feeling that you ruin everything?” She asks, a hint of surprise in her voice. The surprise says that she doesn’t feel that way, and it says that she can’t see where the feeling would come from in my present day life. 

When I don’t respond Bea continues, “Sometimes it can be scary to try new things that might help us heal, because we are scared that healing means we might lose the support we have. Getting better doesn’t mean you will lose me, it only means that you will be able to better ask for help when you need it.” 

“No. That is not it. I haven’t….it’s not something I even think about, really.” I’m quick to correct her, lest she think that she matters to me or something. In truth, I don’t think about the idea that if I get better Bea will leave. I don’t think about her retiring. It hurts too much. It makes me too sad. 

“Okay,” she says simply. “Are you having trouble thinking of a memory? It’s okay if you are.” 

I shake my head. It’s not that. I just can’t tell her. It will ruin everything. I start to cry then, big, uncontrollable tears. It’s the sort of cry some refer to as ‘ugly crying’. 

Bea says something soothing, but it’s not the words that matter, it’s the tone and care in them. We go back and forth like this for a bit. Finally, I blurt out, my voice muffled by tears and hiccupy breathing, “I just don’t want to tell you! I don’t want to have to tell you a memory and then have you ask about feelings and sensorimotor stuff!” 

“Ahhhhh,” Bea says, things clicking into place for her. She says something more, but my cries about ruining everything and not being good overshadow her words. “How are you ruining everything?”

“Because I’m not doing what you want and now we are on different sides and I’m screwing it all up and I’m being so awful.” My cries turned to wails, and I could hardly catch my breath. 

“I don’t think you are screwing anything up! I think this is the work, right here. I think maybe you needed to tell me no, to experience setting a boundary. The little girl never got to learn to do that, and so grown up Alice doesn’t really know how to set boundaries, no one knows if is safe to say no, that saying no or disagreeing doesn’t mean we don’t care about someone.”

“Noooooooooo,” I sobbed. I felt this huge terror over yelling Bea no, over setting this boundary. It certainly was not okay. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’m ruining everything. I make bad choices. I can fix it, if I can just agree with you, do what you wanted, then it will be okay.” 

“I don’t want or need you to do, or be anything. I’m okay with this. I know you don’t believe it right now, but I am okay with things as they are. It is okay for us to disagree, it is okay for you to say no.”   

“But you’re on a different side now!” I wailed. That was the way things worked in my world– people agreed and had the same ideas about things, and disagreeing, or telling someone no, putting yourself on a different side, well, that was how you lost people. 

“Why sides? I don’t see any sides, here. I see you and me, working together to help you feel safe again. I’m not mad, I’m not upset. I think this is something that needs to happen. I really do. I think you need to experience saying no, and being heard and seen, to experience a person really hearing a no and not going anywhere.” Bea told me again. 

I couldn’t answer her why I saw sides, why I felt like I was on the wrong side, why I was so scared. I didn’t really know, not in words. I just felt it, believed it. I just knew on this very deep level that things were not okay, that I had screwed them all up, that I had made a bad choice. 
 

Maybe I quit

Things have been…..well, not great. I’ve been functioning thanks to the perfect part of me. I had therapy today, after a week and a half break. It wasn’t good. I’m thinking of quitting. It was awful. I shouldn’t have gone. I never ever should have shown up. 

I talked about nothing, surface stuff, a monologue designed to keep Bea from talking about serious stuff. 

She eventually brought up the last week and when I emailed and felt like her email back was shrinky and gone. She said how we’ve just always had contact and that maybe it would be more fair to me to have no contact unless it’s an emergency, so I wouldn’t have to do this contact her, feel like she’s gone, be hurt, and shut down thing. She said maybe she should set a no outside contact boundary. That she can imagine it is painful to feel like she’s gone or not responding in the was I need, that clearly I had a need she wasn’t meeting that last week, but that she thought about it and maybe it was an opportunity for growth for me. So now she doesn’t even want to email with me. Which is where most of my talking comes out– in writing. I just shut down. I wanted to cry, walk out, hurt myself. Instead I went far away to that quiet fuzzy floaty place in my head. I like it there. 
TRIGGER WARNING!!!

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She asked how I moved from needing something from her to being okay, what was that like for me, what was my process? She said it was okay if I was mad at her. Nothing, I said. I’m fine, I’m not mad at you, everything is okay. She says it’s okay if it’s not fine, but it sounds hollow. I don’t believe her this time. And my process? I cut when the feelings get out of control, when I’m too far away, when I’m not numb enough. I stuff food on top of the feelings, the memories, the pain. If I put enough food on top of it, I can bury it awhile. Then I feel gross, dirty for shoving food in my mouth and I go throw it up. That helps too. It fixes everything for a while. So there. That’s my process. 

💥💥💥END TRIGGER 💥💥💥

I can’t do this. I really can’t. I can’t tell her how much she is hurting me. I can’t talk to her. And it’s only getting worse, going today made it worse. And now I don’t see her for a whole week. I waht to disappear. I want to not exist right now. It’s all too much. I’m not sure I can fake my way through this. I’m going to try. But going to see Bea today was a horrible stupid awful thing. Kat has an appointment on Wednesday in the afternoon (I go in the morning usually but Bea has an appointment) and I don’t think I can take Kat. I’m not sure I can face Bea right now. I don’t know what I feel towards her, but it’s a lot of painful hurt feelings, frustration that she wouldn’t just let me have my happy surface monologue, anger over this past month of December, this painful feeling of needing her and not being able to talk to her, and more things mixed up. I don’t even know what to do now. 

I ended up writing and email, and I sent it. Of course, I haven’t heard back and I’m unsure if I will……….

Bea, 

I’m not even sure it’s okay to email right now. So I’m sorry. I’m definitely not going to talk about this right now. Sooooo, writing is all I have……….

I wrote this last night, to give you today. Obviously I didn’t give it to you….


So. I’m here. And I’m probably not talking, or I’ve spoken an entire monologue about nothing. I don’t want to be here today. I do NOT want to talk about things. I don’t even know what to write to you here. I have a journal, letter, something….writing…that I’ve been writing since the beginning of December— December 5, I think, I started it after that really bad last week of November– and I feel like I can’t give it to you to read. I’m stuck and lost and this is silly. I’m wasting your time and I am sorry. I don’t know what to do now. 

That was something I had written to give you today. And I couldn’t even do that. I don’t know what to say. Today made things feel worse, so much worse. I wish you would have just let me keep the happy-everything-is-fine-on the surface monologue. I really really needed to stay on the surface. I’m kicking myself for not just cancelling. Because I knew it wouldn’t be good. I just can’t handle this. 

Honestly, right now, my instinct is to quit therapy. To hide out in this nice bubble and to have everything be okay, and just fine; to stop everything, thinking and feeling and talking and being more than a facade of perfect, because I can’t do this. My instinct is to quit, and to have Kat take a break for a few weeks. I feel like my entire life is spinning out of control, with the bottom dropped out from under me, and I have no one to talk to. Absolutely no one. I don’t want to talk about this relationship. I’m not mad at you. I’m something but it’s all these things twisted together and I can not, will not, make myself so vulnerable to talk about this, to talk to you about you mattering to me, about you hurting my feels myself. No. I won’t. I can’t. 

So now want? Because I’m lost, and afraid and alone and the only thing my map is telling me to do is to run away. 
Alice 

I couldn’t stop it (11/30/16)

I walk into therapy, and right away, as I’m getting settled, I talk about Kat and school and our first Girl Scout meeting. I’m desperately trying to pretend away this sense of dread, and feeling of panic I have. I tell Bea how amazing Kat is doing, and great is was to see her interacting socially with girls she had never met before. I tell her how it was, being the troop leader. I’ve never done anything like that before, but I had a blast. 
Thankfully, I have a co-leader, who seems very comfortable when it comes to dealing with the parents. That was the one thing I was unsure about— I don’t ever feel comfortable taking a position of authority or being the “expert” over my peers. Mostly because I often feel like a 5 year or a teen, I don’t feel as if my peers are really my peers. I’m much more comfortable with kids; the little girl part of me connects with them really well. 

Today Bea won’t let me spend the entire session talking about surface stuff. I’d sent a series of emails Monday and Tuesday, and had spent the last 36 hours in a hypervigilant, panicky feeling state. 

“Okay, I’m going to find your email and just read through it really quick to get back in that headspace.” Bea transitions us to talking through the email I had sent the day before.

“Sorry….I’m sorry.” I mumble, covering my face with my hands. 

“Why sorry? Nothing to be sorry about. Needing that transition time, that’s why we have 90 minute sessions. We have time built in.” It’s no big deal, she’s saying. 

“Because I won’t stop talking.” I bury my face, mortified.

“No that’s not it at all! We have the time because that time is important for building safety, for helping you feel safe enough to drop some of those defenses you need to get through your day to day life.” She corrects me and sounds firm, as if she wants to make sure I don’t start thinking badly of myself for needing that extra time. 
Bea begins to go through my email, reading it to herself, and responding as she reads. 

“I wondered– as I was saying that about the feeling impatient, annoyed— in the back of my mind, I wondered how that was sounding to you. I wasn’t talking about you, I have never felt that towards you. I do check in with myself, see how I am feeling, but it never has come up with you. Even at times when you are stuck, or avoiding things, it’s so obvious to me why you would be stuck or why your defenses would be needed at those times. You work hard in therapy and this is hard stuff. You can’t stay raw and open all the time. It would be way too much. I was talking more about people….it’s maybe people who……. they are in therapy because they know something is wrong, but maybe aren’t even sure what, and they are so defended, there is no getting through the walls they have built up, when I check in with myself and notice I am feeling impatient or annoyed with that person, then I know that maybe it is time to push against some of those walls, to challenge some of those defenses.”

“Okay.” 

“This is interesting. You say you didn’t notice anything, that there is nothing to notice, but then you noticed a whole bunch!” 

I think, maybe it’s that I have this idea that anything I’m noticing isn’t ‘right’ it isn’t what you are supposed to notice and get out of this exercise. 

“Even right away, when you are saying how you just kept thinking that it’s no big deal……..just a phone or a coffee cup you are thinking about picking up, those are your defenses, the it’s no big deal, this is silly. That is you using your mind to distract yourself.”

We talk about how reaching out is very, very hard for me. 

“And here you are looking at this reaching and touching from hubby’s point of view. When he grabs your hand, or puts an arm around you, how triggering is that? Is it triggering like distract yourself, or triggering like heart pounding, or triggering like go away?”

“I don’t know.” It comes out automatically. 

“I’m just wondering because knowing how triggering it is will help us to know where we might want to start with this, or what things we might want to try.” 

I sigh. “It’s……maybe it depends.” 

We sit in silence for a bit, and Bea finally asks if I can say more about that. She wonders what is it like when hubby holds my hand at the doctors office. “Maybe that isn’t so scary. You’ve had good touches in your life, too, so maybe that is a time when you remember your mom or dad holding your hand and comforting you at the doctors office. Do you have other times you can remember good touch, like cuddling with your mom?”

“No…..my parents aren’t touchy feely. My mom thinks it’s weird that I would snuggle up with Kat to watch movies or let her sleep in my bed. She’s good with babies, really little kids, being cuddly, but not so much with anything else.” 

“So maybe there isn’t a lot of memory there. What happens when hubby holds your hand? What is going on then?”

“It….if we are like, out walking and he grabs my hand, it’s just….I just distract myself. It’s not a big deal. But if like….I’m at the counter cooking and he comes up and hugs me or thinks he will run my shoulders it’s like……triggered in my head. Heart racing….like want to run away…..but of course I can’t do that. So I go away instead.” 

“So maybe when you are out for a walk, and hubby holds your hand you can notice how you are safe. And other times you could use the four steps to freedom— reminding yourself you are safe, that this is a reaction from a long time ago, that you are having a flashback, that sort of thing? Or maybe it’s too triggering to even do that. It’s just some things to play around with. To see what you notice, what helps or doesn’t help.” 

We talk about couples therapy and how that could have been helpful, and how hubby just hasn’t bothered to call and schedule and how I had asked twice so I’m done begging him to do things to help our marriage be better. 

“Okay, here you are talking about sending the email to me. You noticed you physically pulled back from the iPad and it was making you have that anxious sick feeling and that you had to go away to press send. You really feel very vulnerable reaching out. It’s hard for you to reach out.”

I nod. 

“But then you did reach out. You were able to send me the email.” She says.

“Yes. I just….have to pretend it doesn’t matter to me.” The interesting thing is, I have a great imagination, and can pretend away a lot of stuff. 

“I’m glad you sent it. I know it’s hard to reach out. Interesting that words are needed to feel not alone, that having no words means alone, when for so long you kept this secret and had no words. It’s a little confusing to me. I wonder if it means that in the last few years you have learned that using words and telling your story means someone can hear and understand? That it means someone can be there for you and that you have learned telling your story and being heard feels less alone to you?” Bea asks.  

“No……it’s like……words for anything. It’s like I need words to connect at all…..like hubby would be happy and feel connected if we were sitting next to each other watching a movie or each doing our own thing, but next to each other and that is like…..nothing to me. I need to talk.” I try to explain, but I’m not sure I’m doing a good enough job of making sense. 

“Ohhhhh….okay. I hear that from a lot of women. I think that is pretty normal.”

“Well…..it’s like a simple example I could think of. Like even when I was a kid, I needed to talk, I needed to talk and be heard. I would talk about anything and get in trouble for talking too much.” I say, trying to clarify it more. 

“Yes, okay, so talking was how you connected. It’s not trauma relayed, it’s attachment based, it’s how you feel secure in the world, by being heard.”

I nod. 

“So, I’m thinking attachment, and what are other ways we can communicate and connect? What are ways I see kids connect? Touch is one of the more obvious ones, I guess. But then I also see kids, they look up to see if their attachment person is paying attention. Some kids will act out, to get seen.” 

“That was never me,” I say. 

“No, I wouldn’t think so. Some kids go the other way, and might be very clever or very well behaved, to get noticed that way.” 

I nod. Maybe me. That’s more me than anything else. 

“All of the ways we use to get our attachment needs met as kids, well, I’d imagine they would be similar when we are adults. So, when you are needing words, maybe we can try other ways to connect, you can ask yourself how else you can get your needs met, or what it is you are needing that you aren’t getting because you have no words.” 

My first thought is that there is nothing if I don’t have words. Even though Bea has literally just listed out several other ways, that belief is so automatic I have to remind myself that she has listed out other ways. 

“The more I think about just how vital words can be, how they really can keep an anxious kid feeling connected, how much having words is an inherent part of who you are, the idea that you held that secret for so long is even more horrible. It’s no wonder everything bombarded you when you broke that silence.” 

I don’t say anything, but I think that maybe she does get it, my need for words. I’ve been upset and feeling overwhelmed for weeks, but it’s all come to a point where I can barely handle it. These last two weeks I’ve just wanted Bea to fix it. The little girl has been very much in control, and she has been wanting a grown up to make it better, to make all the hurt stop, to just fix it. I know, rationally, that Bea can’t just fix it, but that doesn’t stop me from being frustrated with myself for having no words, and with Bea for not being able to make it all better. I have this urge to just scream at her *Just help me. Help me.*

“Am I right that there is a lot going on internally, so much so that it is very overwhelming feeling, and it’s more than usually is going on, that there just aren’t words to go with what is happening?” She asks. 

I nod my head, just a little. 

“Okay. Can we try to define what type of things are going on internally? Feelings? Images? Emotions? Thoughts?” 
As Bea speaks, I let go of the breath I had been holding. She is trying to help me. She’s not abandoning me, leaving me alone in this. It’s not Bea on the outside, waiting for me to have words and connect with her, she is right here with me, trying to help me find the words I so desperately need.  “I don’t know.” 

“No words can be communication, too. If I was having lot of stuff going on internally but had no words, to me that would mean the things happening were too horrible, too scary, maybe too overwhelming, too sad, to put into words. Could having no words mean something for you?” 

I shrug. Maybe. I don’t know. 

“Try to focus on those feelings, if you can. See if anything comes up, if we can categorize these things,” Bea encourages. 

As we have been talking– or rather as Bea has been reading my words and talking– all the internal chaos has been stirred up, and I’ve gone from sitting upright, to curled up, knees bent princess style, my head down, resting on my arms. I try to sit with all the feelings, and I try to check in, to see if I can’t categorize this mess. 

After a while, I think, ‘it’s all of it.’ It’s emotions so strong I can’t sit with them, and so it’s hard to name them. It’s pictures, and thoughts, and I can hear his voice. I can feel things in my body. I want to tell Bea, to say that it’s all of it all rolled up together in a big giant bowling ball that is going to knock me down. I’m not sure if I manage to tell her anything at all. I’m really far away, so far away that I don’t even realize how far I’ve gone until much, much later. 

I’m crying and shaking my head, and it’s hard to breathe. 

“You’re really closed off. You really need to feel safe and protected right now.” Bea comments. “I wonder….when kids build walls, they build them for different reasons. Sometimes to keep something scary out, and sometimes to keep things in. I wonder which one your wall is for?”

I could build the tallest, biggest wall, and it still wouldn’t keep him out. I try and try, but nothing stops him. “It doesn’t matter,” I say. The words are disjointed, out of context, although they make sense in a way. 

“What doesn’t matter?” Bea asks softly.

Maybe I’m trying to keep the horror in my head inside. Maybe my walls are for keeping this awful stuff inside. Nobody needs to hear these things, or know them. Maybe my walls are to keep everyone out. People can’t hurt you if they can’t get inside the wall. Maybe my wall is to keep the little girl as safe as she can be. Maybe there is no such thing as safe. Maybe there never was. Maybe none of it matters. He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants and there is nothing I can do to stop it or change it. 

“What is ‘It’?” Bea questions gently. I’d forgotten she was there, and her voice makes me jump.

“Nothing. Nothing. There is nothing I can do. I’m doing everything wrong and it doesn’t matter.” I blurt the thoughts out before I can stop myself. 

Bea might be talking, I’m not sure. She might be asking me what it is that I can do nothing about, or she might be reassuring me I’m not doing anything wrong; she might be telling me that it is an old belief. 

Her voice breaks through the fog in my head eventually. “You are really needing to feel safe and protected, to be far away. Are you far away in a safe space? I can see how tight you are holding onto everything, to keep yourself safe.” 

“No! It’s not a nice place. It’s not a nice place at all,” and I begin to cry. 

“It’s not a nice place. It doesn’t feel good to be where you are,” she echoes. “Can you focus on your hands, on the fists they have made? They are holding on really, really tight.” 

I don’t say anything, but I’m listening. It doesn’t truly matter what Bea is saying, her voice equals safety to me, and it’s like having a rope to grasp onto. 

“Can relax some of the tension in your arms and shoulders? You are holding on so tight. I wonder what would happen if you just let go a little bit?” 

I shake my head. “Can’t.” 

“Because your frozen or because it doesn’t feel safe?” 

I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m really frozen in the way I usually am, but everything in me is screaming that I can’t let go, I can’t move, it’s not okay. Finally I whisper, “It’s not okay.”

“What about making things even tighter? Sometimes that can be a way to get some movement back, too. To go with what is already happening.” 

“No,” I say, and I sound like a stubborn toddler.

“Okay. That’s okay,” she is speaking in that soothing voice, the one I use with Kat when she is really hurt and upset. “Can you stay with the feeling in your shoulders? See if anything comes up or if your arms or hands want to do anything? Maybe an image or a thought will come up.” 

If I weren’t so far away, I’d probably be annoyed that Bea was bring SP into this, but as it stands, I’m not upset with her at all. (And a day later, I’m still okay with it. Having no words and being so far away, SP was maybe the only tool that was going to be of any use. And Bea felt like Bea, not like a shrink, which made all the difference.) So, I tried to pay attention to how my shoulders, arms and hands felt. I was surprised to feel my hands in fits, and how tensed up and locked my shoulders and arms were. I hadn’t noticed. 

“I can’t do this, I can not do this. I can’t do anything. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.” I’m whispering, talking fast, my voice blurred by tears and punctuated by gasps. 

“That begs the question, why?” 

“Why?” I’m incredulous. Shouldn’t she know? Isn’t it obvious? “Why doesn’t it matter?”

“Yes,” she responds simply. Or maybe she says more, and the words don’t register because I’m lost in this maze in my head and I can’t find my way out and he is going to come and there is nothing I am do, it doesn’t matter.

“Because! Because I can’t do anything to change it or stop it! I can’t stop it!” Oh my God, I can’t breathe, nothing is okay, there is no such thing as safe, why isn’t my mom here, I wish my mom would come save me, no one cares, I’m all alone, he is going to hurt me, oh my God, please just make it all stop. 

“You can’t stop it,” she says carefully, and then adds firmly, “You couldn’t stop it THEN. This is now. You are safe now. You survived and you are safe.” 

“No! Stop it! I’m not safe. I’m not okay. He’s just going to do whatever he wants. He can do whatever he wants and it doesn’t matter what I do, there is no such thing as keeping the scary out, he can do whatever he wants! I can’t do anything. It doesn’t matter. He is going to do whatever he wants and I can’t stop it!” I practically scream the words at Bea. Why isn’t she getting this? Why doesn’t she see? I’m terrified and he’s going to hurt me and she is not getting it and I’m so mad at her right now, if she would just get it, she could fix it, she could stop it. Why isn’t she getting it? Why won’t she stop it? 

“Yes! Yes! You found words!” Bea shouts back, but her voice is…..well, happy isn’t the right word, exactly…..maybe excited or proud? “You are safe and you have a voice! And you aren’t alone. You did it! You did it and you are safe. You’re safe now. It was awful, and scary and nothing you should have had to live through, but you did live through it, you survived and you are okay. You are here, in my office, with me, and you aren’t alone.” 

Bea’s voice somehow registers enough that I know it’s okay to let go and melt down, and so I do. I curl into the smallest ball I can manage, and sob. I’m shaking and crying, and I feel wildly out of control, and very, very young and very, very afraid. “He does what he wants and he’s hurting me and it doesn’t matter I can’t hide and I can’t stop him and I can’t do anything at all.” 

“It’s over now. You are safe. You’re safe now. You aren’t alone, and you have words, and I am here. You are safe now. It’s all over. It’s not happening now, no matter how much it feels like it is.” Her voice is a quiet comfort, soft and gentle. “Can I move my chair closer to you?” 

“Why? Why?” I feel as though I almost shriek the words. I’m freaked out. Why does she want to be near me? What does she want? 

“So you aren’t alone, so that I’m not so far away. It’s totally your choice. I just want you to know I am here.” She’s matter-of-fact about it, and I believe her that she just wanted to make sure I don’t feel alone. 

“O-okay,” I say, and my voice is shaky. I’m still crying, and hyperventilating off and on, trying to catch my breath.

Bea moves her chair next to me, and the moment I feel her nearer, I have this urge to sort of shout, ‘don’t touch me!’ My filter is still enough in place that I check myself, and hold the words in. A moment after the urge passes, I realize it’s silly. Bea has never just touched me, or sat nearer to me, without asking. Even at times when she has maybe thought holding my hand would help me feel less alone, she has only offered, and let me know that if I ever ask her to do so, she will hold my hand. 
I start to feel as though I’ve let go of a horrible, awful secret, like my biggest fear has been revealed, and the world didn’t end. My tears slow, and I manage to catch my breath. Bea talks softly, about nothing, just soothing words, letting me know I’m not alone, giving me that verbal connection I need in order to feel safe in the world. 

“I’m scared,” I whisper. 

“I know,” she says. “That was very scary to let go of.”

“I’m so, so scared.” 

“I know. It’s a really scary thing, to feel how little control you had. It’s very, very scary.” 

“I didn’t want it to be true,” I confide. 

“You really didn’t want it to be true. It was really important to you that it wasn’t true, it was so hard, and so scary to let go of the idea that it was just a fun game. I know how badly you didn’t want it to be true. I wish for you it wasn’t true.” Her voice sounds sad, I hear tears in it. Her tears somehow make mine more acceptable; it’s okay to be full grief over this, it’s emotional and it’s a lot. 

Eventually she gently tells me I need to come back to the room, that I’ve gone really deep into things, and it’s time to come back. She reminds me of my busy day, and talks about what she sees in the room. When she has the sense I’m back here, or at least in that here but not here place, where I can function, she says, “I’m going to move my chair back, so I’m not in your face when you sit up.” 

When I do sit up, I can’t look at her, and I wonder about what she had said earlier, how looking a child will look at their parents to see if they are looking at the child, to get attachment needs met. I wonder then, why looking at Bea and having her look back at me feels like being ripped open, like everything in me is being spread out for her to see. I stare at the floor, slipping on my shoes and grabbing my bag. I heard the downstairs door a few minutes ago, which means Bea’s next appointment is here. 

“This was a lot. I want to make sure you feel safe, that you know you are safe and not alone.” Bea says. 

I nod. “I’m fine,” I say. I’m always fine. 

“I wish we had a little more time; my ten o’clock is here,” she confirms what I had already been thinking. She doesn’t want me to leave here and not be safe, but she doesn’t sound scared or panicked, just caring. “If you need to talk more, you can email or call. Okay?” 

I nod. Fine, okay. I’m fine. 

“This is a day for self care. Be gentle with yourself today, okay? Go get a coffee, relax. If you want you can sit out in the other room, as long as you need, okay?” 

“Okay. I’m okay.” 

“I’ll see you later today, okay? With Kat,” she reminds me. 

“I’ll see you later,” I echo, as I walk out the door. I’ve managed not to look at her at all, and in a fog, I walk to my car. 
Wednesdays are busy. It’s not a bad day to have tough things come out in therapy, because after i leave Bea’s, I have non-stop distractions until I bring Kat back for therapy. Then I can hide in Bea’s waiting room, back in h safe space, knowing she is right there, and begin to sort through the crap that came out during my morning session.