In the nighttime (camping)

I hear voices, male voices. I bolt upright in bed, on high alert. My heart pounds. I can’t place where I am, I’m lost, I’m trapped, what is going on? A full minute later, I remember. I’m camping, I’m in our cabin. People are walking by, outside, and I’m safely locked inside. I’m a grown up. My husband is next to me, and my daughter is in the room opposite ours. 

Except, that doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel real to me at all. I feel like a child, maybe 8 years old, that is pretending to herself she is a grownup because grownups can do whatever they want, and that sounds pretty good to her right now. 

I can’t get up and go for a walk, like I would back home. It’s not safe to go walk outside when it’s dark. (In retrospect, I’m sure it was safe, but it didn’t feel safe at the time). I get out my iPad and type out an email to Bea. I tell her exactly what is wrong, the nightmare, the fears, the feelings. All of it. And then I delete it. It’s all too embarrassing to tell her. 

I try to lay down, but I still can’t sleep. My heart is still racing, and I’m like a watch dog, scanning the room around me, listening for any sounds out of place. It doesn’t feel safe to lay down, so I use my pillows to prop myself up. I type out another email to Bea, and delete this one, too. 

I want to write about this thing that has been happening since the reunion weekend, when all the things were massively triggered. I want to write about it and I’m embarrassed. And maybe there should be a trigger warning at this point for, well, I don’t know. I guess for sex words and feelings. 🙈

I think this is happening because I’m more present in my body, and I’m more aware of things I am feeling than I have ever been. For example, I bruise easily, and two years ago, I would bump into a corner of a table, not feel it and have no memory of where the bruise that would later appear came from. Now, though, I tend to know what caused every bruise because I feel it when I bump into things. I think this newfound groundedness is allowing me to feel my body more, and lots of those feelings are triggering for me. 

My nightmares have been causing me to wake up…aroused. 🙈🙈🙈 Flashbacks have also been having the same effect. Even talking about memories has been causing feelings of wanting to be touched. I feel disgusting over this. It makes me feel like a shameful, worthless whore. I HATE feeling sexually…..you know, excited. 

The worst part about these new feelings is they don’t seem to go away easily. Even when I am feeling sick and disgusting and wanting to die because of how my body physically feels, the feelings don’t go away. I don’t know how to explain it, really. It’s not an emotional experienced at all. I’m not wanting my body to feel like this. It feels almost like a betrayal, to have my body feeling things I don’t want to feel, to have the body crave sexual touch. I feel dirty and broken and wrong. 

I know sex is something that is okay between two consenting adults. I know that in theory there is nothing shameful or disgusting or wrong about having sex with my husband. But I feel wrong. I feel bad. I feel like I am disgusting for having pleasurable feelings. 

Feeling sexually aroused makes me want to hurt myself. Having sex with my husband and enjoying it makes me want to hurt myself. It all feels bad and wrong and not okay. 

I can’t even talk about it because of the intense shame and self hated I feel over this. How can I ever share this with Bea? I’ll never be able to look at her again. 

I reacted during the games that Kenny played, and I reacted when the boyfriend was….well, whatever you want to call it. Maybe I am just over-sexed, maybe I was just born slutty. I don’t know. But I reacted it, and things felt good, and it doesn’t matter that sometimes I hated it even though things felt good, because I also sought him out, I wanted him to touch me. And now, I have these nightmares and flashbacks and when it’s over, my body craves touch. But it’s not just any touch, my body wants his touch. 

I’m sick. Twisted. There is something really, really wrong with me. How does a person deal with this? How does a person cope with all of this? I’m at the end of my rope, and while Monday’s session helped some, and almost all of me believes Bea is here, a part of me also believes that if she knew all this, she’d think me disgusting and she wouldn’t be able to look at me without wanting to vomit and she wouldn’t be able to keep working with me, even Bea won’t be able to contain this. But I need help. I literally want to cease to exist when I have these feelings, and those combined with being triggered and overwhelmed and having no resources left…….I need Bea to come back soon. I won’t see her for almost a week because of her vacation. I’m also truly terrified that she won’t come back and be herself. I’m so afraid that will happen, I’m almost thinking about emailing and cancelling that whole week and the next. 🙈

Oliver

(Last week, Tuesday when we first got to the campground)
Driving across the state, I leave pieces of myself scattered behind. I must shrink in order to fit into the mold of Ms. Perfect. I lose pieces of myself; bread crumbs I will follow when this trip is over, to find my way back to being me again. 

I find myself becoming more agitated and panicked the closer we get. I woke this morning in a fit, scared and full of nightmares that aren’t just scary stories. It made me grumpy as soon as I left my bed. Poor hubby bore the brunt of the adrenaline pumping through my system, sending me into fight or flight mode. 

I try to breathe as we drive. I try to focus on the scenery, on what I see out the window, I can’t calm down. Hubby reaches for my hand, and takes hold. I grip his hand back. I sit like this trying to really feel his hand around mine. I don’t often allow myself to be fully present for any kind of touch and focusing on this now, I want to cry. It’s as if I can feel hubby with me, I can feel hubby on my side. It’s uncomfortable because he is here, now, but I don’t trust he will stay. I don’t trust that he is capable of being here the way I need him to be. I know as soon as I show any emotion, he will be retreat. But this display of care and support? It’s sort of overwhelming. I’m not sure what to so with it, and so I drop his hand, and drift back to far away places. 

When we get to the campground, we first have to check in at the little campground office and store. It’s the same as it was when I was a girl, and I can picture us kids running up there with our spending money to buy candy and little tchotchkes. When we get to our cabin, my parents have arrived already, but my brother — Oliver– is still on the way. By the time we finish unloading our things, Oliver has arrived. Kat is so excited to see her cousins, and we decide that the kids are old enough (his kids are 14, 12 and 10 and Kat is 7) to walk through the campground alone this year. 

Being at the campground is okay, during the day. Having Oliver there seems to off set my mother’s craziness and that helps. Somehow my conservative proper parents created two liberal, artistic, emotional, hippie children. Oliver is more relaxed than I could ever be, and truly doesn’t care if my mother approves of him or not. He never has, and that attitude helps create some balance for me now. Years ago, I didn’t get Oliver, or how he could just not care, how he could shrug off the criticisms and laugh about it. I didn’t understand, and it annoyed me. His attitude then only served to create more tension in the family because I would stick with my mom and her upset in his behavior. This was back when I was still stuck in the pattern of having to agree with my mother, so she solid be on my side. Now though, his attitude gives me freedom to hold onto some pieces of myself after all. It gives me a chance to be more myself around someone in my family. It’s easy and fun, the banter and joking and giving my mother a hard time they way only your children can. We play cards, and laugh about how my Grandpa taught us to play “bullshit”. My mother almost has a heart attack over that. 

It’s good, this new relationship I seem to be building with my little brother. We’ve never been close as adults, but we are closer now. It’s a good thing, a happy thing.

Weekend Flashback 

Family Reunion weekend. I should have a lot to say, there should be too many words showing up on this page. Instead, I can’t figure out how to explain the triggered dissociated mess I became. Teen Alice was completely running the show by the end of the weekend. 

I typically enjoy the weekend. In the past, we have hired sitters for the kids, rented a limo and visited multiple wineries on day one. Day two is typically a beach/movie/kid friendly activity day. This side of the family really is a blast. I enjoy them all and look forward to seeing them. 

This year though? We didn’t do the traditional touring of several wineries. Festivities took place at my parents’ house. Everyone brought wine to taste (which was actually pretty cool, we got to try wines from all over the country), activities were set up for the kids, as well as yard games and a photo booth for adults and kids alike. 

It was too much like the parties thrown in my childhood. Being at the house all weekend was just on much for me. The first day was okay. I felt really distanced from everyone, just extremely disconnected from the world, and from myself. 

The second day, my mother and I got into it, and that sent me into a giant tailspin. At first I was so angry with her that all I wanted to do was rage at her. I attempted to vent to hubby, but he just kept saying, “okay” as if I were lecturing him. I desperately needed some feedback, understanding, validation, so I emailed Bea. 

Bea,

I want to throw something. Or cry. Or scream. Or hide in the closet. Or drop a giant bomb and ruin everyone’s lives. Or just run away back to my home and forget about my mother and my childhood home and all that goes with that. 
I’m so angry, Bea. I’m never good enough. That’s the truth. It’s not me being dramatic, or something. It’s just a fact. I’m never good enough for my mother. Oh, when she is talking about me and my life and Kat and hubby, everything is said a if I am still Ms. Perfect. 
But to my face? I’m a giant fucking disappointment and I can’t manage to do anything right. Ugh! Why do I let her get to me like this? And the teen part, omg, she is so strong right now, everything is being colored by her, I know that but it doesn’t stop the feelings. 

My mother is mad because I can’t manage to follow her schedule. I’m sorry! I have an autistic child who is sensitive to crowds and changes in schedules and traveling and sleeping in places that aren’t her own home and I need to do whatever will help my child deal with traveling and transitions and changes. It’s not my job to take care of my mother, I’m not her mom! It’s my job to take care of my child. Grrrrrr. Ugh. My mother got all upset with me because we weren’t doing what she was doing with all the kids downtown/at the beach. Well, Kat had 3 meltdowns and I was dealing with that, so it might it just a little difficult to be right where my mother wanted is to be at that particular moment. But you know, she hasn’t gotten to see Kat at all this weekend, and somehow that is all my fault. But she made her choices to follow what the other kids wanted to do. She could have told them that they were gonna do x,y,z for a while, but she didn’t. She chose to spend her time talking and hanging with the grownups yesterday. 
I’m just so sick of never being good enough. Even Ms. Perfect isn’t perfect enough. 
I’m just so angry right now. What the hell does she want from me? Why isn’t it a good thing that I am respecting my daughters needs and helping her learn to cope with stressful situations and regulate her emotions? Oh right, it’s not okay because that all takes time and being present and dealing with emotions and admitting to not being perfect and it might possibly ruin your perfectly laid out schedule. Argh. 

Oh, and another thing?!?! She’s all upset we haven’t didn’t anytime together this weekend, but every time Kat or I have tried telling her something or asking her to do something with us she gets distracted by other family members, and they get precedence. So how is this my fault? I don’t understand. But somehow it is and I can’t fix it and I can’t be what she needs and I’m so tired, I barely slept last night and I know that’s not helping but ugh. 

You always want to know where’s the anger? Well, here is it. I hate her Bea. I just want to scream at her and throw everything in her face and then go home. Just be done with it all. 

I won’t, you know. I’ll lock it all down and smile and nod and apologize and be appropriate and whatever. But right now, everything in me hates that. I don’t want to be here not here. I don’t want to be far away. But, I also don’t want to be here at all.

Alice 

(Bea’s emailed words are in bold) Sounds frustrating and triggering for sure. As you say, you can’t meet her needs and Kat’s needs both, and your kid has to come first.

Thank you for saying this. I really just needed to feel like someone was on my side. I spent my whole life in that house feeling alone and not good enough and broken. I don’t often feel that way in my real life anymore. But this week….ugh. All those feelings are back in full force. 

 I hope the anger can dissipate enough for you to enjoy the rest of the weekend.
I don’t know what happened. Anger didn’t really dissipate….it just sort of got shoved down. I don’t know. I ended up far away and spacey and trying so so hard to be perfect and do whatever I thought my mom wanted me to be doing. Which basically meant trying to be perfect all the while feeling like a failure in everything. Eventually I just went so far away that being sociable and talkative was too difficult. It was the far away can’t easily orientate to what is happening in the present and can’t get words out. That doesn’t happen often in public—- it’s definitely a teenage Alice thing I think. Of course, that only added to my mother’s annoyance because she felt I was sulking and being unsocial and rude. So….yeah. 

Honestly, I think I was struggling too because we were at the house the whole time, not out at wineries. Being in the house and having a big party in the backyard……well, I lived that as a child. Lots of parties in the yard as I was growing up.

I don’t know. I wavered between angry with my mother and numb and frozen triggered and feeling exactly like teen me trying to be perfect and failing miserably —and honestly, bouncing between all 3 of those feelings, I could feel exactly why I overdosed or cut my wrists. I couldn’t keep going on feeling like that. I couldn’t understand why I felt like that, I felt like I was crazy. I had parents and a therapist who thought I was broken; something was innately wrong with my personality, with who I was. I just wanted everything to stop. I didn’t even care if that meant someone helping me or actually dying. I just needed things to not be like they were. I feel like that’s when I got really good at pretending. I don’t know. It feels like maybe before that time period I did still have a part of the real me, I still had this tiny piece of me that knew who I really was. But that had to go away. I buried that last bit of the real me and learned to pretend and be perfect. Do you know I can be having a panic attack, literally feeling like my heart might explode and I can’t breathe, and I can smile and continue talking like I have not a care in the world? Well, maybe I can’t anymore. I don’t know. But I could at one time. That’s how disconnected I became. Anyway. I think I got off point. 

I guess we are still dealing with teen stuff. Yeah, some of it is present day stuff but mostly it’s teen stuff getting mixed up in present day stuff. And you know what I keep thinking? That was 20 years ago! The Kenny stuff started almost 30 years ago (28 years ago, to be exact). And (at times) it all feels like it happened yesterday, or this morning, or 10 minutes ago. It all feels very right now, it feels present day. Does that make me crazy? 

And…..there was purging and cutting. 😞🙈 I failed there too. I just couldn’t cope. Ugh. It was all just too much.

Alice, 

Ugh! I hope by now you are already heading home. It was just too much, as you say. Do something fun that you like here, in your grown up life now–go for a swim in the lake, or something else grounding and not related to your life at home. Once your now life fully sinks in I think you’ll feel a sense of relief. If not, it’s okay to just be wherever you are right now:)

I’ll see you tomorrow,

Bea

I’m back home, and yet I still don’t feel grounded or safe or really okay at all. I’m still far away, afraid to be more present. Everything is triggering right now. I’m hoping that seeing Bea will help. There’s just too many feelings and memories and mess for me to contain by myself. Even with Bea’s emails, I feel as if I am floating in the middle of the ocean, with no way to get to shore. It’s as if I keep looking and looking for someone to come, but no one does. I’m treading water furiously, but no one is showing up to help me make a raft or swim to shore or call the coast guard to rescue us. When my mother shows up, she wants me to help her stay afloat, she needs my help. When Bea shows up, she is showing up just to be there with me, so I’m not treading water alone. She says we can figure out together how to make a raft, swim to shore or call the coastguard. I hope that seeing Bea will help settle all the parts because I really need that right now. 

You aren’t broken and You don’t have to hide anymore part 1

Wednesday morning when I wake up, it’s cold. The temperature has dropped overnight. It’s still chilly when I get to Bea’s. Her office is warm and cozy, though, and I settle into my spot on the sofa easily. We spend some time talking about schools, because the window for application for school of choice enrollment to the district I would like to put Kat in, opens August 1.

“I’d forgotten, I’m not sure why I didn’t even realize, but Kay’s youngest son goes to the middle school that is attached to the elementary school I want to get Kat into.”

“Oh yeah? Did you see her this week?” Bea is curious. I don’t think I’ve talked about Kay since my decision about the baby shower.

“Yeah, Kat and I went to see Kay and the new baby.” I talk a little about Kat and Kay, and the gifts Kat had chosen for the new baby and how excited Kat was to visit.

Bea remarks,”It sounds as if you have distanced yourself from Kay and maintained the relationship more between Kay and Kat.”

“Yeah…….” I say, thinking. “I suppose I really have…..I hadn’t realized, but I think that is right….huh.”

“How does that feel for you?” She asks. 

“It’s…well, I guess I feel sort of guilty, but not really….I mean, even when I learned my MIL was moving down the road from me, I didn’t even think to call her. Before, I would have NEEDED Kay. Now….I don’t know. I texted my friend Robin, who is vacationing with no cell service, so she didn’t respond, but I know she will when she gets service. And I talked to my friend Amy a few days later. And it was good. I don’t know.”

“Why would you have needed Kay?” Bea asks. I have a feeling she knows the answer.

“I needed her to fix it. Or to fix me if I had hurt myself during my reaction to whatever awful thing was happening.” 

“And now?” 

“Now I just….I guess I want to know my own feelings first, how I want to handle it, and then I just want someone to validate the awfulness, or to support how I plan to handle things, or to tell me they think I’m making a mistake. But not fix it for me.” I think for a moment and then add, “Well, usually. Sometimes, I do want someone to fix it. Or maybe to help me fix it.”

“We all need that sometimes.” Bea smiles. “I wonder….do you think Kay was getting something out of fixing you?”

I sigh, I don’t like thinking about this. “Maybe. Probably.” 

“And when you didn’t need that anymore, things got complicated between you?” 

“Well, I think maybe she was jealous of you, that maybe she thought you took her place. But then, she saw how much better I was, like really better, not pretend better, and she wanted that for herself, too. I think she tried to grow with me. It’s just she wanted my therapist. And I said no. And then she couldn’t be my friend anymore.” It saddens me now, but it doesn’t hurt like it did. Now I just hope that she is okay and that she finds a way to keep growing, to keep working on herself. “I still trust her, I mean, I would leave Kat with her, trust her pick Kat up from school. I still trust if something really awful happened, she would be there.” 

“She’s like a family member that you love and trust but aren’t close with,” Bea suggests. 

“Yes, exactly,” I tell her. 

All of this opens up a discussion about friends and new friends and types of friendships and me being in healthier relationships overall. It’s funny, because I suddenly realize as we are talking that people I have chosen to be friends with now are very different from groups of friends I have chosen in the past. I’m not worried about fitting in or about impressing them. I’m just me.

“You are doing quite well in your adult life, and in your mom life— very present, very healthy.” Bea pauses and then adds, “I almost made a joke about how nice it would be to tell that shrinky guy therapist how great his ‘borderline’ patient is doing now that her trauma is being addressed. But then I thought that might not feel very good to you. I wanted to talk about that, about that label a little bit more because it came up at the end of session and I felt like maybe we didn’t get to really talk about it.” 

I shrug. “It was fine.” I’m not sure I want to talk more about this. How did we even get to talking about this? I honestly can’t remember. 

“Can I talk about this for a few minutes?” She asks. 

“Sure, okay.” I shrug again.

“I really think, this idea of borderline personality disorder…..it’s just my personal belief, that this disorder describes a collection of symptoms that so clearly are trauma and PTSD symptoms. I don’t really think Borderline is a fair thing to label someone. Borderline is a person with trauma, that’s all. The label has become, and has been for a long time, so stigmatized. I never thought…it’s just not something I would label someone. I’d say trauma, PTSD, C-PTSD, depression maybe. But I’m not a fan of labels, you know that. I am still a little surprised this never came up before.” 

“Well, I wasn’t going to tell you the label that just means I’m crazy and you don’t have to deal with me! I wasn’t going to give you the diagnosis that makes no one like……I mean…therapists don’t want to deal with borderlines. I didn’t want to give you reason to get rid of me.”

“I’m not going to get rid of you! And that label doesn’t apply here. You have trauma. Big traumas that we are working through. You aren’t broken or damaged, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with you. You have some big traumas, and they are a lot, it’s a lot. You dealt with a lot. But you aren’t alone now, and we are working through this stuff.” 

I feel as if Bea has wrapped me up into a warm hug. Those words, her words, mean everything to me. “I just…..now you see some of how I got the story that there is something really wrong inside me?” 

Bea sighs. It’s one of those sighs that says she is not happy. “Yes, I see how you thought that. That therapist, he just labeled you so quick like that, though, one suicide attempt and he has put a neat label on you and checked all the boxes off.” Yep, it’s like I thought. Bea is not happy. She is angry with that therapist. 

“No, not exactly……. I……I was seeing him before that,” I say, and the words are hard to get out. I like her being angry at him, and I don’t want that to change. 

“Either way, you don’t label a teenager like that! You just don’t!” She says. She is going to be on my side in this, no matter what. I like that. It feels safe.

I’m quiet, just sort of sitting with this idea that Bea doesn’t think I’m crazy, that she is on my side, that she doesn’t think I’m broken. 

In part two of this post, Bea and I talk about a suicide attempt and what happened afterwards. We discuss the details of my narrative of that night, so please read with caution. Xx

Things we never talked about: teenage suicide attempts 

Trigger warning: suicide discussed 
This post has been difficult to write. This week, especially, I have been very much in a grown up place, very much in the moment, because it is my daughters birthday week. Somehow in session I have been able to dig deeper and let some feelings come up, and while the content of what we have been dealing might not be trauma memories it still isn’t easy at all. Oh, I should probably trigger warning this for mention/discussion of a suicide attempt (I was 16, and I’m not having those feelings in my present day life at all). 

Today is Kat’s birthday, but she won’t be up for long before I get home, so I didn’t think I needed to cancel therapy. I walk into Bea’s office right on time.

“Good morning,” I say as I sit down on the sofa. 

“Good morning,” Bea says back. She settles down in her chair, too.

We start out by talking about Kat’s birthday and the plans we have for the day. I tell Bea how I made Kat home made Oreo poptarts (whole what flour, no white refined sugar, less sugar over all, no weird chemical ingredients) because Kat really wanted poptarts for breakfast but I won’t buy poptarts. I tell her about the birthday scavenger hunt I planned for Kat and her best friend who is coming over later.

 Bea lets me talk until I run out of chatter. She’s interested, and she is chatting, too, but when it is clear I have run out of chatter, she turns to me. “I don’t want to put you in a rough place when you have all this great stuff going on today…….” 

“It’s okay. Somehow I’ve been able to hold it all in between…..I don’t know, but I’ve been okay.” And it’s true. I’ve mostly been okay, too much in the moment to really be bothered by the past, and things that come up go into my notebook and then I’m usually okay again. 

She nods. “Did you do bring any writing?”

“I just wrote real quick last night, because I wanted to explain why I lost my door the second time, I just couldn’t say it so…….” I hand her the notebook. 

Bea flips through it, picks up reading where she had left off before. “This makes sense,” she tells me.

Why I lost my door? Yeah, I know it makes sense. I nod. “Yeah.” 

Bea looks as if she is confused for a moment, as if she is thinking and trying to make sense of something. Then she says, “I had just read the blue writing, from last week? About the house and the walls? How some times it keeps stuff in and sometimes keeps stuff out? You were elaborating on our analogy that asking you to stop dissociating was like taking away the walls to your house.”

“Oh! Okay.” I’m surprised, because I had thought I still wasn’t making sense as I was writing that all out. 

“It’s really good, it makes a lot of sense.” 

I feel…..I don’t know. Pleased? Something good, from having my explanation complimented and understood when I had thought it was crap. 

Bea finishes reading. “I have a lot of questions,” she says. 

“Okay,” I say, uncertain.

“We’ve never really talked about this, that’s all,” she says. 

“Oh, right. Okay.” 

“Why was taking your door a consequence? I’m not understanding why it was a consequence of a suicide attempt. Or really that it needed a consequence.” Bea is truly baffled. 

“It’s because….Kenny….he had come by….I was sitting in the window…….”

“He kisses you.” She says.

I nod. “And then…..I don’t know….but…well.”

I am far away now. Bea asks something about the Kenny thing. I don’t know. She wants to know if I still wanted to marry Kenny or if I was more into other boys at that point. Did I have crushes or like other boys then or was I still thinking of Kenny as Prince Charming? I didn’t have a crush on anyone. I was just numb when it came to that stuff. I thought something must be wrong with me. So I pretended. I got really good at pretending crushes. I don’t say any of this to her. I can’t get any words out. 

Bea realizes I’m far away and hiding and scared. She gets up and grabs my blanket. She hands it to me. “In case this might help.” 

I unfold it quickly and hide under the blanket. “I’m sorry.” I whisper. I feel like I’m weak, hiding under a blanket because a conversation scares me.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for.”

“Okay.” 

“How long after that did you hurt yourself?” As she is saying that, she shakes her head. “No, let’s call it what it is. How long after that did you attempt suicide?

“That night. It was that night. Late. I dunno.” 

“Did you tell your parents? What happened?” Bea asks.

“I….there was so much blood. I was scared. I….I think I just showed them.”

“How did they react?” 

“My mom………she was…….mad…..so mad. My dad…..he wrapped my wrists. We went to the ER. I got stitches.” I look down, at my wrists. I have faint scars there, still. 

“At the hospital, do you remember anyone nice? Anyone who was kind to you?” She asks me.  

I can’t figure out why it matters, but I answer her question, anyway. “A lady, maybe a nurse? I don’t know. It’s foggy.”

Bea says, “Maybe a nurse, maybe a social worker. Hospitals usually have social workers in the ER for things like that.”  

“Maybe.” I agree. “I was so thirsty, she got me a lemonade. And I feel like she cared about me, not about what I had done. I don’t know.”

Bea says something about how that is good, it is good there was someone kind there. I wonder if she asked just because she cares and had wanted at least one kind person there for me. She says how even though the parts of me didn’t know about each other or share knowledge about Kenny, clearly what had happened in the present day to teen Alice triggered another part that just needed to get away from the feelings or the memories. She sees a clear link between Kenny and the abuse and that suicide attempt. 

I shrug, “People asked me why but I just said I don’t know. But the thing is, I was so separated, Kenny wasn’t part of that. I just….I really don’t think I knew.” (As a matter of fact, I really didn’t know until after Bea and I were working together).

“No, of course you didn’t know! You had no idea. You were overwhelmed and scared and traumatized but had no idea why.” 


To be continued……..

We go on to discuss the shrinky shrink, and you can find that in part two of this post. 

I lost my door

Wednesday morning, and Bea and I are talking about school, and how at most schools, it’s the teacher that makes all the difference. We are just chatting, casually, discussing Kat and possible options for school this year.

“I never really had a bad teacher in elementary school,” I say to Bea. “My second grade teacher maybe didn’t teach things the best, but she retired the year after I finished second grade, so she was just sort of done, I think. And my fourth grade teacher didn’t believe me about how much I’d read for reading month, so I didn’t win first place. She thought I had lied, but I didn’t. My dad talked to the teacher and she apologized to me in front of the class and I won first place” 

“Were you upset that she didn’t believe you? Did she call your parents or did you tell them?” Bea asks. 

“Hmmmm…..I don’t remember feeling bad or angry or shamed when she didn’t believe me. I just remember my dad sticking up for me and my teacher apologizing.” I look down at the ground. Stupid spotty memory. 

“So, you remember the good parts. You remember your Dad sticking up for you and your teacher apologizing. That’s okay, I’m glad you remember the good parts, that is a positive thing.” 

“Okay,” I shrug. 

“So, I guess that this version of your Dad seems more involved than I had been picturing. I always pictured your Dad as off to the sidelines, with your mom more front and center,” Bea tells me.

“Well, he was involved, but like…..I don’t know. He helped with math homework, but that’s like something my mom can’t like really do like all that good. You know?” 

“Did your mom delegate things for him to do? Like helping with homework?” She suggests. 

I nod. “Yes, exactly. She would like tell him what to do when it like came to us kids.” 

“He was more present than I originally pictures…..” Bea says slowly, carefully, “Do you think he was aware of things going on?” 

I don’t talk for a long time. It’s as if I’ve tripped and can’t find my feet under me. I finally find a few words. I shake my head. “Nooooooo….No. I don’t. I can’t. I mean. I hope. Because if…I just. No.” 

“Okay,” Bea says. (I’m not sure I’ve given anyone a good picture of my Dad. He’s closed off emotionally, but not because he is shut down emotionally. I fully believe he is on the spectrum somewhere; he is a typical engineer. A good friend of mine described my Dad as “extremely socially awkward, but much more real than your mom.” My dad is okay at formal events, meetings, gatherings because there are set rules for those. He simply comes off as very shy. More casual gatherings, however, he doesn’t talk or interact a lot. He also sticks with my mom, and she will do the social navigating. He’s very protective of me. I think in his way, he might accept me for me.)

“He was always calmer than my mom. Like I’d be so mad at her, and not allowed to say anything or feel, so I’d walk away and slam my door. She took my door away because I slammed it. I’m not sure my dad would have taken it if my mom hasn’t told him to.” 

“That’s just such an invasion of your privacy, of your space. It’s not allowing you to set a boundary.” Bea is angry, so on my side over this. She hates that my door was taken away from me. 

I shrug. “I knew the rules and chose not to follow them.”

She pokes at that. “Is there shame there? Anger? What feelings were there then? What about now?” 

I start to go away. Bea notices, asks, “Is there too much feeling here? Is that why you are far away?” 

She’s using the chart I drew, she noticed the moment I went away, and she knew exactly why. I can’t handle all the feelings. I nod, slowly. 

“This seems to be linked to some thing.” Bea says. “It’s causing a strong reaction, big feelings, even though your affect and your words are saying it’s no big deal.” 

I shake my head. “No….I’m not sure why all the feelings. I knew the rules, I broke them, I lost my door. It’s not like I hadn’t been warned. I didn’t like it, you know, but it was my fault.” 

“And there’s no anger there?” 

“No, I just…no.” I sigh. I don’t even remember being mad at the time.

“Okay. I think there’s a part of me that is thinking how terrible that would be as a teen and how icky it would feel to not have a boundary you set be listened to. I’m mad for you.” Bea laughs. She is angry for me, but it’s. It scary because she can laugh at herself and she isn’t out of control. I wonder if this is what it means to feel anger and to hold it?

After a long pause, Bea asks me how long my door was gone for. 

“A week, I think. So not so long.” I tell her. Why are we talking about this? And why am I struggling to stay present? Ugh. 

Not much later, sort of out of the blue, I say to her “I lost my door a second time.” 

“Were you older or close to the same age as the first time?” She asks. I appreciate how I can say something a little random and Bea will just go with it, acting as if it is the most normal conversation in the world. 

“A little older, I think.” I can’t say more, and I’m going far, far away, as far as I can. 

Bea validates feelings, reassures safety, tells me I don’t have to do anything. Then she asks if I would be willing to step back from the feelings just a little bit? She doesn’t want me to feel like she is using her new knowledge of my dissociation against me. I nod. She asks me about my safe places as a teenager?

I tell her, in starts and stops, in the disjointed language of dissociation. “My grandma’s kitchen, Grandpa’s truck and Grandpa’s boat. My aunt’s barn.” Safe places, yes, but it’s the people who mattered. 

“Did you ride at her barn?” Bea asks. 

“Yes.” 

“Was it a big barn? How many horses did she have?” 

“Just 3. Not a real big barn.” I mumble. 

“Did you find it difficult to be firm with the horses?” Bea sounds genuinely curious. 

“Maybe….at first. But then….my aunt, she pushed me to be stronger and I learned to be strong with them.” 

“That’s a really empowering thing, to have such a big strong animal listen to you and to be able to stand up to the horse, also having your aunt believe in you and push you to be firmer.”

I shrug. I think how my mother hated my love of riding, and maybe my love of my aunt. I think she was jealous. I’m not sure.

We somehow slowly return to they why of the second time I lost my door. 

“I lost my door again. That sounds funny,” I tell Bea. 

“It does sound a little funny,” she agrees. “Do you want to talk about what happened with the door?” 

I don’t say anything, but I think about how my door was taken after my suicide attempt. The therapist at the time told my parents I was acting out, throwing a temper tantrum. They took my door to avoid any more temper tantrums. “Being a drama queen won’t get you attention. There are consequences for our actions.” I can still hear my mother’s voice when I found my door taken away. I can’t tell Bea. She’s already knows about that suicide attempt, about Kenny walking by while I sat in the window. She already knows everything, except the door part. It wasn’t relevant when we discussed this memory before. It should be easier to tell her, she already knows, but it isn’t any easier to say the words. It’s an ugly memory. 

“Do I know about this thing?”

I nod. 

“Is it something we have talked about?” 

I nod. 

“Will I remember it?”

“I think so. I guess I don’t know for sure. But I think so,” I say.

“Is it a teen behavior or a coping strategy parents might not like?”

“I feel like that’s a hard question,” I say. I hurt myself, yes, but I don’t think those coping strategies include suicide attempts. I don’t know. I’m sad. My feelings feel really hurt. Thankfully Bea feels here and with me today.  

“Okay. You don’t have to share today, we can talk about it when you are ready. You don’t have to talk about anything until it feels safe to do so,” Bea reminds me. 

I nod, “Okay.” We sit in quiet and then we talk a bit more about my safe places. 

“I’m just really glad you had those safe places and people. It made me sad to think of teenage Alice not having anyone. That’s such a hard time. Socially, she had to be perfect and then at home she had all the feelings coming out, and she wasn’t allowed to have those feelings. That is such a tough time anyway, and then all of that on top of it. I’m so glad she had safe places.” Bea continues, “I know with your aunt it can be hard because she left, and that hurt a lot, but I’m glad you had her when you needed her.” 

“She really didn’t hurt me. She left. I don’t even think about it anymore. And I needed her that first year of college with the boyfriend but she was gone.” I’m snappy, and irritated. Of course it hurt when she left. It still hurts. But I’m not about to admit that right now. There’s been too much brought up, and with none of it resolved, I can’t bring up more. 

“Well, maybe we should talk about that and process it,” She suggests. 

“Or we could not talk about it,” I reply, in a bit of a sing song tone. 

“Okay.” Bea says. 

“I might…I might just write about the door….it’s just easier to write.” I say. 

“You can do that. Oh, I didn’t forget about finishing your notebook and talking about it. This just seemed to be important today. I could see how hard you were working to stay with the feelings and sit with that uncomfortable feeling without going too far away. You worked really hard, I know that wasn’t easy.” 

“I tried,” I whisper. I’m embarrassed for some reason, and just want to downplay it.

“You did really good.” She tells me. It’s a nice way to end a session, and I feel a little more connected to her than I have been, so I leave feeling a little more grounded. 

There but Not Here 

There are some seriously huge shifts happening in my life right now. Big things, or at least things that feel big even if they don’t sound big when I write them out. One would think that these shifts would make things more clear to me, when instead all they do is make things more muddled and mixed together. 

The mom stuff that has been coming up since around Mother’s Day is unfortunately still very much here. It’s not going away anytime soon. It seems the only way out is through the pain and grief. I have to find a way to move through the pain of the hard truth that real me, authentic me, isn’t good enough for my mom and never was. It’s why I went to such lengths to be perfect. It’s why I never could tell her or show her my true self. My mother doesn’t love me, she can’t accept me or see me. She loves Ms. Perfect. 

There is this giant ache inside me, an empty space that can’t seem to be filled lately. It’s a hole that was created when I realized real me isn’t good enough for mother. I’m not super close with my little brother, but we had a good talk (via text) this past week. We discussed how mom plays with our kids the same way she played with us. She would play board games, that had structure and rules. She would color, do paint by numbers. She would build Legos if they were a full set that had the directions. She rode bikes, went for walks, took us sledding and skiing. She kissed us good night, said “I love you’s” and hugged us good-bye. She did things with us, which makes it all the more confusing. Its not as if she was just completely gone, or wrapped up in herself. She simply needed everything to be very structured. There was (still is) a wall around her that even her children couldn’t penetrate. There was no such thing as free play with her. 

“No moments of connection at all this weekend?” Bea is surprised that I spent the whole weekend before the Fourth of July with my mother and there was no connection there whatsoever. She came to my home, and I’m still hurt and angry enough that I was able to use good boundaries with her, and simply be myself. (Two notes about this– One, this must be what Bea is talking about when she says anger is telling is something, it is energizing, it helps me set boundaries. And two, even if it was just because I am hurt and angry, I am awful proud of myself. I set boundaries with my mother. I was ME all weekend. I actually looked at her and said ‘well, this is how we do it in my home’ when she got upset that I wasn’t cleaning dishes as I cooked breakfast, and when I left the spilled waffle batter my 13 year old nephew spilled while making waffles until he was done making all the waffles. Then, we cleaned it up together, with me assuring him it was no big deal, not a crisis at all. I was ME!) However, the impact of that, of my mother’s clear disapproval and disappointment is only now beginning to be felt, almost a full week later.  

“No….it’s just…..we were just two grown ups. It wasn’t…..she just….I wasn’t…” I shake my head. I have no words. 

“What about those little inside jokes that families have? Those light hearted moments?” Bea asks. She is searching for something, it seems. Either she doesn’t really get how emotionally dead my mother is (and I don’t think that’s it, because we have laughed about her having the emotional capacity of a cardboard cutout), or she is feeling her way around, trying to see what it is that needs to come out. 

I flinch a bit. I can’t think of any inside jokes my mother has, unless you count her *joking* about me being a drama queen, or telling her *funny* story about how I talked so much, from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed– I truly wouldn’t shut up and I would even follow her into the bathroom to continue talking, I just drained everyone with all that talking. People were grateful for silence when I went to bed. I know I have light hearted jokes with my family now— me, hubby, Kat. We have jokes, we laugh about mishaps and silly things that happened. I can’t think of any right now, but I know we have them, and with them comes this warmth, a comfort, a sense of belonging. 

Bea notices the flinching. “Goofy kind jokes, not mean jokes directed at you. You were a kid, being a kid. Nothing more.” 
I shrug, as if it’s no big deal, but inside I’m glad that she caught it, that she saw the flinch, that she knew why I flinched. 
“Do you have any memories as a kid of cuddling up with your mom, or just being spontaneous? Just being silly, relaxed? What do you and her do now that gives that same sense of connection?” Bea asks. 

I want to scream at her, I want to throw the wooden blocks that are in a box next to me on the floor. I want to walk out. NO. No, I don’t have those memories, there is nothing I can do to feel connected with my mother, unless I want to be perfect again. But she wasn’t not there. She interacted with us, we had a very busy schedule, always going, going, going, doing, doing, doing. But snuggles? Open ended play? Messiness? Curling up in bed in the middle of the day to read a book and that ending in a pillow fight? Creativeness that wasn’t reigned in and structured? It was not to be tolerated. Instead, I shake my head no, slowly and carefully. 

It seems Bea isn’t really here after all, she isn’t really seeing me. She’s not getting it. I can’t be me and be Ms. Perfect. I can only be one or the other. It’s gotten harder and harder for me to have Ms. Perfect running the show. I don’t want to feel fake anymore. I just want to be me; messy, imperfect, talkative, loud, emotional, worrywart, goofy ME. I don’t want to pretend anymore. But by choosing authenticity, I’m not longer on the same side as my mother. She can’t love what she can’t tolerate in herself, she can’t accept or see what she can’t allow to exist in herself, and so, real me is something to despise, to pray for, to fix; she is a cancer that must be excised from Ms. Perfect. 

It hurts. It hurts to realize that had I been myself as a child, I would have been rejected, not accepted. It is painful to realize that any attachment I had with my mother was between her and Ms. Perfect, and that I will never have that connection with her. It hurts that I’m not good enough. It doesn’t matter what I rationally understand, it hurts. This is pain and grief and intense loneliness. It’s unbearable. 
I’m deep in this grief and pain, I’m drowning in it, and Bea is nowhere. She’s somewhere on the surface, not able, or not willing to dive down with me. Her absence has created some giant hurt feelings, and an even more intense alone-ness. I’m hurt because she promised to be with me. And while she’s there, she’s not really here. She told me we had the whole summer, (because there weren’t many breaks planned, just a day here or there to be missed) to work through all the memories and dreams and fear and disgust and shame and horror and hurt that have been bubbling up since Mother’s Day. But she’s not really here after all.