Deeper down the rabbit hole part 5 (she’s home)

Somehow I made it through until Wednesday morning. At 3:00am, I ended up emailing Bea. I wrote to her that I was afraid she was assuming I was okay because she had not gotten any emails from me, but actually, I wasn’t okay, nothing was okay. I needed her to know that the little girl was feeling unseen, and triggered and needed to be seen. I needed her to know I was struggling with believing she was back, really truly back, before I even set foot in her office. I gritted my teeth, wrote the email, detached and numbed myself out enough to send it.  

It wasn’t until I was in my car, driving to her office, I felt so anxious I thought I might throw up. Walking into the little house that Bea’s office is in, I feel massive amounts of apprehension. I’m so worried she is going to be mad at me for walking out. This past week, I’ve been able to pretend it didn’t happen, detach from it all, and now it all comes rushing back to me. 

I walk in with my head down, unable to look at Bea. She’s sitting in her chair. “Hi?” I whisper. 

“Hey,” she says easily, smiling up at me. 

I nod my head at her, but I can’t get words out. I sit on my spot on the sofa, throwing my coral orange colored bag down next to me. It is holding all my writing from this week. 

“So,” Bea says slowly. “I got your email, I’m glad to have gotten it. I wasn’t thinking that you were okay. I was checking my email, watching for any mail from you. And I did wonder how you were. Because things were left really not settled. So I was worried about you, and I did think about you. But I won’t usually email people. Because if I had emailed you when I was feeling worried and was wondering about how you were… just, it might have been more about my needs, and not yours. I just, I think contact needs to come from you, not be initiated from me. Of course, you know, it’s not to say I won’t email or be the first to contact, I just think therapists really need to let their clients initiate contact. But I really never thought things were okay. And I was thinking and worrying about you and hoping you were okay.” Everything she says is said in a gentle way, in this caring and careful way. 

“How was your vacation?” I ask her, smiling. It’s as if she hasn’t said a word at all about me not feeling okay at all. Miss Perfect— this part of me is so determined to pretend things are okay and normal and fine and to smile and behave within the realm of the social niceties I grew up with.

Bea plays along for a minute. She’s says she had a good time, and tells me a quick silly story about her trip. Then, she is back to business. “I wondered if you wanted to start by looking at your journals or anything you had written this week, or if there was something else you wanted to start with.” 

“I….I just…….I don’t know.” I sigh. I dig my journal and loose sheets of paper out of my bag. 

“Alice, I want to make sure that the little girl knows she is being seen today, that she isn’t alone. So whatever you need today, okay? I’m here.” Bea says softly. 

I shake my head. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I need.” In truth, I’m not sure I trust her enough in this moment. If she’s not back, and I hand over everything I wrote and felt and struggled with this week…..well, it won’t end well for me.

“I’m back. I’m here. I feel very here and very present and I just want to follow your lead.” Bea says firmly.

I sit there for a while. I’m holding my journal tight in my arms, and I’m unsure if I can hand it over. Finally, I whisper, very softly and cautiously, “Are you really back?” 

“I am. I’m really back.” She says. She sounds present and here. 

I’m still unsure, and so we sit in silence again, until in a small voice, I ask, “Are you sure?” 

“Yes. I’m very sure. I’m here.” She says seriously. 

I stretch my arm out, holding out the loose leaf papers and then my journal when she had taken the papers. 

Bea begins to read, and I bury my face in my knees. I can’t look at her. I’m too afraid, too ashamed. 

“Mmmhmmm. Yeah, everything is flipped. There is a lot of shame, but the little girl did nothing wrong,” she says as she reads, commenting on my words. “The teen was protecting the little girl, I think. The teen wasn’t sure I could be trusted to be present when I was gone, and so she took care of the little girl. That’s okay. I can see what the teen wouldn’t trust me, why that would be hard to think of trusting me again.” And then, “I know you won’t like this, but I’m sort of dancing in my chair right now, that you could hate me. I’m glad you had a place to put those very bad feelings. You were mad. And that’s okay. I’m glad you could hate me, that you could,let yourself hate me. That’s a good thing, as strange as that might sound.” She really is sounding okay, upbeat…..not in this way that she isn’t taking my feelings seriously, but that she is actually seeing it as a good thing I could hate her. Bea reads through pages and pages of writing, some of what I have already posted in part 1, 2, 3. She acknowledges how badly I was feeling, and how the little girl was really running things and how it feels to be fighting with hubby. 

In all honesty, most of the session after that point is pretty blurry. A lot of it was focused on the little girl, and shame and bad, scared feelings. We will have to talk through it all again, when I’m more present, but until then what I do know is Bea was quite adamant the little girl was not to blame. She was understanding and sympathetic to the confusion and fear and revulsion I had been feeling. She acknowledged that things feel very out of control and told me it was okay, and understandable. 

And then, I get the feeling I just couldn’t continue having this conversation, and the adult me took over things. From that point forward, we talk about hubby and our fight. 

“We just keep circling…..ugh. It’s like the same fight, over and over.” 

“I know. I know it really feels that way. Do you think that there is anyway to talk to him about this? I know that’s not what you want to hear, and I am on your side, but I feel like in order to be on your side, I have to push a little.” Bea says. 

“I can’t. I don’t know. Anything I say, I’ll just be accused of putting words in his mouth, or he won’t listen anyway or who knows what else?” I snap back at her. 

“Okay. What if we stepped back and tried to draw out what happens between you?” She asks. “So you can show him, say that you identified what keeps happening?” 

“No. No-no.” I mumble. I’m too not here, and I don’t want to be more present than I am. 

Bea attempts a few more times to get me to act, to try something, to get a bit more here. And I refuse. I just can’t. 

“Have you given more thought to couples therapy?” Bea asks me. 

I shake my head. “I’m afraid. And I don’t…I just…I’m afraid.” 

“I think that if you found someone who understood trauma and who is comfortable working with couples, it could be a really helpful thing.” She says. I know it’s coming from a place of caring and wanting to help, but I’m annoyed. 

“Just stop. Stop it. I can’t do therapy with him! Didn’t you see that whole list of why I don’t trust him?” 

Bea nods. “I did. And I believe that those are all valid reasons to feel vulnerable and afraid to trust. But you know that in relationships if we don’t give people chance, if we don’t test those things that feel unsafe, it’s really hard to find trust and safety. We have to give people a chance.” 

“I don’t wanna talk about this. About relationships. I’ll think on it,” I say. 

Bea nods. “Okay.” 

We wrap things up rather awkwardly, but it’s okay. Nothing feels resolved or fixed, but it’s okay. Bea is back. She’s home. And she’s really back. Like really, truly, back. So, I’m not upset. I feel okay. Things are okay now. It’s okay. Bea is home.  


I’m up before everyone else, up before even the sun dares to rise. The nightmares still creep in, but I’m better equipped to deal with them now. I sit in bed, frozen, for a few moments. Maybe longer than moments. I’m not sure. Time doesn’t exist in this frozen place. I slowly begin to move, picking up my phone and opening old emails from Bea. I read a few of those, and begin to feel safe enough to sit all the way up, gather my things and head out to the living room. I spend the next half hour sad and frozen on the couch, buried under a blanket and cuddled up with my dog. I’m in that window of being half frozen, partly stuck in the past but also aware that it is NOW, 2016, and that I am in my home, far away from where terrible things happened.

Because I’m aware it’s NOW, I force myself to breathe and calm down enough that I can get up and grab my orange yoga mat. I move out to my deck, surrounded by green trees and the little glimpses of the lake I can spot between the leafy green branches of the trees. Unrolling my mat, I plop down onto it. I pound my fists on it and cry, loudly. It’s not pretty tears, or sweet sad tears or even just depressed sad tears. It’s angry tears, panicked tears, overwhelmed tears. I breathe, in, out, in, out, in, out, and give myself permission to be angry sad. I few more breaths and I put on some soft music. Listening to my body, my mind, I start a free form yoga flow. I move that way for the better part of an hour, and then begin to work on a sequence I had been designing for hubby. 

Yoga brings me back to myself. It brings me back to the authentic, real version of myself, it helps me find the grown up me. I’m learning that I can use my resources to help stay in the window of tolerance, to be able to maintain functioning, and that doesn’t mean I am ignoring the nightmares or the bad stuff, it just means I am allowing myself to live my life. And that’s okay. It’s okay for me to be happy, and feel okay and safe. 

Later in the day, when my family is up, I make breakfast, and Kat and I send hubby off to work. Kat and I may or may not clean up a little, or head to the gym, but we always pack up to head to the beach later in the afternoon.

Afternoons are spent digging my toes into warm sand, walking across the silky cool grass, and swimming in the warm blue lake, jumping off the pier, and racing around the water slides. Kat and build sand castles, and I marvel at how the muddy wet sand feels sticky on my fingers. We swing and I think I swing so high I can touch puffy white clouds in the sky. We swim, diving down deep searching for seashells to add to our collection we keep on a jar on the kitchen table. When I’m not playing with Kat, she plays with the neighborhood kids, and I float on the water listening to the waves and watching the sun sparkle on the surface. Sometimes I swim and while I swim under water and hear nothing but the water around me, I can almost imagine what it might be like to be a mermaid living under the sea, and I feel very peaceful. 

This has become my typical morning and afternoon routine this summer. I learned this summer to slow things down throughout my day, so I could become grounded again. I’ve realized that I can really pay attention to the things around me, and I can focus on what I’m feeling, and what I’m thinking, I can really be more present and here. Overall, it’s been a very peaceful and calm summer.


Trigger warning 

Hagrid comes with me to therapy with me today, and he rushes up the steps to greet Bea when we arrive. As I walk up the stairs, I hear her saying hello to him and telling him how nice it is to have him in therapy today. 

“Good morning,” I tell her, walking in and setting my coffee down. I get comfortable on the sofa, and call Hagrid over to me. He happily jumps into my lap. 

I update her on Kat, because there is a messy situation going on with the substitute teacher who took over for her regular teacher when she went on maternity leave. Bea needs to know what is going on so that she can help Kat in therapy tomorrow. 

Once she is filled in, though, she turns the conversation to me. “And you? How were things yesterday?” 

I look down, and go silent. “I baked,” I finally say. 

“What did you bake?” She asks.

“Macarons.” I tell her. 

“French macarons?” She asks me. 

“Yes.” I reach into my bag and pull out a box. “Actually, I brought you some.” 

She takes the box. “Mmmmm. Yum. These are beautiful. I can’t believe you made these! I have to try one.” 

“You really don’t, not right now. I just….I thought you might like some.” I’m embarrassed now. I don’t know why, exactly, I just am. 

I list out the different flavors, and Bea tries two. She declares them perfect and delicious. We talk about macarons, and how they can be difficult to make, and how they are expensive little cookies. She tells me I could open a bakery. 

I laugh. “It’s just a distraction. It’s something I can do, something I can focus on.” 

“Well, if you have to feel bad and this is your way of coping, you might as well get rich off it.” Bea laughs, too. A second later, she says, “You haven’t talked about sewing lately.”

“It’s not enough of a distraction. It’s sort of mindless.” I shrug. I’m not sure how to explain it. 

“Ahhh. Okay.” 

I take a drink of my coffee, and hug Hagrid. I’m out of words. 

“Were you able to write anything down?” She asks. 

I nod, and pull my notebook and a stack of notecards from my bag. I hold them in my lap and look at them. “Can I…..can I go to the bathroom?” I ask her in a little girl voice. 

“Yes. Yes, of course.” Bea sounds surprised. “What if I had said no?” She asks. She looks curious. 

“I….I’m not sure. I don’t…I guess I would have stayed here.” I whisper. 

“Okay. Go to the bathroom.” 

I hand her my notebook and my cards. 

“Should I read these while you go?” 

I nod. “Yeah.” 

“Okay. I’ll read the notecards while you are gone so you don’t have to wait for me to read them.” She starts reading, and I head to the bathroom. 

I’d written the pieces of memory onto the notecards. Every time I had a flashback, a memory, a bad dream, I tried to write it down. I wrote to in my notebook about this high wire I’m balancing on, and how I feel like I’m going to fall, and how scared I am. I wrote that the last rational part of me is very scared for the rest of me, and of me. I wrote about how I was alone, balancing on this tightrope, and no one was there to catch me. I explained how I used to be under the tightrope, and stuck in the yuck and the crap, but I managed to put myself back together. I wrote that I did a crap job of it, because all I’d been able to do was build a bubble of okayness around myself, and to shove the worst of the yuck into a box. But then Kay came along and pulled me into rhe high wire. She helped me balance, but I still had a bubble. But with therapy, I was able to allow more people onto the high wire, and they helped me balance. It got easier. I was able to allow other people close enough to be under the high wire, to be there to catch me, even if I couldn’t let me help me balance. I wrote that now I feel like I’m all alone and they all just left. 

When I get back from the bathroom, I sit back in my place. 

Bea looks at me and her look says she cares. “All these memories you’ve written are sensory related. It’s all the things we have been talking about.” 

I nod. They really are; hands around my ankles, fingers down my back like bugs creepy crawly, and feelings in places I can’t write about to anyone. 

“Do they….can you stop them? Like if there is a feeling that starts, can you control it? Can you stop it by standing or doing something different?” Her voice is clear and kind. 

“I….no.” I tell her. “I….nothing….it just quiets it. It….nothing stops it. Noting makes it stop.” 

“I want us to try to find a way to get you some relief. You shouldn’t have to keep feeling like this. Can we try, can we see what might help? Can we try some different things?” 

I nod my head. “It won’t stop.” I start to cry, and fold over on myself. “It just won’t stop.” 

“It sounds like you are being hit from all sides. Are these memories, are they new or old? I mean, have you had memories like this before?” 

I shake my head. “Not really. Not like this.” I’ve had body memories before, but never like this, and they usually go away really quick. I can numb them away with self harm, or eating behaviors. And they never happened so often before. 

“I think….this seems to be another layer of healing. I think now that you are more aware of your body, more able to feel it, you are also able to feel these sensations. It’s another layer of healing, and it’s all hitting you at once. Flooding, it’s called flooding.” 

I don’t say anything, but I nod my head and cry. I let myself break apart in her office because it’s the one place I don’t have to keep trying to balance and not fall. 

Bea keeps reading. “This is very eloquent.”

“I highly doubt that,” I mumble. 

“It is very eloquent,” she states again. “I can really get how you are feeling. These pictures really help show what is going on.” I had sketched out stick figure drawings, trying to show what had happened, what was in my head. 

“If I fall, will you make sure Kat is okay? You won’t let her not be okay, right?” 

“Yes, I will make sure she is okay if you fall.” 

“Because if I fall, who will take care of her?” I ask Bea. I feel a bit frantic. 

“Your hubby. He will take care of her. And I will make sure she is okay.” 

“Will you…..if I break apart….if I fall….will you make sure….can you tell him I’m not crazy?” I ask. 

“I can….” She says slowly. “You know, this is really common for survivors with kids to plan for not being around in the future, to worry about bad things happening.” 

“It’s not….I just…I really need to know they will be okay.” 

She is finishing reading my journal. “It’s not safe in the far away, and it’s not safe in the present. Nowhere feels safe,” she repeats the words I’d written. “That is a very scary thing to feel. If you ever feel really unsafe, really not okay, you don’t have to because you can always go to the hospital.” 

“No. No. That is not safe. You don’t say that. I would not go. It’s not okay.” I’m fighting not to shut down, and I’m feeling really left. She doesn’t want to deal with my scary feelings, she wants me to go to the hospital. She wants to get rid of me. 

“Ideally, we would stop you from falling like that. We would have you come in everyday and try to keep you from falling. We would work together to keep you safe.” Bea’s voice is quiet and gentle and her words penetrate through the feelings of rejection.

I sit crying, hiding my face, but her words– that she would have me come in everyday to try to keep me from falling– stick in my brain. Maybe I’m not so alone. I’m crying, sobbing, freaking out and so scared. “It won’t stop,” I tell her. 

And then, Bea starts talking. She tells me she knows I am scared. She says she knows I feel very alone, and that no one understands. She tells me that she knows what the scary detached feeling feels like. She describes the body memories and how terrifying they are and how they can take over your feelings. She describes what it feels like in such detail that a part of me wonders if she really does know. 

I nod my head. “Yes. That.” More tears fall. 

“When did these memories start? Can you attach them to something specific?” 

“The doctor appointment…..” I’m whispering, mumbling.

“Was it something specific about the doctor?” 

“The male doctor. When he touched me.” 
“You didn’t want him there?” 

“I didn’t want him to touch me. I didn’t want him to touch me. I was so scared. I was so scared. I couldn’t breathe, I was so scared.” The words come out in a giant sob. 

“Can you say ‘No’ now?” She questions softly. “Say what you didn’t get to say then?”

I shake my head. 

“It would allow you to complete the action, or part of the action you didn’t get to complete. That’s what sensorimotor is about.” Bea tells me. 

“Can I….can I just tell you what I would have said?” I ask. 


“I….I wish I had said…….” I stumble. “I’m…not…..comfortable with a male doctor?” 

“I’m not comfortable with a male doctor. That’s very good. Anything else?” I think Bea is smiling, pleased with me. 

“I don’t want you to touch me.” I say softly. 

“I’m not comfortable with a male doctor and I don’t want you to touch me,” she repeats. “Can you say it all?” 

I shake my head. “I feel silly.” 

“It does feel silly. I know. I’ve had to do this with the training. It can feel really silly. It’s about trying things, and being playful. Could we say it together?” She asks me slowly, carefully. 

“I….okay.” I agree. I have to agree because I’m desperate to stop this and willing to try. 

“I’m not comfortable with a male doctor and I don’t want you to touch me.” We say it together, slowly. 

“How did that feel?” Bea asks. 

“I don’t know.”

“Is there anything your body wants to do? Maybe kick, or stand up, run? Push away with your hands?” She offers up so many suggestions, but the only thing I want to do is curl my legs up to myself and glue my knees together; I want to be curled up and not seen. 

I shake my head. “I…I…” I try to tell her, but end up panicking. My breathing speeds up, and I start crying again. I’m having a hard time calming down, so I clench my fists, and dig my nails into palms as hard a I can. I focus on that. 

Bea sees my hands go into fists and she asks me to focus on them. She asks things about my hands, my fists, and I can’t answer. The more she questions, the more upset I get. I can’t tell her why my hands are in fists, or what I feel. Because all I feel is pain from nails, sharp, magic, numbing inducing pain. And I can’t tell Bea that, because I’m hurting myself and I can’t admit to that and have her mad at me. 

“What do you feel in your hands? Are they loose or tight? Warm, cold? Do they want to do anything?” She asks. 

I try to answer, and get more upset. “I…I…just…you’ll be mad.” 

“I won’t. I won’t be mad. This is about what works for you. It’s experimenting. That’s all.” She tells me. 

We go back and forth, me struggling to be able to get the words out, and Bea reassuring me she won’t be mad. 

I relax my hands, set them flat. The words spill out. “I made my hands into a fist.” 

“Consciously?” She asks. She is curious. 

“Yes. I wanted….you won’t be happy.” My voice is small and scared. 

“I’m only curious. This is just about being curious. It’s about working together and seeing what works for you.” 

“My nails…..I was digging my nails……into my hands.” I’m ashamed. I don’t want to admit this. 

“So….we could say you were hurting yourself. But we could also say that you were using a coping skill. Maybe we want to work to find one that doesn’t hurt you. But I’m not mad. So if you had been able to tell me in the moment, I feel my nails digging in my palm, we would have been able to work with that. We could have seen if something else felt calming, or if something else was okay. But it was a coping skill, it allowed you to calm down.” She tells me. 

“Okay.” I whisper, tears streaming. 

We end the session with me telling her how to make macarons, the process of making meringue, and creating different flavors, to mixing in the almond flour. I wipe my face, and get back to my far away, balancing, barely functional place. She had tried to tell me she wanted to help get me as grounded as possible, and not far away just balancing and functioning. She said that she knows I am struggling, but in her office it’s okay to fall apart and try to really ground myself. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t let myself try again. So, we talked about macarons, and baking. And I got back to that balancing place before I left. 

Today I was real

The weekend has been weird. I spent a lot of time feeling very defensive towards Bea. I read her email from a screwed perspective, feeling as though she was done with this doctor stuff and wanted me to stop acting like this. I’m struggling with her, and unsure of what she wants from me. Not knowing what she wants, or thinks that I should be doing, or what direction she thinks I should be heading, or what she wants me to talk about now, is frustrating. I NEED to know what people want or need or expect from me, and when I don’t know those things and can behave the way I’m supposed to, I feel as though I will lose that person’s care and positive feelings towards me. I’ve already lost Kay, and my mom is back to being not here, and hubby isn’t really ever here. 

Hubby and I planned a “family date” for Saturday. We took Kat to the pool. It was nice. I haven’t been to the pool, or to a yoga class for that matter, for months. I think the last time I went to pool was maybe early January. But going today, being back in the water was good. It grounded me. I forgot how free I feel, how much I feel like me, whole and okay, when I’m in the water. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pool or a lake or a beach in Jamaica. I love the water. 

My mind clears, anxieties melt away, my body feels safe, calmer somehow. I can breathe. So, I swam a few laps today, and played with Kat, and sat in the hot tub. For a few hours I forgot about feeling alone, and being sad. I forgot about the doctor, and my secrets and the shame I feel. For a few hours, I felt like the okay part of me was running things, like I was grounded and grown up and as if things were going to be okay. 

After the pool, we went out to dinner and then to the movies. We ate and chatted and laughed at dinner. Kat has had food allergies since she was born, and this past winter, her allergies were tested again, and she was cleared to eat whatever she wants– no more allergies. Taking her out to dinner has always been fun, but now it’s almost a game of introducing her to foods she has never been able to eat before. 

We saw Zootopia after dinner. I really liked the movie. Kat and hubby did, too. We sat together, curled up and munching on popcorn. It was nice, cozy. 

Saturday showed me I need to get back to the gym. I need to start swimming again, and i need to go back to yoga. I need to start walking Hagrid again in the mornings. As much as I instinctively want to curl up in bed and hide, and do nothing, I need to remember that swimming and walking and yoga are the things that ground me. Hiding in bed is okay, and sometimes it’s something I need to do, and it can be healing and feel safe, but I also need to be able to feel calm and grounded. I need to get back to eating regularly, and being healthy. I’m capable, at times, of eating regular meals and not starving or purging, but only if I’m being very controlled and scheduled. Maybe that’s the way it starts, and if I can find a way to eat better, even if it’s controlled and regimented and I have to follow my crazy food rules, maybe that’s something that can be built on to learn to eat normal. If I can manage to not starve and not purge, maybe I can learn to be normal. After all, I found exercise that I can do without overdoing and being crazy. Maybe this can get better, too. Being together as a family, feeling grounded from being in the water, gave me a feeling of connection, of love. Things felt authentic and real today. I felt whole. Today, I was real.

A safe space 

Monday’s therapy session was a little different than normal. We talked about the weekend– my parents had come to visit on Sunday, and we had a very low key day together. It was nice, I was glad they had come. I didn’t go to the trouble of changing things in my home, or myself, or making elaborate plans in the way I usually do. I stuck to our normal Sunday routine, except my parents were there, too. 

I shared that I never did give hubby the letter. I’m afraid, and each time I think about it, I find a reason not to. Some reasons are good ones, but ultimately it all comes back to the fact that each time I’ve been open and vulnerable, it ends up hurting me. He’s always great in the moment, and I expect that even if he is upset by what is in the letter, he will only show care and concern for me. It’s the after that is a problem. When he goes back to acting as though we never had this deep talk, and I’m left choosing between pretending right along with him, or being vulnerable and reaching for that deeper connection again. He never reaches for me emotionally like that. Bea points out that I asking for something that is more active participation, something to work on together weekly or whatever. I know that, I know that makes this different. But my fear, I explain, is that then it will be left on me to always bring it up, and I’m just not sure, given the uncomfortable subject matter, if I can keep putting myself in that vulnerable position and always being the one to reach out, and then be closed out for a few days, only to reach out again. I’m just not sure I can handle that. Bea tells me it is good, I am thinking about this and what I can handle, what I want. She says I’ll give him the letter when I’m ready. 

And then she reminded me that in my email last week, I had suggested we could figure out what to do with the words and maybe try the safe space exercise. I had emailed her the words last week, prior to the Thursday session we cancelled because of the weather. I sent her 6 words. She emailed back that for her, the list was pretty tame, and it helped me feel less freaked out that I was going to disgust her with the list. Most of the words on the small list I sent her are triggering for me, but they are things like the correct names of body parts, and some more regular words that trigger me– like pleasure. So, we talked… Well, she talked, about the words, and things we could do to try to desensitize me to them and make them less scary. I ended up hiding my face and feeling really embarrassed and upset and just panicked at the idea of having those words in the room. 

After checking that there wasn’t anything I wanted to talk about, she suggested we work on creating a safe space. I think, at first it was like pulling teeth for her to get answers from me. I felt bad, but I was having a hard time with the whole exercise. I actually have a very good imagination; I can easily get lost in imaginative play with my daughter if I let myself, and can create whole stories for characters and situations. I can take a blank sheet of paper, imagine how I want a dress or shirt to look and sketch out a pattern, look at fabric and ribbon and buttons and see something most others don’t. I was really good at my job as a hair colorist because I could see what the finished color would look like; I colored my daughter’s hair this weekend, and her head was loaded with foils. Yet, if she wears her hair parted one way, you can barely tell there is color in her hair. And if she wears it parted the other way, there are multiple streaks of pink, purple and peach running through her entire head. It’s beautiful, and it’s exactly how I wanted it to turn out. But, I’m off topic. I have a good Imagination, but allowing myself to assess it can be difficult. I’m not really sure why, just that it can be really hard to do. 

So, I’m sitting in my usual spot, and have pulled my knees into myself. I’d had my head down, hiding my face when we were discussing what to do with those words, but I’ve managed to lift my head and look at Bea, now. She’s sitting across from me, in her regular chair, drinking tea. She’s wearing a blue sweater, and while on some level I’m aware that she usually wears color, I recognize that being more present in my life in general means I am noticing little details like this and actually remembering them. It’s a strange feeling. 

“We’ve talked about this a little bit, have you thought of where your safe space might be? It can be made up or real,” she says to me. 

I shake my head. “I don’t know. I just…I don’t know.” 

She asks questions, describes her safe space, offers suggestions. I groan and bury my face. This shouldn’t be this hard. I can’t do this. I just can’t. 

After a few minutes of going in circles, Bea tries a different approach. “Maybe we need to think more general about this first.” She tells me about a client she had once who had found her safe space to be in a garden, that had a door with a lock and a fence. The girl didn’t want a space that went on and on. She also tells me about another client who needed a space that was outdoors, and not closed off in any way. “Do you think your space is indoors, or outdoors? Maybe in nature, by the ocean, or maybe being inside feels safer, having walls and a door.” 

“Not outside,” I tell her. I know that. 

“Is your space big or small?” She questions. 

I laugh to myself, thinking she must know the answer. “Small.” 

She nods, smiling. I think she had a good idea my space wasn’t going to be big. “Maybe your closet?” She asks. 

I think about it, turn the idea over in my mimd. “Noooo….” I say slowly. “I go there to feel safe, sorta, but it’s more to hide. It’s….I’m not sure, but that doesn’t feel right.” 

“You go there after you are already very scared and anxious and feeling bad. And it’s more about hiding from the scary things, and bad feelings, than going there to feel safe and regulate yourself.” She offers her thoughts on it, and she exactly right.

“Yes, that’s it.” I feel a little sad, as I realize where my safe space would be. “I could…I could use my room at my Grandma’s.” I say the words slowly, feeling sad, missing my Grandpa. I also feel a little silly. The whole exercise feels more like something a younger version of me should be doing, like this is not something a ‘real’ grown up would need to help regulate her emotions and stay grounded. 

“Yes, that’s great.” She sounds so excited, and as if I’ve done something good, chosen a good place. “Nothing bad ever happened there. Kenny wasn’t there, right? He wasn’t ever at your grandparents?” 

“No, he wasn’t there.” I tell her. 

“So it really was a safe space. You had there what you should have had all the time, in your own home.” It’s not until she says this that I realize where the sadness I’d been feeling was from. 

Bea leads me through everything I remember about that room using the 5 senses. I tell her about the beige-pink carpeting, and the four poster bed with the white eyelet comforter and the sheer white fabric tied to the bed posts– it wasn’t a canopy bed, but it felt like a fancy princess bed. We talk about the pink painted walls, and how my grandma and grandpa’s bedroom was right next door to mine, how the whole upstairs was close together, not like in my house where the bedrooms were separated from the main part of the house with a long hall, and spaces along the hall to be fairly far apart. I tell her how I remember watching Golden Girls with my Grandma and how I could hear her other show on tv as I fell asleep. I talk about how my grandparents bickered all the time, but it was in the fun, loving, safe way. How everything my grandma touched smelled like her signature perfume, White Diamonds. I tell her how my blanky and my dolls went everywhere with me. I talk about the small dresser with the pretty mirror and the glass globe type lamp with big pink flowers painted on it, and the dollhouse in the opposite corner of the room. I share how my grandma always made sleepy time tea before bed, and put honey in it. I describe the entire house, as it was back then. The one sense I freeze on is touch. She asks how the blankets felt, or the carpet when I sat on the floor to play. I just keep shaking my head and mumbling “I don’t know.” And I really don’t. I’m not a physical person– although Bea thinks I actually am, and that is why things like swimming, yoga, dancing and running can help me feel grounded– and I think I was pretty disconnected from my body even as a child, even when I was in a safe place. What I most remember is feeling wanted and loved, and as if there were no expectations. I remember feeling warm and safe, like I could relax when I was there. 

By the time we are done talking about my safe space, it’s time for my session to be over. “I can really picture your space,” Bea tells me, “I can feel how safe you felt there. So, when you start to be too far away, or if you are getting too panicked, too into the past memories, I can ask you to go to your safe space, to see that pink room, to see the white comforter, and hear your grandparents, to remember the taste of the tea your grandma made you. We can use this, it will be helpful.” 

We wrap up, chatting about errands and normal stuff, as I pull on my shoes and coat. I tell her I’m going to the grocery store, and then going to send Kay my weekly Monday text. I left feeling grounded and mostly okay, just a small part of me feeling sad that my safe space hadn’t been a daily reality. 

The sex talk

Continued from “hope for a real life”. This part of my therapy session got much more serious, and we do talk about sex, and my feelings surrounding it. Please be careful reading, as I’m sure it could be fairly triggering. 💜
“So, we don’t have to talk about the sex stuff, but I do want to just say that sex is complicated. It’s complicated for everyone, and even more so when abuse is in the mix. I don’t know one person who was sexually abused that doesn’t have some part that just wishes sex didn’t exist.” Bea’s tone is careful, she knows this is not a safe topic for me. 

“It’s okay.” I realize I want to hear what she has to say, and I’m having one of those rare days where I want to talk, and nothing is upsetting me or triggering me as much as it normally does. “It’s okay. You can talk about it. We can talk.” 

“Are you sure?” She asks me. “You seem a little far away all of a sudden.” 

Hmmmm. Maybe that is why I am feeling okay with the idea of talking, “it’s the ‘old normal’ far away,” I tell her. This means that I might be far away, but it’s the far away I lived my life in for as far back as I can remember. I can function fine in this state. 

“Allright,” Bea says. “I can imagine how getting married, hearing people discuss your wedding night was very triggering for you.”

“It was really….yuck. Just not good. I don’t know.” My face reddens at the memory. 

“So this bit about not being able to physically say no? You aren’t weird. This is so common, it’s normal. This is why college campuses are changing ‘no means no’ to ‘yes means yes’. Have we talked about that? I think I told you about the ‘yes means yes’ campaign.” 

I shake my head. “Maybe. I don’t remember.”

“That’s okay. What’s been found is that many women can’t say no when they really do want to. So, a lack of saying ‘no’ does not mean consent. That’s why this campaign is saying girls should be asked if they want to engage in sexual activity and only yes means yes.” She explains. 
I find myself nodding my head, liking the idea of ‘yes means yes’. 

“It would be good if you could bring hubby into this. If you could express a need for touch, but not sexual touch, and to not have things turn into sex.” 

“No….I can’t. Can’t we just work on this with me first, and bring him in later, when I can handle it?” I ask. The idea of hubby and Bea together is still frightening to me. I’m also afraid to tell him how I feel, what has been happening, all of that. I’m afraid of to hurt him. 

“Yes. If that is what feels okay to you right now, we can start there.” She really sounds supportive, and it feels like she is here. “Maybe now would be a good time to talk about the words. I do think that, as you say, you’ll need to be able to use the words in order to tell your story. I think if we can work to make them not have the impact they have right now, that should be our goal. Maybe we can do something very silly, like make a matching game. To help lessen the impact, and the matching game can help make it less serious.” 

Inside, I groan. “I….I don’t know. I mean I….well…” I’m stumbling over my words, and struggling to say what I want to say, but Bea gives me space to talk. “I like…….I like that you are….willing to do….um….to be creative in ways to help me. But I feel……like…well…..ridiculous.” 

“Are you feeling like a matching game is over the top?” She asks and I nod. “It’s not. These words really effect you. They are a strong trigger. We need to work on desensitizing you to them. This is okay. It’s not too much.” She tells me firmly. 

“I feel stupid. They are just words. I should be okay. But I’m not.” I’m a little whiny right now, but I decide it’s okay. 
“Well, everyone has words that feel bad, that they react to strongly and negatively.” 

“Everyone?” I ask, disbelieving.

“Well, I imagine so. I have words that make me sick.”  

“You do?” 

“Yes, I do. So I understand how hard it is to need to use words that really trigger you, and can imagine that it is horrifying to need those words to tell what happened.” She’s speaking softly, but matte of factly. 

“Will you tell me your words?” I ask. The question slips out of my mouth before I can sensor myself, or question if it’s okay to be asking. Bea is a very open person, and she does tell me about herself. Usually it’s something relevant to what I’m working through, or it is a talk about normal day to day activities to help ground me. I’ve asked her to talk, to tell me a story before, but I’ve never asked her an outright question like this before. But the little girl needs to know, and so does the teen. The little girl wants to know so that she feels less alone. The teen wants to know because she doesn’t believe Bea has words that make her uncomfortable; she is worried that Bea is just saying that so she feels better. 

“I….well…..I don’t know. I’m not sure I can say it.” She sounds uncomfortable, and as of she is truly feeling the way I feel about my yucky words. 

“Can you write it?” The teen isn’t willing to give up so easily, or to let Bea off the hook. 

“Maybe. I think I can. Yes, I can write it.” She grabs her whiteboard, and a marker. I hear her writing. “I’m feeling sick to my stomach, and thinking how disgusting this word is. I’m feeling guilty for even writing it, and feeling bad for showing it to you.” I appreciate so much that she is describing her experience to me. A lot of what she is saying is how I feel about my words. 

“Well, I asked. You shouldn’t feel bad,” I tell her. “And you don’t have to show me. It’s okay.” The teen believes there is a word. The little girl feels less alone. I’m good. 

“Well, I will flip the board around, and you can choose if you want to look or not.” She sounds quiet, and uncomfortable. 

I lift my head, and glance at it. “Ugh. That is a awful word,” I agree. Bea erases it, and puts the white board back. “I think your word is probably upsetting and sickening for most people, though. My words….they are just…regular, I guess.” 

“And your reaction is very normal. It’s okay. These words are very triggering for you, and with good reason!” Bea is quite adamant about this. 

We talk a little more about words, and then she asks if I want to talk about the bad night. We don’t have a lot of time left, and so I’m on the fence about it. “This is one of those times where you have to ask yourself what you need? Are you going to feel alone and upset if we don’t talk about it? Or is this a time where talking about it just before leaving is going to feel really triggering and hard? Focus on the inside, and see what you need today.” 

“I just want you to read something,” I say. She hands me back my iPad and I find what I want her to read. I had not planned on doing this, but it feels okay to do so. I’d written out what happened Tuesday night, with a lot of detail (minus the words).

Bea reads through it. “This sounds really hard, and really scary.” 

I nod my head. I’m slipping back to the far away that is safe, farther away than I was before. I’m suddenly scared that Bea is going to reject me after reading about the bad night, and so I need to distance myself more. 

“Are you too far away right now?” 

“No. I’m okay, I can function like this. It’s okay.” I tell her, and it’s true. 

“Okay….” She is uncertain, but then she continues on. “How do you feel about just cuddling? If you didn’t have to worry about more, would cuddling be okay?” 

I think about it. I’m not sure. I can’t really separate the two. “I don’t know. It’s….I really don’t know.” 

“Okay, that’s okay. You know, hubby probably was very scared and he probably wanted to fix whatever happened. I think, when you are ready, he would be open to working with you on this. And he is so gentle, he is a good guy to do this with. When he was here, when you sent him in after we told him about the abuse, I remember him saying that he believed any kind of sex was off the table, and he was okay with that. He is clumsy at times, but he really cares about you being okay.” 

“Not now….I can’t…just not right now.” I tell her. 

“I know. And that’s okay.” Bea’s feet move back and forth as she swivels in her chair. “I’m wondering if….well, if this is not just about sex, but about anything that gives you pleasure. Like eating. Do you ever just eat a cookie for pleasure, and enjoy the whole thing and not feel guilty?” 

Her question is so foreign to me that I’m suddenly feeling more present, just from the shock of it. “I….well…..” I think about it. If I’m restricting, I wouldn’t eat a cookie. And if for some reason I did, I would have a running commentary in my head about how awful I am. If I were to binge on cookies, I wouldn’t really taste them. I might notice if they are sweet or chocolatey, but I wouldn’t taste them. And when I stopped binging, I would be suddenly more aware of what I’d just done, and I would feel horribly guilty and have to fix it by throwing up. If I were to eat a cookie with Kat, because I do that sometimes, to model good habits, I would be telling myself I was doing this for Kat, and I wouldn’t be very present at all. And I’d hate myself for eating that cookie. “No. No I always feel bad.” 

“I think this is maybe about pleasure, and being able to feel pleasure from things. Do you ever just feel pleasure from a hug?” She asks. 

“Well……no. I’m too worried about more.” 

“Is there anything you do that you just feel pleasure from?” She’s really pushing me today on this. I wonder if she is right. 

“I…I don’t know. But I need…I mean…..ugh…can we……um…..I need you to use a different word!” I mumble and struggle to say the words. Once they are out, I feel like a big giant idiot. I’m such a drama queen. “I’m sorry, I’m stupid.” 

“Yes, we can use a different word. I went with that word because I was hoping it would be less triggery than other words……do you have a word in mind?” She is okay, not upset or sounding like I’m crazy, or too much. 

“I don’t know. I just….I can’t…I need a different word. It makes me feel yuck.” I cringe, and my stomach feels upset, and I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. 

“It’s okay. This isn’t silly. It’s okay. What if we said enjoy?” 

“Okay. That’s better.” I breathe a sigh of relief, still feeling like a child who is a needy drama queen. 

“Do you get enjoyment from a hot bath? Like, just getting into the water, it feels really nice and warm, and you are just enjoying it, that moment and how it feels to you?”

“Yes. That’s a good one,” I tell her. 
I don’t remember where the talk went from there, only that it continued with the same subject matter. Then Bea said something about a part of me wanting a normal sex life. 

Oh my God, I wanted to throw up. “No….I don’t…I just…no.” I couldn’t even form complete thoughts. “It’s not…I don’t want…I want to make it go away. It’s gross.”

Again, I think parts of this conversation are missing. And then Bea asked me if I felt like I did not deserve to feel enjoyment? 

“No…it’s not that. It’s just…’s gross, wrong, ew, yuck, bad, disgusting, no. Ugh.” The words spilled out of my mouth at an incredible speed, and I shook my hands, holding them away from my body, in the way you do when you touch something revolting. 

I don’t remember Bea’s response. We wrapped things up pretty quick after that, Bea switching the conversation to normal things, and trying to help me be a bit more grounded. We talked about the fact I discussed and allowed so much to be said, both of us a bit surprised by it.
Before I left, Bea asked me to come up with a list of words that trigger me, and to try to think of things I get enjoyment from. 

Hope for a real life 

“I was so excited when I read your email about the dentist!” Bea says to me, after I’ve pulled off my coat and settled myself onto the couch. Hagrid had been running around the room, but after stopping by Bea’s chair for some attention, he jumps up next to me. 

“Me, too. I really couldn’t have found a better dentist.” I’m smiling, because this is such a big deal for me. 

We talk about the dentist, and when I tell Bea what Dr. R had said about medications, she nods. “It makes sense. It’s the same idea as building resilience when talking about and feeling emotions. If you aren’t present when we talk about things, you can not really integrate that experience. I think she’s right. Each positive experience you have can be built upon to build resilience and tolerate dental appointments better.” 

I nod my head, agreeing with her. “I’m going to try just taking an anti-anxiety medicine for the next appointment, I think.” 

“I think that’s a great idea. And she is clearly familiar with PTSD. Having you orient to the room was very good.” She takes a drink of her tea, and seems to consider something. “Did it feel validating to have a dentist know some of the challenges with PTSD? To have hubby see that, and to have it confirmed that you aren’t crazy, that in fact, enough other people struggle with this that she spent two years working with just PTSD dental patients?” 

I shrug. “I don’t know. I guess.” I hadn’t even thought about it, really. But in hindsight, it was validating. 

As we wrap up talking about the dentist, Bea asks me if I want to talk about the bad night, or if I want to go through the email she had said she would talk to me about today. I cover my face, and after a moment, sit up and shake my head. “I don’t know. Both? I’m not sure…..I did a lot of writing this week. I was…..well, I made a list of progress. Maybe that first? And then the rest of the email?” 

“That sounds good.” She smiles as she takes my iPad mini from me. (You can see that list here

“You might not agree with those….I don’t know. You might just think I’m way off….but ….I started writing and the list was longer than I thought. So….I don’t know.” I rush to…..I’m not sure, exactly,maybe to explain what I’d written, maybe to make sure she knew it wasn’t that important. I am afraid she is going to disagree or think I’ve written down such tiny, insignificant things that it was a waste to do so. 

“If you feel a change, then it’s a change. And if you feel like it’s progress, then it is. That’s the real test, not whether I or anyone else thinks you have made progress. It’s how you feel about it.” She says gently. 

I bury my face in my knees as she reads, feeling embarrassed. 

“Right here….you say that you still like routines and schedules, but you are able to handle it if they change. That is progress! Progress doesn’t mean everything is all better, all ‘fixed’. It means a change that has made your life easier, more enjoyable. This is good….this is really good.” She says. And then, after a moment, “Wow. I knew how hard it was for you to say no to your mom, how much you felt like you had to be the good daughter. I didn’t realize that it went all the way back like this, though. You write it out so well, ‘I could never say no to my mom, or disappoint her, for fear of making her sick again.’ It was really hard for you to tell her no, wasn’t it?”

I lift my head, peek at her from the corner of my eye. “Do you remember when…..?” 

“I do remember. We really worked on that a lot. I just didn’t link the fear of telling her no with the fear of making her sick again. You felt so responsible for her.” 

“We talked about it for weeks. Are you sure you didn’t know what a big deal it was? Because it felt like you did.” I tell her. 

“Honestly, I remember the party issue, and you feeling like you had to go, even though you were scared. And I do remember it being a very big deal, and a hard thing for so many, many reasons, I just don’t think I linked the fear of disappointing her all the way back to the fear of making her sick again. I was seeing it more as the need to be a good girl, to be perfect so she would continue accepting you.” Bea is talking in that gentle tone. I think she is afraid she is going to upset me. 

I nod. I think a year ago, my feelings would be hurt. But today? I’m okay. I remember how Bea was so there for me, how supportive she was, how she saw me for extra sessions, and was emailing daily. I remember how she felt like she wanted to protect me from going to that party and seeing Kenny. I remember feeling that protectiveness, when I showed up to an appointment with the little girl running the ship, and so terrified that it had taken everything in me to leave my house and get to her office. I remember feeling like she was on my side. “Well, I remember feeling like you were in it with me and on my side.” 

I see her smile out of the corner of my eye. “I was absolutely on your side. I just didn’t realize how far back that went, and I’m thinking how hard it was for you to say no to her. This is a big deal. This is huge that you feel able to say no, and let her be responsible for herself.” 

She continues reading the list. It really is a lot longer than I thought it would be. “Here. You’ve just written a perfect treatment plan for the insurance. They always want quantifiable goals, progress. You were sleeping only 3 hours a night, and now some nights you sleep 5 or even 6 hours. That is a big deal.” 

I laugh. It is a big deal. Getting more sleep, even just 2 nights a week, means I can function better and handle triggers better. “You can send them that. I don’t mind.” And I truly don’t. I know how ridiculous insurance companies can be. We have to deal with them all the time for Kat’s ABA. 

Bea goes back to reading, commenting on other things I’d listed out. She is really excited about me dealing better with messes; she tells me this is a very big deal and huge progress. She finishes reading and says, “I agree with all of this. This is major progress. I want to cry over this.” 

I shake my head. “No, don’t cry, I wasn’t trying to upset you.” I feel….odd. I’m confused, because this list is not a bad thing. But I’m feeling guilty because it’s upset Bea for some reason. 

“I am not upset at all. Not at all. I feel like crying happy tears. I’m feeling a lot of happy feelings right now, and they are so big they needs a way to come out. That’s happy tears.” I can hear the emotion in her voice. 

“Oh.” I feel like an idiot. “It’s okay then. You can cry.” 

“Then I’m going to let myself feel my feelings. Tears are just our emotions coming out, and in this case, I have happy emotions coming out,” she says to me. “This is such a great list. We did all of this without sensorimotor therapy. I’ve been so focused on what I felt I did wrong in your therapy, and pushing for this other way. But this is a lot that we accomplished. This is a good reminder that the sensorimotor stuff is an ‘and’ not an ‘or’. It’s a big deal that you can see these changes and name them. That’s progress, too. I feel like we should print this out and have it it refer to, so that we can remind ourselves how much has changed, when you are having a hard day.” 

“I can email a copy to you,” I offer shyly. 

“That would be really great. Thank you!” She says. 

I want to ask her what would have been on her list as progress, if it would have been different than mine, but I don’t. Instead, I motion her to hand the iPad back, and I pull up my coping skills/resources page. “Did you want to see my coping skills list?” (You can find that here…

“This is great, so good,” she tells me. We talk about the coping skills I’ve added to the list. She asks me where I’d found this picture of ways to take a break, stating that she really likes it. 

“I think I just googled it. I don’t know. It was a long time ago.” 

“Could you send me this, too? I think it would be helpful for this teen boy I’ve been seeing. He really has a hard time finding any resource, and when he is feeling bad, he can’t work his way out of it. I’ve been using the grounding resources that have worked with you in the past for him, and those do help. So this picture would be awesome.” 

“Sure. You’ll end up with the whole document though, is that okay?” 

“Yes, that’s perfect. I’d like to keep a list of your personal resources, if it’s all right. It would be good to have it to refer back to when we need it.” She says. 

“Okay,” I tell her. We talk a bit more about resources, and different people’s ways of using them. (I want to add here that I’m not bothered by hearing Bea mention other people she sees, or even by seeing her other clients as I am arriving or leaving. I know that she sees other people– this is her job, after all– and when she talks about others (never with a name or with any identifying details), and I can hear the care and compassion in her voice, and see how much she wants to help them, I’m a little awed, and in some way, it affirms for me that she cares that much about me, too. She’s often told me stories about abused and traumatized kids she has worked with, usually as a way to drive home the point I’m not crazy, or my experience isn’t wrong, or I’m not alone, or my reaction is the same as other children’s. It helps me, but I realize that it could be upsetting for some.)

She glances at the clock and asks me, “Should we look at your email now? Go through the rest of it?” 

I grimace, but pull it up and hand it to her. Then, I quickly bury my face in my knees. 

She skims through it, and then stops. “So, knowing that coloring helped bring you back, that is a good thing to know. It’s good for you to have a sense of control over being far away, and it’s good for us to have a way to bring you back.” 

“Yeah……” I mumble.

“We can build on that, now, maybe trying to orient to the room. When you are ready.” There is no judgement or annoyance in her voice over my still not being ready. 

“Even though….well, even though I could sit up, I don’t usually want to. So that is hard. Maybe if you didn’t ask me to sit up or to find a certain color in the room, you just asked what I can see? Like right now, I see the blue rug, and the wooden floor, and the bucket of puppets, and the bin of blocks. I can see the purple blanket on the couch, and Hagrid’s tail and your shoes.” 

“That’s a great idea! We can do that. I’m glad to know what will feel safer to you.” Again Bea sounds like she really is glad, and not annoyed at all. I so don’t get her sometimes. 

“It’s still uncomfortable,” I say. 

“It is uncomfortable, yes, but I think you nailed it when you said it’s new, and feels weird because it’s new. This is a resource we need to have, to help you stay safe. If we are going to talk more about details and the actual trauma, and work on integrating that one day– and I think we can, and that it is important– we need ways to help you stay in the window. So, when you are going too far away, we know that coloring has worked to bring you back, and that it feels safe to orient to the room of you can keep your head down. Now we need to find something that works for you, and feels comfortable to help bring you back when you are going the other direction; when you are maybe far away, but hyperaroused.” 

I sigh. “Can’t I just go far away, then? Wouldn’t that be okay?” 

“Well……we don’t want to send you back the other way and back out the window that way, we just want to pull you back into the window. And the window isn’t comfortable, it’s on the edge of the trauma memories, and enough into the past that you can access the memories, and feel the feelings. It’s not that you should be comfortable in the window. But if we can stay in the window, it is easier to be grounded when you leave here and go on to have a good day at home. And things really do become more integrated when you are in the window.” 

“No….I mean, if I’m on the upside of the window, why couldn’t I just go to the far away that feels safe?” I’m feeling frustrated, because I think what I’m saying makes sense, and she’s not getting it. 

“Yes, that would bring you back from the hyperarousal, but my worry would be if you could do it on command like that, and then you would be in the far away, and we would have to bring you back from that.” She explains calmly. 

“So? Why couldn’t that work?” 

“It could work. It absolutely could work,” she tells me. After a pause, she says, “I know you don’t like visualization exercises. I know in the past they have triggered you and been uncomfortable. I wonder if now that you have more resources to use, if the safe space exercise would be a good one for us to do. It is visualizing, but it is about creating a safe space in your mind. It’s a very detailed exercise, and it is a tool that orients you to the internal. It’s also maybe similar to your safe far away.” 

I think about it before I nod my head. I’m surprised that she is able to tell that I’ve nodded, because with my face buried in my knees, and my arms wrapped around my head, the movement is small. 

“So, maybe one day next week, we will have a safe space day.” She tells me. She talks a little more about it, and I’m wondering if I don’t already have a safe space on my head. But I’m not sure, because the room in my head puts me far away and not very present. However, in the room, I’m present enough to function. So I don’t know. 

“This, here, about the after and how it seems to you now,” Bea says, tapping the iPad’s screen as she reads. “This is our goal, what we want to be able to do with the actual trauma event. I believe the after, for this memory, is integrated. The way that you say you remember what it feels like to be scared, but you don’t feel that fear now, that is an integrated memory. You remember the feelings and what was going on, but it doesn’t take over anymore.” 

I nod my head. I can’t speak, because there really are no words for the awe I am feeling right now. It took me almost two years of therapy, but I’ve turned one memory– albeit a small one and it’s only the after part of the actual trauma memory– from a living, overwhelming thing into just something awful that happened, into an event where I know, and remember the fear was huge and terrible, but it’s no longer an event where the fear is real, and present and something that is going to drown me. Even though I had realized this at home, and realized it again as I wrote to Bea, attempting to describe how I was feeling, how this memory seemed different to me, it’s only when Bea says it, that the impact hits me: one day, all these memories that overwhelm me and ruin my life and send me running to my closet to hide, will be nothing more than horrifying memories, and the feelings, the sensations, the emotional wreckage that they bring with them right now, will just be something I remember feeling. I won’t have to feel these things for the rest of my life. I honestly can not fully wrap my mind around the idea. 

I won’t be in this cage of flashbacks and nightmares and feelings, memories, emotions forever. I suddenly have this feeling that I can have a real life. How awesome is that? I can have a real life. I’m not sure I have ever thought about my future in any way besides doing what I’m supposed to do, but suddenly I feel full of hope for the future, as if I could do anything. 

To be continued…………


Feeling contrary…..

Things feel really bad right now. I feel like I am living in limbo, disconnected from everyone. I don’t know. My old “story” and deep seated beliefs aren’t true anymore, but I haven’t exactly replaced them with anything. So, I am in limbo. 

I have managed to catch up on almost all household chores, and then some. I’m totally, completely in control of it all. I’m fine. Everything is okay. I’ve found a rhythm, a routine, a schedule to follow. So I force everything way, way down, turn off my feelings and let Ms. Perfect run the show. 

But underneath it all is this chaos and confusion and anger and sadness and fear. It all comes down to fear. Everything and everyone is changing. I can’t do anything right. I am afraid I am chasing Bea away. On top of everything else– the time of year with all the ugly anniversaries and the all alone feeling, my parents changing, hubby being so distant and gone– Bea is changing things. And I hate it. I have told her I don’t like it, but the truth is, I HATE it. It’s not fair. She is the shrink. She is supposed to be stable and reliable. She is NOT supposed to change. 

She is taking this class on somatic (i think that is the word) trauma work. She felt like she wanted to have more knowledge on working with the feelings and sensations in the body, on using movement in therapy. She wanted that for her trauma clients. And I know I am lucky to have a therapist who is always looking for ways to help me. But I do not like this. I do not feel lucky. They– the class teachers– have taught her that I go too far away during therapy. So now she wants to keep me more present when I talk. I can not do that. I am capable of talking BECAUSE I go away. I am terrified of the thought of being present when I talk. I can’t even talk about feelings and be present. 

She says the idea is that I talk about whatever I want and she will check in more often, or I can say that I am too far away and need to stop talking (yeah right, that is never going to happen), or she can stop me and we will do some grounding to adjust things and bring me back. Just the idea of being paused, stopped from talking feels like rejection to the little girl. I HATE this. 

Why is she changing everything?!!? I was already like my whole world has shifted and the ground has been ripped out from under me. I was already feeling alone and shaky and not very okay. I was trying to work through the whole email fiasco and feeling very disconnected from Bea. I was just beginning to feel like she is the same Bea, it was okay, I could trust her. And she goes and changes everything. It’s not fair!!!! 

I emailed her– we have been emailing this week– and I told her I hate grounding because being truly present is very uncomfortable. I told her that I do not want to talk and be present. And she is going to say that being present is safe, nothing bad is happening in the present. But it’s not freaking true! If I am present and talking about all the hard things, then all the feelings are in the present. And it is overwhelming and scary. So no, being present is not safer. 

I told her I feel like a 5 year old throwing a temper tantrum, refusing to try the new vegetables on my dinner plate– even if eating them is in my best interest, they are new and different, so they are not okay. I can see Bea’s view point, intellectually I can even agree with her. But the little girl feels differently. She hates this, and is afraid. She feels all alone and like she has no control at all. Everyone else is bigger, smarter, stronger, faster, better. She can’t do anything to stop the changes. She wants to run and hide. 

I’m both frozen and panicked. I’ve jumped at every little noise outside tonight, feel on edge and scared, but I have also zoned out enough that a 1/2 hour passed by in what seemed like a minute. I don’t even know what happened to that time. I hate blanking out like that. It makes me more panicky and jumpy which makes me more frozen and dissociated. Stupid freaking crazy making cycle. I’m hiding in the closet. Nothing feels okay right now. 

Is this what being present is?

It’s been an odd week. I don’t know quite how to explain, and I have this sense that putting it all into words is going to be an impossible task. Still, I’m going to try.

First, there was the camping trip. It was good and bad. We used to camp at that campground when I was a kid. The little store at the camping ground is still the same; I recognized it right away, and had this sense of knowing, of remembering. I remember walking up to the store to buy an ice cream. I remember walking up to the bathrooms and showers connected to the store to brush our teeth and wash our faces before bed. I remember the cheap little gold ring with the pink “diamond” I would always choose as my camp souvenir. In fact, hubby bought me one of the rings after I shared this memory with him. It was very sweet. I remember playing UNO at the picnic table at our camp site, and campfires and s’mores. I remembered so much of it, but not in a flashbacky weird way. Yes, the memories came in bursts, in fits and starts, but it was just a memory, clearly the past. I had nightmares at night, but during the day, I felt fairly content. I was able to put away most of my hurt and anger and grief over my parents and what they did or did not do, and just be with them, enjoy them. I took breaks from them, and did take a nap during the day, but it was peaceful. My brain felt peaceful.

At the amusement park….well, that was a little different. I had attempted to explain to my mother I didn’t want to go that day; it was cold, and raining off and on, Kat was grumpy, I was irritated and tired. She didn’t listen, she simply brushed me off like she always has done, and went into happy mode and gave the impression I was ruining everything by having a different “grumpy” opinion. Somehow, I managed to let it go. I smiled and said okay, we go today. In the past I would have been hurt, I would have cried, I would have searched for what I was doing wrong, I would have wondered if I was being “bad”. My wonderful hubby watched all this, and let me know he was on my side. Then, he bought two day tickets. He told me, “If today sucks, we will just go back to the campground and come back to the park tomorrow on our own.”

Being at the park, with my parents, well, that was a little rough. We always get a pass so Kat doesn’t have to stand in long lines, but the pass only covers 4 people. So, Kat had to stand in long lines. Also, unbeknownst to all the adults, Kat’s cousins don’t like rides. This caused a lot of arguments and unhappy kids. The cousins only wanted to do the water park, but Kat felt it was too cold. We ended up eating lunch– apart, because the cousins wanted to eat at a place that did not accommodate Kat’s food allergies– and then going back to camp while they did the water park. I worried a bit that I might be hurting my mom’s feelings, but decided I had to do what was right for me and my family. Going back to camp and resting allowed Kat to have a fun night with her cousins. They all played so well together. To see her interacting with other kids, and having a desire and the confidence to do so is incredible.

There was one very rough moment, when everyone was going to ride the Ferris wheel:

It was right before lunch, and we walked by the Ferris wheel. The kids all wanted to ride. As they all scrambled into the short line, I hung back.

My dad looked at me, confused. “Come on. You love this ride.”

I shook my head. “No. I don’t.”

My Dad laughed, thinking I was joking. “You used to beg to do this one again and again. It’s one of your favorites.”
“No, she doesn’t do the Ferris wheel anymore. Remember, she rode it and got stuck at the top?” My mom reminded my Dad, like it was no big deal. I felt nauseas, dizzy, unreal.

“No…where were we? I’ve never been stuck at the top of this ride.” My poor Dad was genuinely confused, and not remembering.

“We were on a roller coaster. Kenny rode with her, and they got stuck at the top.” It was said nonchalantly, like its everyday conversation. And maybe it was, for my Mom. For me, my whole world came to a sudden stop, everything froze.

Was I crazy? Did he actually hurt me on this ride? Did I make this crap up? My mom is telling the story I have always told, the lie I made up, in order to avoid a ride I used to love, that now gives me massive anxiety. I couldn’t figure it out. It was so surreal, hearing my mom tell the lie. But what if it wasn’t a lie? What if the story I have claimed is the truth is the lie? Even though I smiled and said I would sit on a bench and wait, inside I felt like finding a razor blade and slicing my skin. Anything to feel something real, something solid, something that is for sure happening.

Instead, I breathed though it, and while they rode the ride, I emailed Bea. I asked her to remind I’m not crazy, that it isn’t just some made up reality, that she believes me and that these things did happen. After that, I told myself I had to put it away, that I was okay, that Bea would email me later, and that we would talk about it the next week. I focused on the rides, and the noise, people I saw. And later, I focused on my hubby and my daughter. It was okay. I managed to put it away for a little while; not hide it or forget it, but just set it aside until I could properly deal with it. I was able to live my life, to be there, be present. Bea, of course, emailed back. She reminded me I wasn’t crazy and that she was still here.

Hubby, Kat and I did go back the next day. We had a blast. Kat loves rides, so she and I rode everything that spins and makes hubby sick. We all rode every roller coaster that Kat is tall enough to ride. We went to the water park; the day was cool in the early afternoon and warmed up a lot by later afternoon. The weather was perfect. We played in the wave pool and the lazy river; Kat doesn’t do water slides. Later, I found a lounge chair by the wave pool and alternated between watching Kat and Hubby play and dozing in the sunshine. It really was a fantastic day. I felt so peaceful and content, so calm and just in the moment.

There was an odd memory moment, riding the scrambler with Kat. I had my arm around her, holding her close so she didn’t fly all over the seat. That’s when I realized, this is how he did it. I saw it, felt it in my mind. He would hold me close like I was holding Kat, and let his fingers reach all the way down, to between my legs. The memory was so quick, and I managed to push it away and not think of it until now, typing this out. I don’t know if it’s real, or imagination, my mind filling in blanks. But it felt real. It made me sick. Even with that little flash, I put it away for later, for therapy, and managed to come back to the present. To remind myself that I a grownup. That the child on the ride is not me, she is my daughter and she is safe, that I am safe. And then I lost myself in the spinning of the ride, giggling with Kat. And it felt great. I felt great.

In fact, I felt so great that as the last ride of the day, I let Kat talk me into the Ferris wheel. I told the operator I might want off after one go-round, and she informed me that she could do that, but once the ride started and they weren’t loading, it would go around 4 times. She was so nice to me. We all climbed into the gondola, and the ride started. Not even halfway up, I started to feel very anxious and scared. I had this feeling that everyone knew how bad I was and hated me. The feeling literally felt like it came out of no where. The higher up the ride got. The more panicked I felt. I had this very bad, the world is ending feeling. As soon as our gondola got near the operator, I told her I was done and that once around was enough. She let me off, which took a moment because I was so freaked and dissociated that I could not figure out how to exit the ride. When I was finally off the ride and on a bench where I could watch until Kat and Hubby got off, I had this very yucky feeling. Like black, stinky goop just covering me head to toe. I didn’t feel right again until we got home. Once home, I felt proud of myself for getting on the ride. I felt proud that I didn’t freak out, or snap at Hubby or Kat. I know I’ll never get on another Ferris wheel, but in a way, I feel like I faced my fear. I couldn’t believe all the “out of the blue” feelings that came up on, and after that ride. I have a lot to talk about in therapy.

Dissociated, messy yoga practice

(Tuesday’s trauma yoga session)

I haven’t slept more than six hours in the last three days. I’m exhausted. And yet, I drive to yoga anyway. I don’t want to cancel. In a lot of ways, I really need Kris’s grounding presence right now.

I’m a few minutes early, so I take a seat in the waiting area. I check my emails, and contemplate writing in my journal, but Kris walks out just as I’m pulling out my iPad.

“Hi,” she greets me. She’s smiling, and so serene. I breathe a little sigh of relief.

I follow her back, and we sit on our mats. She goes through the process of checking in with me. I try to act like everything is fine, but I’m failing miserably. Eventually I admit that I haven’t slept, and that everything is a mess, and Bea is out of town which is making it all worse.

“Mmmhmm. That all can be really tough. When was the last time you slept?” She asks. She looks slightly concerned.

“Last night I fell asleep at 7, and I woke up a little after 9.” Just thinking about waking up from the dream I’d had, I start shaking and things become hazy and I’m light headed.

“Did you fall back asleep?” She asks.

“No…I just…no.” I’m sitting with my knees to my chest, curled into myself. I know I have dark circles under my eyes, and that my eyes looks puffy and red. I know I look like crap.

“Is there anything your body is wanting to do today?” She asks.

I groan. I hate this question. I never have an answer. Well, today, I have an answer, but it’s not one I will ever give; my body wants to curl up and hide. I want to be in my closet, hidden and small, where no one can find me. I shake my head at her.

“That will be my last question for a while, I promise.” Kris is just calm, waiting for me to think. “Take a minute, check in with yourself.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know. What do you want to do?” I finally say.

“Nope, no sorry.” She smiles at me. “I’m up for anything. Let me think for a minute, feel into this.” She says softly.

I nod, and I sit, curled up and breathing. I’m less gone than I was. What is it about Kris that makes her presence so grounding? She feels very transparent to me, very here and present, and like she accepts anything; I have a feeling that she is one of those people who accept mistakes as learning experiences, who doesn’t judge or condemn others.

“Okay. Let’s sit in our hero pose, and take some breaths. If it’s available to you, breathe in, and try to extend the out breath. It’s a simple thing we can do to help calm our nervous system.” She breathes, in and extending the out breath.

I try to follow her. It’s so triggering for me, so frustrating to have some thing as silly as breathing be a trigger. Kris talks me through it, and I mange to continue breathing. Eventually, the trigger feeling passes, and I can breathe easier. I can feel my body calming.

Kris leads us through a series of lunges, and backbends, and gentle stretches. My body is stiff and sore, not sleeping screws everything up. I run into quite a few triggers, as I try to focus on feeling what is happening in my body.

“If you can, don’t forget your breathing. What’s coming up for you?” Kris asks, each time I’m slightly triggered by what I feel in my body, and things start to go fuzzy. It’s like she has this sixth sense to recognize when I’m going away.

I shake my head. “I don’t know.” In actuality, I do know. Any pose that stretches my hips, or inner thighs feels wrong, exposing, too much. I’m not sure why. But that stretch, combined with all the flashbacks and overwhelm I’ve been faced with, sends me into body memory hell.

Kris pulls us out of the hip stretches quickly, and goes into cobra. A backbend, but lying on your stomach. That’s okay. I can do this, and I love backbends, my body naturally does them easily. I feel like control is returned to me, and the rest of the session Kris focuses on simple stretches and backbends, no more lunges or hip stretches.

At one point, I become very aware of my body, very connected without thinking about it or trying. For a moment, I’m in awe; is this what most people feel everyday? To not be in my head all the time, to not have to focus on being very present and connected. Is this it, is this what I’m striving for? And then, the physical memory washes over me, and a few tears leak out.

Kris reminds me to breathe, and and takes us from downward dog into child’s pose. I still can’t place my head on the floor, I need to keep an eye on my surroundings. But then, Kris suggests I can lay my head down and turn it to the side. I do, and it’s okay. I curl up in child’s pose, and breathe with Kris. I focus on her calm, and the kind of aura she projects of being strong and accepting and peaceful. The feeling of being out of control and scared passes. The physical feelings pass, too. The whole time, Kris is talking softly about how strong I am, how I am okay, how I am safe.

I don’t know how long I stay in child’s pose, but after, we wrap up and Kris thanks me for coming to yoga today. She sounds so sincere. I have a hard time accepting that, and so I make a joke that I was able to provide some entertainment and laughs, because in my over tired state even simple things like left and right become difficult.

Kris shakes her head at me. “No, I’m not laughing at you. I’m glad you, just you, yourself, came to practice today. It was a good practice with you. So thank you.”

I nod. “Okay. But I was joking…and you have to admit, I did make you laugh a few times.”

“Yes, you did make me laugh. Laughter is good for us, we don’t need to be so serious all the time.”

We talk for a few minutes, and I end up spilling the story about Kat.

“Thank you for sharing that with me, for trusting me. It sounds really difficult, but I also believe you are handling it extremely well.” Kris says softly.

“Thank you,” I say. We talk a bit more, and she reassures me that I’m doing okay, that I’m not screwing things up.

When I leave, I feel more connected than I have for a few days, and a little bit safer. I tell myself I only need to hold onto this feeling for the rest of today and Wednesday. Then, Bea will be back.