When the teen thinks your doctor called you fat

Monday was weird. Therapy felt weird. (I’ll do a separate post about therapy.) I was sort of numb and tired and just not really with it. I’ve been feeling weird and off kilter since Thursday or maybe Friday. I’ve gotten so much stronger and capable in the last five years. The teen is still really strong though, and her feelings are like a tornado roaring through me and destroying any grip I have on reality. The thing is, there is a thing that the adult think needs to be discussed, although she is feeling quite embarrassed over it. The teen is adamant that it not be discussed or acknowledged, and she is feeling so much shame and self hatred over this, it’s unbearable. I saw my doctor on Tuesday. It was just a med-check appointment because of all my fibromyalgia meds.

Trigger warning! Talk about eating disorder and weight. If you continue reading, I ask that you please try not to judge my behavior. Please be kind. This is such a sensitive and embarrassing topic for me, a lot of my eating stuff ties into my mother’s eating disorder and the shame I felt my whole life over not be thin enough for her.

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For the first time in my life, my doctor brought up concerns about my weight gain. Always, always in my past there have only been concerns about weight loss. But now this.

I know I have gained weight, I know I haven’t been making healthy choices, and I know there have been so many times that I have binged but not purged in the since the awful rupture in April. I know I have spent a lot of time avoiding exercise and hiding in my bed these last 6 months.

The teen is livid with herself. She hates everything about this body. She is ashamed and disgusted and it was awful to have weight brought up like that.

My doctor is wonderful. She was kind and not judgmental at all. But it doesn’t matter, not really. That discussion was all the teen needed to take over and unleash ED. Sometimes, my eating disorder creeps up on me, like when I realized that I have been binging since the rupture. Other times, it sneaks up on me like when I have the best intentions to eat right and exercise, and before I know it I am restricting and only eating a limited number of foods without purging. And then there are the times, like now, when the teen takes over and begins severely restricting right away.

It’s only been a few days, but the thing is, the teen feels better, less overwhelmed and crazy. Things feel slightly fuzzy and distant all the time when you are restricting and that feels safe. I’m not sure I want to stop this, to stop her. I’m not sure I can stop it. I know this is a bad path to go down. I know it’s not healthy, or smart. But really, I just want to lose the weight and show up to my next appointment not so fat. I don’t want another talk. I’m not sure the teen can handle another talk.

I know I should talk to Bea. I know this, and the grown up me wants to. The teen though, is so, so strong, and she does not want to talk to Bea about any of this. She does not want to tell Bea that her doctor called her fat (okay, not exactly what happened, but for the teen, it’s exactly what happened) and she doesn’t want Bea to agree with her doctor. There’s also this little voice in her head, in my head, that says I am too fat, no one would believe that I have been restricting for the past week. The voice says that if anyone did believe it, they would be glad, because I am gross.

I don’t know where this leaves me. I guess I just needed to write about this, to try to sort it out, to at least not lie to myself.

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The teen’s questions

The teen showed up today. She handed Bea the notebook, saying, “I talked to you in here.” And so Bea read, and responded, while I hid under my blanket.

I wonder, what would you have done with me? What would you do if teen me walked into your office today?

You would have known the diagnosis of bulimia, cutting, and anxiety. You probably would have been told I was resistant to treatment. You would have known I was from a good family. That I got good grades, was well liked, participated in school activities like cheerleading and newspaper and that I was active in my church.

“Well, I would think that what was going on underneath– the cutting, the bulimia, the suicide attempts– didn’t match the picture I was being presented. I would be curious about that, about what that meant.”

You would have met a quiet polite girl. I would have willingly discussed school, church, friends, cheerleading. Anything else you brought up would be likely to make me ignore you, to go quiet and zone out.

What would you have done?

“So, that is lots of teens. I would try to get you to play a board game or to do some art with me. I would make sure that you knew I was aware there was more going on than you were saying. I wouldn’t push you to tell me, just make sure that you knew I knew there was something that was triggering the cutting, the bulimia.”

Kathy talked about normal things, and then would try to get me to talk about food, or maybe my feelings. She would try, and I would tune her out. But then, a few months after I had been seeing her, I went to that party and my whole world fell in on itself. Everything was was just one big mess and I couldn’t make sense of it, I thought I was going crazy.

Things got worse. I was cutting more, throwing up more.

I got caught cutting, and my mom called Kathy. I ended up seeing her that night. Mom wanted Kathy to “talk some sense into me” but that’s not what she did.

She asked if she could see what I had done, and I showed her. She was kind and understanding. Sitting on the floor, side by side, she looked at the cuts, new cuts, old cuts healing, scars. She said, “You must have been hurting really bad for a really long time.”

I said, “No, I’m fine. Everything is okay.”

She said, “Your words say you are okay, but your cutting tells me something else. It tells me you are hurting.”

I denied it, and she told me it was okay to not be okay, that in her office, I didn’t have to be okay. She talked about people cutting themselves to feel pain physically because they couldn’t feel it emotionally.

I told her that wasn’t right, that I had cut to make it stop.

She wanted to know, “To make what stop?”

But I didn’t tell her. Not then. Not that day. But that was the day I started to trust her. She was so understanding, and not mad, and she didn’t need me to be okay, and she acted like she really cared about me.

We had sat on the floor that day, side by side, and she didn’t try to fix me. She just sat next to me and tried to understand.

“She did see you, didn’t she? It sounds like she was very attunted. That she realized the cutting was because of something. It makes sense that you would trust her.”

And things went like this. Talking, slowly about feelings, about numb, about cutting, about throwing up. And she was always Kathy, always caring, always okay with what I said or did.

So, months later, I told her about the party. She had been my therapist for close to a year then. So, I told her. She didn’t believe me. I’d trusted her, I’d thought she was on my side, and she did not beleive me.

Nothing was okay. Nothing at all. I was crazy. And so I tried to die. And my mother fired Kathy and I never saw her again.

“This is painful. It is painful to read.” Bea’s voice has tears in it.

“I’m sorry.” I don’t want my words to cause her pain.

“You don’t need to be sorry, I just want you to know I feel how painful this is. A year of building trust, to have it end like that. It’s so hurtful. She really did so much damage. It’s really to bad there wasn’t the opportunity for a repair.”

So, I wonder. What would you have seen? What would you have said or done— in the beginning when I wouldn’t talk, and the night my mother wanted my therapist to talk sense into me, and the day I told you about the party? How would you have responded?

She diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder. I was 13, 14. What would you have said, done, believed back then? What would you say, do, believe if you met me now, in present day?

“Well, first of all, you shouldn’t have been daignosed with anything like that, not at your age. Secondly, BPD is just trauma. If someone comes to me with that diagnosis, I see trauma. That’s all. I do think that in the 90’s, anytime cutting was a symptom, BPD was considered. It was….well, that was how things were viewed then. Be it the knowledge we had, or cultue, or what, cutting was often viewed as manipulation.” She tells me about when she was doing internships, how therapists, psychologists, doctors would talk about BPD patients, and how it made her cringe. She tells me how not everyone agreed with the old school viewpoint, even at that time.

Did Kathy just pretend? Was it all an act to make me trust her? Was it just her doing her job? If it wasn’t, then what happened when I told her about the party? Why did she change, why was she so not caring? Why wasn’t she the therapist I knew and trusted that day?

“I don’t think she was pretending. You are too sensitive to changes in people around you, to people being fake, that you wouldn’t have trusted her if she weren’t being real. She clearly wasn’t very attuned that day. Was she asking questions kindly, like, just trying to understand?”

I shake my head. “No. No, it was….like she was interrogating me, like she…..she thought I had done something wrong or was lying….it…she just wouldn’t stop questioning me. She wasn’t Kathy.”

“Maybe she was triggered, maybe something about your story brought something up for her. Maybe she was having a very off day. Therapists make mistakes. We screw up. And we forget how important we are, that we matter.”

“The first thing….the first response I have is to say, she wasn’t important, she doesn’t matter. But she did matter.” I start to cry again.

“Yeah, she did matter. She was important. This was a loss, and painful. So much pain.”

“I needed her. I was going crazy, and I….she was the only person I had to talk to, and I talked to her and she didn’t beleive me. And then there was nothing, and I had no one, and I couldn’t handle it anymore, I just needed it to stop and it wouldn’t and I couldn’t even trust my own mind, I wasn’t sure what was true anymore, and it was all just too much. So I…I tried to end it.”

“You really did feel all alone. Abandoned and let down. Of course it hurt. I wish you had gotten to go back, to see her again, to maybe repair the relationship and not be alone with all of this.”

“I wouldn’t have talked to her anyway,” I say, angrily.

“Maybe not. But she could have talked.” Bea counters.

“My mother made that choice, not me.”

“True. That doesn’t mean Kathy didn’t want to see you again.”

I guess I can’t know if she wanted to see me again, or what my mother even told her.” I say.

“No, you can’t know.”

“My mom was mad. Kathy wasn’t doing her job of fixing me because I was still trying to kill myself. She might have told her just that.”

Bea sighs. “If that were me, I would have done everything I could to get your mom to let you come back to me. I woild have talked to her about repair, and relationship, I would have asked her to come in so we could talk.”

“You would have?”

“Yes. I would have wanted to repair things,” she assures me.

“I guess there is no way of knowing.” I shrug.

I think for a while. “What would you have done if that was you, and I came back?”

“Well, I would probably cry. I would feel really terrible that I had missed the mark so horribly, and caused you more pain. I’d tell you that and say that I want to find a way to repair the damage I had done.”

“I probably would come into your office mad.”

“Would you be able to tell me that you were mad, or would that have felt too threatening to risk having me be on an opposite side?” When Bea asks this, I feel touched that she remembers how hard it was for me to be mad at her because I didn’t want us to be on opposite sides. That was before I learned, and experienced, that people can be mad at each other and still care and work together on the same side to repair the rupture.

“No, I would tell you because it wouldn’t matter to me. You would already be gone, not on my side.”

“Then I would start with the mad; I’m glad you came back, even if you are mad at me. I’m glad you can tell me you are mad. I understand something really upset you last time. Can you tell me what that was?”

“No. I’m not talking to you about this. Not ever again.” My tone says that this is final, that I am angry and hurt.

“We were talking about the party, and I clearly missed something. I hurt you, because I missed something. I’m sorry.” Bea says softly.

“I don’t care,” I say in my coldest, angriest voice.

“And then I would just stay with that,” Bea tells me. “I would wait and carefully bring up the party and my clear misattunement, and wait until you were ready to respond.”

“Just like that? You would wait? How long?” I ask. I don’t beleive she would wait until I were ready to talk.

“As long as you needed. I would do art, and plah games, take walks with you, and make sure you knew that I knew there was a lot going on that you weren’t saying, and that I was just waiting for you to be ready to work on repair.”

“Will you wait for the teen to be ready to talk? To trust you?” I ask.

“Yep. I’ll wait. And I think the teen is doing a great job talking in her own time. And I will just keep waiting, trusting that she will know when it is time to talk more.”

“You are good at waiting,” I tell her. “You waited four years for the filter to be removed.”

“I did. That had to happen in your time, not mine.”

Somehow we get to discussing Kathy, and if she had kids, or was married, how old she was. I have no answers. I only know she was mom-age, but older than my mom, more like the age of my friend’s moms. “She didn’t tell me stuff about herself,” I say.

“She had some firm boundaries, not like your self disclosing therapist.” Bea laughs.

“I wouldn’t have been able trust you if you didn’t tell me about you, if you weren’t real.”

“I know. And really, I shouldn’t say that. The old school of thought was that therapy should be single person; meaning the therapist is a blank slate. But there is also 1 1/2 person therapy, where the therapist gives some feedback, maybe shows emotions, that sort of thing, but leaves out anything personal about herself. Then there is 2 person therapy, meaning the therpaist shares more of herself, shows her feelings, discusses her reactions to things, and the relationship is more collaborative and that of working side by side. Sharing things about myself is only being a bad therapist if I were sharing things that were me wanting you to take care of me. Or if you didn’t want to know about me. I have people who don’t want to know anything about me, and so they don’t know anything. You need to know about me, to know that I’m real, that I am not pretending to be something I’m not. You need that to feel safe, to know that I’m just me. Honestly, you probably know more of me than anyone else I see, because you need that.”

I laugh. “I never thought you were doing anything wrong. Different than therapists in my past, yes. But not wrong. And it helped me. You being real means I can talk about things, that it is safe. I mean, with the teen present, there is no way I would have been able to trust you, not after…..well, the story abour Kathy became that she pretended to care, she acted one way to make me trust her, and then she got what she wanted, and she hurt me.”

“Now, what does that parallel?” Bea asks.

I think for a minute. Feeling shame, guilt, apprehension, I say, “What the teen thinks about you?”

“Well, yes. But also, Kenny.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah. It does.” I’m surprised. Does this mean something? I don’t know.

We talk a little more, mainly about trust, and the teen, and how it makes perfect sense to Bea that the teen would struggle with not wanting to be alone, but being so afraid to trust Bea.

As my sessions is ending, Bea says, “Everything we have talked about today reminds me, I have a conference for new therapists, and interns I’m to attend, to do a presentation about therapy relationships and not rushing the process when working with trauma, with sexual abuse. What I keep hearing from more experienced therapists is that the newer therapists and interns are rushing things, pushing to rush things.” She pauses, and then says, “I was going to use the story of a person I saw long ago, but your story fits the topic better. You reminded me how we did just follow the process and really let things unfold.” She says the next part slowly, carefully, “Would you let me use your story— our therapy story– to talk about these things?”

Surprising myself, I say, “You could do that.” And then I add, “You should tell them about Kathy.”

“Yes, I could do that.”

“They need to know how much hurt they can cause, how much power they have,” I say softly.

“They do need to know that. And you could write about your therapy experience then, and your therapy experience now. If you wanted to, that is.”

“I would like to do that,” I tell her. “Maybe…..if I can, I mean, it’s not good that this happened to me, but maybe if my story can help therapists help someone like me, then that is a good thing. Isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is a good thing. A very good thing.” She pauses after she says this, and adds, “You know you don’t have to let me share your story, or talk about our relationship, or write anything to share. You can tell me no.”

I pull the blanket off my head. “I know. But I wanted to say yes.”

“Okay. Then we will decide what to share, together. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Standing up

It’s happened, guys. I’ve finally learned how to stand up for myself, to set a boundary and do it in a kind way. I’ve finally learned to state my difference in opinion without getting mean.

Saturday, my Daisy troop attended camp. During our camping adventures, there was a pretty big disagreement with my co-leader. It was over his unilateral decision that the girls— who will be brownies next year— wouldn’t participate in the bridging ceremony at camp because his own daughter is not continuing on. He ended up getting quite mean, and said some cruel things. I eventually snapped, but I held it together for a long time.

Things ended up okay, because a mom from our troop overheard the whole exchange, and felt that my point was valid, and that I was in the right. The troop moms discussed the thing, sided with me, and the girls were able to participate in the ceremony.

I wrote him a letter, not to send, but to get my feelings out. I’ll share that here.

Dear (co leader),

You were completely out of line, and extremely rude. What you said was cruel, and untrue.

I am saddend, and hurt by your feelings that I have consistently forced you to do what is best for my daughter, and have left your daughter out. In my heart, I feel that I did my best to treat all the girls equally, and to be a leader by choosing what was best for the majority of our troop, regardless of what was best for my daughter— or yours

I can not say the same for you.

We didn’t have snacks at meetings because it would spoil Katie’s dinner.

A parent was told not to bring pizza as a reward for hard work to wrap up cookie season bacause Katie doesn’t like pizza.

We stopped doing magic scrap during clean up because Katie got upset and cried everytime she wasn’t the one to find the scap.

You didn’t want to do SWAPS at each meeting because crafts with fine motor skills frustrate Katie.

You didn’t want to do crafts in general because Katie needs more time to complete things than we can allocate during meetings.

We didn’t sing songs because Katie doesn’t like to sing.

We weren’t allowed to play freeze dance as an opening activity because Katie gets too wound up when we do.

We couldn’t play games because Katie can’t handle losing.

And on and on. Almost every suggestion or idea I had was met with, “well, Katie doesn’t like that.”

I understand wanting to make things comfortable for our kids. I understand wanting them to be happy. As a parent, of course I understand that. It’s what we all want for our kids. The thing is though, when you sign on to lead a Girl Scout Troop— or really any small group of kids, be it scouting, or a school activity, or soccer, or a small group at church— it’s no longer just about YOUR kid. It can’t be. When you put yourself in a position of leadership, of power, over a group of children, the focus has to become what is best for the group as a whole. It can no longer be about what is best for your child.

I can think of one time where I said we couldn’t do something because my daughter didn’t want to, and even then the “we” was myself and my daughter— not the entire troop. Your main concern the last two years was not upsetting Katie. You have had a double standard the entire time you have been troop leader; if Katie wanted to do something, but another girl didn’t your stance on the matter was “too bad, this is what we are doing”, but as soon as Katie didn’t want to do something, then we just weren’t doing it. You made a huge deal and gave a special presentation for Katie bringing back a special swap for our troop flag when you took her to a special event, yet when a mom asked you to get a special award for her daughter who called 911 when mom was severely injured, you simply handed the girl the patch after the meeting was over. How is this fair? How is this not you giving your daughter special treatment over the other girls?

Your favoritism towards your daughter has been unfair to the entire troop. I also happen to believe that it is a disservice to her; one day she will learn the sun doesn’t rise and set on her shoulders, and that is going to be a painful, heart breaking day for her.

The decision that our troop wouldn’t bridge at the camp ceremony— along with all the other girls in our area— based upon the fact that one girl wasn’t bridging up to Brownies was unfair to the rest of the troop. I’m sorry you felt that I didn’t care if Katie would be upset. I’m sorry that you felt I wanted her to be singled out. This wasn’t a case of me not caring about Katie’s feelings. I care about Katie as much as I care about every other girl in our troop. I saw the situation differently than you, and felt that it was unfair to expect the rest of the girls in our troop not to bridge because of one girl. Had the situation been reversed, I never would have expected this. I would have explained to my daughter that she wasn’t bridging because we had chosen not to continue with girl scouts, and we could watch her friends bridge and be happy for them or that we could join in because she had completed two years of Daisies, and deserved to celebrate that. There didn’t need to be any hurt feelings, there were many options and ways to handle this situation. My concern was for the troop as a whole. The girls deserved to participate in that ceremony.

Clearly, you were triggered when I pushed back on this issue. The thing is, I pushed back calmly and from a place of curiosity. My question was “What about the 7 girls who are bridging? How is it fair to make them sit out the ceremony and watch every other bridging troop participate because of one girl who is not bridging?” I should have walked away when your response was a snarky, “I see. I see, it is just fine for my kid to be the one left out as long as no one else’s kid feels upset!” Unfortunately, I didn’t walk away, and tried again to have an adult conversation. “That isn’t what I am saying. I’m posing the question of if it is fair to have the rest of the troop miss out on something because one of the girls is not continuing on?” We went back and forth, me attempting to question why it was okay to keep an experience from the entire troop because of one girl and asking how you thought the girls would feel watching everyone else get to bridge, and you continuing to say that you didnt want Katie to feel singled out, or left out, or have her feelings hurt that she didn’t get to bridge, and then you finally going off on me about my spoiled daughter and how she and I have ruined your and Katie’s experince of Daisies. I regret my sarcastic, “Fine. Fine. Just do whatever will make Katie happy.” However, the way you behaved was way out of line. Firstly, because if that were something you felt to be true, you should have had a mature discussion about it with me way before now. Secondly, as I stated earlier, as a leader, we have to do what is best for the majority, not what is best for my kid or yours. Are there times where accomadaions had to be made for my daughter? Absolutely, because she is autistic. Not one of those accommodations were made at the expense of the troop, though. My daughter knows she doesn’t get special consideration because she is the leader’s child, or because she is autistic.

I did my very best to express my differnce in opinion from a place of kindness, of understanding where you were coming from, and with curiosity. I’m sorry if that didn’t come across to you in my words, but I truly was not trying to upset you, or hurt your feelings. I wanted to have a conversation, to share our different views and to come to a descion together. I’m sorry it did not work out the way I had intended.

Alice

They always saw me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Conversation with the Pastor

I met with the Pastor. And it was good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How come?” The question is straight forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You sound like my therapist,” I say.

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

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

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

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

“Tell Him. Tell Him you are mad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None of them knows?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It would destroy my mother.”

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

“I just can’t do that to her.”

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

“Except it is. Or, it used to be.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shame washes over me. I shake my head.

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

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

👱🏼‍♀️💎💅🏻👠👛🤸‍♀️📓☎️ (aka the teen)

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

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

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

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

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

Spolier alert…..The pastor wrote back. And again I ask, Now what?

So, he wrote back. And it’s not bad. Not earth shattering, everything I ever wanted to hear, and teen is feeling a little snarky and trying to twist things up, but I think its okay.

I don’t know how to respond, because he gave me some choices, and then put the ball in my court. I’m used to Bea giving me choices, and working collaboratively, but it still feels like a trick or something when others do so. I think it sounds like he got what I was saying, and is willing to try to help me find my answers. But I don’t know. Ugh! The teen is starting to pick every word apart, and find malice in each of them. Before she manages to decide I’m not wanted at church anymore, I’m going to go ahead and post what he wrote back.

Love your honesty and yes, of course I meant it – glad you reached out. You have shared a lot and enough – well done.

I’d love to meet with you chat more if you think that will help. But if having a female pastor on our staff would be a better fit, I can help arrange that as well.

You can take some solace, while I’m sure the details are different, that you are in a place many have been and find way through. You have hope in your words, just a need to find some answers to bring a sense of peace. God is definitely big enough for your anger and says He is near in your brokenness and hates what has happened as much as you…probably more than you do.

Let me know how you’d like to proceed.

Pastor)