I had a bit of a breakdown. Not in the traditional sense, but in the way I do breakdowns and falling apart. It started when Bea asked a simple question, way back in November. Things had been messy and up and down for a while, really since my brother’s wedding, and as we talked about the mess, I curled up and hid, in that way I do. I began to tell Bea that I couldn’t do this, couldn’t do any of it, and that it didn’t matter anyway.
When she asked me what “it” was, I had no answer, and told her again, “it doesn’t matter.” Then she asked why. And my world crashed in upon itself. Frustrated, terrified, full of panic, I shouted at Bea, “why? Why? Because he can do whatever he wants. He can do whatever he wants, and I can’t stop it. I can’t stop him. It doesn’t matter what I do. I can’t keep the scary out, he can do whatever he wants and I can’t stop it. I can’t stop it.”
That is where is started. 7 weeks later, there has been a lot of up and down. There was a lot of miscommunication, and hurt feelings and being stuck. January 2, I was ready to quit, to walk away and be done. Instead, I went against my instincts and emailed Bea. That started a line of communication, it gave Bea a way in, past the hardened crust of perfection, and it gave me a way out from behind the facade. It was hard. So hard. It was terrible, and excruciatingly vulnerable feeling, and so much shame wrapped up with all of it. But we talked it through, in several sessions, and email. And that brings us to today.
I obviously haven’t been doing great, I’m struggling a lot to be present and not overwhelmed, and these days it feels as if triggers are everywhere. No where really feels safe. At my session on Monday, we talked more about what had occurred over the month of December, my feeling that Bea had left me, that she just didn’t want to deal with me— which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I sent an email later to touch base, because we had discussed so much and it felt as if so much has happened, I really needed to know that we were on the same page. She confirmed that yes, that covered everything, and we were on the same page.
It’s Wednesday morning, so I drop Kat off at school, and head to Bea’s office. I didn’t sleep much again last night, and I am so, so tired. I am in a hurry to get to her office, to see her. I’ve felt so alone and in so much turmoil the last 7 weeks, it is a relief to feel that she is a safe person again. I’ve been on the edge of tears since around 5:00am this morning. As I’m driving, Bea sends a text, warning me the stairs are slippery, she wants me to be careful. I text back a smiley face, feeling warm and cared for (although I probably wouldn’t admit that to Bea).
When I get to her office, I hurry up the stairs and pause outside the door to remove my boots. It snowed earlier this week, and yesterday the weather warmed up and the snow melted away, turning everything a wet muddy mess.
“Hey, come on in.” Bea stands up, and opens the door all the way. “I’m just going to go warm my tea while you get seated.”
I can hear her in the other room, putting her tea in the microwave and turning it on. Her office is warm, and safe. It feels sort of homey and cozy to have her in the next room, warming up tea and chatting with me.
“The porch isn’t slippery anymore just really wet,” I call to her.
“Oh good, I’m glad,” she calls back, and we chat easily until she is back in the office, and sits in her chair.
“Okay,” I say as I’m pulling out my phone, “I don’t want to spend the whole session talking about Kat, I’m not avoiding things or doing that distract you with Kat talk, we just need to talk about her for a minute. We are ending ABA this month, the last day is going to be January 31. She wants to be with her peers, at school. It was her choice to end things even sooner than planned.”
Bea is excited for Kat, for her progress, for me. I’m happy about this change. I honestly never thought Kat would choose to be with her peers. It’s amazing. I’m thankful Bea isn’t trying to make this a thing about transitions, about things changing, about losing support. It’s a good thing in my world and I’m glad she is able to recognize that.
Once that is out of the way, she asks me where I want to start. I shrug. Even if I have things on my mind or writing to share, it’s hard for me to figure out how to answer that; it’s almost like it’s too open ended of a question.
“Well, In your email, the thing that stuck out the most to me was the last paragraph. But I want to make sure there isn’t something else that needs to be addressed from your email, or otherwise. That’s all, that’s why I am asking.”
“Oh. No….we can start with the email, that’s good.” I’m sitting up, one leg tucked under me right now. I’m comfortable, I’m glad that Bea feels safe again.
“I wanted to make sure you knew that there wasn’t anything bad about anything you said. I wrote that I wanted to talk about this paragraph so you would know I wasn’t discounting it, that I did want to talk about it all, it was just too much to type. Because it’s important. What you said here, I think about it, and I want to die (and no, I am not going to do anything, everything I said before in regards to safety is still very much a factor). I think that is just how huge those feelings are, or maybe they are feelings from the little girl, maybe these out of control feelings made her feel like she would die back then and so I hid the truth from myself so I could grow up. And now, all these feelings are mixed up, me, teen, little girl feelings of horror at the truth. I feel like I’m going to be talking about this for a long time. This is it, exactly it. You are very right about all this. That’s what trauma is. That little girl couldn’t face the feelings of being out of control, they really did make her feel like she was going to die. So she tucked those feelings away. She was really smart, and so brave, because she knew she had to tuck all those feelings away so that she could grow up, and function. And she did grow up. That’s the healthy adult part of you, right? But there are those other parts, and the little girl, who held onto that truth all those years. She held it for a long time, but she doesn’t have to hold it anymore. It really was that awful back then, but it’s not like that now. She’s not alone now, and she has power now.”
“It’s still so horrible,” I whisper.
“Yes, it still feels horrible. And it is mixed up and confusing because all those parts of you are working to understand this.”
I’m more curled up now, but I’ve managed to stay sitting up. I keep covering my face with my hands, moving them away, covering it again. I move my hands halfway down, so I’m peeking out over the top of them, “This is so hard.”
“It is hard. It’s very all encompassing right now, I know. And, you are right that we will be talking about this for a long time, because this– the realization, working to make sense out of it, to be able to function with that knowledge– this is the work.”
I’m sort of going between not here and here. It’s a lot of work to not just go all the way away. It’s what I want to do.
“Can I say something that is a little bit thinky?” Bea asks. “You can say no, that’s okay.”
I’m grateful for the reminder that it is okay to say no, but I tell her, “I think so. I think that is okay.”
“In SP, we talk about separating out the core definers. So, right, in this, it’s everything, right? It’s thoughts and emotions and physical feelings?”
I nod. I’m listening, and I’m not feeling a sense of Bea leaving. This feels more like she is working with me to find a way to unravel this a bit, to find a starting place.
“So, maybe we start with the thoughts that come up, or the feelings, the emotions. We could also start with the body feelings, but that can feel triggering for you, so it may work better to start with thoughts or emotions.” She explains. And she sounds like Bea, like regular, with me in this Bea.
I don’t say anything right away. I just sit and go a little farther away that I had been. It’s really hard to separate things out, and finding words to describe the feelings is really hard, too. “Maybe…..thoughts?”
“Sure, yeah, that’s a great place to start. We can also just be here, together, sitting with all of this. We don’t have to start anywhere or do anything.” Her voice is gentle, and she sounds so okay with whatever I choose.
I sit there, quietly for a while, fighting back the tears I’ve been fighting since early this morning. “I think…I think everything….there’s so many……it’s a lot more……I think everything is a trigger. I can’t sleep. I can’t lay down in my own bed.”
“Mmmhhhmm,” Bea does her verbal nod thing, because I have rested my head on a pillow sitting on the arm rest of the sofa, and I’ve wrapped my arms around my head, effectively hiding. “You don’t feel safe in your bed right now.”
“No…I don’t.” My voice is soft as I agree with her.
“Is it falling asleep, staying asleep? What happens?”
“I….I..I just can’t relax. I can’t relax to fall asleep. I can’t lay down, that’s a flashback right then. I just stay up until I literally can’t keep my eyes open any more, and then I just fall asleep. Two hours, three hours later it’s a nightmare.”
“Do you try sleeping sitting up? What about hubby? Is he in bed, too? Does that help you feel safer?”
Without thinking, I blurt out, “No, I don’t (and then I caught myself, thought about editing what I was saying but chose to finish my words the way they had started, because I’m trying this new thing of being more honest with Bea and not hiding who I am or what I think or feel) want him there!”
“Ahhhhh. So having him there isn’t creating that sense of safety.”
“No. Nothing’s safe.” Now I’m crying, and I’m annoyed with myself for crying. “Everything is changed. It changes everything. I can’t….he didn’t…” I shake my head.
“This is a big deal, and it changes a lot of everything. I was thinking though, likely there was a side of Kenny— if you think of internal family systems, so parts, not exactly like your parts, not as separate as your parts, but just the parts that we all have– that did care about you, or didn’t want to hurt you.” Her voice is quiet and soothing. She’s remembering how I was so upset by the idea he didn’t care at all that he hurt me.
“I….I need him….to be…..” I start and stop a few times, tripping over the strangeness of the words. “I need him to be wrong.”
“Oh, he was wrong! He was very wrong. He was old enough to know right from wrong and what he did to the little girl was very, very wrong!” Bea is very adamant sounding, and there is a bit of….I’m not sure, it’s not happiness, exactly, but more like she is glad that I am saying these words.
“I….it needs to be…..I need it to be cut and dried. I….I need him to be…..it just needs to be simple!” I’m falling over these thoughts, and getting twisted up, and the words are alien and frightening to say aloud.
“It is. It is simple. I’m hearing that this is really important, for it to be cut and dried. Can I hear more about that? What do you need him to be?”
I try to tell her, and the words freeze in the back of my throat. Clearing it, I find new words. “Why is it what I can feel as if I’m screaming in my head, and yet I can’t say a single word?”
“I’m not sure. I wonder that, too. I’ve always though it has to do with not having a voice for so very, very long. Is the screaming angry? Or more like wanting to be heard?”
“It’s not angry.” I tell her.
“So wanting to be heard? If I think of screaming to be heard, it feels like desperation to me.”
I nod. Yes. Yes. That is is. I feel desperate to be heard, because this…..it needs out.
“Okay. Then we wait. I’m right here, and I’m ready to listen whenever you are able to speak. You will be heard, okay?” Somehow, she knows exactly what I need to hear.
Tears come again, and this time they are frustration and fear and relief that Bea is here, all rolled into one.
“We can sit with the feelings, and just be here, okay?” She asks me.
I nod. Okay.
“While we are sitting, can we see what we can do to help you feel safer? I think creating a sense of safety, finding that again, is going to be really important right now.”
“I can try.” My voice is tiny.
“I’ve noticed that as we have been talking, you are really curling into yourself. You are really needing to feel safe right now. You know what you need, your body knows it needs safety. So I’m thinking how can we help add more safety in? I could turn around, not be looking at you. Or maybe you would like a blanket, that can feel very safe.” She is speaking with that slow, quiet voice that I sometimes think of as the ‘don’t spook the crazy girl’ voice, except when she sounds like this it is soothing, and comforting and feels very genuine.
I want to say a blanket, but I feel stupid, so I say nothing.
“A blanket, that weight, having a boundary that can be seen and felt can feel very safe. For a long time, I kept a blanket at my therapist’s office. I used to hide under it all the time. And, we don’t have to do anything. Just sitting here, knowing you aren’t alone, that can feel safe, too.”
Because she told me she has hidden under a blanket in her own therapy, I feel less silly, less crazy, wanting a blanket to hide under. “Maybe…..maybe try a blanket.”
“Okay. I’m going to get up to get a blanket, okay?” Because my head is down, she warns me that she is going to be moving around her office.
When Bea steps near me, she simply holds the blanket up, the way you might hold a sheet up for a person to change behind. I can easily sit up to grab the blanket from her and remain hidden. I pull the blanet over my head, and curl back up. “Thank you,” I whisper.
“You’re welcome. Anytime you want a blanket, that is what they are there for. Did you want me to turn around?”
“No….no, because it…even though I won’t see you….it….just no.”
“Because it would feel like I left?” She puts the pieces together easily.
“Yes.” I admit it, because I’m trying that whole ‘be honest and stop editing’ thing with Bea.
“Okay. That’s that attachment piece, it is important, and you do need it. I’m just sitting down and I’m facing you,” she says. “Let’s see if we can establish some safety. Maybe you can feel that is is warm under the blanket? And no one can see you, and I’m right here, making sure that no one can get past that blanket. You are safe now. Can you feel that having a blanket makes a boundary?”
We sit together with that for a few moments. I feel hidden and safer than I have felt in months. I’d really like to stay right here, in Bea’s office, with her keeping watch, me hidden in a blanket, and sleep for a few hours. These are exactly the thoughts I work so hard to never allow to surface or take form– even just in my own head. “I need things to be cut and dried,” I say, “Because……because well…..I need him to be…….” I’m stuck again, unable to let the words out.
“Well, we know you need him to be wrong, and he was so, so wrong. What else does he need to be?”
“I……I need him to be wrong, and I need him to be…….” Instead of words, sobs erupt from deep inside.
“I know it is so important to you to get the words out. It’s okay to let the feelings out, too.”
It’s a back and forth struggle now, stopping the tears, trying to get the words out, and crying again when the words don’t come. Through it all, Bea is there. There is this sense from her that she is in no rush, that she isn’t trying to get us anywhere, that we can stay right here until I can get it out. That feels safe, too. And so finally, the words come, all in one big rush. “I need him to be wrong. I need him to be bad. I need it to be his fault, all his fault right now because if…if I have to feel this out of control and be my fault, I can’t do it, it’s too much, it’s all too much, I can’t do if, and it needs to be his fault. He needs to be bad.” Then I burst into tears.
“Oh! Oh! That is too much, way too much. This is not your fault. It is all his fault. He was wrong. He is the one who is bad. Not you, never you. He did bad things, and he was wrong. It’s not your fault at all. Oh, that would be so much, just too much. You can’t be at fault for your own trauma.” Bea is full of compassion and empathy, but also sounds just horrified at the thought I was feeling so out of control and to blame.
I’m not 100% sure it’s as simple as I am making it out to be, I’m still pretty sure I hold some responsibility, but right now, I need it to be simple. I need it to be all his fault, his wrong, because he is all bad.
“He hurt me. He was wrong and he hurt me,” I feel whiny, and sad and a little bit mad.
“He did hurt you. He hurt you and he was very, very wrong. It was his fault. All the blame is on him.” She tells me.
“But nobody came. He was hurting me, and nobody came to stop it. And he hurt me and I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t do anything, not anything at all.” I’m crying, and farther away than I’ve been all session. In my head, I keep hearing the r word, but I can’t say it.
“No, you couldn’t stop it. But you know what? That little girl, she was so smart, and so brave, she knew she could go far, far away in her head and feel safe. So that’s just what she did. And the little girl grew up, and when she felt safe enough, she was able to tell her most awful secrets, because she survived. That little girl is safe now. It’s okay to let it out. No one can ever hurt her again. She’s safe now.” Bea tells the story— a very short version, obviously– with me being smart and brave. That’s crazy to me. I can’t wrap my head around it.
We sit, and talk, not surface stuff, but not as deep as what we had been working with. We somehow get on the topic of the last month. I think I said I wished I had just told her what was wrong, how bad I felt. But we ended up discussing the stuck and trapped feeling again.
I’m not sure who started the conversation, but when Bea says something about feeling helpless, during that time, I’m struck by how bad I feel about that. I’m not sorry for how how things happened, I’d do them differently, if I had a do-over, but I can’t change it and the last month brought me here, to this more open and honest place. “I didn’t mean to make you feel helpless,” I say softly.
“I would never mean to make another person feel like that.” I can’t let it go.
“I know you wouldn’t. You aren’t a person who wants to strike out at others when you feel bad. You turn all of the upset on yourself. But feeling that helpless feeling, feeling like I was stuck and couldn’t do anything to get past that wall of okayness you had built, that needed to happen. Because when I took a step back, and went to the thinky place, I could see that these helpless, stuck, trapped feelings, they weren’t about me. They were about you. They were your feelings. When I can step back like that and see that you were sharing your feelings with me in the only way you could at that moment, then I picture myself as a big Bea container, holding all of those feelings so you aren’t alone with them.”
“Okay.” I smile a little bit. I think that sounds sort of nice. A big Bea container holding all the yucky scary stuff with me. At first I felt like she was placing a barrier between her and I– as in, this is my job, to hold this stuff for you, I am the shrink and you are the patient– but then I realized that Bea has never behaved or spoken like that, and I was being silly. And then I thought of how I sit with Kat in her feelings, and how I do my very best to contain her huge feelings when she is having a melt down, and really, the only reason I can do that is because Bea modeled it for me, and because I care about Kat. So I conclude that she cares, because you can’t fake your way through this.
We talk about sleep and nightmares. Bea says she knows I know this, but she wants to just remind me of the grounding techniques that help, like naming 5 things I can see, and looking in the mirror to remind myself that I’m grown, or using scents to help ground.
“I still have vanilla on my nightstand. I never stopped those tricks….I just….” I shrug.
“What about turning on a light?”
I feel my face redden. “I’ve been sleeping with the lights on. I don’t want to be in the dark.”
“Understandable. You need to do whatever helps you feel safe. What about Hagrid? Is he still sleeping in your bed?”
“Yeah. He helps. But it’s like I can’t even…..I’m trapped. I wake up, still in the nightmare and I can’t think enough to even do anything to ground to get out of it.”
“That sounds really scary, to wake up like that. Do you know how you get out of it? Because you do get out of it. You aren’t trapped forever.” Her voice is curious and gentle, a soft reminder that I’m not still in my nightmare.
“Maybe it ends? I don’t know. I just….it stops enough that I’m not so trapped. But,…”
“Then I end up doing things I’m not supposed to do.” I whisper the words, afraid I’m disappointing her, afraid she will be angry.
“Well, my first thought was to say, ‘Alice use your CARES worksheet.’ But then, I think that’s not what you need right now. You are using the tools you developed to feel safe. That’s what this is about; feeling safe. And so you are doing what you need to do right now. I think that is okay, because this is so big, it is such a shift you are working towards, it’s going to be very unsettling and as long as you are safe– and you know where my concerns lie– then this is okay right now. We can work on this, it is okay. And I accept this part of you, too. This part of you is very smart, and creative, to have found tools that work to make her feels safe. Sometimes using those tools meant she could go to school and learn, or it meant she could attend a social function and not be full of fear. Those things were important. This part of you worked hard at making sure you felt as safe as she could make you. That is important work. And now, we can work to create safety and build some new skills, and that part, she can still use her creativity to help find new ways to cope. It is okay, where you are at just now is okay.”
“Okay,” I whisper. I believe her. I’m relieved, she’s not disappointed in me.
We sit together, and it’s quiet but Bea is there, and I’m there– hiding under my blanket– and I’m calming down a little more. Every once in a while, she murmurs some reassurance, that she is there and I am safe, and it is okay to be where I am and feel what I feel and that we have all the time we need to work through this.
“Those little micromovements, the shaking in your legs, try to let those happen, if you can. Can you feel them? That they are releasing some stress and tension?”
I hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out. I’m still so disconnected from my body, it’s as if things are back to how they used to be, ever since I danced with him at my brother’s wedding. “No….I can’t. I can’t do this. I just can’t. Stop. Stop it. I need this to stop.” I start to cry.
“Okay. Okay. We don’t have to notice anything. Let’s go back to that calm space, where we are okay. We can just sit, and feel safe under the blanket, and no one can get through that blanket. It’s a strong boundary, you are safe, and I’m out here, right here, making sure you are safe.”
I keep crying.
“We have almost 20 minutes to just be in the space, to feel that sense of safety.” Bea says softly.
“Okay. Okay,” I sniffle.
“And we can let those feelings out, too. That’s okay to do, too.” Her voice feels safe, and I can feel myself starting to relax a little bit. I don’t feel so on edge, it’s not like I need to be on guard. Bea can keep watch for a little bit. I’m safe right now, with her there.
When there’s maybe 5 minutes left, Bea says, “I’m going to go make another cup of tea, and use the restroom, so you can have some time. Is that okay?”
“It’s okay,” I confirm. It’s easier to sit up and come out from under the blanket when I don’t feel as if Bea is watching me. By the time she comes back, I’ve folded the blanket and righted the sofa pillows.
“I’ll see you later today, with Kat, right?” Bea asks.
I hand her the blanket. “Yes. We’ll be back at 2:30.” I can’t look at her, and she is being very gentle with me, and understanding of that.
She reminds me she is here and that I am safe, and I risk a glance at her. She’s fhe same Bea, looking at me the way she always looks at me; there is no disgust or annoyance or anything negative in her gaze. I look away quickly, and mumble goodbye.
Things aren’t better, exactly, but they aren’t worse, either. And I don’t feel so alone now. Maybe this truly is a time where the only way out is through.