Ever since we worked through this last rupture and began to deal with the falling apart, out of control mess that was December me, we have been very focused on sleep. It started when I emailed Bea, telling her I felt a bit more like I had been able to put all the crap away, maybe into a suitcase, and it wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t really with me, either, and I could open the suitcase when I was journaling or in her office and so I was okay during the day, that the bad thing was at night, I couldn’t keep the suitcase shut, it just pops open and I have no control over it, so I can’t sleep because I have to keep the suitcase shut and stop anyone who might open it.
So, 4 sessions ago, on a Monday, Bea asked, “Can we talk about sleep? Because I think we could do some work around this, maybe see if we can’t make it not so scary to go to bed.”
I nodded, sure, okay. “I guess so. We can try.” I wasn’t sure I really believed we could *fix* my sleep, but I was willing to try.
“Can you talk about what your bedtime routine is like? Do you have a routine? Or even what your evenings usually look like?” She asked.
I shrugged, and proceeded to describe how Kat has quiet time, watching a show and snuggling with me. After that, usually around 8, she gets her pajamas on, brushes teeth and we put anything in her room that needs to be there, like pacifier (yes, my 6 year old still uses a pacifier, please don’t judge me. She needs it, it is a sensory thing associated with her autism, and we are working on not using it any longer, but by nighttime, she needs it), or her iPad to plug in, or her current favorite stuffed animal. Then we put on a short yoga video, do a bed time meditation, and then I tuck her into bed, sing a song, do one more bedtime mediation, put on her audio book, and kiss her goodnight. By this time, it’s usually 9:00pm. I clean up, pack lunches, do whatever needs doing. And then I start to find things to do in order to put off going to bed. And then when I go to my bedroom, I won’t lay down, and I won’t turn out the lights. I will sit up, in a brightly lit room, and avoid bed and falling asleep.
“So then what happens when you do try to fall asleep?” She wanted to know.
I shrugged. I didn’t have a great answer. “I don’t try. I try not to. I don’t know. I can’t lay down. I mean, I can’t like, lay down and try to fall asleep. I just stay sitting up. And read. Or listen to a book. Or watch a movie. And I fight falling asleep. Until I can’t anymore. Then I just……I don’t know. I guess then I finally fall asleep.”
“Do you feel less safe when you lay down?” I remember her asking this gently, trying hard not to upset me.
I nodded my head at first, and then told her, “It just….it triggers things. Pictures. Feelings. I don’t know. It is triggering to lay down right now.”
She mentioned that I lay down when I do yoga, but I shook my head. I may twist myself into pigeon, and then take the form of sleepy pigeon, or do an up dog as I move through sun salutations, but never do I lay down on my back. I just skip those asanas in class and take a different pose, and at home, my flows just avoid it. Savasana is done in child’s pose, and it took me a long time to even feel somewhat okay with child’s pose. I used to take savasana sitting up, in hero pose, so child’s pose is improvement of a sort. I tried to explain this to Bea, but my words got twisted up, and it didn’t make sense when I spoke out loud. So I simply said I didn’t know.
Three sessions ago, on a Wednesday, Bea asked me if I felt okay continuing to talk about sleep, or if there was anything else I wanted to discuss. I didn’t have anything else, sleep and flashbacks and nightmares had become my new normal and I was fine with talking about and trying to mitigate the flashbacks and terrifying dreams.
I’d written to Bea on Tuesday, upset that I never got the chance to be *normal*. I said that all I ever remember was being afraid of the dark, of wanting to hide under blankets or in my closet, of being afraid to sleep. I said all I remember is having bad dreams and being scared and alone. I said it was like that now, when I go to bed.
“When you go to bed, and you fall asleep, or lie down and have a flashback, what is that like?” She asked me, after reading back over my email.
“I…..Its like I can’t move. I get trapped there.” I told her.
“Do you feel frozen?” Bea suggested, and she wasn’t wrong to suggest that, because frozen tends to be a common state for me.
“No, not like that…..like……a child, afraid to get out of their bed in the middle of the night. More like, because it’s night so it’s sort of scary, but also, my mother had rules about getting up and getting out of bed. Until I was 5, she had to come get me out of bed in the mornings, because she had drilled that rule into me so well.” I explained as well as I could.
Bea hesitated then, but she eventually asked me if it was the same when Kenny would put me to bed.
I remember feeling extremely foggy, and not wanting to feel anything while I talked. “No..I…he would put me to bed and sometimes, right away…..he’d, well, you know, rub my back, sing a song, I don’t know…..and then….he’d stay in my room and bad things would happen.” As much as I didn’t want to feel anything, fear and shame and disgust still lurked around the edges of feeling.
Bea murmured something validating and understanding and it seems it was the exact right thing to say, because I continued on with the story. “Sometimes though, he would put me to bed and then leave. And he might come back. And he might not. And I never knew. I couldn’t know. So I just stayed awake and waited. And waited. And I was trapped and stuck and couldn’t do anything!” I remember sort of shouting the last sentence at her, but Bea never gets upset by that type of thing.
“That was hard,” she told me, “Really scary and really hard. Worse in someways, to just be waiting, not knowing.”
I nodded. Exactly. And then, in a very tiny voice, I said to her, “I wanted and didn’t want him to come back. It’s confusing.” I felt so much shame when I told her that.
There wasn’t any judgement in her voice, though. “Of course you did. That’s what we talk about, how bodies respond, and how these things can get very complicated, because our bodies are made to feel good.”
I remember physically shrinking away from her words. “I’m disgusting.” I whispered.
“No, I don’t think so. Not at all. Bodies reacting, that’s part of the confusing part, but it’s also part of that touch being too much for a little girl. You never should have been touched in that way when you were little. You were a child. You weren’t disgusting, you weren’t bad. That is all on him. And that’s when you went away, right? You went away because it was too much, too confusing to handle?”
I nodded, I agreed with her. She continued then, when I didn’t say anything, “You protected yourself in the best way you could. That little girl was very smart, and very brave.”
I shrugged, and I felt even blurrier. “I went far away to the place in my head. That was different than here not here.”
“Yes,” Bea asked, “Did you create a place you could go and feel safe? Did you have a place you imagined?”
I remembered sort of day dreaming as I tried to fall asleep, but I don’t share that. They were always dreams of my Sunday school teacher or regular school teacher or my favorite aunt taking me home and letting me live with them. I desperately wanted to live in a place with no secrets. Instead, I opted to share something else. “Maybe a place from my book…..”
“Ahhh, yes. Books were very important to you, weren’t they?” Bea remembered. I learned to read really early, before school, even, so by first and second grade, I was reading chapter books. “Was there a certain book you pictured places from?”
“Maybe the secret garden?” It came out as a question, but I had meant it a statement. It was just difficult to share that part of my story. I’d never before shared how I used the garden Mary finds and creates to feel safe. It made me feel vulnerable, like Bea could see through me and see all my secrets.
“Oh, that is a good one. I didn’t read the book, but I imagine the garden was beautiful.”
I didn’t respond right away, and then I told her, “You should read it, it is a really good book. It was one of my favorites, I read it all the time.”
We discussed the storyline, but I didn’t remember much of it. It’s hard to recall facts, when the last time I read the book I was probably 10 or 11.
“What does the garden look like, when you picture it?” Bea had wanted to know.
At first, it felt too embarrassing to say anything. I cant explain why. I just get embarrassed when asked to share things from my imagination. I finally described how the garden is a secret, so no one can find it or even knows about it, and then I described the weeping willow tree with a bench under it, and how I liked the tree because it sort of hides a person who sits on the bench, and I shared how there are purple flowers on vines that climb every where (morning glories, Bea supplied the name) and pink roses, and other flowers, too, lavender, and ones I don’t know the name of.
Bea told me it sounded wonderful and very safe. “I think this book could be a resource for you. Maybe you could read some before bed, see if it can help?”
Before we ended therapy that day, Bea carefully broached the subject of trying some SP around my sleep issues. She told me she felt like SP was the perfect thing for the sleep troubles, because they were so much more than a memory, the sleep issues are happening right now, in my present day life, and they involve feelings and thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. She was very careful in the way she suggested it, making sure to stress that SP was just an option, not something we had to do. I agreed to think about it.
During my session, I had shrugged off her suggestion of reading The Secret Garden at the time, but when I got home that night, I found a copy of the book on kindle with the audible companion, and downloaded it. I’ve been listening to the story at night, when I am trying to fall asleep. So far, it’s not helped, but it’s only been three nights that I have tried it.
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.
I talk about nonsense– the morning and traffic and how foggy it is outside.
We slowly go into talking about hubby’s hunting trip, and how he had lessened the days he will be gone. Bea says, “It was good you discussed it in therapy, how was that, to talk something like that through in therapy?”
I correct her, “No, we didn’t go last week because Kat was sick and I just acted like a brat to prove my point (snarky teen really helped with that) and hubby cancelled therapy but never rescheduled and we can really only see Kim once in December and not in November now at all and that seems like too much space between appointments, but whatever.”
“Did you feel relieved or upset to miss therapy? Was it like, oh good, I don’t have to go deal with this today? Or maybe more like, you had psyched yourself up to go, and now had to cancel?”
“Neither. Both. I don’t know.” I’m really unsure exactly. “I’m more upset that we are missing so many appointments and that hubby never rescheduled.”
“That makes sense. For you, it’s going to be about the relationship. And a lot of time between appointments can feel like you are starting over at each appointment.” Bea agrees.
“She made me so mad one appointment…..she was saying that all the feeling words and labeling feelings and staying with feelings is hard for hubby, it’s hard for men, and when I said I didn’t grow up like that either, she said that it was easier for women. That isn’t fair. She doesn’t know me. It’s not fair to make this generalization. I said, no, not really, and that I learned in therapy.”
“And what did she say?” Bea asks.
“I don’t know. I was already too far away by that point to know.” I shrug.
“That’s okay. It’s okay. I’m glad you were able to correct the assumption she made. Too be honest, I’m sure I’ve made similar assumptions. It really isn’t fair, is it? We sort of coddle men around that in couples therapy, and it is unfair. It’s male privilege, assuming they need more help with feelings, or that women don’t need to,work just as hard.” Bea says.
“Thank you! I mean…..It’s like, you know, I couldn’t even label my feelings except to say happy or bad or I would say I was feeling like I wanted to go for a walk, or feeling like I needed to go to bed when I started seeing you. I couldn’t stay with my feelings, and there was any number of feelings I wouldn’t even admit existed. I didn’t know how to be present. And I couldn’t feel my body at all, unless I was in some kind of extreme pain.”
Bea nods. “That’s right. I forget how far we have come. I forgot about all the work we did with the kimochis around naming feelings and with working to feel even little bits of your body and to sit with your feelings. You’ve come a long way with feelings.”
“I feel like hubby and I are on equal playing fields now, because…..like, he might have trouble with feelings, but when he is present he is able to label them and handle them. Not great, but you know…..better than I could before I started therapy. And his mom didn’t have issues with feelings existing, her feelings were just really big. Always, these huge feelings.”
“Hmmmm……….and maybe that is part of his discomfort with big feelings.” Bea says.
We talk about that for a bit, and then she says, “I want to make sure we have time to dig into your stuff a little before our time is up today. Is there anything coming up for you, anything you want to talk about?” Bea looks at the clock and says we have 40 minutes left. I wonder how I used up almost an hour. Oops.
I shrug. I feel myself going away, just a little. I force myself to stay sitting up, I don’t want her to get shrinky about me curling up.
“Maybe we need a checklist, like eating and sleeping, feeling grounded or dissociated, that kind of thing. We could use it to start sessions, to sort of guide us.”
I think that she wants a damn plan because SP says we need a plan and so I had told her things I needed to talk about and told her to put them in her plan, but then she ruined that by being shrinky and now I can not talk to her about what was in the plan because it feels too scary to really trust that she is there and present and not gone and I’m too closed down to feel if she is or isn’t there.
“I was glad the little girl reached out on Wednesday night. I wonder how the little girl has been feeling since then, how you are feeling?”
I feel tears behind my eyes. ‘Go away, Bea. Just shut up,’ I think.
She eventually throws out ideas, “Is she still feeling alone? Is she angry? Maybe you are annoyed with her for emailing me? What is the feeling that first made made it okay to email me?”
When I don’t answer her, she lands on the fact we had talked about finding a middle— somewhere between on the surface and present and talking about deeper things and far, far away. She asks if the dream I’d written about (the one we were supposed to work through on Wednesday but didn’t) would be a middle place? The reaction is instant. I cover my face, as I feel hot and cold in my body, my heart pounds, I feel tears falling down my cheeks and I am frozen. I shake my head. No, no it is most certainly not a middle place.
“Have you still been having the dream?”
It take me a minute, or longer, to work through the fog. Slowly, I nod, and then silent tears turn to sobs.
“I don’t think I have a copy of the dream,” Bea says.
It feels like a long time before I eventually sit up, pull my blanket scarf over my face, find the dream on my iPad,, and hand the iPad to her.
And my dream. I’ve been trying to write it out, but I can’t. I feel sort of silly writing it out, because there is this very much hazy weird dreamy, it’s not real quality to it, but I’m so scared and upset when I wake for it, that I can’t really shake that feeling when I’m thinking about it either. It’s more of a fuzzy thing as opposed to my usual nightmares that are so crisp and clear.
It always starts out the same. I think I’m me, like just regular me-me and I’m with hubby. We’re playing at the park I used to play at when I was a kid, even though I’m pretty sure we aren’t really kids but I’m happy and the sun is shiny and it’s a good day. And then someone asks hubby something, and he says okay. Suddenly he’s gone, and I’m not really me, I’m actually a Barbie sized doll, so it’s just my mind that is there, really, because the rest of me is a doll, and I’m being picked up and carried away. And then things get really messy and scary. For a lot of the dream I’m made to do things I don’t want to do, wear clothes I don’t like, ext, ext……think of a child playing with a doll. It’s like that. Except it’s not a kid playing. I don’t know who it is, but he isn’t nice. The dream jumps around a lot, from place to place, or maybe *scene* to *scene*. At some point in the dream, I get passed around, like kids do with dolls, and then I’m thrown in the bottom of a toy bin and forgotten about. There’s more specifics, and sometimes it’s different, but that’s the general overview. Crazy and weird. And so absurd, it’s silly, and I feel seriously ridiculous for being afraid of this dream, for waking up scared out of my mind from it. I mean, seriously?!?! I have nightmares that are like flashbacks, replicas of my memories and they are so real and terrifying. It is silly that this dream is bothering me. But I’ve been having it for weeks now, always more or less the same, and it’s not going anywhere.
She reads, and I try to stay sitting up. When she says it is a very scary dream, I’m okay. But when she asks me about it, and talks about why it would be so scary, I can’t stay here, and I bury my face again, sitting princess style, my legs tucked under me knees bent and to the right, with my upper body turned to the left, arms encircling the pillows I’d buried my face in.
“This dream is very scary. It’s a lot. You don’t usually have more symbolic trauma dreams, but those can feel just as real as the reality based ones, and even scarier sometimes because what you are left with are all these very big feelings.”
I can’t talk about this, it’s too much, I change my mind. I don’t know. “It really scares me,” I tell Bea.
“I can see why! You know…..when kids play out trauma here, they always start their play with ‘it was a normal day’ or ‘it was a good day’. And that’s really speaking to the heart of trauma, right? Scary things don’t happen when we are expecting them to happen, they can happen anytime time, and even on a good day or a normal day. That is part of what makes trauma so scary.”
“I didn’t know that was how kids play.” The words are whispered. It’s interesting to me that this is how kids start off their play, and that this dream feels very much like a dream a child would have. It just doesn’t feel very adult to me.
“There is so much here that this dream speaks to. The wedding, even, and hubby saying yes to you dancing with Kenny. Feeling so abandoned by that, and even more so, how it parallels your mom leaving you and you feeling helpless to stop it as a child. It speaks to you being frozen and it speaks to your having to be that perfect girl, having to act how your mom needed you to act, as if you were a doll.”
I’m trying so hard not to cry, but I don’t succeed.
“Can we try something?” Bea asks.
“Maybe.” I don’t quite trust her not to try to mix in some SP stuff, or not to turn shrinky.
“Can the doll in the dream move?”
I shake my head. “She’s a doll. She can’t do anything.”
“Hmmm. Okay. Can we pretend she can move?”
“If the doll could move, what would she want to do in the dream?” Bea asks me.
I don’t answer right away. The words are in my head, they are just hard to get out. “She’d run away and hide.”
“Yeah, she would run away and hide. Where would she hide?” Bea’s voice is soft, it’s the voice she uses when the little girl is running the ship.
“I don’t know. Somewhere really good.”
“What about somewhere in my office? Could the doll hide in my office?” She suggests.
I nod my head; I like that idea.
“Where would she hide here? She’s tiny, which is lucky because she has lots of places to hide.”
“Behind something big and heavy. So no one could move it and make her come out.” I’m being very serious, this is serious business to the little girl.
“Maybe behind the couch?” I shake my head no.
“Maybe behind the toy shelf?” She gestures behind her, and I shake my head no again.
“Maybe in my messy closer, behind the shelf in there?” Bea suggests.
“Maybe,” I say.
Bea gets up and opens the door to the closet, so I can see.
“Yes. The doll could hide behind the big shelf in your closet.” I agree.
Bea shuts the door and sits back down. We talk about the doll hiding a little bit more, and how she is safe now and then we wrap things up. “If you wake up from bad dreams tonight, remind yourself the doll can get away, and she can hide behind the big shelf, in the closet, in my office. And anyone who wants to hurt the doll will have to get through me first,” Bea says.
I nod, feeling a little bit embarrassed, because the little girl isn’t running things anymore, and grown up me is embarrassed to have acted like such a child. I won’t admit it to Bea, but it is comforting to think of someone having to go through her to get to the doll. It means I’m safe.
The little girl doesn’t want to go to therapy today. She’s not in the mood. She’s angry with Bea. Bea’s the one who left, and it’s been a week since the little girl has seen her. She feels really disconnected from Bea. And Bea is leaving again in a week and half. So what’s the point? Why bother? Thankfully, the grown up part of me is present enough that I do manage to get all the parts to therapy. It’s rather like being a child or teenager and being forced to show up to therapy at times, but the grown up me is nothing if not responsible and always on time, and so off to therapy I go.
I walk in and stand at the bottom of the stairs for a moment. It feels really hard to climb up the stairs, and go to face Bea. Hagrid runs right up, though, and she greets him, happily. “Hagrid’s here! How’s my friend Hagrid today?”
I follow Hagrid up the stairs, and walk into Bea’s office. It feels off to be here. Maybe it’s because I’ve been dissociated and detached since the yuck was dredged up, and Bea leaving only made it worse. Maybe it’s because I’m terrified she isn’t going to be herself; that she hasn’t really come back. I keep my gaze down, and whisper “Hi.”
“Hello,” Bea says, like she is herself and has come back. “I feel like we have a lot to catch up on.”
I get seated, and fill her in on what Kat has been up to the last week. I fall easily into that ‘here but not here’ space, and chat as if everything is fine between Bea and I. At this moment, the adult me, even if it is miss perfect, is running things, so there really isn’t anything wrong between us at this moment. The issues between us are between Bea and the little girl, and Bea and the teen.
When I pause and run out of things to chatter on about, Bea switches gears on me. “I want to make sure we have time to talk about you. Should I get out your email?”
I shrug my shoulders, and pull my knees to my chest, bury my face in my knees. The little girl is back, and she’s embarrassed and upset. She doesn’t want to be here. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Well I can pull it up, but if there was a different direction you wanted or needed to go in today…..” Bea says.
I don’t say anything. The direction I want to go in is out the door. I’m shut down and hiding. I can’t do this, I can’t talk to Bea. I don’t trust her right now. She left me, and she is leaving again, and she might not come back as herself.
“I can see that you are very closed off today, that you very much need to feel safe.” Bea says.
I’m hunched over, curled into myself and continuing to bury my face. Floating, and far away, I’m not really here, but this is painful, in a dull achy way. It hurts to have Bea so close, and not be able to connect with her. As much as the little girl is afraid to trust Bea, she wants desperately to confide in Bea so she doesn’t have to hold this awful chopped up, mixed up, blender memory on her own.
“It’s really understandable that Kat’s play was very triggering. It makes so much sense. And I was so glad that the little girl found her voice and was able to write to me and share how she is feeling. It’s so important that the little girl can share her feelings. I think we need to be very careful to pay attention to the little girl.” Bea starts off. She’s reading through an email I had sent on Friday. What she had just read was about Kat and how Kat triggered me……….Yesterday. The little girl was triggered in this big, big way by Kat. That’s been happening a lot lately, too. And so I try to find more ordered activities to do with her like board games or baking or something like that because open ended play is just….I don’t know. Hard sometimes. We are playing with the mini princess dolls and the Sofia dolls. So the princes and Prince dolls are like the grown ups and the Sofia dolls are like the kids. Everything was fine, or mostly fine. But then Kat picked up a Sofia and Prince Charming and was like “pretend he was kissing her and that they were in love and going to get married”. I froze and did my best to be neutral about it, but then she had this grownup boy doll pressed up against the Sofia doll, the little girl doll, and I just lost it. Or rather the little girl part took over. I think it’s probably going to be maybe easier if the little girl writes the rest. Just know that it’s not all of me that feels like this, but it’s pretty much the perspective and feelings that have been strongest lately, that I have been dealing with and that I don’t always like………… Bea had replied to the email, but it was our last communication.
The grown up part of me is embarrassed and my face flushes. I don’t want to even acknowledge the feelings of the little girl. I’m so angry with the child. And the little girl part of me feels like Bea is being patronizing, or not really caring what she is feeling.
“The body memories, those can be bad, very difficult, but I do think that sensorimotor is the best way to work through them, to help address them. What were your thoughts on that? Did you want to do some work with that today? I want to make sure we have the time to talk about anything you need to talk about. I’m sure there is a lot to update me on, too.”
I shrug. The child is upset. She defiantly thinks that there is nothing to update Bea on. I had written to her a bit this week, and simply not sent them to her. I had written to her this morning, at 3:00am, after waking from a nightmare. I want to get out the iPad and give her the unsent notes now, so she can read how I’ve been feeling, so conflicted and up and down. I just am frozen and it’s a struggle to move.
“I don’t think you are in the window right now. It feels like you are having a very hard time staying here.” Bea says.
I shrug. I’m not in the window, but I don’t want to be. I’m so tired of fighting to stay in the window and be grounded and be present and be here.
“How was the rest of the week? Has the grown up gotten to be more in charge? Have you felt more grounded, been able to use your resources?” Bea is asking.
“No….not…..” My voice sounds too quiet and the words are stuck in my throat. “Not so much.”
I don’t know how much time passes after that. I am getting spacer and spacier. I know Bea is trying to talk to me, to find something that sparks my attention, gets me feeling connected to her, understood and cared for, so I’ll feel safe enough to talk. The adult knows Bea is trying so hard, and that she is being real and authentic. The little girl believes Bea is just telling her what she may want to hear. She’s not sure Bea is really here. And I’m so fuzzy and blurry and far away that I can’t feel if Bea is here, or herself or not.
In the end, I manage to hand Bea my iPad so she can read my notes I’d written to her.
So…….the grown up me is sort of ping ponging between being just not here or very very angry. And it’s really not good because the grown up is so mad at the little girl, and some of that mad has come out at Kat. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not, but the grown up is aware enough to know its not good to be taking out anger she feels at the little girl at girl, so she just shuts down, detaches, pulls away and everything is numb and flat. That probably isn’t much better, because then I’m pulled away from everyone, especially the person my anger is coming out at and that person just happens to be my kid.
Otherwise, the little girl has been running the show. She isn’t in a good place. She is in a very bad, very not trusting, very not happy place. She’s always hearing things twisted and placing negative meaning to other people’s words. She is also hateful to herself and hates her actions, but more so she is afraid– terrified, really— that others feel the same way about her the way she feels about her self. She sees everything as rejection, as a sign or signal that she is failing, not living up to the perfect she needs to be.
I feel like if I was in my “new-normal more grounded accepting calm state” I would have read the whole email from you and felt understood and supported. But the little girl is really the one running the ship these days, and so I’m not feeling those things!
What a hard time for part of you to have to be a parent–yikes! I’m glad you were able to hide and get yourself to a safe place, even if not as long as you probably wanted.
Like this, I feel like you are thinking I’m not being a good parent and it makes me afraid to keep talking about anything. It makes me afraid to say how much snappy quick sharp anger has come out at Kat this last week. I know it’s because I’m mad at the little girl.
It’s challenging your functioning and depleting your resources. Be gentle with yourself!
All I keep hearing in my head is “why doesn’t she know I can’t be gentle with myself?” And “why couldn’t she just tell me it’s okay to talk about it all? She didn’t say it’s okay to talk, she really doesn’t want me to talk.”
I get that you feel like you are disgusting. I don’t have those feelings, but I get that you do.
This should one of those parts of an email that make me feel really supported and much, much better —–the second sentence of ‘I don’t have those feelings’ would usually help me feel better if the grown up was in charge, but right now, with the little girl being more here, it doesn’t help. She’s just angry at you and I don’t understand why. All she wants to do is scream at you, “No, you don’t get it! You don’t get it at all!”
Hi Bea, (from the teen speaking for, maybe with, the little girl)………
I’m so very mad at you. And I don’t really know why. And I don’t want to be mad. You push me to talk about this stupid wedding that he will be at. You dredged up so much yuck. And then you tell me that the next week you will be out of town. And you left, and it didn’t feel like you were there by email. It doesn’t feel like you want to deal with me. Why do you keep pushing dealing with the wedding? Ugh. I don’t even want to think about it. But you know that. I wrote in my last email some of my most hidden thoughts and feelings about it, finally, after you have pushed and I have not said a word, I say something. But you didn’t even really respond.
I don’t understand why I’m so upset with everything. I understand that it might be old feelings, things from the past, but It doesn’t feel like that. It all feels now. I feel like you don’t want me to talk, that I’m not allowed to be me, that you don’t want to hear all the bad stuff, that you are going to leave if I talk and about all the bad stuff because you will be disgusted or angry with me, that I’m not doing anything right, that I’m messing up everything, that I’m all alone no matter what I do.
I don’t even want to come to therapy today. I feel so disconnected from you, it doesn’t matter. Usually I’m upset and sad and feeling alone when we miss sessions, and am glad when we have a session after missing one and things can get back to normal. But right now? I just don’t care. Or I don’t want to care. I’m not sure which. I’m sad and scared and feel like no one gets it and anyone I talk to is going to decide I am awful and disgusting and terrible and hate me and and just leave. I’m really afraid that if I come to therapy today, you won’t really be you and you won’t really there.
She read what I wrote and responded directly to the little girl. “I don’t have any bad feelings about you, and I really am me, I’m here and I’m back. I want to speak to the little girl, okay?”
“Okay.” I whisper.
“I understand why you think I would find you disgusting, I understand you feel that way. But I don’t think of you that way at all. I really don’t. I want to hear what you have to say. I want to hear anything you want to tell me. I’m not afraid of it, and I’m not worried about how I will feel about you. I’m maybe a little bit drawn to the darker side of life, of a person. Remember, I don’t see failure in the ick and disgusting parts of life, I see the potential, the beauty. I know it feels so bad when things are dredged up and I am leaving on vacation. Maybe the next vacation, we might want to process me leaving that week before I go, or see if we can move schedules around so that we can still have two appointments that week. And I’m sure that ever since the trip where I wasn’t so present in email and I didn’t come back to be really present, it feels really scary to have me go on vacation and it is really hard to trust that I’m not there on the other end of the email. I promise you, I was very present, and really focused on being very grounded and there for you when I was answering your email. I was right there. I know I didn’t respond to the very last paragraph and that really hurt. I wanted to respond to that, too, there was so much there and it was all very important, I was just too tired to keep writing. You know, there is a part of me– a very big part of me– that wants to stay right with you and take care of you and make sure you are okay. There’s a part of me that always keeps you in my mind, and that part really cares about you and wants to take care of you all the time.”
And with that, the little girl was fully and firmly seated in the captain’s chair, no longer sharing it with the grown up, and she was running the the ship. Tears poured down my cheeks, and I sobbed. I wanted to soak in her words, to really feel them, to hear that Bea has a part that cares for me and wants to stay with me and care for me all the time, but it’s sort of too much for me to feel. It makes me feel really good, that she does care, I can feel in her words that I’m important to her, but it is a lot and the feelings of comfort that come up are almost painful. I don’t want to sit in that painful, uncomfortable feeling, but I can’t shake it either. I cry and cry, all the while still pulling into myself and hiding.
“I can understand wanting to push someone away before they can hurt you. That makes a lot of sense to me. I’m glad you came to therapy today. I think it’s interesting that you are really feeling so strongly that I would not want you to be you, or that I don’t want to hear the things you have to say. I only want you to be you, just Alice! You’re perfect just as you are. And I do want to talk about the feelings you have been hiding about the wedding.”
I cried some more. The tears were just a mixture of relief that Bea was Bea, and sadness and pain. I shake my head at her, not wanting to discuss the feelings I have about the wedding.
“Okay. We don’t have to talk about it right now. I do just want to say that it’s not surprising you might have feelings of wanting Kenny to find you attractive, if you have to see him at the wedding. It doesn’t make you disgusting or bad or anything else in my book. It makes sense to me. The little girl was really attached to Kenny. Of course she wants him to still like her.”
I know Bea says more about that, but I am too ashamed of those feelings to stay present enough to hear her. I’m so very, very, upset and embarrassed over those feelings, and hating myself for it. Hearing Bea say she doesn’t have any bad feelings towards or about me over this.
“I am wondering about this invisible ink you used, though,” Bea says softly handing me back my iPad. Her words come out happily, with a small smile and curiosity in her voice. She is talking about the way I have written about my nightmare and then turned the font white, so it couldn’t be read. I’d written above that It’s 2:00 am and I’m up. Nightmare. Pieces of the blender memory. I can’t breathe. Can’t breathe. I want this to go away. It’s all body memory stuff, and not many words and the words I do have are just so very embarrassing and shameful and not okay. I feel like it’s too much to deal with. I wrote the words, the little bit that was a nightmare. And I can’t leave them, because I don’t know if I can give them to you. So I colored the words in white– between the stars– and I can color them back in to be read if I want to. I’m just so scared, and so alone, and no one gets it. Its a scary place to be, vulnerable and emotional and feeling alone. “I am curious who the resourceful part is, that was able to make it so you could give me this without having me read exactly what happened with the nightmare.”
I shrug, still hiding my face.
“I’d like to meet this resourceful part one day. This part really took care of you, keeping you safe, and giving you control over when and if you allow me to read these words.”
“I don’t sleep anymore.” I cry. “And I’m scared.”
“I know. Things have been really hard.”
“I’m afraid if you read this, you won’t want me anymore.” I whisper, fully in little girl head space.
“I know I won’t think that at all. I can’t imagine ever being disgusted or upset with you,” Bea assures me.
Part of me believes her, or really wants to believe her, but I’m not sure. I can only think that if she actually knew what I had to say, she would not be so confident that she won’t find me disgusting, bad, terrible. “I’m afraid. Part of me just wants to throw my iPad at you so you can read it and it can just be over with.”
“Yes, I can understand that. To not have to feel alone with it anymore,” she says. “What was it like to write the words?” She asks.
“I…….I don’t know. I mean…..I don’t…..” I stop speaking suddenly, and try to think. I honestly can’t remember. “I really don’t have a memory of it. I just…it’s fuzzy.”
“Yeah…..it’s a whole different part of you that holds these memories right now. That’s okay to not know. And you can share it now. Or later, or not at all.” Bea says gently.
I sit up and stare at my iPad, highlighting the text I had turned white and then turning it a bright navy blue. Then I just stare and stare at those blue letters on the screen, which form words that turn into sentences and create the paragraph describing my nightmares.
“If I…….if I give this to you, can I turn around and hide?” I whisper.
“Yes. You can hide, of course you are allowed to hide. Would you like a blanket to hide under?” She asks, once again, simply just speaking to the little girl. I’m touched because she remembers how I like to hide in my closet under my soft blanket.
It takes me what feels like a long time to answer her question. Eventually, though, I do. “Okay. Yes.” I hand her the iPad. She takes it and sets it on her chair. She walks over to where she keeps a stack of blankets, and she chooses me.
Bea hands me a fleece teal blanket, saying, “I think this is the softest one.”
Taking it from her, I hide under it, and turn away. “What if it’s not okay?” I ask, feeling suddenly frantic.
“It will be. I imagine I’ll feel sad for the little girl, maybe sad for adult who is in so much pain right now. But I also imagine I will feel glad that you aren’t alone with this anymore.” She is speaking so softly and carefully, so as to not scare the little girl.
“Okay. Okay.” I tell her.
And so I hide under a soft and fuzzy blanket, curled into a ball, burying my face in my knees, while my therapist reads my latest most shameful memory.
It’s too much for me, that she has read it and knows now, and I’m way too far away to retain any memory of the day. What I do remember is that Bea was her most supportive, emphatic and caring self. She had no bad thoughts about me or my actions. As I am leaving her office, still unable to make eye contact, she says, “The little girl was so brave today, so brave to share so much today, to trust me that much. I hope you can get some relief now that you aren’t alone with this memory.” And I believe her.
When I was cleaning and thinking, this is what I was thinking about. Here is the something I wrote, that I gave to Bea to read.
The first thing I kept thinking about is the email I sent you, and your later than usual reply. I wasn’t upset because logically I understand that things happen, you are very busy, and that you did email and even acknowledged that you had meant to write back and hadn’t had time. But, and this is that big scary but (at least for me) emotionally, it’s not that simple. It felt like I had finally let something out, after holding so much in for months, and you weren’t there. It felt like maybe you had decided I was “better” or something, so I maybe didn’t need a reply as quickly as I used to. I don’t know. And then when you did reply, some of the reply felt like I’m expected to cope all the time now, and not fall apart, or end up in the bubble, because I coped this summer. It felt like because I was able to function this summer, and able to still be aware that I was shoving things away, burying them in a box until it was a better time to deal with them, that I’m expected to function like that all the time now. Which led to thoughts of “Bea thinks I’m just a drama queen. Bea is annoyed with me and my meltdowns. Bea is tired of dealing with me. Bea is sick and tired of needy broken Alice and she likes coping Alice a lot better. Bea thinks I should be over this crap by now, and is tired of hearing me whine.” And so on, and so on. And while most of me is pretty sure those are crazy thoughts and not true, a part of me is pretty sure they are true. And I’m pretty sure you attempted to talk about some of this that next session with me; I really wasn’t very there. I think I dissociated enough that I don’t remember that conversation very well at all. As soon as you brought up the email, I felt frozen and scared and like this was too much. I know I didn’t say a lot. I hate talking about the relationship. I hate talking about hurt feelings, or stupid thoughts like the ones I just wrote down. It’s so uncomfortable. Really, calling it uncomfortable is like saying that a severed finger is “just a scratch”. But I feel like somehow we need to talk about this, i just have no idea how to do that. Just writing this is making me sick to my stomach and itchy (did you know I sometimes break out in hives when I’m really anxious or upset?). And I think the little girl is sort of wary again, in a way. Because I trust you, because logically you have never given me a reason not to, because you’ve always done everything you’ve said you are going to do, and because you really hear me, because you see me and still accept me But I think the little girl is afraid of the new expectations (possibly perceived, but still very real to her), and afraid to fail and have you go away because of that. She’s afraid if she does reach out, you might not be there now. I actually went back and forth about emailing you again, that weekend, to ask if you had gotten my email, or if you thought I was crazy, or if you were mad that I had said I just couldn’t talk about the eating stuff. I even wrote an email asking those things, talking about you not emailing back, and hurt feelings. I just didn’t send it. Actually, I think, it feels like the little girl decided not to send it; she needed you to email without her asking you to. A test, I guess, maybe. Stupid. Childish. I hate that. So. I guess this is important to talk about. But I don’t like it. It scares me to talk about all this. And that’s another thing; I don’t understand why this is all so scary and hard to talk about. And it’s not just with you. It’s with hubby, Kay, Rebecca, Jamie. (obviously my parents, but that is them as much as me, I think) It’s anyone I am close to. I don’t know. I think I haven’t really talked to Kay for months because I don’t want to discuss the uncomfortable stuff, and she will. She is fine with it. And Jaime? She hurt my feelings, not on purpose, and we talked it out through text and it’s fine, we are okay, except we aren’t because I still feel like there is this weirdness there and she is mad at me or doesn’t like me anymore or whatever. I don’t know. Ugh. And before I would have just ignored it all and pretended everything was fine, and maybe have been so stuck in my head that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I wouldn’t have felt any of this. But now. Well, I can’t pretend it’s all okay. But I don’t know how to talk through it either. Ugh. This is so frustrating to me, I’m angry with myself for not being able to act like a grown up and have a simple conversation.
I thought a lot about the whole ABA tech triggering me thing because she doesn’t do any repair with Kat, and pretends everything is perfect and fine. And I thought a lot about being punished for my emotions; whether it was concrete punishment or just my parents not being there emotionally. And I just, well, I don’t know exactly what, but this all feels really very significant. These triggers, like this, over well, I don’t know how to put it, just normal daily stuff, not trauma stuff, it’s just…ridiculous. I feel like I’m being…I don’t know what. Silly, maybe. But, either way, I can see it so clearly now. Friday, watching Kat and the tech and listening to them, I could just see it, and see exactly how it could remind me of my parents and pretending everything is okay. I kept thinking how I was punished for bad emotions. Anger. Sad. Anxiety. Anything really that isn’t upbeat, happy. I don’t know. And I wonder if that is why it’s so hard for me to cry around people. I mean, I cry in front of you now, but even hubby, I run to the bedroom, and hide if I’m going to cry. I feel almost….guilty, or something, for subjecting others to my bad emotions. Maybe shame. I don’t know, exactly. It’s like I’ve done some thing wrong. And seeing, naming the fact I got punished for feelings, it makes sense why I always feel like I am being bad for feeling certain things– sadness, anxiety, fear, frustration. And anger. Ugh, anger. I don’t know what to do with anger. And I wonder if it’s because I just never was allowed to be angry. And now….I don’t know. How does a person let out the mad feelings without turning into a monster? I mean, emotions like sadness are easier, in a way, because you cry, and you feel the feelings and maybe talk about where they are coming from, but you cry and get the sad out. But what in the world does a person do to get out anger?
I was so angry with hubby for so much of this weekend. I snapped a few times. Mostly I just made those awful passive aggressive comments– the way he usually does. And I hate that. I don’t like that Alice. I don’t want to be that angry passive aggressive person. But I just….I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. And I can’t even explain the anger I have toward him, except it’s just this general feeling of him not being there and not seeing me and not hearing me, not paying attention. It’s that trigger of “he doesn’t care enough to see me or hear me”. And no matter how many times I try to explain, he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t care to. I don’t know.
And thinking about how much they pretended everything was okay, leads me to thinking about how they are no longer pretending. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that. It scares me. Because that means the story I have told all along is real. I can’t fall back on the fact I the only one telling it, I must be crazy, I must be a liar, making stuff up, ext, ext. If means that everything was that crazy making, that ugly, that…I don’t know what. And I still….well, I think, like you said on Thursday, even though we have talked about it, it is still so taboo and it feels far away and very separate and is hard to bring up…..I think it’s because I keep it separate, in a way, like, I keep it in that realm of “this MIGHT not be real, so it’s not REALLY part of my story, not really”….I don’t know if that even makes sense. I just know I am afraid of my parents being more real. It terrifies me. Like makes my insides feel frozen, and my chest tight, and I can’t breathe and my body feels frozen, too, and I feel like I need to run away and hide. It doesn’t feel safe. It’s like my safety net is being taken away, and my story is real. Which really, really scares me.
My nightmare is back. The boyfriend nightmare. Where he is listing everything out. Sometimes it’s different….times…but always, his voice, listing things out. I don’t know. Maybe I need to talk about this, about him. But how am I supposed to talk about this, when I can’t even write it down, because of the words? Ugh. I hate how afraid I am of certain words. It’s ridiculous. And I head his voice in my head, telling me that no one is going to want me now, I’m ruined, a slut. And then I wonder if hubby had known me, instead of fake perfect me, if he would have wanted me still? Because I sometimes think he is refusing to see me, because he is waiting for the me he married to come back.
It’s Monday morning and I’m in Bea’s office, snuggled with Hagrid on her couch.
“So,” Bea takes a breath, and then continues, “I think it is interesting that you describe Kat’s grumpy mouse (this mini mouse puppet who has the grumpiest personality on the planet and only likes rude, gross, mean things. It’s sort of a representation of the parts of ourselves we find unacceptable and fear being rejected) as having to become ‘real’ if it is going to school with her. Because that’s what we are working on with you, right? Integrating all the parts and feelings, so that you are whole, and not just grumpy or just perfect. So it’s not this or that, but this and that.”
I stop looking at her, and look down at the blue rug her chair in on. We’ve apparently come to the end of small talk….of being on the surface. And, part of me knows it has to be over with. I can’t maintain being on the surface, I can’t keep stuffing feelings down, or distancing myself from reality. But…I don’t want to be in this room. I don’t want to have this conversation. It’s funny how even in the spring, Bea’s office was one of the safest places on earth to me. Even through the summer, no matter how much I stayed on the surface, I needed to see her twice a week, to know she was there. It felt safe. Now, it feels anything but. Everything in me is screaming that it is dangerous to be here, that I need to leave.
When it’s fairly obvious that I’m not going to respond, she continues, “I think it would have been very cruel to ask about things a few weeks ago; I know you needed that distance. But now, it’s all past. You got through it, and it feels like things are becoming more settled. Now, we can pick at the scab a little bit.”
I shake my head. I don’t know what to say. I get it; I have held it together all summer, but I’m not so sure I can contain it all much longer.
“You’ve helped Kat through a lot of transitions. You helped your nanny through a really hard time; one that could have been been triggering for you. Your parents separated for a few weeks and are in therapy. Your hubby and his mother had a huge fight, she said terrible things about you. You’ve got Kat settled with her ABA techs, and you even have managed to provide some safety and connection for the one tech who was a challenge. You have worked with the school, and been very organized, to get Kat settled there. You’ve been on top of things all summer. You’ve done some really amazing things summer. But what happens when you can take Kat to school that first day, and leave her crying in the classroom, and then drive home without crying? Those feelings are there somewhere.” Bea says softly. She’s spoken about this before, how kids starting school is a big change, kind of the end of that baby and toddlerhood. That is is normal to feel nostalgic and have tears. I want to shout at her, ‘and what if I don’t? What if I am just detached and fine? Then what?’ But I don’t. I don’t say anything. So Bea continues, “You needed this break, this time to be detached. I knew that. And I think that this summer showed us a lot about therapy………”
And that’s where I really just go away. I think she says the summer showed us a lot about therapy and our relationship and how strong I am. I don’t know. All I can think about is that I am not doing this, this conversation is bad. And that now she expects me to always be okay. She expects me to never fall apart. To hold it together. The one person I thought it was safe to be real with now has expectations that I can get through hard stuff and function and be just fine. I don’t know. I can’t think, everything is fuzzy and hazy and Bea’s voice is far away and nothing feels very real right now, and my body feels numb, almost separate from me.
“…….so maybe we could start there,” Bea says.
I lift my head and stare at her. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” I tell her blankly. I’m lost.
“Well, think of it like we are taking your internal weather report,” she suggests.
“I’m fine. I don’t know.” I shrug. What the hell does she want from me?
“I’m sensing that you are pretty far away right now. Has it felt like that this summer? It felt like to me that you were staying on the surface, but that you were aware of things going on deeper, at least at times.” Bea takes a drink of tea, and focuses on me.
I’m not sure. This summer was weird. I was aware of keeping things locked away, because I couldn’t deal with them then. But it’s like part of me was…gone. But part of me was aware and here even if only on the surface and detached from emotions. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” I shake my head. I feel….confused. I’m not sure how to explain this.
“In the past, you’ve described being in the bubble almost as a negative thing. This felt different to me.”
“No….it wasn’t the bubble.” I pick at my fingers, hiding my hands in the sleeves of my oversized sweater. “It was….here…but not. Both?”
“Mmmhm,” Bea gives me one of her ‘verbal nods’, encouraging me to keep talking.
“Like….I don’t know….” It’s so very hard to find the words to describe this. It’s like even pulling the experience from my memory is difficult. I fight my way through the fogginess, and come up with only a few words. “Maybe it was like……maybe being just gone enough?” It comes out as a question, and in a way, I am asking Bea if I’m right. If that makes sense, if that is explaining anything to her.
“To stay detached from all the feelings? And to stay right on the surface?”
I nod. That’s it. But not. I don’t know. “Yeah…I think…I don’t know.”
“Have you ever felt so unreal that you are surprised when someone talks to you? Like it’s surprising that they can see you?” Bea’s voice is conversational; if a person were to her tone but not her words, they would never guess the crazy making question she is asking me.
I shake my head, slowly. That’s not it. It’s more annoyance when people talk to me, because they pull me back from being away. It’s tiring to keep this balance of here, but not here, of just on the surface but detached from feelings, and having to interact with people and act normal is tiring and hard. I stutter, and repeat myself, and lose words, and leave big gaps in between thoughts sometimes. But I’m way too hyper-aware of my surroundings to ever be surprised when people talk to me. I don’t say any of that though, how does one explain that crazy to another person? “No. Not like that,” I tell her. Then, after a moment of silence, I say, “I’ve held it together, and stayed on the surface. But I’m not….”
“Not what?” She prompts when I stop myself from speaking. My crazy fast and amazing filter is back in place.
“Not sure…” I start and stop a few times. I finally bury my face in Hagrid’s fur, and take a deep breath. “I’m not sure how much longer…I can…I mean, how much longer….”
“How much longer you can contain it all?”
I nod. Yes.
“That’s what I was starting to get at. We need to talk about the cost of being okay, functioning on the surface,” Bea says slowly. I have a feeling she has been planning this for a few weeks; that when things settled down, we would talk and pick at the scab. I feel a little betrayed, even though I knew we had to talk about everything, so many things, eventually. The feeling makes no sense to me.
“I don’t know. It is what it is. I don’t know the answer,” I tell her. Nothing feels quite right. Even far away, I still feel like I need to leave, like this is not safe.
“Let’s start with the basics. Sleep. Eating.” Bea’s voice is neutral, but it still incites panic in me. I squash it down.
I shrug. “I don’t sleep. I don’t know. It’s….up and down, restless. Even when I do sleep, I don’t feel like I did.” I don’t mention the doctor or the sleeping meds. I’ve given up on them anyway, they don’t work. “I just…I don’t know. Some nightmares, some waking up feeling scared but no dreams to remember, I don’t know.”
“I wonder if the nightmares are better when we aren’t digging everything up. Stirring the waters.”
I shake my head.”Yes and no. Sometimes, I think so. But then…like camping and the Ferris wheel. I think they were worse. The worst they had been in a long time, because I wasn’t talking. But I couldn’t. I don’t know.”
“That’s good information for us to have.” I think she says more, but I can’t focus on what she is saying.
“It’s my fault I don’t sleep. I don’t….I just..” I shrug.
“Why do you say that?” Bea is curious.
“Because I fight sleep. I can be so, so tired, and I will fight falling asleep. It doesn’t matter.”
“That makes sense. You’ve had a lot of bad things associated with sleep.” She tries to normalize to for me. But it doesn’t really help. Not right now. I need to be able to sleep, and knowing my fighting sleep makes sense doesn’t fix anything. I just want to be normal.
“Does Hagrid help?” She asks me.
I nod. I want to tell her that he is safe and helps so much more than I ever thought possible. I want to explain that having him to hug after a bad dream is priceless. I want to say so much about how magical he is in my life. “After bad dreams, it helps to hug him.” I finally say. It seems too vulnerable making to say more.
“There is nothing more grounding than cuddling a dog.” She agrees. “I’m glad you have him.”
I stop talking after that. I’m not talking about eating. Not today. Maybe not ever.
“What about eating?” Bea asks. She’s not going to let me escape that one.
“I don’t….I don’t want to talk about it.” I hug Hagrid, like he can help convince Bea to leave it alone.
“That tells me it’s something we should talk about. Is it more control or less control?” Bea’s statement isn’t really clear, I’m really far now. This is not okay, not a safe topic. The gist of it comes through anyways, though.
“I don’t know. It’s fine. I just….I don’t want to talk about it.” My voice is hollow, wooden.
“When I say we should look at the basics of sleep and eating, those are two things anyone should monitor in times of stress. They are two things we all need to survive.”
I shake my head. What am I to even tell her? That I’m eating a limited list of ‘safe’ foods? That it’s the shortest list I’ve had in years? That I screw up and eat something off the list at least once every few days, and so then I full on binge and purge? That I’m back to my old purging rituals? No thank you. I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to have that part of me be seen.
“What about your feelings? Do you know where they are?”
A year ago I would have thought she was nuts. Now, I shake my head. “I don’t know. I couldn’t…they just had to be….detached. I don’t know.” I shrug.
“And that’s what our work is right now. Finding those feelings; reconnecting to them.” She says this softly, like she is trying to reassure me it’s okay.
“I don’t know how anymore.” I’m too overwhelmed. It’s all too much.
“I think we start with this summer. One small thing at a time,” she tells me.
“I have a list….notes, journal entries, I don’t know. All from the summer. Things I couldn’t talk about at the time. ”
“Should we look at it?” Bea asks.
I pause. “I don’t know…………I’m not sure what is on it now, I don’t really remember.” I want to check the list before I hand it over. Maybe I don’t want to give it all to her right now. I’m not sure how much I trust right now.
“When you’re ready,” Bea says simply.
I can’t hold everything together anymore, and this feeling of panic over the conversation is too much, and the idea of letting it all back in is too much. “I’m scared,” I admit. And then the tears come. Single tears that quickly turn into sobs that I can not stop, no matter how hard I try, or how fast I scramble to shove all the feelings away.
Hagrid anxiously licks my hands and my face, curling himself into a ball; half on my chest and half on my lap. “Hagrid says ‘I think you found your feelings, mom’.” Bea says this calmly; it’s okay to cry and to have feelings.
I finally, and fairly quickly, win the fight to lock everything back down. I wipe my face with my hands, and look at Bea. It’s like I’m trying to prove I’m okay, but I think a part of me is almost silently begging her to see how scared and messed up I really am right now. “I can’t do this. I don’t know how.” I make the statement with almost no emotion attached.
“A little at time. We do this very carefully. We don’t need to go so deep, or so quickly that you are having dissociated days, or struggling so much. We control it. This summer showed us that, at times you can be aware of things under the surface and control it. We wade in, slowly. Before, last year, we dove in, fast. Everything was new and coming up for you so quickly, and it was really hard. You needed space to talk and help containing it, and it all needed to be brought up and talked about. But now, we slow down. We don’t need to rush things. You shouldn’t have days where you are in a terrible funk; maybe the day of therapy, that icky after therapy feeling sometimes, but not all the time.”
Bea is talking, and I know this is going back to the beginning. To what she told me last year, about taking the time to get our garden ready for planting, before we look at our plants. But all I hear is that I screwed up and she is unhappy with me, and now things are going to change. I think I nod my head, mumble some agreement. I don’t even know. This doesn’t feel real. It feels all wrong.
Somehow, the sessions ends. I don’t know. I manage to convince Bea that I’m fine, and Hagrid and I leave. I talk to the parking attendant; pleasant chit chat, social niceties. And in a fog, I drive to one of my favorite walking spots. I don’t want to walk downtown today; I don’t want to stop and chat with people, or smile and say hi. I want to be alone.
I want to be alone because Bea picked the scab, and nothing feels right. I want to be alone because I feel vulnerable and afraid. I want to be alone because I need to think, and sort out some of the things said in session. I want to be alone because nothing feels more lonely to to be all alone, even in a crowded place. I want to be alone because the scab has been picked, and I need to decide if I can keep picking at it, or if I need to let it scab back over and ignore it.