Some things I can’t talk about……..

Trigger warning for talk about sex….

Sex is such a confusing thing to me. And shameful. So very shameful. Logically, I know it’s just a biological drive, nothing shameful there. But emotionally? That’s a different story. I don’t understand why I seek out this thing that terrifies me, disgusts me and hurts me. I don’t understand how I can want to be touched like that. I hate that I feel like half a wife because I don’t typically have sex with my husband. I hate that I am sickened and confused and embarrassed. 

The day we get back from camping passes by in blur. I know I felt bad, overwhelmed. That night, I crawled into bed and snuggled up to hubby. There wasn’t a grown up on board at that moment. Maybe the little girl, maybe a teen part, was running the show. It’s like I could see it happening, but not stop it. At first it was just cuddling, and nuzzling, but then she sat up, and straddled her legs on either side of hubby. She started it. I started it. Kissing, and touching, and she was fine with all of it, until hubby turned his focus more on her, and touching between her legs. One moment, he was hubby and things felt good and she wanted it, and this next moment, it wasn’t hubby anymore, and something bad was going to happen, and I couldn’t handle it. The touching felt nice but like it was too much, too intense and I wanted to squirm my body away, but I couldn’t. And I knew, I just knew, he was going to hurt me after this, because it would be his turn to feel good, and it was going to make me hurt. I started to cry, and scream at him to please don’t hurt me. After that, I don’t know. Hubby stopped, right away, and I hid under my blanky, crying all night. He sat up with me, but I couldn’t talk.  

And now, hubby hasn’t touched me, even to hug me, or hold my hand, or kiss me good morning. I say I hate being touched, but now I feel like he saw exactly how disgusting I am, and he can’t even stand to hug me. I don’t want to be his broken, sick wife. 

I feel like there is more I should say about this. But every time I catch some of the words I want to use, others escape. 

(Also, I’m way super embarrassed about this post, but I honestly can not sit alone with this stuff anymore right now. I feel like I’m losing my mind, and I hate this aspect of myself. Does anyone understand? Am I the only one? How do I cope with this? I’m so lost.)

After phone call emails 

Even though Bea and I talked on the phone, I still had some lingering worries, and so I finally emailed her. These are the emails that we exchanged then. I usually try not to post every email we exchange, but so much was in these emails the last almost two weeks it feels like it would take me longer to relay the information in them, than to just lost them. So here they are.
From Alice to Bea: 

I’m glad we talked yesterday. It helped. I sort of didn’t know that you didn’t know Kenny stuff had been triggered, last weekend and I’m not sure I would have written about it. I think, as out there as this sounds, I’d given little clues, like writing that I’d had nightmares and showing you the picture of Kenny’s window. It’s as if I couldn’t say or write the words. I don’t know. But I think it’s good we talked because otherwise I’m pretty sure I would have kept giving little hints that Kenny stuff was really triggered, but not been able to say anything. 
So, I’m glad we talked and I’m glad you know just how much is stirred up. But…..this—–On the other hand, there’s a part of me that wants to push for a bit of growth in the coping arena, and I’m wondering if that needs to be acknowledged too, because that feeling usually comes when someone is ready to take that step. —- Is just really bothering me. 
I worry that you are feeling an annoyance towards me for not being all better, that you are going to decide I don’t need the option to email or call, or you are going to cut my session time or you are going to take away a session. I don’t want any of those things to happen. 
The little girl is really hurt because you said on Wednesday that I could feel free to email and that we would handle whatever comes up and on Thursday you said you are here and have no problem with me emailing as much as I need to. And then on Friday you said that you are having a nagging feeling that you need to push me to take the next step for more growth in the coping arena. That is really confusing. I’m sure I’m seeing it as black and white but to me it is like one day you said “I’m here” and the next you said “I’m annoyed that you need me so much, I’m leaving.” And I just don’t understand what happened, what I did wrong, what you what me to be doing. 

I honestly think I cope with things pretty good, much better than I used to. But when all the things get triggered (and now really, ALL the things are triggered, even relationship stuff with you. Ugh) and i know that I’m heading to place filled with more triggers, it’s just really hard. 
In my head, I see it as different sized cups (coffee cups, of course) getting full and once the cup is full, coping skills go out the window. So, in the beginning of therapy I had a short cup, so I was easily overwhelmed and unable to cope. Something as simple as Hubby being irritated with me, or a sleepless night or even just having strong feelings would overflow the short cup. 
But gradually that cup has gotten bigger. I’ve gone through a tall cup and ended with a grande. (With venti and trenta being the biggest sizes) 
I don’t know if that’s helping to explain. I just feel like I typically do really good with coping between sessions now. And I usually don’t even fall back on harmful coping techniques anymore (yes, this weekend I did, but it’s been a long time since I have used them). I have learned to write out whatever is going on, and then move on (as much as I’m able) and get back to my life. I’ve gotten to a point where even after a bad nightmare I will go for a walk, or do yoga, or go for a swim. I’ve figured out that when I’m panicking, I can stop and create new recipes in my head. Yeah, often times I write about it in my notebook and I want you to read it and to talk about it, but I’m getting better at actually talking all the time. I honestly thought it was growth in the coping arena to not be running to email you every time I am triggered and to be able to be out in the world, living, instead of hiding in my closet or forcing myself to go out and act like a grown up all the while feeling like a fake. I don’t often feel as if I’m pretending to be a grown up. That’s huge for me. 
I don’t know what I’m trying to say, exactly. I guess that I know this last weekend sent me backwards and has me using old coping techniques and relying on email with you to help me cope and not really being here and not really okay, and I know that has to be annoying. 
But Bea, all the things are triggered right now. I can’t seem to function well enough to use the other, newer, more resourceful skills I’ve developed. And I feel like I did the first time you asked me to do something that would ground me and put me back in my body– terrified of doing anything that will put me back in my body because I don’t want to physically feel anything right now. There’s been too many physical memories all mixed in with all this.
I don’t want to have this conversation, I really really don’t, because I’m scared of the outcome. But I can’t let it sit either. It’s like one part of me is so glad that you are willing to listen and swim in the ocean with me and another part of me is so sure that you are in the ocean but you don’t really want to be there — that you really just want me to grow up and stop whining. I know that those are extremes, but I can’t not worry about it. I just hate feeling like ALL the things are triggered and you are having this expectation that I should be dealing with this on my own (not that you said that, it’s just what I am feeling). So I guess we have to talk about your nagging feeling. 😞

From Bea to Alice:

The nagging feeling came from before the knowledge about the Kenny stuff being so activated. I can see now that all of the coping resources you have have been swamped by this. What I think I was thinking about before knowing that was about trying to rein things in on these days between last weekend and the camping trip. I think I had some vague notion that some CBT stuff might be good to try–that’s a different lens than what we usually do, but it seemed appropriate for trying to get to a better place for these days in between trips. I wasn’t intending this as something you should do instead of emailing me–in fact, I think I was more thinking that you would email more to say how it was working. None of this was fleshed out for me yesterday, but in thinking about it after the fact I think I now have a plan to go with the nagging feeling. But, of course, now that you’ve made clear just where you’re at and what you’re dealing with that seems pretty unrealistic, doesn’t it?!

From Alice to Bea::

Well……maybe it’s unrealistic. But it’s not a bad plan. I like that you have a explanation of that nagging feeling (is it still there?). On one hand, I’m thinking anything CBT is absolutely not doable because it all feels so shrinky and logical and I’m afraid that the shrinky bits will make me feel alone again and I’m just now breathing a sigh of relief that you aren’t gone. On the other hand, I’ve hit that point where I’m willing to try anything, because being so triggered and feeling this not okay…..it takes a lot for me to feel bad enough that I’ll try anything to feel better and it doesn’t happen very often (thankfully). So, I guess maybe I’m asking you to lay out the options, what can we try? (Because my default when I feel like this is to hide in the closet with my blanket and my dog) CBT? Sensorimotor stuff? And whatever is on that list, what would that look like? Is there a way to use it and not feel like you are shrinky far away? I don’t know the answers. I’m trying. I really am trying to cope and be okay. And…….Okay, I am breathing a sigh of relief. Thank you for not leaving me and working with me to understand even when I’m being irrational.

From Bea to Alice:

I’m a little too exhausted to think straight about CBT stuff tonight. I had this bright idea to make pesto with my son, and that was sort of messy and irritating, then Agate attacked Iris and had to be yanked off and yelled at to get back under control. If I use my CBT skills I will have helpful thoughts instead of unhelpful thoughts, and I will say, “Some of today was really nice, like my dinner at Coney Island where the pita bread was just right and not leathery, and then the store wasn’t crowded, so I didn’t think mean thoughts about anybody and then judge myself negatively.” I will avoid the “My life sucks, and I wasted hours thinking I was going to freeze nine little containers of pesto and only ended up filling two, and now the day’s over and I’ve done nothing fun, and to top it off Agate is going to kill Iris.”

CBT is all about finding the distortions in your thinking. It’s pretty surfacey, but it’s been proven effective because thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to behavior. And then it’s a cycle of either positive or negative thinking. We can look at the various kinds of distortions on Monday, or you can probably find a description online. This stuff doesn’t typically come to mind in working with you–this was the first time I’ve thought of it. It definitely isn’t helpful when a person is completely overwhelmed and triggered. That’s what DBT was developed for–it’s CBT with some skill building that helps with such things as distress tolerance and emotion regulation. Not as good as SP, I don’t think.
Anyway, I hope that didn’t sound too shrinky. I don’t feel shrinky. I feel like a big, exhausted basil leaf.

From Alice to Bea:: 

You just sound like you, not shrinky. 🙂 I think CBT feels shrinky or uncaring to me because it’s so surfacy. I think CBT was used with me a long time ago, more around food/disordered eating stuff. Would that make sense? 
I don’t know what I need right now, but I’m just very overwhelmed and feeling maxed out. And right now, I’m still willing to try just about anything to feel calmer. 

From Bea to Alice:

Yes, it would make sense that CBT was used with you around eating stuff. We can talk about it in the morning, and you can see if you think it would be helpful. I think in different contexts it’s helpful for everybody, but it’s definitely not trauma treatment. To me it’s most helpful just in identifying if you’re in a negative thought loop that can be altered at the thinking level. Often, though, I find myself resistant to giving up my negative thoughts!
I hope you got through this day okay–should have been a good lake day.
See you in the morning!

Alone then, but not now

It’s Monday, and we leave for camping tomorrow. I’m in this dissociated hyper aroused state. I had emailed Bea over the weekend, even after our phone call on Friday because all those tiny worries began to grow bigger and bigger, and I just couldn’t hold onto them for even a few days. (I’ll post the emails in a separate post, so I don’t make this post into a novel!) Emailing helped, and walking into Bea’s office on Monday feels safe and not stressful. 

I curl up on the couch as soon as I walk in, and Bea smiles. “Good morning,” she says. 

“Hi,” I say back. 

We talk about the weather and the weekend and how Kat learned to ride her bike all by herself and how we went on a 5 mile bike ride together. We chat easily, and a part of me is there, having a conversation with Bea. I’m jumpy, though, and talking faster than is normal for me, and I keep looking over towards the door. Bea always makes sure the path to the door is clear, that I sit between her and the door, so no one and nothing is blocking my ability to exit the room if I need to. I never have, but it’s nice that she does this. 

Even though Bea is chatting casually, she notices my constant scanning of the room, and how I jump at every noise. “Are you still feeling on the other end of the spectrum, very hyper aroused?”

I nod. I can’t calm myself down. 

“It makes sense. Everything is so activated for you right now.” 

I nod again. 

“Can we talk about this weekend, for a minute?” She asks. 

I feel anxiety in the pit of my stomach and my eyes dart quickly to her face. “How come? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—” my words are coming out so fast they are blurring together. 

She cuts me off, “You don’t need to be sorry. You didn’t do anything to be sorry about. I wanted to talk about exactly what and why I had been thinking of asking you to try some CBT to help get yourself to shore.”

“Okay.” I shift in my seat, uncomfortable. I hated feeling like I disappointed her. 

“I was thinking that CBT could be useful in the negative thought loop of there not being enough time to be okay before having to leave to camp. I truly didn’t realize that all your resources were depleted from dealing with having all the things triggered. Once I got that, then, no CBT doesn’t seem so helpful. It’s hard to use this logical reframing when parts other than the grown up are running the show. I get that. And I’m sorry I didn’t realize that all of that had been activated.”

I shake my head. “It’s okay. I didn’t tell you, I just kept dropping….hints. I went back through emails and journal entries. And all I did was give you the window picture and tell you that I’d had nightmares. That’s it. I didn’t tell you about all the Kenny stuff and the mom stuff and the mixed up mom and Kenny stuff. How could you have known?” 

“Well, I wish I had realized. I feel as if I should have put the clues together, and I didn’t. But I am glad that even though I didn’t catch the hints, you were brave enough to still tell me.”

I think about this. I dropped hints to my mom, which she ignored and I never did tell her what the hints were trying to make her see. I dropped hints to Bea, which I felt she was ignoring but I still felt safe enough to tell her what the hints were about, and she reacted in the best way. Maybe it’s not a terrible thing that Bea missed the hints. “You fixed it when you knew. It’s okay.” 

“It is okay,” she agrees. 

We sit for a moment, after agreeing that even though I can see why CBT can be useful, that it’s not going to be so helpful right now. 

“If this isn’t what you want to talk about, please correct me, okay? Did you want to talk about the Kenny stuff that was triggered? I know it’s maybe not ideal, but if it’s already there, maybe it would help to share it and not be alone with it as you leave for vacation.” 

“Yeah….I think….yeah.” 

“Okay.” When I don’t say anything, she asks a few questions to help get me talking. “Is it Nightmares, or memories? Maybe more feelings or thoughts?”

“No….it’s….well dreams. But before that. It’s like when we were at the reunion, and everything was the same, I could see us— I mean, Kenny, me, my brother, Jackie, as kids, running around, and hear our parents calling after us, and it didn’t even matter that other people were there, that it was different people, that I’m a grown up now, it was just all right there. So real.” I shudder, thinking about it.

“Yeah, a very intense flashback.”

“But it was good stuff, nothing bad!” I argue. I feel crazy. Who has flashbacks of positive memories?

“Yes, maybe it was good stuff, on the surface. But it was Kenny, and no adults were really present protecting you, and it was good stuff that led to trauma. So it makes sense.”

“Everything was just so real. I’m in my bedroom, and it’s the same house, the same windows, and I’m just brushing my hair or whatever, and it all just hits me. I hate it. I hate it.” My voice gets higher and I’m all kinds of upset. “And then nightmares, camping and I’m at my house and then I’m little and at my parents and things are weird, it is a weird dream but then I end up camping and he’s there and it’s the Ferris Wheel and I can’t, it’s just, ugh!” 

“The Ferris Wheel, this memory, it comes up a lot. It’s a deep one. I wonder why.” She’s musing out loud, just being curious.

“Because it’s not bad enough to be upsetting?” My voice is tiny now, and the grown up me isn’t really here anymore. 

“No! It’s a bad memory. It’s a very legitimate trauma memory. I was just being curious about why this memory is so clear, why it is one of the memories that has lots of senses involved, what made it have such sticking power?”

“Did we talk about it before?” I ask her. I honestly don’t know.

“We talked about the amusement park, and we have emailed about the Ferris Wheel quite in depth. We haven’t talked about it. Last time we emailed and I brought it up, you went too far away to talk to me.” 

“Oh.” I sort of knew I had to of told her, but i still get a little jolt of shock that I don’t remember these emails. “My favorite ride was the Ferris Wheel, you know.”

“Yes, I did know. Was it a very big Ferris Wheel?” 

“Maybe. I don’t think it was really, but it seemed giant to me.” I shrug. It’s hard to judge now big things are when you are seeing them the way you saw them as a child.

“Did it have the bench seats that two people sit on?” She asks me.

I shake my head, thinking. I can just picture, feel, see, sense, Kenny and I on the Ferris Wheel. I can’t actually picture the seats. “Nooooo…..there’s more room,” I say slowly. I know that’s right, but I’m not sure how I know it.

“What did you like about the Ferris Wheel?” She’s curious. 

“I loved it. I loved being so high up and seeing everything, and I loved the drop.” 

“The drop once you go around after being at the top? That was my favorite part too! My mom didn’t do Ferris Wheels, so I always rode with my Dad,” Bea tells me. (These are the sorts of things I know some therapists won’t share, but this is what makes me feel safe with her, it’s a normal conversation and she feels human and real to me, a whole person. I know it’s not right for everyone, but for me, it is)

“I rode with my dad, with other kids, with whoever. I would go again and again, over and over.”

She laughs at this. It’s a delighted laugh, one that says she is picturing child Alice, getting in line over and over. “I imagine you like Kat, just so excited and asking to do the same ride over and over.” 

I nod, and smile. “That’s it exactly.” And then I become more serious. “That was the problem. Again, and again and again. But eventually everyone got tired of again and again. But I asked for one more time, and eventually Kenny said he would take me. And then….I don’t know. That’s my nightmare. He’s sitting with me on the Ferris Wheel, and I’m…..his hand is between my legs and he is touching me and I can’t do anything, not a thing, I’m just stuck there and he can do anything and I can’t….” The words spill out, like dominoes falling over. 

“Did you want to do something?” Bea’s voice sounds caring and gentle, but maybe a little hopeful, too.

“No!” I shout the word at her and grab a fluffy pillow off her couch, hiding my face. Once I’m hiding, I try to breathe. “Maybe. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“Okay. That’s okay not to know.” I hear her stand up. “I’m going to go get the blanket, all right?” 

Part of me– likely the grown up– wants to say that no, I don’t need if, but I do need it, and so I nod my head. She brings the blanket over to me, and gently lets it cover me. 

“Did you feel worried when he said he would take you on the ride?” There’s no judgement in her voice, it’s just a question. 

“No.” I hug the pillow to me.

“So you were just focused on going back on your favorite ride and you were happy and excited to get on the Ferris Wheel. So you were very much in the present moment. Maybe that is part of the reason it has such sticking power. You were more present than in other times, and it was a happy place to be, the contrast was startling for you. You weren’t able to be so far away. And your parents were right near, and didn’t rescue you. Yes. That is a lot, no wonder this memory is so powerful.” She makes a sad noise as she finishes talking. It says she is sad for the little girl I uses to be. 

“No, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t call out or make him stop. I was just stuck and it was so awful and I was so afraid. I was scared we would get caught. I don’t —I didn’t want to be in trouble.” I’m talking much too fast again, but I can’t slow down. 

“You were really scared about getting in trouble. You put all the blame on yourself. But it’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I was so scared.” 

“I know. You were really scared.”

“I didn’t want to get caught.” I tell her.

“No, you didn’t want to get caught. You were scared. But you did nothing wrong,” she reminds me. “Was there something you wanted to do?” 

“I didn’t want to get caught, I didn’t want to be in trouble. But his hand, his hand, it’s ….”

When my voice trails off, Bea pushes a bit. “What about his hand?”

“I want to push it away!” The words pour out of me, hot and intense, anger and panic boil under the surface.   

“Ahhh, yes! You wanted to push his hand away! He shouldn’t be touching you there! You were just a little girl, on her favorites ride. That wasn’t okay, he wasn’t okay.” She gets it. Her voice tells me she gets how desperately I wanted to make it stop. 

“I wanted him to stop. Just stop.” I feel as if I am shrieking the words out.

“Can him go back to wanting to push his hand away? Can you focus on that feeling for a little while?” 

I try. But then, suddenly, all these feelings– physical and emotional– hit me like a knockout punch in a fight without a boxing ring. “No– no, no, no. I can’t. I can’t. There’s…I can feel….” And I cut myself off, not wanting to tell her what I am feeling because I’m disgusting. The physical feelings are the worst. I am gross. “I…..if I think about pushing his hand away, all I can so is think about where is hand is at.” 

“Okay. Okay.” She is breathing slowly, the way I’m supposed to breathe to calm down. “Let’s just focus on you, and only on your hand. Which hand is wanting to push? What does it feel like? Is it tense? Is it warm? How does the hand want to push?”

I listen to her voice, and that helps me focus just on my hand. Slowly I lift up my right hand.

“Your right hand. That’s great. That is really great noticing. Just focus on that hand.”

Bea stops talking then, and without her voice, I’m back to where his hand is, and what his hand is doing. “I need you to talk.” 

“Alice, we can stop focusing on your hand. You did a lot, it is okay. We can stop this whenever you want to.” 

I shake my head, and then realize she can’t see me. “No, no. I….if you just talk about focusing on my hand it helps me not go to thinking about where his hand…..”

“Where his hand is?” She asks. 

“Yeah.” I’m embarrassed now. 

She runs through so many different ways my hand could feel. I can’t believe that there are this many words to describe physical feelings. 

“It’s tensed!” I say, excited that I can recognize a feeling.

“Tensed up, getting ready to move. That’s good. Is it just the hand, or the arm, too?” 

“I don’t know. Arm, maybe? I don’t know.” 

“Okay, that’s good. Just let yourself stay with that feeling.” She’s so calm.

We talk about wanting to push his hand away, and about what I notice in my hand and arm, and then Bea talks about how I am okay and how I can push his hand away now. “It’s a funny thing, but your brain doesn’t know the difference. You can push now, if you want. You can just push your hand out, or I can get a pillow you can push against if resistance sounds like what you might want.” She’s not pushing this on me, it’s just conversational, and so I’m okay.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. How am I supposed to know?” I’m suddenly panicked that I don’t know. 

“You just feel it. You can trust your body and your sense of what you need.” Again, she is the calm in the storm raging all around and inside me. 

“What if I sense wrong???!?!?”

“Then it’s okay. We have more information then. We try something else.”

“I can’t.” I whisper. 

“Can the grown up help the little girl move her right hand? Could the grown up use her left to help the little girl move the right?” When I don’t respond, she says, “Maybe there isn’t enough of the grown up here to help. And that’s okay. I’m here, and I’ll help however I can.”

“You can’t really help like that.” I whisper. 

“No, not like that. But I am here.” 

I realize that I have been holding my right hand down with my left, and gripping the pillow really tight. I let go with my left, and straighten the fingers on my right hand. Then, feeling so scared, I slowly move my right hand. I don’t push, or even move it in the direction to push. I simply set it down by my right side. 

“Ahhhh. The Little Girl, she is brave. You are so brave. You moved that hand! How did that feel?”

I stretch my fingers out, my palm flat on the couch. As I do that, I feel exactly what I want to do. “I want to scoot away from him. I can’t. I’m stuck, I can’t move. I can’t scoot away.” 

“Ahhhh, so you are noticing you want to scoot away. Do you want to push, then scoot?”

“No……. It’s weird….I know…I want to scoot then push.” It’s almost more of a scoot and push, one right after the other, almost at the same time. 

“That’s not weird, not at all. Do you want to scoot now?”

“I can’t, I can’t get away, I can’t move, he won’t like it, he won’t be happy, I’m stuck here, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” I freak out a little, but Bea holds it all and I’m okay.

“You couldn’t move then. You were frozen– super aware, on alert, frozen– but you aren’t frozen now. Your fingers wiggled. You are safe now. You couldn’t scoot away then, but you can now. You were all alone then, but you aren’t now. I’m here now, and I can promise you that you can scoot away now, and nothing bad will happen.” 

“You’re here?”

“I am right here.” Her voice is strong.

“You won’t go?” I’m a terrified child, panicked that the only safe person on my world is going to leave me.

“I won’t go.” 

I sit there, wanting to scoot, thinking how simple it should be to scoot away, but I can’t do it. I can’t move. 

“You are safe now. Nothing bad is going to happen. I’m here, you’re here, and you are safe. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. It’s your choice. You get a choice now.” Her voice is soft, reassuring. 

“I….I want to move. I just can’t. I can’t do it.” I sound sad. I really do want to move. It’s the strangest thing, I’m mostly back there, sitting in that Ferris Wheel with Kenny, and I’m frozen and can’t do anything about it. But I’ve managed to keep just enough of the grown up me on board to put Bea in the Ferris Wheel, too, maybe in the car across from me, or maybe a car above me. She’s there, though, and she won’t let me be hurt anymore. She will stay right there until I can scoot away from him, push his hand away. She will help keep me safe. The grown up me might not be strong enough yet to help Little Alice, but the grown up is strong enough to help imagine Bea into the memory, the grown up is strong enough to stay present with this so I can feel Bea here with me. I’m not alone in this. It’s taking the grown up me and Bea to help Little Alice stay with the feeling of wanting to move. 

“It’s okay. This was a lot. It was really good work, to stay with it all as long as you have. You did good. We don’t have to do anything more today. We can just sit with the feeling of wanting to move, and of not being alone.” There’s something in her voice, I’m not sure I recognize what it is. Maybe it’s just Bea, being at ease and in the moment with me. Maybe there is some pride in there, and some calm. Maybe I’ve just not been present enough to hear this in her voice. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I like it. It feels like she is happy with me, and that feels nice. 

“I……..I really do want to scoot. I just…I’m scared.” I whisper.

“Could you reach your hand out from under the blanket? Just a little bit, to reach your bag? It’s not very far. Maybe if you knew how far you had to go, that would help.”

I want to try, and so I nod my head. I suddenly want to ask her to hold my other hand, but I won’t. It is a good idea, to have something to reach to, and I very slowly move my hand out from under the blanket. I have to focus on that desire to move, and not think about anything else, but I do it. 

“That was great!” I can head excitement in Bea’s voice. It mirrors my own excitement that I did it. I feel like a child who has accomplished a new and difficult task for the very first time. When I don’t move or speak, Bea says, “Just focus on the feeling of wanting to scoot away. Remember you are safe now.” 

I just can’t make myself move. The little girl is running the show right now, and she is too scared. 

“Is it more of a lean, or a pick up and scoot away?” Bea asks. I think she is thinking leaning would be less movement, and therefore maybe easier. 

I shake my head and burying my face in the pillow I’m still holding. “I…..leaning won’t…I mean, because….” I’m embarrassed, I can’t explain it to her, can’t form the words. 

“Ohhhh, leaning wouldn’t move the part of your body he is touching away from him.” Something clicks for her, and Bea fills in the words for me. 

“Yeah,” I say. And then I’m thinking about where his hand is at, and the physical sensations of being touched are back. (As a side note, please tell me I’m not the only one who experiences this? I hate, hate, hate feeling the feeling of being touched. I’m embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted and I am afraid of the words I would need to use to fully explain it. 😔)

“It’s okay. That’s okay. Let’s try not to go back to what he is doing. Let’s stay with the feeling of wanting to move away, of wanting to push his hand away, of not being alone now, of being safe now. We can work more on this later. It’s okay.” Her voice and her words are like a salve to wounds I didn’t even know I had. 

We start working to bring me fully back to here and now, and I pull the blanket off my head, holding it in front of my face. I peak out from the blanket, meeting Bea’s eyes and then quickly covering my face again. She’s quicker than I am though, and before I hide behind the blanky again, she says, “Yup, I’m still here.” Her eyes are kind, I see, or maybe I jut sense this feeling of acceptance and caring in them. 

I peak put again, and look at her. She is patiently there, just sitting with me. I breathe for minute, come back to myself enough to set my feet on the floor and fold up the blanket. Saying goodbye is hard today. It will be over a week before I see her. She reminds me I can I email or call, and tells me she should have cell service during her whole vacation. 

“When do you leave?” I ask her. It shouldn’t really matter, but I want to know where she is in the world. 

“Friday Morning, so I will be in the car all day on Friday. And then for the weekend, hopefully I will be at the beach for a while, and maybe go for a hike, too. Tuesday I’ll be in the car for most of the day again.” I breathe a little easier. I like knowing where she will be. It’s easier to feel like she hasn’t just left if I can place her in the world. 

Now I can say goodbye. We wish each other a good trip, and then I almost run out of her office and down the stairs. I get to my car and realize something: I am okay. 

Charts

It’s 7:40am, but I walk up the stairs to Bea’s office anyway. I have so much stuff that I need to talk about, I need to make Bea see, make her understand. My notebook is very, very full of all kinds of messy, overwhelmed feelings. 

I had emailed Bea on Thursday, and unsure and uneasy with her response, I finally emailed her back Saturday. I spent a lot of the week making charts, lists, graphs. I was trying to find a way to feel in control, I think. One thing Bea has been insisting we work on is my dissociation. She wants to find what triggers it; why we can be talking about baking and I will be fine, but the moment the subject turns to me and my stuff, I begin to go away. To Bea it seems very sudden, and I’m sure it is, but for me, I can feel that I am uncomfortable with the emotions bubbling up and I can sense, in my mimd, that I am going to feel very scared of this topic. It’s at that point, this split second moment, when time slows down for me, and things get a little bit fuzzy, like I’m looking though a telescope at the world around me; that’s the moment I can make a choice. I can choose to use those grounding skills Bea has so diligently taught me, or I can go far, far away from the bad scary stuff in the present. And please don’t tell me the present is safe, nothing bad is happening there. The feelings are there. The memories are there. It’s not safe there. Not in the very least. 

In my email I explained that Parts were split, and fighting over what was the best thing to do with these charts I had made. One chart in particular had everyone stirred up. I had created a chart showing what I am feeling on one side and what my reaction is on the other side. For example, the right side of the chart says,” feelings start to grow, and can be named and recognized.” The left side of the chart says,”Really uncomfortable. Danger! This is not safe to feel these things.” Grown up real me is excited about this chart, it makes sense, Bea will understand it, and I am excited to understand more about how my dissociation and my system works. The little girl is scared that if Bea knows how dissociation works, then Bea will take it away because Bea doesn’t want any of the parts to dissociate, Bea says we have to be more present to deal with the trauma. Every part is conflicted over this. So, I emailed. It was a bit messy, but I wanted to talk to Bea about this. The little girl was so upset over not being able to tell Bea something because she was afraid Bea would use it against me. I also wrote about how alone I felt, but I couldn’t say that I felt as if Bea was there but not HERE. I was too afraid that she would tell me it was my fault she was far away, that I was too draining, too difficult. So I simply described the far away and all alone feeling. 

Bea’s response was fine. There was nothing wrong with it. And maybe if I weren’t so hyper alert to any changes in her behavior towards me and therapy, then it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. She addressed the loneliness, saying, “the being so alone feeling sounds like a part that has no access to an attachment figure.” And then she went on to discuss the fear over letting her in on the secret of how my dissociation works, “The part that doesn’t want to tell sounds like a good protector part. I think the grown up should assure that part that you will only share with me as much as feels safe. I don’t need to know any secrets, unless you think it would help you. There is no reason to alarm parts of you that have organized this system of keeping you safe. We only want the grown up to be more in control of the system.” Even though her response was fine, it left me with a sense of not being seen, of being alone, as if I had dove down to the middle of the ocean and there was no one on the surface to pull me up. I felt left. It felt as if she didn’t care, she was just replying to get rid of me. Finally, I gathered up some courage, and emailed again. I told Bea the little girl really had been looking for reassurance that Bea was safe to share secrets with, that Bea wouldn’t use secrets against me to hurt me or to get what she wants. The little girl needed reassurance that Bea had no ulterior motives, no tricks. Bea responded, and it all felt off. She wrote, “My thought while reading the beginning of your email: *Well of course I’m not going to use that against you*. It seemed so obvious to me, but I understand you actually needed to hear it! Please be reassured that this is a collaborative effort, and I don’t have any ulterior motives.” Why does her email feel both causal and authentic, but then so formal and rigid? I don’t understand, and I don’t write back. 

So, at 7:40am, I walk into Bea’s office. I’m planning on sitting in the waiting room, because I know I am early, but Bea sends me in, even with my protests that I can wait. 

“Go on in, I’ll be right there. I’m just going to warm up this tea,” she says. 

“Okay,” I say back. 

By the time I’ve sat down and gotten cozy, Bea is in the office, too. She sits down, and I blurt out, “My mother in law is moving 5 minutes away and hubby isn’t really seeing the big deal of this and I just found out last night but I’m freaking out and I really don’t want to waste my session on her but I need to talk about this all a little bit but I have a whole notebook full of stuff that I really need to talk about.” 

“Whoa. That’s a lot! She’s moving 5 minutes away from you? I know that can’t be an easy thing to have found out.” Bea says, her face holding this look of shock and anger at the awfulness of this situation, at the audacity of hubby’s mother. 

(I don’t want to waste a lot of blog space on this woman, either, but for those of you newer to my blog, 2 summer ago, my mother in law (aka MIL) —- who never liked me and always caused problems between hubby and me—- flipped out on me in public, and then attempted to take us to court to take Kat away from us. I have nothing to do with my mother or father in law since then. Hubby still sees them. I didn’t allow him to take Kat over there for a long time, but for about a year, Kat has occasionally gone with hubby to visit for no more than an hour. Hubby’s sister doesn’t talk to MIL, and her daughter’s don’t see MIL either. MIL, we are all pretty sure, has narcissistic personality disorder. I’m sure she is moving closer to all of us to be difficult, to find a way to weasel her way back into our lives.)

I vent about MIL, and about hubby and the whole mess. Bea listens and understands. Eventually I stop venting and pull out my notebook. “I don’t want to waste all my time on her. I have so much in here.” 

“Okay.” She takes the notebook from me. “We can talk about whatever you want to or need to talk about. This isn’t wasting time.” 

I shrug. “I just….ugh. It’s like I don’t want her to take all MY time for dealing with my stuff. I don’t know. But I’m done talking about her for now.” I laugh, because I’m sure we will be talking about MIL again soon. 

Bea nods, and starts reading. “Ahhhhh. The little girl was really feeling worried about it not being safe to talk to me. I need to apologize for not realizing that was her fear, that she needed an emotional connection and reassurance from me that I wasn’t going to hurt her. I think my response was just an everyday life Bea response, sort of that first instinct, not so much from my wiser self. I don’t know if it’s summer, or what it is exactly, but I haven’t been able to be very deep lately. I’ve been much more on the surface, and not seeing the deeper stuff. I’m sorry because that isn’t helpful to you, and I know you are very sensitive to those shifts, and you can easily internalize that to be about you. This isn’t your stuff– it’s my stuff, and it’s something I’m working on.” 

If I were braver, I would say to Bea: *I’m glad you told me that. I have so much mom stuff popping up lately that I’m already feeling this loss of an attachment figure, or I am realizing that mom was never there for the real me anyway, or something, that this distance I have been feeling of you not being here, this feeling of being disconnected, it is 1000 times worse because it seems I am losing attachment figures all over the place, and I really am alone.* Instead, I simply nod. 

Bea continues reading, letting that drop for now. I think how in the past she would have actually reassured the little girl, she would have made sure that parts knew she was there, and wouldn’t hurt them. But this more surface Bea doesn’t do that. She stops reading and looks up. “I wondered what you and your brother had talked about.” I and told her via email that I had talked to my brother. “So you really remember and see the same things about your mom. This….the playing with Legos IF there was a full set with directions, that really speaks to her needing to hold everything very rigid, very controlled. She couldn’t allow free play, or messy play. That probably would be very scary for her. But that couldn’t have been easy on you. Reading this, there is so much pain there.” Her voice is sad for me, but I can’t let down my guard right now. 

Bea reads about my heartache over my mom not loving me, and she reads the pages and pages I wrote after nightmares, during flashbacks. Those pages are full of confusion, and anger and hurt. Some of them are written when overwhelmed and unable to control it. Some were written when I was trying to control everything, and you can see it in my handwriting; messy, large and loopy cursive versus teeny tiny perfectly formed print. She stops reading periodically to say something empathetic and kind, or to ask a question. 

Before she gets to the end, but as our session is close to over, she stops and says, “I hope the little girl, and all the parts, I hope you know, I would never hurt you. I won’t use anything you share with me against you.”

I shrug. “Maybe. But you can’t promise that. Maybe you really do want me to stop going away and….I don’t know.” 

She nods. “You’re right. I can’t know for sure. But if there was a part of me that you picked up on, a part that just wants to make it all better for you, make it easier for you, help you…..if there is a part like that, then because we’ve talked about it, and I’m aware to be paying attention for that within myself, I would be aware of an impulse to ‘fix’ you, and I would curb that impulse.” 

I’m not sure what to say. I value Bea’s honesty, it is one reason I trust her. But I sort of hate that what she is saying isn’t what I wanted to hear from her. It’s how I know her response is real, and it feels caring. She cares enough to be honest with me. I hand her 3 pieces of paper. One is a list of different far aways, another is a list of how to make things real, and the last (and only chart Bea hasn’t seen before) is about what triggers dissipating. 

“Ahhh. This is good. It’s really good, really helpful. You did some hard work with this.” 

“Thanks.” I whisper it.

“This makes so much sense. When you start to feel too many feelings, that triggers danger signals, and you go away. This makes total sense. This will be really helpful with our work. I think the thing is to stay between the pink and light green on the present side of the line. Because while even keel is nice, and that’s where we want to function in our day to day lives, we heal when we are on the edge our window, right?” Bea is excited, I can hear it in her voice.

“Yeah. I know. It’s just….well, I don’t know how to stay there.” 

“I know, it’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable. We can use the other side of your chart, somewhere in the pink and blue writing, that says it is being more logical and more in your head. We don’t want to go too far into the pink but that being in your head, being more logical can help you feel calmer and safer when you get overwhelmed. We can go between the two, staying on the edge of your window. This is great, because it shows us right where your window is and what triggers your need to dissociate, what signals you that it’s time to go away.”

Bea is talking more theory and logic right now, but I’m okay with it. She doesn’t feel quite so far away as she did earlier. I think it’s because I shared my chart with her. I had been a little proud of working on that, and I can feel Bea is proud of me, and excited to have this explanation. “Okay. We can try,” I tell her. Little Alice is still afraid that having Bea direct me to leave a memory and ground myself again, will feel like rejection, like she doesn’t really want to deal with the memory. 

Before I know it, Bea is telling me we have just a few minutes left. I’m not so far away now, so I nod, and easily pack up my bag when she hands me back my notebook. 

“I didn’t get a chance to finish all of it,” she says, “And I do want to read it all and talk through it. You have enough there to keep us busy for months!” Her voice is light, not worried in the least. 

“I’m sorry. I just….there was a lot in my head. I don’t know.” 

“No, you don’t need to be sorry. This is good. It gives us….or at least me, a general idea of what is going on, what is coming up. Okay?” She checks in with me.

“Yeah. Okay.” I say. 

We chase for a few more minutes and then we say goodbye and Bea smiles when she wishes me a good day. 

The baby shower 

Kay is pregnant. I’m happy for her, but it’s strange for me, too. I’m not involved in knowing about this baby, not the way I would have been a year ago. An invitation arrived in the mail last week, and it hurt. I can’t explain it, but that invitation caused a lot of grief to come up, and I knew I could not attend that baby shower. I also knew that not attending could very well be the equivalent of drawing a line in the sand and that coils cost me what semblance of friendship I have left. 

So, Monday’s session started off very on the surface again. I didn’t want to bring up Kay and the baby shower. I knew Bea would see it as a big deal, and I wasn’t sure I wanted that validation. Part of me really wanted some one to tell me to suck it up, to be appropriate and attend the shower like a good girl. Eventually, though, I told Bea about the invite. 

“Well, the million dollar question is, of course, are you going to go?” She asked. 

I shrugged, looked down. “I don’t know. I just……not going is sort of drawing a line in the sand. But I don’t want to go.”

“Could you go, take Kat with you, and just be happy for Kay, celebrate the baby and stay focused on Kat?” Bea asked. 

“Sure, I could,” I said. “It’s just…..I don’t fit anywhere now. I would have been the one THROWING the shower. Now I’m not even really a friend. I just….it would be really uncomfortable and I don’t want to deal with it.”

“That’s understandable,” Bea agreed.

We talked about the friendship, and how my setting a boundary ended the friendship a while. We go through how Kay and I began talking again, and how Kay isn’t even really in my life now. She doesn’t know me. She isn’t a person I would call if I needed to talk. Bea suggests that maybe I am ready to let go of this friendship, that I have, in a sense, outgrown it. 

All week, even outside of therapy, I think about this. I start to see that I am beginning to know who I am, and who I am is a person who doesn’t want to pretend things are great and wonderful when they aren’t. I don’t want to pretend to be friends and be closer to someone than I’m not, and I don’t want to make excuses, either. I want to be real, I want to be authentic. 

“I used to be that person, the one who pretended everything was good and did whatever the other party needed or expected, but I’m not that girl anymore,” I said to Bea. 

“No, you sure aren’t. I think this whole week, here in therapy and in your writing, it’s been about finding out who you are,” she told me. 

I nodded. “With Kay…..I thought, in a perfect world, I would send a gift and then call her and explain why I can’t attend the shower, that this rupture between us being left umrepaired makes it awkward for me, and I am feeling very sad because the last baby shower she has, I threw it. I would explain to her that I am happy she is having a baby, and that is something to celebrate and I would not be very celebratory with how I am feeling, and it is important to me to be authentic and true to myself. And then we would talk and she would understand and I would attend or not, but I wouldn’t be faking my way through anything. But this isn’t a perfect world, and so of I send a gift and message her my regrets, I think it will cost me the friendship.” 

“That’s hard. That is the hard thing. But you do know what you want to do, what feels right. You really are developing a sense of self,” Bea said to me. She sounded happy, maybe even proud of me.

I talked about how losing her friendship at this point would be more about losing the memories or the possibility of things being fixed— although I don’t believe I’d ever trust her the way once did. I shared wit Bea that I am planning on sending a gift with a nice card, and sending Kay a message that says “I am sorry we can’t make it to the shower, I have a conflict, but I wish I could be there. I’m so happy for you guys.” That puts the ball in her court, and if she chooses do question the conflict, I can then choose to share with her the conflict I have with our not exactly real, very surface, no repairs made friendship. 

Bea agreed that made sense, and she seemed proud of me for making a choice that was right for me. 
.  

Friendship 

Monday’s session was much of the same as Thursday’s at the beginning and then we spent some time discussing a Kat and her weekend of meltdowns. I’m thankful she will see Bea this week. I wondered, but didn’t say, if maybe missing a week of therapy effects Kat more than we think it does. My thought process was along the lines of Bea providing some extra holding space and containment for Kat’s BIG feelings and BIG worries, because while I do my best, my container is sort of leaky, and I struggle to hold my own crap at times. Although, I do think I now have separate containers for myself and Kat, but both still have lots of holes. Which is where Bea comes in. She holds the stuff that leaks out. Maybe that theory is way off base. 

It was the end of the session that got interesting. Bea had asked before she left on vacation about friendships, and if I noticed friendships forming now that were maybe different from friendships that were formed when Ms. Perfect was running things. I didn’t really answer then, but I ended up writing about three woman who I think I may be forming friendships with. All three have kids that Kat is friends with, which is how we met, but they also seem very authentic and real, their parenting values are similar to mine, we each have a similar quality of quirkiness, of nerdiness. Two of these women I have spent time with outside of having our kids with us, and it was really nice to have grown up conversations, just someone to have girl talk with. I stayed me, most of the time, and I didn’t leave our outings feeling drained and in need of a lot of quiet, down time like I usually do after a social engagement. 

I’ve noticed that the more real and authentic I am being, the less exhausted I am. I’d written about this in my notebook, along with a lot of other things, but the friendship thing is something Bea was really interested in today. She asked a lot of questions about them, and I talked a bit, but I also felt a little embarrassed. Why am I, a grown woman, having to discuss new friendships and how to navigate those new friendships, with my therapist? I mean, I am very appropriate in social settings. I am competent and confident in speaking to anyone, really. Or at least Ms. Perfect is. She isn’t afraid of people. She doesn’t let them in, but she is great at focusing on a person, being polite, talking to anyone and everyone and getting along with all kinds of people. But me? I have no idea how to be that person. I’m okay in social settings, maybe a little awkward, maybe a little preoccupied with whether or not people are perceiving me as weird, or crazy, or needy, or annoying, or any other thing that would separate me from them. But navigating and building real friendships? Yeah, I’m lost and uncertain, like a middle school girl who doesn’t fit anywhere. 

Bea asked about close friendships, if I felt like any of the women were people who would end up as close friends. 
I smiled and shook my head. “I don’t do close friends.” 

Bea paused for a moment. “Maybe you do now.”

I shook my head. “Nope. I don’t have close friends. It’s not something I do. I do surface stuff. I prefer to play by myself in my sandbox.” I’m joking, but I’m also a little bit serious. After all, if I play alone in the sandbox, no one can mess up the design I have for the sandcastle, or think my idea is silly, no one can throw sand at me and hurt me, and no one can smash my castle. I’m safe in the sandbox all alone. 

Bea laughs, a small delighted laugh that says she enjoys my stubbornness, and my humor. In a silly voice she says, “Well, Alice, now, you are gonna make close friends.” We both crack up. 

In a small voice, I say, “I HAD a close friend. I HAD Kay. I don’t want close friends again.” 

Bea doesn’t respond right away. “You did have Kay. She was a very close friend. And maybe you really don’t want close friends. But I’m thinking there are all different kinds of friendships. Like my friend I walk with? I see her a lot and we do a lot together, we’ve already texted this morning about something, but things are sort of on the surface with her, she just doesn’t have the capacity to go to difficult places. But she is still a good friend. We have a lot in common. Then I have a friend who I see rarely, but when we do get together, there is a deeper connection, and time spent together feels much more meaningful. I have a younger friend, from my old job, who I have a lot of fun with, but we have a deeper friendship, too. Oh, and then my friend Julia, she’s weird. We have a lot of shared history, both of us have parents who passed away (I already knew Bea’s father had passed away, we discussed that when we worked through grief over my grandpa), and she can go to those grief filled places, but anything else, there is a wall and she will not go there. So, maybe there are all kinds of friendships. I think Kay was unusual; most friendships aren’t like that.”

“I know….I know it was maybe one sided in a lot of ways. But she did talk to me, too. Actually, she was quite the open book. But…..I don’t know.” I shake my head. 

“I wonder…I know her friendship was important, but I wonder if you were acting something out with her?” Bea is thinking out loud again. 
I groan. She’s heading into shrinky thinky territory, but as I’m not feeling very emotionally connected, I don’t really care. “I don’t….I mean…..well maybe.” I think for a bit. 
I think in my head, and Bea thinks out loud. “You were always shutting her out, disappearing. I wonder if you were acting something out with that.” 
“Well, it’s not like I shut her out for no reason. I mean…..well, like, if I was going to treat you like I did her……” I’m embarrassed to admit this, because there have been times where I have thought of running, of disappearing on Bea. “Like, when you brought up relationships in the past and talked about them even though you knew I did not want to discuss relationships— now it’s been okay— I would have just not come back. I’d have walked out and not looked back.” 
“But Kay, when you did that to her, she didn’t let you shut her out.” 
“Well. It’s like…….if something came up in conversations and upset me, she’d see it. Where I would be working to hide it, and others would not notice, or maybe they noticed and I am not so good at pretend as I think, and they ignored it. Kay would see it and she’d call me out on it. She wouldn’t let me pretend. She’d push to know what upset me.” I shrug. 
“Usually, I’d tell her and we would talk and then I would disappear for a few weeks.” 
“Boundaries……” Bea says slowly. “She wasn’t respecting your boundaries at all.” 

“Maybe…..” I say. I don’t want to agree with Bea right now. I can see where she is coming from, but I feel like that isn’t the whole story. “I mean, she put up with a lot from me…..I was a lot. So maybe she felt like she didn’t need to listen to any boundary I set.” I’m not sure.

“Well……..let’s say something comes up in conversation that upsets you, it’s touches on those vulnerable places. You don’t want to talk about it, so you pretend everything is okay. A friend who notices and asks you about it, they say something like ‘hey, did something just upset you? Are you okay?’ If you say you don’t want to talk about it, that is an authentic response, and a boundary. A healthy friendship would respect that boundary. If you say nothing is wrong, that is maybe coming more from Ms. Perfect, but still, a healthy friendship would respect that boundary.” 

I nod slowly. “That’s Reagan. She asks, but won’t continue to push or ask about it. She hears the boundary, I guess.” I don’t think I’ve ever thought of pretending to be okay as a boundary, as a choice, as a way of saying ‘no’. I’ve always thought of prefect as building a wall to keep people from knowing the real me that they would inevitably hate. 

“That is a healthy relationship.” Bea says.

We continue talking about friendship and boundaries, and when it’s time to leave, Bea says, “I think this is important. Maybe this is something to do some writing with, if you feel like it.” 

I nod. It might be. I’m not sure I want to talk about friendships. I’m not sure what I want to talk about, though. It seemed like so many big things were coming up before Bea’s week long break (to be fair, she was only gone for 4 days, it was just I saw her on a Wednesday and not again until Thursday), and they have just disappeared. I’ve detached from her and don’t really feel an emotional connection. Part of me wants to stay that way, talk about the shrinky side of things, because when I feel like this, I can. The other parts me are desperate to feel emotionally connected with Bea again. I don’t know which part of me is going to win.

Burning down the house

My next few sessions, after I set a boundary by telling Bea ‘no’ were all about relational stuff. After that session where I said no, I was terrified Bea was angry with me. I was so afraid she was going to leave, I couldn’t email her. So, I wrote in my notebook. I wrote a lot in my notebook. I took my notebook with me to therapy that next session. 

When I arrived, I didn’t want to walk in to her office and look at her. So I didn’t. I walked in, staring at the floor. I couldn’t find any small talk, I couldn’t even manage to say hi. Where is Ms. Perfect when you need her? I sat down and pulled out my notebook, handing it to Bea while simultaneously curling into a ball and burying my face in my knees. 

“Did you want to start with your notebook?” Bea asked. 

I nodded. 

Bea didn’t say or do anything for a few moments. It was like she was trying to decide the best way to proceed. “I’m just going to get your blanket, just so you have it if you need it. It looks like you are needing to hide today.” 

She sets the blanket down next to me. I’m glad, because I really do want to hide. 
She starts reading my notebook, where I have basically freaked out over saying no to trying a memory exercise because it would be an SP thing, imagining all the awful things that will happen, that should happen. I wrote and wrote about how this was all because of SP, and SP was the worst thing ever, and I hated it and she was turning into an SP therapist. We had talked in a session previously where she had admitted that there were things from SP that just made sense to her, and felt natural and so they had become part of her way of doing therapy. She had said that she was always careful with me, to not do those things, but as they became more ingrained in how she practiced therapy, sometimes they slipped out. I had said I felt like this issue we were having, my freaking out, was an SP thing. Bea continued to insist that is was a relational thing. She said that SP was the thing that brought out these relationship issues, but if it hadn’t been SP and her changing, it would have been something else. 

“I want to say, before I start reading, that this feeling of being on opposite teams, it feels to me like it kind of another *all or nothing* thing, that we either have to believe exactly the same thing, or we are on opposition teams. I don’t see that. To me, we are on the same team, and we agree about most things, but as separate individuals naturally we don’t agree on everything. We are looking through different lenses so of course we see our own view, and even if we can understand the other’s view, we don’t have to share it to be on the same team.” 

Now, this was almost 4 weeks ago, and looking at this again, I’ve had a something click into place for me. This feels very much like mom stuff to me. I never got to be me with my mom, I never really got to be a separate individual. There was this unspoken rule that we had to like the same things, agree on everything, that there could be no differences. Even when I moved away to college, and wanted to put pink streaks in my hair, I called my mom to ask her opinion (or rather, get permission). She said she supposed doing something wild and crazy was do be expected of a college student, so to go ahead. 

I didn’t say anything in response to Bea’s words. I wanted to believe her, but what she was suggesting was really hard to believe. It wasn’t my experience. I felt alone, and hurt, and terrified. I started crying. 

“Alice, it’s going to be okay. I know it was hard to come back today, but it is going to be okay.” Bea says softly. 

I sob harder. “It’s. Not. Going. To. Be. Okay.”

“Are you firing me?” Bea asks. She is sort of serious, and she isn’t ignoring my tears or upset, but her voice has a playful quality to it.

“N-n-nooooooo,” I sob. 

“Okay. Then whatever it is, whatever Is written here, we can work through it. Okay? We can get through this.” Her tone says she is all serious now. 

“O-o-o-okay.” Shakily, I lift up the blanket, and throw it over my head. Unfortunately, I don’t unfold it al the way, in my rush to remain hidden, and so I have to fumble with it. I end up getting myself covered and hidden with some finagling. 

Bea reads.

I feel like you are on a separate side when it comes to SP, like you are always on a separate side. I hate this. It feels like everything I was afraid of happening with SP is happening. 




“I know. I know you really feel like we are on separate sides. We can disagree and still be on the same side. I really believe that.” 

I can’t do this. I can’t make you change your beliefs, and I would never ask you to. But I can’t work with you when it feels like we are on opposite sides. 




“Well, you aren’t asking me to change my beliefs. But if you are feeling like this– that we are on such opposite sides that you can’t work with me, then it is my job to step back and see how I can help you not just feel like, but know, that I am on your side. It is my job to fix this, okay? And I do believe we can fix it.” 

I really do hate this. It’s not okay. I don’t understand why you can’t be just regular, human, therapist Bea, and if new things you learned will work or be helpful, then use that piece of it and leave the rest. CBT always felt shrinky but you just use some parts of it, like feelings aren’t facts and reality checking. It didn’t mean you had to turn the session into a set in stone CBT session, you used the relevant parts and left the rest. 




“Well here….me being just regular Bea……this is what I was saying the last time, that I can be me and use SP techniques. I really think we are on the same page about this.”

I think with SP it feels like any response you have is forced or because SP says so. I can’t trust that. It turns you into shrinky Bea who is following a set format and whose responses aren’t real but are set out guidelines designed to elicit certain reactions with the end goal of the transformation piece. 




“Ahhhh…..it is feeling very manipulative. I imagine it is hard to trust what another is saying or doing when you are afraid of being manipulated. I’m not trying to trick you, or saying something just to get you to do something. I bring things up to get you to see patterns, to try to change things that might be adding to challenges. I know it’s hard to trust that, and only time and experiencing that as true can really help. And we have time.”

But you were different. You were real, just human, flawed Bea with real emotions and your responses felt like they were you sharing your genuine response with me, not a feeling or response being dictated by the therapist part of you. That’s why I trusted you when I never trusted any other therapist. It’s why when everything seemed completely screwed up, like when you had emailed with hubby, I still trusted your respect, words.  




She laughs. “Flawed. Yup. That’s me. Flawed and human, and bound to make mistakes.”

Inside I’m having a panic attack, but outside I’m frozen and calm, and gone. I can’t do this. I don’t think this can be fixed. 

“I really do believe that as long as you stay, and we work through this together, it can be fixed. It’s only when someone leaves, when they run away, that we don’t get a chance to fix things, and they can’t be fixed then.” 

Maybe I’m a broken trauma client. I know everything in SP says that separating the meaning making narrative from body sensations and feelings. focusing on the body, on the here and now, is less overwhelming, less scary for trauma clients. But for me, it’s this black hole of danger, a not okay, pit of terribleness, it’s not okay. This is a mess. 




“You aren’t broken. I think it’s just that you have dissociated feelings and body sensation and being present from yourself that it feels very unsafe to feel those things. You have to learn to tolerate it again, just like with yoga, you had to learn to tolerate having any focus on your body, being even a little more present. It’s a process, and every time we practice, we open that window a little more. But you aren’t broken, no matter how much that it feels that way.”

Maybe I should be done. I can’t keep doing this. I hate this. I’m not okay. This is destroying me. I feel like I’m going to end up losing you no matter what, so why prolong that? Why prolong this hurt? At the end of the day, you are an SP therapist and I am not an SP client. Better to quit now than end up more hurt because we can’t be on the same side and I can’t talk to you and I’m numb and alone and not really here anyway and all I want to do is go away. 




“It really must feel horrible and lonely to feel like I’m here but you can’t talk to me because we are on different sides. No wonder it was so scary to tell me no, to feel as if you were placing yourself on a separate side.”

I know we don’t have to believe the same things to be on the same side. But this feels bigger than that. It’s like a foundation or something. It’s like we had been building a house together. Your half was different than my half, and that was okay because we had the same foundation, we each used wood to build our house. But one day, you changed out your wooden foundation for bricks. Which meant you could add brick to the rest of your house, but my house can’t support the things your house can. Maybe my house isn’t strong enough to help support the things you have added and so my house is collapsing under the weight. So, it seems like the only thing to do is burn down my half, run away, and start over. 




“You don’t need to burn down your house. You just need someone to help you renovate. I’m here. We don’t need to burn the house down. Nothing is ruined. We don’t need to start over, we just work to build and renovate the house we already have. And we don’t have separate halves of the house, there is no line splitting the house, separating us.” Bea’s voice is sort of….insistent that I don’t burn down my half of the house. She’s insisting we rebuild together.    

Knowing you are there and would respond and care about me, that just hurts. I know, it’s crazy. It’s sort of like I feel as if I’m going to lose you, or feeling this divide between us, it hurts knowing you are there. Ugh. Being and sounding like a crazy person is awful. 
This all just feels unbearable. I’m embarrassed because I can’t even figure out how to explain what exactly is so upsetting, it’s like I know some thing is painful and bad, but I can’t put my finger on it, and so I’m embarrassed to be this upset over………what? Something I can’t name. 




“It’s okay. It makes sense to me. This…..relational stuff can be so painful. Unbearably painful at times. You don’t need to be embarrassed. Really. It’s okay. I get it.” And then, she proves to me that she gets it by sharing a story about herself and her own therapist, and some painful relational attachment stuff that cropped up a long time ago. She tells me about the feelings and her reactions, her behaviors (she doesn’t t share what the attachment challenges were, or what her ‘issues’ were). She gets it. “I don’t….it’s not like that for me, now. Whatever the relational stuff was, I eventually worked through it with my therapist and now, well now, I can take him or leave him. I don’t need him like I once did. It’s nice knowing he’s there, but it’s not that painfully attached feeling. I think that does happen, eventually, if things are worked through.” 

It’s not fair, Bea. A year ago, I was terrified you were turning into an SP therapist, and I thought I’d have to leave, you reassured me, you said *i have no intention of turning into an SP therapist.* AND THEN YOU DID IT ANYWAY. You said I had a choice about SP. But you changed everything. I didn’t get a choice to have my therapist turn into an SP shrink. That is most certainly a choice I did not make. So how do we get past that? 
I hate this. I hate SP. everything is all screwed up. I can’t fix it, I can’t be a good client, I can’t do this. I shouldn’t be here anymore, I just want to disappear. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you did this for me and I, and ungrateful, bratty drama queen, who just can’t be good. I feel like this won’t be okay. I just want things to feel safe again, I want to be able to talk to you. And I am not sure that will ever happen. This hurts. 




“I know this hurts. I can see that it is hard for you to be here right now, and I can tell there is a lot of pain and sadness around all of this. I don’t see you as bratty, I see you as scared, as terrified of these changes. I can see you hating SP because it was a catalyst of these changes and it feels like SP is the cause of this pain you feel between you and I. I know it feels like I am turning into an SP therapist. I’m not. I would not call myself am SP therapist. I am just me, just Bea who is flawed and human, and real. Sometimes I use CBT or DBT strategies in therapy sessions. Sometimes I use SP stuff. Sometimes I use developmental attachment stuff from my infant mental health training. I use lots of things to work with people. I could never give up the other methods I use. I think it is hard for you because you have been here as I learned SP, and as I was unskillfully working to integrate it into my regular style of therapy. Now it’s more integrated, and I try to be very conscious of that and not use it in your sessions, but it is more natural, more mixed into my therapy bag. You don’t need to leave, and I don’t need to leave. We both can stay and we can be on the same side. I’m just me. I’m not leaving or changing who I am at my center.”

“I don’t have to leave? You aren’t leaving?” My voice is tiny and tear filled. 
“No, you absolutely don’t need to leave. I’m not leaving— well, I am leaving for vacation in a week, but I am coming back.” She says. The added part about her vacation is reluctant. 

I sob harder. “You are leaving. You are leaving because of me.” Panic is erupting within me. Bea is leaving. I was bad, and she is leaving. 

“Nope. This isn’t because of you, or because of anyone. I’m leaving to take my son back to school and then to spend a few with my husband. That’s all. It’s not because of you, you could never make me leave.” 

“You’re coming back?” Tears are still running down may face and I feel a little numb. 

“Yes. I’m coming back. I’ll be leaving on Friday after work, and I’ll be back home on Wednesday afternoon.” She says calmly. 

My heart freezes. “I won’t see you all week?” 

“Not on Monday or Wednesday, I won’t be here. I could see you Thursday morning?” She is gentle and kind with me, her voice is soft. 

“Okay. Thursday morning.” I agrees, sadly.

“We still have next week Monday and Wednesday, and you can email me. I know it’s scary to email me when I’m not here, but you can email and I will answer and I will be real and not shrinky.” She reassures me as best she can. 

Then, because I’m hiding under the blanket and I’m a little bit far away, Bea asks me how I want to come back to the real world. 

“I don’t know.” I whisper.

“What do you need to feel safe to come back?” She asks. 

I honestly don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t ask. I tell her that I truly don’t know. 

“Should I leave the room?” She asks. 

I have an immediate reaction to that, and so I shake my head. No, don’t leave the room. 

“Turn around and not look at you?”

I shake my head. That feels better than her leaving but it’s not okay either. 

“Do you want me to move my chair closer?”

I shake my head. No. 

Bea suggest a few more things, and an answer to her question begins to form in my mind. “Go away, bit don’t leave. That’s what I want. How crazy is that? It makes no sense. I can’t do this.” 

“It’s not crazy. It’s that push- pull dynamic. What if I turn to the side, so I’m not facing you, close my eyes, and keep a connection by talking with you?” She suggests. 

“Okay.” I agree, feeling lame, broken, defective. Why am I acting like this? It takes me a few minutes to pull the blanket off my head and sit up. I can’t look at Bea for a long time, but when I finally peek my eyes at her, I see she is sitting side ways and has her eyes closed. 

“Would it be okay if I opened my eyes? I won’t move, I won’t leave.” 

“Yeah. You can open your eyes.” Now that I’m more present, Bea’s closed eyes feel as if she is shutting me out, like maybe she doesn’t want to see me. 

Bea opens her eyes, and I feel a bit better. I slip on my shoes, gather my things, fold the blanket. I stand up, and walk to the door. Only then does Bea turn towards me. She smiles and wishes me a good weekend. I smile too, and wish her the same.