Transitions and internal shifts

Things are shifting right now. I’m in a transition and it’s incredibly painful. The last few weeks, Bea and I have been focusing on the details of memory, and so many questions have been brought up. If it was just a game, why do I remember this awful feeling of something bad was going to happen? Why can I feel those evil butterflies flapping around in my belly when I remember? Why do I want nothing more than to curl up in a ball, hide, disappear, to become invisible? Why do I remember pain and wanting to move away, to push him away? If it was nothing more than a fun, innocent, game, a special secret, then why do I hold all these bad feelings around the memories of this game?

In focusing on these details, a filter has been removed. This filter saved me when I was a child, a teen, a young woman newly engaged, a new mother. It kept me safe, and now it’s gone. I can no longer look at my past as a fun game; my childhood wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows and sunshine. There was a darkness, a cloud that covered the sun, and I can see it so clearly now. The filter twisted things, it made it seem as if I had a choice, as if I were in control, as if it was my fault. But you know what? That filter is gone now, and It wasn’t my fault.

Bea has spent years of therapy telling me it wasn’t my fault, telling me she didn’t believe I had done anything to cause any of this. She would acknowledge that I believed otherwise, and then continue to insist it was not my fault. There have been other points in therapy when this filter has begun to be removed, when I’ve see the dark clouds, when I’ve begun to question things. Each time, I’ve run from it, fought to get that filter back. Whether it was a rupture with Bea, or Ms. Perfect taking over and finding a bubble, or being flooded with memories where I *clearly* was in control, I’ve run.

This time has been different. A rupture did happen; one that Bea helped create, but one that I added to. I told myself she didn’t care, that she didn’t want to deal with me or my memories, that these details were going to break her and cause her to go away. In the past, I would have gone to therapy pretending all was well, and refused to discuss what happened. This time, there was enough of that wise, grounded grown up on board to actually talk through the rupture with Bea, and to find a repair. That’s not to say Bea never tried to find a repair in the past, but that’s hard to do when Ms. Perfect is running the show. In the past, the repair was never allowed to happen until the filter was firmly back in place. This time, the filter is still gone. I think it might still exist somewhere, and if I really reached for it, I could lock it back in place. But I don’t want to. This feels far too important, as if I’m moving forward on this path of healing.

I’m not exactly sure what this means, or where it will lead. I know the crisis I was in a few weeks ago was due to the filter being gone and my world being flipped upside down. I know that we are going to have to move slowly with this, and that it’s going to take a lot of time for my world to be flipped right side up again. I know things inside me are shifting and changing, and that on the outside that can look like a hot mess sometimes.

Last week, while reading my notebook, Bea asked what it meant for the filter to be gone. I shrugged. It means so much, I can hardly wrap my head around it. The only answer I had for her was, “I don’t know.”

“Take a minute, really think about,” she insists, because she is aware my *I don’t knows* can be a reflex, and I very well may know.

So, I thought about it, and Bea continued reading. “Okay, you talk about that here. It means different things for different parts. Can we talk about that?”

I shrug, and then nod. Then I realize Bea can’t see me because I’m hiding under the blanket. “Okay, let’s talk about that.”

“Ms. Perfect has some strong feelings about the filter being gone.” Bea steers me towards talking about the parts, as if she knows I’d sit there in silence for the entire session otherwise.

“Ms. Perfect wants to stay on the surface and ignore it all. She’s afraid things will fall apart if she doesn’t get the filter back.”

“She’s made sure you could function all those years before. But things are different now. You are stronger. You have more coping skills and you have more support. You don’t have to be pretend anymore.” Her voice is gentle, she’s not going to try to push Ms. Perfect into believing this right now.

“Yeah….but….there’s…before….I mean last week, no, two weeks ago…everything….I just…”

“You ended up feeling really alone, struggling to cope. I can’t promise that will never happen again, but I think we have a good plan in place now to prevent it as best we can. And you did find support from others, even if it wasn’t what you really were wanting.”

“Yeah. I did…people I didn’t even think….well, they were there. But it’s not the same as you because you know everything, you know how bad it really feels.” I’m sad, remembering how bad it felt that week. It was like Bea disappeared.

“I know it’s not the same. Sometimes we have to accept support even when it’s not from someone who knows the depth of our pain. And that’s okay. I know it was a bad week. And I am very sorry I added to the pain.” She’s apologizing again. I feel bad about this, but it’s nice to hear, too. It’s comforting to know she is aware she hurt me and that she feels bad about it.

“The teen is scared that you will disappear when the world flips upside down again,” I whisper.

“Of course she is. She’s been defending you and protecting everyone for so long, of course she would be worried about that. Maybe angry with me, too, for disappearing when she and little Alice needed me. She might be wondering if I’m trustworthy now.”

“I don’t know. She’s just very scared you will go away again, even if you say you won’t.”

“I know. I can’t change her mind. But I’d like to let her know I’m here, I’m not going anywhere. Even when we have ruptures like that, I will always work through them with her. Always.” Bea’s voice is dead serious. She has the mom tone I get when I want Kat to really take in what I am saying to her.

“Maybe okay.” I shrug.

“What about the little girl? I’m sure she is having some big feelings about the filter being gone.”

“She’s scared.” I answer automatically and then add, “It’s like if someone so nice can be so scary, how can I ever know if nice is really just nice? Anyone could be scary.”

“Is that the little girl or the grownup?”

“I dunno. Maybe…..both?”

“It sounds like the grown up trying to make sense of the little girl’s feelings. And that all does make sense. It’s understandable to feel that way. What is the little girl thinking?” Bea tries again to get little Alice to talk to her.

“I can’t talk to you! I don’t wanna hurt you. I don’t want you to leave!”

“There’s the little girl. You really felt like I went away because of you, didn’t you?” Her voice is softer now, and soothing to little Alice.,

“I just….I just…I never should’ve gave you my pictures!”

“Oh, but I am so glad you were brave enough to let me see them. They were really helpful in showing me how you feel and what you are dealing with. It showed me that this is a lot, and that you really needed me and it hurt that I didn’t get it. I get it now. And it’s not too much. Any details you want to tell me, anything at all, even words you don’t like, it’s okay. I can handle it. I will be okay, and I’ll help you handle it, too.” Something in Bea’s voice turns this into a promise, because she really, really means it.

“I didn’t hurt you? I didn’t make you go away?”

“Nope. Not at all.”

“Okay.” It’s a whisper, but I believe her. Little Alice believes her, too.

“Can you tell me what it means to you that the filter is gone?” Bea asks, going back to her original question.

“Scary.” It’s mumbled, but clear enough Bea hears.

“Yeah, it is scary. Is there anything else? Maybe some mad, or other feelings?” She asks gently.

“He tricked me.”

“He did trick you. That doesn’t feel very good, does it?”

“I never want to be tricked like that again!” The words are loud in this space where I am usually all whispers and silences searching for words.

“No, of course not. There’s some conviction there. He tricked you, and you never want to be tricked again!” She echoes my tone, but I think there might be pride there, too. Is that possible? Could she be proud of me?

“No. Not ever.” The words are firm, a boundary of sorts. I feel strong inside, and a little scared to be so firm in what I’m saying. I don’t feel strong on the outside, but inside, in that moment, I am a giant, I am Wonder Woman, I can do anything.

“Yes! He tricked you and you never want to be tricked again! How does that feel to say that?”

I shake my head. I don’t know. This is maybe the first time the little girl has ever set a boundary or thought about saying no. I don’t know what it feels like. It’s like taking the first step on the moon; scary, and exhilarating, and amazing, and nervous making.

Bea says something, but I’m not hearing her. I’m too far away. “Don’t go too far away, okay? Come back a little.” She says it playfully, there’s no force involved.

I’m struggling to come back, but she realizes this and changes direction. ” So, the filter being gone really feels like it changes things, doesn’t it?” Her tone is that of an adult speaking to another adult, and that helps.

“The filter being gone changes everything. Well, everything for me, even if it changes nothing for you. There is a new realization that you never had a filter, you never had this filter that made you see everything as my fault, did you?”

“No, I’ve never thought it was your fault. Not ever.” She confirms.

“For me though, it means the story of Kenny changes, but it also means the story of my mom changes, and the story of who I am changes. It brings up all kinds of questions. Looking at those details changes everything,” I say, quietly.

Bea wonders why, what made this change occur? “It feels sudden to me, in a lot of ways. It’s not been a slow realization. Maybe that’s just how it happens, I don’t know what I thought, really, how I expected it to be. I suppose, given how difficult it was for you to accept my words, and to even try on the idea of it not being your fault, I thought it would be this slow progression. What do you think it was, the thing that broke through that filter?”

I sigh, this feels like a huge question, with a big answer. “I think it’s all the seeds planted in the last few years, and how the last few weeks have been like water and food for those seeds. Seeing the details of memory, actually feeling them and focusing on the somatic things that come up, it was like giving those seeds sunlight. it made those seeds grow until I could no longer ignore them. The seeds grew strong enough to remove the filter. That filter was like a weed that would not allow the seeds to grow. It was strong. But the sunlight was stronger, and the seeds did grow.”

After I’m done talking, and Bea is very silent, I’m embarrassed. Maybe my explanation was dumb. It sounded good in my head, but it was poetic and weird to say aloud. What was I thinking? I should have just said I don’t know.

“That makes perfect sense. All those details brought questions to light you couldn’t ignore.” When she finally speaks, it feels like hours later, but really it’s probably just a minute or two. She sounds sort of amazed. “It wasn’t so quick then, it was just happening inside where I can’t go and see what changes and shifts are occurring.”

I’m quiet, because I don’t really know what to say. There’s so much in my head, but it’s all jumbled and mixed together and there are too many questions to answer today, anyways.

“I just want to take a few minutes to read the rest of your writing, is that okay?”

“Okay. You should read it. That’s a good idea.” I agree.

A moment later, and Bea is done reading. “I think you are right, when you say here that we need to just stay with the little girl, and the details, and that desire to move, and the fact the filter is gone. This is big. It’s a lot, and it’s going to take time to make sense of.”

Just like that, I’m back in the details, and thinking of wanting to push him away, and what that means that I didn’t, couldn’t push him away.

And then Bea is talking, and it’s terrible. She’s saying how we should focus on the little girl’s conviction of *he tricked me and I never want to be tricked again.* Shes telling me that we can reassure the little girl the grown up won’t let us be tricked again, and that the grown up can hang onto those convictions this week, because it’s important. She’s wondering if the teen can hear the little girl’s adamancy that she never be tricked again, if the teen can see the little girl is getting stronger, and the teen can maybe not need to defend against everyone on the outside so much?

Bea is talking, and I want to cry. She just wants me to be okay. She’s wrapping it all up in this neat bow again, and I hate it. She doesn’t care. She needs me to leave here okay, so I can be okay during the week and not bother her.

And just as I’m almost at this edge, this line I cross when I’m hurt and emotionally abandoned; this line that allows Ms. Perfect to take over, Bea realizes what she is doing. “Oh no. I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Go back, pretend I didn’t say anything. This doesn’t have to end in a nice neat bow. I wasn’t thinking about that, and I’m sorry.”

I peek out from the blanket, still covering most of my face and all of me. Bea looks crestfallen and horrified that she started down that path. “It’s okay,” I tell her.

“Well, it’s not okay, but I want you to know, all the feelings are okay. I don’t need you to be okay. I suppose I was just thinking I wanted you to leave with something that let you feel strong. Just pretend I didn’t say anything, okay?” She’s back pedaling, and trying hard to fix it in the last few minutes of my session. I’m glad she realized what she was doing, and it helps that she realized she was hurting me, and stopped and is sorry, but it still hurts.

Bea talks some more, just normal things, trying to help me regulate. It doesn’t really make a difference at this point. I’ve gone faraway, to the place that lets me act normal even when I am feeling hurt and abandoned. I fold up the blanket and pack my things, making chit chat and smiling and nodding.

Before I leave, Bea stops me and makes eye contact. “You are okay however you feel right now. I’m very sorry I started to end things like that. If you need to email, I’m here.”

“It’s okay, we can talk about it on Wednesday,” I tell her. Then we say our goodbyes, and I head to the car feeling this strange combination of numb and present.

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Trauma– it’s in the details 

Bea’s drinking coffee today, and so we talk about coffee. I love coffee, it’s my favorite drink. I love fancy coffee drinks, simple lattes, plain black coffee and coffee with cream. So, we talk about coffee because it’s easy and simple to do. We talk about coffee because I want to avoid talking about the image I’d finally managed to write about just the night before. 

Eventually though, Bea directs us to our work with a gentle push. “Can we talk about Wednesday, and how that session was for you?” 

I nod. “Okay.” And then I don’t say anything. I don’t know what to say. “It was better than the Wednesday before?” It’s true, but it comes out as a question, maybe because I am questioning what she wants to hear. 

“Yes, that’s good. How was it better?” 

“Well, it just…..I didn’t leave upset. It was better.” I’m looking at down at my hands, sort of here but not here because I know where this conversation is heading. 

“What was it like to talk about and notice some boundaries? Have you noticed them more in your life as we have been working with them?” Bea’s voice is curious. 

“I don’t know. Not really, I guess. I’m sorry.” I mumble. I don’t get why we are talking about boundaries. I guess that is some of what we have been talking about and working with lately. But I don’t know what she wants. 

“That’s okay. I bet you might start to notice. I was just curious because boundaries aren’t something you have ever really noticed or felt before, so I wonder if being more aware of them would change how you felt things.” She shifts in her chair, picking up her coffee cup.

I don’t say anything, just nod my understanding. Bea drinks some coffee, and I drink mine and finally she asks if I did any writing. I pull out my orange notebook. “It’s not much,” I tell her as I hand it over. 

She starts to read, and I start some mindless chatter. “I think I am talking, trying to distract you.” 

“That’s a good thing to notice, you are talking to keep my attention focused off your words.” She looks up at me. 

“I’ll stop now,” I say, and then I keep talking anyway. Bea patiently waits me out. “Okay. I want you to read.” And I stop talking, sitting quietly and hiding my face. 

I’ve sat down a few times to try to write about the image, but I just couldn’t. I don’t even remember the words that brought it up.

“I don’t remember either. I’d forgotten about the image until now but it sounds like this image is really an important thing for us to look at.” Her voice is clear, with a bit of an apology woven into it when she says she had forgotten. For whatever reason I’m not upset about this. Even now, writing it out, I’m surprised that my belief she cares and is here is still so strong, that my crazy mind isn’t using Bea’s forgetfulness as a way to convince myself that she doesn’t care. 

“I didn’t forget….” I whisper. 

“I know you didn’t.” She says, and her words say so much more than that. They hint at understanding that I don’t have the luxury of forgetting, of leaving the images in my brain at her office. 

Wednesday was better. It’s as if something clicked this time. For the little girl, realizing that you still hold the memory as a whole and that stopping talking and looking at the body stuff isn’t about you needing to get away from her and her stuff, that makes SP seem completely different now. Still scary, but not as terrible and awful as it did feel to me. 

“Yeah, of course realizing that, switching that perspective changed everything. It seemed so clear to me, that of course I’m still holding onto this memory as a whole, but the little girl didn’t see it that way. It’s no wonder SP has felt so scary and awful to her. I didn’t know that was what wasn’t making sense for her, I didn’t put two and two together. I’m so glad she knows now, I’m not going anywhere and I’m not letting go of the memory.” 

So, the image. What were the words? About not wanting to be seen or something like that, right? So. I guess I’m still struggling to put it on paper. It’s popped in my head, it’s been on my mind at times, I’ve wanted to write it, I really have, but it’s just so– I don’t have a good word for it– bleck, yuck, ick

“It was really hard to write it out, wasn’t it?” She murmurs. 

It’s true, I think, what you said about trauma, feelings, pain living in the details. That’s the problem. It really could be part of a memory already written or talked about. Looking at one small piece means details and that means no vague descriptions glossing over the things that shame, disgust and terrify me. 

“It really is the details, isn’t it?” She tells me how there are events in her life where if she thinks of the event as a whole, it doesn’t bring up the emotion that discussing and focusing on the details that have stuck with her from event would. I don’t feel better when she says this, but at least I know she gets how much more is in the details. 

Okay. This what I’m going to do. I’ll write the image on the next page and fold it over, so we can talk about it before you read it. And probably just give me a blanket now, before  you read that. I’m sort of just being funny, but also that is just how strong the image is– I want to hide just thinking about it. 

 

I’m hiding my face, but I hear Bea get up to get me a blanket. “I’m going to set this blanket next to you, okay?” She says and I reach my hand out, so she hands it to me instead. “Maybe let’s talk a about how you are feeling right now?”

“I don’t know. Silly. Like I’m making a deal out of a thing that isn’t a deal. The judgey part is real judgey, like just stop being a drama queen and be appropriate.” 

“I don’t feel the way the judgey part feels. It feels bad to have that part here, but that can be a good thing because it means the overwhelmed parts haven’t taken over all the way.” Her voice and words are reassuring; she doesn’t feel like the judgey part feels. “Is there anything the overwhelmed parts feel?”

I think for a moment. “Sick.” 

“Sick like nauseous? Or something else?” She asks. 

“Sick……….sick, like something bad is going to happen.” Without noticing it, I’ve buried myself in the blanket. I’m so glad I’m hidden from view. I’m scared. I don’t want to be noticed.

“Sick like something bad is going to happen.” She repeats my words, just a simple statement, but it’s maybe a question too, a checking to see if there is anything I would like to add to that. 

“It….there should be a word……something else, I don’t know what…..there should be a better word for that though,” I say, stumbling over my words. 

“Maybe the little girl didn’t have a better word. Maybe that was the closest thing she had to describe what she is feeling. Adults, we have more complex words, but little girls have simple words. Sad. Mad. Sick. Hurt.” Bea is always sticking up for the little girl– for me, really. I’m so glad she finds it easy to stick up for the little girl. 

“Maybe,” I say. I realize now that the word I was needing might be dread, apprehension, trepidation, worry and tension, suspense, uneasiness….any of those would have explained it, I think.

“So, when I’m reading about the image and we are talking about it, what is a resource you can use when it gets to be overwhelming to help bring you back to the present where it is safe?” Bea asks. 

I shrug. “Talking works. But you don’t want to let me use that anymore.” Maybe I’m pouting a little bit, but I really don’t understand why if I know that talking about regular stuff helps me calm back down, why we should change what I use to be okay, just because SP says to use body based resources. 

“So, talking is an interpersonal resource. We can still use talking. It is a good way for you to know I’m still here and with you, still on your side. What do you want to talk about?”

“You know. Regular stuff. Everyday stuff.” I’m calmer now, instantly calmer. Talking is my resource, my defense, my way I stay connected or check that my secure base is there. Spoken language, words, are everything. 

“Okay, good. So when you feel like you are really overwhelmed, you can ask for a talk break, okay?” She asks, and I nod my head. “Could you also try to focus on the blanket, the color of the blanket, what it feels like, that it makes a boundary and a boundary can keep bad things out?”

“Maybe. I can try.” And I will try. If she’s not asking me to focus on my breathing and she’s not saying no talking, then okay, I can try. 

“Good. That’s good. So that’s two resources you can use.” Bea’s voice is peppy, like she’s excited I’ve agreed to try a second resource. 

I don’t say anything. I have a million words flying through my head, but each one is scarier to say out loud than the one before it, so I am silent.

“Should I read it now?” She asks me. 

“No….I…well, it’s just…… I wanted to write it just the facts, detached, but I couldn’t. I mean…the words I can’t say. It got messy. It might be incoherent to you. Ugh.” I try to explain. 

“I won’t read it until you tell me to, okay? But I think we’ve learned each other’s shorthand, we’ve created a language that is just ours, and so you might be surprised what I can make sense of.” She reassures.

I nod. That’s true. We talk a few more minutes and then I finally nod my head. “Okay. Read it.” 

“Are you sure?” Bea asks. 

“Yes. Because if you don’t then I’ll be upset later. I’m just scared. Just read it.”

She takes a deep breath. “Okay. While I’m reading, try to focus on the blanket and feeling safe, feeling contained, okay? It won’t do to have you get overwhelmed. And after I read it, as soon as I’m done, I’ll check right back in, okay?” 

I mumble an okay, and Bea starts to read. 

Okay. I see this image from two perspectives. One is from the onlooker’s. One is from the little girl’s. 

I’m little. Sitting or lying down. I don’t know, the angle is off. But he’s big, leaning over me. His, there’s, um, it’s, he’s wanting me to, he’s put, my mouth. Ugh! You know what I’m trying to say. I just can’t say it. I can’t go anywhere. He’s really close.

It doesn’t even take 5 minutes, I don’t think, for her to read it. “Okay, I’ve read it. How do you feel now?” She asks. She sounds like Bea, like normal Bea.

 

I open my mouth but no words come out. I can’t speak.

“Alice, you are too far away, notice the blanket’s boundaries. Nothing bad can happen now. You are safe.” She directs. Her voice is clear and strong and she is able to contain all of this still.

“Safe,” I whisper. 

“Yes. Right now you are safe. I know scary things happened but you are safe now.”

“I still feel sick because I don’t know what you think.” I am so embarrassed that this is what has sent me so far away. Bea’s opinion matters so much to me that I can’t calm down and so I’ve gone away instead. So, I guess I’m admitting to this attachment now. I guess I’m no longer pretending the relationship doesn’t matter to me. 

“Okay. Do you want to know what I think?” She questions me. She’s talking to me like this is normal, as if it’s okay that I care that much about what she thinks, she talks to me as if she is absolutely okay with this attachment I have to her. 

I don’t say anything. I don’t know. Do I? Maybe. She’s never asked me, just always offered reassurances in the past that she is still here, that she isn’t thinking bad things about me, that she isn’t leaving, that she now knows whatever it is I was afraid to share and nothing bad happened.

“It’s not bad or scary,” she offers.

“Then, yes,” I say.

“Right off the bat, I was struck at how powerless the little girl was. It’s a power differential, how big he is looming over you, how scary that was for the little girl. It’s very scary. This is really scary for her. And confusing, I’m sure.” Bea tells me. 

“Even the grown up can’t make sense of it,” I confess. 

She’s quiet a moment. “Does the grown up feel that this wasn’t okay at all, that this shouldn’t have ever happened to the little girl?”

I shrug. Maybe. I don’t know. I want to tell her it’s because the little girl needed too much. I want to tell her that she somehow caused it. I want to tell her that it doesn’t matter really, because the little girl was part of the disgusting stuff that happened and it all lives in my head now and so I’m disgusting and really, she probably wanted it or asked for it or some thing like that. I don’t say any of that though, because maybe that’s right, and maybe that’s wrong, and it doesn’t really answer her question anyways.

“Maybe there isn’t enough grown up online to help the little girl yet. I think really you already answered that question. The grown up doesn’t have to be here to help the little girl. It’s okay, I’m here.” Her voice is full of compassion. She’s here. She’s got the little girl, and she’s got me.

“You don’t think anything bad?” I whisper.

“Nothing bad at all.” She says back.

“Okay.” Little girl whisper.

“What do you feel like now, what do you notice now that I’ve read it and that you know what I think?” She asks. 

I try to focus. What do I feel like? I don’t know what I feel. “I don’t know. But you realIy don’t think bad things?”

“I think plenty of bad things about him! But I think it was a scary thing for such a little girl.” 

“Confusing.” I tell her. 

“That, too. It had to have been so confusing to have someone who is supposed to be your friend, whose attention you wanted, telling you to do something you didn’t want to do, that felt icky.”

“Is is icky. So icky.” I tell her. 

Something strange is happening by focusing on this one awful detail. I’m lost as to how to explain. Body memories. Pain in my privates, gagging in my throat. I want to push him away and then run. But I can’t, I can’t move, he won’t let me. And I’m not okay. This is not okay. I’m pretty sure if Bea could see me she would be asking questions or something. But instead I’m hiding under the blanket and she redirects me to notice the safety of being where I am.   

I spend a minute doing as she asks and then I tell her, “It doesn’t match.” 

“What doesn’t match?” Curiosity in her voice. 

“His words and what he does– it doesn’t match.” 

“No, no they don’t match.” She agrees.

“He said fun and a silly game and I’d like the game and it was okay. But it didn’t match!”

“No, it didn’t match. He was supposed to be someone you could trust. He was supposed to be someone who helped keep you safe.” She validates.

“And I couldn’t move.”

“It was really scary. When scary things happen, sometimes we can’t move.” She says gently.  

“No. He wouldn’t let me move,” I say, my voice is flat, sort of dead with that revelation. I’m scared and overwhelmed. I repeat myself, “He wouldn’t let me move.” And I can see it, his knees on my arms, on the inside of my elbows. There was no way I could move. 

“That’s very scary. We need to do more work with this, next time. This is a horrible time to stop, I know it is, but we need to stop. We need to come back to here and now, where you are safe and nothing bad is happening. I know the bad feelings have been brought up and they are present, but they are still feelings about the past. I know this a bad place to stop now, but try to focus on feeling safe under the blanket.” Bea is speaking softly and I can hear how bad she feels that we are out of time.

“It’s fine. I know it’s time to go.” And I start to shift where I’m sitting, prepare to come out from under the blanket, put on my boots and go.

“Not yet. We need you to be here and grounded before you leave. This is important.” She corrects me. 

“Just talk then.” I say, shrugging. I’m fine with leaving right now. 

“What do you want to talk about?”

“You know. Everyday regular stuff,” I tell her, a little annoyed to be repeating myself.

So she talks and I listen. I come back enough to be more or less okay. We say our goodbyes, Bea reminding me that this is important and we will do more work with it on Wednesday.

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.)

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. 

Sleep, sleep, and more sleep

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 need him to be wrong 

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 know.” 

“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,…”

“But what?” 

“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 couldn’t stop it (11/30/16)

I walk into therapy, and right away, as I’m getting settled, I talk about Kat and school and our first Girl Scout meeting. I’m desperately trying to pretend away this sense of dread, and feeling of panic I have. I tell Bea how amazing Kat is doing, and great is was to see her interacting socially with girls she had never met before. I tell her how it was, being the troop leader. I’ve never done anything like that before, but I had a blast. 
Thankfully, I have a co-leader, who seems very comfortable when it comes to dealing with the parents. That was the one thing I was unsure about— I don’t ever feel comfortable taking a position of authority or being the “expert” over my peers. Mostly because I often feel like a 5 year or a teen, I don’t feel as if my peers are really my peers. I’m much more comfortable with kids; the little girl part of me connects with them really well. 

Today Bea won’t let me spend the entire session talking about surface stuff. I’d sent a series of emails Monday and Tuesday, and had spent the last 36 hours in a hypervigilant, panicky feeling state. 

“Okay, I’m going to find your email and just read through it really quick to get back in that headspace.” Bea transitions us to talking through the email I had sent the day before.

“Sorry….I’m sorry.” I mumble, covering my face with my hands. 

“Why sorry? Nothing to be sorry about. Needing that transition time, that’s why we have 90 minute sessions. We have time built in.” It’s no big deal, she’s saying. 

“Because I won’t stop talking.” I bury my face, mortified.

“No that’s not it at all! We have the time because that time is important for building safety, for helping you feel safe enough to drop some of those defenses you need to get through your day to day life.” She corrects me and sounds firm, as if she wants to make sure I don’t start thinking badly of myself for needing that extra time. 
Bea begins to go through my email, reading it to herself, and responding as she reads. 

“I wondered– as I was saying that about the feeling impatient, annoyed— in the back of my mind, I wondered how that was sounding to you. I wasn’t talking about you, I have never felt that towards you. I do check in with myself, see how I am feeling, but it never has come up with you. Even at times when you are stuck, or avoiding things, it’s so obvious to me why you would be stuck or why your defenses would be needed at those times. You work hard in therapy and this is hard stuff. You can’t stay raw and open all the time. It would be way too much. I was talking more about people….it’s maybe people who……. they are in therapy because they know something is wrong, but maybe aren’t even sure what, and they are so defended, there is no getting through the walls they have built up, when I check in with myself and notice I am feeling impatient or annoyed with that person, then I know that maybe it is time to push against some of those walls, to challenge some of those defenses.”

“Okay.” 

“This is interesting. You say you didn’t notice anything, that there is nothing to notice, but then you noticed a whole bunch!” 

I think, maybe it’s that I have this idea that anything I’m noticing isn’t ‘right’ it isn’t what you are supposed to notice and get out of this exercise. 

“Even right away, when you are saying how you just kept thinking that it’s no big deal……..just a phone or a coffee cup you are thinking about picking up, those are your defenses, the it’s no big deal, this is silly. That is you using your mind to distract yourself.”

We talk about how reaching out is very, very hard for me. 

“And here you are looking at this reaching and touching from hubby’s point of view. When he grabs your hand, or puts an arm around you, how triggering is that? Is it triggering like distract yourself, or triggering like heart pounding, or triggering like go away?”

“I don’t know.” It comes out automatically. 

“I’m just wondering because knowing how triggering it is will help us to know where we might want to start with this, or what things we might want to try.” 

I sigh. “It’s……maybe it depends.” 

We sit in silence for a bit, and Bea finally asks if I can say more about that. She wonders what is it like when hubby holds my hand at the doctors office. “Maybe that isn’t so scary. You’ve had good touches in your life, too, so maybe that is a time when you remember your mom or dad holding your hand and comforting you at the doctors office. Do you have other times you can remember good touch, like cuddling with your mom?”

“No…..my parents aren’t touchy feely. My mom thinks it’s weird that I would snuggle up with Kat to watch movies or let her sleep in my bed. She’s good with babies, really little kids, being cuddly, but not so much with anything else.” 

“So maybe there isn’t a lot of memory there. What happens when hubby holds your hand? What is going on then?”

“It….if we are like, out walking and he grabs my hand, it’s just….I just distract myself. It’s not a big deal. But if like….I’m at the counter cooking and he comes up and hugs me or thinks he will run my shoulders it’s like……triggered in my head. Heart racing….like want to run away…..but of course I can’t do that. So I go away instead.” 

“So maybe when you are out for a walk, and hubby holds your hand you can notice how you are safe. And other times you could use the four steps to freedom— reminding yourself you are safe, that this is a reaction from a long time ago, that you are having a flashback, that sort of thing? Or maybe it’s too triggering to even do that. It’s just some things to play around with. To see what you notice, what helps or doesn’t help.” 

We talk about couples therapy and how that could have been helpful, and how hubby just hasn’t bothered to call and schedule and how I had asked twice so I’m done begging him to do things to help our marriage be better. 

“Okay, here you are talking about sending the email to me. You noticed you physically pulled back from the iPad and it was making you have that anxious sick feeling and that you had to go away to press send. You really feel very vulnerable reaching out. It’s hard for you to reach out.”

I nod. 

“But then you did reach out. You were able to send me the email.” She says.

“Yes. I just….have to pretend it doesn’t matter to me.” The interesting thing is, I have a great imagination, and can pretend away a lot of stuff. 

“I’m glad you sent it. I know it’s hard to reach out. Interesting that words are needed to feel not alone, that having no words means alone, when for so long you kept this secret and had no words. It’s a little confusing to me. I wonder if it means that in the last few years you have learned that using words and telling your story means someone can hear and understand? That it means someone can be there for you and that you have learned telling your story and being heard feels less alone to you?” Bea asks.  

“No……it’s like……words for anything. It’s like I need words to connect at all…..like hubby would be happy and feel connected if we were sitting next to each other watching a movie or each doing our own thing, but next to each other and that is like…..nothing to me. I need to talk.” I try to explain, but I’m not sure I’m doing a good enough job of making sense. 

“Ohhhhh….okay. I hear that from a lot of women. I think that is pretty normal.”

“Well…..it’s like a simple example I could think of. Like even when I was a kid, I needed to talk, I needed to talk and be heard. I would talk about anything and get in trouble for talking too much.” I say, trying to clarify it more. 

“Yes, okay, so talking was how you connected. It’s not trauma relayed, it’s attachment based, it’s how you feel secure in the world, by being heard.”

I nod. 

“So, I’m thinking attachment, and what are other ways we can communicate and connect? What are ways I see kids connect? Touch is one of the more obvious ones, I guess. But then I also see kids, they look up to see if their attachment person is paying attention. Some kids will act out, to get seen.” 

“That was never me,” I say. 

“No, I wouldn’t think so. Some kids go the other way, and might be very clever or very well behaved, to get noticed that way.” 

I nod. Maybe me. That’s more me than anything else. 

“All of the ways we use to get our attachment needs met as kids, well, I’d imagine they would be similar when we are adults. So, when you are needing words, maybe we can try other ways to connect, you can ask yourself how else you can get your needs met, or what it is you are needing that you aren’t getting because you have no words.” 

My first thought is that there is nothing if I don’t have words. Even though Bea has literally just listed out several other ways, that belief is so automatic I have to remind myself that she has listed out other ways. 

“The more I think about just how vital words can be, how they really can keep an anxious kid feeling connected, how much having words is an inherent part of who you are, the idea that you held that secret for so long is even more horrible. It’s no wonder everything bombarded you when you broke that silence.” 

I don’t say anything, but I think that maybe she does get it, my need for words. I’ve been upset and feeling overwhelmed for weeks, but it’s all come to a point where I can barely handle it. These last two weeks I’ve just wanted Bea to fix it. The little girl has been very much in control, and she has been wanting a grown up to make it better, to make all the hurt stop, to just fix it. I know, rationally, that Bea can’t just fix it, but that doesn’t stop me from being frustrated with myself for having no words, and with Bea for not being able to make it all better. I have this urge to just scream at her *Just help me. Help me.*

“Am I right that there is a lot going on internally, so much so that it is very overwhelming feeling, and it’s more than usually is going on, that there just aren’t words to go with what is happening?” She asks. 

I nod my head, just a little. 

“Okay. Can we try to define what type of things are going on internally? Feelings? Images? Emotions? Thoughts?” 
As Bea speaks, I let go of the breath I had been holding. She is trying to help me. She’s not abandoning me, leaving me alone in this. It’s not Bea on the outside, waiting for me to have words and connect with her, she is right here with me, trying to help me find the words I so desperately need.  “I don’t know.” 

“No words can be communication, too. If I was having lot of stuff going on internally but had no words, to me that would mean the things happening were too horrible, too scary, maybe too overwhelming, too sad, to put into words. Could having no words mean something for you?” 

I shrug. Maybe. I don’t know. 

“Try to focus on those feelings, if you can. See if anything comes up, if we can categorize these things,” Bea encourages. 

As we have been talking– or rather as Bea has been reading my words and talking– all the internal chaos has been stirred up, and I’ve gone from sitting upright, to curled up, knees bent princess style, my head down, resting on my arms. I try to sit with all the feelings, and I try to check in, to see if I can’t categorize this mess. 

After a while, I think, ‘it’s all of it.’ It’s emotions so strong I can’t sit with them, and so it’s hard to name them. It’s pictures, and thoughts, and I can hear his voice. I can feel things in my body. I want to tell Bea, to say that it’s all of it all rolled up together in a big giant bowling ball that is going to knock me down. I’m not sure if I manage to tell her anything at all. I’m really far away, so far away that I don’t even realize how far I’ve gone until much, much later. 

I’m crying and shaking my head, and it’s hard to breathe. 

“You’re really closed off. You really need to feel safe and protected right now.” Bea comments. “I wonder….when kids build walls, they build them for different reasons. Sometimes to keep something scary out, and sometimes to keep things in. I wonder which one your wall is for?”

I could build the tallest, biggest wall, and it still wouldn’t keep him out. I try and try, but nothing stops him. “It doesn’t matter,” I say. The words are disjointed, out of context, although they make sense in a way. 

“What doesn’t matter?” Bea asks softly.

Maybe I’m trying to keep the horror in my head inside. Maybe my walls are for keeping this awful stuff inside. Nobody needs to hear these things, or know them. Maybe my walls are to keep everyone out. People can’t hurt you if they can’t get inside the wall. Maybe my wall is to keep the little girl as safe as she can be. Maybe there is no such thing as safe. Maybe there never was. Maybe none of it matters. He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants and there is nothing I can do to stop it or change it. 

“What is ‘It’?” Bea questions gently. I’d forgotten she was there, and her voice makes me jump.

“Nothing. Nothing. There is nothing I can do. I’m doing everything wrong and it doesn’t matter.” I blurt the thoughts out before I can stop myself. 

Bea might be talking, I’m not sure. She might be asking me what it is that I can do nothing about, or she might be reassuring me I’m not doing anything wrong; she might be telling me that it is an old belief. 

Her voice breaks through the fog in my head eventually. “You are really needing to feel safe and protected, to be far away. Are you far away in a safe space? I can see how tight you are holding onto everything, to keep yourself safe.” 

“No! It’s not a nice place. It’s not a nice place at all,” and I begin to cry. 

“It’s not a nice place. It doesn’t feel good to be where you are,” she echoes. “Can you focus on your hands, on the fists they have made? They are holding on really, really tight.” 

I don’t say anything, but I’m listening. It doesn’t truly matter what Bea is saying, her voice equals safety to me, and it’s like having a rope to grasp onto. 

“Can relax some of the tension in your arms and shoulders? You are holding on so tight. I wonder what would happen if you just let go a little bit?” 

I shake my head. “Can’t.” 

“Because your frozen or because it doesn’t feel safe?” 

I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m really frozen in the way I usually am, but everything in me is screaming that I can’t let go, I can’t move, it’s not okay. Finally I whisper, “It’s not okay.”

“What about making things even tighter? Sometimes that can be a way to get some movement back, too. To go with what is already happening.” 

“No,” I say, and I sound like a stubborn toddler.

“Okay. That’s okay,” she is speaking in that soothing voice, the one I use with Kat when she is really hurt and upset. “Can you stay with the feeling in your shoulders? See if anything comes up or if your arms or hands want to do anything? Maybe an image or a thought will come up.” 

If I weren’t so far away, I’d probably be annoyed that Bea was bring SP into this, but as it stands, I’m not upset with her at all. (And a day later, I’m still okay with it. Having no words and being so far away, SP was maybe the only tool that was going to be of any use. And Bea felt like Bea, not like a shrink, which made all the difference.) So, I tried to pay attention to how my shoulders, arms and hands felt. I was surprised to feel my hands in fits, and how tensed up and locked my shoulders and arms were. I hadn’t noticed. 

“I can’t do this, I can not do this. I can’t do anything. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.” I’m whispering, talking fast, my voice blurred by tears and punctuated by gasps. 

“That begs the question, why?” 

“Why?” I’m incredulous. Shouldn’t she know? Isn’t it obvious? “Why doesn’t it matter?”

“Yes,” she responds simply. Or maybe she says more, and the words don’t register because I’m lost in this maze in my head and I can’t find my way out and he is going to come and there is nothing I am do, it doesn’t matter.

“Because! Because I can’t do anything to change it or stop it! I can’t stop it!” Oh my God, I can’t breathe, nothing is okay, there is no such thing as safe, why isn’t my mom here, I wish my mom would come save me, no one cares, I’m all alone, he is going to hurt me, oh my God, please just make it all stop. 

“You can’t stop it,” she says carefully, and then adds firmly, “You couldn’t stop it THEN. This is now. You are safe now. You survived and you are safe.” 

“No! Stop it! I’m not safe. I’m not okay. He’s just going to do whatever he wants. He can do whatever he wants and it doesn’t matter what I do, there is no such thing as keeping the scary out, he can do whatever he wants! I can’t do anything. It doesn’t matter. He is going to do whatever he wants and I can’t stop it!” I practically scream the words at Bea. Why isn’t she getting this? Why doesn’t she see? I’m terrified and he’s going to hurt me and she is not getting it and I’m so mad at her right now, if she would just get it, she could fix it, she could stop it. Why isn’t she getting it? Why won’t she stop it? 

“Yes! Yes! You found words!” Bea shouts back, but her voice is…..well, happy isn’t the right word, exactly…..maybe excited or proud? “You are safe and you have a voice! And you aren’t alone. You did it! You did it and you are safe. You’re safe now. It was awful, and scary and nothing you should have had to live through, but you did live through it, you survived and you are okay. You are here, in my office, with me, and you aren’t alone.” 

Bea’s voice somehow registers enough that I know it’s okay to let go and melt down, and so I do. I curl into the smallest ball I can manage, and sob. I’m shaking and crying, and I feel wildly out of control, and very, very young and very, very afraid. “He does what he wants and he’s hurting me and it doesn’t matter I can’t hide and I can’t stop him and I can’t do anything at all.” 

“It’s over now. You are safe. You’re safe now. You aren’t alone, and you have words, and I am here. You are safe now. It’s all over. It’s not happening now, no matter how much it feels like it is.” Her voice is a quiet comfort, soft and gentle. “Can I move my chair closer to you?” 

“Why? Why?” I feel as though I almost shriek the words. I’m freaked out. Why does she want to be near me? What does she want? 

“So you aren’t alone, so that I’m not so far away. It’s totally your choice. I just want you to know I am here.” She’s matter-of-fact about it, and I believe her that she just wanted to make sure I don’t feel alone. 

“O-okay,” I say, and my voice is shaky. I’m still crying, and hyperventilating off and on, trying to catch my breath.

Bea moves her chair next to me, and the moment I feel her nearer, I have this urge to sort of shout, ‘don’t touch me!’ My filter is still enough in place that I check myself, and hold the words in. A moment after the urge passes, I realize it’s silly. Bea has never just touched me, or sat nearer to me, without asking. Even at times when she has maybe thought holding my hand would help me feel less alone, she has only offered, and let me know that if I ever ask her to do so, she will hold my hand. 
I start to feel as though I’ve let go of a horrible, awful secret, like my biggest fear has been revealed, and the world didn’t end. My tears slow, and I manage to catch my breath. Bea talks softly, about nothing, just soothing words, letting me know I’m not alone, giving me that verbal connection I need in order to feel safe in the world. 

“I’m scared,” I whisper. 

“I know,” she says. “That was very scary to let go of.”

“I’m so, so scared.” 

“I know. It’s a really scary thing, to feel how little control you had. It’s very, very scary.” 

“I didn’t want it to be true,” I confide. 

“You really didn’t want it to be true. It was really important to you that it wasn’t true, it was so hard, and so scary to let go of the idea that it was just a fun game. I know how badly you didn’t want it to be true. I wish for you it wasn’t true.” Her voice sounds sad, I hear tears in it. Her tears somehow make mine more acceptable; it’s okay to be full grief over this, it’s emotional and it’s a lot. 

Eventually she gently tells me I need to come back to the room, that I’ve gone really deep into things, and it’s time to come back. She reminds me of my busy day, and talks about what she sees in the room. When she has the sense I’m back here, or at least in that here but not here place, where I can function, she says, “I’m going to move my chair back, so I’m not in your face when you sit up.” 

When I do sit up, I can’t look at her, and I wonder about what she had said earlier, how looking a child will look at their parents to see if they are looking at the child, to get attachment needs met. I wonder then, why looking at Bea and having her look back at me feels like being ripped open, like everything in me is being spread out for her to see. I stare at the floor, slipping on my shoes and grabbing my bag. I heard the downstairs door a few minutes ago, which means Bea’s next appointment is here. 

“This was a lot. I want to make sure you feel safe, that you know you are safe and not alone.” Bea says. 

I nod. “I’m fine,” I say. I’m always fine. 

“I wish we had a little more time; my ten o’clock is here,” she confirms what I had already been thinking. She doesn’t want me to leave here and not be safe, but she doesn’t sound scared or panicked, just caring. “If you need to talk more, you can email or call. Okay?” 

I nod. Fine, okay. I’m fine. 

“This is a day for self care. Be gentle with yourself today, okay? Go get a coffee, relax. If you want you can sit out in the other room, as long as you need, okay?” 

“Okay. I’m okay.” 

“I’ll see you later today, okay? With Kat,” she reminds me. 

“I’ll see you later,” I echo, as I walk out the door. I’ve managed not to look at her at all, and in a fog, I walk to my car. 
Wednesdays are busy. It’s not a bad day to have tough things come out in therapy, because after i leave Bea’s, I have non-stop distractions until I bring Kat back for therapy. Then I can hide in Bea’s waiting room, back in h safe space, knowing she is right there, and begin to sort through the crap that came out during my morning session.