Monday, July 9, I walk into therapy nervous and sick to my stomach. Bea sets my blanket next to me as she says hello.
“Where did you want to start today?” She asks gently.
I shake my head. “I don’t know.”
“Let’s take a minute, just sit here and feel this moment, feel safe. Notice that nothing bad is happening.”
“But…it will.” Stubborn as always, I am insistent that something bad is going to happen. I feel it.
“I think this is where it is useful to use our feelings aren’t facts saying.”
I groan. “Ugh. Maybe.”
“Well….what about this? What happens if it does blow everything up?” She’s asking in that curious way she has.
“I don’t know. We end up back where we were, or worse.”
“What’s the worst case scenario?” She asks.
“You….you quit dealing with me.” I mumble the words.
“That I can guarantee won’t happen. And if we end up where we were, or another bad place, then we start from there. That’s how I see it. Right now, we have to start where we are at. If that path leads us somewhere else, then I think we have to start in that new place.”
“Okay,” I say. “Okay. Let’s start with my response. I brought it.” I dig out my ipad and pull up my response. She takes it, and I hide, burying myself under the blanket and my face in a pillow.
You don’t sound shrinky. This just sounds like you, trying to understand something I don’t really understand. Both are “not here”, is just a different kind of not here. Remember when we made a list of different far aways? I think it’s like that. The here not here isn’t “me the adult grounding functioning Alice” but it’s not far away out of the window can’t talk and can’t think, frozen and hyper aware scared….it’s just that Alice not being here. It’s like some part is “here” but grounded Alice “is not here”. And the effect of things being a bit foggy and the emotions and feelings being blunted and even numbed, things not feeling quite real, feeling safer because of the detachment, is the same. Ms. Perfect definitely gives the here not here feeling, but I think because she ran the ship for so long, that feeling is more detached, functioning on auto pilot, and numb, but not so foggy. I don’t know. It’s complicated. Does that help at all?
“Mmmhhmmmm…yes…..okay….” Bea talks as she reads. I hate that she does this. I mean, I know whatever I have written is making sense to her, but I also hate it because I always wonder what part she is *Mmmhhmming*.
“Well, I am glad that wasn’t shrinky! And this does make sense. It is different kinds of not being here, although I still think that having a part running things so completely that you, the adult you, can’t….well, I guess remember the experience is still what I would consider being out of your window. I don’t know, for sure. I guess we will have to think about that. Maybe as parts feel safer, then the adult won’t have to be so far away.”
“Okay,” I whisper, mostly because I want her to know I am listening.
I’m not saying that is how things are, or that this is how you would handle things. I’m not accusing you of anything, just writing what this feels like to me (teen) and I am so afraid to say anything at all because I probably won’t say it in the right way for you and I am just going to mess everything up again. It feels like you get all the say so in this. Like, if you feel strongly that Z is what happened, then even if I am sure X happened, my viewpoint/feeling/worry is a distortion. And how can I even argue with that? Because clearly, I am distorting things and can’t even trust what my heart and mind are telling me. It’s like when I say you did not contain anything for me because my feelings felt ignored and you tell me you did contain things, it feels like the “final word” and the “reality” or “true version” is that you contained things. In that instance I think it might be more correct to say “Bea felt very confident she was containing things and feels that keeping things contained was never an issue, but Alice (teen) did not feel that containment on any level, so for her things were not contained.” I don’t know if this is even making sense. I don’t know how to explain it. But to me, it feels very much like the final say about what is reality lies with you.
“You’re right,” Bea says.
Wait…what? She is agreeing with me? I’m surprised.
“This is a perfect example, and as you said before, who decides that things were contained— the person who needs to feel contained or the one who is holding the container? I’d have to say it is the person needing the container. If that person doesn’t feel contained, then the container isn’t really doing their job.” Bea pauses, but when I don’t speak, she continues. “I don’t think the final word is mine, I can be wrong. I know there is a power dynamic, a power differential that can really make it seem like I have all the power. But I don’t care about being right, or about my reality being the true one. I’m not sure there is a true reality, I think what we need to do is find a common reality. And that is exactly what the example is that you gave. I did feel like I was containing things, but you didn’t feel contained, and I would add that ultimately, that means the container wasn’t working as it should.”
“I…okay….I didn’t expect you to agree….I mean, I really am not saying that is how it is, it is just how it feels. But I didn’t think….okay. Okay. This is okay.” My words are messy and scattered, but Bea gets what I am saying.
“I know. But it makes sense for it to feel that way. And I want to make sure you know I don’t care about being right. I care about finding a common reality.”
This is a hard part for me to respond to. (Bea’s explanation of negative feelings) Right away, reading this, I just feel sick and anxious and like I should just give up on working through this stuck thing— that the best that can be done is to agree to disagree and move on. And yet, I don’t think I can do that. But I also can not say what I am really thinking or feeling. I’m too scared to express what is in my head. You didn’t even say anything that is all that scary or upsetting, really. It’s just…… a mess. This whole thing is just one big mess that keeps getting messier. I don’t know if I want to share the writing below. We should talk about that first. It’s written in orange.
“Okay, I’m not going to read farther unless you give me the go ahead,” Bea says.
“Okay,” I say. I’m unsure what else to say.
“Is there something specific you want to talk about, before I read anymore?” She asks.
I shrug. I just don’t know. Finally, I tell her, “It’s…..weird…to talk to you about you. I mean, I would not talk to hubby about hubby, or to Kay about Kay. If I was upset or hurt by hubby, I would talk to you. I wouldn’t try to work through all the mess and feelings and fears and distortions and hurt and pain that he is involved in by talking to him. So it’s just….I don’t like this.”
“It is different, isn’t it?” She agrees.
“Yes. And I don’t know how to talk to you about you. Maybe I…maybe if would be better if I didn’t….I mean if I talked to someone else about this. I feel like maybe I need a therapist to deal with my relationship with my therapist.”
“Do you feel like I get defensive?” Bea asks me.
“I don’t know.” The words are automatic, because I can’t tell her yes. But I think it is yes. “Maybe?” My voice shakes. She is not going to like this.
“I might. I need to think about that. I don’t always handle what I feel is criticism well. My parents were very critical of me, so having my mistakes pointed out can make me defensive. It’s one of my triggers.” She is speaking very softly, very carefully.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her.
“No, you don’t be sorry. Being upset with me, or having criticism to give, you are allowed to do that. The….responsibility is on me to recognize if I am triggered and becoming defensive. I need to be aware of it, and I wasn’t aware of it this time. I’m sorry because that is on me, not you. Thinking about it, I was hurt by your words, and I did react emotionally, and become very defended. It took me time to sort things out, and clearly, there was still more to sort out.”
I’m not sure what is happening, but it seems like she is really back, really Bea again. She’s here, really, fully, authentically here. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I say.
“I know that, but I am responsible for my feelings. This isn’t on you. Okay?”
“Do you think you would be willing to try sharing the stuck thing with me? Giving me a chance to work through this with you? I still believe this can be repaired.” Her voice is soft, steady.
“I….I don’t want to upset you,” I say honestly.
“Well, first, it is on me to manage my feelings. Second, now that I am aware of my defensiveness, I will watch for it. So much of these things are just about being aware of what we are doing. Therapists are supposed to be aware, so we can sort out what is our stuff, and not react to that. Sometimes we mess that up. And I am very sorry I messed that up.” She really is sorry. I can hear it in her voice.
“Okay. Maybe….I think maybe I will rewrite it….I think I’m going to write in third person, using the teen and her therapist. That seems….better.”
“I think you should write it however you want to. Don’t change to third person because of me, okay?”
“No…it’s not that. It’s…less weird talking to you about you in third person. And its……better. Easier.” I sigh and pick at my fingers.
“Third person it is then,” she says.
“Can….can I email it?”
“Yes. I think that is a great idea. You email it, and we will work through it.”
When session ends, I’m still struggling to feel grounded, but the wound has been cleaned and is beginning to be stitched shut.
And so, very late Monday night, a third person explanation of the stuck thing was sent.