After phone call emails 

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

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

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

From Bea to Alice:

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

From Alice to Bea::

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

From Bea to Alice:

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

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

From Alice to Bea:: 

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

From Bea to Alice:

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

Alone then, but not now

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

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

“Hi,” I say back. 

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

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

I nod. I can’t calm myself down. 

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

I nod again. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It is okay,” she agrees. 

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

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

“Yeah….I think….yeah.” 

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

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

“Yeah, a very intense flashback.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.” I hug the pillow to me.

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

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

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

“I was so scared.” 

“I know. You were really scared.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where his hand is?” She asks. 

“Yeah.” I’m embarrassed now. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What if I sense wrong???!?!?”

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

“I can’t.” I whisper. 

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

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

“No, not like that. But I am here.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re here?”

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

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

“I won’t go.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You aren’t broken and You don’t have to hide anymore part 1

Wednesday morning when I wake up, it’s cold. The temperature has dropped overnight. It’s still chilly when I get to Bea’s. Her office is warm and cozy, though, and I settle into my spot on the sofa easily. We spend some time talking about schools, because the window for application for school of choice enrollment to the district I would like to put Kat in, opens August 1.

“I’d forgotten, I’m not sure why I didn’t even realize, but Kay’s youngest son goes to the middle school that is attached to the elementary school I want to get Kat into.”

“Oh yeah? Did you see her this week?” Bea is curious. I don’t think I’ve talked about Kay since my decision about the baby shower.

“Yeah, Kat and I went to see Kay and the new baby.” I talk a little about Kat and Kay, and the gifts Kat had chosen for the new baby and how excited Kat was to visit.

Bea remarks,”It sounds as if you have distanced yourself from Kay and maintained the relationship more between Kay and Kat.”

“Yeah…….” I say, thinking. “I suppose I really have…..I hadn’t realized, but I think that is right….huh.”

“How does that feel for you?” She asks. 

“It’s…well, I guess I feel sort of guilty, but not really….I mean, even when I learned my MIL was moving down the road from me, I didn’t even think to call her. Before, I would have NEEDED Kay. Now….I don’t know. I texted my friend Robin, who is vacationing with no cell service, so she didn’t respond, but I know she will when she gets service. And I talked to my friend Amy a few days later. And it was good. I don’t know.”

“Why would you have needed Kay?” Bea asks. I have a feeling she knows the answer.

“I needed her to fix it. Or to fix me if I had hurt myself during my reaction to whatever awful thing was happening.” 

“And now?” 

“Now I just….I guess I want to know my own feelings first, how I want to handle it, and then I just want someone to validate the awfulness, or to support how I plan to handle things, or to tell me they think I’m making a mistake. But not fix it for me.” I think for a moment and then add, “Well, usually. Sometimes, I do want someone to fix it. Or maybe to help me fix it.”

“We all need that sometimes.” Bea smiles. “I wonder….do you think Kay was getting something out of fixing you?”

I sigh, I don’t like thinking about this. “Maybe. Probably.” 

“And when you didn’t need that anymore, things got complicated between you?” 

“Well, I think maybe she was jealous of you, that maybe she thought you took her place. But then, she saw how much better I was, like really better, not pretend better, and she wanted that for herself, too. I think she tried to grow with me. It’s just she wanted my therapist. And I said no. And then she couldn’t be my friend anymore.” It saddens me now, but it doesn’t hurt like it did. Now I just hope that she is okay and that she finds a way to keep growing, to keep working on herself. “I still trust her, I mean, I would leave Kat with her, trust her pick Kat up from school. I still trust if something really awful happened, she would be there.” 

“She’s like a family member that you love and trust but aren’t close with,” Bea suggests. 

“Yes, exactly,” I tell her. 

All of this opens up a discussion about friends and new friends and types of friendships and me being in healthier relationships overall. It’s funny, because I suddenly realize as we are talking that people I have chosen to be friends with now are very different from groups of friends I have chosen in the past. I’m not worried about fitting in or about impressing them. I’m just me.

“You are doing quite well in your adult life, and in your mom life— very present, very healthy.” Bea pauses and then adds, “I almost made a joke about how nice it would be to tell that shrinky guy therapist how great his ‘borderline’ patient is doing now that her trauma is being addressed. But then I thought that might not feel very good to you. I wanted to talk about that, about that label a little bit more because it came up at the end of session and I felt like maybe we didn’t get to really talk about it.” 

I shrug. “It was fine.” I’m not sure I want to talk more about this. How did we even get to talking about this? I honestly can’t remember. 

“Can I talk about this for a few minutes?” She asks. 

“Sure, okay.” I shrug again.

“I really think, this idea of borderline personality disorder…..it’s just my personal belief, that this disorder describes a collection of symptoms that so clearly are trauma and PTSD symptoms. I don’t really think Borderline is a fair thing to label someone. Borderline is a person with trauma, that’s all. The label has become, and has been for a long time, so stigmatized. I never thought…it’s just not something I would label someone. I’d say trauma, PTSD, C-PTSD, depression maybe. But I’m not a fan of labels, you know that. I am still a little surprised this never came up before.” 

“Well, I wasn’t going to tell you the label that just means I’m crazy and you don’t have to deal with me! I wasn’t going to give you the diagnosis that makes no one like……I mean…therapists don’t want to deal with borderlines. I didn’t want to give you reason to get rid of me.”

“I’m not going to get rid of you! And that label doesn’t apply here. You have trauma. Big traumas that we are working through. You aren’t broken or damaged, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with you. You have some big traumas, and they are a lot, it’s a lot. You dealt with a lot. But you aren’t alone now, and we are working through this stuff.” 

I feel as if Bea has wrapped me up into a warm hug. Those words, her words, mean everything to me. “I just…..now you see some of how I got the story that there is something really wrong inside me?” 

Bea sighs. It’s one of those sighs that says she is not happy. “Yes, I see how you thought that. That therapist, he just labeled you so quick like that, though, one suicide attempt and he has put a neat label on you and checked all the boxes off.” Yep, it’s like I thought. Bea is not happy. She is angry with that therapist. 

“No, not exactly……. I……I was seeing him before that,” I say, and the words are hard to get out. I like her being angry at him, and I don’t want that to change. 

“Either way, you don’t label a teenager like that! You just don’t!” She says. She is going to be on my side in this, no matter what. I like that. It feels safe.

I’m quiet, just sort of sitting with this idea that Bea doesn’t think I’m crazy, that she is on my side, that she doesn’t think I’m broken. 

In part two of this post, Bea and I talk about a suicide attempt and what happened afterwards. We discuss the details of my narrative of that night, so please read with caution. Xx

Thing we never talk about: The shrinky shrink 

This is the second half of a post, “Things we never talked about”. Bea and I had been discussing the fact that parts of me were so separated, I truly didn’t know why I had tried to commit suicide. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I thought I was crazy. So did the shrink my parents had found. They found one that agreed with them, one that they liked.”
“Did you like him? Did he try to connect with you?” Bea is curious. I’ve never talked much about this shrink. 

“No. I didn’t like him…..he couldn’t…He was a guy. I was scared…I didn’t like being alone in that room with the door shut with him.”

“Did you think anything about that?”

“I think I just thought I was weird. There was no reason to be afraid of him. I don’t know.” I feel like I sound sort of monotone, numb.

“Your parts really were so split. That’s why you didn’t know why you were scared. But you weren’t weird.”

“Okay.” 

“Did he do any drawing or anything like that with you?” She asks. 

I shake my head. “I can see how hard it would be to deal with a teen who wouldn’t talk to you at all.” 

 Bea says, “Nope, it’s. It hard. You start wherever they are, that’s all. It’s simple, really.”

I shrug again. “He thought I was crazy. He told my parents I was throwing a temper tantrum and trying to get attention.”

“Ahhhhh,” Bea says. “So they took your door so you couldn’t throw another tantrum?”

“Exactly.”

“I really don’t understand how you don’t even try to understand why your patient tried to kill herself. How you don’t start where she is! Ugh!” Bea is angry with him for not looking into why I cut my wrists, for saying it was a tantrum, a fit, a bid for attention. 

“He didn’t ….he label me….lots of things people don’t like….Defiant….but that’s not the word. What’s the shrinky word for someone not following directions, not cooperating?” I ask her.

“Resistant?” She says.

“Yup. Resistant and borderline. That’s what he called me. Labeled me.” 

“Oh….oh yuck. Did you know then that is what he labeled you?” She asks. 

I nod. Then I remember she can’t see me. “Yes. He explained it to me. It wasn’t….what was wrong with me, my behavior, it was me. It was part of my personality. I was broken.” My voice cracks. 

Bea’s voice is firm, maybe firmer than I’ve heard her before, “You weren’t broken. You aren’t broken. There is nothing wrong with you except you experienced some serious trauma.”

Time is almost up, but she talks to me a few more minutes. She wants to make sure I know that she doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with my personality, with who I am as a person. She tells me that It makes sense to her now, how that therapist and other professionals treated me, it’s all because of how he labeled me and the stigma attached to it. All my behaviors that were from trauma were easily explained away as me being borderline. 

“Bea?” I say, after a silence. I’ve pulled the blanket off my head and am holding it in my lap.

“Yes?” 

I pull the blanket over my face, peek out at her. I feel really vulnerable, but I need to say this. “Thank you for starting where I was at. For not forcing me to talk and putting up with emailing and silence. Thank you for still not making me talk and just reading my notebook.” 

“I wasn’t putting up with you. I was glad to start where you were. It’s really not hard. You did all the hard work. We just had to find our way to what would make you feel safe enough to open up to me. If that email, I was happy to email with you and to do the talking in session.”

“I talk a lot now, considering, huh?” I say. 

“You’ve grown a lot and gotten braver. And I’m glad to hear your voice in session, but reading your words is no problem.” 

“Well…..I just……thank you.” I say again. I know how lucky I am to have Bea, but when I think about some therapists of the past, well, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I have her in my life.  

Things we never talked about: teenage suicide attempts 

Trigger warning: suicide discussed 
This post has been difficult to write. This week, especially, I have been very much in a grown up place, very much in the moment, because it is my daughters birthday week. Somehow in session I have been able to dig deeper and let some feelings come up, and while the content of what we have been dealing might not be trauma memories it still isn’t easy at all. Oh, I should probably trigger warning this for mention/discussion of a suicide attempt (I was 16, and I’m not having those feelings in my present day life at all). 

Today is Kat’s birthday, but she won’t be up for long before I get home, so I didn’t think I needed to cancel therapy. I walk into Bea’s office right on time.

“Good morning,” I say as I sit down on the sofa. 

“Good morning,” Bea says back. She settles down in her chair, too.

We start out by talking about Kat’s birthday and the plans we have for the day. I tell Bea how I made Kat home made Oreo poptarts (whole what flour, no white refined sugar, less sugar over all, no weird chemical ingredients) because Kat really wanted poptarts for breakfast but I won’t buy poptarts. I tell her about the birthday scavenger hunt I planned for Kat and her best friend who is coming over later.

 Bea lets me talk until I run out of chatter. She’s interested, and she is chatting, too, but when it is clear I have run out of chatter, she turns to me. “I don’t want to put you in a rough place when you have all this great stuff going on today…….” 

“It’s okay. Somehow I’ve been able to hold it all in between…..I don’t know, but I’ve been okay.” And it’s true. I’ve mostly been okay, too much in the moment to really be bothered by the past, and things that come up go into my notebook and then I’m usually okay again. 

She nods. “Did you do bring any writing?”

“I just wrote real quick last night, because I wanted to explain why I lost my door the second time, I just couldn’t say it so…….” I hand her the notebook. 

Bea flips through it, picks up reading where she had left off before. “This makes sense,” she tells me.

Why I lost my door? Yeah, I know it makes sense. I nod. “Yeah.” 

Bea looks as if she is confused for a moment, as if she is thinking and trying to make sense of something. Then she says, “I had just read the blue writing, from last week? About the house and the walls? How some times it keeps stuff in and sometimes keeps stuff out? You were elaborating on our analogy that asking you to stop dissociating was like taking away the walls to your house.”

“Oh! Okay.” I’m surprised, because I had thought I still wasn’t making sense as I was writing that all out. 

“It’s really good, it makes a lot of sense.” 

I feel…..I don’t know. Pleased? Something good, from having my explanation complimented and understood when I had thought it was crap. 

Bea finishes reading. “I have a lot of questions,” she says. 

“Okay,” I say, uncertain.

“We’ve never really talked about this, that’s all,” she says. 

“Oh, right. Okay.” 

“Why was taking your door a consequence? I’m not understanding why it was a consequence of a suicide attempt. Or really that it needed a consequence.” Bea is truly baffled. 

“It’s because….Kenny….he had come by….I was sitting in the window…….”

“He kisses you.” She says.

I nod. “And then…..I don’t know….but…well.”

I am far away now. Bea asks something about the Kenny thing. I don’t know. She wants to know if I still wanted to marry Kenny or if I was more into other boys at that point. Did I have crushes or like other boys then or was I still thinking of Kenny as Prince Charming? I didn’t have a crush on anyone. I was just numb when it came to that stuff. I thought something must be wrong with me. So I pretended. I got really good at pretending crushes. I don’t say any of this to her. I can’t get any words out. 

Bea realizes I’m far away and hiding and scared. She gets up and grabs my blanket. She hands it to me. “In case this might help.” 

I unfold it quickly and hide under the blanket. “I’m sorry.” I whisper. I feel like I’m weak, hiding under a blanket because a conversation scares me.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for.”

“Okay.” 

“How long after that did you hurt yourself?” As she is saying that, she shakes her head. “No, let’s call it what it is. How long after that did you attempt suicide?

“That night. It was that night. Late. I dunno.” 

“Did you tell your parents? What happened?” Bea asks.

“I….there was so much blood. I was scared. I….I think I just showed them.”

“How did they react?” 

“My mom………she was…….mad…..so mad. My dad…..he wrapped my wrists. We went to the ER. I got stitches.” I look down, at my wrists. I have faint scars there, still. 

“At the hospital, do you remember anyone nice? Anyone who was kind to you?” She asks me.  

I can’t figure out why it matters, but I answer her question, anyway. “A lady, maybe a nurse? I don’t know. It’s foggy.”

Bea says, “Maybe a nurse, maybe a social worker. Hospitals usually have social workers in the ER for things like that.”  

“Maybe.” I agree. “I was so thirsty, she got me a lemonade. And I feel like she cared about me, not about what I had done. I don’t know.”

Bea says something about how that is good, it is good there was someone kind there. I wonder if she asked just because she cares and had wanted at least one kind person there for me. She says how even though the parts of me didn’t know about each other or share knowledge about Kenny, clearly what had happened in the present day to teen Alice triggered another part that just needed to get away from the feelings or the memories. She sees a clear link between Kenny and the abuse and that suicide attempt. 

I shrug, “People asked me why but I just said I don’t know. But the thing is, I was so separated, Kenny wasn’t part of that. I just….I really don’t think I knew.” (As a matter of fact, I really didn’t know until after Bea and I were working together).

“No, of course you didn’t know! You had no idea. You were overwhelmed and scared and traumatized but had no idea why.” 


To be continued……..

We go on to discuss the shrinky shrink, and you can find that in part two of this post. 

Boundaries 


A while ago, I posted about taking photos of SP worksheets, and offered to share them here if people were interested. This is the first chapter I’m going to share. The chapter deals with boundaries. This is a theme (boundaries and control) that tends to come up again and again for me, and has definitely come up in the last few weeks. 

Defense and boundaries 

The rest of the week after Monday’s slightly odd session, I avoided thinking about much of anything. When I did stop for a minute and dig a little deeper, I thought about boundaries. I thought about how boundaries growing up in my family were very skewed. I never heard the word no. Seriously, my parents never said no to me. I think it was partly they sucked at setting boundaries, but also I knew what I could ask for and what wasn’t okay to ask for. I knew all the unspoken rules and nuances from a very young age. And I followed all the rules, because I didn’t want to be left. I don’t understand, how my parents could have such solid strict boundaries when it came to keeping out emotions and negative stuff and then have no boundaries in other ways. 

I realized that, for me, this idea Bea had when we had our most recent rupture, that we could disagree and still be on the same side was new to me. I hadn’t experienced that before. Where were the boundaries my parents were supposed to have to help me become myself? Where were boundaries that taught me it was okay to say no? Where were the boundaries that helped me learn where I ended and where others began? 

Therapy brought up discussion about which of the five F defenses do I default to. I didn’t know. It came up as Bea and I were discussing my behavior of running from Kay, and Bea wondered aloud which defense I used most. As we talked, she said she thought I used friendship/attachment cry the most. 

I laughed. Inside, I grimaced. “Nope. No way.”

“You don’t like to think that attachment is your defense. It is scary to think that,” Bea said.

I shook my head. “Yeah….but I don’t think that’s it.” The thing is, with Bea, it might be. But I have worked really hard to go against my instinct to run away from her. I want to heal. I want to grow and be healthier. I also know what *normal* looks like, and it’s not normal to run out of a therapy session or to run away from a new friend just because they have said or done something that was triggering. I say as much to Bea. 

“That makes sense. You can walk out here, if you need to. That is okay.” Bea says. She suggests that I might think about this defense stuff and boundaries and relationships this week. And so I do. 

I think and read a lot, and I decide that flight is my defense. The more I read about the five F’s the more I was sure flight is my primary defense. 

Flight is any means the individual uses to put space between themselves and the threat. It may involve sprinting away from the perceived danger, but is more likely exhibited as backing away or, particularly in children, as hiding. Avoidance is the go-to symptom of a flight response to uncomfortable feelings. Whether it be out of anxiety or acute stress, these are the people who are harder to connect with for many good reasons. They are the ones who try desperately to avoid any sort of intimacy or vulnerable moment with others by keeping many interactions at some surface level because that feels safest. Flight types appear as if their starter button is stuck in the “on” position. They are obsessively and compulsively driven by the unconscious belief that perfection will make them safe and loveable. As children, flight types respond to their family trauma somewhere along a hyperactive continuum that stretches between the extremes of the driven “A” student and the ADHD dropout running amok. They relentlessly flee the inner pain of their abandonment and lack of attachment with the symbolic flight of constant busyness. When the obsessive/compulsive flight type is not doing, she is worrying and planning about doing.
Going by that, even my dissociation is a type of flight. At first glance, it seems as if it is possibly a freeze response, but dissociation is my way of avoiding uncomfortable, scary situations. For me, it is all about going far away. It is about leaving and avoiding. I share this with Bea, and she finds it very interesting. She also agrees with me.  

The other interesting thing I found was a description of how these defenses work in a *normal* person. 

Walker (n.d.) outlines four basic defenses that most people use in life, but which in CPTSD become fixated and maladaptive due to ongoing trauma. These include the Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn and a number of hybrid types. 

When the Fight response is healthy an individual will have solid boundaries and the ability to be assertive when need be, whereas in CPTSD the person will become overly reactive and aggressive towards others.  

With a healthy Flight response, the individual is able to recognize when a situation or person is dangerous and withdraw or disengage whereas those with CPTSD will tend to isolate themselves socially to avoid threat. 

A healthy use of the Freeze response ensures that a person who is in a situation where further action will exacerbate things, stops and reassesses.  

And finally a Fawn response ensures that the individual listens and compromises with others, while someone with CPTSD will adopt a people pleasing approach to avoid conflict. 

I stayed pretty much on the surface, and In this more analytical mode. I think it felt safer, in some ways, just in case Bea wasn’t actually back.