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.
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.
Monday’s session was much of the same as Thursday’s at the beginning and then we spent some time discussing a Kat and her weekend of meltdowns. I’m thankful she will see Bea this week. I wondered, but didn’t say, if maybe missing a week of therapy effects Kat more than we think it does. My thought process was along the lines of Bea providing some extra holding space and containment for Kat’s BIG feelings and BIG worries, because while I do my best, my container is sort of leaky, and I struggle to hold my own crap at times. Although, I do think I now have separate containers for myself and Kat, but both still have lots of holes. Which is where Bea comes in. She holds the stuff that leaks out. Maybe that theory is way off base.
It was the end of the session that got interesting. Bea had asked before she left on vacation about friendships, and if I noticed friendships forming now that were maybe different from friendships that were formed when Ms. Perfect was running things. I didn’t really answer then, but I ended up writing about three woman who I think I may be forming friendships with. All three have kids that Kat is friends with, which is how we met, but they also seem very authentic and real, their parenting values are similar to mine, we each have a similar quality of quirkiness, of nerdiness. Two of these women I have spent time with outside of having our kids with us, and it was really nice to have grown up conversations, just someone to have girl talk with. I stayed me, most of the time, and I didn’t leave our outings feeling drained and in need of a lot of quiet, down time like I usually do after a social engagement.
I’ve noticed that the more real and authentic I am being, the less exhausted I am. I’d written about this in my notebook, along with a lot of other things, but the friendship thing is something Bea was really interested in today. She asked a lot of questions about them, and I talked a bit, but I also felt a little embarrassed. Why am I, a grown woman, having to discuss new friendships and how to navigate those new friendships, with my therapist? I mean, I am very appropriate in social settings. I am competent and confident in speaking to anyone, really. Or at least Ms. Perfect is. She isn’t afraid of people. She doesn’t let them in, but she is great at focusing on a person, being polite, talking to anyone and everyone and getting along with all kinds of people. But me? I have no idea how to be that person. I’m okay in social settings, maybe a little awkward, maybe a little preoccupied with whether or not people are perceiving me as weird, or crazy, or needy, or annoying, or any other thing that would separate me from them. But navigating and building real friendships? Yeah, I’m lost and uncertain, like a middle school girl who doesn’t fit anywhere.
Bea asked about close friendships, if I felt like any of the women were people who would end up as close friends.
I smiled and shook my head. “I don’t do close friends.”
Bea paused for a moment. “Maybe you do now.”
I shook my head. “Nope. I don’t have close friends. It’s not something I do. I do surface stuff. I prefer to play by myself in my sandbox.” I’m joking, but I’m also a little bit serious. After all, if I play alone in the sandbox, no one can mess up the design I have for the sandcastle, or think my idea is silly, no one can throw sand at me and hurt me, and no one can smash my castle. I’m safe in the sandbox all alone.
Bea laughs, a small delighted laugh that says she enjoys my stubbornness, and my humor. In a silly voice she says, “Well, Alice, now, you are gonna make close friends.” We both crack up.
In a small voice, I say, “I HAD a close friend. I HAD Kay. I don’t want close friends again.”
Bea doesn’t respond right away. “You did have Kay. She was a very close friend. And maybe you really don’t want close friends. But I’m thinking there are all different kinds of friendships. Like my friend I walk with? I see her a lot and we do a lot together, we’ve already texted this morning about something, but things are sort of on the surface with her, she just doesn’t have the capacity to go to difficult places. But she is still a good friend. We have a lot in common. Then I have a friend who I see rarely, but when we do get together, there is a deeper connection, and time spent together feels much more meaningful. I have a younger friend, from my old job, who I have a lot of fun with, but we have a deeper friendship, too. Oh, and then my friend Julia, she’s weird. We have a lot of shared history, both of us have parents who passed away (I already knew Bea’s father had passed away, we discussed that when we worked through grief over my grandpa), and she can go to those grief filled places, but anything else, there is a wall and she will not go there. So, maybe there are all kinds of friendships. I think Kay was unusual; most friendships aren’t like that.”
“I know….I know it was maybe one sided in a lot of ways. But she did talk to me, too. Actually, she was quite the open book. But…..I don’t know.” I shake my head.
“I wonder…I know her friendship was important, but I wonder if you were acting something out with her?” Bea is thinking out loud again.
I groan. She’s heading into shrinky thinky territory, but as I’m not feeling very emotionally connected, I don’t really care. “I don’t….I mean…..well maybe.” I think for a bit.
I think in my head, and Bea thinks out loud. “You were always shutting her out, disappearing. I wonder if you were acting something out with that.”
“Well, it’s not like I shut her out for no reason. I mean…..well, like, if I was going to treat you like I did her……” I’m embarrassed to admit this, because there have been times where I have thought of running, of disappearing on Bea. “Like, when you brought up relationships in the past and talked about them even though you knew I did not want to discuss relationships— now it’s been okay— I would have just not come back. I’d have walked out and not looked back.”
“But Kay, when you did that to her, she didn’t let you shut her out.”
“Well. It’s like…….if something came up in conversations and upset me, she’d see it. Where I would be working to hide it, and others would not notice, or maybe they noticed and I am not so good at pretend as I think, and they ignored it. Kay would see it and she’d call me out on it. She wouldn’t let me pretend. She’d push to know what upset me.” I shrug.
“Usually, I’d tell her and we would talk and then I would disappear for a few weeks.”
“Boundaries……” Bea says slowly. “She wasn’t respecting your boundaries at all.”
“Maybe…..” I say. I don’t want to agree with Bea right now. I can see where she is coming from, but I feel like that isn’t the whole story. “I mean, she put up with a lot from me…..I was a lot. So maybe she felt like she didn’t need to listen to any boundary I set.” I’m not sure.
“Well……..let’s say something comes up in conversation that upsets you, it’s touches on those vulnerable places. You don’t want to talk about it, so you pretend everything is okay. A friend who notices and asks you about it, they say something like ‘hey, did something just upset you? Are you okay?’ If you say you don’t want to talk about it, that is an authentic response, and a boundary. A healthy friendship would respect that boundary. If you say nothing is wrong, that is maybe coming more from Ms. Perfect, but still, a healthy friendship would respect that boundary.”
I nod slowly. “That’s Reagan. She asks, but won’t continue to push or ask about it. She hears the boundary, I guess.” I don’t think I’ve ever thought of pretending to be okay as a boundary, as a choice, as a way of saying ‘no’. I’ve always thought of prefect as building a wall to keep people from knowing the real me that they would inevitably hate.
“That is a healthy relationship.” Bea says.
We continue talking about friendship and boundaries, and when it’s time to leave, Bea says, “I think this is important. Maybe this is something to do some writing with, if you feel like it.”
I nod. It might be. I’m not sure I want to talk about friendships. I’m not sure what I want to talk about, though. It seemed like so many big things were coming up before Bea’s week long break (to be fair, she was only gone for 4 days, it was just I saw her on a Wednesday and not again until Thursday), and they have just disappeared. I’ve detached from her and don’t really feel an emotional connection. Part of me wants to stay that way, talk about the shrinky side of things, because when I feel like this, I can. The other parts me are desperate to feel emotionally connected with Bea again. I don’t know which part of me is going to win.
The session before Bea went on vacation was painful. I really don’t remember anything about it, other than Bea noticing right away that I wasn’t present at all, and my telling her (as I hid under my blanket) that it hurt too much to be present right now. She had said the session before that I could take something from her office to use as a transitional object, and I had sort of laughed it off. That last session though, she asked if I wanted to take some thing, and I nodded yes. The little girl really wanted a stuffed animal or something, something comforting so I could feel like Bea was there. The grown up part of me couldn’t even go there. Eventually, Bea and I settled on me taking her favorite pen, the one she keeps in her purse to always have with her.
While she was gone, I kept a notebook and used her pen to write in it. I wrote a lot about attachment stuff, and tried very hard to make sense of and understand the attachment issues I had been experiencing. I also spent a lot of time filling the pages crying about her leaving, and my fears she wouldn’t come back or my worries that she was not going to be herself when she came back. I wrote that I hated her for making me trust her and then leaving me. It was a very long 8 days. The beginning was harder, it hurt more, but as the week went on, I could feel myself distancing from Bea and not really caring if she came back or not. I shut down those deeper places in myself, and stayed a bit more on the surface. That was almost a welcome relief. Of course, when Thursday rolled around, I was anxious all over again.
Thursday’s session felt like a bit of a waste. I gave Bea the notebook I had kept while she was away. I saw that she was back. I didn’t feel like we connected, though. I felt very off, and was almost sad that I hadn’t cancelled. Sometimes it feels better to not reach out or show up at all, then to show up and not feel connected to. It felt a lot like Bea and I were in the same book, but on separate pages. I just didn’t feel that emotional connection. She was there, though, and she did show up, and when I was lost and had no words, she talked and I listened. It was really surface feeling, although we did talk a bit about relationships and attachment. I cant fully remember the session to be honest; I was pretty disconnected and fuzzy feeling. It was one definitely a *finding our rhythm after a break* type of session.
Bea didn’t get a chance to go through and read my notebook, so she took it home to read.
My next few sessions, after I set a boundary by telling Bea ‘no’ were all about relational stuff. After that session where I said no, I was terrified Bea was angry with me. I was so afraid she was going to leave, I couldn’t email her. So, I wrote in my notebook. I wrote a lot in my notebook. I took my notebook with me to therapy that next session.
When I arrived, I didn’t want to walk in to her office and look at her. So I didn’t. I walked in, staring at the floor. I couldn’t find any small talk, I couldn’t even manage to say hi. Where is Ms. Perfect when you need her? I sat down and pulled out my notebook, handing it to Bea while simultaneously curling into a ball and burying my face in my knees.
“Did you want to start with your notebook?” Bea asked.
Bea didn’t say or do anything for a few moments. It was like she was trying to decide the best way to proceed. “I’m just going to get your blanket, just so you have it if you need it. It looks like you are needing to hide today.”
She sets the blanket down next to me. I’m glad, because I really do want to hide.
She starts reading my notebook, where I have basically freaked out over saying no to trying a memory exercise because it would be an SP thing, imagining all the awful things that will happen, that should happen. I wrote and wrote about how this was all because of SP, and SP was the worst thing ever, and I hated it and she was turning into an SP therapist. We had talked in a session previously where she had admitted that there were things from SP that just made sense to her, and felt natural and so they had become part of her way of doing therapy. She had said that she was always careful with me, to not do those things, but as they became more ingrained in how she practiced therapy, sometimes they slipped out. I had said I felt like this issue we were having, my freaking out, was an SP thing. Bea continued to insist that is was a relational thing. She said that SP was the thing that brought out these relationship issues, but if it hadn’t been SP and her changing, it would have been something else.
“I want to say, before I start reading, that this feeling of being on opposite teams, it feels to me like it kind of another *all or nothing* thing, that we either have to believe exactly the same thing, or we are on opposition teams. I don’t see that. To me, we are on the same team, and we agree about most things, but as separate individuals naturally we don’t agree on everything. We are looking through different lenses so of course we see our own view, and even if we can understand the other’s view, we don’t have to share it to be on the same team.”
Now, this was almost 4 weeks ago, and looking at this again, I’ve had a something click into place for me. This feels very much like mom stuff to me. I never got to be me with my mom, I never really got to be a separate individual. There was this unspoken rule that we had to like the same things, agree on everything, that there could be no differences. Even when I moved away to college, and wanted to put pink streaks in my hair, I called my mom to ask her opinion (or rather, get permission). She said she supposed doing something wild and crazy was do be expected of a college student, so to go ahead.
I didn’t say anything in response to Bea’s words. I wanted to believe her, but what she was suggesting was really hard to believe. It wasn’t my experience. I felt alone, and hurt, and terrified. I started crying.
“Alice, it’s going to be okay. I know it was hard to come back today, but it is going to be okay.” Bea says softly.
I sob harder. “It’s. Not. Going. To. Be. Okay.”
“Are you firing me?” Bea asks. She is sort of serious, and she isn’t ignoring my tears or upset, but her voice has a playful quality to it.
“N-n-nooooooo,” I sob.
“Okay. Then whatever it is, whatever Is written here, we can work through it. Okay? We can get through this.” Her tone says she is all serious now.
“O-o-o-okay.” Shakily, I lift up the blanket, and throw it over my head. Unfortunately, I don’t unfold it al the way, in my rush to remain hidden, and so I have to fumble with it. I end up getting myself covered and hidden with some finagling.
I feel like you are on a separate side when it comes to SP, like you are always on a separate side. I hate this. It feels like everything I was afraid of happening with SP is happening.
“I know. I know you really feel like we are on separate sides. We can disagree and still be on the same side. I really believe that.”
I can’t do this. I can’t make you change your beliefs, and I would never ask you to. But I can’t work with you when it feels like we are on opposite sides.
“Well, you aren’t asking me to change my beliefs. But if you are feeling like this– that we are on such opposite sides that you can’t work with me, then it is my job to step back and see how I can help you not just feel like, but know, that I am on your side. It is my job to fix this, okay? And I do believe we can fix it.”
I really do hate this. It’s not okay. I don’t understand why you can’t be just regular, human, therapist Bea, and if new things you learned will work or be helpful, then use that piece of it and leave the rest. CBT always felt shrinky but you just use some parts of it, like feelings aren’t facts and reality checking. It didn’t mean you had to turn the session into a set in stone CBT session, you used the relevant parts and left the rest.
“Well here….me being just regular Bea……this is what I was saying the last time, that I can be me and use SP techniques. I really think we are on the same page about this.”
I think with SP it feels like any response you have is forced or because SP says so. I can’t trust that. It turns you into shrinky Bea who is following a set format and whose responses aren’t real but are set out guidelines designed to elicit certain reactions with the end goal of the transformation piece.
“Ahhhh…..it is feeling very manipulative. I imagine it is hard to trust what another is saying or doing when you are afraid of being manipulated. I’m not trying to trick you, or saying something just to get you to do something. I bring things up to get you to see patterns, to try to change things that might be adding to challenges. I know it’s hard to trust that, and only time and experiencing that as true can really help. And we have time.”
But you were different. You were real, just human, flawed Bea with real emotions and your responses felt like they were you sharing your genuine response with me, not a feeling or response being dictated by the therapist part of you. That’s why I trusted you when I never trusted any other therapist. It’s why when everything seemed completely screwed up, like when you had emailed with hubby, I still trusted your respect, words.
She laughs. “Flawed. Yup. That’s me. Flawed and human, and bound to make mistakes.”
Inside I’m having a panic attack, but outside I’m frozen and calm, and gone. I can’t do this. I don’t think this can be fixed.
“I really do believe that as long as you stay, and we work through this together, it can be fixed. It’s only when someone leaves, when they run away, that we don’t get a chance to fix things, and they can’t be fixed then.”
Maybe I’m a broken trauma client. I know everything in SP says that separating the meaning making narrative from body sensations and feelings. focusing on the body, on the here and now, is less overwhelming, less scary for trauma clients. But for me, it’s this black hole of danger, a not okay, pit of terribleness, it’s not okay. This is a mess.
“You aren’t broken. I think it’s just that you have dissociated feelings and body sensation and being present from yourself that it feels very unsafe to feel those things. You have to learn to tolerate it again, just like with yoga, you had to learn to tolerate having any focus on your body, being even a little more present. It’s a process, and every time we practice, we open that window a little more. But you aren’t broken, no matter how much that it feels that way.”
Maybe I should be done. I can’t keep doing this. I hate this. I’m not okay. This is destroying me. I feel like I’m going to end up losing you no matter what, so why prolong that? Why prolong this hurt? At the end of the day, you are an SP therapist and I am not an SP client. Better to quit now than end up more hurt because we can’t be on the same side and I can’t talk to you and I’m numb and alone and not really here anyway and all I want to do is go away.
“It really must feel horrible and lonely to feel like I’m here but you can’t talk to me because we are on different sides. No wonder it was so scary to tell me no, to feel as if you were placing yourself on a separate side.”
I know we don’t have to believe the same things to be on the same side. But this feels bigger than that. It’s like a foundation or something. It’s like we had been building a house together. Your half was different than my half, and that was okay because we had the same foundation, we each used wood to build our house. But one day, you changed out your wooden foundation for bricks. Which meant you could add brick to the rest of your house, but my house can’t support the things your house can. Maybe my house isn’t strong enough to help support the things you have added and so my house is collapsing under the weight. So, it seems like the only thing to do is burn down my half, run away, and start over.
“You don’t need to burn down your house. You just need someone to help you renovate. I’m here. We don’t need to burn the house down. Nothing is ruined. We don’t need to start over, we just work to build and renovate the house we already have. And we don’t have separate halves of the house, there is no line splitting the house, separating us.” Bea’s voice is sort of….insistent that I don’t burn down my half of the house. She’s insisting we rebuild together.
Knowing you are there and would respond and care about me, that just hurts. I know, it’s crazy. It’s sort of like I feel as if I’m going to lose you, or feeling this divide between us, it hurts knowing you are there. Ugh. Being and sounding like a crazy person is awful.
This all just feels unbearable. I’m embarrassed because I can’t even figure out how to explain what exactly is so upsetting, it’s like I know some thing is painful and bad, but I can’t put my finger on it, and so I’m embarrassed to be this upset over………what? Something I can’t name.
“It’s okay. It makes sense to me. This…..relational stuff can be so painful. Unbearably painful at times. You don’t need to be embarrassed. Really. It’s okay. I get it.” And then, she proves to me that she gets it by sharing a story about herself and her own therapist, and some painful relational attachment stuff that cropped up a long time ago. She tells me about the feelings and her reactions, her behaviors (she doesn’t t share what the attachment challenges were, or what her ‘issues’ were). She gets it. “I don’t….it’s not like that for me, now. Whatever the relational stuff was, I eventually worked through it with my therapist and now, well now, I can take him or leave him. I don’t need him like I once did. It’s nice knowing he’s there, but it’s not that painfully attached feeling. I think that does happen, eventually, if things are worked through.”
It’s not fair, Bea. A year ago, I was terrified you were turning into an SP therapist, and I thought I’d have to leave, you reassured me, you said *i have no intention of turning into an SP therapist.* AND THEN YOU DID IT ANYWAY. You said I had a choice about SP. But you changed everything. I didn’t get a choice to have my therapist turn into an SP shrink. That is most certainly a choice I did not make. So how do we get past that?
I hate this. I hate SP. everything is all screwed up. I can’t fix it, I can’t be a good client, I can’t do this. I shouldn’t be here anymore, I just want to disappear. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you did this for me and I, and ungrateful, bratty drama queen, who just can’t be good. I feel like this won’t be okay. I just want things to feel safe again, I want to be able to talk to you. And I am not sure that will ever happen. This hurts.
“I know this hurts. I can see that it is hard for you to be here right now, and I can tell there is a lot of pain and sadness around all of this. I don’t see you as bratty, I see you as scared, as terrified of these changes. I can see you hating SP because it was a catalyst of these changes and it feels like SP is the cause of this pain you feel between you and I. I know it feels like I am turning into an SP therapist. I’m not. I would not call myself am SP therapist. I am just me, just Bea who is flawed and human, and real. Sometimes I use CBT or DBT strategies in therapy sessions. Sometimes I use SP stuff. Sometimes I use developmental attachment stuff from my infant mental health training. I use lots of things to work with people. I could never give up the other methods I use. I think it is hard for you because you have been here as I learned SP, and as I was unskillfully working to integrate it into my regular style of therapy. Now it’s more integrated, and I try to be very conscious of that and not use it in your sessions, but it is more natural, more mixed into my therapy bag. You don’t need to leave, and I don’t need to leave. We both can stay and we can be on the same side. I’m just me. I’m not leaving or changing who I am at my center.”
“I don’t have to leave? You aren’t leaving?” My voice is tiny and tear filled.
“No, you absolutely don’t need to leave. I’m not leaving— well, I am leaving for vacation in a week, but I am coming back.” She says. The added part about her vacation is reluctant.
I sob harder. “You are leaving. You are leaving because of me.” Panic is erupting within me. Bea is leaving. I was bad, and she is leaving.
“Nope. This isn’t because of you, or because of anyone. I’m leaving to take my son back to school and then to spend a few with my husband. That’s all. It’s not because of you, you could never make me leave.”
“You’re coming back?” Tears are still running down may face and I feel a little numb.
“Yes. I’m coming back. I’ll be leaving on Friday after work, and I’ll be back home on Wednesday afternoon.” She says calmly.
My heart freezes. “I won’t see you all week?”
“Not on Monday or Wednesday, I won’t be here. I could see you Thursday morning?” She is gentle and kind with me, her voice is soft.
“Okay. Thursday morning.” I agrees, sadly.
“We still have next week Monday and Wednesday, and you can email me. I know it’s scary to email me when I’m not here, but you can email and I will answer and I will be real and not shrinky.” She reassures me as best she can.
Then, because I’m hiding under the blanket and I’m a little bit far away, Bea asks me how I want to come back to the real world.
“I don’t know.” I whisper.
“What do you need to feel safe to come back?” She asks.
I honestly don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t ask. I tell her that I truly don’t know.
“Should I leave the room?” She asks.
I have an immediate reaction to that, and so I shake my head. No, don’t leave the room.
“Turn around and not look at you?”
I shake my head. That feels better than her leaving but it’s not okay either.
“Do you want me to move my chair closer?”
I shake my head. No.
Bea suggest a few more things, and an answer to her question begins to form in my mind. “Go away, bit don’t leave. That’s what I want. How crazy is that? It makes no sense. I can’t do this.”
“It’s not crazy. It’s that push- pull dynamic. What if I turn to the side, so I’m not facing you, close my eyes, and keep a connection by talking with you?” She suggests.
“Okay.” I agree, feeling lame, broken, defective. Why am I acting like this? It takes me a few minutes to pull the blanket off my head and sit up. I can’t look at Bea for a long time, but when I finally peek my eyes at her, I see she is sitting side ways and has her eyes closed.
“Would it be okay if I opened my eyes? I won’t move, I won’t leave.”
“Yeah. You can open your eyes.” Now that I’m more present, Bea’s closed eyes feel as if she is shutting me out, like maybe she doesn’t want to see me.
Bea opens her eyes, and I feel a bit better. I slip on my shoes, gather my things, fold the blanket. I stand up, and walk to the door. Only then does Bea turn towards me. She smiles and wishes me a good weekend. I smile too, and wish her the same.
This is the second post I wrote but never blogged. It is from February 1,2017.
Wednesday. Things felt weird, not because of Bea, but because I was very late to Monday’s session –rough morning with Kat, and getting to school late, plus bad weather all conspired against me. The wonderful, amazing thing, though, was when I texted Bea at 9:30, that ‘I was just leaving school, should I still come to therapy?’she responded with a ‘YES!’ And that felt really good. Like she wanted me there. So Monday we discussed my adult life, and normal everyday things, which isn’t a bad way to spend a session, it just isn’t the norm in my therapy and so it took a bit of time to find our footing.
“What would you like to start with? What seems important today? Sleep? The little girl? Does she have things to share? Something else? We stayed more on the surface last time, so I really don’t know where you’re at.” Bea starts off, after we have had some chatty conversation.
I shrug. I don’t know. “I don’t know. Sleep still….I mean…maybe sleep?” It’s so hard for me to say what I want to work on. I don’t t know. Even though I know I could choose anything, I’m afraid of being told it is not important enough to work on. Even now, bringing up sleep, it is anxiety-making because I feel like we have talked about sleep for 4 sessions, and that it’s not okay to keep talking about the same thing over and over.
“Yeah, sleep. I think that is still important. I’m not sure we’ve ever talked about what you would like sleep to look like?”
I have no idea. Ugh. Why is she asking me this? How am I supposed to answer this? I’m completely bewildered, and I must have a look on my face that says so, because Bea says, “Was there ever a time you can think of that you just lay down and closed your eyes and easily went to sleep?”
I try to think. “I don’t…maybe when I was Kat’s age? Maybe. I mean. I remember by first, second grade, reading a book at night. I’d read and fall asleep reading.” My voice is hesitant and slow. I’m thinking as I speak.
“With the light on?” Bea asks.
“Yes. Always with the light on.”
“What about later? When you were older?”
“I read. Well….later…..I..hmmmm…my parents didn’t let me have a tv until I was 15. Then I watched movies. Or read. But always something to distract from sleep.” I watched Gilmore Girls episodes, or my favorite movies, While you were Sleeping, Sleeping Beauty, and Now and Then. Anyone notice a theme with sleep?
“It’s hard to know what you want something to look like when you never had it in the first place,” Bea acknowledges simply. It’s such a simple statement, but it is so sad.
“I think how hubby just lays down and is out, that seems so nice. You know?” I say.
“It does see nice,” she agrees. There’s a pause, and then she asks, a bit hesitantly, “Did he ever find it odd that you had so much trouble falling asleep, or that you really wouldn’t sleep laying down?”
I cover my face with my hands, shake my head, slowly. “Nooooo. I don’t…..he never said anything, I don’t think.”
“Did he ever wonder why you wouldn’t share a blanket with him?” Bea asks. She doesn’t sound judgmental, just curious, but I cover my face again anyway. I know it’s not normal to refuse to share blankets with your husband.
I shrug. “I think he just figured it’s the way I was, I guess, I’m not sure.”
“I just wondered,” Bea tells me. “Do you know what you don’t want when it comes to sleep?”
I nod. Yeah. “No nightmares? Not being afraid to fall asleep?” I suggest. The things I don’t want. It’s easier to know what I don’t want.
“I’m thinking, if we create more safety around sleep and bedtime, then it won’t be so scary to go fall sleep, and as sleep improves, it will be easier to function and then it will be easier to deal with the stuff that causes nightmares. I just don’t think there is a way to deal with nightmares in general. Maybe in resources or grounding, to help come back from them quicker, but not to actually get rid of them. That comes from working through the trauma stuff. Being tired all the time, that’s not easy to live like that, and I’d like to help you feel better rested.”
“Okay.” I agree.
“What about your Grandma and Grandpa? You had safety at their house at bedtime. We talked….was it Wednesday? You do have good memories around them. Did you get a chance to try using those memories?”
I shake my head. “I….well…it…” My words are stumbling and falling, tripping over each other. I’m still hiding my face from when we had the husband and blanket sharing conversation.
Bea seems to sense that this isn’t going to be easy territory, and she says, “I’m going to get your blanket, just in case you need it.” She gets up, grabs the turquoise blanket and sets it by my feet on the couch.
It’s not long before I grab the blanket and throw it over my head. Wearing the blanky like a coat of armor, a visible shield between me and the world, I am finally able to blurt out, “I didn’t do anything with any memories because you talked about that on Monday and I was too upset to do anything around SP, too hurt and sad.”
“Ahhh, yes. You were really hurt and sad.”
“And I know it’s not really SP to use good memories to feel safe, but it didn’t matter because it was all talked about together and I just couldn’t…..” I jump to let her know I *know* using positive memories like this isn’t SP, before she can correct me or get defensive about it (and now, of course, I’m fairly certain she wouldn’t have, but I was afraid of that at the moment).
“It all felt linked together. It’s okay. Even if you just didn’t feel ready to try something new, that’s okay, too.” Bea says softly.
“Okay.” I whisper.
We sit in the quiet together, and when Bea is sure I’m not going to add anything more, she asks me, “What, exactly, happens, when you lay down to go to sleep? I mean, I know we have talked about it being scary, and it not feeling safe, but what is it that is happening?”
I try to think. I’m tired, I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open, I want to sleep, I lay down……
Bea says, “It’s hard for you to stay here.” Her voice is far away. With fuzzy thinking, I wonder how she knows that when I’m hiding under *my* blanky?
“I know it’s flashbacks,” she says, prompting me. “Is it images, body sensations, emotions?”
I don’t say anything. I’m sort of caught between being here, in her office and being stuck in the memory, the idea, of what happens at bedtime.
“Yeah, you are really far away. Maybe the work is to practice using the safety of the memory of your grandparents’ caring for you, to help come back from the scary memory of what happens at bedtime,” she suggests.
I can see how this is a good idea. It is a smart idea, to practice going from being so far away away, so frozen and so scared, to being calmer and able to think and move. I am afraid to practice though. “Can’t…..it……the little girl……”
“Yes, what about the little girl?” Bea asks. “What is she thinking about all this?”
“I…ugh! I know it’s a good idea, to practice. But I am afraid the little girl will feel like she is being told no talking. And it will feel just like the SP Monday.” I say it quiet, afraid of the words. Afraid of repercussions of not being happy with therapy.
“That felt really bad, didn’t it?” Bea says.
I nod. “Yes! I trusted you! You told me it would never happen, that SP would never shut down my voice, you promised the little girl, and then it happened anyway! It was like you just said what you knew I wanted to hear so I wouldn’t be so against SP!”
“And that makes SP, or anything that is part of SP, very scary to try again, doesn’t it?”
Crying, I nod my head again.
“The narrative, the telling of the story, is an important part of your story. And it’s all the more important because it is important to the little girl.”
“Yes. Words matter. Words matter a lot to her. And she felt like you took them all away, even though you said you never would.”
“I know. I know she really felt like she couldn’t speak here. She still doesn’t want to speak here, does she?”
“She told me, last time, what I did, how upset she was, but she doesn’t want to speak here, now, does she?” Bea says. She gets it. She really does.
“Nope,” I tell her.
“If using SP is something you want to try…..because we don’t have to use it. Or we can hold off, try again in a few weeks, or months. If we use it again, I know now that the narrative needs to be a focus of the work, even as we are working with the body. SP is a little weird, remember me saying last time how SP stops the narrative on purpose? (I nod my head, I do remember) Well, therapy is a collaboration– there’s that word again!– between you and I, so we can change things and make it our own. Maybe SP for you is going to be using the narrative, and instead of stopping the narrative completely, it will be a break, a pause, to check in with yourself, see what sensations, emotions, thoughts are coming up from the telling of the narrative, maybe we see what we can link back to that narrative. Maybe a new narrative or new parts of the narrative come up, and we talk about that. Maybe we just quickly check in and then unpause, so we get right back to the narrative.” Bea’s voice is very soothing, almost musical at times, and right now is one of those times.
I’m listening intently even though I haven’t responded. I don’t really know what to say. I sort of shrug and say, “Okay. Maybe.”
“Could I speak to the little girl now? Could you ask her to listen for a just a moment?” Bea’s voice is soft now, and there is something……she really wants to talk to the little girl.
“Maybe.” I say the word as gently as I can. I want to say yes, okay, sure, but maybe is the best I can do right now.
“Okay,” Bea says, and it’s like she had been holding her breath waiting for an answer. And then, “Your voice is heard here. You will always have the space to speak here. Your words matter to me. You are wanted and cared about here. You can always tell your story here. You are allowed to talk as much as you want to and I will never tell you it’s too much. Your words are important.”
I stop all my fidgeting, and become very still and very quiet. I’m digging my nails into the palms of my hands, but I am very, very still. I’m listening. The little girl is listening, too.
“What is that like? To hear that?” Bea asks me after a while.
“I…I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t know.” I tell her. The little girl….well, all she’s ever wanted is to hear words like those. But she doesn’t believe they are true, so while they brought some happiness and good feelings at first, now she is feeling very wary and unsure. Another part of me—what part, I don’t know– is livid; feeling like Bea is saying whatever she has to to get me to do SP.
“That’s okay. You don’t have to know. Maybe it feels good, and safe. That’s sort of the auto,Aric thought, right? That it has to feel that way? But it could also feel scary. It could feel like it’s too big of a risk to believe my words, to trust me like that. Maybe anger or grief over words that the little needed to hear a long, long time ago, way back when you were a little girl. And that’s okay.” Bea’s voice is very nonchalant, calm and even. She’s totally okay with whatever.
“It’s worse. It’s worse when….I mean…..I had this….sleep, everything is worse now. Knowing I couldn’t stop him…..it makes it all worse.” I say very softly.
“It does feel worse, this out of control feeling of not being able to stop of it. That can feel way worse. It overwhelming,” Bea agrees.
“I thought….I thought it would feel better. I thought the whole point of working towards this idea that I couldn’t stop him, that I didn’t do anything, was because it would feel better!” My face feels very red as I speak, I’m embarrassed for wanting, for expecting this to feel better. For even thinking I deserve to feel better, and all but admitting that out loud.
Bea thinks for a minute. She doesn’t answer right away, and when she does, she is speaking slowly– a sure sign she is thinking through her response. “Well….I believe that there are two sides to this coin. One side, it holds the horror and the overwhelming fear of *I couldn’t do anything, I could not stop him* is the side you have been sitting with. What I’m hoping, what I believe will happen, is one day you will flip the coin over and find the side that holds the relief of *I didn’t do anything, this is not my fault!* I think it is the other side of the coin that holds the feeling better feelings, the *I didn’t do this. I didn’t cause this. I’m not bad* feelings.”
She’s still talking, but I’m having this incredibly strong reaction inside myself to her words. The *I’m not bad, I didn’t cause this* words. In my head I am screaming at her, “But I am bad. I liked it. Sometimes I liked it. I’m a bad, disgusting, terrible girl. I don’t get to be absolved of fault! I don’t deserve that! Shut up, shut up! I filthy and disgusting and horrible. I’m bad. I am bad. I don’t get to feel better.” I never said a word out loud. Ironically, I think if I had been able to say even a fraction of what was being rattled around in my head, SP would have been useful in working through all that was coming up, because I also felt this urge to cut, to make all the feelings and thoughts just stop.
“Alice?” Bea is calling my name, but my head is too fuzzy to respond. “Alice, you are really far away. We need to come back now, okay? Could we use the memories of your Grandparents to help to do that? Alice?”
I shrug, I don’t care. Whatever. Wait, I remember, she can’t see me, I’m hiding under a blanket. But either she does see me, or she decides I’m to far away to make choices, because she is telling me stories I have told her about my grandma and grandpa. I don’t often get to hear those stories told by someone else, and it’s nice. Comforting. Then a horrible thought strikes me. “Bea?!?” I say her name suddenly, breaking through the fog.
“Yes? I’m here,” she responds.
“Do you think…..? I mean….do you think she would hate me if she knew?” I’m referring to my Grandma, and the truth of my childhood, and Bea gets that right now.
“No! Gosh no! Not at all. Not one little bit. I think she would hug you and feel so sorry that she didn’t know when you were little. And she would wrap you up in her arms and give you a big, big, hug and love you just like she always has.” Bea’s response to my question is instant, no hesitation, no thinking, just certainty that Grandma would still love me.
“And Grandpa? If he were here? Do you think…….?” I have to ask about him, too.
“Oh, he would love you just as much as he ever did. He would wish he had known sooner, and he would probably want to kill Kenny, but he would love you just as much as he loved you the day you were born and everyday after that.” Bea tells me. Her words are beautiful.
“Thank you,” I sniffle. There is this sense of relief, this sense of it’s okay, when I come back to the room.
Bea smiles at me when I come out from my hiding spot, and meet her eyes as I hand her the folded blanket. “I can never fold blankets this perfectly,” she tells me.
I smile back, feeling self conscious over the praise. We wrap things up as I pull my boots back on, and grab my bag and coffee.
“I’ll see you later today with Kat, right?” She double checks.
“Okay then. See you this afternoon,” she says as I head out the door.
“Have a good day!” I call, heading down the stairs.
I’m not okay, but I’m okay. I feel okay. Like I can leave the yucky stuff at Bea’s office, maybe, and get on with my life.
This is an old blog post; I wrote it way back in January. (1/25 to be exact). I’m not sure why I never posted it. I suppose I was feeling too vulnerable or something. But it is part of my story, so I’m going to post it now, along with another post that was written but never blogged.
Wednesday (last Wednesday– I’m behind on blogging!) morning, I’m up before 4:00am. The nightmares continue to bombard me. I’m nervous about walking into Bea’s office later today, but I manage to hold it together and get Kat to school. Once I pull out of the school’s parking lot, my mind is flooded with fears around addressing the email I’d written Bea about Monday’s session. Even though I know that Bea’s response was kind and understanding, and that she want to hear the little girl’s perspective, I am scared.
The little girl is very much in control right now and I’m full of nerves as I walk into Bea’s office. I have that *walking into the principal’s office* feeling, that feeling of *about to be in trouble even though you haven’t done anything to be in trouble for*. I needn’t have felt that way though, because when I walk into her office, Bea smiles at me, and says hello. I try to smile, and I manage to whisper a greeting.
I sit down, and we make small talk as I get comfortable, and then Bea asks, “Do you want to talk, or should I get your email?” She’s not going to give me a chance to avoid this today. Although I’d probably deny it, I’m grateful because this feels too important.
I shrug. “I can try to talk.”
But then…..silence. I suddenly feel very locked down and unable to find words. I went from feeling little girl nervous to Ms. Perfect closed off and protected. I can’t feel anything; in that moment, I can’t even remember or make sense of why I was so hurt and upset.
Bea tries to help. She suggests, and cajoles, and asks smart questions. But nothing really helps. She gets out my email, then, saying, “I think it is important that we talk about the little girl’s perspective. I think it is important that we listen to her. She is the most vulnerable part, and she needs to know she will be listened to.”
But she won’t be! The thought comes from some where behind the giant stone wall Ms. Perfect has built.
“Mmmhmmm….lots of thinking, you really worked hard to sort this out in your mind.” Bea is reading back through my email, and responding as she reads. Although she has responded to me Tuesday night, she now can go through and respond more in depth. This has worked well in the past, in terms of helping me find my voice. “Yes, SP does bump up right against the need to go away and avoid in order to feel safe. And that can make it this very scary thing. Ahhh….yes, I see…for the little girl everything in the past is very present. And she can talk about the past, she is allowed to talk about anything she wants to talk about. The present is more stopping the narrative, it’s intentionally stopping the story, and the. checking in with what we feel in the moment. But if feelings or sensations are from the past, and that is what we are feeling, that is okay, it can be talked about. The idea is not to tell a story about the feelings, but to simply focus on the feelings.”
Again, far back behind that stone wall, I think, I hate this. I don’t want to do this. This is the worst.
Bea continues, “That glass wall the little girl feels? That’s depersonalization, that feeling that you aren’t really here, like this is a movie.”
I stop listening after that. She’s wrong. She is so wrong. And that is all it takes for the stone wall to be knocked down. This feeling is not depersonalization. Before I can stop myself, I’m interrupting Bea. “I…it’s…ugh.” Nothing coherent comes out, but Bea is okay with that. She’s encouraging and gentle. I start and stop, over and over, in my quest to get the words out.
“It’s hard to find words today, isn’t it?” She says softly.
I shake my head. I’ve managed to stay sitting up, not hiding my face from her, although my knees are curled into my chest. “I’ve….I have the words. I just…..can’t say them.” I whisper sadly. I can’t look at her now, and so I look at the floor.
“I wonder what is stopping you from talking? I’m curious why you can’t say the words?” Bea pushes me, just a little bit, but she is caring in her questions, and I’m not upset by them.
“I….I just…” It’s stop and go in this train of thought belonging to Alice. Ugh. Why can’t I just speak?
“Are you afraid I will be upset with you? Or mad at you? Because I won’t be. I just want to hear what you have to say. It matters.”
“Maybe you won’t be. You don’t know! You can’t promise that!” I say, the words mad and fearful at the same time.
“You’re right, I can’t know for sure. But I also know what types of things make me mad, and I am reasonably sure you haven’t done any of those things. So, anything you have to say is in all likelihood not something that will upset me or make me mad.” She takes my words seriously, not repeating empty promises, but explaining why she feels confident in making such a promise.
I don’t talk for what feels like hours, the words rolling around and around in my brain. Finally, almost forcing myself to talk, I say very quickly, “it’s not depersonalization. That’s not what it was. Maybe I wrote it wrong. But it’s not what I meant, you are wrong.”
Bea is so calm when she speaks. “Okay. That’s okay. I’m glad you told me. I’m sorry I was wrong. I didn’t understand. When I think of depersonalization, I think of feeling separated from everyone, like things aren’t real. Like you felt once before, last winter. I’m sorry I got it wrong.”
I’d hidden my face by then, and so I cry, “I thought…I meant….it feels like that is what you feel like. Like it feels like you have a glass wall between us, that YOU are watching me on a tv screen. It’s not me. It’s this feeling I’m getting from you.”
“Oh, I am so sorry you are feeling that! I didn’t feel thinky or gone at all on Monday. I felt very there with you, trying to help find ways for you to stay present, stay with the feelings. I am so sorry you felt different.”
I can feel myself getting more and more upset and overwhelmed. All the hurt feelings, and all sadness and aloneness. envelope me. It’s the feelings of an overwhelmed, hurt, out of control little girl. I curl as into myself as I can. “You just left.” I cry, the words mushed together and heavily accented with tears.
Bea can’t understand me, even her seemingly magic powers of understanding every mumbled, whispered, overloaded with feelings word. “What? I didn’t hear you,” she says.
I sniffle and try to get it together. “I was talking and you just said stop,” I wail. I’m not sure how Bea can stand this, I sound so whiny, even to myself, but I can’t stop.
“Oh! Oh, that didn’t feel good, did it? I know that didn’t feel good,” she says, full of empathy and care.
“Nooooo,” I cry.
“That is the thing with SP, it does purposefully stop the narrative. I wondered how that felt to the little girl. I wondered if she was going to feel abandoned by that.” Bea is straight forward and matter of fact right now.
I sniffle some more, and try to talk, but am feeling so sad, and it is too hard to talk, too vulnerable, too scary.
Bea continues talking, sharing with me that she hadn’t forgotten about the little girl, and that she wasn’t leaving the little girl, and that she knew it didn’t feel good to be told she had to stop the narrative.
After several false starts, I manage to start to say, “A long time ago, you promised you wouldn’t……you said…you told me……”
“What did I say?” Bea asks. I’m listening for any hint of anger or frustration, but it’s not there, not even a little bit. She really wants to know.
“You…..a long time ago….you promised that I wouldn’t…..you said that SP wouldn’t make me stop talking, that it wasn’t to tell me no talking.” My voice cracks, and then my voice is full of tears and sounds young. “And then you did it anyways.”
“Ahhhh….That felt just like I took your voice away, and you weren’t allowed to speak anymore, didn’t it? I’m so very sorry. That wasn’t what I meant it to do. I never want to take your voice away. But it felt really sad and really lonely, didn’t it? And maybe even a little bit scary, that I did something I said I wouldn’t do. It’s no wonder the you (the little girl) hate SP and feel such a strong reaction to the very idea!” Bea is right there, very much with me and there and caring. She isn’t upset with me, and she feels bad and is sorry I have felt so awful and shut down.
I nodded, agreeing with her that it felt bad. I’m crying too hard to speak, but I am listening to her.
“If you still wanted to do SP, I think we would need to do it only if the little girl is on board, and we would do SP with her. It would all be up to her. She would have to be okay with it, and we don’t need to do SP. And you can share anything you want. If thoughts and images from the past come up when we pause the narrative and check in, that can be shared. It is okay. SP can be really hard for a person who hasn’t gotten to have a voice, because you come to therapy and learn to use your voice and tell your story, and to have the narrative interrupted, that can feel very invalidating and like the therapist is ignoring the story. SP isn’t good when it is like that. That’s one reason I haven’t pushed to use SP with the narrative of trauma, but for resourcing and grounding, and now, with the sleep stuff.”
She gets it. Somehow she always gets it. I breathe a sigh of relief. I stayed curled up, hiding my face, crying from sadness and relief and just asa way to let some of these big feelings out. I cry and cry, until it’s almost time to go. Bea gives me a few minute warning, asking me if I can do some grounding. I nod my head, and she names colors of what she sees around her. I don’t respond. But I look around and find the colors she is naming. I am calm, and able to sit up and say goodbye. But when I get to my car, I realize I am not as here as I thought, and that it might not be a good idea to drive right now. Instead, I walk around downtown, listening to an audio book. After about an hour, I feel less floaty and capable of driving. I feel raw, and exposed, and vulnerable, and I hate the fact I behaved like a sobbing 5 year old, but I’m okay. I am okay.