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. 

The phone call 

Alice, just an FYI, I’ve had a cancellation and am free until 3:00pm of you would like to talk by telephone. -Bea

I stare at the email, unsure if I really want to call. I’m hiding out in our guest room, because the fan is the perfect noise filter so I can feel like I’m not being overheard. I have my water, my blanket, and my phone. I should just call her. I want to. Every time I read the email sent before the one offering to a phone call, I start to cry. If I read the entire thread, I feel hopeless, unheard, unseen, and alone, and all I want to do is quit therapy, forget about Bea. 

Instead I pull up her phone number and hit the call button on the screen.

“Hello?” She answers the phone with just the slightest question at the end of the word. 

Moments before, I’d been struggling not to cry, but now, all I can say is, “Hi.” 

“Hi there,” she says quietly. 

I can’t find my words, I say nothing. 

“I wasn’t sure you would call.” 

“Because you didn’t really want me to?” I whisper. 

“No! No, not at all! I guess I thought you might feel awkward because I know you don’t like to call me.” 

I don’t understand why she is telling me this, but not much makes sense to me these days. “Oh,” is all I can manage to say. 

Bea starts talking again, but I don’t hear her because Kat interrupts my phone call. She wants me to know she is going downstairs to play with her dolls. “All right, that’s fine.” My words are short and clipped, I’m annoyed. 

Bea has stopped talking, but I have no idea what she said before. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you were saying,” I tell her.

“Oh, can you hear me now?” 

“No, no, I could hear you, it was just Kat, I couldn’t hear you over her.” This isn’t going well. We aren’t connecting, it’s not better to be talking to her, we are just missing each other somehow. Why did she tell me I could call? Why did I take her up on it? 

“I’m sorry that I missed the mark earlier, that you felt more alone after emailing with me than before, I feel bad that I made you feel bad,” she says. Her voice is authentic, I can head that she is sorry, that she wasn’t trying to make me feel worse. 

I start crying, “I can’t do anything right, right now. I just keep screwing up, over and over. And I didn’t want to make you feel bad.”

“No, I know you don’t want to make me feel bad. I’m glad you told me I was way off base.” 

 
“I’m just so sorry I’m making everything worse. I’m messing it all up.” I’m sobbing now. 

“Did you get my other email?” Her voice is soft, almost a whisper. 

“Yeah, I got it.” I don’t want to talk about it. 

“I was afraid that if I said something, you would feel like you were messing up by not meeting some expectation I have for you. I don’t have any expectations, I am not even sure what that feeling is about, but I felt I needed to think about it, to sit with it, to try to understand it. It’s not a bad thing, not at all. I just need to think about what this feeling is telling me, if maybe I do need to push you a little more in the coping arena. That’s all it is, is something to notice and think about, talk about it.” 

I want to die. I literally want to curl up and die. She just told me to email as much as I needed to, that I could call, that she is here, and now she is telling me that she is having this feeling of maybe needing to push me in the coping arena. I am hearing that as I should be coping with this on my own and not needing her like this. “Nothing feels right. Everything just…..it all feels not okay. I’m not okay, nothing was helping. I thought, if I emailed you then maybe I’d feel better because I’d be less alone. But then, it didn’t help.” I’m crying harder now. I burying my face in my pillow. 

“I’m hearing you, nothing feels safe, just everything feels wrong. I’m here and I’m listening. But I can’t help thinking that you have a few more days left, before you leave. I wish for you that you could enjoy them. Maybe do some yoga, get out and swim at your beach, take Kat for a bike ride.”

“No! I can’t.” I’m crying harder now.

“Even that doesn’t feel okay. I know that is easier said than done, that it’s not so easy to switch parts like that. They sort of show up when they want to and take control. I guess this is more about my desire to fix things for you.” She says. 

“I don’t want you to fix anything! I just want to not be alone. I don’t need you to fix it. I don’t expect people to fix my stuff for me!” 

“I know you don’t, I know that. It’s hard not to want to fix things for you. That not on you, it’s just me, being human. I do know that when I feel bad, I don’t want someone to fix it, I just want someone to sit with me. Sometimes you want to fix things for people, don’t you?” 

“Yes. I want to fix everything for everyone I care about.” It hits me as I’m saying it. She cares. She feels a desire to fix it because she cares.

I sigh. How can I make her understand? “It’s like if I had more time…..I just….there’s so much that came up and now I just can’t…….if I wasn’t going camping, I would be able to just put this stuff away, put it in my notebook, box it up, and be back to myself, because I would know you and I would deal with it and I’d be okay. But this? This is like I’m stuck here. I can’t open the box with all the crap oozing out of it, because I know I have to leave in a few days to go camping. I can’t box it up better than it is because it’s all triggered and messy and awful.” 

“You are stuck in the in between. You can’t dig into it because then you will be all the more triggered and raw, and you can’t set it aside because then you would be letting down any defenses.” The tone in her voice says she is getting it. 

“I can’t come back to myself. I’m stuck here. And I’m just…I just want this week to be over with.”

“Yeah, I get that. Are you frozen far away, or the other end of the spectrum right now?” 

I’m trying to think of how to answer that, when she adds, “Are you more anxious with nervous energy, waiting for the week to be over, or are you more far away and fuzzy?”  

“It’s….like I’m over caffeinated. And I didn’t even drink coffee today. Or yesterday. For a few days. Because I feel too hyper. I can’t calm down. I had tea, but not coffee. And it’s caffeine free. I can’t…I don’t know. It’s like I’m running on a treadmill, but no matter how fast I run, I can’t….” 

“Get anywhere?” She suggests when I stop talking.

“No…..I can’t get away.” 

The words feel heavy, and are punctuated by silence. I think we both can feel the weight of them. 

“It’s very telling, isn’t it? The language. You can’t get away.”

“No. I can’t get away,” I agree. 

“What can’t you get away from?” She asks. 

I pull my blanket over my head. It’s silly, because Bea can’t see me, but I’m suddenly feeling too exposed and vulnerable. “I’d like Kenny to get out of my head now.” I say the words softly. 

More silence, and then Bea asks, “What?” I’m unsure if she just didn’t hear me, or if she isn’t following my choppy hyper over caffeinated thinking. 

“I want Kenny to get out of my head.” I say the words again, stronger this time. 

“Oh, okay. I didn’t know that he was there in such a big way.”

“It’s just….he’s…it’s….I don’t even want to be in my body right now. It’s all….I just can’t.” My mind is jumping all over the place, and I can’t think very clearly. Why didn’t Bea know that Kenny was a problem right now? Did I not tell her?

“I’m so glad you are telling me this now, that Kenny stuff was really triggered too. I know the mom stuff is awful and painful and full of grief, but it makes sense now, why you are having such strong reactions, so many flashbacks and nightmares and jumping from frozen far away to hyper running in place. It’s making a lot more sense to me now.”

“Monday…..I wasn’t really there, was I?” 

“No, you were really far away on Monday, it was next to impossible to keep you in the room. Wednesday you were more present than Monday, but not much. You really weren’t able to sit with much or talk about very much. We talked about your mom some, and how she hurt you by not accepting you, but we didn’t go very deep.” 

“I don’t think I could…talk about this before now.” Doesn’t it just suck when stuff won’t come up on therapy days?

“No, you needed to do this in layers, I think. You needed to be more here than you were.”

“I……he’s just…..I sent you that picture?”

“Yes, you sent me that picture.” It was a picture looking out my childhood bedroom window– the window on the side of the house. The window directly across from mine was Jackie’s window. The window to the left of my window was Kenny’s window. 

“I think, I just wanted you to see.” I’d snapped the picture and sent it after all the Kenny stuff had been stirred up. I didn’t have words, I couldn’t find words to tell Bea exactly how not okay I was feeling, but I had this picture of just how close Kenny had been. 

“You didn’t leave the house that weekend, did you? Normally you do the winery visits and that puts you in a much more adult place to start the weekend off. This time, you were at the house.”

“Backyard party,” I say woodenly. “Just like…I know, I know it’s not even the same group of people, I know that I’m an adult, I know all that……but…….I mean, I could see us all, as kids, running around. Back and forth between the yards. My mom put out the same yard games as we used do play. And the grown ups always sat on the porch. And the fire pit for bonfire later. It was all the same. So much the same. And I couldn’t…..I just….there’s no getting away.”

“Yes you are a grown up and you know all those things, but parts of you aren’t grown up and they were really triggered, of course they were really triggered. I can see it as you are describing it. When you sent that picture. I had a visceral reaction to how close he was, all the time, of course you felt like you could tell no one, he was always right there! And now you are describing how much last weekend was like those childhood backyard parties, and I can see it and feel it. It makes everything more real, doesn’t it? How could it not send you right back there? Of course you are really struggling, it makes so much more sense now, why this is all so bad right now. I’m so glad you are able to share this with me now, I’m just sorry I didn’t get it sooner, that I didn’t realize what had happened.”

“I just, I couldn’t figure out…it was all so right there, but I couldn’t tell.” I’m crying again.

“It’s okay. You needed time. That’s all. And I was very focused on the mom triggers, I wasn’t seeing anything else.” 

“I should have used my words earlier, I guess.” We both laugh at that. 

“I’m sorry I got so upset with you,” I tell her. 

“I’m not! I’m glad you could tell me you were upset. You couldn’t tell your mom when you were growing up that you were upset or that your feelings were hurt, but you feel safe enough to to tell me, now. That’s a good thing.”

“It was still hard .” 

“It still feels scary, maybe a little bit dangerous, to tell me when you are mad?” 

“Yeah.” I agree. It feels scary. 

“I think of it as a positive that you can tell me, now, when you are upset with me. It’s okay to be upset with me. I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to miss things, I’m going to screw up some times. But if you can tell me when I’ve made you mad, or hurt your feelings, or aren’t giving you what it is you need from me; if you can tell me those things, that is a gift. It gives me a chance to correct it and keep the connection we have and keep helping you heal. If I don’t get a chance to correct it, we can lose that connection, and I can’t help you of you are hiding things because you are afraid of my reaction. I’m glad when you trust me enough to tell me you are mad at me. And just because you are mad at me, that doesn’t mean we are on opposition sides. You can be mad at me, and I can still be on your side.” 

“I know. It’s just hard to be mad at you. I don’t like feeling like we are on opposite sides.”

“I’m on your side. Sometimes, we try things and they don’t work, right? Sometimes we try something and it brings up some feelings. We have to talk about it, otherwise how can we know what else to try or not try? I’m on the side of helping you feel better. If I suggest something or do something that upsets you, it doesn’t mean I’m not still on your side. And if you tell me I messed up, I’m on your side then, too. It just means you and I have more information to work with. That’s all. Okay?”

“Okay.” I say.

“I need to get off the phone in a few minutes,” Bea says. 

I don’t want to hang up. “Okay.”

“I am very glad you called and told me more about what is going on,” she says. 

I want to ask her if she is going to get rid of me, if I’m messing everything up, if she is really on my side. Instead, I take a breath, remind myself of everything she just said and tell her, “I need to clean and organize some things and I have some baking to do. I’m okay. I have stuff to be busy, I’m up and doing things and functioning. I just….I’m okay.”

“Okay, but not really okay at all?” She asks. 

“Yeah. That.” 

“It’s okay to not be okay.” The reminder is nice. 

“Okay. I’ll let you go,” I tell her. 

“I’m swimming in the ocean with you, all right? You aren’t alone. And I’ll see you Monday, bright and early.” She says. 

“See you Monday.” I hang up the phone. I sit there for a few minutes, trying to digest the conversation. Bea had no idea that so much more had been triggered. I honestly thought I told her when we talked about the picture I sent her. I guess I never said any of that out loud. 

I worry that she is feeling an annoyance towards me for not being all better, that she is going to decide I don’t need the option to email or call, or she is going to cut my session time or she is going to take away a session. I don’t want any of those things to happen. And I honestly think I cope with things pretty good, much better than I used to. But when all the things get triggered and I’m heading to place filled with more triggers, I can’t do it on my own. And it is nerve wracking to know that all the things are triggered, I’m going into another triggering situation and Bea will be gone on vacation. It is scary to know I’ll be home from camping for a whole week before I get to see her, that she will be on vacation, and it just really makes me feel all alone. At least she knows now why everything is so bad. Maybe Monday’s session will be better now that she knows. Or maybe she will just take away everything and leave me all alone to cope.    

The After…..

So, I can’t really write about the sessions after the family reunion. I wasn’t really there and so we didn’t talk about much of anything. I had written a little more in addition to my emails, and put it all together on my iPad. Bea read it all and talked about it, but I don’t remember what she said. I remember hiding under my blanket both days, and I remember crying, but I just couldn’t come back to myself. 

Wednesday was really the first day I’d gotten out of the house and not been hiding in bed under my blanket at home, or in my closet. As the day went on, it was like I started to swim up from the bottom of the ocean, and the closer I got to the surface, the more I wanted to talk to panicky and scared I started to feel. I really wanted to talk to Bea. I almost felt as if I hadn’t even had any sessions this week. So, I emailed her.

Hi Bea,

So…….I’m more here than I was, I’m closer to feeling normal, but…..I’m not there. Not really. I feel like when I first was learning to be more present and really starting to deal with trauma stuff. I’m feeling very up and down, very here one moment and so far away the next. I’m taking things out of context, like hubby reminding me to grab Kat’s swimsuit bottoms and underwear for OT, I got all upset, telling him I had the bottoms and I *actually can handle stuff and I don’t screw up all the time*. Obviously it wasn’t really hubby I was talking to. It was such a snarky teenage response, something I probably would have wanted to say to my mom, but would have held inside. I just hate feeling like this, and I can’t seem to control it. I know it gets better, and I did send hubby a *heads up, I’m crazy this week* text, so he knows something is going on. 

And I know that this is past feelings but I just feel really alone. I know you’re here, I know none of this is based on current reality, but I can’t stop feeling like this. My logical side can’t control my feelings side. I keep thinking that I’m going camping and then you will be gone so you won’t be here for a whole week. And I tell myself you said I could email or call, so it’s fine, if I really need to and am truly not okay you will be there, but then I get panicked about that, there is this huge worry that you really won’t be there and I’ll be left alone because I screw everything up. 

I just literally feel like a crazy person today. Maybe this is better than being numbed out and hiding like the past two days, maybe this is just something to move through in order to get back to feeling like myself. But it sucks. And I can’t figure out how to control it and not be so up and down and grounded and far away. It’s crazy making to be so all over the place. 
I feel like I have a lot to say, like deeper more feelings stuff, and I might email later, if it’s okay. 

******
Alice, 

Feel free to email. We may want to put the brakes on the deeper stuff, but that doesn’t mean the deeper stuff will cooperate. We’ll handle whatever comes up.

Continue the self care–good time to treat yourself well!

Bea

*****

I’m really stuck in this teen way of thinking. It’s like background noise in my brain. Everything I do, it’s somehow made negative. Everything people say, is somehow twisted to a negative. It’s like this automatic thing, and before I know it, I’m feeling terrible and like I want to disappear. I mean, part of me realizes these thoughts and feelings are old, so I’m okay. It just feels quite present moment.
I’m struggling between very on edge, so jumpy, panicked and scared and just really far away and frozen– almost like I’m wrapped in thick blanket of cotton batting. I can’t control it. Far away is better, even though it doesn’t feel all that safe there. 


I know you said not to think about camping, but I can’t help it. I think I can’t get myself fully grounded and present and feeling safe because I know I am going to be camping. It feels like I’m not safe anywhere right now. I can’t be present, because all the anxiety and stuff of the present, but being so far away and spacey……I don’t know, some reason that seems to be making it easier for my brain to send me back to memories from the times I was far away like this as a child. Oh yeah, that’s the memories in different states thing, you told me about that. Right? So okay, that makes sense then? Ugh. Either way, it’s not been a fun few days since the weekend. Not that the weekend was all happy either. 


I really want to run away from my life right now. I just keep feeling like there’s not enough time, I don’t know, I can’t explain it. The little girl, maybe the teen, they are so freaked out about leaving…. It’s like I’m leaving, and then you are leaving, and maybe you won’t come back, or I won’t come back, or everything will be different and you won’t be you if you do come back, and I’m going to be all alone with all of this, and even the grown up me is having a lot of anxiety about being able to cope and be okay. Like, I know I could get back to feeling like me if we weren’t leaving to go camping so soon. But I don’t know how to cope with all the crap and all the feelings and all the memories and all the mixed up bits of all that stuff that is making a giant bowl of confusion that is from the weekend. And then I have all the crap coming up now, and then what about camping and all that? And I’m feeling so teen alice-ish it is sort of scary, and I’m just not sure at all. I know it’s probably dramatic and ridiculous, but in a lot of ways, right now, I really feel like there is no safe place. I’d like to hide under my blanket in your office and scream and cry and not be alone. 

I’m sorry, I think I’m just going to be emailing you right now. It’s just not working to write in my notebook and know that you will read it and respond on Monday. For some reason, it’s just not enough. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. And I don’t want to make you upset and have you be annoyed with me. And I’m really scared that if I email you, you will email back but it won’t sound like you, so please please can you just tell me if you are having a bad day or in a bit of a rush or something because I don’t think the little girl can handle any little bit of perceived, even if only in her head, rejection or anger. I really need to know its okay to email and that you aren’t mad and won’t be mad. I told you, I’m feeling a great little bit crazy right now.

******

I am here and have no problem with you emailing as much as you need to. I had the thought: what if you don’t go camping? It’s a choice, after all. No one is making you go–send hubby and Kat and have some alone time. Maybe just considering that will help. Remember my scary dream about my therapist and my husband asking me, ” Why didn’t you just leave?” When we’re reacting from a traumatized past we forget that now we do have choices. Let yourself explore that concept a bit.

******

(Maybe you are seeing something I’m not, that’s always a possibility, and I really don’t want to argue with you, but……)


This isn’t all that simple. Maybe it’s a choice, but only in the way that it can be argued everything in life is a choice. It’s not as simple as just not going. This is Kat’s birthday celebration with my parents, my brother and her cousins. Not going would be like not attending your child’s birthday party. On top of that, is the fallout not going would cause with hubby, with my parents, with my brother. It’s not so simple to just decide it’s a choice and not go. There are consequences to the choices we make. Making a choice to not go means hurting people, namely my daughter. Making a choice to go, hurts one person– me. And I’ll be fine, because I’m always fine. I can cope with going a lot better than Kat can cope with mommy not attending her birthday celebration. That’s not really a choice at all. 


I know this was just a thought, that it was supposed to make me feel less trapped or something. But it just upset me and made me feel like you don’t get it at all and now I’m really stuck in this mess alone. 
I’m so unsure about even sending this, I had a whole different email written that was me trying to think about not going and how that felt so much better and it was all fine now, I’m going to make a choice to go and I’m in control of this all and it’s actually okay after all. But that’s not even true. I just didn’t want to be on a different side than you when I’m leaving for vacation and then you’re leaving for vacation. Because being on separate sides is like you not being here anyway, and then really being gone makes it harder for the little girl to even remember you are here. That’s just repeating a pattern of how I related to my mom to feel safe (and I can clearly see when I’m doing that now that it’s been pointed out to me), and being agreeable for the sake of being agreeable isn’t really going to be all that helpful, is it? Ugh! Why does this all have to be so complicated? Too much is triggered right now and I can’t even sort it all out. 

*******
I know it’s not that simple. I was advocating for a psychological break and a chance to experience the feeling of this being a choice. I knew what your choice was and why! It sounds like aside from being annoyed with me what I was aiming for worked–you did define for yourself that it is a choice and you defined the reasons why you’re making it. I’ve lived with the fantasy of not doing something because it’s a choice right up to the literal moment of actually doing it (knowing on some level I was going to do it all along!). For me that’s a pretty good coping strategy!
We are not on different sides. I never thought you wouldn’t actually go–I just thought it might help to think about it differently, and give you a chance to not have to suffer now. I know it’s going to be difficult at the time it happens no matter what. Hmmm, the real choice is actually about not suffering now, isn’t it?
******

So…. at the risk of making myself more upset……


First thought: Fine. You’re right. What you were aiming for worked and I can choose to not suffer. And on that note, maybe I should just choose to get over the bad things in my life and focus on the positive. Everything is all better. Yay. *throws phone across the room*

Second thought: You don’t get it. It’s not a choice to go or not go. All this did was resolidify the fact that I don’t really have a choice. Why aren’t you understanding this? I just need you to get it. This is not such a simple thing and it hurts that you are boiling it down to so simple. I know sometimes I want things boiled down to simple, but this just feels painful, dismissive or something. *crying*

Third thought: I’m hurt. My feelings are really hurt and that made me really sad, it was easier to be defensive and angry. I feel like you are wanting to make this less of a big deal so that it is easier for me to deal with while I’m gone and when I get back. But it doesn’t feel simple and you trying to make it simple seems like a very logical. I’m not wanting logical, I want emotional connection and support. I want to feel like you are here and getting this. I don’t need to pick it apart and examine it right now, I think I just need to be here and know you are here. It feels like to me that I can’t fully come back to myself until after I am back and you are back and we can dig into all that has been triggered. Right now, it feels like I’m stuck, like I’ve been paused (through circumstance vs me being difficult) and I can’t really box the yuck back up, but I can’t sort through it right now either. So I’m stuck in this in-between place. I just need you to be here with me. *wants to hide because this feels vulnerable*

So…..I feel like I’m treading water in this giant ocean, no land in sight, and I’m too tired and too scared to turn around and look for land behind me, no matter how many times you swear it’s there. Could you just throw me a life vest instead and hang out in the ocean with me? 

******

Okay, sorry…. Sometimes “trying to help” doesn’t feel that way, does it? I’m feeling a bit torn. On one hand, yes I can swim with you in the ocean and be there to honor the pain. 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. I don’t want to keep you in a place you’re ready to take a step away from by not putting that out there, if that makes sense. That wouldn’t be fair to you either.
So having said that, I’m really listening to what you’re saying. You’re feeling mad, really hurt, and that I don’t get it. You’re feeling awful and that nothing is okay. I will stay there with you–I am staying there with you. We both know that is what you need. We can think about this other piece that’s nagging at me another time if you want to. Your choice.
I’m afraid you’re now going to feel that you’re not meeting my expectations. Don’t go there–I don’t even know what those expectations might be! It’s literally just a little nagging feeling. We would have to explore it together. But not now. I am in listening and receiving mode now, and I am with you.
********

I don’t email her back, I hate her email. She wants to get rid of me. She is annoyed with me after she said she wouldn’t be annoyed with me, after she said she was here and I could email, and now she is annoyed. And her response about being here and listening now feels like she is doing so simply because I asked, but she doesn’t really want to be doing so. I want to scream, to cry, to break something. I hate this email as much as I hated her last one. Why am I screwing everything up? I know better than to be this needy. I know better. She wants me to cope without her. Why I did I ever trust it was okay to need her? 
*********

Right after the terrible email, Bea sends another email. 
Alice, just an FYI, I’ve had a cancellation and am free until 3:00pm of you would like to talk by telephone. -Bea

I don’t know what to do. Is she going to fire me over the phone? I’m afraid to email, afraid to call. She is already annoyed with me, after all. But if she didn’t want me to call, why would she offer to talk on the phone? I don’t understand, I’m so confused. I try to continue on with my task of washing the dishes, but I can’t focus. I finally decide to call Bea. 

Weekend Flashback 

Family Reunion weekend. I should have a lot to say, there should be too many words showing up on this page. Instead, I can’t figure out how to explain the triggered dissociated mess I became. Teen Alice was completely running the show by the end of the weekend. 

I typically enjoy the weekend. In the past, we have hired sitters for the kids, rented a limo and visited multiple wineries on day one. Day two is typically a beach/movie/kid friendly activity day. This side of the family really is a blast. I enjoy them all and look forward to seeing them. 

This year though? We didn’t do the traditional touring of several wineries. Festivities took place at my parents’ house. Everyone brought wine to taste (which was actually pretty cool, we got to try wines from all over the country), activities were set up for the kids, as well as yard games and a photo booth for adults and kids alike. 

It was too much like the parties thrown in my childhood. Being at the house all weekend was just on much for me. The first day was okay. I felt really distanced from everyone, just extremely disconnected from the world, and from myself. 

The second day, my mother and I got into it, and that sent me into a giant tailspin. At first I was so angry with her that all I wanted to do was rage at her. I attempted to vent to hubby, but he just kept saying, “okay” as if I were lecturing him. I desperately needed some feedback, understanding, validation, so I emailed Bea. 

Bea,

I want to throw something. Or cry. Or scream. Or hide in the closet. Or drop a giant bomb and ruin everyone’s lives. Or just run away back to my home and forget about my mother and my childhood home and all that goes with that. 
I’m so angry, Bea. I’m never good enough. That’s the truth. It’s not me being dramatic, or something. It’s just a fact. I’m never good enough for my mother. Oh, when she is talking about me and my life and Kat and hubby, everything is said a if I am still Ms. Perfect. 
But to my face? I’m a giant fucking disappointment and I can’t manage to do anything right. Ugh! Why do I let her get to me like this? And the teen part, omg, she is so strong right now, everything is being colored by her, I know that but it doesn’t stop the feelings. 

My mother is mad because I can’t manage to follow her schedule. I’m sorry! I have an autistic child who is sensitive to crowds and changes in schedules and traveling and sleeping in places that aren’t her own home and I need to do whatever will help my child deal with traveling and transitions and changes. It’s not my job to take care of my mother, I’m not her mom! It’s my job to take care of my child. Grrrrrr. Ugh. My mother got all upset with me because we weren’t doing what she was doing with all the kids downtown/at the beach. Well, Kat had 3 meltdowns and I was dealing with that, so it might it just a little difficult to be right where my mother wanted is to be at that particular moment. But you know, she hasn’t gotten to see Kat at all this weekend, and somehow that is all my fault. But she made her choices to follow what the other kids wanted to do. She could have told them that they were gonna do x,y,z for a while, but she didn’t. She chose to spend her time talking and hanging with the grownups yesterday. 
I’m just so sick of never being good enough. Even Ms. Perfect isn’t perfect enough. 
I’m just so angry right now. What the hell does she want from me? Why isn’t it a good thing that I am respecting my daughters needs and helping her learn to cope with stressful situations and regulate her emotions? Oh right, it’s not okay because that all takes time and being present and dealing with emotions and admitting to not being perfect and it might possibly ruin your perfectly laid out schedule. Argh. 

Oh, and another thing?!?! She’s all upset we haven’t didn’t anytime together this weekend, but every time Kat or I have tried telling her something or asking her to do something with us she gets distracted by other family members, and they get precedence. So how is this my fault? I don’t understand. But somehow it is and I can’t fix it and I can’t be what she needs and I’m so tired, I barely slept last night and I know that’s not helping but ugh. 

You always want to know where’s the anger? Well, here is it. I hate her Bea. I just want to scream at her and throw everything in her face and then go home. Just be done with it all. 

I won’t, you know. I’ll lock it all down and smile and nod and apologize and be appropriate and whatever. But right now, everything in me hates that. I don’t want to be here not here. I don’t want to be far away. But, I also don’t want to be here at all.

Alice 

(Bea’s emailed words are in bold) Sounds frustrating and triggering for sure. As you say, you can’t meet her needs and Kat’s needs both, and your kid has to come first.

Thank you for saying this. I really just needed to feel like someone was on my side. I spent my whole life in that house feeling alone and not good enough and broken. I don’t often feel that way in my real life anymore. But this week….ugh. All those feelings are back in full force. 

 I hope the anger can dissipate enough for you to enjoy the rest of the weekend.
I don’t know what happened. Anger didn’t really dissipate….it just sort of got shoved down. I don’t know. I ended up far away and spacey and trying so so hard to be perfect and do whatever I thought my mom wanted me to be doing. Which basically meant trying to be perfect all the while feeling like a failure in everything. Eventually I just went so far away that being sociable and talkative was too difficult. It was the far away can’t easily orientate to what is happening in the present and can’t get words out. That doesn’t happen often in public—- it’s definitely a teenage Alice thing I think. Of course, that only added to my mother’s annoyance because she felt I was sulking and being unsocial and rude. So….yeah. 

Honestly, I think I was struggling too because we were at the house the whole time, not out at wineries. Being in the house and having a big party in the backyard……well, I lived that as a child. Lots of parties in the yard as I was growing up.

I don’t know. I wavered between angry with my mother and numb and frozen triggered and feeling exactly like teen me trying to be perfect and failing miserably —and honestly, bouncing between all 3 of those feelings, I could feel exactly why I overdosed or cut my wrists. I couldn’t keep going on feeling like that. I couldn’t understand why I felt like that, I felt like I was crazy. I had parents and a therapist who thought I was broken; something was innately wrong with my personality, with who I was. I just wanted everything to stop. I didn’t even care if that meant someone helping me or actually dying. I just needed things to not be like they were. I feel like that’s when I got really good at pretending. I don’t know. It feels like maybe before that time period I did still have a part of the real me, I still had this tiny piece of me that knew who I really was. But that had to go away. I buried that last bit of the real me and learned to pretend and be perfect. Do you know I can be having a panic attack, literally feeling like my heart might explode and I can’t breathe, and I can smile and continue talking like I have not a care in the world? Well, maybe I can’t anymore. I don’t know. But I could at one time. That’s how disconnected I became. Anyway. I think I got off point. 

I guess we are still dealing with teen stuff. Yeah, some of it is present day stuff but mostly it’s teen stuff getting mixed up in present day stuff. And you know what I keep thinking? That was 20 years ago! The Kenny stuff started almost 30 years ago (28 years ago, to be exact). And (at times) it all feels like it happened yesterday, or this morning, or 10 minutes ago. It all feels very right now, it feels present day. Does that make me crazy? 

And…..there was purging and cutting. 😞🙈 I failed there too. I just couldn’t cope. Ugh. It was all just too much.

Alice, 

Ugh! I hope by now you are already heading home. It was just too much, as you say. Do something fun that you like here, in your grown up life now–go for a swim in the lake, or something else grounding and not related to your life at home. Once your now life fully sinks in I think you’ll feel a sense of relief. If not, it’s okay to just be wherever you are right now:)

I’ll see you tomorrow,

Bea

I’m back home, and yet I still don’t feel grounded or safe or really okay at all. I’m still far away, afraid to be more present. Everything is triggering right now. I’m hoping that seeing Bea will help. There’s just too many feelings and memories and mess for me to contain by myself. Even with Bea’s emails, I feel as if I am floating in the middle of the ocean, with no way to get to shore. It’s as if I keep looking and looking for someone to come, but no one does. I’m treading water furiously, but no one is showing up to help me make a raft or swim to shore or call the coast guard to rescue us. When my mother shows up, she wants me to help her stay afloat, she needs my help. When Bea shows up, she is showing up just to be there with me, so I’m not treading water alone. She says we can figure out together how to make a raft, swim to shore or call the coastguard. I hope that seeing Bea will help settle all the parts because I really need that right now. 

You aren’t broken and you don’t have to hide anymore part 2

Trigger warning!! This is the second half of this post. In it, Bea and I talk– fairly in depth– about a teenage suicide attempt. Please read with caution. 

“The suicide attempt,” she says slowly, “Was that it, or did you try again later? Because I would imagine with no one was addressing the pain, with no one trying to understanding why, all those overwhelming bad feelings wouldn’t just disappear. I think that with trauma and these awful feelings, it is normal to think about dying. I know we haven’t talked about it, but you have written before about not wanting to be here anymore, and we have emailed about why you wouldn’t follow through on any plans, and what to do if you felt like you might. But I’m not sure I’ve stressed the fact that I believe when we experience such extreme traumas that our minds find ways to survive, and sometimes that includes the idea that if things get too bad, we can end it. It’s an escape, right? You aren’t crazy for having these feelings. And that why I would imagine that as a teen, those awful feelings didn’t go away, and maybe you tried to escape them again.” 

It is hard to talk, I feel as if I am encased in a thick layer of quilting batting. “I….” I start and stop like that several times. I want my blanket, but I can’t ask. The words won’t come. 

“Do you want your blanket?” Sometimes, it is as if Bea is a mind reader. I nod my head. She gets the blanket, unfolds it and holds it up on front of, letting it drop gently to cover me. I feel cared for when she does this, like she wants me to feel safe, like it matters to her. 

“Okay. See if you can feel this boundary, that you are safe. See if having that solid boundary, feeling the blanket there, see if that will allow you to be more here.” Bea’s voice is soothing and soft. 

I hold up 4 fingers under the blanket. Of coarse Bea can’t see that. “Four……four times.” I whisper. It’s six or seven if you count college after the boyfriend, but I don’t want to go there.

“Four times? You really were just begging for help, for someone to see you and no one did. I just want to tell that teen girl she is seen now, she’s not alone now.” Bea’s voice is kind, but there’s an edge to it, a tone that says she is so angry with the adults in teen Alice’s life. “Did you have to go to the hospital?” 

“No.” I say, finding it funny. My parents couldn’t have me in a hospital. It would ruin that perfect image of our family. Then I think about it, and say, “Well yes, I guess. I mean, sort of. The ER. Not the hospital. I…”

“Did you cut yourself everytime? Or were there other things?” Geesh. Bea isn’t shying away from this. She’s of afraid to talk about it. It feels invasive, in a way, as if she is trying to unlock a box full of my secrets, but on the other hand I am glad that she isn’t shying away from this topic. I’ve never been allowed to talk about it.

I shake my head. “Other things. You know the first time…..before I cut my wrists.” 

“Can you remind me? I’m sorry, I think I need a memory jog.” Ordinarily I would be hurt that Bea forgot something about my story, but since this was a story told only very quickly as to how I lost my therapist Cathy, I’m not surprised that Bea can’t really remember. 

“This is hard to talk about.” I mumble the words. 

“I know. It’s not normal conversation. But it is okay.” 

“It’s….I mean….always it was just ignored. I mean, like, I knew that I was to pretend nothing ever happened. The Kenny stuff…..it might have been known, it might have been ignored, but it was me pretending it away, it was me splitting parts away and not even knowing what happened…..but this….it was just the rules. Don’t talk about it. Pretend it never happened. It’s different.” I try my best to explain, but I’m not sure I’ve made sense.

Even though I can’t see her, I picture Bea nodding. Her voice has that *light bulb* moment quality to it. Something just clicked for her. “I can see that. It’s something that was definitely known to your parents and a deliberate choice was made to cover it up and hide it.” 

“Yes!” She gets it. “So it’s….hard to talk about. I’m breaking the rules again.”

“It’s okay. We can take our time. When you are ready.”

“No….I want to….I think…..it’s just…..hard. And I wanted to say why it is hard.”

“Okay.”

After another long pause, I speak. “I……… overdosed.”

“The first time?”

“Yes.”

“What did you take?”

“Tylenol. Just Tylenol.”

“What happened? Did you tell your parents?”

“I….I’m not sure. It’s fuzzy. I was throwing up. I think they found me. Or caught me? I don’t know.”

“But you ended up at the hospital?”

“At the ER.”

“How did they treat you there? Were they kind?”

“I….I’m not sure…..I don’t remember getting there. I just….I remember when I woke up.”

“What happened when you woke up?”

“I….I was….I mean, it was, my mom was checking me out. To go home. I was. The nurse….”

And then it’s silence because I can’t get the words out. Bea waits, and then she reassures. But mostly there is a lot of silence. Finally, words begin to find their way our of my head and into the room. “It…..I feel like I’m making this a big deal when it’s not. It’s silly.”

“You think it’s silly?”

“Well, it’s just, it’s not even a thing. But I’m having a hard time talking and so it seems a big deal but then when I say it, it will be like, well that’s silly.”

“I don’t think it’s silly. I think it has some significance if it’s a struggle to talk about. Clearly this impacted you in some way.”

“It…..I was……the nurse. He was telling me……I might throw up more and if it was black not to panic it was okay.”

“Because of the charcoal?” Her voice is matter of fact. 

“Yeah. Because they pumped my stomach. And then….I had clothes there to put on. To go home. So he was to help me get up to get dressed.”

I pause again. I can’t tell this story. It’s not even a big deal. It’s not a trauma memory, it’s nothing, and Bea is going to think I’m an idiot. Yet, I can feel the panic in my belly and my chest, I can feel myself wanting to run, to hide, to disappear. 

I know we have to be running out of time and I don’t want to hold this until next time and I don’t want to write it in an email. The words come out in a rush. “There was a catheter and he reached under the blanket….under my gown to remove it. I….I freaked out….” Oh my God, the shame of this behavior is going to kill me. I’m going to die, right here, on Bea’s sofa, of shame. 

“Of course, of course you did. It was a trigger, a trauma reaction. It is a big deal. It was a big trigger. Did anyone realize? How did they react?”

“They……it’s fuzzy….they held me……a shot…..” My words are quiet and I’m pretty far away. 

“They gave you something to calm you down?” She asks, sounding like she can’t believe I was treated that way. 

“A shot. And then he finished removing the catheter and helped to get me dressed.” I can feel the sharp prick in my right arm, the fear inside me of having my arms held down, and then I can feel the fear and anxiety being covered up, blocked somehow, and everything is numb and fuzzy again. 

“Ugh! I’m sorry! You didn’t deserve that! You didn’t need that. You needed someone to see this trauma reaction and help you.” 

“I was just crazy. The crazy borderline girl. It didn’t matter.”

“It does matter. You weren’t crazy. This is revictimization. It’s doctors and other helping professionals not seeing trauma signs and not helping, just treating you like a label, like you were something needing to be fixed. You weren’t then, and aren’t now. You aren’t broken. You aren’t crazy.” 

 
“I just…..I thought something was wrong with me. Just me….being crazy. Acting out. Being broken.”

“Ahhh….the parts didn’t know about each other then. The teen didn’t know all the trauma and how she could be triggered. She had no idea. You had no idea back then why you behaved in that way. It’s not like now, where the grown up you knows about the other parts and has an awareness.”

 
I nod. “Yeah.” 

Bea is not happy that no one saw I had a trauma reaction. She is angry for me that no one realized what was going on, and no one helped me. I don’t know why I do it, but I stick up for all the people who didn’t see, and didn’t help. “It was almost 20 years ago. I don’t think anyone knew about stuff like this then. No one talked about it.” 

“That true, it’s been more in the last ten years that trauma and trauma responses, PTSD and dissociation have been talked about in the therapies world and the medical community. But I still can’t believe– I believe you– but I can’t fathom that not one nurse or doctor there thought to ask you what happened, why you got upset, how you were doing. I know that 20 years ago it was everything was more of a medical model. But it makes me angry for you! You deserved better! You’ve had so much trauma. Adding more from helping professionals, it’s just unfortunate.”

We sit in silence for a few minutes. I slowly pull the blanket off my head, holding it over my face and peeking out over the edge of it like a little kid. I’m still afraid to look at her. I’m terrified of seeing disgust, or disinterest, or something bad. I don’t know. 

Before I leave, Bea looks at me, making eye contact. “We can’t go back and change things now, as much as I wish we could. But what we can do is listen to the teen, and validate her pain and help her see that there is nothing wrong with her, that she is not crazy or broken. We can help her to feel heard and cared for. I hope that she’s listening to this now. Can I tell her something? I hope you know you aren’t alone now. You don’t have to hide any of this anymore. You don’t have to be perfect. I won’t leave, you can’t make me leave, even if you aren’t perfect. I’m here, and I see you.” 

When I finally leave Bea’s office, I feel as if I have been wrapped in a warm hug. I’m exhausted, and sad for what the teen needed but didn’t get, but I’m secure in the knowledge that Bea is here.

Here we go again……. 

(I’m behind on posts, and on comments and on reading and commenting but I leave Tuesday for the family camping trip, and I’m struggling and Bea is being shrinky when I just need her to be emotionally connected.) 

………….When your therapist emails you back and you hate her response so much you throw your phone at the wall…….*sigh* 

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