When the undertow grabs hold

On Monday, the teen was feeling really embarrassed that she had told Bea how feeling cared about brings up all these icky, bad feelings, and wasn’t sure she wanted to go to therapy. Things were floaty and just off feeling, and it was really hard to stay grounded and connected.

Once I am settled in my place on the couch, and we chat for a bit, Bea asks me who is here today. I tell her that I don’t know, because I don’t. I feel odd, not here, and sort of numb, not real. I feel almost like a ghost or something, like I don’t quite exist. We continue on with the surface talk, mostly because I keep directing us back that direction. This sucks. I want to feel connected to her, and right now I don’t feel connected to anything.

Finally, Bea asks if I might want to look at my notebook. I get it out and flip through it. “There’s sort of old stuff in here. From October 22. Because we didn’t look at my book for a while.” I keep flipping pages as I am talking.

“Well, we can start at the beginning or with something more recent. Really it’s whatever you need to talk about, whatever is coming up for you,” she says softly.

I shrug. “It doesn’t matter, I don’t know.”

Bea waits, and I continue to just flip through pages. I’m wasting time, I know it, but I can’t seem to stop myself. (Thinking back, I think the teen was wasting time, not wanting to feel anymore exposed.)

The silence starts to make me feel panicked. “Just read the last thing I wrote and then go back to the beginning. Okay? Because it doesn’t really matter.”

“All right. We can do that.” Bea leans forward a bit, and I hand her my notebook. “This is a new notebook. It’s so pretty.”

I nod. “It’s the Harry Potter limited edition moleskin notebook. I love it.”

“Can I read from the beginning? Would that be all right?” Bea asks carefully.

“Sure. It’s fine,” I tell her.

It doesn’t take long for her to pause in her reading and look up at me. “The teen was really mad at me, huh? I can understand that. It’s really painful to have me sort of show her what she didn’t get from her mom growing up.” Bea sounds sad, and understanding and calm and kind and just so very much the Bea that the teen loves, it sent me spiraling. Or, rather, it sent the teen spiraling.

“No, no. I’m not mad anymore, I really wasn’t mad at you. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Panic fills my voice. I’m not floaty or spacey anymore, but I am definitely out of my window.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about. You are allowed to be mad at me.” Bea says firmly. Her words are kind, though, and I’m able to calm down enough that I can breathe again.

“I said I hated you,” I sob. “I didn’t mean that. I didn’t.”

“If you did, that would be okay. I can handle it. I’m strong enough to handle all your feelings, even hating me.”

“I don’t hate you. I didn’t hate you. It was just….I was mad and I hated that you weren’t my mom. No….that came out wrong. Wait. I mean, I hated that….it should be my mom, not you. I was mad, I hated that it wasn’t her.”

“I know. I know that. I understand. It hurts. It hurts so much that your mom didn’t have the capacity to give you what you needed.” When I peak out from behind cloud pillow (when did I even grab him and hide my face?!?!) she’s sitting criss cross applesauce in her chair, and leaning in towards me.

All of this came about because I had been able to stand up to someone and set a healthy boundary in a kind and respectful way and feel safe and supported while I did it; something I have never experienced or done before. I had been alone when this happened, but I knew Bea would support me. Even if she disagreed with me, I knew that she would still be there for me, that she would try to understand my viewpoint. I can’t really explain it, but even though she wasn’t there, it was like she was there, helping me feel supported and contained while I spoke. I didn’t become dysregulated once. Afterward, I thought to myself, *this is what secure attachment feels like. This is what it feels like to have a secure base.* It was exhilarating and at the same time devastating. It didn’t take long for all kinds of feelings to pop up for the teen. Mostly, those feelings were anger and pain over the fact that her mom didn’t give this to her growing up.

“I want to be mad at her, you know. But she….she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t handle anything. I can’t be mad at someone so broken. So I don’t know who I’m mad at. Not you. Not my mom.” I sigh. This is so hard.

“Maybe no one. Not being mad at me, that might be a new experience for the teen.” Bea suggests.

“That’s not fair. Yeah, she’s angry alot, but she isn’t always mad at you. And most of the time when she is mad at you it’s because she is scared.” The adult comes back just enough to defend the teen, which is unexpected.

“That’s true. I’m sorry,” Bea says.

“Okay. I’m not mad right now, okay?”

“Okay. What are you feeling?” Her voice is curious.

“I….just….I can’t be mad at her. Mostly that is what I feel.” I’m hiding behind cloud pillow still. I would really like to have a blanket to hide under, but I don’t want to ask, and Bea hasn’t offered, and it’s probably time to go anyways.

“Why not? Why can’t you be mad that your needs weren’t met? Thats a legitimate thing to be angry and rageful about.” Her tone is matter of fact now, like this is just something everyone knows.

“Because…….” The words get lost before they are even fully formed.

“Because why?” Bea asks. She is annoying me (the teen). Doesn’t she know? Can’t she put two and two together? Do I always have to spell things out for her?

“Because I don’t get to be mad. I’m not good enough! I didn’t try hard enough to do things, to be what she needed, I was always always needing more. I don’t have the right to be angry when all I ever did was screw up and make things hard for her!” I shot the words at Bea, and then hunch into myself, hugging cloud and crying.

“So only people who are good enough ―as defined by your mother― have the right to be angry?” Bea asks. Ugh. She has this innocent, playing dumb tone to her voice. I hate her again. She is asking me questions to prove a point and I don’t want her to prove a point.

“No. That is not even what I said. But all she wanted was me to be normal and I couldn’t even do that.”

“From where I am sitting, a lot of your feelings and thoughts were just like a normal teen. And you were totally normal given your history.”

“I hate it when you say that.”

“How come?”

I shrug. “Don’t know.”

“Maybe because if you are normal then you aren’t special?” Bea asks.

“No. It’s not like that. No one want to be special like this. I feel crazy. Its crazy making.”

“What is?”

“Me. My stupid feelings. I want to be cared about but then when I feel cared about I end up….well….feeling icky. That is crazy.”

“Well, it feels crazy, and it is normal for you, for what you went through.” Bea says. She sounds like Bea again and the anger towards her dissipates, but I still hate being called normal.

“It doesn’t make sense to me.” I shake my head.

“Well, I think that you had to be so defended for so long, and being cared about for so long came with strings attached, expectations, and the knowledge that you would only be cared about if you were behaving and performing well. Listen, okay? This is important. I don’t have strings or expectations. I care about you just for being you. I’m here because I care about you, about all the parts. That’s it. Okay? I know that is hard to trust, and it is difficult because as soon as you feel my caring all those defenses kick in. If you can try to just let in one little drop of caring, just allow one drop to make it past your walls, then you can feel cared about and still feel safe.”

“Maybe. Maybe I can try.” I whisper the words.

It’s not long before it’s time to go. We went over time, and I tell Bea I’m sorry.

“I’m not,” she says, “There was some stuff the teen really needed to get out.”

“Okay.” It’s all I can get out.

We say goodbye, and Bea wishes me a good day.

I really don’t know why therapy felt so off. I am pretty sure it was me, though, not Bea, considering I had been feeling off kilter for several days. It’s more than the eating thing. I still feel weird. I tried to journal and nothing really came out. I don’t know what my deal is. I probably should tell Bea that things (and me) felt weird and off on Monday and that there is so much going on with the teen, all these crazy, strong emotions and this self hatred that is so huge I (the grown up) can’t begin to fight it, and how the teen’s feelings are like an undertow, drowning me. I’m just not sure I can. I feel really apprehensive that if I try to explain, she will make a thimg out of something that is not a thing, or she will somehow inadvertently say something that feels invalidating to the teen, and then the teen will freak and we will be right back in the middle of another rupture where Bea claims its all about the past and the teen feels more and more unseen by her, and everything spirals out of control. The worst part is, I’m not sure if those are my feelings or the teen’s feelings. Because they feel like mine, and yet…….it could be the undertow taking hold.

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A Conversation with the Pastor

I met with the Pastor. And it was good.

It’s 12:45 on Friday afternoon and as I pull into the church parking lot, I’m too nervous to think. Like filled with anxiety, too nervous to even eat today, nervous. Maybe this is a terrible idea. Maybe this is a big mistake, maybe I am going to be wasting his time, maybe, maybe, maybe. I’m spinning out, and thinking it might be best to just leave, to not go inside.

Instead, I do what I tell the kids in my class. I take a big breath. And then another. And another. At school, we use what we call “drain breathing” and I use it now. How it works is this: you take a big breath in and picture that breath as you letting calm things in. Then you let out the breath, and you picture it like a drain, getting rid of all the upset. This breathing works for me, maybe because I have used it so often with kids in my class that it feels safe, or maybe because it is less focus on feeling the body, or maybe because I am getting slightly more comfortable with body sensations. Whatever the reason, this is helpful. So, I breathe in and out, and give myself a pep talk. “You can do this. You are an adult. You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to. Alex is just a person, just like I am. I’m okay. This is okay.”

At 12:56, I walk inside, and sit down. A minute later, Alex walks over to my table. “Are you Alice?”

I nod. “Yeah. I’m Alice. It’s nice to meet you.”

The cafe area of our church is really busy, so he suggests we go sit in the middle school students’ space.

“I was just saying that I really need to tell people I will meet them in front of the students’ space, or by the welcome desk. Because I end up going around asking people if they are meeting me. It’s just a little akward.” He laughs as he says this, and I relax a little bit.

The student room is being used, so we end up in th nursing mothers’ room instead. Alex asks me first, because that room is closed off and only has one door, unlike the students’ space which is all clear glass and windows with huge open doors.

“That’s fine,” I say, “As long as we aren’t stopping someone from using it.”

“It’s really meant to be used for weekend service times, so it’s okay. And besides, this is a really cozy room. I’ll prop the door open, too.”

“Okay,” I agree. He lets me walk in first, and after I sit down, he chooses a chair that leaves me closer to the door. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it’s something I always notice.

He doesn’t make any small talk, just simply dives right in. “So, tell me about yourself, about what is going on, why you reached out.”

I freeze. Crap. This was dumb. So, so dumb. Why did I think this was a good idea? “I…I don’t know.” The old, automatic answer is back. I take a breath. Calm goes in, scared feelings go out. “I’m feeling really nervous.” I whipser.

“How come?” The question is straight forward.

“Umm. Well. I…because these things…they aren’t easy to talk about, they are uncomfortable. And there is a lot of fear in talking.”

“It is scary to say things outloud. There is power in it, too, though. When we say things out loud, it takes away some of the power it holds in our lives. Let me ask you this; what was it that convinced you to reach out?” He looks right at me when he asks this, and there is no judgement or annoyance in his face.

“It started with the starting over series. I just…it made me think about…that maybe I could move past this. But I just, I didn’t know how, or what I needed to do exactly. But it made me think it was possible. And then, well, you said if anyone had something they needed to start a conversation about they were welcome to do so, and you gave your email address. That….well, that’s what I do, it’s how I work through things, I write. So it just….. (I want to say it seemed like God had made a way for me to reach out, but I don’t. Because who am I that He would make a way for me?) it seemed like suddenly there was a path.”

He nods. “Can you say what it is you need to move past?”

I look at my hands, at the ground, anywhere but at Alex. “I……I’m mad at God. Well, on one hand I am so mad at Him, and on the other, I feel…guilty, unforgiven.”

Alex sits forward his seat, and looks at me. “Okay. Okay. Let me start with this. Do you know that it is okay to be mad at God? Anger, well, actually, all of our emotions, they come from God. And He welcomes your emotions. Being angry with God, it doesn’t make you a bad person. You are allowed to be mad at Him. Do you know that?”

I shake my head. “I don’t feel as if I have the right to be angry. There’s this…..guilt, it’s….I’ve made so many terrible mistakes.”

“What are you angry about?” His question is straight forward, so it’s not threatening but I still find it hard to answer, and so Alex continues. “The apostle Paul wrote about being honest about our mistakes, our sins, because that is where God shows his strength. It’s not in our perfection that God shines, but in our brokenness. Paul writes about this thorn in his side, and how he talks about this thorn in his side wherever he goes. And it doesn’t really matter what that thorn is. We all have sin, we all have stuff. We all have a thorn in our side. And to God, sin is sin.” Alex holds a hand level with the chair, “A lie,” and he holds his other hand above his head, “or murder, and everything in between, is all the same in God’s eyes. Now, they may have different consequences here on earth, but to Him, they are all equal.”

I sigh. “It’s so easy…well, not easy exactly, to admit to my parenting mistakes, or mistakes I have made in my marriage. The things that I have messed up in my adult life. But things from my past, it’s so much harder.”

“Those things have more power over you right now, they are harder to speak out loud.”

I nod. “If….logically, I know this isn’t my fault, but emotionally….it’s so very, very complicated.”

“Can you set the emotion aside for a minute?”

I look down at my hands again, twist my rings around my fingers. “I grew up (over there) and it’s….well, I joke that it is the bible belt of (state). Church is what you do there. It’s white, and conservative, and wealthy and you go to church. (This city) was culture shock when I moved here. I love it here, but it was culture shock. Anyway…..it was just…church was what you did where I grew up.” I stop talking, unsure how to continue.

“This is your story, and it is unique to you, but I can guarantee that awful things happening in the midst of church, or even because of church going people is not new to me. It won’t be anything I haven’t heard before.”

A small laugh escapes from me. “You might be wrong.”

“I could be. But I’m pretty confident that I’m not.” He’s just matter of fact again, gentle, but matter of fact.

“Okay. Okay. My cousins lived next door to us. And it was wonderful, and it was terrible.” I stop talking for a minute and breathe. And, that’s also the rest of the secret, the one I have never told, not to Bea, and not here in my writing. I’ve always said that Kenny was like family, that his parents were so close to mine that we called them aunt and uncle. The teen needed it that way. It made it less awful in her mind, to say he was like family, instead of that he was family. Again, it’s complicated and messy, and I don’t know why I told the truth to Alex about who Kenny was to me, but it felt right, and so I did. “My cousin, he’s eight years older than me. He sexually abused me. I was five. It…..it went on for 11 years.” I stare at the ground, unable to look up. “I….I, this….I didn’t know, it was just…I don’t know. I didn’t even know what it was. Not until…..well, in my middle school, at the time, they did this thing where they split up the boys and girls, to talk to them….” I trail off, struggling to continue.

“Yes, I remember that,” he says softly.

“My church offered an alternative. So my parents, they signed a form that I was not to attend the school talk, and they sent me to the church one. Probably half my class did the church talk instead. But that was when…….I realized what it was. What I had been doing. That I had committed this giant sin. And even if logically, I know that I didn’t……it is like ever since then I have been unforgivable.”

“That was not your fault.” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Alex looking at me. He sits forward again, and lays his hands flat on his legs. “I come from a very broken family. I was sexually abused for years. Healing from that, it has been, and is, a very big part of my story. It took a long time, but it is totally possible to come out the other side. Helping others who were hurt in this way, that has become part of my story. God has used that brokenness and hurt in me to help others.”

I stop breathing for a moment. Alex was sexually abused. He gets it.

“What happened to you was evil. But not your fault,” he repeats again.

“You sound like my therapist,” I say.

“Good,” he smiles, “Maybe you need to hear that from more than just her. It is the truth.”

“I know. Logically, I know. Most of the time, anyway. But emotionally……it gets complicated.”

“I know it does. That still doesn’t make what happened to you your sin. It’s not your sin. Even if there were times you liked it, even if there were times you sought it out, wanted it, it is not your sin to own. You have no fault here. Everything traces back to that five year old girl who didn’t understand, and didn’t ask for this. When you were seven, eight, nine, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, whatever happened, whatever part you think you had in this, it all goes back to that little girl who had something so evil and wrong done to her. And what happened to the nine year old, the twelve year old, everytime he hurt you, it was wrong, and it was evil, and you were never at fault. There isn’t anything to forgive where God is concerned. This isn’t yours to be forgiven.”

“I’m just so mad. I’m tired of being mad, I don’t want to feel like this. I want to move forward, I don’t want to keep feeling guilty and condemned and mad.” I blink back tears.

“Tell Him. Tell Him you are mad.”

I shake my head. I can’t do that. I’m afraid.

“He already knows, but He is always inviting us to have a conversation with Him. I’m guessing the mad is in wondering where He was, why He allowed this to happen to you?”

“Yes,” I whisper the word, covering my face with my hands as I blink back tears. I will not cry. I don’t like to cry in front of people. I will not cry.

“Ask Him. Let Him show you where He was in those terrible, painful moments. Maybe you need to forgive God for not rescuing you, for not stopping it.” Alex says this like it is just…..well, normal to talk about a person forgiving God. I can’t begin to wrap my head around this, I definitely do not believe I have the right to forgive God. But there is something there……I’ll think about this later.

Alex asks about feeling mad at anyone besides God. “I’m angry at everyone. At the one who hurt me, but at others in the family, too,” I tell him.

“Yes, yes! You should be angry. You have a right to be angry at this cousin who hurt you so badly. Have you told your family how you feel?”

I shake my head and stare at my hands. “No. They don’t know.”

“None of them knows?”

“My therapist, and my husband. That’s it.”

“Okay. Okay. I’m not saying you should tell, or that you have to tell, but I’m assuming this guy is still in your life?” There isn’t judgement in his voice, just sadness.

I nod. “Sorta. Not so much anymore. I….well, since I had my daughter, I avoid seeing him as much as I can, so he’s not really in my life so much now.”

“How are you ever going to really feel safe, really be able to go visit your family without being retraumatized, if there is always a chance you could run into him? Shouldn’t the people who didn’t protect you be held accountable and help to keep you safe now?” Alex asks me.

“You sound like my therapist again,” I tell him.

He nods. “Good. Why haven’t you told your family?”

“It would destroy my mother.”

“But it’s destroying you,” he says softly.

“I just can’t do that to her.”

“You haven’t done anything. You didn’t do this. You didn’t ask for this. Your cousin hurt you. You were the one who was hurt, the one who is suffering and struggling and being hurt everytime you are forced to see him, and yet, here you are, trying to protect everyone else.” He sounds sad. “This isn’t something you should have to deal with on your own. I’m glad you are starting to reach out to others besides your therapist, it’s brave of you and a good thing for you. But don’t you deserve to have the support and care of your family that you didn’t get then, now? It’s not your job to protect your mom.”

“Except it is. Or, it used to be.”

“No, it never was your job. Even if you thought it was, it wasn’t.”

“No, it wasn’t. Logically, I know that. But it was put on me. You have to understand, my mother, she, well she is……she has a pretty severe eating disorder. When I was growing up, if I messed up somehow, she would get worse.”

He nods understanding. “It was your job to keep things going smoothly, to keep your mom healthy. But really, it wasn’t your job then, and it is not your job now. Wouldn’t you want to know if your daughter had been hurt like you? Wouldn’t you want the chance to support her and love her through her journey of healing?”

“Except I have intentionally created a relationship with my daughter where we talk about everything— good and bad. My parents, they never wanted anything more than smiles and rainbows and unicorns.” Saying this out loud hurts. It’s the truth, and it’s nothing I haven’t said or thought before, but these words, they hurt. Maybe it is the idea that parents must be intentional in how they talk to their kids, and mine weren’t.

“And that’s painful, and it makes it harder for you to understand that God wants to hear all of it. He doesn’t want just sunshine and unicorns. He wants the storm clouds and the rage and the tears and the questions. He isn’t afraid of any of those things. He wants to hear it all. I know that as a mother, you want to hear everything your daughter has to tell you. I feel the same way as a father with my boys. It may not be what we grew up with. We are breaking that cycle, and the way we relate to our children, in wanting them to come to us, in welcome them and all their feelings, their triumps, their mistakes, that is how God feels about us.”

That is something to think about. It’s not how I have thought of God. Maybe I have unconsciously made God to be like my parents, only wanting perfection, and nothing else is good enough or deserving enough. I mull that over for a moment and slowly nod. “Maybe.”

“I can’t tell you what to do, but I agree with your therapist. It’s not healthy for you to keep seeing this man who hurt you. It’s not fair to you. That anger that you feel is the result of this boundary that was horrificly violated. You have a right to feel safe in your life. You’re angry because you were hurt, and angry because you weren’t protected. And you have every right to be angry, even to be angry at God.”

I nod my head. “I just don’t want to be angry anymore, to be in this place of feeling so bad.”

“What would that look like for you? To move out of that place?”

I spin my bangle bracelet around my wrist. “I’m not sure. To feel like I’m forgiven, like I belong to God. To not feel guilty. And…..I guess to not have to see my cousin ever again, or to at least….I don’t know. To know he won’t hurt me or anyone else ever again.”

“Well, the first one I can assure you, you are forgiven. If you believe He is who He says He is, and you prayed that prayer, then you are forgiven. You are His daughter, and He loves you. That, I can promise you. You are His daughter, and you are loved and forgiven. He wants you to have a full life. He wants you to feel safe. If that means setting a boundary of not being around this person without giving an explanation, then that is okay. If that means breaking your silence, then that is okay, too. You don’t have to do anything right now. You have time, and you are working to move forward.”

I’m silent, and simply thinking about what Alex has said.

“Has this cousin ever even acknowledged what he did?” Alex asks.

I shake my head. “I don’t think he even thinks he did anything wrong. It’s always just him acting like things are normal. And I just go along with it. I danced with him at my wedding.” I laugh, this sort of disgusted little laugh. I shake my head. “It’s not funny. I laugh, but it’s more just….” I’m unsure how to finish that sentence.

“The incredulousness of it all? If we don’t shake our heads and laugh at the crazy shit in our lives, then, well, we might break.” He goes on to share a story of his own that is another one of those things you just have to shake your head at and laugh.

“Yeah. Exactly that.” I smile because he gets it.

“You know, you mentioned that writing is helpful to you. Have you written a letter to this cousin? Not one you have to send, just one for yourself, to let out some of that anger. That was something I found helpful when there were all these feelings, but I wasn’t yet ready to hold anyone accountable.”

I want to ask him about telling, about breaking his silence. I want to ask what happened, what did it feel like, was he scared, does he feel safe now? Instead I say, “I do write. Writing is easier than talking. I spent a whole year of therapy only writing, never talking. Talking still scares me.”

“How often do you pray?” Alex asks gently.

Shame washes over me. I shake my head.

“Okay. It’s okay. I only ask because, well, I assumed that if you are angry, and you feel inforgiven, and you don’t like to talk, prayer might be difficult right now.” He looks at my face, and I’m trying so hard not to cry, and feeling so embarrassed I cover my face with my hands again. And then he continues talking, “It’s okay. Maybe you could write to God, instead of talking outloud. If writing is easier, then write to him. That’s an okay thing to do. He made you, and He knows you. Write to Him.”

“That….I think I can do that.” I’m smiling because it’s such a simple answer, but something I have never considered. It’s a place to start, a step that I can take.

Choppy therapy……

Therapy on Monday was random and choppy. I’m having a difficult time recalling much of anything discussed. We didn’t go very deep into anything. I talked about Halloween Weekend, I talked about my Mom, and Bea asked me if the weekend got better after Kat and I left on Thursday. 

“So you and Kat took a walk and had a snack and lunch after leaving here. You were really upset before going to get Kat, and after it felt like you were dissociated and upset at the same time. Did getting out and walking help?” Bea asks. She’s sort of curled up in her chair today, comfortable. Bea is always comfortable and approachable. I love that about her. 

I shrug. I felt like I was in survival mode; just get through one thing to move onto the next until I could hide in bed. “Not so much. It was just….fine. I was fine.” 

“Did you and hubby get a chance to talk?” She pushes a little. 

“Nope. He didn’t talk to me.” I tell her.

“You were feeling very upset about the relationship on Thursday, as if he didn’t care about you anymore. I believe your exact words were ‘he hates me’.” She’s not going to let this go. Why does she always push me when it comes to my marriage! 

I did say on Thursday that hubby hates me. It was the end of the session, and I told her how he had yelled at me over the alarm clock. And how angry he was. How he hates me for screwing everything up. And then I sort of freaked out and listed all the ways in which I was going to screw things up that day. 

I finally say, “Yes, I feel like that. But we did not talk. And what difference does it make? He is just going to say whatever to appease me, and then turn around and do something different. It doesn’t matter. He never does what he says. He does what makes the person around him happy.” I’m curled up, alternating between feeling so far away everything is fuzzy and I feel floaty, to be much more present, yet removed and numb from the conversation.

Bea tries to convince me that I should bring him to therapy for some couples sessions. I honestly want nothing to do with that, and I turn a little snarky. 

“Why? So he can sit here and smile and nod and go along with what you are telling him? He’ll agree with you, no problem. He will act and say he can follow through. But then he won’t because it will be too hard. He needs to figure out his own shit first.” 

We say good bye not long after that. I leave feeling disconnected. I know Bea is there, and a part of me believes she isn’t going anywhere, so it is better than it has been in the past. But it sucks to end a session like this. 

Birthday processing

Bea is back from vacation, and I am sitting in her office. I’m not sure I want to be here at all, but we emailed the entire time she was gone, and I am feeling better enough about things that I came to therapy today. It’s a start, anyways. I have gone from feeling, ‘I hate this and am quitting Bea’ to ‘I don’t like the idea of this, but I’ll work with her on it.’ 

“So tell me what has happened this week?” Bea asks me. Even though we have emailed almost everyday, we were talking about the sensorimotor therapy and my feelings around it, not all that has been going on. 

“Well, I had my birthday and my parents came,” I tell her. 

“That’s right. How was that?” 

I sigh. There is so much I want to say about it all, and yet, I don’t even know where to begin. “It was okay. We…it was okay.” I blink away some tears, just thinking about it. 

“Well, you said your mom was very real when you talked about your grandpa,” she prompts. I had emailed that much. I needed someone who would understand the significance to know. Bea looks calm, and normal. She’s in her chair, holding her favorite to go cup with tea in it, and is looking at me intently, as if she really wants to know. 

“Yeah…we just talked. Cried. She didn’t try to distract me by saying he is in heaven, or would want us to be happy.”

“Who brought him up? You or her?” 

“I did. It was when we cut the cake,” I say, and then I interject with–“speaking of which, I brought you a piece.” 

“Yum. I can’t wait to try it,” she says. 

I continue with the story, explaining how we put a candle in the cake for my grandpa. “Then we talked about him for a few minutes.” 

“What about your Dad?” 

“He was listening. Not really talking. But not shutting me down either.” I shrug. It’s weird. Really weird. I don’t know. Its new and different and uncomfortable. And then I blurt out one of those things that has been bothering me, that I don’t want to talk about but that I just need to say. “My mom ate a piece of cake.” 

“Have you ever seen her eat birthday cake?”

I shake my head. “Not that I remember. Not unless….she was…well, you know.” 

“That must have felt a little strange.” Bea says slowly, carefully. 
“It’s…I don’t know. She doesn’t have any diet pills, tea…nothing for….they are all gone.” I whisper. I don’t know what to make of this. 

“It sounds like she is really trying to get this under control.” Bea says. “Can I assume you didn’t get a too small sweater for your birthday this year?” 

I sigh, and feel sad, remembering the sweater gift and all the pain that caused. “She got me a coloring book. She says she colors in therapy. I don’t know.” 

“A lot of people color in therapy. I have a lot of teenagers who do. And others, too. Is it one of those grown up coloring books?” She asks. 

I nod. Its a book of mandalas. 

“Did she get you colored pencils or anything to go with it?” 

I shake my head. “Crayons. The big box of all the colors. It’s what I always had when I was a kid. And when they weren’t sharp anymore, I would beg for a new box.” 

“Did she seem….regretful? Sad? Anything, when she gave you your present?” Bea leans toward me, takes a drink of her tea. She is trying to figure out the puzzle of my mother. 

“Honestly, I don’t know. I wasn’t….I just don’t know.” 

“Well, when you first said coloring book, I was thinking that those coloring books are everywhere now, even though it feels like something more to me. Then when you said she got you crayons, I thought it sounded like a mother with regrets, wishing she could change the past.” She doesn’t hesitate to be honest with me, tell me what she is thinking. 

“Maybe. I don’t know. She got me this bracelet, too. She has a matching one. She wrote this whole thing…in my card about the heart charm to remind me she loves me no matter what and is always here.” I can say this without crying because I have stepped back, taken the feelings away. 

“So her gifts to you really are all about connecting.” 

“Maybe it’s too late.” I say softly. I feel sad, saying it. But it is what I feel.

“Or maybe you just need time to trust this connection she is asking for.” 

“Well maybe I don’t want to connect.” I say, a snotty tone under my words, anger blurring the edges of them. 

“And yet you are still wearing the bracelet.” Bea observes. 

“Or someone put it on my wrist and I can’t unclip the clasp one handed.” My words are flippant, meant to prove I don’t want this connection with my mom. Whether I am trying to prove it to myself or to Bea, I am not sure. 

“I have a feeling if you wanted it off, you’d have found a way to get it off.” Bea pushes back, in much the same way Kay might, not allowing me to lie to myself. 

“I just….it feels too late! Why now? She can not just change things and have them be all fine and connected after not being here. It’s not fair.”  

“No, no it’s not fair. It sucks. She should have been there then. And we can look and see that she was young, dealing with loss of her mom, maybe abused, but none of that really matters. It doesn’t change the feelings. It’s not fair. And it feels like too late.” Bea gets it. She gets there is this giant disconnect between my heart and my head. We’d emailed about that disconnect feeling in general, and she had said she got it that last session. But listening to her, I am struck by the fact that she really does get it. 

“I…hubby…when mom gave me the coloring book, he said he was going to make me take it on our thanksgiving road trip, to keep me occupied, being silly you know?” The words rush out. They are the beginning of the story of the drama mess of my bday. 

Bea nods at me. 

I curl my legs up, and hugging my knees, I look at her. “My dad, jokingly, but sort of serious, said I wasn’t allowed to color in his car anymore, and then warned him to be careful not to hit any bumps while driving. Apparently, I used to get very upset about my pictures getting messed up and not being perfect.” The words are super speed, emotions buried. I’m just telling a story, nothing more. 

“Mmhmmm. What did hubby say?” 

“I don’t think anything. I said…I said…” and I suddenly can not leave emotion out of it any longer, and I hide my face. 

“What did you say?” Bea asks, after waiting a bit for me to continue. 

“I said that I had no choice but to be perfect.” The words feel once again as though they weigh a ton. It felt as though I had dropped a bomb that day. The silence that followed had been deafening. 

“You did need to be perfect growing up. A part of you must have felt safe enough to say it. What did your dad do?” Bea is calm, and quiet. I’m struck how if someone were to hear her tone, they would never know my whole world is blowing up. 

“I…I don’t know. Nothing? My mom…all my attention was on my mom. She said….she said it was her fault.” 

“That had to feel so validating. To hear her agree with their need for you to be perfect,” Bea says softly. 

“I don’t know. I still don’t. I….I told Kat to show nanna her new coloring book app, and said I had to pee. And I went to the bathroom.” 

“It was a lot. How did you sound, when you said it?” We both know she means when I said the part about having to be perfect. 

“Like bratty teenage me. I don’t know.” I’m ashamed of how I sounded. 

“Ahhh. That makes sense. You had to be feeling some anger, some hurt, that hubby and your dad were joking about something so hurtful to you. Something that has been front and center in therapy and is still painful.” 

“I just hid on the bathroom and….I couldn’t….it was too much…so I just…” I stop myself from speaking before I say something I will regret. I had cut that day, hiding in the bathroom. Calmed myself down, got back in control. 

“You just what?” Bea prompts me. Maybe she knows there is something there, or maybe shw just wants to keep me talking about it all.  

“I just hid,” I say sadly; both because of why I was hiding and because I am too afraid to finish that sentence for real. 

“Okay,” she says. “Did your mom bring it up again when you came out?” 

I shake my head. “No. She asked if I was okay, later. But she let it drop.” 

“Maybe she sensed you weren’t ready to have that conversation.” 

“I’m just worried I screwed up by saying what I said. Hurt her. Messed things up for her.” I’ve been taking care of her feelings for so long, I am afraid to stop completely. 

“She has a therapist now. She will take it to therapy. Her therapist can hold that for her and contain her feelings about it. The therapist can support her. You don’t have to protect her anymore. She has a therapist to help her now,” Bea tells me. I realize, in some part of myself, Bea is right. 

“I just feel like I screw everything up.” The tears come now, huge sobs that I can’t stop. I have been holding them in for two weeks now, and even more has built up. Plus, I still feel like 14 year old me; like nothing I do is good enough, like I am a failure, like I ruin everything, like all I do is hurt people, like everyone would be better off without me. 

Bea says something, and I cry more. I told her nothing felt okay, that I will never be good enough. 

Softly, Bea murmurs, “Those old messages are just so deep.” 

I cry and cry. “It’s too much,” I tell her, and proceed to list out everything that is wrong with me and that I have screwed up and how I will probably screw up today. “And I just…I can’t. All I do is screw up. I told myself that I wasn’t going to do this here.” 

“It’s okay to do this here.” She reassures me, but she doesn’t get it. I don’t like this panic attack, can’t breathe Alice. I do not like others to see her. 

“Can you make it stop hurting? Please tell me how to make it stop,” I sob. 

“Well…I think this is one of those things. The only way out is through.” Bea sounds saddened by having to say that. 

“I can’t do it.”

“You can. You are,” she says firmly. 

Eventually I get control of myself. Bea lets me leave, but I suspect it is only because I am going to go pick up Kat and bring her back for a session.

Birthday week anger

After the camping trip, we celebrated Kat’s 5th birthday on Friday evening. I made her chocolate decadence cake, with a meringue vanilla custard flavored frosting. It was rich and perfect with editable pixie dust. We took her out to dinner and then to chuckee cheese, per her request. And today, we had a funday with her best friend; the mall for build a bear and the play place, a picnic lunch, then the movies, and last the zoo. Tomorrow will be our last bday celebration, with Hubby’s family. I’m tired. As much as I love planning and doing birthday parties, and birthday weeks, it’s tiring.

It was so important to me that this week be special. Kat wanted a big party this year, like she has had every year. She wanted the theme to be mermaids and fairies. I had great ideas, and really wanted to do it. But the child that hurt Kat took all our friends, except her best friend. How do you throw a big party when all the friends aren’t your friend anymore? The short answer is you don’t. You can’t.

So, I planned a super fun birthday week. We had a camping party with my parents and her cousins (my brother’s kids). We went to the amusement park two days in a row. We went to dinner at the place Kat chose, and chuckee cheese. She had a busy fun day with her favorite friend, and tomorrow she will celebrate with hubby’s family at county fair with rides and clowns and all kinds of fun stuff. I wanted the week to be so awesome, so fun, that she did not even realize she didn’t have a big party.

Tonight, though, as I was talking to hubby about the week, I felt so angry. I know she’s a child, but why does she get to have all the friends we shared? Why does she get to go where she pleases with no worries, while we have left parks and stores because we see that she is there? Kat was hurt by this girl, and Kat is still the one who is being hurt in someways. It’s not fair. It’s not right. The child who hurt Kat should be the one to leave places. She should be the one to have no friends. Kat did nothing wrong, and it’s like she is still being punished. I hate the entire situation. None of it is fair.

I had no choice

I just wanted to give a heads up, this could be triggering. I wrote about the things from my past I’m angry about. I didn’t write any major details, but there is a lot listed, even if it is generalized. I talk about sexual abuse..

I walk in, hesitant, unsure. I’d emailed a lot with Bea this past weekends, really poured my heart out. Walking in, I feel exposed, and vulnerable.

“Hey, come on in. I’m just trying to organize some of the new toys I got,” Bea says.

I walk in and take my seat on the sofa.

“I got a bunch of new toys for my teens,” Bea explains, “It’s hard for teens to talk sometimes. It’s easier if they have something to do. Some of them like the more intricate coloring books, but I have puzzles and building type things too.”

I’m surprised, in some ways. But it seems like such Bea thing to do– to get teens to ‘play’. “No one gave me anything to do when…well, back then.” I shrug.

“They didn’t? What did you do then?” Bea asks. She is genuinely surprised.

I shake my head. “I don’t know. Talked. They asked questions. I answered sometimes. I sat in silence a lot. I don’t know.”

“Wow. That seems so hard to me. Teens don’t always want to talk. That’s why I like to have things for them to do.”

Not for the first time, I wonder what it would have been like if I had a therapist like Bea when I was that age. “I guess it was a long time ago.” I struggle with the math. I’m surprised by how long ago it really was. “It was 17 years ago. 19 years ago when I first went to therapy.” I shake my head at myself. I’m too old, and it’s been too long for me to still be in therapy, dealing with the same old issues.

“Even then, we knew teens needed something. We knew it was hard for teens to just sit and talk,” Bea says. She seems so surprised by this; maybe it fills in a blank, explains why therapy never really helped me.

The subject drifts to Kat, and we talk about her for a while. I’m grateful, because I don’t want to talk about my stuff, my confusion, my anger. Eventually, Bea turns the conversation to me, anyway.

“Well, I know we are moving away from Kat, but we went to the zoo this weekend. It was actually good. The long drive, and Kat with her headphones on to watch a movie meant hubby and I got to talk. We talked about his work, about his friend’s wedding. Surface stuff. But it was something. Because we haven’t been talking at all. And I did ask him last night then, about our workbook, and he said he is ‘fine with doing it, just make him turn off his game or iPad’.” I tell her. I actually felt pretty good about hubby and I talking, and about being gutsy enough to bring up the workbook.

“That’s good. That’s really good. I was wondering if staying too surfacey, or just not talking at all was making it harder for you to even think about the deeper conversations.” Bea says.

I shrug, and then nod my head. “I just wish he wouldn’t phrase things like that– make him, fine with it.” I sigh.

“It makes it feel more like he isn’t as on board with it as you. But he is willing to try.” Bea says.

“Yeah. I guess. I don’t want to spend forever on this again.”

“Okay,” Bea says.

I end up telling her about the book I had gotten on having a narcisistic parent– one that she recommended because of hubby and mil’s relationship. We talk about that, and I pull the book up on kindle, let Bea flip through the parts I found relevant and helpful.

“This is very helpful, for you to see why hubby behaves the way he does. It might not tell you what to do, exactly, but this is helpful.”

“Yes, exactly,” I say. She hands the iPad back to me. I sit, looking down at it. My list of confusion and anger is within it, and I wanted to give it to Bea. At the same time, I wanted to end the session. Ending it now means I will be mad at myself, and feel like I didn’t talk about what I needed to talk about. But it will feel safer, in some ways. I think about the email I sent to Bea this weekend, that said I was afraid she was going to get mad and be done with me because of the stuckness in our relationship. Her response had been a simple statement, but powerful. ‘I will not leave. Not gonna happen.’ I sigh. I’m going to trust her words. “I made…I guess it’s a list. I wasn’t sure if I should get it out or wait.”

Bea looks at me. It seems like she sees me, really sees me in that moment. She nods. “Bring it on. I was wondering if I should get your email out.”

I hand my iPad back, with the list up, and then scoot away, covering my face with my hands. It’s one of the hardest lists I’ve ever given to her.

“I love all the color coding you do with your lists.”

I smile, despite myself. “I have to be organized. OCD, you know.”

“This….this is good. Seriously major processing you are doing here. Just this, old thoughts and new thoughts. Just naming it abuse, and not a game, or a thing is major. And hard.”

My anxiety is making it hard to breathe, so I focus on breathing in and breathing a longer breath out. It’s how Kris has taught me to breathe in yoga.

“I have a feeling, as you are able to accept its not your fault when you were Kat’s age, you’ll start to have compassion for the other parts, too. You’ll be able to see none of it was your fault. And your right, you were just a baby, a little girl. None of it was your fault. This is a good new thought.” Bea pauses as she reads some more. “The why of it. The truth is, we can’t really know why. The only one with an answer is Kenny.”

Bea says something more, but I’m too focused on my need for an answer, a reason. “I just…..I just need…..why?” I force out the words, gripping my hands into fists, feeling my nails digging into my palms.

“I know you do. An answer, something to make sense out of all the confusion.”

I nod. That’s it, exactly.

“It’s really confusing, this difference of ‘he was my friend, he was safe, he could be trusted, he cared, I mattered’ and ‘he hurt me, he used me, he lied’. That is very confusing and hard to wrap your head around.”

I can feel myself shrinking into that place in my head as she is reading the differences between my thoughts. At the same time, I’m a little floaty, a little not there. “He hurt me,” I tell her, but the words are soft and quiet, and I feel like I sound little.

“Yes. He did hurt you. But you’re safe now,” Bea says gently. Her voice has changed. She sounds like she is speaking to a traumatized child.

I shake my head at her. I don’t feel like ‘me’, I feel like the little girl part of me. Alone and scared. Desperate for someone to see. “He hurt me.”

“I know. I know he did,” she says soothingly. She continues speaking soothingly to me, calmly and softly.

I’m shaking, I can feel my legs shaking. I pull them closer to my chest, but it doesn’t stop the shaking.

“I think that’s what this all boils down to. The core of it is ‘he hurt me’.” Bea says softly. She says something about the little girl not having a voice for so long, but now she does, and that we know he hurt her, and it’s okay because she is safe now and we are listening.

I nod. Tears threaten to fall, and I force them back.

Bea keeps reading. She’s gotten to my writing about all my mad leaking out. “Did something happen this weekend?” She asks.

I shake my head. I yelled at Kat Friday morning, completely uncalled for. I talked to her, and it was repaired quickly, though.

“I just wondered, if that was why you were writing about anger now.” She says.

I don’t respond. It’s just leaking everywhere. I don’t know. I don’t like being mad. I don’t like it at all. It’s like behind the brick wall holding back my anger is a well of mad feelings, one that is never going to run dry. It’s all consuming, huge, too much. I’d written that to Bea in an email, finally admitting to anger being there.

“I haven’t read the rest, yet. I really like this list, though. To be able to name some of the things you are mad about. That’s huge. So important. Would it be okay if I read this out loud?” Bea asks.

I don’t know what to say. When she had first told me she hadn’t read the rest, I had thought she was ending the session and my heart had sunk. I wanted to get through this, all of it. I never expected she would want to read the whole list out loud. “I don’t know. I guess.” I mumble the words.

Bea is quiet for a moment. “I don’t want to read it if you aren’t okay with it. How about if I start reading it, and you tell me to stop if it doesn’t feel okay?”

“Okay.” I whisper. And then, before she can start reading, “You’ll really stop?” The question slips out, before it even fully forms in my consciousness.

“Yes, if you say stop, I’ll really stop.” Bea takes the question seriously, even though it is silly for me to be asking her. I know she will listen to what I say.

But perhaps the fear of not being heard when I want someone to stop something is deeper than I realized, because before I even know what has happened, I’m blurting out another question. “What if I can’t say stop?” The words are rushed, slammed together, panicked.

Bea takes this seriously, too. “I won’t read it if you aren’t okay with it. I will listen if you tell me to stop, and I won’t be upset.”

I shake my head. It’s not what I meant. “What if I can’t talk?” I’m worried about getting upset, frozen, dissociated and not being able to say anything.

“Ahh. Okay. I could read one and check in with you.” Bea suggests.

I nod.

“Are you sure?” She checks again.

“Yeah. It’s okay.”

She waits a minute, and then starts reading.

I’m angry that Kenny did those things. I’m angry he hurt me.” True to her word, she stops reading, and asks, “Are you okay?”

I nod, but Bea doesn’t say or do anything to let me know she’s seen me, so I verbalize it. “I’m okay.” The words sounds shaky, but I’m speaking. So that’s something.

Bea continues reading, checking in after each point on the list. I’m okay, but hearing my words spoken makes them real somehow. Each point sends a memory, or memories jolting around my brain, and each point twists my stomach up in knots more and more, my feelings more exposed. I’m completely raw right now. It’s not fun, but it’s real.

I’m angry my parents needed perfect. I’m angry they couldn’t “do” feelings. I’m angry my parents weren’t there when I really needed them, and that they made me feel like I was the problem, needing to be fixed.

I’m angry I could never trust anyone, to the point of having “fake secrets” to share with my friends.

I’m angry he ever thought it was okay to touch me.
I’m angry I instigated things.

I’m angry I couldn’t even be honest with my husband.
I’m angry that I still can’t talk to my husband and that I feel like I married my parents.
I’m angry that he won’t stand up for me, because it seems like one more time where I’m not seen or heard.

I’m angry that Kenny hurt me.

I’m angry that I was so alone as a child.

I’m angry that my mom didn’t realize, or pay attention or face the facts of what my underwear hidden under my bed meant.

I’m angry that I kissed him when I was 12. I’m angry he pushed me away. I’m angry that I got in trouble for doing that. I’m angry that my mom didn’t question what that meant, or the why of it.” Here Bea stops completely, and says, “How backwards that had to feel. That still blows my mind. It’s no wonder you didn’t remember it.” I can picture her shaking her head, face full of empathy for me and partly furious at the twistedness of it all.

Before I can stop myself, I’m feeling like I’m 12 again, stuck in that headspace. I shake my head at Bea, even though I won’t lift it to look at her. “I was inappropriate,” I say, as if that explains it all.

She maybe responds. I don’t know. At some point, she goes back to reading.

I’m angry that I believed my dad could do anything, he was like superman to me, but he didn’t see or stop what Kenny was doing.

I’m angry that my mom got so sick, and no one talked about it. I’m angry that I was able to believe, for years and years that it was my fault she got so sick because no one ever talked about what was going on with her. I’m angry that I spend so much time weighting choices that would maybe effect her by wondering if it’s something that could make her sick again. I’m angry that she left me.”

Bea pauses here, too. “We were talking about her leaving a little while ago. She didn’t just leave when she was sick, did she?”

I fight to find my voice. “No….she went out. I asked her to stay……..” I lose it in a mess of tears.

“I knew….we had talked about when you called your Grandma and asked to stay the night. Did you ask your mom to not leave you with him more often?” Bea isn’t afraid of the hard questions.

I nod my head. “But she went out. And then he would babysit and I’d be happy to see him.”

Luckily, I had written above the angry list about my confusion of asking to not be left with Kenny, but being happy and fine when he got there, so Bea knows what I’m referring to. “You had to. How else could you be okay? Another part of your brain kicked in, let you have fun, be a kid.”

I feel tears falling down my face. “She left me.”

Soft, understanding, kind, Bea repeats my words, “She left you.”

I shake my head over it. Cry a little, and Bea sits with me. After a bit, she goes back to reading my list.

I’m angry that my parents willingly treated the wrist cutting incident like a temper tantrum, instead of asking me what was wrong, or trying to help me figure out why I didn’t know. I’m angry Kenny kissed me that night, and I’m angry that I let it happen, maybe almost for a moment wanted it to happen.

I’m angry that I had a crush on him, liked him, wanted to marry him. I’m angry that having a crush meant getting hurt, and so I never really allowed myself to ever have a crush again. I literally pretended crushes on people who were “safe (unavailable)” like movie stars, a teacher, and finally the boy I’d known forever who wanted to be a pastor when he grew up– him I dated, he was my only boy friend through high school.”

I feel my face heat up, and I’m warm all over, too warm. This will be news to Bea. I’ve always refused to discuss crushes in middle school and highschool. Now she knows why. She knows the extent of pretending I went to in order to appear normal.

I’m angry that all of this led me to the college boyfriend, Brian. I’m angry I let him hurt me. I’m angry I was so stupid, and stayed and made so many mistakes in that relationship to be constantly making him angry.

I’m angry that I kissed Kenny when I was 9.

Bea pauses again, and I hear her sniffle and she says, “You’re going to make me cry.” I wonder what it is that is making her cry. Is it because I’m so upset, crying my eyes out? Or is it something else? There was a time I would have wondered if she thought I was pathetic or crazy, but I know she doesn’t think those things. I don’t feel like there is pity in her words, either, only kindness and understanding, caring. I can hear her crying softly. But she keeps reading.

I’m angry that Kenny seems so unaffected by it all, it’s like it either was a game that was fun and okay, or he just doesn’t care at all.

I’m angry that I’m stuck pretending everything is fine, like nothing ever happened, because I feel a need to protect those that I’m mad at (my family, his family, maybe even him in some ways).

I’m angry that I’m tense and anxious even when my husband kisses me, hugs me, just places a hand on my back because I’m immediately afraid of where that will lead. I’m angry that I can’t be present during sex.

I’m angry that I feel so much shame over so many things.

I’m angry that I have all this ugly crap, bad memories, popping up in my head– often at the worst times. I’m angry that I don’t sleep because I’m afraid of my dreams.”

Bea gets through reading the list, and we sit in silence for a moment. I’m still shaking, my hands still fisted, like they are holding on to something for dear life. I’m crying, and I can’t control it.

Finally Bea speaks. “I’m really glad you were able to put some of this into words. It’s good. You have so much right to be angry, about so many things.”

“Everything I’m angry about it in the past. But it comes out now, over stupid things, little things. I don’t understand.”

“Well, I think it’s because you buried it all these years. It still has to come out. And even though it feels bad, instead of blowing up, you’re letting out a little at a time. Like a balloon you need to deflate. We can pop it, or slowly let the air out. You’re just slowly letting out that air. It comes out at things now because you finally dropped the wall that buried it. It just needs to come out and it will get better. This, writing this out like this, labeling the things you are actually angry about. That will help.”

“Sometimes….I can be so mad, but all I can do is cry,” I tell her, through my tears. I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now.

“Ahhh. That’s really…well, I hate to stereotype, but, it’s a really feminine response to anger. We’re taught anger isn’t okay, good girls don’t get mad, and so we cry, because crying is acceptable. It’s a way to let anger out. And mad was not allowed in your family. So it makes sense. Don’t forget, too, anger is part of the grieving process.”

What am I grieving? Why do I have to go through this grieving process? I don’t understand. I don’t ask Bea my questions out loud, I simply wonder to myself.

“You have a lot to grieve. And just labeling what happened as abuse, that brings up a lot of big feelings. It changes everything. It means having to really let go of the fact you didn’t have the control. You’re working your way there. You’ve been working your way there, you are on this path. It’s a hard thing to do. The hardest part, maybe. Realizing it wasn’t you in control.”

I’m floaty again, dizzy, and I can’t feel my body anymore. I’m numb and gone. “I didn’t have a choice,” I say to Bea. This time, I’m not asking her, it’s a statement, not a question.

“No, you didn’t have a choice.” She says softly.

In my head, I’m replaying things that happened when I was 5, maybe 6. I don’t want to replay them, but I can’t control it. I can see him, hear him. I can smell his cologne, and feel his hands on me. Bea says something, I don’t know what. I scoot back farther. I don’t want to be here. “I didn’t have a choice,” I say it again.

“No, you didn’t have a choice,” Bea says. She has a little surprised quality in her voice. Had we moved on from that conversation? Crap. I shake my head. “I think we should start coming back now,” Bea says gently.

It takes me a few minutes, to pull myself out of the memory enough to talk, but I finally ask Bea to just talk.

“Okay….well, I don’t know. I’m running out of stories, things to talk about,” she says. “I did want to ask if you felt having Kat see me was interfering with your therapy?”

Oh crap. Is this because I spend too much time discussing Kat in session, using her to avoid talking about my stuff? I don’t know. “No. Not at all. Why?”

“It’s just something I had been meaning to check in with you about. That’s all. I wanted to make sure…I mean, you have to share Kat with me, and I didn’t know…well, it just seemed like I should check in about that.”

I don’t think it matters, at Kat’s age that we share a therapist. If she were a teenager, that might become an issue. “It’s fine. The only time it’s been hard is if I felt upset or whatever about coming back on Friday with her, but then I either sent hubby with her or I emailed you how I was feeling about it, and it was okay.”

“Okay, good. I just wanted to make sure it was okay,” Bea says.

I’m calmer, but I’m not very present or grounded. I need something to distract me from myself. “Bea, please, tell me something, anything.”

“Okay, well, this isn’t exactly appropriate or professional, but I really don’t have anything else I can think of, so…well, I’m thinking about putting color in my hair. I really want some purple in my hair.”

My head pops up almost the moment she says colored hair, and I’m totally in ‘professional Aveda colorist mode’. I can’t help it. If someone talks about hair color, or cut, or anything I am secure in my knowledge in, well, I turn into miss expert. “Really? That’s so fun. Have you tried hair chalk first to see how you actually feel about it?” I’m off and running, directing her on how to use hair chalk the ‘right’ way.

“I have, with kids when they have brought it in. And I like it. I really think I want to do it. I’ve actually been thinking about it for weeks, and I was back and forth on if I should say something to you, because it’s not entirely professional, but I didn’t want you wondering why I wouldn’t ask you when you were so good at your job.”

I laugh. Bea has insecurities, too. “I honesty wouldn’t have thought anything, except you got some fun color.” I ask questions, look at some pictures with her. After about ten minutes or so, I think I have an idea of what she wants. I pull my phone out and flip through to when I had cut and colored Kat’s hair last year. I hold it up to Bea. “Is this what you want?”

“Yes, something just like that.”

“I can text this picture to you, if you want, so you can take it to the salon,” I offer. I’m aware she isn’t supposed to have client pictures on her phone. “It’s okay with me if you have it, even if it’s a HIPPA violation. Just delete it afterwards.”

“Okay. Send it to me, and I’ll delete it after,” Bea agrees. I describe the technique I used for Kat’s hair, to create the effect of color on the ends and bottom layers, because Bea, like Kat, has no layers in her hair.

“I know you said this wasn’t ethical, but thank you, and I don’t see what is unethical about it. I feel better.” I’ve grabbed my things, and I’m in a headspace where I can drive now.

“Well, it’s using your knowledge for my gain. Like if I had asked you to do my hair in exchange for a session, that would be very, extremely unethical. This was maybe more on the line, but still.” Bea explains the reasons, and I get the sense she had stated to begin with that it was unethical because she felt I had a right to know.

I shake my head at her. “I don’t see it that way. I asked you to talk, because I needed help getting out of my head. You had the perfect thing to talk about. It worked. Maybe it helped you, but it helped me, and that was the point of me asking you to talk about something.”

Bea smiles. “It did work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you come back so fast!”

I laugh. “Safe topic. Easy for me to talk about, and one I know a lot about. It was a good choice.”

Bea smiles me, and I head out the door. We say our goodbyes, and I head to my car.

Disconnection completed

This post is full of potential triggers– self harm, eating disorder and suicidal ideation. Please, please read with caution and be safe. It’s raw and mostly unedited; messy and very, very real. I’m in a scary place right now. I will be okay, I somehow still believe that, still want to be okay and heal. But this post isn’t pretty or nice and light reading. So please take care of yourselves, and skip it of any of the above mentioned things are triggering for you.

I don’t know what happened on Monday with Bea. The whole session felt off, wrong, scattered. I was dissociated enough that I only remember bits and pieces of the session, and Bea never once noticed how “not here” I was. I need to rewind, though. Because this story really starts Thursday, after therapy.

I left therapy on Thursday feeling sad, not quite right, but connected, like Bea was there. I cried off and on most of the day, had nightmares that night, and felt pretty awful. I wanted to do nothing more than avoid everyone and hide away from life, and everything that hurts so much. But I made it through. Friday, that started out okay, I took Kat to therapy, and then out to lunch. I was so disconnected and just “not there” that it almost felt like “zombie me” was living my life for me. It’s the feeling of going through the motions, but no one really being home, not even perfect me was up for the job of getting through the day.

Friday when I got home, hubby and I had a fight. It started because I had yelled at Kat for dumping juice all over the car. She’s had a thing lately about leaving cups upside down, and juice goes everywhere. I had told her several times to put the cup right side up. She didn’t. Hence, the yelling. And so, hubby and I fought. He said I was this terrible person, mean and selfish, and that he is only able to stick it out because he knows one day I’ll be like I used to be, and be normal again. He said some horrible things; listed out every bad thing about me that he can think of. I already know what an awful person I am. Now I know he agrees. The final straw was when he told me that Kat would be better off being raised by his mother (the crazy, narcissistic mother. See my “bat crap crazy mother in law” post to learn more about this woman). He said the words, and I had immediate visions of slitting my wrists.

I ran to the bedroom, packed a bag. Hubby promptly took my car keys. I was stuck. Which triggered me even more, if that’s even possible. So I hid in the closet. And while I hid in the closet, I held a bottle of my pain pills and debated downing all of them. I really, really wanted to in that moment. I was so hurt by hubby, beaten down by everything else being thrown at me from the past and the present, I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Instead, I emailed Bea. I emailed her about the fight, not about the suicidal feelings. That’s not something I easily admit to. She emailed back, reframing the fight. It didn’t help. She wanted me to talk to hubby, tell him what I am dealing with, make him a partner….because, after all, the point of going through all this is for authenticity and to improve my life now, in the present, and part of that is taking a risk and allowing hubby in to be a real partner, for an authentic marriage. It felt like she didn’t get it at all. Like she wasn’t seeing that this, his words, were the last thing I could handle. Like she didn’t get how hurt and desperate and falling off the edge of the cliff I am. And there was the beginning of the disconnection.

Saturday was spent going through the motions. Hubby is on a short vacation from work so I put on the facade of okay, and smiled my way through a day of family time. We went out to dinner, and ran into the child who assaulted Kat last year. The child and her family acted like nothing was wrong; the little girl ran over to Kat and hugged her, asked her to come over for a play date. I was so sickened by it all. I’m sorry, I know she is just a child, but I can’t stand her. Kat has been clingy and confused ever since.

Sunday was family fun day again, after a short ABA session. We took Kat to an indoor water park. It was a disaster. There was a kiddy slide, and it was empty, Kat wanted to feel the water first, so we walked around to the pool side, and when we went to put her toes in the water, the lifeguard blew his whistle at us. I tried explaining that she just needed to feel the water before sliding down the slide and landing in it– she’s 4. I mean, that can not be so weird. And it’s not like there were people waiting. He was all “you have to go down the slide to get in the pool, then exit the pool. It’s not for swimming.” I played the autism card. I never play that card. I don’t like to, I don’t believe we deserve special treatment, but sometimes accommodations should be made. And we weren’t holding anything up. No on was around! And he said “she doesn’t look like she has autism. She doesn’t look retarded.” And I lost it. Lost it. Yelling, swearing. In the past, I would have calmly and politely requested a manager. Now I lose it, screaming mad. I’m not a mad person. And then, I couldn’t reign it in. Every teenage male life guard got yelled at, flipped off, cursed. By me. I was the crazy screaming lady. Oh my gosh, I am so ashamed by my behavior. And later, I looked at that and thought, wow. I yelled at every male teen employed there. Kenny and the college boyfriend were both teenage males. Odd how they were the same age, yet years apart.

And so….Monday. I saw Bea. I don’t know what happened. I told her about the water park, omitting the fact I couldn’t reign in my anger; refusing to admit to the giant rage that had been in me and come out. She didn’t even see it, make a connection between teen boys who confused me, who hurt me in the past and the teen life guard who hurt my child (and me) with his words.

I know I cried a lot in the session, and hid my face, and couldn’t get words out. She pushed and pushed for me to talk to Hubby. Really pushed. I think that’s the point where I decided she wasn’t on my side anymore, and she just wants me to be okay. And so I pretended to be okay. Walls pulled up and around, armor on, dissociated and disconnected, I went through the motions of therapy.

At one point, towards the end, she asked me how the adult me feels about sexual attraction. I tried to answer, tried to let down the walls. It felt like she had a plan, like she was going somewhere with this. I couldn’t. She said she thinks the disgust and confusion and everything else is the little girl part of me. Thinking about it, I feel like the little girl is the part in charge of sex stuff; or, at least she’s in charge of how I feel about sexual attraction and sexual stuff. I don’t know. I don’t think there is an adult part of me for those things. Maybe I got stunted and never continued developing normal. Maybe I was just an over sexed little girl, who seduced a teenage boy. Because I’m screwed up, gross, evil. I don’t know. But I said none of those things.

I didn’t tell her how I sat in the closet with a bottle of pills, or how my cutting is out of control the last few days. I didn’t tell her how I have screwed up the no eating rule, and stuffed my face and vomited it back up more times than I care to count lately, or how the few times I have stuffed my face and been unable to throw up and the panic and terror I felt. I didn’t tell her I felt disconnected after her email, like she didn’t get it. I didn’t tell her how incredibly alone I feel; more so now because I have seen and felt what not alone is like. I think being alone was safer, better. No one hurts you that way. It sucks knowing how bad alone really is. I didn’t tell her how numb and overwhelmed by emotions and feelings and memories I am all at the same time, even though that is such a paradox I can’t seem to understand it. I didn’t tell her I just want to disappear, to cease to exist. I did not tell her any of that.

I did say I felt like everything was too much, that I could not do this anymore. I said that everything makes sense to her, but nothing makes sense to me. And Bea reframed it, telling me that just like Kat, she thinks I’m at a point where I need to know others in my life will provide safety and containment for me, but that I am capable of taking care of my own needs. Disconnect complete.

It feels like she’s done with me. Like I was too needy, too crazy, too broken. Like she only wants for me to be okay, to show that perfect facade I have. Like she is no different than my parents or my husband.

Everyone only wants perfect Alice. They don’t care that I’m so far down the rabbit hole I think I’m never getting out. They don’t care that I’m stuck in this hell my mind has created, or that I’m so confused and scared because I never know how I’m going to feel or act from one moment to the next. They don’t care that a single second can feel like forever when it’s his face I’m seeing in my mind, or his hands I’m feeling on my skin. They want perfect Alice. So perfect Alice they shall have.