Dear Grandma 

These are my words I read on Saturday, at Grandma’s service. I miss her so much. Not having Grandma and Grandpa here makes me feel lost. I told Bea it’s not like I lost my parents, but I lost something more than “just” grandparents. She said I lost a secure base, the people who have been my safe place since childhood. Some children run to their moms or dads. I ran to grandma or grandpa. I’m so lost right now. 

Dear Grandma,

I wanted to write the best eulogy ever for you. I wanted to make sure that everyone at your funeral knew what an amazing person you were. But every time I tried to write, the memories got in my way. And then I realized if those people are at your memorial, then they knew you and they all know how much goodness and light you had within you. 

The essence of a person is in the details. These days, that’s where I find your memory lives, too. In the morning, when I’m mixing eggs for breakfast, I remember your smile and patience as I “helped” you to make breakfast. I can picture you and Grandpa sitting at the table, listening intently to whatever I had to say. If someone had something they wanted to share with you, you always took the time to listen. When you turned your attention to someone, you made them feel as if they were the only thing that mattered in the world at that moment. 

The other day Kat (my daughter) needed a skirt for her outfit, so we got out your sewing machine. Working with her on that skirt, I could so clearly feel the love and care you showed to twelve year old me as we made a skirt for one of my dolls. You somehow saw past the mistakes and deemed it beautiful. In fact, you called it perfect. I don’t know how you did it, but you always saw the beauty in everything and everyone. It’s a rare gift to see the world like that, and everyone who knew you is blessed to have had you in our lives to show us the beauty that exists in all things. 

Growing up, I thought all my cousins– from both sides of the family– belonged to you. That’s how you were: if a person was important to someone you cared about, then they were family and that was that. When I introduced my then-boyfriend, now-husband to you, he called you ma’am. You laughed and shook your head, saying, “It’s Ginny or Grandma. You’re family now.” That was always your way. 

You taught me that family is more than blood, that family can be the people we choose to love and bring into our lives. You were a living example– for every member of the family you created– that love is what matters most. I know that we will all do our best to honor your memory and the life you lived by living in the moment, laughing often, loving one another, showing kindness wherever we can, and finding the joy in all things. 

The world feels emptier without you here. You’ve left a hole in our corner of the universe, and it’s not one that will be easily– if ever–filled. I’m trying to be brave, and to be thankful for all the time we did have because I can clearly hear your voice. “Pumpkin (pun-kin), it’s okay. Don’t waste your life being sad. Don’t you be a ding bat. I am okay.” And I can picture you, asking to see that water turned into wine trick, and enjoying a glass of dry red. I love you Grandma. Thank you for always showing up for us and for being proud of your family. We will never forget you. 

All my love, 

Alice 


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After phone call emails 

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

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

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

From Bea to Alice:

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

From Alice to Bea::

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

From Bea to Alice:

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

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

From Alice to Bea:: 

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

From Bea to Alice:

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

Friendship 

Monday’s session was much of the same as Thursday’s at the beginning and then we spent some time discussing a Kat and her weekend of meltdowns. I’m thankful she will see Bea this week. I wondered, but didn’t say, if maybe missing a week of therapy effects Kat more than we think it does. My thought process was along the lines of Bea providing some extra holding space and containment for Kat’s BIG feelings and BIG worries, because while I do my best, my container is sort of leaky, and I struggle to hold my own crap at times. Although, I do think I now have separate containers for myself and Kat, but both still have lots of holes. Which is where Bea comes in. She holds the stuff that leaks out. Maybe that theory is way off base. 

It was the end of the session that got interesting. Bea had asked before she left on vacation about friendships, and if I noticed friendships forming now that were maybe different from friendships that were formed when Ms. Perfect was running things. I didn’t really answer then, but I ended up writing about three woman who I think I may be forming friendships with. All three have kids that Kat is friends with, which is how we met, but they also seem very authentic and real, their parenting values are similar to mine, we each have a similar quality of quirkiness, of nerdiness. Two of these women I have spent time with outside of having our kids with us, and it was really nice to have grown up conversations, just someone to have girl talk with. I stayed me, most of the time, and I didn’t leave our outings feeling drained and in need of a lot of quiet, down time like I usually do after a social engagement. 

I’ve noticed that the more real and authentic I am being, the less exhausted I am. I’d written about this in my notebook, along with a lot of other things, but the friendship thing is something Bea was really interested in today. She asked a lot of questions about them, and I talked a bit, but I also felt a little embarrassed. Why am I, a grown woman, having to discuss new friendships and how to navigate those new friendships, with my therapist? I mean, I am very appropriate in social settings. I am competent and confident in speaking to anyone, really. Or at least Ms. Perfect is. She isn’t afraid of people. She doesn’t let them in, but she is great at focusing on a person, being polite, talking to anyone and everyone and getting along with all kinds of people. But me? I have no idea how to be that person. I’m okay in social settings, maybe a little awkward, maybe a little preoccupied with whether or not people are perceiving me as weird, or crazy, or needy, or annoying, or any other thing that would separate me from them. But navigating and building real friendships? Yeah, I’m lost and uncertain, like a middle school girl who doesn’t fit anywhere. 

Bea asked about close friendships, if I felt like any of the women were people who would end up as close friends. 
I smiled and shook my head. “I don’t do close friends.” 

Bea paused for a moment. “Maybe you do now.”

I shook my head. “Nope. I don’t have close friends. It’s not something I do. I do surface stuff. I prefer to play by myself in my sandbox.” I’m joking, but I’m also a little bit serious. After all, if I play alone in the sandbox, no one can mess up the design I have for the sandcastle, or think my idea is silly, no one can throw sand at me and hurt me, and no one can smash my castle. I’m safe in the sandbox all alone. 

Bea laughs, a small delighted laugh that says she enjoys my stubbornness, and my humor. In a silly voice she says, “Well, Alice, now, you are gonna make close friends.” We both crack up. 

In a small voice, I say, “I HAD a close friend. I HAD Kay. I don’t want close friends again.” 

Bea doesn’t respond right away. “You did have Kay. She was a very close friend. And maybe you really don’t want close friends. But I’m thinking there are all different kinds of friendships. Like my friend I walk with? I see her a lot and we do a lot together, we’ve already texted this morning about something, but things are sort of on the surface with her, she just doesn’t have the capacity to go to difficult places. But she is still a good friend. We have a lot in common. Then I have a friend who I see rarely, but when we do get together, there is a deeper connection, and time spent together feels much more meaningful. I have a younger friend, from my old job, who I have a lot of fun with, but we have a deeper friendship, too. Oh, and then my friend Julia, she’s weird. We have a lot of shared history, both of us have parents who passed away (I already knew Bea’s father had passed away, we discussed that when we worked through grief over my grandpa), and she can go to those grief filled places, but anything else, there is a wall and she will not go there. So, maybe there are all kinds of friendships. I think Kay was unusual; most friendships aren’t like that.”

“I know….I know it was maybe one sided in a lot of ways. But she did talk to me, too. Actually, she was quite the open book. But…..I don’t know.” I shake my head. 

“I wonder…I know her friendship was important, but I wonder if you were acting something out with her?” Bea is thinking out loud again. 
I groan. She’s heading into shrinky thinky territory, but as I’m not feeling very emotionally connected, I don’t really care. “I don’t….I mean…..well maybe.” I think for a bit. 
I think in my head, and Bea thinks out loud. “You were always shutting her out, disappearing. I wonder if you were acting something out with that.” 
“Well, it’s not like I shut her out for no reason. I mean…..well, like, if I was going to treat you like I did her……” I’m embarrassed to admit this, because there have been times where I have thought of running, of disappearing on Bea. “Like, when you brought up relationships in the past and talked about them even though you knew I did not want to discuss relationships— now it’s been okay— I would have just not come back. I’d have walked out and not looked back.” 
“But Kay, when you did that to her, she didn’t let you shut her out.” 
“Well. It’s like…….if something came up in conversations and upset me, she’d see it. Where I would be working to hide it, and others would not notice, or maybe they noticed and I am not so good at pretend as I think, and they ignored it. Kay would see it and she’d call me out on it. She wouldn’t let me pretend. She’d push to know what upset me.” I shrug. 
“Usually, I’d tell her and we would talk and then I would disappear for a few weeks.” 
“Boundaries……” Bea says slowly. “She wasn’t respecting your boundaries at all.” 

“Maybe…..” I say. I don’t want to agree with Bea right now. I can see where she is coming from, but I feel like that isn’t the whole story. “I mean, she put up with a lot from me…..I was a lot. So maybe she felt like she didn’t need to listen to any boundary I set.” I’m not sure.

“Well……..let’s say something comes up in conversation that upsets you, it’s touches on those vulnerable places. You don’t want to talk about it, so you pretend everything is okay. A friend who notices and asks you about it, they say something like ‘hey, did something just upset you? Are you okay?’ If you say you don’t want to talk about it, that is an authentic response, and a boundary. A healthy friendship would respect that boundary. If you say nothing is wrong, that is maybe coming more from Ms. Perfect, but still, a healthy friendship would respect that boundary.” 

I nod slowly. “That’s Reagan. She asks, but won’t continue to push or ask about it. She hears the boundary, I guess.” I don’t think I’ve ever thought of pretending to be okay as a boundary, as a choice, as a way of saying ‘no’. I’ve always thought of prefect as building a wall to keep people from knowing the real me that they would inevitably hate. 

“That is a healthy relationship.” Bea says.

We continue talking about friendship and boundaries, and when it’s time to leave, Bea says, “I think this is important. Maybe this is something to do some writing with, if you feel like it.” 

I nod. It might be. I’m not sure I want to talk about friendships. I’m not sure what I want to talk about, though. It seemed like so many big things were coming up before Bea’s week long break (to be fair, she was only gone for 4 days, it was just I saw her on a Wednesday and not again until Thursday), and they have just disappeared. I’ve detached from her and don’t really feel an emotional connection. Part of me wants to stay that way, talk about the shrinky side of things, because when I feel like this, I can. The other parts me are desperate to feel emotionally connected with Bea again. I don’t know which part of me is going to win.

Vacation before and after  

The session before Bea went on vacation was painful. I really don’t remember anything about it, other than Bea noticing right away that I wasn’t present at all, and my telling her (as I hid under my blanket) that it hurt too much to be present right now. She had said the session before that I could take something from her office to use as a transitional object, and I had sort of laughed it off. That last session though, she asked if I wanted to take some thing, and I nodded yes. The little girl really wanted a stuffed animal or something, something comforting so I could feel like Bea was there. The grown up part of me couldn’t even go there. Eventually, Bea and I settled on me taking her favorite pen, the one she keeps in her purse to always have with her. 

While she was gone, I kept a notebook and used her pen to write in it. I wrote a lot about attachment stuff, and tried very hard to make sense of and understand the attachment issues I had been experiencing. I also spent a lot of time filling the pages crying about her leaving, and my fears she wouldn’t come back or my worries that she was not going to be herself when she came back. I wrote that I hated her for making me trust her and then leaving me. It was a very long 8 days. The beginning was harder, it hurt more, but as the week went on, I could feel myself distancing from Bea and not really caring if she came back or not. I shut down those deeper places in myself, and stayed a bit more on the surface. That was almost a welcome relief. Of course, when Thursday rolled around, I was anxious all over again. 

Thursday’s session felt like a bit of a waste. I gave Bea the notebook I had kept while she was away. I saw that she was back. I didn’t feel like we connected, though. I felt very off, and was almost sad that I hadn’t cancelled. Sometimes it feels better to not reach out or show up at all, then to show up and not feel connected to. It felt a lot like Bea and I were in the same book, but on separate pages. I just didn’t feel that emotional connection. She was there, though, and she did show up, and when I was lost and had no words, she talked and I listened. It was really surface feeling, although we did talk a bit about relationships and attachment. I cant fully remember the session to be honest; I was pretty disconnected and fuzzy feeling. It was one definitely a *finding our rhythm after a break* type of session. 
Bea didn’t get a chance to go through and read my notebook, so she took it home to read. 

Saying No

I’m restless tonight. Nothing feels right. I don’t want to read, or watch a movie. I can’t focus on listening to a book, and when I try to write, everything that comes out is gibberish. I’m so far behind on my blog, I don’t know where to start. On top of that, the last time I posted all was good– better than good, actually. Now things are…..well, I’m not quite sure what they are. Interesting, maybe is a good word. Confusing. Difficult. I’m not sure. Using words, finding them, reading them, writing them, hearing them, holding onto them and mixing them together to form sentences and paragraphs and pages, that is my superpower. And if words are my super power, then attachments and relationships are my kryptonite. 

I don’t understand my reactions, my feelings. I write and I think and I read and research and I am no closer to understanding it. And while I have a person who could help me understand it, I’m afraid to discuss it with her. It’s uncomfortable and painful to admit to needs and wants and attachments. All the feelings popping up right now, they are confusing. I can’t sort it out in my head, things don’t make sense. Maybe this is something that isn’t ever going to make perfect sense in an intellectual way. Maybe it is something I have to feel. I’m not sure. Right now, I feel a lot of sadness and pain. I feel sort of frozen in place, afraid to do anything, but my chest by my heart hurts, and I feel a hot then cold flash over my heart, and my body feels hot, like my whole body is blushing, and I feel empty, lonely, this pull to reach, and just as instantaneous is this freeze, don’t! stop! danger! feeling, and I can immediately list off at least 5 reasons the person or persons I want to reach for would not want me. 

I’m unsure how to explain this attachment stuff going on, or what triggered it. In some ways, for me, this very big reaction I had to Bea came as a shock. It was a normal therapy day, or normal as far as therapy goes, anyway. Bea and I had been working on sleep, and I was really struggling with some nightmares and memories, but I couldn’t verbalize or write about them. Bea suggested that we try a resourcing exercise, one where I could think of a good memory, a time in childhood when I felt safe. 

I’m still not quite sure what happened. Bea smiled at me, and said, “Can you think of a memory, or even maybe more of a collection of memories, a feeling, of a time you felt safe? If I stop and do this exercise, I can think of family dinners at my grandma’s house in the summer. She had a wonderful porch, with comfy chairs and a swing, and the grownups would sit outside, and I would dig in the grass by the porch, or search for rocks, or swing on the swing, but I always had this feeling of being watched, being looked after, and being very safe. For me, it’s not one specific memory, it’s just every summer visit to her house as a child all mixed together.” 

I’m half listening, enjoying her sharing this memory, taking some of the vulnerability out of it by sharing herself, but I just……I can’t do it. I have memories, I have several I can think of, and yet, I can’t tell her. It’s that I don’t want to tell her my good memories. Its that I’m positive once I share the memory she will want to know what feelings it brings up now, in present day life. She will want to know what the sensory experience is. And I can’t go there. I just got Bea back, after feeling like I was going to have to quit because sensorimotor therapy isn’t something I want, and she is turning into a sensorimotor therapist, and I was devastated, heartbroken that I was going to have to quit. Somehow, we worked through that. She’s not tied to sensorimotor, and I’m not fully against it. We learned that my challenge is less about the type of therapy and more about needing that emotional connection and not feeling it when Bea had tried sensorimotor in the past. When that emotional connection is not there, I feel as if Bea doesn’t care, as if I’m just patient number 47, diagnosis PTSD with a side of crazy, and that she doesn’t want to deal with me, and that its about analyzing and making sense of the problem, not about working with a person and seeing them and liking them for who they are. Yeah, that emotional connection piece is a way more huge for me. So, you can see why I did not want to do this exercise. 

Bea gave me some space, but when I didn’t say anything for several minutes, she prompted me, “Maybe a memory with your grandparents?” 

I sighed. I shook my head. And then I pulled my knees or my chest, buried my head in my knees, and curled into a tiny ball. 

“What is happening for you? This idea of a good memory is causing a reaction, maybe a need to protect yourself?” Bea noticed my reaction, of course she noticed, and yet I feel a dull flash of surprise. 

I curl more into myself, making the smallest ball I can. I wish my blanket were near me, and as if she read my mind, Bea hands it to me. I cover myself, hiding under the blanket. I still haven’t said a word to her, and she pushes a bit, asking me again about what is happening right now, where I am at, what is making me feel this need to protect myself. I don’t know how much time passes before I whisper, “I’m ruining everything.” 

“What makes you say that? Why are you feeling that you ruin everything?” She asks, a hint of surprise in her voice. The surprise says that she doesn’t feel that way, and it says that she can’t see where the feeling would come from in my present day life. 

When I don’t respond Bea continues, “Sometimes it can be scary to try new things that might help us heal, because we are scared that healing means we might lose the support we have. Getting better doesn’t mean you will lose me, it only means that you will be able to better ask for help when you need it.” 

“No. That is not it. I haven’t….it’s not something I even think about, really.” I’m quick to correct her, lest she think that she matters to me or something. In truth, I don’t think about the idea that if I get better Bea will leave. I don’t think about her retiring. It hurts too much. It makes me too sad. 

“Okay,” she says simply. “Are you having trouble thinking of a memory? It’s okay if you are.” 

I shake my head. It’s not that. I just can’t tell her. It will ruin everything. I start to cry then, big, uncontrollable tears. It’s the sort of cry some refer to as ‘ugly crying’. 

Bea says something soothing, but it’s not the words that matter, it’s the tone and care in them. We go back and forth like this for a bit. Finally, I blurt out, my voice muffled by tears and hiccupy breathing, “I just don’t want to tell you! I don’t want to have to tell you a memory and then have you ask about feelings and sensorimotor stuff!” 

“Ahhhhh,” Bea says, things clicking into place for her. She says something more, but my cries about ruining everything and not being good overshadow her words. “How are you ruining everything?”

“Because I’m not doing what you want and now we are on different sides and I’m screwing it all up and I’m being so awful.” My cries turned to wails, and I could hardly catch my breath. 

“I don’t think you are screwing anything up! I think this is the work, right here. I think maybe you needed to tell me no, to experience setting a boundary. The little girl never got to learn to do that, and so grown up Alice doesn’t really know how to set boundaries, no one knows if is safe to say no, that saying no or disagreeing doesn’t mean we don’t care about someone.”

“Noooooooooo,” I sobbed. I felt this huge terror over yelling Bea no, over setting this boundary. It certainly was not okay. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’m ruining everything. I make bad choices. I can fix it, if I can just agree with you, do what you wanted, then it will be okay.” 

“I don’t want or need you to do, or be anything. I’m okay with this. I know you don’t believe it right now, but I am okay with things as they are. It is okay for us to disagree, it is okay for you to say no.”   

“But you’re on a different side now!” I wailed. That was the way things worked in my world– people agreed and had the same ideas about things, and disagreeing, or telling someone no, putting yourself on a different side, well, that was how you lost people. 

“Why sides? I don’t see any sides, here. I see you and me, working together to help you feel safe again. I’m not mad, I’m not upset. I think this is something that needs to happen. I really do. I think you need to experience saying no, and being heard and seen, to experience a person really hearing a no and not going anywhere.” Bea told me again. 

I couldn’t answer her why I saw sides, why I felt like I was on the wrong side, why I was so scared. I didn’t really know, not in words. I just felt it, believed it. I just knew on this very deep level that things were not okay, that I had screwed them all up, that I had made a bad choice. 
 

She’s still here and it’s okay to need her (11/14/16)

We talked about Kat, and about the election today. I will maybe write about that in another post, but it’s just too much to write, right now. The very significant part of my session was what followed the talk of the election, and feeling overwhelmed and like everything is too much. 
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“You can always email me or call me.” Bea is trying to reassure me that I’m. It alone this week, with hubby leaving today to go hunting. 

As she says this, I cover my face and hide. I don’t know why, exactly, but Bea telling me I can email or call her makes me feel sad, or maybe hurt. I shake my head and cry a little. I try to say but I can’t, and the words won’t come out. 

Bea talks about how with hubby being gone for so many days, she can see how that would feel alone. She asks me if I have plans for the days he is gone and I shake my head. Cheerfully, she says, “This is your thing, this is what you are good at! Scheduling yourself!” 

I shake my head, and moan, “But that’s what feels so out of control. I can’t even make a schedule right now, and I always have had that to fall back on. Everything is a mess.” 

“Okay. If it is too hard to schedule things like you usually do, let’s just plan your evening how I do it. Tell yourself, maybe I will go to the pool today. Or, maybe we will watch a movie tonight. It doesn’t have to be set in stone. It’s just a plan, so,you can feel safer, so the day has some element of choice or control to it. It’s okay to not have a fully scheduled, down to the minute, plan.” 

“Maybe,” I say. 

“I’m finding myself wanting to rescue you, to keep this week from feeling out of control, to take away all the bad feelings, to protect you from feeling this. But that’s not helpful to you in the long run. I can’t rescue you from these feelings. If I could go back and rescue the little girl, I would.” 

“You can’t rescue me……and you don’t need to. But maybe….it’s nice to hear you want to. Like feeling taken care of or feeling safe or not alone?” I’m not sure how to explain it to her. I just know that hearing she wants to rescue me feels real to me, and it feels like she really cares. 

“You aren’t alone. I’m right here, and this week I am just an email or phone call away.” She is trying to reassure me, and instead her statement has me bursting into tears. “Something touched a nerve. What happened?” She asks gently.

I have my face buried in my hands and my blanket scarf, but I’m still trying to stay more upright so I can be a *good* client. (It’s crazy, I know, but I’m overly paranoid about anything that might turn Bea shrinky again.) I shake my head and cry. “I…..I….” The trouble is, I don’t know why this is upsetting me so much, “I….you said I can email or call…….” I know that is what upset me, but I don’t know why. 

“Yes, yes I said you can email me or call me this week– any week. It just seemed a reminder that it is okay might be a good thing.” 

“It doesn’t FEEL okay. I can’t…I just can’t. I…..I know what you said, but I can’t email or call. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I shouldn’t be upset about this.” I’m crying so hard it’s sort of amazing Bea can understand what I’m saying. 

“Do you want to come in? You can come in then, if email or phone doesn’t feel okay. All you have to do is ask,” she says lightly. 

“I can’t. I can’t ask for what I need!” 

Bea waits a moment, and when all I do is sob, she says, “This is okay, it is okay to email or call or come in. I’m thinking you are feeling the vulnerability in reaching out. Is that maybe right?” 

I slowly nod. “If I email….or call…..or ask to come in…………and you…….I………if you aren’t……” 

“If I’m not there, it’s worse than if you never reached out at all?” 

“Yes…..it’s so much worse. And I can’t do it. I can’t handle that.” I tell her. 

“I am okay, and I am here. This is just a normal week, so while some nights I might work late, I’m here and I will respond.” Bea tells me. 

“I shouldn’t…..I shouldn’t need…….I mean, I should know you are there.” I say it in a tone that clearly says I am disgusted or annoyed with myself. 

“There’s no shoulds. I think it makes sense, that you would worry about me being there if you reach out. That time I wasn’t there, that was traumatizing. It hurt, a lot. I didn’t know, I should have realized, where you were in terms of attachment and how hard relationships feel to you and how scary it is for you to really trust another person to be there and care. My responding when I wasn’t really present or grounded, that was really scary and hurtful. It made it feel risky everytime you reach out to me now. I know that. I’ve been very aware of that since that time. I’m sorry I wasn’t aware of it before, I should have realized, and I am sorry that it hurt you.” She says all this in a caring, but matter of fact voice. She isn’t upset that I’m still struggling from that rupture. And she has noticed how hard it has made it for me to reach out. I often go between appointments with no outside contact because I’m unsure and unwilling to take that risk, and she has seen that, but she also wants me to know she is aware and being very careful to be fully there. And it’s true, but every email, and the few phone calls/text messages, she has responded to me from a *I am here and I am me* place. Usually, these kinds of conversations feel unbearable to me, but I feel oddly okay with this one. It is actually helpful because then I know that she has noticed and that she is wanting to reassure me that she is there. 

“I think I shouldn’t need this. I shouldn’t be this needy. I……I’m sorry…….I don’t know what is wrong with me.” 

“You are dealing with a lot. We’ve been working on this, all this trauma stuff for a while now, and Wednesday was the first time I’ve heard you say ‘he hurt me and I had no control’ and have that be a statement you were saying and not a question you were asking me. This is a big deal. It is a lot. It is very overwhelming and hard to face. Facing a little at a time, just like you have been trying to do is how this works. It will take some time. You shouldn’t have to do this alone. Part of my responsibility to you, part of that unspoken contract I have to you, is that I will support you. To me supporting you doesn’t mean just in session. Sure, for some people it might, but not for this deep kind of trauma work that is sending you back to scary places and feelings. It’s okay to need support.” 

“Maybe,” I whisper, tears still falling, but not as hard as they had been. 

“That’s good. A maybe is better than a no,” Bea tells me. 

We sit in silence for a few minutes, me working on stopping my tears and Bea just sitting with me. As I’m lifting my head out of my hands, and wiping my face, Bea nod her head towards my bag, asking, “Is that an Alice in Wonderland coloring book?” 

I nod. “Yeah. Kat and I have been coloring it in the mornings.” 

“Did you color the cover?” 

Pulling the book out of my bag, I say, “Yeah.” I hand it her, and motioning at the cover, “This is what I did this week.” 

“It’s beautiful.” She flips through the pages, I haven’t colored yet. “These pictures are beautiful. Where did you find this?” 

“Target or Meijers, I can’t remember now. I can bring it on Wednesday and we can color it,” I offer, shyly. 

“I don’t want to ruin your book,” Bea says. 

“It’s okay. Kat colors on it. I’m working on that perfectionistic stuff.” I shrug. Yes, it drives me nuts to have Kat color everything crazy colors, and not in the lines, and not how I see it in my head. But she loves coloring in Mommy’s special coloring book, and it’s not a big deal. It’s not like I’m framing these, and I can always buy another. 

“Should we make a coloring date, then?” Bea asks. 

I nod, slowly.  

“Okay, then. But I won’t color if you aren’t coloring,” she warns.

“Okay. I’ll color,” I say softly. 

By this time, I have sat up, scooted to the edge of the couch, and slipped my shoes back on. I stand up and say bye. I feel a little sad and overwhelmed, but also like it will be okay because Bea isn’t going anywhere.

“Bye…..I’ll see you Wednesday, but I’m here before then,” she reminds one last time. 

I nod, and head downstairs. There are still tears behind my eyes although I’m not really sure why. Once I’m on the road, heading home, I let those tears fall, too. There is a lot of grief inside me right now. 
 

Trusting that someone will really be there is a challenge….

Where we left off: I had tearfully asked Bea,”Don’t be shrinky,” and she had replied that she wouldn’t be, that she didn’t want to be be shrinky. After that, no one said anything for a minute. 

Bea breaks the silence, saying, “I feel like a mom with an infant, a mom who really wants to know her baby, but then she can’t figure out what the baby needs or how to help the baby, but she cares so much about and wants to protect and help her baby, so she keeps trying to find what can help. I think that is why I keep going back to SP, or art, or other things we can try. But maybe the baby doesn’t know what she needs right now, and that is okay. Just like a mother who loves her infant, I’m going to patiently sit here with you and try to help you figure it out. We can make sense of all of this together. I’m not leaving, I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to turn into a shrinky shrink. I’m right here, and I’m still me.” 

I don’t reply because I’m too far away to talk. There are a million thoughts running through my mind, but I can’t seem to form any of them into words, or conversation. 

“I sometimes wonder……….. we got in the habit of just allowing you to collapse in on yourself and hide, so that you could talk…….. if that was the best thing. There is an SP exercise……you go from eye contact and connection to curling into yourself and hiding. It’s really hard to know someone is there for you when you are shut down and hiding. It’s amazing how making eye contact and having that connection really allows you to know that someone is there for you.” 

Bea is still talking and I’m freaking out inside. I can not do this. I don’t want to do this. It is not okay. I like hiding. I NEED to hide. Why is she talking about SP stuff again? I hate SP. 

“This isn’t anything I am expecting you to do. I know it wouldn’t feel safe to do an exercise like this right now. I’m telling you about it more so you might notice your experience right now. Maybe notice if it is hard to know I’m here, when you are so far away and closed off, when you can’t see me.” She talks about how it’s hard for me to reach out, to trust that someone is there, and how maybe it would be easier to reach out if I could see that she was physically there. 

At some point, something Bea says reminds me of couples therapy and I tell her that Kim wants me to talk to hubby. 

“In what way?” She asks. “About what?” 

“She said….if I can ask him or tell him what I need.” 

“Okay, so that is a good thing, because there is someone on your side, helping hubby to respond in ways that will make it safer for you to keep talking to him.” 

I shake my head. “I don’t think she is on my side.” I’m not sure whose side she is on, maybe on the side of my marriage being more than a surface relationship. I tell Bea “It’s is better to not ask for something than to ask for it and not…..be heard.” 

“That is an old belief. A really old belief, I think. At some point it became safer to not ask than risk being hurt.” 

“It’s hard to believe anyone is there. Because no one ever is. Everyone leaves.” The words are so silent, there is no weight to them at all, yet somehow they float between Bea and I and she hears them. 

“It is hard to believe someone is there for you. It’s hard to believe that when you reach out, someone will hear you and see you when you told adults in your life with everything but words what was happening with Kenny and no one was there, no one heard. You reached and no one was there. More fundamentally than that even, you couldn’t trust that the adults in your life would keep me safe. You didn’t get to have that safety in knowing someone was there and would keep you safe. Even developmentally, you learned that you couldn’t trust your mother to be there for you, you didn’t know if she would accept your feelings or fears or needs, or if she would reject them. That is a lot. It is no wonder it is hard for you to trust, to know that someone is there.”  

It makes sense, what she is saying. And I feel sad, that this is what my story is, that this is why it’s so hard for me to make connections and hold them, why it’s so hard for me to trust someone will be there. “That’s so much.” This time the weightless words don’t have enough substance to make it to Bea’s ears, and that is okay with me. I don’t repeat myself. 

Bea suggests that maybe we need to work on it being safe for me to really experience safety with another person. “Not just safety in talking to me, while you hide but safety in being able to reach for me and maintain the connection to really feel and know that I am here. Maybe we need to help establish safety in seeing me, while we talk about more uncomfortable things. I think you need to experience that, being able to see and deeply know someone is there for you.” 

I don’t love this idea, it feels very….vulnerable making. Not okay. I don’t say anything. I know this is probably some attachment stuff that needs working on. And that is uncomfortable for me. I hate attachment stuff. Hiding, not looking at someone when I talk, or sharing via email, it’s safer. It’s like that way if the person doesn’t respond, or isn’t there, it doesn’t hurt as much because I wasn’t really there either. On the flip side, that connection, seeing a person respond positively to me and really be there is just as scary. I don’t want to trust it, because as soon as I do, I have that much more to lose, there is that much more which can crush me. 

We go back to talking about couples therapy, and how all of this links back to that and the difficulty in me asking hubby for what I need or want. Bea asks questions and I answer them, haltingly. It’s a lot of starts and stops. Eventually I end up grabbing my iPad and pulling up what I had written about couples therapy (previously posted on the blog). In addition to that, I had written about the dream, but I told Bea I wasn’t sure I wanted her to read that part. 

She reads what I wrote about couple’s therapy. “You aren’t failing couples therapy!” And “it is a lot of risk for you to tell hubby what you need.” “Mmmmhmmm….so she did see that you maybe weren’t ready.” 

“Either that or she said it because I wasn’t talking.” 

Bea laughs, but it’s in that nice way she has, and she says, “I like to think she realized you weren’t ready. And it is okay that you aren’t ready. It is really okay.” 

“They both just think it’s so easy. But it’s not!” I shake my head and sigh. 

“I don’t think, well, I hope the therapist doesn’t think it’s so easy. I’d hope it would be obvious that if you are struggling with that, it isn’t easy for you. It is hard. And look at why. All the times you reached for help with the Kenny stuff and no one saw…..your mom stuff…..not being able to just trust that adults would keep you safe, how could you know that anyone was there? Right? It’s hard for you to even trust that I’m here, that I won’t leave, or turn shrinky, or just not be there.”

“It is hard to know that anyone is there.” I whisper. 

“I know. And so now we have this information that we didn’t have before. Now we know that really reaching for connection, and trusting that another will be there, is a big trigger. It triggered some trauma stuff, but also some developmental stuff, too. So that’s something we can work on– together, and slowly, at your pace.” Bea says.  

I shrug, and whisper, “Maybe.” 

“That’s a good place to start,” Bea says. “And I’m right here with you, even if you can’t see me right now.” 

(I’m going to write about the dream stuff in a separate post. We didn’t talk a lot about the dream, but agreed we could (maybe) start there on Wednesday.)