“I expected to get an email after Monday’s session. That was a lot to process.” Bea lets her statement hang in the air, waits for me to respond, to say anything. So far, I’ve said hello to her, and not much else. I’m finding it hard to speak today; it’s as if the defiant teenage part of me showed up to therapy, and I am fighting the idea of being here, of being vulnerable. Bea takes a drink of he tea, continues speaking. “Maybe you weren’t feeling safe enough to send an email. Maybe you weren’t sure you could trust me to respond.” I feel my insides freeze at that. It’s almost exactly what happened. I wasn’t sure. I was afraid. But I don’t want to admit it. “I would have responded,” she continues, “Sometimes, like this morning, I don’t respond right after I read an email, especially the longer ones. I got an email this morning that I read, and I’ll respond later, once I have some time to really think it through and process it. So even if I haven’t responded right away, it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it, or haven’t read it.”
Great. Now she thinks I have expected her to reply really quickly. It’s not like that. I really have never expected anything beyond a replay within a day, or maybe the same day depending on the content. The last email, which went 2 — almost 3– days with no reply, and was the first thing I wrote or said that let anything big out…well, that hurt. And her reply felt off. It felt like she wasn’t really there, wasn’t getting it, I don’t know.
“I bet you have been writing since I saw you last, even if you haven’t emailed.” Bea’s voice says she likes the fact I write, even if I haven’t shared it with her.
I finally nod. “I always write. It’s just…me.” I shrug. I think about pulling out my iPad, pulling up, email I wrote and didn’t send, but I don’t. Instead I stare at the floor, think about what I wrote about.
I must have dissociated far away, because the next thing I know, it’s like I’m jerking awake– although I wasn’t asleep and Hagrid is head butting me– and Bea is talking.
“I haven’t asked about your Grandma lately,” Bea says, “Have you talked to her?”
I shake my head, slowly. “That’s a funny story,” I say. Crap. I meant to say it was funny she was asking that, funny as in ironic. Being so out of it means words get easily mixed up when I speak.
“It’s a funny story?” Bea asks, not sure she heard my whispered voice right.
“No…not funny. Funny you asked.” I explain. And then we sit in silence for a moment while I gather my thoughts. “She’s here. In [state].”
“Oh. Wow. Are you going to see her?”
“I…tonight. For dinner. With the…with him.” Hagrid noses his way onto my lap. I pet his back.
We talk about how Grandma texted me to ask about meeting for dinner, and how it’s just going to be Kat and I going.
“Hubby…he hurt my feelings. It…I tried…” I stumble with the words. “He has to work. And you know I haven’t talked to him about anything since like, May, but I asked him if he was could work 9-4 today. He said no. But then asked why. So I started explaining. And he…..he starts laughing. He wasn’t even listening. He was reading emails. That’s how much I matter. And he then told me he can’t change his schedule today, no matter what, so why he acted like he could, I don’t know. But…ugh. I don’t know. It didn’t matter.”
“You were really reaching out to him, asking for support and not being seen really hurt.” Bea echoes and validates me, and I feel like I can breathe a little.
“Yes.” I nod.
We talk over this, me crying about hurt feelings, Bea echoing how it really hurts to have your husband, your partner ignore you.
“Did you have something you wanted me to read?” Bea gestures to my iPad, which is resting near my right leg. I don’t even remember removing it from my bag. “I don’t want to invalidate this experience, or rush you, or stop you from talking about it, but I also don’t want to miss something you wanted to talk about.”
I nod, and pick up the iPad. I open the email, and scan it. Yeah. All the scary crazy stuff is still there, in black and white. Ugh. “No. There isn’t much to say. I’m seeing my Grandma. It feels yucky because of the boyfriend. My husband doesn’t see me. And my feelings are hurt. That’s really it. So…here.” And I hand her the iPad. After, I curl into a ball– sitting up– and say, “I wrote it Monday night…Tuesday morning…it’s an email, I guess. I just didn’t send it because. I don’t know why. I just didn’t send it.”
“Okay.” Bea’s voice is neutral again. I have a feeling she has thoughts on why I didn’t send it, but I don’t much care. Mostly because I’m sure she is thinking I wasn’t sure it was safe enough to send it, and she’d be right.
I’m thinking again. Of course, I’m thinking again. It’s 2:00am, and I’ve had a nightmare and can’t get back to sleep. So I am thinking.
I’m thinking about one of the questions I thought about this weekend: why is it so hard for me to talk relationship stuff? Why does the very idea of that make me frozen and sick to my stomach and itchy all over? Why does it feel so incredibly not safe and why am I so convinced that in discussing those things I am going to get hurt? Is this just normal, I’m human and being vulnerable is scary stuff, or is it more than that? And what am I supposed to do about it? Because now I’m in this weird place….this sort of limbo feeling, of not being able to go back to pretending that the relationship piece doesn’t matter, of not being able to pretend there is nothing wrong in the real relationship or nothing to talk about….but I also am too damn scared to talk about if. So what am I supposed to do? I have this feeling that I am going to lose people I care about of I don’t do something. But the idea of calling Kay and talking through my ignoring her because I didn’t want her trying to force me to face reality, of maybe telling her that I love her but sometimes she is so honest and blunt she scares me and overwhelms me…..well, it’s too much. I can’t. Or the idea of telling hubby that I feel like we are existing on opposite sides of the world, that I feel very far away and isolates right now, that I feel like he doesn’t see me, maybe doesn’t really want to see me, and that makes me feel so afraid, it really triggers me, takes me right back to being a child and not being seen, and so I lash out by being nitpicky, by snapping, with passive aggressive comments, even just outright yelling. No, I’m not there yet. But I’m also unable to pretend.
And I’m thinking about this idea of limbo, and it really feels like I’m in this weird limbo place. Maybe that is just what therapy is. I don’t know. But it’s like I’m beyond believing it was all a game, but I’m I’m not really at this point where I can say I didn’t do anything wrong, either. I still have a lot of doubts about my behavior. Logically, I can say, and easily believe that kids are never to blame. But if I try to insert my name into that statement, or even just say “the little girl is never to blame”….I almost feel this strong physical reaction, like that sentence is wrong. And the first thing I feel is….I don’t know, maybe really deep buried mad, and I just want to scream that the little girl is awful and bad and disgusting and no one will ever love her. I feel like I’m in this weird limbo where I can say that Kenny had a part in everything that happened, he gets half the responsibility. Which I couldn’t believe, or even really think before. But it only brings up questions of why, and more questions of were there others– the girls from the other families in our group, his sister? And I don’t know. I don’t like this limbo place. Maybe i really wasn’t okay before, but at least I was sure of something. Now it feels like I’m more unsure of things in my life than ever before. And that scares me a lot.
I’m thinking about my parents. I talked to my mom. She called to tell me my grandma and her boyfriend had come back for grandmas high school reunion, but not told anyone or seen anyone while they were here. People found out via facebook, but my mom didn’t want me to see my grandma posting she was in this state and feel like she had hidden something from me. So I cried. And we talked about it for a bit. And then she said something…I don’t remember exactly, I was feeling not so grounded. But it was about her hiding things or ignoring things when I was growing up, and she said she is finding in therapy that burying things never fixes anything in the end, eventually it has to be dealt with. She said she spent most of her adult life hiding and burying things and she won’t do it anymore. She’s happy. She is happy in therapy, more grounded and more real than I’ve maybe ever experienced. She said she goes twice a week. That she is thinking of seeing this nutrition counselor her therapist recommended. I wanted to scream. This should be good. I should be happy. It’s everything I have said, time and time again, I wanted from my parents. But…ugh. NO. It doesn’t feel okay. It doesn’t feel okay at all. I changed my mind. Maybe I’m not capable of having more than a surface relationship with anyone in my life. Kay might be the exception. Because she can tolerate a lot of uncomfortable feelings and yucky stuff; I really do believe she can handle more than most people. So, it’s like even though she has always demanded more than a surface friendship from me, she’s been able to handle and tolerate all the yuck for both of us. Or something. And I think, like you said you are always thinking of where I am and what I can handle, she does that, too. Which is the only reason that works. But. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to have that kind of relationship with another person (you. I don’t have a surface relationship with you.But you are my shrink, so it’s not like a surface relationship would really make sense). So. No. I change my mind. I don’t want this real relationship with my mom. I don’t want her to try to repair things, or talk about the past. There’s too many hurts I’m afraid she will go to. It’s not just my fear that she will maybe realize that she knew and ignored the situation with Kenny. I need, or a part of me needs to believe she had no clue. I don’t think I can handle it if I knew for sure she knew. It would hurt too much. So much, I’m just numb even typing that; I feel completely disconnected from my body right now. But don’t worry, Hagrid has been barking at me and head butting me a lot today– he is doing his job and seems determined to not allow me to get too far away. Part of me, irrationally so, fears she will realize that I’m the one who made her sick and landed her in the hospital, or that she will realize if I hadn’t been so needy, or such an out of control teen, she wouldn’t have had the problems she had and she will be so disappointed in me, hate me. It’s obviously a fear from the little girl, nothing based in reality. But…..still. There it is. Part of me is afraid she will try to talk about the times she punished me instead of being there emotionally– taking my car keys after I cut my wrists, making me attend school two days after I over dosed, not allowing me to buy a new dress for the Christmas dance because she caught me throwing up, lecturing me about how I was ruining my life when Kristin called her to come get me from college. All of those things almost hurt too much to even type onto a page. I can’t talk about them. And I really can’t talk about them with her. I don’t know. I just know I want the fake story back.
I NEED to know I have the option of saying it was all a game. That I have the option of saying it didn’t matter, that it wasn’t a big deal. That I am being a drama queen, because that is my role in my family, it’s what I do. I need to be able to say I’m being crazy, making things up. I need to be able to tell myself it didn’t happen the way I think, obviously, because no one else is telling the story I am telling. At least a part of me is holding onto the belief that none of this is real. A part of me needs to think I’m crazy, because the alternative is just too horrible.
And it makes me so freaking angry with her. Why does she get to do this now? I was forced to live in her crazy perfect world. I had no choice but to be perfect, because I truly believed they wouldn’t love me, wouldn’t want me if I was anything less than perfect. Heck, sometimes I still believe that. But now, when I NEED her perfect family version of our history, her perfect daughter version of my history…NOW she wants to change it? ITS NOT FAIR. And I don’t want explanations or reasons. I don’t want to understand from her viewpoint. I just want to be mad. I just want to be hurt. Because, (illogical though it is) even though she has no idea about any of this, I feel hurt. I feel like once again, I’m being left emotionally. And it’s almost worse this time, because all I needed was for her fl maintain the same stupid story she has always told as the truth. And she can’t even do that. Now she wants to be real. Not when I NEEDED her to be real. Oh no. She couldn’t possibly have been real when I overdosed. Or when she caught me cutting. Or when I went through a starting phase and passed out at cheer practice. Nope. She couldn’t be real then. Not when I needed a mom who could be real. But now? Now when I need anything but real, she chooses to lead to be real. Argh. I think I’m in this little girl headspace, maybe sometimes even this teenager– like young teenager– headspace right now. I don’t want to talk things out and understand other people’s viewpoints. I just want to be upset and for someone to get that.
Bea reads. And I’m silent. She says “mmhmmm..” several times as she is reading; it’s what I have come to think of as her verbal nods. She makes a sort of snickering laugh sound at one point, and I’m assuming it is in reference to my comment about her being my shrink and so a surface relationship wouldn’t make sense– or she is laughing at the swear words and angry tone peppered throughout the email, as those are so uncharacteristic of me. But I’m betting it’s the shrink comment.
“I haven’t finished this yet,” she says at one point, “but I want to comment on this limbo feeling. It makes sense, it makes perfect sense. And it is scary. It’s like having the ground pulled out from beneath you and no safe space to run to. And it makes sense why the old story, even if it was scary or not safe…it’s familiar. So it feels safe. I was also thinking, your grandpa, your grandpa and your grandma, that is where you found safety as a child, and it’s where you have found safety as an adult. They were real. But your grandma is changing things. And that is unsettling. You can still find safety there. The safety you found as a child is still there.”
I don’t say anything, just let her words sink in, and let them roll around my mind. I need time to let that idea sit.
She reads the rest of the way through. “Wow. Wow. This is a lot.”
I shake my head. “Is it? Or is it life?” I sometimes wonder if I just suck at living life.
“It is a lot.” Bea repeats. “Your mom…this is good stuff. She is growing, and it’s good. But she, you…you and her are on different healing paths right now. She needs to be on her path. You aren’t there yet. You still have things to grieve and hurts to feel and work through.”
“I feel so guilty.” I whisper.
“Because you aren’t happy for her?”
“I should be.”
“Well…should is a logical word. This isn’t logic. It’s feelings. And there is a lot of grief here. A lot of anger. A lot of feelings that could not be felt then, and that need to be felt and worked through to be able to move on.” Bea says. She says it like this is so natural, so normal.
“She’s…she’s getting better.” It’s what I have always wanted. But it feels too late.
“And we want that for her. But you don’t have to be happy about it. You can have all your feelings. It’s okay to be mad. Of course you are going to be mad she couldn’t be better when you needed her to be. How could you not be? These things hurt. They were real hurts.” Bea says. She looks back over the hurts I’ve listed, and asks “what’s a starting phase?”
I feel lost for a minute and then realize. “Auto correct. It must have…auto correct.”
“So it’s?….?” And then Bea realizes. “Starving phase?”
“Yeah.” I nod, grateful I didn’t have to spell it out.
It’s quiet for a moment and then Bea asks me, “Was she crying, too? Your mom, when you were talking? Did it feel like she was trying to connect?”
I sigh. I don’t want to remember. It was scary for me. I feel floaty, just thinking about it. “I…she was…but it was like…she was happy but…like….relieved? Maybe? Is that the feeling?”
“Uh-huh…mhhmhhm….like she has this relief at not living under this weight of perfectionism or hiding any longer. Yes. That makes sense. And she is trying to tell you she is sorry for how things were, but she is relieved not to be that way any more.” Bea sounds a little bit excited, like she is putting the pieces together of a puzzle. She goes on to say that my actions– distancing myself, not following all the family rules, doing things that were right for me, might have pushed her towards making changes.
I shrug. “I can’t…I’m not..I don’t want this.”
“I know. And you can distance yourself and let her be on her path and you can be on yours. But I think one day, you’ll be able to have an honest conversation, to be real, and have a real relationship with her.”
“No…no, no. I can’t. I don’t. I can’t.” I shake my head, and tears are falling at this point. They are tears from too much pent up emotion. Tears of anxiety and frustration. Tears of grief and pain and hurt. Tears of anger and fear.
“Not now. But one day.” Bea says softly. She says something about having a relationship with my mom, a real relationship.
I shake my head. “I think I am only able to handle surface relationships. That’s it. It’s all I’m good at.”
I hear the smile on her voice, the kindness and the sadness when she says, “That’s not a relationship. That’s day to day interactions. Relationships are what make life worth living. They are the reason we are here. But the surface stuff? That’s just daily interactions.”
I shake my head. “Well. Those surface relationships passed for relationships for 30 years of my life. So….I think they count as relationships.”
Bea disagrees, and tells me again that the deeper relationships, real connections are what make life worth living. She says those connections are what all of us are looking for. It’s something we all need.
I don’t say anything. I don’t like this conversation. I have been thinking a lot about relationships and feelings and connections, and I have been wanting to talk about it with someone. It I don’t like the way this conversation is making me feel.
“All this stuff you are dealing with, it’s a lot, but it is sort of the nuts and bolts of life. Relationships are the nuts and bolts of life. They are so important and those connections, while at times…”
“Scary? Terrifying? Frozen making?” I supply some adjectives, ones that I have a feeling are very different from hers.
“Well, yes. Being vulnerable and opening yourself up to a relationship is scary. Especially when it is a new thing for you to do. And this is a new thing for you. You haven’t even liked to discuss, or admit even the importance of our relationship.” Bea says.
“Because then…it’s saying I need someone. And I don’t want to need anyone.” I say softly.
“Well, no. Of course not. If you need someone, you are vulnerable.”
“Is it always that scary?” I ask her, after a minute or two of quiet.
She doesn’t answer right away, except to say, “No.” Then she gathers her thoughts before speaking. “It might be uncomfortable at times, but it’s not going to be scary forever. It’s scary now because it’s a new thing, and you aren’t sure you can trust it.”
I nod. Okay. Maybe. I’m not sure I trust that answer.
“With Hagrid…it’s easy, safe to open yourself up to him, right?” She asks me.
I nod. Slowly.
“With dogs, we only get good back. We don’t get rejection or hurt. So it’s easy and safe to open up and really attach and let them in. And that’s a good thing. It’s great. And Hagrid is doing his job, being there and attaching back to you, giving you a safe attachment.” Bea says.
What she says reminds me of studies I have read about horse therapy. I also wonder if that is the reason Bea has been so happy that Hagrid was brought into my life. Why she has talked about him and supported him coming to therapy and asked about how sleeping and nightmares are with him around.
I nod, letting her know I hear her.
Bea says more, maybe, about relationships. I’m not paying much attention.
“My mom is going to see a nutritionist.”
“That has to feel maybe a little threatening, unsettling at the very least.”
“I don’t know. It’s just…I don’t like it.” I sign. It makes me want to scream and yell and hide. But I don’t know what I feel, exactly.
“Does it feel like it is threatening your eating?” She asks me.
I shake my head. I don’t know. I disappear the rest of session, I can’t handle talking about my ED.
Hagrid’s barking, and Bea’s laughing.
“He’s not letting you go too far away,” she says happily.
I nod, feeling fuzzy. Damn it. I hate it when I zone out this much.
“We need to stop anyway, work on grounding you, okay?” Bea asks me.
I nod. “Can you just talk?”
“Well, I tried to bring my golden with me to work on Tuesday, to see how he would do as a therapy dog.” I can tell by the tone in her voice that things didn’t go well. By the end of the story, I’m cracking up, and I also now have an explanation as to why two puppets are missing from the puppet bucket.
I leave feelings grounded, but with a lot to think about and process.