Metal Walls and Black Holes (part two)

“I can’t do this by myself.” I whisper the words, a barely there ghost like whisper.

“You don’t have to. I am here,” Bea says firmly. When I’m silent, she asks, “Do you feel anymore like you aren’t alone? Can you feel me here at all?”

I think about it. I’m not sure. “Maybe…..not like I feel it but I know it….sort of logical, maybe? I don’t know. Talking with you, and you listening and then when you get it, I know that would make me feel like you are really, really here. I just don’t feel it. So I guess so it’s sort of better.”

“That makes sense. I’m glad you can at least know I’m here, even if you can’t really feel it. You don’t have to be alone now. You were hurt so bad and so alone and not protected. You don’t have to be alone or hurt anymore. You deserve to feel protected and cared for.”

“Bea?” This comes out as a question, in the way kids will say *Mom* as a question.

“Yeah?”

“If he….if before was because I mattered, then why….that night when he…..why would…I mean….why did he if I didn’t matter and he didn’t love me and I’m not special, why did he do it?” I’m tripping over my words, my thoughts and my questions tumbling together in my head.

Bea is quiet for what feels like a long time. “Well,” she finally says, speaking slowly, carefully. “Well, I don’t think any of this, before or after was about love for him. He knew, sometimes bad guys know that kids need to feel like they matter, and he used that to get what he wanted. I think that all of this was about what he wanted and his pleasure. It was about power and doing what he wanted, and he used whatever he could to get you to go along with him.” She sounds so, so sad as she is saying this.

“Oh. It was mean,” I say.

“Yes, it was very, very mean.” Bea’s voice sounds funny.

“Are you okay? Did I do something wrong?” There’s a worry there about upsetting Bea, but it’s sort of dulled down from how it would normally feel.

“Yes, yes I am okay. I just wasn’t sure how to answer your question. I didn’t want to make you feel bad. Sometimes answering questions that…the answer might hurt, it feels wrong to me. I will always answer your questions and I won’t lie to you. I just…I feel very protective of you and of all the parts, and I was feeling some….like I didn’t want to tell the Little Girl about Bad people existing. I was feeling, am feeling protective over her.”

“I know monsters are real. They don’t look scary though. Just regular.”

“Yes, you do know that, don’t you? You’ve known that for a long time.” Bea breathes, and it’s the kind of breathing you do when you are trying not to cry.

“It’s okay. I’m not really upset,” I tell her.

“No, you are too far away to feel upset right now, aren’t you?”

“Yeah…..I wish I never wanted to be special, though.”

Bea won’t let that belief stand. “You did nothing wrong. Everyone wants to feel special and like they matter. Everyone wants to feel loved. He was wrong! He preyed on that need, he was a monster. You didn’t deserve to feel hurt then, and you don’t deserve it now. It makes me so mad that he is out there free, living his life and you are still hurting because of what he did, because he was selfish and mean and used you.” Bea stops talking, and then says more gently, “That longing to matter? That is that attachment seeking system, and it is a good thing. It’s okay, it is a good thing to want to attach, to want to matter to someone. Okay? I want you to know that.”

I feel like Bea speaking about attachment and needing to matter to others in this caring voice is very, very dangerous. The walls start to feel as though they are softening. “Stop, no, no, no. Just no. Stop. please, please, no.” I shake my head, cover my eyes even though I am still hiding under my blanket.

“Okay. Okay. I know that’s hard to hear right now. We can talk about something else.”

The walls harden back into place, and I slowly peek out from under my blanket. “Did you ever play that computer game where you click on the boxes and you are trying to avoid hitting the landmines? I can’t think of what it’s called.”

Bea shakes her head. “I don’t think so, no.”

“Oh. Well, there are lots of bombs and you click on the boxes and try not to hit them. That’s what my head feels like right now.”

“I can see that. I’ll try very hard not to hit any landmines, okay?”

I shrug. “I don’t know where they are. But it seems I keep bumping into them anyway. I hate this.”

“I know. What would it mean if a landmine was triggered?” Bea asks curiously.

“I….I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about this right now.”

“Okay,” Bea agrees.

We talk about how my being able to tell her in an email that I was upset is a big change. When I say that it’s different than what would have happened two years ago, maybe even a year ago, Bea smiles. “What is different do you think?”

“Well, before, I might have been hurt but I would have seen you not noticing under the surface stuff as you not caring, maybe a sign you were leaving me, or somehting and I would have been so hurt and so upset about it that I would have emailed but probably not been very nice about it.”

“Yes, maybe so. This time, though, you just said like *hey, this really hurt when I felt like you didn’t see how badly I am feeling and how not okay I am.* That wasn’t mean at all, but it was good sticking up for yourself, it is important to be able to tell people how they have hurt us.”

“I never wanted to be mean before, it’s just so much would spin out of control, I would be so triggered and panicked and scared. Relationships really terrified me, you know.”

“I know, the very idea of any relationship, any attachment was very, very threatening to you.” Bea says. She sounds proud of me.

“It’s still a little scary, sometimes,” I say.

“Well, yeah, of course it is. You were hurt in relationships, by attachment figures, by people who were supposed to care for you and love you and keep you safe. It’s always going to be a little scary to let people in after that. But you can choose now to let them in anyway, when you know they are safe, right?”

“Right. I choose now. Mostly.” I smile at Bea. I am so grateful to her. I worked hard, but I never would have gotten to this place without her.

“Reminder. Leave in 5 minutes to pick up Kat.” Every Amazon Echo in the house blares the reminder. We’ve run way over my hour.

“I’m sorry, I made us run over,” I apologize.

“Don’t be sorry. I had the time, and I think you needed it. I’m glad we had some time to talk today.” Bea smiles.

“Thanks.”

“Are you okay to go get Kat?” Bea asks.

“Yeah. I’m okay to go get her.”

“Okay. I’ll see you and Kat on Thursday, then.”

I nod my head. I hate that Wednesday is cancelled, but I’m glad she was able to see me today.

“Bye,” we say in unison, and I log out of teletherapy.

Metal Walls and black holes (part one)

It’s been a long time since I have felt this detached. I’m so far away that I can’t even remember last week’s therapy sessions. I only have the vaguest sense that I spent one of those sessions avoiding everything and began a tangent of talking about big things that have changed. It’s not a bad thing to think about, and I did end up making a list of things that have changed. It’s nice to see it all listed out. Some things shift so slowly, I only really notice when I think about what’s different now.

I end up upset after therapy on Monday, hurt that Bea seems to think the triggery, flashbacky, overwhelmed mess that I have been for months has shifted, and things are feeling calmer to me. She says I have seemed to be in a more reflective mood, and that things seem more settled. They don’t feel settled to me. Things are not calm inside. I’m hurt that she doesn’t see this. I spent almost all of Monday’s session feeling trapped, unable to find a way to tell her how bad things feel right now. I open my mouth several times to tell her I feel like I’m dying, like nothing is okay, that I feel so completely hopeless and numb I can’t find words to describe it at all. Instead, I continue talking about things that have changed in the 6 years since I started therapy. Why do I do this? Is there some part of me that stops me from speaking the words I really want to say?

It doesn’t take me very long after our session ends to email Bea and tell her that I am not okay. I calmly write that I don’t feel settled, that my feelings are hurt because she thinks I am okay, because she only saw the surface stuff. I write that I feel so far away, so numb, so alone, and her only seeing the surface feels terrible. It doesn’t take her long to respond. She tells me that she knew there was more, but that she felt as if she couldn’t find a way in. She tells me that she tried fishing around for a way in, but the walls were too thick today. She apologizes, and validates my hurt feelings, saying that she is sure it is really painful and lonely to not be seen. She asks me what I and the parts need from her. I don’t know. I need her to not feel so far away, but I’m the one that is far away, not her.

We meet again on Tuesday, and this time Bea has a way in, sort of. I’ve sent some of my notebook pages to her. (I’ll put those in a separate post https://fallingdowmtherabbithole.wordpress.com/2020/10/16/notebook-pages-metal-walls-and-black-holes/).

I log into teletherapy after I get settled in on the floor with my pillows and blankets. We say hello, and chat about nothing for a minute.

“I was really glad you were able to tell me your feelings were hurt,” Bea says.

I cover my face with my hands, embarrassed.

“It’s okay. I really was glad you were able to find your voice and share that with me. And I am really sorry you felt so hurt.”

“It always hurts when……..people don’t see under the surface.” By people, I mean my attachment relationships– Bea, Kay, and Hubby.

“Yes, it feels too much like reliving your childhood, where no one saw all the hurt underneath that Ms. Perfect was hiding.” Bea says softly.

I nod. “Yeah. It feels lonely.”

“I know. And I want to say that I did know there was more under the surface. I just couldn’t find a way in.”

“Well, I….it feels like…..” my voice trails off, scared to say the words.

“It feels like what?” Bea pushes a little to try to get me to finish my sentence.

I shrug. “There’s my famous filter again.”

“Yeah, that filter is tough! And it’s protected you for a long time. But it’s safe to let the filter go for a little while. Do you think the part that filters things can trust that?”

I shake my head and hide under my blanket. “I don’t want you to think I am being a drama queen,” I whisper.

“Hmmmm…I know that is a real fear, but that’s not me, right? That is something your mom said, that she believed about you, not something I think about you.” The reminder is gentle, and kind. It could sound angry or frustrated, but the way Bea says it, it is reassurance she doesn’t feel that way.

“I know. You always say you don’t think that about me.”

“Alice, in all seriousness, everything you have been through, all the trauma, everything, it was so horrible, I believe that anything you want to do, or think, or say, none of it will ever make you a drama queen.”

I sit in stunned silence for a minute, maybe longer. For probably the millionth time I wonder, was it really that bad? I don’t ask her this though. Instead, I spit out the words I was trying so hard to say earlier. “I feel like…..you know those commercials, I can’t think of which ones, but the ones where everything is grey and awful and sad and then the people find some miracle yogurt or medicine or whatever and everything is colorful and bright and happy? I feel like the before in those commercials.”

“Ahhhh. Things feel really bad right now. I could tell from your notebook pages how terrible things are feeling. That is a good description.”

“I feel really alone. Everything is far away and muted and I’m just numb. Except I don’t know if I get to say that, because there is sad, and maybe other stuff, and its big, really big, maybe too big, and I know it’s there, it’s just too far away to feel. So I don’t know if I get to call that numb.” I’m still hiding. It might feel childish, but it also feels safe, and safe trumps childish.

“I think you can call it whatever you want, but numb is a good explanation. Reading your writing, I was struck by the way the sad was described. I think there is a lot of grief to work through. That’s a big piece of trauma work, to process that grief. Grief is vital to healing, to moving on. I know it hurts, but try to hang on to the fact that getting to a point where you can even be aware of that grief is huge.”

I don’t say anything, because it feels like Bea is leaving. It feels like what she is saying about grief is her declaring we are at the end of things to work through. I shake my head at myself. No, I tell myself, no, no, no. Bea is not telling you that you are almost done with therapy. She is not kicking you out or leaving. She feels far away right now because you are far away. Everyone feels far away right now, even Kat. This is a you problem, not something Bea is doing to you. “Bea?” I say, tentatively.

“Yeah? I’m listening.”

“You feel too far away, and this is too big and I’m all alone. I don’t want to feel like this.”

“I know, I know you don’t. I am here, and I’m not going anywhere. I know this is scary but I’m not afraid of the big feelings, okay?” She speaks soothingly, the way I might speak to Kat when she is so distressed that anything I say isn’t landing with her anyway. “Are there things we can do right now to help you feel a little more connected? Like maybe feel your blanket, it looks fuzzy and soft. Or snuggle Hagrid? Can you listen to my voice and know I’m here with you even if you can’t feel it?”

“You just feel far away. I think it’s me. I’m too far away or too numb, or something. I don’t know. It’s like I built these walls and I was trying to….it’s like the bubble but not…this is….ugh…” I sigh, frustrated that I can not find the words I need to explain how or what I am feeling.

“No, I don’t see Ms. Perfect, not today. In fact I haven’t seen her in a long time.” Bea tells me.

“Well, yeah, because Ms. Perfect is…..I don’t know. She shows up for short things, like….I don’t know….it’s not, well…the bubble is light and bouncy and well, bubbly and stuff and this is….”

“Heavy.” Bea fills in the word for me when my voice drops off, and she’s absolutely right. This is heavy. There is such a huge weight to it, suffocating me.

“Yeah,” I say. “It’s so heavy. There’s this black hole of sad and other icky stuff and big feelings, and I just….I can’t look at it, I can’t even acknowledge it really, it’s too much and I just can’t so, I tried….it’s like I tried to build a wall around it but instead I built a wall and locked myself in with the black hole and there’s no windows or doors or anything and I can’t find a way to get out….or to even open a window to let anyone in.”

“I think you must need to be really far away to feel safe. Even if it feels awful, and you aren’t okay, I think the distance you need to be from the world, from yourself– and still feeling not okay– I think that tells us how badly this hurt you, how much it felt like your very existence was being annihilated.” Bea sounds so sad. Is she sad for me?

“I thought….well, you know….I just…it was over. I thought it was over and I wasn’t even sad, or anything but….not happy, I don’t know the right word….”

“Relieved?” Bea suggests.

“Yeah, maybe. I think so. Relieved. But then…I was wrong, it’s not over. And I am not special now, this isn’t because he loves me, I don’t know why now, and it is like everything is broken and none of it will ever be okay or anything else and I can’t, well, I just….” I sigh. This is so hard to explain. “I think that it was like…..before that night, I had this….it wasn’t normal, right? The stuff with him, it wasn’t normal.”

“No, it was not normal,” Bea agrees.

“But it was my normal. A fairytale. Well, maybe a twisted sort of fairytale, but a fairytale in my head. I had a story I would tell myself.”

“Yes, it was a game, he loved you, you were special.” Bea knows the story well.

“Right,” I say. I’m speaking more than usual, but I’m detached, cold, not here and definitely not feeling any of it. The feelings all live in the black hole I am working so hard to avoid. “So, I had this story I told myself, and it was normal, everything was okay. I was okay. But then, that night…..everything changed. It wasn’t over, and I wasn’t special anymore, either. My story didn’t work anymore. I couldn’t make sense of it, there was no understanding, no nice story to tell, and so then….I think I wanted to die.”

“Yeah, I can see that. There were no good choices emotionally that night.”

We are both quiet for what feels like a long while. Maybe Bea talks, or I talk, and I’m just too far away to even remember exactly what was said. Eventually though Bea says something about how I did come back to some sort of feeling that I loved him, or was going to marry him. I really don’t want to talk about this, but the words fall out of my mouth anyway. “I had to fix it.”

“Fix what? Fix it how?” Bea asks. I think I have confused her, but I don’t know for sure. I can’t sense her. Part of it is doing therapy on a screen, but most of it is that I’m too defended to feel her presence. She sounds like Bea, she looks like Bea, but she doesn’t feel like Bea to me.

I don’t answer the question. I’m not sure how to explain the thoughts swirling in my head like a hurricane. The thing is, everything changed that night in the cabin. It was the summer before 5th grade. That’s the year that the eating disorder really started. It was a bad year. And then came the sex talk at church and I realized what exactly was going on, and how sinful and bad I really was, I had to fix it. In my mind, the only way to to fix the whole sex before marriage sin and avoid going to hell was to marry the person. Yeah, I know. It wasn’t sex, the sin was not mine, blah, blah, blah. But it felt like it was mine, and desperate to fix it, I once again had a “crush” on him, and wanted to marry him. Typing this out makes it sound crazier than it feels in my mind. I don’t explain any of this to Bea. It feels too hard, like too many words to say.

When it’s clear I am not going to respond, Bea heads in a different direction. “What happened after? Did vacation go on as planned, were you able to have fun?”

I feel confused, like my head is filled with sand and I can’t think. “I…..I don’t know.” I shake my head, trying to clear it. Things feel….wrong. “I….I really don’t know. I just….ummm…This is crazy. I have no idea.” Panic hits me, hard and out of nowhere. In an instant, I go from numb and far away and feeling like I’m buried alive to terror that I don’t remember what happened after. It’s like not remembering means I didn’t survive.

“Hey, Alice, you are okay. I know, I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you are safe now. You did survive. Not remembering what happened after, that is okay, that just tells us how far away you had to go to protect yourself and survive.” Bea’s voice is reassuring, and calm, and she’s still my safe person.

The panic doesn’t last long., As Bea is talking, I shut down again. I think now it’s because the panic combined with me feeling Bea’s presence and her being safe is too much. It threatens to melt away the heavy metal walls I have constructed, and I need my walls. I hate them, but I need them.

Bea is back and really here (I think)

Every time I sit down and try to write lately, I get stuck. I can’t find the words, or I get overwhelmed with feelings and it’s just all too much. This may not be my most well thought out or eloquent post, but I wanted to write an update before I disappeared all over again.

Bea is back, and she is really Bea. I think. I’m pretty sure. She still feels far away, not here, like something is off, but I think it isn’t her that’s far away. It’s me. I think this is where teletherapy is hard because I’m far away and floaty feeling, and I can’t feel her presence the same way I can when we are in the same room. I’ve only seen her once since she has been back, so maybe today will better.

I’ve been struggling ever since that situation with Kat and the boy. Maybe it’s a combination of Kat being in 4th grade (when so many of my worst memories happened) or the situation with the boy, or something else all together. I don’t know. But I feel like I’ve been on the trigger carousel. Things feel even more difficult when Bea is on vacation.

Last week, on Wednesday morning, I emailed her a journal I kept on my iPad/iPhone while she was gone. I don’t really like journaling on my iPad. I find it easier to write by hand in a notebook, but I really miss being able to just hand Bea my words at the start of a session and have her read them right then. It makes talking so much easier to not have to say everything. It worked out okay, and was a lot more helpful than me sitting in silence unable to share my words.

I wrote out some pieces of the memory nightmare that has been coming up. I separated the awful shameful memory with lots of ❌🛑🚫 (red x’s and stop sign emojis), and told Bea in my writing not to read that part unless I said to. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted her to know that much detail. Somewhere in my mind, it feels like if Bea knows these things, she will somehow be contaminated. The little girl told Bea she didn’t want to get the icky on Bea, or to have the icky swallow Bea up the way it has swallowed me up. Bea assured me that it would be okay, but I wasn’t so sure. And then I did the thing I’ve never done in therapy with her before. I think the term is “door knob confession”. I told her to read it when there was only about 3 minutes left in session, and then at 10am, I told Bea it was time to go. Bea tried to tell me we could take 5 minutes so she could help me ground, but all I could say was that I had to go, it was time to go. She let me go after I promised her I would email her to check in later that day.

The thing is, this isn’t a new memory. It’s not even new to Bea. The last time it came up was years ago, and all she got out of me was a few vague sentences in email after she had asked a question and I answered yes. But that time, I couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t strong enough. I insulated myself in a nice thick bubble. Bea called it a crust of perfection. I binged and purged and starved and cut and kept up this insane schedule of being the perfect housewife and mom. Eventually the bubble popped, as it always does, but we never brought up the memory again. I buried it, surrounded by a pit of flaming hot lava and Bea left it alone when I made it clear that memory, that time of my life was a no go zone. But now it’s surfaced, and I can’t seem to throw it back into that pit of boiling lava.

There’s so much shame, fear, and confusion attached to this memory. Then there’s the parts and all the feelings belonging to them. The little girl is afraid, terrified really, and just waiting for Bea to drown in the icky and have to run away from me to protect herself. The teen is so full of shame and fear of what Bea will think, that it’s almost all I can feel. Both of them expected Bea fo be angry, disgusted, to feel lied to, and to ultimately be so mad she would fire me as a client on the spot. That didn’t happen, though. Even when the teen directly told her in email that Bea was supposed to be mad and disgusted and get rid of me, Bea countered that with understanding those expectations, but said that she thought her feelings were a normal reaction to the situation.

She wrote to me: My feelings are a “normal” reaction, I think, to hearing about you having been in this situation. All of the feelings you had were so confusing to you, and that is so sad. None of this was okay. He seems like such a monster in this memory. I feel helpless and angry at him and wish he had been stopped. A part of me wants justice for you—any adult would want that. I’m not mad or disgusted or going anywhere.

I’m trying really hard to believe that she is here and not disgusted or angry.

Connection in the midst of living a nightmare

I’m home alone, and it’s time for therapy. I get situated and log on.

“Hey there,” Bea says as she logs on.

“Hi,” I say. My voice is quiet and uncertain.

“Hey! I can hear you today. Yay!” Bea does a little cheer.

I feel relieved, but I don’t say anything.

“How are things today?” She asks.

I shrug. “I don’t know.”

Bea waits, and I finally whisper, “Yesterday was a bad night and a bad morning and I really wanted to tell you.”

“Do you still want to tell me? I’m ready to listen to whatever you want to talk about.”

“Yes, okay. I want to talk to you.” Why does it feel embarrassing to admit that Bea is the one I want to talk to? She’s my therapist, and more than that, she is one of my attachment relationships. It’s normal for me to want to talk to her, it shouldn’t feel embarrassing or like I’m broken for wanting to talk to her.

“Do you want to talk about why it was a bad night and a bad morning?” Bea’s voice is careful, cautious. I think maybe she doesn’t want to make me feel pushed into talking.

“I had a scary dream,” I tell her.

“Yeah, that can set us up for a rough day, can’t it?”

I nod. “It was the dream….it was bad. Scary. It’s funny, because I don’t think I was scared when things happened. I don’t remember scared back then. Scared happens now, when I dream or when I remember when I’m awake. That’s strange, right? Crazy?” I’m a bit scattered and messy today.

“No, it’s not strange. I think you couldn’t feel the scared back then, it was too big and too much, and your family didn’t really believe in emotions, so you had to seperate it away. But now, it’s safe to really feel the scared feelings. I think you are feeling the feelings you would have felt then. Does that make sense? I hope it does. You aren’t crazy.”

“I guess. So I had the scary dream and then, I was awake, and I really like to go upstairs and turn on all the lights and look in the mirror and see that I am grown up and I just couldn’t. I was too stuck, so I was in bed and just there and hubby got up early for this meeting and then….it was not good. Not a good morning.” I pull my blanket over my head, not even thinking about it. It seems a little silly to hide like this over a screen, but I feel safer, and I don’t have to go so far away, which is good.

“That dream must have made it really hard to be in the present. Maybe you were still stuck in the past, feeling scared and hurt?” Bea says softly.

“Yes. I was. I was scared. Hubby scared me. He leaned over me to say goodbye and I hid under my blanket and yelled at him to go away.” I start to cry softly. I feel so much shame for how I acted.

“I can see how that would happen. It was probably very scary.”

“It was bad.” I hide my face, even though I am under the blanket.

“Things have been so real and alive for you right now, it is probably very hard to seperate things out.” Bea tells me.

“We don’t talk about this dream.” I feel really far away when I tell Bea this.

“Why not?”

“Because it is….we can’t talk about it. I can’t say it. So we don’t talk about it.”

“Is it something new, or just something we haven’t talked about?” Bea asks.

“Not new,” I whisper.

“But not something we talk about?”

“No…we don’t talk about this. And it’s so…ugh. I can’t, because….I see these things in my head and it’s so real and awful but then, it’s…I mean, it’s crazy because there’s no way that is what happened. It doesn’t make sense, you know?” I’m rambling but I can’t stop it.

Bea is confused, I can hear it in her voice. “Your dreams are usually more of a trauma dream, a flashback, so they are very real. Sometimes having dreams that are the regular kind, with all the crazy stuff that happens in them can feel really weird.”

“No, no, no. It’s not like that!” I’m so frusterated she isn’t getting it.

“Okay, I hear that. Can you tell me what is crazy in the nightmare?”

“No. I….it’s…..do you remember when I was talking about what happened with him before I hid my underwear under my bed and got in trouble?” I ask.

“Yes, I remember.”

“Not like we just mentioned it but I was telling you what happened, the first time I told you all of it? A long time ago?” It wasn’t a long time ago, not really. It was maybe two or three years ago. But that feels like a long time ago right now.

“I do remember. It was one of the hardest memories for you to talk about.” Bea reassures me.

“Yeah….and I was talking about what happened but it was really….the little girl’s story….it was her…..you know, how she saw things?” I’m talking slow, and I feel hollow and numb.

“Yes, it was a child’s veiwpoint, it was all from the little girl’s perspective,” Bea agrees. She does remember and she is getting this, at least.

“So then….you said….you called it….that word. You know.”

“Yes, I called it a word you don’t like.” Her voice is soft and reassuring. She’s not judging me.

“Say it,” I direct her.

“Rape. He raped you.” Bea says slowly. Her voice is this careful neutral tone.

“Yes. But I couldn’t…..it didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t make sense to me that my memory was that word. It just….it didn’t seem like that was right. It felt crazy.”

“Yes, I remember. It was really hard to sort of blend the child’s perspective with the adult’s understanding of what happened. There were some things that the child believed to help make sense of it all at the time, and you had to really rearrange your thinking around all of it. That was a lot of hard work on your part to be able to do that. But you did it.”

“I think…..I think this might be like that. But it’s not making sense and I just can’t…..and it’s so….I’m so….I can’t…I don’t know.” I hope she understands. I desperately need her to understand.

“That makes sense. I get that. We can work on helping it make sense and be less confusing.”

“But I can’t talk about it.” The shame is that great. Once, years ago, Bea asked a question about this, kind of a *did this ever happen* question, and I answered yes, but refused to really discuss it, or acknowledge it.

“Have we ever talked about it?” She asks. “You don’t have to tell me, and you don’t have to talk about it.”

“I….yes. But not….we don’t talk about it.” I’m not sure if the we is me and Bea or if the we is grown up Alice and the parts. It just doesn’t seem correct to say that I don’t talk about it.

“Okay. I have maybe an idea of what it is.” Bea says this slowly and carefully, and I still hear no judgement or worry in her voice.

“What?” I ask.

“Well….I don’t know if I want to say it, because I don’t want to make you feel upset or scared or worried. I don’t want you to feel like you have to talk about this. I want you to be able to talk about this when you choose, at your own pace.”

I think for a minute. “No, it’s okay. I just need to know what you think it is, even if I can’t say any words right now.”

“The (blank blank blank thing because I’m not ready to share it, even here.)” Bea speaks clearly and again with no judgement.

“Yes, that. And something else. But that.” I start to sob as I say the words.

We spend the rest of my session with me crying, and Bea reassuring me she is here and not leaving. She says I don’t have to talk until I am ready, and that it’s okay. I calm down enough to say goodbye, but I stay hidden under my blanket.

I might be living a nightmare over and over in my head, but it’s not the same as when I was a little girl. I’m not alone. Bea is here, and she isn’t leaving me. I’m not alone.

Bad Connection

Wednesday was a bad day. I dreamed about the unspeakable memory. I woke up frozen. I like to get up and go upstairs to my living room and sit with all the lights on. But that morning, I couldn’t move. I laid in bed, stuck, for a long time.

I was lying there, frozen, stuck in the past, triggered and messy, when Hubby leaned over me to say goodbye. That’s when I did move. I was so scared. I flew under the blankets, hiding. When Hubby tried to comfort me, to check if I was okay, I screamed. I screamed at him to go away, to leave me alone. And eventually, he left. He had to go to work.

This is the head space I’m in when I log into therapy. I’m sitting on the floor, with my fuzzy blanket and Stitch. I’ve been crying most of the morning, and I’m far, far away.

Bea logs on, and she knows something is really wrong. “Hey,” she says softly, “What’s going on? Did you have a rough night?”

“It’s not a good day,” I reply.

She doesn’t hear me. Something is wrong with our connection and she can’t hear me. We try a few things to fix the connection, but nothing works. “I’m here, and present and I want to listen to you. And once you start talking, I can eventually hear you. I might just need you to repeat yourself sometimes.” Bea is here, I know that, but I don’t want to repeat myself.

I shake my head, and then start crying again. I bury my face and just sob. Bea talks to me because I can still hear her. I hate this. Video therapy sucks. I feel so alone, and I’m so far away and so scared.

“I know you feel really alone right now. You aren’t alone though. I’m here. I know it feels really bad right now but you aren’t alone.” Bea is trying so hard to make sure I know she is here. The thing is, I do know she is here . I know that the connection being bad has nothing to do with Bea. I know she is here, I know that this isn’t because she doesn’t want to speak with me, or listen to me. I know this doesn’t mean she is leaving me. I trust our relationship, our connection.

At some point, I pull my blanket over my head. Bea asks if I can text her. She wants to make sure I’m heard and not alone before it’s time to go. I grab my phone.

***I hate this and I feel like I can’t talk because it’s too hard to even say words one time.*** I type.

“I know. It’s hard to say the words once sometimes. I know. I’m sorry.”

***It’s not your fault***

“I know that, too. I can feel sorry about this though. I feel very badly that you feel alone right now because the connection is bad.” I can hear the empathy and care in her voice.

***I wanted to tell you it was a bad night and a bad morning.***

“Yeah. It was a bad night and bad morning. Did you have a nightmare?”

***Yes***

“What are you doing the rest of the day? Do you have plans?”

***Kay is coming here or I am going there***

“That’s good. I’m really glad you are seeing her today, that you are reaching out. That’s good.”

I type a smiley face.

“I have an opening at 3:30 again tomorrow. Do you want to try again then?” She offers. “You don’t have to decide right now. I’ll leave it open.”

***Can we just have a regular phone call tomorrow right away if the video doesn’t work?***

“Yeah, we can do that. Absolutely. I’m glad we can try again tomorrow. I feel like this is the worst session ever,” Bea shares.

I think about the session that led to the huge rupture a few years ago. ***We had worst sessions. This is not the worst.***

“That’s true. We have had worse sessions.”

***This is feeling better than earlier. Before it was like double having no voice.***

“Yeah, it is like double no voice. I’m glad that at least you feel connected and a little better. I really didn’t want to end today with you feeling so alone and awful.” Bea cares. She’s here and she cares.

***It’s time to go, isn’t it?*** I type.

“It is. If you need to reach out, please do. You can email or text.”

***Okay. Thank you***

Wednesday sucks. I hate video therapy. But the thing that’s kind of amazing? Nothing was working and it was even harder to talk because Bea couldn’t hear me and it was bad. But I know it wasn’t because she wasn’t there or didn’t want to hear me or because she left. I think that is progress or growth or something.

Leapfrogging through my mind

Thursday, 4am, and I’m frantically emailing Bea. The shame is overwhelming and everything hurts. I email her the nightmare, how it’s like a movie reel, playing snap shots of everything I did. I’m jumpy and far away, and it’s not a good combination. And I’m crying again. I feel bruised and sore, like I’m little and he really did hurt me last night. But I’m not little, and the pain is all in my head. Maybe I am going crazy.

Bea responds early in the morning, and we email back and forth a bit. She offers me a 3:30 appointment time that afternoon. I shouldn’t take it, I shouldn’t be so needy, I’ve already taken a lot of her time. I shouldn’t bother her. If I need too much, she will leave. I say okay anyway.

This time when I log into therapy, I don’t sit at the makeshift desk with the bright ring light in the guest room hubby set up for all our video conferencing needs. I sit on the floor, with my fuzzy blanket and a huge squishy stuffed Stitch. Bea logs in right away and I immediately burst into tears.

“Oh, this is so very painful today, isn’t it?” She says softly.

“I can’t, I just can’t,” I whisper.

“It’s hard to talk, isn’t it?” She says.

It’s so hard to find words. I feel buried under the fear and disgust and anger and anxiety. “I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“For what? You haven’t done anything to be sorry about.”

“Because I’m wasting your time and I can’t pull it together and I just keep crying.”

Bea sits with that for a minute before saying, “It sounds like maybe there is a part of you that has some expectations of how you are supposed to be handling this.”

I shake my head. “Not me. But maybe….other people.”

“People like me or hubby?” She gets it.

“Maybe.”

“Well, I don’t have any expectations of you. I really don’t. This is a lot and it is hard. Its just going to take some time.”

“What if I’m still a mess on Monday? Or the Monday after that? Or after that?” I can’t even look at her when I ask that.

“There’s no timeline, not for me. It takes as long as it takes. And hubby gets it. You know he does, and that he will always keep everyone safe. It’s okay. Right now, I know it’s hard. You spent a good long while feelings safe, and the parts were pretty content. This boy, he acted like a predator, and that was very scary for all the parts. Things are really stirred up right now, and that’s okay. We just work through this, one step at a time. And I am here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Why couldn’t she just not pretend it away?” I finally ask.

Bea manages to somehow follow my train of thought. “I don’t know. She just wasn’t strong enough to be able to face it.”

“I know. I know, I know how hard it was to do that, to face it. I know. But I did it anyway. And it hurts. It hurts and I hate it. I feel like a broken mess but I still did it anyway. I did it for Kat. Why couldn’t she do it for me?”

Bea lets me rage until I burn myself out, and when I am quiet, she speaks. “I wish I had a perfect answer. I just don’t think there is one. You were enough. She just wasn’t strong enough.”

“Yesterday I hated her, I was so mad. But then I remembered I can’t be mad, because she’s here and not dead when she should be dead, and even if we have time, it’s still borrowed time, and I can’t waste it on hating her.”

“Yeah. That’s tough, isn’t it? You can be mad, you are allowed to be mad. I understand though, not wanting to be mad.” Bea is always giving me permission to be mad. Why is mad so hard to allow myself to feel?

“She’s not the same now,” I say.

“No, this mom you have now, in the present, she’s not the same.” Bea agrees.

“I’m mad at someone who doesn’t exist anymore.” I feel hollow.

“You can still be mad. But now, the mom that she was isn’t the mom she is now.”

“I just always got in trouble. Every time, I got in trouble.” I say.

“Yes, every time there was a red flag, you did get in trouble.” How is Bea able to follow my weird conversation jumps today?

“She yelled at me.”

“I know.”

The rest of our hour goes by in this vein, with me making seemingly random statements as I leapfrog around my brain and Bea somehow following the thread of crazy.

When it’s time to go, I panic. “Don’t go. Don’t leave me.” Oh boy. I must be far away if I said that out loud.

“I’m not leaving you. I’m still here, always. I just have to get off the video chat in a few minutes. You can email, and you can text me. If you need it, we can set up another time to talk. And we’ll see each other on Monday. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Just sit with me for a minute, okay?” I ask.

“Okay. We’ll sit together for a minute,” she agrees.

When the minute is up, we say goodbye.

Later that night, Bea texts me. *I’m still here. I’m holding the little girl, and the teen and all the parts of Alice in my heart. I’m not going anywhere.* It’s the most perfect thing she could have said.

Safe and loved and wanted

Wednesday morning, and my head is all over the place. I’ve been up since 3am because the nightmares are back. I can see and feel it all so clearly. It’s more than remembering, it’s like I am there, again and again, every scene played out, everything I did, every time he hurt me. I can feel the anxiousness, and the hurt and the feeling of just wanting him to be my friend again, to make it better. I log into therapy at 9:00am, annoyed that I gave up my extra half hour back when the pandemic started, because I didn’t want to sit online that long, and I hated video therapy.

Bea logs on, too, and she says good morning. I think I say good morning back. “Yeah,” she says, “This is hard. It’s hard for you to be here, isn’t it? It really feels like you have to be far away to feel safe.”

I want to tell her my nightmare. I want to ask her if she is really here. I hate video therapy. It’s so much harder to feel like she is really here, with me. It’s harder to feel her presence.

Bea starts to talk about how it was brave to tell hubby. I’m only half listening, but then the tears start to fall, and I can’t stop crying.

“Everyone is safe now, even if it still feels dangerous,” Bea reassures me.

“I wanted to pretend it all away,” I sob.

“I know,” she says.

“No….you don’t get it. I wanted to….I wanted to just ignore it. Like my mom did. She ignored everything. And I get it. I get why. And I don’t want to get why.” I can’t stop crying. It’s confusing, this mess in my head. I have been so mad at my mom for for so long, for not seeing, for ignoring all the things that should have been red flags. But I get it now. It’s so much easier to pretend it all away.

“But you didn’t pretend it away. You told hubby, and you both talked to Kat. You didn’t do what your mom did. You are different.” Bea assures me.

“He hurt me,” I sob.

“I know he did. He really, really did. He will never hurt you again,” Bea promises.

I can’t look at the screen, at her. It should be easier, you’d think, but it’s not.

“Can I say something that might be a little bit shrinky?” She asks me.

I lift my head up and nod, still refusing to look at the screen.

“A lot of your memories, especially the very confusing and the very worst, the most painful, were during 4th grade. Kat is going to be in 4th grade. This situation would be upsetting for any parent, and triggering for any parent with a trauma history. I’m thinking you are even more triggered because of the age, and because of the feelings Kat shared of just wanting this boy to like her again.”

“Maybe,” I whisper. The teen wants to snap at her that this makes no difference, and to just stop trying to make sense of every feeling I have. She’s angry, this snarky teen. She wants Bea to just fix it, to make it better. She doesn’t see why Kat’s grade level should make a difference at all.

Bea starts to list out the ways that Kat’s situation is different than my past. When she says that Kat has me— the grown up me— to protect her, I whisper, “My mom left me.”

Bea nods. “She did. She got really sick, and she went away for while and that was awfully scary for the little girl.”

“I made her sick.”

“No, no you didn’t. She got sick because she wasn’t strong enough to face what was happening to you. You didn’t do anything wrong.” Bea is using her serious voice, the one I think of as the *please listen to me and hear me when I tell you this* voice.

“I can’t, I just can’t do this right now,” I whisper yell at her.

“I know. Everything feels so big right now, like it’s all moving at warp speed and crashing down around you. I know it is so hard.”

I sit and cry and Bea sits with me. It’s almost 10am, and I don’t want her to go. “Just talk to me,” I beg, “please just tell me a story.”

Bea spends our last few minutes telling me a story about a little girl who is safe and loved and wanted. She reminds me she is here, that I can email, or text her if I want to.

“I know,” I say. And the thing of it is, I do know. Even if we can’t be together in person, she is still here, and she isn’t leaving.

So, I emailed the pastor….now what?

So, I emailed the pastor. I’m regretting it at the moment, because I haven’t received a response yet. While I kmow that it hasnt even been 24 hours since I sent my email, and that this isnt the sort of email you send a casual reply to, and that everything is probably okay, I am really wishing I had listened to my instinct to hide, not sent the email. Anyone invented an unsend button yet?

Anyway….here is the email I sent. I feel like I shared too much information, and am feeling over exposed and vulnerable right now.

Dear Pastor,

I’m writing because 2 sundays ago, during the first talk in the church vs hate series, at the end of that talk, you said if anyone had something they wanted to talk about, something they needed help with, that you were inviting them to start a conversation. You gave out your email address. I’m hoping you meant it, because I do have something I need help dealing with. I’ve been praying and wrestling with this concept of reaching out to someone else, and I’ve felt compelled to write today.

There have been some really serious topics at church lately. Topics that have just really stuck with me, but more than that, they have brougt all this hurt and pain in my heart to the surface. The RPMS series made me see that this is not a church or a ministry that avoids being real, that only wants to touch on the shiny surface. Then came the starting over series, where the whole idea of needing to start over from something that was done to you was brought up. And the story that was shared was a woman who was sexually abused as a child. Then on another Sunday, part of the testimony in the Larry Nassar trials was played. And now, we have the separation of church and hate series, and both Sundays I have cried and felt my heart just rip in pieces because there is so much pain beiing touched upon. The last two Sundays, I have felt that if I made a choice to, I could talk to someone at church, I could tell my story, with all the ugly pieces, and it would be okay. That I wouldn’t be condemned, or hated, but that there could be a conversation about these beliefs and hurts and fears and confusion and struggle with believing God loves me and I’m forgiven that I’ve been carrying around almost my whole life.

But I’m not sure where to even start. These aren’t things I really ever talk about, because they aren’t easy, nice or neat things. They are hard and messy. I don’t need a therapist, I have someone I see twice a week. She’s the one who encouraged me to go back to church, and while we have talked about God and my feelings and hurts and fears, ultimately she is a trauma therapist and hasn’t studied the Bible and Christianity and she lacks the ability to really answer questions. It has taken me five years of therapy to even be ready to find a church. (Church) wasn’t the first church I visited when I started looking for a church. It was the first church that felt comfortable and safe. I’m really happy being back in a church. It feels like I am exactly where I am supposed to be in my life. I never stopped believing in God, but I have been struggling with these feelings of not being good enough, with this fear– this belief– that God can’t love me, can’t forgive me because of all the bad things in my life, this fear that even though I believe Jeuss died on the cross and rose again, believe He is God’s son and that through him there is eternal life that I am somehow exempt from salvation and lastly, I am grappling with anger. I am angry at God. In some ways, according to my therapist, my anger is legitimate. She says God can handle my anger at him in the same way I handle my daughter’s anger towards me. I’m not sure that she is right, but I hope she is.

I grew up in church. Youth group was my social life. Lock-ins and outings and small groups and retreats and summer camp. I was a junior CIT and and CIT at church camp in the summers during my teens. I’ve been the one in the position of counseling another who is grappling with their faith. It’s been a long time, I havent been in a church to worship Jesus since I was 19 (I’m 35 now) but I havent forgotten everything. I understand that there is this thing called freewill, and that freewill means people can make choices to hurt others and that pain and hurt are not God’s fault. I know that God can– and will– use all things for his glory. I know that our pain is never in vain; God will use it. I know that we can be given tough situations because it is those hard things that draw us nearer to Him.

I know these things, I even believe these things. That doesn’t take away this hurt and pain that I hold. It doesn’t stop me from being angry and disappointed and confused. It doesn’t change anything. And I have prayed and prayed and yet, I’m still lost. I don’t know what to do with all of this. My therapist believes I won’t be able to heal until I fix my problem with God. She says I need to be able to accept that God loves me, and has forgiven me my sins.

Somehow, this feels like I have simultaneously written too much information and not enough information. Unfortunately, I need to keep things vague right now. I suppose I am testing the waters a little bit, seeing if you think you can even help me find answers.

Best,

Alice

Grappling with God and Why he lets bad things happen

What do you do when some of the things you need to work through are God and church related, and you have always kept those topics very off limits because they carry such weight and pain, but now you may have an opportunity to work on these old hurts? And not only work through them with your therapist, but have a church that could help you?

Because oddly –shockingly– enough, that is the situation I find myself in.

This all started back when we first attended our new church. The church, the people, the way the pastors taught and spoke, everything about this church felt open and real to me. There were some services that triggered me, and some services that just made me stop and think. But every service has continued to convince me that this is a church where I might be able to ask my questions, to have my feelings about God and to be authentic

On Sunday, the entire service was about #metoo, and how God intended for men to treat women. The talk started out with acknowledging that this could be a diffiicult topic, but that it is an important one, because the magnitude of #metoo shows that we have a seroius problem in our world. The pastor said this talk may be painful and triggering for so many women, but that it was important the church doesn’t hide from messy, hard topics. Then the main part of the talk was what the Bible says about how men are supposed to treat women, and how God intended things to be. At the end of this talk, when the pastor started to wrap things up, that was about how God sees sexual abuse, harassment, all of those #metoo things and how those things are never okay, and we can see God clearly condemning these acts in the bible. Then he said that it’s not just women who can claim #metoo, but girls, and sometimes very young girls and they need to know there is no blame towards them in God’s eyes. And then it was the usual praying with a point to say there were people available if something about today hit home, or triggered you, and that if you were going through something or dealing with abuse or trauma or anything you could use support in, that the pastors are available to talk, or to even email, that you dont have to go through whatever it is you’re going through alone. There was even a mention of hooking you up with a therapist if that’s what is needed.

On Sunday, I email Bea that I did church and it was hard and that I can’t write about it or talk about it even though I want to. She sent back a short “I’m still here. 👂👁🤝🐶🍫” message. Last week, when the teen got stirred up, I asked Bea to please be sure to respond to emails, but not to use words. They teen is very, very good twisting words around and making things seem really awful and bad when they aren’t. It’s a defense; if she can stir things up enough to create a big ruture with Bea, then whatever ugly, messy crap has come up to the surface gets shoved back into a big lock box so that the rupture can be dealt with. The wisest part of myself wants to avoid that this time. The teen needs help processing these raw painful feelings. So, we use emojis instead of words when we email for now. It may be silly, but its given the little girl reassurance that Bea has not left, and the teen a way to forrm a connection with Bea and be seen.

Monday then, Bea asked about chuch, and we talked. Well, she talked, raised questions, and I filed it all away for when I had my notebook and pen. It wasn’t until Wednesday, however, that I really started to process Sunday’s service.

There was this funny sort of acknowledgment that I have had this firm “no church or God talk” rule from the beginning of therapy. It’s really true though. It was a boundry because I was too afraid to go there, it was too painful. I don’t know if Bea reallized just how messy this all is, or how much hurt and anger and big feelings there are because I kept it all separate.

Its messy in the way that teen years are always messy; big intense feelings, emotional ups and downs, school and fitting in, parental expectations, all of those things. And then there is the confusion of crushes, and first kisses, and new feelings in your body, and peers thinking about sex and then you add on the church sex ed talk, the realization that I had been having sex, my belief in being bad and going to hell. Now, all of that is piled on this other layer from childhood. Littte Alice prayed and prayed for God to make it better— she prayed for kenny to leave her alone, for things to not hurt, for no more blood, she prayed to be saved. And God didn’t save her. So she tried harder to be good enough, to be perfect, to pray better, to deserve to be saved. The little girl remains hurt and sad and disappointed that God did not save her.

The teen is mad. Mad doesn’t even begin to cover it. She is livid. How could God not save her? It’s not okay. She can’t make sense of it. She understands that there is this thing called freewill, and that freewill means people can make choices to hurt others, like Kenny did. She knows that God can– and will– use all things for his glory. She knows that our pain is never in vain; God will use it. She knows that we can be given tough situations because it is those hard things that draw us nearer to Him. She doesn’t want to hear those things. They are rote responses to pain, hurt, suffering. The teen wants and needs a real answer. She is so mad, she may even hate God for being all powerful and doing nothing to stop the hurt.

And so, the grown up me is grappling with this. Bea has encouraged me to reach out via email and talk. I’ve reminded her that if I were to talk about the anger, I would have to break the number one rule: do not tell the secreet. Bea sugggested I say I’m grappling with this anger towards God, and that I am reaching out to start a conversation. She suggested I could explain all the things that have led up to my thinking about asking the pastor to help me find answers. I’m just not sure what to do. I suppose I’m going to grapple with that for a while longer.