Just Off Today

“I got some new books in. One I really want you to look and see about for yourself,” Bea says, after greeting me. She holds up a green book. “It’s about mindfulness and accepting our bodies, in the context of an eating disorder. She has exercises to work through urges to throw up, to restrict, to binge. To make friends with your body. I’m still reading it, but maybe we can do some exercises and write down or take a photo of ones you like. And she has another book, I didn’t get it, but see if you can find it, ‘five good minutes in your body’. It might appeal to you.”

“Okay. We can write it down,” I say. Something feels off, not right. Is Bea being weird? Maybe she’s checked out today? I don’t know. Maybe I’m still not really awake.

“So, what happened with the fight?” Bea says, switching gears.

“Nothing, just nothing. He shut it down, he didn’t want to talk about it,” I tell her.

“Well, wait a minute, tell me about the whole fight,” she says.

“Oh. Um, okay,” I say. I proceed to walk her through the fight, and what happened.

When I get to the part of how Hubby had turned his back as I waved my hands to get his attention and try to give my input to the plans he was making, Bea has something to say about it. “It seems like he really was giving you a signal that he did not want any input. Did you feel that?”

“Well, yeah. But he wasn’t the one who was going to be dealing with Kat being kept up late, and then Kat being woken up on time the next morning for the ABA meeting, and then everything would be off the whole day, and he always says my opinion counts, so I followed him and said that tonight’s not good, how about tomorrow?” I continue on with the story of the fight, how Hubby ignored me, how he scheduled the heat guy to come that night, how he then got off the phone and behaved as though everything was fine, and how I shut down and ignored him because I was hurt and holding myself together.

“Being ignored like that, not being seen, that really triggered something for you. That’s why it hurt so much,” Bea says.

I shake my head. I think that it hurt so much because I allowed myself to trust Hubby on a whole different level than I ever trust people, and he didn’t care enough to listen. If I had never opened myself up to him like that, it wouldn’t have mattered so much.

“Then what happened?” Bea prompts me to continue.

I sigh. “Hubby confronted me about ignoring him. He said I wasn’t allowed to be mad, that I had said ‘fine, just fine’ and couldn’t be mad at him. He stood in between me and the kitchen cupboard when I was at the cupboard getting a container to pack the leftovers in for his lunch.” I describe the kitchen set-up to her, as best I can, feeling a desire to sketch it out, so she can see it.

I continue the story, “I got loud, not yelling, just loud, about him not listening, and he snapped. Just snapped….mean voice, angry. I don’t know. So I ran away, locked the door to the bedroom.”

Bea looks at me, carefully. I had walked in with silly putty from the car, because I has been running late and was anxious. I hasn’t even realized I had carried it in with me, but I’ve been playing with it all session. She’s kind when she speaks, “In some ways, Hubby snapping was a good thing. His personality is to be so out of touch with his feelings, to detach, that to snap, well, he was in touch with something. Obviously, something about the situation triggered him, maybe being ignored, or the loud voice, but he was over the top about it. When we over react, it’s usually because we are triggered by something, and it causes a bigger emotional reaction than the situation warrants.”

I nod, agreeing. I can see that. “He doesn’t like to dig deep into emotions or emotional stuff.”

“No, that’s hard for him. It’s his personality to want to maintain his inner peace, to keep things just very peaceful and nice. I know how frustrating and hard it can be to emotionally connect with a personality like that, because my husband is the same type. It can be like playing emotional tennis by yourself.”

I laugh at that, it’s so very true.

“You were triggered by the angry voice he had, so you ran,” Bea says.

I look down, when she says that. Maybe. Probably. I hate anger. Mad scares me. I don’t like people around me to be mad, and I don’t like to be mad.

“And when Hubby let himself in the bedroom? What was that like for you?”

“I don’t know. Scary. That’s sounds so stupid. It was scary. It was……I don’t know. Not okay,” I speak quickly, afraid that if I don’t get the words out, they might get stuck in my throat.

“Yeah, I imagine it was scary. Intrusive, maybe? Another moment of him not listening?” Bea suggests.

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“So then you told him to go away?” She asks, and I nod my head yes, “and then what happened?”

“I calmed down, and then went on with the night, the heat guy came, Hubby went to bed, Kat was up late, everything was thrown off,” I shorten the events as much as I can.

“Well, wait a minute! You didn’t magically calm down. How did you calm yourself down?” Bea questions me.

“I don’t know. I calmed down,” I say, stubborn. I know how I calmed down. I finally got up from the bed where I was crying, relocked the door, and got the razor blade I keep in my nightstand. I cut myself. Quickly, and then quickly slapped a bandage on it. Then, numb. I was numb, and could go function. But I’m not going to say so. Not right now. I can’t. It’s too much.

“So then on Tuesday, you talked?” Bea drops the subject for now. I wonder if she has an idea, or if she is clueless.

“Hubby came home from work and acted like things were okay, he wanted to take Kat to McDonalds because they have $2 happy meals on Tuesdays and he thought there might be other kids there for her to play with. I usually wouldn’t go….I don’t exactly eat at McDonalds…..but I went this time,” I say.

“A peace offering, in a way. You were showing him that you wanted to be around him,” Bea tells me.

“Yeah,” I agree, “and so we go, and I thought we could talk because you know, there would be built in breaks with the drive and eating and Kat. So,it seemed smart.”

“That was smart, it was a great plan. Very good idea for trying to talk, for trying a new way of things,” Bea’s words validate me, make me feel heard and understood, and like I do know what I am doing.

I continue on with the story of Tuesday, and tell her Wednesday was a waste. “I didn’t do anything yesterday. I laid in bed. I couldn’t fall asleep Tuesday night, then yesterday I was just unmotivated. So Hubby did a lot, even though we had the nanny from 9:30-2:30. But still. He made me feel like crap. He’s mad. He wants perfect wife back.”

“Okay. I want to back up, first. You tried, what? Three, four times to talk? And you opened the first try by accepting responsibility, by being vulnerable. Well, each time you were vulnerable. That’s new, that’s not what you would have done in the past! That’s big. You did things a new way. Now, I don’t think Hubby want a perfect wife, that’s your projection—”

“No! It’s not. He says he is different. He says he loves me for me. He says this, he says that. He says he will talk about things, that he is not like my parents, that I am not living in the same household I grew up in. Well, his actions speak a lot more than the words he says. And those actions do not match the words. He just wants things back to how they were, that is his ‘being a team’! He wants his happy little lala land back, which means he needs perfect wife back. And yesterday I failed at that, and he was mad. So, whatever. I’m over it. He can just have perfect wife back,” I interrupt Bea and go on for awhile. I’m upset. I’m frustrated, lost and confused. How can my husband say one thing, and do another?

“Okay, it’s his personality to want things unruffled and easy. That doesn’t mean it’s good for him to get that. It doesn’t mean that you have to give that to him. The expectations….everyone has expectations. You have expectations of Hubby, right? The difference between the expectations you and Hubby have of each other and what your parents had for you is perfection is not a requirement, and if one or two or even all of those expectations aren’t met, you still love and accept each other. Right? I mean, you expect Hubby to go to work. What if he just decided he didn’t want to go to work anymore?” Bea asks.

I can understand what she is saying, but the truth is, I have had this discussion with Hubby. If he really didn’t want to go to work anymore, either we would move so he could find a new job, or,of it was that he did not want to work at all, then I would ask him to hang in there 6 months or so while I took some classes to brush up on skills for cosmetology and then I would go back to work. So, I’m not sure I have expectations. All I want, all I ever want, is for the people I care about to be okay.

“I don’t want to talk about Hubby anymore,” I say.

Bea laughs, “It does start to feel like what’s the point, doesn’t it?”

I smile, nod. She’s exactly right. I feel better having “talked it to death” with my therapist, but the person I really wanted to, still want to, talk to about it is Hubby.

Dramatically Bea says, “Let’s talk about Alice now.”

I shrug. “I don’t know.” I have something to say, words that have been stuck in my head, and my throat for over a week now. But the words are still frozen inside, and they won’t come out.

“We never looked at your pictures last time,” Bea suggests.

“Oh, okay. We can do that. I have a lot. There’s one though. It’s a good example of body image,” I say. And I go searching through my journal. My journal is actually a robin’s egg blue mini binder. It has pockets in front and back inside cover, and I have divider tabs to separate out things I might give to Bea, letters I wrote people (not to send), my food journal, regular journal, there is a section for symptoms, and a section for tools for my toolbox. It’s gotten quite jam packed in a short amount of time.

I hand Bea a picture of two little girls in bright, neon pink dance costumes, with black sequin accents. They are 6 years old. It’s me and my cousin, Kim. I vividly remember this picture, this recital.

“I’m the one with curly hair. That’s my real hair, the poodle head. My mom always straightened it. She hates my curls. I remember these costumes, I felt ugly. I wanted to look like my cousin. I thought my mom would be happier if I looked like Kim. I thought she was the pretty one, with straight hair, she was the skinny one. I hated how I looked. I was six,” I tell all this to Bea and I’m upset. I’m not sure she notices, I’m detached from things. I feel disconnected. I have since I walked in.

Bea is looking at the picture.

“I’m surprised you don’t wear your hair curly because your mom hates it that way,” she tells me, curious, questioning.

“Well, she hates the braid, too,” I say, “I wear it curly more on the winter and fall. It’s hard to I’m the summer, the humidity makes it too frizzy, it’s easier to straighten it with a straightening treatment and leave it be in the summer.”

“These girls are the same size, you know. They really are,” Bea says this as if she might be stepping on a land mine, “I’m looking at your posture, you are more back, head down, hiding. Kim is out there for the world to see.”

“Yeah. I know that we are the same size in the picture. I’m just shocked that my thinking was like that, then. And when I found the picture, I was surprised,” I explain.

We look through the pictures of me with my grandparents next. They are happy pictures.

“Of course you are smiling, in these, with your grandparents. You really have a special relationship with them,” Bea is smiling, looking at my pictures. I like that she is happy, seeing me happy as a kid.

“Do have more?” She asks.

“Oh yeah,” I say, “I have a ton. And even more at home.”

As I pull out what I refer to as the “before” pictures, Bea tells me if I were to make a “grounding box” or a “crisis box” the pictures of me and my grandparents would be perfect to put in there.

We look through the before pictures, and Bea marvels at the openness of the child in the pictures. She points out the posture; relaxed shoulders, head up, sitting or standing tall, chest forward. All things that say confidence. We talk about the smile, the big smile on the girls face, now she just captures your attention. Bea is also amazed that she feels she is looking at Kat.

“It’s Kat, I mean really. You are Kat,” she says.

“Oh, yeah, there are some pictures that she has thought were her and they were really me, and there have been a few that if it weren’t for the fact it’s clearly 1990’s in the picture, I would have sworn it was Kat,” I tell her.

I put away the “before” photos, and pull out the five year old pictures. In them is my kindergarten Halloween party class photo. That’s the year I went from talking so much my mother couldn’t stand it, thought she might lose her mind, to barely talking at all. No one worried though. They considered it a miracle.

“These are some pretty blank, anxious looks. That’s what I see, when I look at these. This poor little girl. You can read the anxiety on her face, in her body language. Look at the class Halloween photo..she’s turned from the other kids, on the edge of the group, as far away as possible, she has her princess wand stuck between her and the kid next to her so the kid can’t get any closer, her shoulders are hunched in…..I see stress, anxiety. She’s clearly not okay,” Bea’s voice is full of compassion, but maybe more importantly, she is looking down at the pictures in her hand with compassion, and maybe some sadness.

We trade photos again. “These….this is from that year. The bad year. I was nine. It’s Christmas morning, we had just opened presents, and are getting ready to leave for my Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Maybe I see what I want……I don’t know.”

Bea takes the Christmas photo, and looks at it. Inside, I’m cringing. That’s me. That’s the girl those things happened to. It doesn’t add up. I don’t know. She’s a kid, a baby, someone should have kept her safe. Why didn’t anyone keep her safe? He hurt her…where was everyone? There are so many words, thoughts, swirling in my head 100 miles an hour, and yet I can’t seem to speak any of them.

“She’s blank, she’s not there. She’s not even really smiling. She looks sad, like she is carry thousands of secrets, and she needs someone to come and take them away. She didn’t get to have a voice then, and I’m sad for her. She deserved to be protected. To have someone take her secrets, help her, listen to her. We are giving her a voice now, though, ” Bea says.

We go though a few more photos, until Bea asks if I have photos of me when I’m older.

“Umm. Well. Any pictures of me from 12-19 are mostly gone. I didn’t really allow my picture t be taken. And one night, I got rid of almost all the pictures I could find of me, but I have two older ones I brought.”

I hand her a formal portrait, my mother had wanted done. I was 18, and just “healthy” out of therapy and allowed to leave for college away from home. “I had chopped my hair off, short. My mom was ticked,” I say.

“It’s a beautiful picture, but you aren’t happy you aren’t smiling,” Bea says.

“Yeah. I still hated pictures. Here’s the other. It’s my twenty-first birthday,” I tell her.

Bea takes the picture, and then she smiles. “It’s you and your Grandpa. And you are so happy here. You look….authentic. Another grandparent picture where you are being you.”

I smile back. She’s right. I was always just “me”— whoever that is— with my Grandpa and my Grandma. They never expected or wanted anything from me. My Grandma still doesn’t expect or want anything. She always says the exact right thing somehow, and she’s even said the exact right thing without knowing it before. I love my grandparents deeply, Bea has talked about attachment, well, maybe I have attachment to them as well as my parents. I don’t know. All I know is my Grandma (and Grandpa when he was alive) see me. They each really know how to listen, and they each really know how to let feelings be there.

“Your Grandpa, he just looks like such a good guy, a real Grandpa, a happy person, someone who was authentic and open,” Bea says.

“He was. He was the kind of Grandpa people don’t think is real. Except I know that kind of Grandpa is real, because that’s how my Grandpa was,” I say. I feel a little sadness, but it’s bittersweet. I mostly feel happy to be able to talk about him. It’s a good thing to remember him this way.

I put away the pictures, saying, “I’m glad you see what I see…but how did no one notice?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we see it, because hindsight is 20/20. Maybe we see it because we are catching a frozen snapshot, and not seeing an animated Alice. Mostly, I think we already know that your mom couldn’t face anything wrong.”

We’re silent for a few minutes.

“I forgot, I grabbed these for you,” I say, and hand her some photos of me climbing a tree, jumping into the pool, rolling in a leaf pile, pushing a small merry-go-round.

“Oh, these are great examples of you using your body just to be! Look you were not thinking about fat or thin to climb that tree, or to jump in the pool…..playing in the leafs. Just like when you had that remembering of rolling down a hill, these experiences are stored in your body, too. Your body remembers climbing a tree.” She says.

“Well, you always want me to remember using my body. I figured a picture was the next best thing,” I tell her, wanting to minimize her excitement, make it not a big deal.

She hands the pictures back to me, and glances at the clock, “Oops! I got carried away looking at pictures. I have just a few minutes to get to my home visit, and you have twenty minutes to get to yoga. I do want to write down that book for though.”

“Sorry, sorry,” I say. I start to put things away. I feel bad for going over on a day I didn’t even need to go over; there was no emotional upsets, no flashbacks, no grounding to be done.

“No sorrys, I feel like you didn’t get much today. But maybe a surface session was good. And I wanted to look at your pictures.”

I make a decision then, to give Bea the list I had written, as to why I can’t completely ditch the eating disordered behaviors. She had asked, in email, “what is standing in your way?” I had written out a list of several things. And so I tore the pages out of my journal.

Standing up, I get my bag, my tea, my car keys. I have to make sure I am ready to run away after I give her the list.

“I answered your question, from your email, about what’s standing in my way of stopping my eating issues,” I say, “I made a list for you.”

“I can keep this?” Bea sounds surprised. I suppose she should be. Normally I would impose all kinds of rules on her, about talking or not talking, what she can and can’t say, who is allowed to talk.

But I simply look at her, say, “yep,” hand the list over, and flee from the office.

It’s only later that I fully realize it. I felt detached the whole session, not because I was dissociated, but because I was detached from Bea, the same as I have detached myself from Hubby. The sad, or maybe even scary thing is, the level,of detachment I feel with them, is what was once normal for me. It’s where I hold most everyone I am close to. But it hurts, and feels weird and wrong to have them back to that place, now. But it also hurts,as I learned with Hubby, to let someone in that close and get your feelings hurt. So detaching felt safer. It’s also empty and lonely. I forgot how empty and lonely I used to feel.

Healing Tears

I’m sitting in my usual spot on Bea’s couch, curled up, but I’m relaxed, even looking at her from time to time. I’ve just finished telling her about hiding the dirty dishes in the oven when my parents came to visit.

“That was defiant of you! I like it. That’s great….it’s taking some of your own back, saying ‘this is me.’ Did you feel defiant?” Bea sounds proud, and she’s got laughter in her voice.

I smile at the memory of the dirty dishes in the oven. “Yeah. I was a little worried someone would open the oven for some reason though, and I would have a lot of explaining to do. And of course the first thing my mom said was ‘did you go on a cleaning spree?’ when she walked in the house.”

“Then having those dishes in the oven should have made you feel a little devious and like you were getting away with something, I hope, after that comment,” Bea says.

I think about it, and nod my head in agreement. It did help.

“So what else happened with their visit?”

“I don’t know. They didn’t get there until noon, so I only had 3 hours until Hubby got home. Which was good. They played with Kat. My mom brought all those pictures. They saw my new car. I opened my birthday present,” I rattle off the list of things my parents did while they were here.

“What was your present?” Bea is curious, she is looking at me like she really wants to know. I don’t usually look at her when I talk about myself, so this is different. She really seems to want to know; like I am interesting to her.

“Coffee, wine– that plum wine I like. A sweater that’s too small.”

Bea zeros in on the sweater. Oh, crap. “Hmmmm. Is that weird? That your mom got your size wrong?”

I’m looking down, not at her now. I don’t know, I can’t answer. I’m not as here as I was a minute ago. Things go hazy and floaty in a split second.

“That question sent you far away,” Bea says.

I’m surprised. This is a time I’d gone away that she shouldn’t have noticed, that she wouldn’t have noticed before I had informed her of my inside thoughts, and the truth of me. Crap.

“Did you expect that to be an easy question to answer?” I turn it around on her, but doing so helps ground me a little. I feel more present again, more in control.

“I didn’t expect it to send you away, no. But that’s okay. I was more wondering if that was a usual thing with your mom? To buy the wrong size?”

It’s easier to answer now, with a more direct question. “Yes.”

“Do you think she doesn’t know your size? Or is there a reason?”

I’m silent. I have a theory, true or not, I have a reason why. I can’t say it though.

Bea continues talking about buying clothing for other people. She talks about erring on the side of caution and buying a little bit larger if you aren’t sure of the proper size. She talks about how usually, she wouldn’t but clothing for someone if she didn’t know their size. And then she waits.

“I think she buys the size she thinks I should be,” I finally say. I’m looking down at the floor, but I don’t have my face hidden.

When Bea speaks, it is soft and sympathetic, “I was wondering about that. Did you tell her it was too small?” I shake my head no.

“Did she ask you to try it on?” I shake my head no again.

“Was there a gift receipt?” I shake my head no yet again.

“Will you return it anyway?”

This question stops me. I won’t return it, not directly. I’ll have Hubby do it. He likes returning things. I feel guilty, like I am making the store employee accepting the return feel bad.

“I’ll have Hubby do it,” I finally say.

“I say return that sweater. Say ‘this is me.’ Say I’m okay, just as I am. Your size is perfect. There is nothing wrong with your body, with your size. Take back the sweater that doesn’t fit, and get one that does,” Bea is off on some sort of empower Alice speech. I’m not following. It’s a fairy tale. Cinderella married a prince because she had a glass slipper. Alice isn’t going to magically love her body because she exchanged a sweater that was too small. Real life doesn’t work like that.

We continue on, talking about the rest of the day, dinner and when they left. Bea wants to know how I felt when they left.

“Tired. I went to bed. I had a headache. I don’t know,” I tell her.

She looks at me. “I was going to say that tired isn’t a feeling. But I guess it is, in a way. So you were tired. And? Relief? Sad? Anger? What else?”

I stare at her. Nothing. There was nothing else. How do I explain that? I should have some feeling about my parents. But I didn’t, not then.

“Numb. I was just detached from them. I’ve been detached from everything since Thursday anyways,” I say.

“Ahhhh,” Bea says, “That makes sense. I noticed that on Friday, when you brought Kat in. You were functioning just fine, but you really weren’t here. I’m not sure anyone would really notice though.”

That confirms it. I let her into my world, my head, and now she knows when I’m not here, even the times when no one should be able to tell– except maybe Kat, and that is only because she is special.

“We should talk about Thursday,” she suggests.

I shrug. “It was hard. I don’t know. And then yoga was cancelled because she was sick.”

“Oh no,” Bea says, “I was thinking that going to yoga after a session like Thursdays would be so beneficial and healing. I wish I had known it was cancelled, I’m sorry.”

“It was okay,” I say, “I went home, journaled, has a rest, cleaned. No big deal.”

“Sometimes,” Bea is speaking slowly, cautiously, “in a session like that, the therapist can almost start to feel like the abuser. You were upset, and obviously terrified, and I was really quite torn; do I pull you out, or let you work towards verbalizing something? It seemed like you really needed to get that out, and I’m sure there’s more, but once you got the word out, it was very clear that you needed to be pulled out of that memory. Being that upset, as stuck in the memory as you were at the end, that can almost be retraumatiziing. Do you know what your experience was? Of this time– the present time?”

I’m looking down again, but risking glances at her, once on a while. She is worried. She’s worried that I am not okay and she helped caused it. The only thing I experienced was her helping me, giving me choices. I think about it, try to focus on what I can remember from the “now.” She gave me choices, she spoke to me, she encouraged me, she supported me. I felt like she took care of me. Finally I say, “I felt like you were supporting me.”

“Okay, that’s good. I’m glad that’s how you felt. If that’s ever not how you feel, that’s okay, too. You are allowed to feel like I pushed too much or was not there enough, or whatever. That can happen.”

I shrug at her, “okay.”

“What we want to work on is dual awareness. That’s what allows you to be part in the “here and now” and part in the “then”. You know how that works, how it feels, you are able to do that. So we need to go back to when I check in, and ask you to name something you see in this room, or something you hear…we’ve done that before,” Bea says.

“Okay,” I say. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s too much right now.

“Should we look at something on your list?” Bea asks me. It’s almost like she is aware that I can’t talk about Thursday’s session anymore. And last night, I had sent her an email, listing out all my random thoughts of things I wanted to talk about, as well as a short synopsis of my teen years “issues” and therapy history and parental relationships.

“Yeah, whatever you want to pick,” I tell her.

“Well, I am curious about this talk you and Hubby had,” she says.

And so I tell her about me telling Hubby about my parents needing me to,be perfect, and Hubby saying he loves me just because I’m Alice.

“But?” Bea says the word that hangs, silently in the air between us.

“I….I don’t believe him.”

“Do you believe it for other people?” She asks.

I nod. Of course.

“So, just not youself? You believe it cognitively. Just not on a knowing level. Not for you?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s it, that’s right,” I agree.

Bea smiles, and says, “Like Kat is learning with you, to attach properly, to have a secure base, you are relearning a healthy attachment with Hubby. Your spouse would be the closest thing to a primary attachment figure, as an adult. So, this can be changed, just like it could be changed for Kat, and relearned.”

I stare at her. I’m confused.

Bea starts to explain, again, the same as she explained months ago in regards to Kat, about attachment theory, and how if a child doesn’t form a healthy, or a secure attachment, that can mean trouble later on. In Kat’s case, she was so deregulated as an infant, due to her neurology, that she was unable to form a healthy attachment; it’s taken many therapy hours and much reassurance that I didn’t do anything.

“For you, not having your parents emotionally attuned to you, emotionally supportive, emotionally mirroring you, that caused an unhealthy attachment,” Bea says, “and-”

I cut her off there, “And that’s why I’m so screwed up, I can’t even be ‘real’ in my own marriage? That’s why I’m broken?”

“No! I was about to say, and you are damn lucky you didn’t repeat the pattern and you married Hubby. He is good for you, he does love you for you, just like he says. You can learn to have a healthy attachment with him. Overtime, as you trust him a little more, you’ll start to be able to see that it’s okay, that you can be real with him, and that he does love you just for being Alice, and you’ll form new responses. That’s how a new attachment pattern is made. And I know I’m not supposed to talk about relationships, but it’s the same with me, overtime, you learn new patterns with me, too.”

I’ve gone from looking at her intermittently to looking down, and I’m picking at my fingers, an old self-harm habit that arises when I’m anxious. I’m picking with my right hand, and using the left to hide it. When Bea stops speaking, I don’t say anything, I just keep picking and looking at the floor.

“Alice, I know you are so uncomfortable right now. And you probably really are wanting to pick, I was just noticing now you are holding your hand together instead of picking, that’s such a good self care skill, and I was thinking how good you have done, how you haven’t been picking for quite a while now,” Bea says. She sounds proud, glad for me.

My heart drops. I had been doing really well. The strategy of using silly putty in place of picking was silly, but it had helped– once I had silly putty everywhere I might need it. I had added in nice lotion, doing my nails again– turning that into weekly manicure time with Kat– sometimes I had to really fight not to pick, but even grounding techniques could help there. They all failed on Thursday, though. My immediate and first response on the drive home had been to begin picking. I had not even noticed until my fingers were raw and sore. The weekend had not gotten much better after that.

Silently, I hold my hands up and out so Bea can see my fingers. Then I drop my head to my knees, which are already curled to my chest and cover it with my arms while I begin to sob, almost uncontrollably.

Bea gives me space to cry for a few minutes, then she says, “What made you feel so upset? Was it the picking? What I said? Or was it what we were talking about before— the relationship stuff and attachment?”

I cry and cry. I can’t answer, I’m just crying too hard. Even if I could answer, I don’t know. Everything just got too overwhelming. But I have no idea why I am so upset. I feel insane. I’m certain Bea is going to run for the hills as soon as she can.

“Crying, grief, tears, this can feel so painful, but it’s what needs to happen to be able to heal. It’s okay to cry,” Bea tells me.

My only answer is to cry some more, but I am grateful, so grateful for her words. To be reminded it’s okay to cry, is everything when you have spent years fighting these kinds of tears.

“I have a memory, I had almost forgotten, I used to pick at scabs, at bumps, at anything, when I was little. And my mom would always be chastising me, ‘stop picking!’ It was so shaming. I hope that’s not what you are feeling. That wasn’t my intention, I don’t care if you pick. If you need to pick right now to soothe, to cope, I think that’s okay,” Bea tells me. She is so kind, so caring. I shake my head, that’s not it, it’s not shame. I don’t feel shamed. She wasn’t scolding me, she didn’t even know I was picking again.

“Was it feelings about your parents?” She asks me.

I’m still crying, but less, and I can talk, now. “No. Yes. I….they…I mean. I don’t know.” I’m confused. It’s not really right, I’m upset about that, but not really, that’s not the whole of it, I don’t think.

“Go ahead. They what?” She asks me.

I’m sure our time has to be close to up, or up. “Nothing, nothing. Shouldn’t we be going?” I say, quickly, forcing the tears down. Years of practice at fighting my tears back has made this easy to do; not as easy as it once was, but still, pretty easy.

“I want you to get this out. We’re okay. They what?” Bea says, she’s more firm this time, but not in a mean way. Not in the way I think of when I think of someone being firm.

I stop and think, try to gather my thoughts, to push the words from my mind out into the world, into the space between Bea and I. Talking is hard work. I still can’t lift my head, I can’t look at her. Just thinking of what I am about to say, what I am thinking about saying, is enough to have tears forming again, and falling.

“They ……….they………weren’t ……there….they didn’t care. They just didn’t. When I screwed up, when I was bad, when I was the not following the script, the rules, they were just gone!” I sob the words out.

“Oh…oh. You really were alone. You really needed to feel loved, so much then, especially then, and that withdraw felt like they didn’t love you anymore,” As Bea talks, she sounds sad, but she gets it.

“I know they loved me. They dumped my butt in therapy. They came and got me when Kay called them from college. But they weren’t really there like I needed. They never were. Ever. Even when I was little. It just wasn’t so noticeable. Because I was following the rules, I was perfect. So they loved me,” I stop to choke back some sobs before I can continue, “once I was ‘fixed’ they would just rewrite history and make me perfect again, like nothing was ever wrong. And I let them. I told their story. Over and over.”

“What we have to remember is that it wasn’t you. It was them. Their shortcomings. They weren’t able to provide emotional attunement, emotional support……we might never know why. It likely made them feel very scared. Your parents weren’t strong enough to face those scary feelings, not like you,” Bea tells me.

I cry some more, and Bea lets me. I think it must be hard, sometimes, to be a therapist. I would have trouble allowing a person the space to cry. Maybe because of how I was raised, I want to stop all pain, right away. Being given the space to cry, to feel sadness, and to not be alone with the sadness and tears, is good. I’m so afraid to cry. I was afraid for a long time that if I did allow the tears out, they would never stop, and I would drown in them. That didn’t happen. Even then, I didn’t like crying. It felt bad. Crying alone seemed the thing to do. But that felt awful. It made me want to cut, or have a bulimic episode. Then, I finally broke down in front of Bea, really broke down and didn’t try to force the tears to stop. That was different. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone, and she didn’t get upset at me for crying, she didn’t panic, or try to get the tears to stop. It was okay. It was good. It was healing.


Is this really me?

I have spent the morning going through childhood pictures my Mom brought yesterday. I can’t get over the difference in the looks on my face. Am I seeing something that is not there? Did I go from looking like a happy child to looking like a nervous, blank, hollow child? I’m thinking of bringing these to therapy tomorrow. But I’m not sure. And why is it  that I can’t seem to connect any of these pictures of this child with me?

I was happy, smiling girl before HE entered my life

I was a happy, smiling girl before HE entered my life. This is me, age 3. 

I had confidence in myself.

I had confidence in myself.

I think the abuse began at age 5. This is me, age 5. I feel like I have smile, I biting my lip. Pictures after this have the same expression.

I think the abuse began at age 5. This is me, age 5. I feel like I have no smile, I’m biting my lip. Pictures after this have the same expression.

The year the HE took the abuse to the next level. This is Christmas Day. I think I look blank, hollow. Dead. Shouldn't I be smiling, happy? It's Christmas. I don't know.

The year the HE took the abuse to the next level. This is Christmas Day. I think I look blank, hollow. Dead. Shouldn’t I be smiling, happy? It’s Christmas. I don’t know.

Not a Drama Queen (Thursday’s therapy session part 1)

I decided to split this post up. Thursday’s therapy session ended up being very extra long, and a lot of things got talked about. The first half is covered in this post. The second half will be covered in the next post.

I walk in, unsettled, anxious. Why did I send Bea that list? The list saying I had a flashback?

“Hi,” she says, looking up from her chair as I sit down and curl up.

“Hi,” I say it, and I’m okay, I can talk.

“I got your list,” Bea tells me, “Was there something you maybe wanted to start with?”

I shake my head, quickly. I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s too much. I have no idea.

“Well, I’m really curious about your homework, and that you found a memory,” she tells me.

And so I tell her about rolling down the hill, but how I don’t really have a memory of it, I just know I rolled down the hill; I remember but I don’t. Like all my other memories. It’s so frusterating. But, we laugh together about the day my family had rolling down the hill, and how I showed Kat what to do, and what a good day that was.

You might not remember rolling down a hill, but your body clearly remembers rolling down a hill. You even went so far as to tell your daughter to do so, then show her how, and it felt how you expected, right down to the silly dizzy sensation and the giggles. That is a memory. And more so, you have another memory now, a really good memory, of your whole family rolling down hill. It sounds like you were wholly present during that time,” Bea says.

“Yeah, yeah, I was,” I’m smiling, remembering. It also feels wonderful to be told my not-memory is a memory. A little voice in the back of my mind whispers that’s it’s Bea’s job to tell me these things, even if it’s not true, but I “shush” the voice.

“It sounds like you don’t have memories of that kind of physical play with your parents,” Bea says.

I pause. I try to remember, to think. I shake my head. I don’t. I just don’t. I have memories of wrestling with my uncle Bryan, and of sobbing on my aunt Bethany’s shoulder. But I don’t have memories of those things with my parents.

“It seems most natural to talk about your mom because we are talking about family stuff. Do you still want to talk about your mom?” Bea asks.

I nod. She waits. She never has, but I have a feeling that she could wait a very long time if needed.

“Yeah. I wrote a letter. Not to send. Just…..I don’t know…..” I trail off. I don’t know what to say.

“I think that’s good, really good. Unsent letters can be really therapeutic,” she pauses for a minute, and then, “if you brought your letter, you could read it in session, if you felt comfortable. Something about hearing your words spoken aloud can be healing. So healing.”

“Maybe. Not today. Not right now,” I’m quickly defensive, on alert, ready to make excuses.

“No, not today. Not right now. One day, when you feel ready. It can be helpful,” Bea tells me.

“Oh. Okay.”

“Did writing that letter bring up a lot of feelings for you?” Bea asks.

I have a hard time answering, but finally say, “things I’m upset over I didn’t know I was.”

“Ahhhh,” Bea says.

“It might not have been intentional, but it doesn’t seem fair that they put that on me, that I had to be perfect to be loved.”

“It wasn’t fair,” Bea says, “I’m sad for that little girl who felt like she had to earn the right to be accepted.”

I’m quiet, but I’m crying, silently. I always cry at therapy theses days. When will the tears be over?

“What about when you got older? As a teen, when things fell apart?” Bea asks, “How did they act then?”

I shrink into myself, pull away. I don’t want to reexamine this time in my life. I had put it on the list, thinking that it was stuff that should be talked about. It doesn’t mean I want to do it. I just think Bea should know how sick and not okay I really was.

“What about when you were in the hospital, after you cut your wrists? How did your mom or dad act, treat you?”

“My mom always said and did the right thing when people were around.”

“What about later, when people weren’t around?” Bea asks me.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I know you said things always went back to normal, but how did they react to your behavior, immediately?” She asks.

My head is down, I can’t face her. I can’t tell her how much my parents hated me when I messed up, I can’t tell her just how screwed up I was, how badly I failed and see the look on her face.

“I don’t know. They took away my phone. The car when I had my lisence. It was always about me ruining my life. I don’t know.” I mumble it.

“Ohhh,” Bea makes a sympathetic sound, she sounds sad for me. “Did you mom ever just hug you, let you cry?”

My first instinct is to laugh, ask her what kind of question is that. To say “Huh? For why?” But instead I say, “No.” My voice turns up on the end, I’m curious why she would ask that.

“I don’t think she could do that for you. I don’t think she could handle your emotions, handle your pain, take that on, it would have been too much. She couldn’t even handle her own,” Bea offers an explanation, a reason.

I shrug. I don’t know. It doesn’t much matter anyways. I think I’m making too much out of nothing. I had a “charmed childhood.” My parents were well-off. I lived in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, I had everything I could ever want. Every toy, every class, every extra. I never wanted for anything. Who do I think I am, to be complaining? Boo hoo, poor little rich girl.

“Bea?” My voice wavers, I’m uncertain and scared.


“I…am I …..am I being a drama queen?” I ask.

“No. No, I don’t think so. That’s probably a message you got from your parents,” she says gentley.

“They always called me that. Anyway time I was upset,” I say slowly.

“Yeah.” It’s like a nod, except my head is down, so Bea has to speak her “nods.”

“So I’m not being a drama queen?”

“No, not at all, not in my opinion. This, just this, would be enough to put someone in therapy, to isolate them and make it hard to trust people. Add in the sexual abuse, the fact that you felt unprotected by your mom, that just makes it a lot. A whole lot more to deal with. It’s not being a drama queen.”

I shake me head, unsure. I can’t figure out if I’m making a big deal out of nothing, or if I have stuff that is a big deal.

“Alice, you aren’t a drama queen. Not in anyway,” Bea says again.

Rolling down hill and therapy homework

Last week, Bea brought up body image. I couldn’t talk about it with her then, not really. I sent an email later, and said I was ready to talk about body image, eating, all of it.

This week, on Monday, we didn’t spend much time on body image, but Bea did ask me if I could think of a time when I felt comfortable in my body, happy with what my body could do. She suggested that maybe dance, or gymnastics or horseback riding held a good memory, or playing outside, swimming? She shared a memory she had of running though the grass barefoot, with the wind on her cheeks and the grass tickling her feet.

I tried, but I just kept coming up blank. I felt like I was staring at a giant blank wall. Nothing. Nothing was there. At times, I feel like amnesia girl. Of course, I only told Bea I couldn’t think of anything, not how blank my memory can be. She asked that I just think about it this week, and see if anything came to me.

Monday night, Hubby and I took Kat to the park for a picnic. After we ate, Kat and I ran over to the swings, and we had a race to see who could swing the highest. I used to love to swing when I was a kid. I felt like I could swing far away to the sky, and maybe fly away for good. I don’t really remember a body feeling with it though. I just remember feeling free.

While I stayed on the swings, Kat and Hubby raced up a small hill. When they got to the top, I called to Kat, “Roll down the hill!”

She looked at me like her mama was insane. I remembered though, the fun of rolling downhill, how fast you seemed to go, and the dizziness, the freedom, and the giggles you can’t help but get. And so, I climbed the hill, looked at my daughter and said, “let me show you how it’s done.” Hubby might have had a bit of a concerned look on his face, but he kept his mouth shut. And so, I laid down on the grassy hill, and rolled. I rolled and got dizzy and laughed uncontrollably. And then Kat joined me.

And, as other kids and parents saw and heard our laughter, they joined us, too. Pretty soon, the whole hill was full of families rolling down it, laughing uncontrollably. And no one was worried about being perfect, or what they looked like, they were just enjoying the moment.

I’ve found my memory, of rolling down the hill when I was a child, a good feeling of being connected to my body. Or at least, I *think* I remember being connected to my body then, even if it’s barely. I also have the new memory of rolling downhill with my daughter on Monday, and being in the present and grounded while doing so.

Just because you are Alice

“I promise I’ll try to clean tomorrow,” I say. I feel terrible. I didn’t clean at all. The house is a mess. The floor hasn’t been swept for days, who knows what the dogs have tracked in? The sink is full of dirty dishes, the dishwasher is full of clean dishes that needs to be unloaded. Laundry hasn’t been done in who knows how long; there are clothes to wash, and clothes to fold and put away. The house is a disaster area.

“It’s okay. I’m not worried about it,” Hubby tells me.

I don’t believe him. I just don’t. Of course he is. Of course he needs me to keep a clean house, that’s part of being a perfect wife, that’s one of the standards I am not currently meeting….I’m not good enough, and if I’m not good enough….oh. Oh, crap. This is a problem. If I’m not good enough, how can he love me? After Monday’s session with Bea, I know where this is coming from, where these beliefs come from, of course. I’m aware now how far back they go, and I can see it’s not actually a case of me not being good enough. It’s more of a deeply ingrained message given by my parents of needing to earn love or acceptance by meeting a certain set of standards.

It’s late, Hubby has to work tomorrow. It’s not the time to start talking. I know this. But I need to talk. I need him to understand, to know that I have these ideas in my head that he needs me to earn his love.

“Well, today was better than yesterday,” I tell him. I hadn’t told him what I had talked about in therapy, only that it had been a hard day, and I had cried. So, he had known it wasn’t likely to be a great evening.

“That’s good, and tomorrow will hopefully be better.”

“Just in time to go back to Bea the next day,” I joke.

Hubby laughs, but then he turns serious, “I’m sorry this is so hard on you, hun.”

“It’s okay, really. We weren’t even talking about trauma stuff on Monday. We were talking about my parents.” I want so badly to tell him what I have realized, but I am afraid. I don’t talk about relationship things, or feelings. They scare me. I’m afraid of them. It’s uncomfortable. So I have to test the waters, see if he will talk, because I can’t put myself out there if he isn’t in the mood to listen.

“Yeah? Your parents? What did Bea have to say about your parents?” He sounds curious, like he wants to know her take on them. I’m sure he does. I think he wants to know how two “perfect” people could raise such a damaged child that he now has to deal with the fallout 31 years later.

“It wasn’t that kind of talk. It was about me. I talked, she gets stuck talking so often that she doesn’t talk when she does not have to.” I can feel myself going away a little, not wanting to be fully present and having to feel the emotions all over again. “We were talking about how my parents expected a lot……even when I was really little, they just……had high expectations……..they needed me to be perfect……….” I’m starting and stopping, stumbling my way through this. How do you tell your husband, who knows your parents, who has to be around your parents, that you grew up feeling that you had to earn your parents love by being perfect? And what if he thinks I’m just being a drama queen? What if he doesn’t believe me? Dissociating further, I say, “I think, Bea thinks, it was unintentional, but the message was that I had to be perfect to be accepted. I had to meet a certain standard to earn their attention, to be cared for, to be loved.” Even this far dissociated, I’m fighting tears, but I’m far enough away that I win, easily.

“That had to be so hard. So hard. And so hard to realize. Of course Monday was hard,” Hubby says. He is really trying not to jump in and “fix” anything for me.

“I think…..um, well, you know, I think I just assume that everyone in my life has a set of standards I have to live up to in order for them to want me, accept me, love me.”

And that’s when understanding hits him. He’s silent for a minute, but he grabs my hand– carefully, because we are laying in bed, and now that he knows my history he is so, so careful not to trigger me.

“I can’t imagine how hard that is, thinking you have to earn everyone’s love. It’s not like that though. I just love you. I want you to be happy. There’s no list of standards in my head, nothing for you to meet. If I care that much about something getting done, I’ll just do it. I don’t need perfect, I just need you, now, how you are. That’s who I love. I love you who doesn’t clean up, and you who does. I love you who cooks dinner and you who says we have to go out. I love you who gets angry and yells and you who is calm and happy. I love you. Just because you are Alice. The same as you love Kat for being Kat. I love you for being Alice.”

I sigh, and curl up against him. He puts his hand on my back, and I try not to cry. He loves me for being Alice. But what does that really mean? And can I really trust that? It sounds nice. I want to believe it. But it sounds like a fairy tale, a children’s story. Not something real, not something meant for me.

“I want to believe that,” I whisper.

“I’ll keep reminding you until you can,” Hubby says.

The truth about my inside thoughts and being perfect

I’m not sure if there is anything triggering in this post. There isn’t any major talk of sexual abuse, or body image, or anything else, but it was a very intense therapy session for me, and so, for some reason, I still feel like it could be triggering, because things were mentioned all over the place. So, just keep that in mind as you read.

Nervously, I drive to Bea’s. I still enjoy the drive, though. I haven’t loved driving a car like this since I had my little 2-door Sunfire. I love my Spark. This is a fun car to drive. It just zips along, it feels happy to me. I can’t explain it. I also love the features. A text message beeps, and I hit the “Siri” button on my steering wheel.

“Siri, check my messages, please.”

“You have one message from Hubby. Do you need tea or coffee? It is not on the grocery list?” Siri reads the message, “would you like to reply?”

“Yes, reply.”

“What would you like to say to hubby?”

“No coffee, yes tea.”

“Sending message now.”

I love, love , love this car! And then the music flips back on, and I arrive at Bea’s all too quickly. I grab my bag, head across the street, and up the stairs to her office.

Bea is sitting in her chair, sending an email. She is just Bea, normal Bea. And suddenly, I feel a whole lot better. “Hi,” I whisper, sitting down in my spot.

“Hi,” she says, “I’m just finishing up this email, okay?”

“Sure,” I say. I’m early, and I am happy to sit and have a few minutes to calm myself. Putting the fact that I might agree I need to talk about eating and that I maybe could have an issue on the table, and opening it up for discussion is so very scary. Bea has tread very, very lightly thus far, and backed of when I have said to, and she has never made it about me. But I’ve always had a rule in place: we do not ever, ever talk about my eating. Now that rule is gone, I don’t know what will happen.

Bea finishes her email, and we discuss Kat for a few minutes. Not only is it a safe subject, it’s also a subject that needs to be talked about, because I need to know what Bea is thinking in terms of Kat’s progress, and Bea needs to know where the ABA stands, what is going on with Kat at home, and all that.

“Well, we’ve spent a good 15 minutes on Kat. I want to make sure we get to you. I’m not going to let you spend the whole session on Kat,” Bea tells me.

I smile, because I remember the weeks I spent doing exactly that. Bea is learning what I do to avoid things. Although Kat did need to be talked about then, for sure, as I was really needing some extra parenting support. “Okay. But we do need to talk about Kat. It’s not a waste, you know. It is something that needed to be discussed.”

“Well, how about you? How did Thursday go? How was hubby’s award dinner? And how was Friday– your birthday?” Bea asks.

“It was okay. The dinner was fine, okay. Hubby did good, he ended up having to give a speech. And I made it through it, played my part. We stayed the night there, I didn’t sleep good, so hubby called the desk and asked for late check out. I dozed off and on from 6 am until 11, had a soak in the hot tub in the room, and then we drove home. It was just me, hubby and Kat at home. It was quiet and nice. I made pancakes for dinner, cake batter pancakes and put candles in them for all of us to blow out. I was happy on my birthday because it was quiet and easy. It was what I wanted.”

“That’s good, and being able to sleep late when you didn’t sleep that night, that’s a birthday treat!” Bea says.

I nod my head in agreement, “Seriously. Between Kat’s nightmares, and my own, plus my inability to fall asleep, it’s like having a newborn or worse.”

Bea smiles at that. “What about Hubby’s awards dinner? Did you end up having fun?”

I struggle to answer that. What can I say? I should smile, and say, “of course. It was a great night. I had a fantastic time.” I don’t say that though, it’s not true. But the truth seems wrong, too. And so we sit in silence for a while. Finally I say, “I’m not sure what to tell you. I want to give you the right answer, but that’s not the way I felt.”

“Hmmm. I don’t see this as a right or wrong answer. It’s just how you felt. That’s all. I don’t care about ‘right’ or ‘perfect’. I care about what really happened.”

Slowly, I shake my head no. And then I say, “no. I didn’t really have a good time. It’s tiring to be in a crowd like that.”

“Why? What makes it tiring?” Bea asks, “is that how it always has been, or just this instance? Do you know?”

I think about it for a bit, and finally I say, “It’s just tiring pretending all the time to be what I’m not. I have to be so perfect and chatty and charming, but that is not me.”

“Then what is? If that isn’t you, what is you?” Bea asks. I knew she would go there, the minute the words were out of my mouth. I stare at the floor. I’ve already gotten to the point of burying my head between my knees and curling into myself. I don’t answer, I don’t know. “What are the feelings?” Bea asks, surprising me with another question.

This one, I can answer, in a way. “I can tell you my thoughts. Not feelings. I don’t know feelings. But I know thoughts. I can give you my thoughts from the dinner. Maybe.” I tell her. I’m scared to do this, but if I can, if I can really explain what goes on in my head versus what people see on the outside, then Bea might begin to understand me. I’m just not sure I can let someone be that close to me, know me that well.

“Okay, that would be good. What were your thoughts?”

In my head, I understand that the only way she is ever going to really, really know me is if I tell her these things, if I let her in. Because she can only go by the clues I give her, by what she sees, and what she sees is the pretend me, the facade. So I need to tell her what goes on inside the facade.

I shake my head. “This is hard. I don’t know if I can. I’m afraid you’ll find me crazy. It’s all circular thoughts. Just nonsense. And too many ED thoughts. I’m embarrassed.”

“What, things like that lady is too fat for that purple dress or that guy is really stupid and needs to shut up?” Bea asks. Maybe she is simply trying to get a reaction, to make it safe for me to tell my thoughts, or she really thinks I’m that mean and critical of people.

“What?!?” I’m horrified, “No! I don’t think about other people like that. I think that stuff about me. Like, ‘why did I choose the green dress, black is better, black makes you look thinner, green was the stupid choice, what is wrong with you?’ That kind of stuff.”

“Ohhhh. Your thoughts, your criticisms are turned inward. All onto yourself, then. That can’t make it easy to be around people, or in a big group.”

“There’s more, it’s not just that. It’s searching out exits, making sure no one is too close, figuring out how to make sure no one hugs me…..it’s thoughts of no one look at me, no one too close, being to fat, trying to figure out how to not eat this or that, why is that guy staring at me, where are the exits, how can I move away from this person, oh god don’t let them touch me, my thighs are touching, were they touching last night, why did I eat that chocolate bar, that’s what did it, why are people staring at me, oh crap, what were they talking about? I lost time again, okay, I can fake it, I think I need to hide, where is the bathroom, I can’t do this, just smile, it’s fine, don’t mess up, this dress shows my arms, I hate my arms, why didn’t I bring a wrap to hide them. People are going to wonder why I am not covering my fat arms, they think I’m gross, oh my god, I am so self centered, what is wrong with me, I need to check the exits, that guy is blocking my way to the closest exit, this is no good, he needs to move, and on and on. They circle around and around like that.”

Bea is quiet for a moment, and I dare to peek up. She looks part sad, part in some kind of wow, like she has just realized something, or understood something. “That is tiring. Some of what you are talking about, the exits, making sure no one can touch you, that is all hyper vigilance, it’s PTSD symptoms. It’s trauma related, it’s normal in your circumstances. It’s not crazy. It’s so very common,” she tells me, and then, when she speaks, it’s carefully, as if she doesn’t want to upset me, “it’s interesting to me that you have the same feelings inside as the ‘wallflower girl’ the one with social anxiety, who is probably wishing to be you because you have constructed this coping skill that allowed you to be seen. And it is a skill, a positive one; social skills are very important, and we can use this as a positive skill not a coping mechanism, not a way to hide and pretend one day. You crested this elaborate coping skill, this way of being okay, and it allowed you to function in way that was and is socially acceptable.”

I don’t understand everything she is saying. All I know, is that I had no choice but to be socially acceptable. And so I say what I’m thinking, no filter, I just spit it out, ” I had no choice.” It comes out whisper quiet, weak and like it was a struggle to speak at all.

“Why not? What if you didn’t do all those things, if it fell apart, if you weren’t socially acceptable?” Bea asks.

I curl further into myself, and I whisper the words. “I wouldn’t be good enough.”

I have to whisper them twice more, and Bea has crept forward to hear what I’ve said. I can’t say of outloud. This is hard enough.

“Good enough for what?” Bea asks when she is back in her chair, and not too close to me again. She says the words quietly, and slowly, as if she already knows the answer and knows I’m going to break into pieces when I answer it.

Love. My mom. Hubby. To be liked. All are answers. But I can’t say it. So I sit, the words trapped in my throat, bubbling up, but unable to fully form. I can’t turn my fear into reality. The tears are there, too, waiting, hovering, in my eyes, in my mind, because they know they are about to be called upon.

When I don’t answer, and can’t speak, Bea says it for me. “Love?”

Her answer is my sobs, that suddenly appear.

“You had to be perfect, to perform well to earn love. To be cared for. You strived to give perfect, and really believed if you fell short, your mom wouldn’t love you, care for you, want you. That you wouldn’t have attention, care, love from your mother if you couldn’t perform to her standards. That’s a real fear for a child. Every child needs attention, care, love. How scary. How lonely. No wonder you learned to put everything away and be perfect, act a certain way.” Bea talks, and I manage to nod and tell her that yes, this is exactly how I felt. I’m crying so hard I can barely talk.

Eventually, I calm enough to talk, and I apologize for crying. “It feels like all I ever do here is cry lately. I’m sorry.”

“You need to cry. You need to grieve, to heal. You have a lot of hurt to heal from, and this crying is want needs to happen. I’m glad you can cry here,” Bea tells me. I think she is being weird and shrinky, but she isn’t giving me she “shrink feeling” (I really need to write a post explaining that I think) it’s okay.

“I hate that you know all this about me, now. That you really know my outside is always okay, even if I’m not, and that you know all my crazy thoughts,” I say.

Bea sighs. It’s not in the “tired impatient way” but more in the “thinking how to go about this way.” Finally she says, “I think you were really isolated. And I think you didn’t have anyone to trust, growing up, and I think the sexual abuse and the abusive relationship only added to the idea that people can’t be trusted.”

I don’t say anything, I’m not sure. I’m wondering just how much damage my parents did. Are they the reason I can’t trust anyone? Are they the reason I am so afraid that Hubby will leave that I cling desperately to him while simultaneously picking fights to keep him from being close? I always secretly thought maybe I was broken, missing whatever it is that allows people to be close like that. But now I am wondering. Maybe I am not missing parts after all.

“What about friends? In middle school, high school? Did you talk to your friends? A lot of times by then kids are moving away from their families and creating their own circles,” Bea sounds curious.

I shake my head. “I had fake friends.”

Bea nods, she knows what I mean. It’s the friends you have because you are both popular; you are in the same social group, therefore you are friends.

“What about cheerleading friends, or gymnastics? Did you have friends there?”

“No….cheer was school. Gymnastics was work.”

“Those two sports are high in body image issues, and eating disorders. Weight, shape, how you look, all of that plays a big part in those two sports,” Bea says. It’s the first mention of body image or eating disorder stuff all session. She asks me how I felt about the cheer and gymnastics, how I felt moving my body, if I remember, what I thought, if I remember pressure to be thin or stay a certain size.

“I didn’t want to do either. It was my mom. She wanted it. So I did it. And I was good at both. Mostly. But I hated it,”

“When did you start gymnastics? And cheer?” Bea asks.

“Gymnastics was….maybe 7 or 8? It was the summer. And cheer was 7th grade. So, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th. Well, part of 10th.”

“So you quit cheer? Why only part of 10th?”

I so don’t want to get into this right now. Maybe I really don’t want Bea to know exactly how eating disordered I was. “I did home study the second half of 10th grade. Because that is when things really fell apart, that fall. So I,had home study, but you couldn’t participate in extracurriculars if you were doing home study.”

“And didn’t your friends visit you? Ask why homestudy? Weren’t they worried?” Bea asks.

I want to tell her my friends didn’t really like me, I was just a placeholder; a cheerleader, blonde, popular, smart, cute. I left and someone else would take my place. It would be amazing if they even noticed. “My friends were fake.” I say. Shaking my head. I don’t explain that my parents had the story worked out; I was bored, I was going to try community college as a dual enrolled student.

“So why homestudy?” Bea asks.

I shake my head at her. “Not today.”

We circle back around to trust, and Bea says she sees me as someone who while surrounded by people and loved by those in my life, I’m isolated, and always have been. I don’t know any other way. “You never had a chance to trust another person with yourself, with who you are. You didn’t get to learn that it’s safe to do that, the way you have shown Kat it’s safe for her to trust herself with you, you mirror her feeling back to her, you validate and don’t judge, you love her and accept her for her– she’s perfect in your eyes because she is wholly uniquely Kat. You didn’t get that. How could you have felt it safe to trust? You are trying to figure it all out now. It’s a process. It’s a long process. You took a huge step today.”

I thought I was going to therapy for my kid. Then it was anxiety, maybe past “issues.” Then it was to resolve trauma. Now, I’m finding out I have so much more to work on and work through. I’m going to be in therapy for life.

The email about the body image talk

if you have an eating disorder, this could be a triggering post. I am talking about the roots of my ED, the childhood beliefs, memories I have of my body image and thoughts associated with food even then. Please read with caution, and as always, be safe.

After therapy on Thursday, I couldn’t quite get all the body image thoughts and questions out of my head. I couldn’t get the examples and the memories out of my head from childhood.

I managed to shut it down, and get through hubby’s awards dinner. I smiled, and chatted. Several people complimented me on my dress, my hair, my earrings, how Hubby’s yellow tie and dress shirt coordinated beautifully with my kelly green dress without being too matchy-matchy. I acted my part, and everyone believes I enjoyed myself. I can be charming and witty. I’m actually intelligent and can carry on a conversation with just about anybody; it’s why I did so well as a hair colorist, and why I was able to really reach people to help us get the votes needed to get the autism insurance added to hubby’s work. I am so proud of Hubby; that wasn’t an act. He works harder than anyone I know, and he cares more, too. He deserved to be recognized, and honored.

Thursday night, we stayed at the hotel, and in the middle of the night, I used the hot tub in our room when I couldn’t sleep. And I started to journal the thoughts swirling in my head. I journaled pages and pages worth. Friday was more journaling as we drove home– along with a rest stop for some shopping (because I needed clothes, and shoes, of course).

And then on Saturday, I cleaned it all up, and emailed it to Bea:

Hi Bea,

I think I’m ready to talk about some of the eating and body image stuff. I say “think” because it’s a scary thing to me. But I guess anything that has to do with me and my feelings is scary.

I know I didn’t like myself, even as a child. I’ve always, really deep down blamed my parents for that, because don’t kids just like themselves? But maybe not. I don’t know. I feel like the more honest I am with myself about my life, the more confused I am, too. I always assumed it had to do with feeling like I was never good enough for my parents, or that they did not love me for me. Now, I really wonder of it had to do with the sexual abuse, or my personality, or a combination? Whatever it was, I have specific memories, as well as an overall feeling of there never really being a time where I liked myself.

Memories I have– some of these came to mind when you were talking on Thursday, but it was too much to even think about talking about this stuff last week. I needed to get through Hubby’s awards dinner, and that meant not thinking too much about body image or how I really feel about me, or how I felt about myself when I was a kid.

*kindergarten: when the letter people q and u got married, I remember being just so excited (we had a “wedding” at school that day) but not talking to anyone about it partly because I didn’t feel like anyone really cared about what I had to say anyway and partly because I wanted to disappear and hide– like I really didn’t want anyone to notice me

*First grade: I hated having to line up, and having people be so close to me. I remember crying in line when someone bumped into me and then being embarrassed that I would be so stupid to cry over that when no one else cared, but at the same time hating that another person had touched me

*Summer before 2nd grade: I read “Harriet the Spy” and decided that my mom would like Harriet better than me, so I tried to be just like Harriet. I even ate BLT sandwiches everyday for lunch just like Harriet, except I fed the bacon to our dog because bacon makes you fat and I did not want to get fat.

*Second grade: I remember trying to change one of my marks on a progress report before giving it to my parents because it was not perfect. I don’t remember what the marks were, if I changed it, or what happened. I simply remember the desperate feeling that I had not done good enough and could not let them know I had failed because they wouldn’t love me anymore

*When I read “the babysitters club” books, I was always trying to figure out which babysitter would be the best one to copy, who my parents would like best, who would make everyone happy with me? (And I read those in 2nd and 3rd grades)

*I have a memory of my mom doing my hair, maybe 3rd or 4th grade and I am looking at our faces side by side in the bathroom mirror. I remember thinking my face was fat and not pretty, that I did not look like my mom at all.

*I remember thinking my mom probably would have liked me to look more like my cousin– who I saw as thin and pretty– and I wished I looked like her too. (Now, when I look back at pictures of us at dance or at the pool, or family functions, we are the same size, or at least we appear to be)

*It was 3rd grade when I started skipping and limiting what I ate, 4th grade when I really began to skip lunch as a routine thing.

*It was 5th grade when I threw up for the first time. I got caught a year or so later, after lunch, by the school guidance councilor. And that’s how I ended up in therapy for the “issues”.

*My mom always dictated my clothing, what was and wasn’t appropriate. Eventually, I had an opinion, but I never “over rode” her opinion. Even when she decided I was old enough to wear makeup, she took me to have my makeup done professionally, to be taught how to wear makeup, and then bought me nice makeup. I wasn’t allowed to go buy “cheap trashy” makeup with my friends or wear the bright blues and purples and greens they sometimes wore. I had to look nice, look the “right” way.

I hate my body now. I could probably criticize and pick apart any part of my body, it’s really just that awful. I try not to even think about it, because I hate the way I feel about it. It’s not a nice feeling. I’ve hated my body for as long as I can remember. I think it’s good that you see me as comfortable with my body. That’s exactly the image I am trying so hard to be, to show Kat. It seems that I’ve got it. I feel like I say this all the time, and I’m embarrassed to be saying it again, but it’s just an act, one that is so second nature by now it’s on auto-pilot. I can’t let Kat grow up like I did, and so I try my best to show her someone who is comfortable with their body. I don’t usually say anything about it though. And I’m afraid if we start talking about body image, then I might not be able to fake my way through pretending to be okay with myself, and then what?

I have other memories, thoughts, ext but those are the ones that came to mind. This isn’t going to be easy to talk about. And even though I’m saying let’s talk about it, I want to maybe work on the eating and body image stuff and all the things twisted up with that, I’m sure I’ll need help talking. Because this is a hard topic, and I just don’t know where to start. Which is why I decided to start with an email. 🙂


Bea emailed back, and that was that. Food, eating and body image were on the table as acceptable topics for the therapy room.

Body image

One minute we are talking about Hubby’s awards dinner tonight, and how I don’t really want to go, but that I will, and Bea is using this as an example of when CBT can be a useful tool– because she believes that CBT is a tool, not a be all end all, it does not get to the root of the issue. And the next minute we are talking about body image. Or rather, Bea is talking body image, and I am sitting, frozen, unable to speak, trying to figure out how we got to this subject, and how I can get away from it quickly.

“At least both my dresses fit.” That’s what I had said.

“Do you like to dress up?” Bea asks me.

“I don’t know…”

“Well, do you feel good about dressing up? Pretty? You always look put together, dressed cute, stylish, your hair is always done, you always look nice. I know you say you just throw clothes on, but you always present yourself well. So you must go shopping to buy clothes. What’s that like? We’ve never really talked about body image, how you see yourself, with the eating, I’ve never thought to bring that up…..you carry yourself well, look confident….what do you think about your body image?”

Bea is talking, and I’m shrinking into myself, trying to go as far away as I can. I don’t want to talk about this, I don’t want to break down the facade of confidence and put togetherness and prettiness I have managed to build over the years. I’m a great faker. I need for Kat to see a woman who likes herself, bumps, and wrinkles, zits, moles, and all. As a girl, she is going to get enough negative messages about herself and her body from society. It doesn’t need to start at home, with her mom. So I have worked from the moment we started trying to get pregnant to really build this persona of liking my outer appearance. That facade is strong now, and so in place, I don’t even have to think about it; it is on auto pilot.

“Alice, I think this is a hard topic for a lot of women, not just you. Do you remember being a kid and liking your body? A lot of times it’s not until puberty that girls start to dislike their bodies. It’s harder to say with the sexual abuse, though. Do you remember? Girls usually like their bodies because they can run, climb trees, jump, do things. And you were active, right?”

“Dance, ballet, jazz, tap, horse back riding, cheerleading, gymnastics,” I list out the activities my mother had me in.

“I don’t think I knew about the gymnastics. You were busy, that’s a lot of activities.” Bea says.

“It was what my mom wanted. I only liked the horse back riding.” I say.

“What did you like about it?”

I shake my head, I don’t know. I can’t explain. It just felt right, like I belonged, like I was okay.

Bea talks about how a lot of trauma therapy patients make a connection with horses for whatever reason, so she isn’t surprised that as a child, that was the activity I liked. “Have you ever thought about going back to riding, now, as an adult?”

I shake my head again, no, I don’t know, probably not. There are too many bad memories associated with riding now, too many expectations, too many shoulds, and not good enoughs. But I don’t explain.

“Do you remember liking your body as a kid? Liking food? Or was there already too much pressure from your mom?”

I don’t know. My memories are so vague, so not there. They are more feelings than memories, and that makes me feel crazy, too.

“Bad memories, I think. They don’t feel good.”

“Your grandpa sneaking you candy, that’s a good memory about food,” Bea reminds me.

“Yes, my grandpa, and my grandma, they didn’t have weird food things…..” I’m silent for a minute, trying to grasp a vague memory, it’s like a ghost of a memory, one that’s barely there, “I have this vague memory……..my grandma cooking breakfasts, after I would stay the night…..it’s just a feeling, really……..a feeling that no one cared what I ate.”

“Ahhhh, yes. The feeling stayed with you, even of the details are lost. The feeling that no one cared what you ate at grandma and grandpa’s house, meaning at home, someone did care,” Bea says. She gets it, she understands what I was trying to say, what the barely there memory means to me.

“What about the body image stuff? Do you think yours started to change around puberty?” She asks me, again.

I stare at the floor, at the fluffy blue rug. It’s a bright blue. I’m not sure. I don’t know. What I do remember seems too embarrassing to say out loud. I finally say, “I didn’t like myself before then.” But I don’t offer any explanations.

Bea doesn’t ask, or if she does, I don’t hear her. I’m back in my head, far away. I can’t face the body image talk, or how I really feel about myself. I don’t want to know, or think about it. I want to pretend it’s not real, that we never touched on this subject. I know Bea won’t let me do so for long, but right now, I can’t face this. I need to keep my facade firmly in place. I have an event tonight. I need to smile, and be pretty; I need to be charming and pleasant. I need to have my carefully constructed persona in order to do so, which means Bea can not begin tearing her down today.