“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.