Trauma– it’s in the details 

Bea’s drinking coffee today, and so we talk about coffee. I love coffee, it’s my favorite drink. I love fancy coffee drinks, simple lattes, plain black coffee and coffee with cream. So, we talk about coffee because it’s easy and simple to do. We talk about coffee because I want to avoid talking about the image I’d finally managed to write about just the night before. 

Eventually though, Bea directs us to our work with a gentle push. “Can we talk about Wednesday, and how that session was for you?” 

I nod. “Okay.” And then I don’t say anything. I don’t know what to say. “It was better than the Wednesday before?” It’s true, but it comes out as a question, maybe because I am questioning what she wants to hear. 

“Yes, that’s good. How was it better?” 

“Well, it just…..I didn’t leave upset. It was better.” I’m looking at down at my hands, sort of here but not here because I know where this conversation is heading. 

“What was it like to talk about and notice some boundaries? Have you noticed them more in your life as we have been working with them?” Bea’s voice is curious. 

“I don’t know. Not really, I guess. I’m sorry.” I mumble. I don’t get why we are talking about boundaries. I guess that is some of what we have been talking about and working with lately. But I don’t know what she wants. 

“That’s okay. I bet you might start to notice. I was just curious because boundaries aren’t something you have ever really noticed or felt before, so I wonder if being more aware of them would change how you felt things.” She shifts in her chair, picking up her coffee cup.

I don’t say anything, just nod my understanding. Bea drinks some coffee, and I drink mine and finally she asks if I did any writing. I pull out my orange notebook. “It’s not much,” I tell her as I hand it over. 

She starts to read, and I start some mindless chatter. “I think I am talking, trying to distract you.” 

“That’s a good thing to notice, you are talking to keep my attention focused off your words.” She looks up at me. 

“I’ll stop now,” I say, and then I keep talking anyway. Bea patiently waits me out. “Okay. I want you to read.” And I stop talking, sitting quietly and hiding my face. 

I’ve sat down a few times to try to write about the image, but I just couldn’t. I don’t even remember the words that brought it up.

“I don’t remember either. I’d forgotten about the image until now but it sounds like this image is really an important thing for us to look at.” Her voice is clear, with a bit of an apology woven into it when she says she had forgotten. For whatever reason I’m not upset about this. Even now, writing it out, I’m surprised that my belief she cares and is here is still so strong, that my crazy mind isn’t using Bea’s forgetfulness as a way to convince myself that she doesn’t care. 

“I didn’t forget….” I whisper. 

“I know you didn’t.” She says, and her words say so much more than that. They hint at understanding that I don’t have the luxury of forgetting, of leaving the images in my brain at her office. 

Wednesday was better. It’s as if something clicked this time. For the little girl, realizing that you still hold the memory as a whole and that stopping talking and looking at the body stuff isn’t about you needing to get away from her and her stuff, that makes SP seem completely different now. Still scary, but not as terrible and awful as it did feel to me. 

“Yeah, of course realizing that, switching that perspective changed everything. It seemed so clear to me, that of course I’m still holding onto this memory as a whole, but the little girl didn’t see it that way. It’s no wonder SP has felt so scary and awful to her. I didn’t know that was what wasn’t making sense for her, I didn’t put two and two together. I’m so glad she knows now, I’m not going anywhere and I’m not letting go of the memory.” 

So, the image. What were the words? About not wanting to be seen or something like that, right? So. I guess I’m still struggling to put it on paper. It’s popped in my head, it’s been on my mind at times, I’ve wanted to write it, I really have, but it’s just so– I don’t have a good word for it– bleck, yuck, ick

“It was really hard to write it out, wasn’t it?” She murmurs. 

It’s true, I think, what you said about trauma, feelings, pain living in the details. That’s the problem. It really could be part of a memory already written or talked about. Looking at one small piece means details and that means no vague descriptions glossing over the things that shame, disgust and terrify me. 

“It really is the details, isn’t it?” She tells me how there are events in her life where if she thinks of the event as a whole, it doesn’t bring up the emotion that discussing and focusing on the details that have stuck with her from event would. I don’t feel better when she says this, but at least I know she gets how much more is in the details. 

Okay. This what I’m going to do. I’ll write the image on the next page and fold it over, so we can talk about it before you read it. And probably just give me a blanket now, before  you read that. I’m sort of just being funny, but also that is just how strong the image is– I want to hide just thinking about it. 

 

I’m hiding my face, but I hear Bea get up to get me a blanket. “I’m going to set this blanket next to you, okay?” She says and I reach my hand out, so she hands it to me instead. “Maybe let’s talk a about how you are feeling right now?”

“I don’t know. Silly. Like I’m making a deal out of a thing that isn’t a deal. The judgey part is real judgey, like just stop being a drama queen and be appropriate.” 

“I don’t feel the way the judgey part feels. It feels bad to have that part here, but that can be a good thing because it means the overwhelmed parts haven’t taken over all the way.” Her voice and words are reassuring; she doesn’t feel like the judgey part feels. “Is there anything the overwhelmed parts feel?”

I think for a moment. “Sick.” 

“Sick like nauseous? Or something else?” She asks. 

“Sick……….sick, like something bad is going to happen.” Without noticing it, I’ve buried myself in the blanket. I’m so glad I’m hidden from view. I’m scared. I don’t want to be noticed.

“Sick like something bad is going to happen.” She repeats my words, just a simple statement, but it’s maybe a question too, a checking to see if there is anything I would like to add to that. 

“It….there should be a word……something else, I don’t know what…..there should be a better word for that though,” I say, stumbling over my words. 

“Maybe the little girl didn’t have a better word. Maybe that was the closest thing she had to describe what she is feeling. Adults, we have more complex words, but little girls have simple words. Sad. Mad. Sick. Hurt.” Bea is always sticking up for the little girl– for me, really. I’m so glad she finds it easy to stick up for the little girl. 

“Maybe,” I say. I realize now that the word I was needing might be dread, apprehension, trepidation, worry and tension, suspense, uneasiness….any of those would have explained it, I think.

“So, when I’m reading about the image and we are talking about it, what is a resource you can use when it gets to be overwhelming to help bring you back to the present where it is safe?” Bea asks. 

I shrug. “Talking works. But you don’t want to let me use that anymore.” Maybe I’m pouting a little bit, but I really don’t understand why if I know that talking about regular stuff helps me calm back down, why we should change what I use to be okay, just because SP says to use body based resources. 

“So, talking is an interpersonal resource. We can still use talking. It is a good way for you to know I’m still here and with you, still on your side. What do you want to talk about?”

“You know. Regular stuff. Everyday stuff.” I’m calmer now, instantly calmer. Talking is my resource, my defense, my way I stay connected or check that my secure base is there. Spoken language, words, are everything. 

“Okay, good. So when you feel like you are really overwhelmed, you can ask for a talk break, okay?” She asks, and I nod my head. “Could you also try to focus on the blanket, the color of the blanket, what it feels like, that it makes a boundary and a boundary can keep bad things out?”

“Maybe. I can try.” And I will try. If she’s not asking me to focus on my breathing and she’s not saying no talking, then okay, I can try. 

“Good. That’s good. So that’s two resources you can use.” Bea’s voice is peppy, like she’s excited I’ve agreed to try a second resource. 

I don’t say anything. I have a million words flying through my head, but each one is scarier to say out loud than the one before it, so I am silent.

“Should I read it now?” She asks me. 

“No….I…well, it’s just…… I wanted to write it just the facts, detached, but I couldn’t. I mean…the words I can’t say. It got messy. It might be incoherent to you. Ugh.” I try to explain. 

“I won’t read it until you tell me to, okay? But I think we’ve learned each other’s shorthand, we’ve created a language that is just ours, and so you might be surprised what I can make sense of.” She reassures.

I nod. That’s true. We talk a few more minutes and then I finally nod my head. “Okay. Read it.” 

“Are you sure?” Bea asks. 

“Yes. Because if you don’t then I’ll be upset later. I’m just scared. Just read it.”

She takes a deep breath. “Okay. While I’m reading, try to focus on the blanket and feeling safe, feeling contained, okay? It won’t do to have you get overwhelmed. And after I read it, as soon as I’m done, I’ll check right back in, okay?” 

I mumble an okay, and Bea starts to read. 

Okay. I see this image from two perspectives. One is from the onlooker’s. One is from the little girl’s. 

I’m little. Sitting or lying down. I don’t know, the angle is off. But he’s big, leaning over me. His, there’s, um, it’s, he’s wanting me to, he’s put, my mouth. Ugh! You know what I’m trying to say. I just can’t say it. I can’t go anywhere. He’s really close.

It doesn’t even take 5 minutes, I don’t think, for her to read it. “Okay, I’ve read it. How do you feel now?” She asks. She sounds like Bea, like normal Bea.

 

I open my mouth but no words come out. I can’t speak.

“Alice, you are too far away, notice the blanket’s boundaries. Nothing bad can happen now. You are safe.” She directs. Her voice is clear and strong and she is able to contain all of this still.

“Safe,” I whisper. 

“Yes. Right now you are safe. I know scary things happened but you are safe now.”

“I still feel sick because I don’t know what you think.” I am so embarrassed that this is what has sent me so far away. Bea’s opinion matters so much to me that I can’t calm down and so I’ve gone away instead. So, I guess I’m admitting to this attachment now. I guess I’m no longer pretending the relationship doesn’t matter to me. 

“Okay. Do you want to know what I think?” She questions me. She’s talking to me like this is normal, as if it’s okay that I care that much about what she thinks, she talks to me as if she is absolutely okay with this attachment I have to her. 

I don’t say anything. I don’t know. Do I? Maybe. She’s never asked me, just always offered reassurances in the past that she is still here, that she isn’t thinking bad things about me, that she isn’t leaving, that she now knows whatever it is I was afraid to share and nothing bad happened.

“It’s not bad or scary,” she offers.

“Then, yes,” I say.

“Right off the bat, I was struck at how powerless the little girl was. It’s a power differential, how big he is looming over you, how scary that was for the little girl. It’s very scary. This is really scary for her. And confusing, I’m sure.” Bea tells me. 

“Even the grown up can’t make sense of it,” I confess. 

She’s quiet a moment. “Does the grown up feel that this wasn’t okay at all, that this shouldn’t have ever happened to the little girl?”

I shrug. Maybe. I don’t know. I want to tell her it’s because the little girl needed too much. I want to tell her that she somehow caused it. I want to tell her that it doesn’t matter really, because the little girl was part of the disgusting stuff that happened and it all lives in my head now and so I’m disgusting and really, she probably wanted it or asked for it or some thing like that. I don’t say any of that though, because maybe that’s right, and maybe that’s wrong, and it doesn’t really answer her question anyways.

“Maybe there isn’t enough grown up online to help the little girl yet. I think really you already answered that question. The grown up doesn’t have to be here to help the little girl. It’s okay, I’m here.” Her voice is full of compassion. She’s here. She’s got the little girl, and she’s got me.

“You don’t think anything bad?” I whisper.

“Nothing bad at all.” She says back.

“Okay.” Little girl whisper.

“What do you feel like now, what do you notice now that I’ve read it and that you know what I think?” She asks. 

I try to focus. What do I feel like? I don’t know what I feel. “I don’t know. But you realIy don’t think bad things?”

“I think plenty of bad things about him! But I think it was a scary thing for such a little girl.” 

“Confusing.” I tell her. 

“That, too. It had to have been so confusing to have someone who is supposed to be your friend, whose attention you wanted, telling you to do something you didn’t want to do, that felt icky.”

“Is is icky. So icky.” I tell her. 

Something strange is happening by focusing on this one awful detail. I’m lost as to how to explain. Body memories. Pain in my privates, gagging in my throat. I want to push him away and then run. But I can’t, I can’t move, he won’t let me. And I’m not okay. This is not okay. I’m pretty sure if Bea could see me she would be asking questions or something. But instead I’m hiding under the blanket and she redirects me to notice the safety of being where I am.   

I spend a minute doing as she asks and then I tell her, “It doesn’t match.” 

“What doesn’t match?” Curiosity in her voice. 

“His words and what he does– it doesn’t match.” 

“No, no they don’t match.” She agrees.

“He said fun and a silly game and I’d like the game and it was okay. But it didn’t match!”

“No, it didn’t match. He was supposed to be someone you could trust. He was supposed to be someone who helped keep you safe.” She validates.

“And I couldn’t move.”

“It was really scary. When scary things happen, sometimes we can’t move.” She says gently.  

“No. He wouldn’t let me move,” I say, my voice is flat, sort of dead with that revelation. I’m scared and overwhelmed. I repeat myself, “He wouldn’t let me move.” And I can see it, his knees on my arms, on the inside of my elbows. There was no way I could move. 

“That’s very scary. We need to do more work with this, next time. This is a horrible time to stop, I know it is, but we need to stop. We need to come back to here and now, where you are safe and nothing bad is happening. I know the bad feelings have been brought up and they are present, but they are still feelings about the past. I know this a bad place to stop now, but try to focus on feeling safe under the blanket.” Bea is speaking softly and I can hear how bad she feels that we are out of time.

“It’s fine. I know it’s time to go.” And I start to shift where I’m sitting, prepare to come out from under the blanket, put on my boots and go.

“Not yet. We need you to be here and grounded before you leave. This is important.” She corrects me. 

“Just talk then.” I say, shrugging. I’m fine with leaving right now. 

“What do you want to talk about?”

“You know. Everyday regular stuff,” I tell her, a little annoyed to be repeating myself.

So she talks and I listen. I come back enough to be more or less okay. We say our goodbyes, Bea reminding me that this is important and we will do more work with it on Wednesday.

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I know this to be true 

We chat like always, me pretending not to notice my notebook– with all the after stuff that she kept last time– sitting on the floor at her feet. Even with my superior avoidance skills, we eventually move onto talking about my writing. 

“I read the after stuff again and it really is all so normal, exactly what I would expect. It’s just how I would expect a kid– and even an adult– to feel considering everything you were dealing with.” Bea is matter of fact, and her words are slightly reassuring. She doesn’t find me crazy. 

“Okay.” I shrug and pick my fingers. Whatever. I don’t care what she thinks, and even if I did care, I’m not about to let her know. 

I had handed her my new orange notebook when I arrived, and after asking me if it’s okay, she begins to read. “This is good, really good. You say it’s hard to only talk about one part of a memory because it all snowballs together. That’s exactly what SP is for. So, with developmental stuff, we work to stitch feelings, emotions, memories, and thoughts all together. But with trauma, it all does snowball exactly as you have described. So, we want to unstitch those things and then they can be processed separately and then either they’ll be integrated into normal memory and they lose their power, or we stitch them back together, make sense of if, and then it can be integrated into normal memory.” 

“Okay.” 

Bea continues reading and talking to me, unperturbed by my lack of conversational engagement. “I’m reading this here, and it makes a lot of sense, so much sense! This worry of needing me to know the whole memory and not just the emotions or body feelings. So, it’s not that we go right to body feelings, or even emotions. We access that by talking about a memory. And when the memory gets to be too much, then we focus on one part– like body feelings.”

Annoyed, I snap, “Right. So then you are just telling me no more talking. No more telling that memory.” I hate SP. This is stupid. I want to walk out of her office, I want to go home. 

“I know it feels like that. It feels like I might tell you no more talking, and that would hurt a lot. That’s not how this would work for us, though. Stopping and focusing on one piece of the memory and going between that one piece and your resource is only to give your system a chance to calm down. We always, always will go back to talking.” Bea is so calm, and her voice is so full of understanding that I lose some of my snark. 

“I don’t know,” I whisper, uncertain. It seems too big of a risk, to trust *SP Bea*.

Bea explains it all again, in that straight forward way she has, and suddenly something just clicks. 

“So, it’s like you are taking me out of the memory because it got to be too much for me, not too much for you?” I ask.

“Right! I’m still holding the memory as a whole, but it is my job to help keep you safe, so I take you to one tiny part of the memory and instead of you having to look at and hold the whole thing, I hold it for you.” Bea realizes that something has clicked, and she’s still calm but under the calm is excitement. 

“So it’s like clicking on a link to leave a webpage but leaving the original tab open on the iPad? And you won’t forget to come back to the original page?”

“No, I won’t forget,” she promises. 

“Okay,” I say, and then thinking about it, I say okay again. 

“Is this making sense?” She asks. 

I nod slowly. “Maybe. Sort of. I think it’s maybe just something I have to do.”

Bea agrees. “Yeah, it is more of a thing you need to experience, it’s hard to really get it just by talking about it.” 

“Okay. I’ll try,” I say, and I mean it.

Bea says something, maybe about resourcing and using my hands, I can’t remember exactly what, but it causes me to pull my fingers inside my sleeves. 

“Well, those fingers don’t like being noticed.” She says. I hear the gentle teasing in Bea’s voice and smile.

“I don’t much like being noticed.” I whisper. 

“Ahhhh,” Bea says. We (and what I mean by that is she) talk a bit, and then she suggests we talk about my need to hide. I hesitantly agree. I don’t want her to take away hiding. 

“I’m going to go get your blanket,” Bea tells me. 

I hear her get up, and walk a few steps over to the shelf holding blankets and then I hear her walk back and sit in her chair. She forgot to cover me up with the blanket. 

“So, I will give you the blanket, but I was hoping that we could first try to notice what it is like to hide without the blanket.” It’s funny, because when I type it out, it sounds like an ultimatum but it didn’t sound that way at all. In fact, I never doubted that had I said no, or asked for the blanket right then, she would have given it to me. Maybe that’s why I decided to try and do as she was asking. 

“Okay,” I say quickly before I can change my mind. 

Bea fires questions at me, too many, too fast. As soon as she asks one and the answer pops into my head, she is asking another and that answer erases the first one. I can’t hold onto any of the answers for long. They float in one ear as questions and out the other as answers. I can’t seem to direct them to turn into words. 

“I’m hiding…because you…..I don’t want you to see me when you are reading my words. Can you just ask me one thing at a time?” My voice is far away now and quiet. I’m not sure it’s really my voice at all. 

“Yes, of course.” Bea sounds a bit surprised, but not upset. “I’m curious, if you are hiding because of your notebooks and words being in my hands, would you feel safer if I gave them back?”

I shake my head. “No. You already read the words. And you might need them again anyway.”

“So there is a sense I may need them again?” She echoes. 

“Well, because you, if I can’t find the words, then you have them there. Or at least some of them.” My voice has that curious hollow sound to it, the one that means I’m heading towards too far away, but I don’t really care. 

“Ahhhh. Okay, that makes sense. It’s important that I have your words. I wondered if I gave them back now if there would be a sense of rejection?”

“No. You always give my notebooks back. And it’s not about the notebook, it is about the words in it.” I tell her. Why doesn’t she get this? Bea isn’t a writer, not like I am, anyway, or she would understand how the right words are worth more than many pounds of gold. 

“Okay. It’s the words, not the books themselves.” She pauses, thinking. “Are you feeling frozen right now?” 

“I could move.” I put the emphasis on could. “I just don’t want to.” 

“Why don’t you want to move?”

“Because then I might be….noticed. Seen.” The words are out of my mouth before I can even think about what they mean. 

“So it’s about being seen?” Bea repeats curiously.

“Yes……I don’t want anyone to see me. I don’t want anyone to pay attention to me.” That’s what’s said out loud. In my head, I continue, *if you can’t see me you can’t hurt me. And I don’t want to see your reactions to my words in case they mirror my own disgust with myself.*

“Ahhhh. I know that is such a big worry, and I know it doesn’t take away the worry but I can honestly say I can’t imagine anything you would say that would make me feel disgusted by you.” Sometimes, Bea really is a mind reader. “Is there an image that comes when you say that?” 

I think about it, focus on those words, *I don’t want anyone to see me,* and an image does pop up. I shove it away, fast. “Do you mean right away, like when I said it, or if I think about, focus on the words?” 

“Either one,” she tells me.

Inwardly, I groan. “Then yeah. Something comes up.”

“Can you tell me what it is? What do you see?” 

I sit for a long while, trying to get the words out, to tell her what it is I see, but I can’t find the words. I’m embarrassed and sick. 
Finally, I shake my head. “I can’t. I can’t say it.”

“That’s okay, we can come back to the image. Let’s notice what it is like now, and we can try again with the blanket,” Bea says simply. “Before I give you your blanket, can you take a minute and see what you notice about your body? I’d say it is curled inward, protective.”

I don’t say anything for a long time. But I do focus on what it feels like to be curled into myself. “Tight.” I finally say. 

“Your body feels tight,” Bea says. I nod my head, agreeing.

“I’m going to give you your blanket now.” She tells me before she stands up and steps over to the couch. She drapes the blanket over me.

I let out a big breath, and feel myself relax a little bit. I’m not present, but I’m not as far away as I was. 

“That was a big breath.” Bea notices. I don’t say anything, and so she begins with questions again. What do I notice? Can I move easier, knowing she can’t see me? Is there a part of my body that wants to hide more than another? Do I realize my toes are not covered? Can I feel that?

“My toes? No….I didn’t know. I mean, now I know because you told me. But I don’t feel it.”

“Do you want to focus on your toes for a moment? Try to feel them?” She asks. 

I agree, but all I can think of is her question about what body parts want to hide the most. The answer is my face. When I think of hiding, I want more than anything to cover my face, to not let anyone see my emotions playing out across my face, and I don’t want to see the other person, either. Hiding for me is not just about not being seen, it’s also about not seeing. We talk about how I do feel a little more relaxed now, that she can’t see me under the blanket. 

Eventually she asks about the image again. “I said we would come back to this, and I want to make sure we don’t run out of time. With that boundary of the blanket, could you talk about the image now?” 

I try, I really try, but the words just will not come out. I can’t say it. “I can’t. I just can’t.” 

“It’s okay, take your time. We have time. We can always come back to this next time.” Bea says soothingingly. 

“No…..I just…..it’s like I’m making it into a deal and now you expect a big thing. It really……… it’s just this stupid little piece that shouldn’t be so upsetting!” 

“Is it part of a memory that we have talked about before?” She sounds curious, like maybe she is wanting more Information so she can figure out the best way to approach it.

“Yes….no. Sort of. It’s a piece of…well, it’s a thing that probably we did talk about a memory but it’s not something we ever….it’s just this detail that I don’t know how to say and it’s awfully upsetting for just a small detail.” My eyes fill with tears as I speak. 

“The details. Those tiny pieces make things hard sometimes. I’ll never forget when a professor told me that the emotions and the story, the trauma, it is all in the details. The pain lives in the details. So it makes perfect sense that the details would feel so difficult to share.”

I struggle some more, trying to get the words out, and find a way to share this disturbing image. I take so long that Bea tells me that it’s time to start to come back, to get ready to go. “I know you have a full day to get on with, and I am going to go walk my dogs before this afternoon’s appointments. It’s nice out again, it looks like the sun should be out for most of the day.” 

I don’t say anything, but my brain goes into overdrive trying to find a way to blurt out the words before I leave. 

“Alice?” Bea says my name, a question, asking if I’m present enough to respond. 

“Yeah, I’m here. I’m fine. I just…..trying…..I mean……I was trying to get words out.” 

“Do you need to get the words out? If you need to talk about this, to get the words out, we can stay and do that. I don’t have any appointments until later this afternoon,” She says. 

“So if I said it was really important and I needed to talk now, you would stay and we would talk?” I ask.

“Yes, absolutely,” she says with no hesitation. She is ready and willing to listen if I need her to. And she means it, of that I have no doubt.

“I’m okay. It can wait until Monday.” I say easily. I think I just needed to know she would stay, that I was worth listening to, that I mattered.

“Okay.” Bea draws the word out, surprised. She was planning to stay and listen. “If you decide it can’t wait, you can write it down, or email it. And I’m only a phone call away if you need to talk about it.” 

“I know,” I tell her, and as I say it, I realize I do know. I believe deep down that Bea is here for me, that she isn’t leaving and that she will respond to me and listen to me and that it will be my choice to leave when I feel ready. Today, anyway, I know this to be true.