Bea is back from vacation, and I am sitting in her office. I’m not sure I want to be here at all, but we emailed the entire time she was gone, and I am feeling better enough about things that I came to therapy today. It’s a start, anyways. I have gone from feeling, ‘I hate this and am quitting Bea’ to ‘I don’t like the idea of this, but I’ll work with her on it.’
“So tell me what has happened this week?” Bea asks me. Even though we have emailed almost everyday, we were talking about the sensorimotor therapy and my feelings around it, not all that has been going on.
“Well, I had my birthday and my parents came,” I tell her.
“That’s right. How was that?”
I sigh. There is so much I want to say about it all, and yet, I don’t even know where to begin. “It was okay. We…it was okay.” I blink away some tears, just thinking about it.
“Well, you said your mom was very real when you talked about your grandpa,” she prompts. I had emailed that much. I needed someone who would understand the significance to know. Bea looks calm, and normal. She’s in her chair, holding her favorite to go cup with tea in it, and is looking at me intently, as if she really wants to know.
“Yeah…we just talked. Cried. She didn’t try to distract me by saying he is in heaven, or would want us to be happy.”
“Who brought him up? You or her?”
“I did. It was when we cut the cake,” I say, and then I interject with–“speaking of which, I brought you a piece.”
“Yum. I can’t wait to try it,” she says.
I continue with the story, explaining how we put a candle in the cake for my grandpa. “Then we talked about him for a few minutes.”
“What about your Dad?”
“He was listening. Not really talking. But not shutting me down either.” I shrug. It’s weird. Really weird. I don’t know. Its new and different and uncomfortable. And then I blurt out one of those things that has been bothering me, that I don’t want to talk about but that I just need to say. “My mom ate a piece of cake.”
“Have you ever seen her eat birthday cake?”
I shake my head. “Not that I remember. Not unless….she was…well, you know.”
“That must have felt a little strange.” Bea says slowly, carefully.
“It’s…I don’t know. She doesn’t have any diet pills, tea…nothing for….they are all gone.” I whisper. I don’t know what to make of this.
“It sounds like she is really trying to get this under control.” Bea says. “Can I assume you didn’t get a too small sweater for your birthday this year?”
I sigh, and feel sad, remembering the sweater gift and all the pain that caused. “She got me a coloring book. She says she colors in therapy. I don’t know.”
“A lot of people color in therapy. I have a lot of teenagers who do. And others, too. Is it one of those grown up coloring books?” She asks.
I nod. Its a book of mandalas.
“Did she get you colored pencils or anything to go with it?”
I shake my head. “Crayons. The big box of all the colors. It’s what I always had when I was a kid. And when they weren’t sharp anymore, I would beg for a new box.”
“Did she seem….regretful? Sad? Anything, when she gave you your present?” Bea leans toward me, takes a drink of her tea. She is trying to figure out the puzzle of my mother.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I wasn’t….I just don’t know.”
“Well, when you first said coloring book, I was thinking that those coloring books are everywhere now, even though it feels like something more to me. Then when you said she got you crayons, I thought it sounded like a mother with regrets, wishing she could change the past.” She doesn’t hesitate to be honest with me, tell me what she is thinking.
“Maybe. I don’t know. She got me this bracelet, too. She has a matching one. She wrote this whole thing…in my card about the heart charm to remind me she loves me no matter what and is always here.” I can say this without crying because I have stepped back, taken the feelings away.
“So her gifts to you really are all about connecting.”
“Maybe it’s too late.” I say softly. I feel sad, saying it. But it is what I feel.
“Or maybe you just need time to trust this connection she is asking for.”
“Well maybe I don’t want to connect.” I say, a snotty tone under my words, anger blurring the edges of them.
“And yet you are still wearing the bracelet.” Bea observes.
“Or someone put it on my wrist and I can’t unclip the clasp one handed.” My words are flippant, meant to prove I don’t want this connection with my mom. Whether I am trying to prove it to myself or to Bea, I am not sure.
“I have a feeling if you wanted it off, you’d have found a way to get it off.” Bea pushes back, in much the same way Kay might, not allowing me to lie to myself.
“I just….it feels too late! Why now? She can not just change things and have them be all fine and connected after not being here. It’s not fair.”
“No, no it’s not fair. It sucks. She should have been there then. And we can look and see that she was young, dealing with loss of her mom, maybe abused, but none of that really matters. It doesn’t change the feelings. It’s not fair. And it feels like too late.” Bea gets it. She gets there is this giant disconnect between my heart and my head. We’d emailed about that disconnect feeling in general, and she had said she got it that last session. But listening to her, I am struck by the fact that she really does get it.
“I…hubby…when mom gave me the coloring book, he said he was going to make me take it on our thanksgiving road trip, to keep me occupied, being silly you know?” The words rush out. They are the beginning of the story of the drama mess of my bday.
Bea nods at me.
I curl my legs up, and hugging my knees, I look at her. “My dad, jokingly, but sort of serious, said I wasn’t allowed to color in his car anymore, and then warned him to be careful not to hit any bumps while driving. Apparently, I used to get very upset about my pictures getting messed up and not being perfect.” The words are super speed, emotions buried. I’m just telling a story, nothing more.
“Mmhmmm. What did hubby say?”
“I don’t think anything. I said…I said…” and I suddenly can not leave emotion out of it any longer, and I hide my face.
“What did you say?” Bea asks, after waiting a bit for me to continue.
“I said that I had no choice but to be perfect.” The words feel once again as though they weigh a ton. It felt as though I had dropped a bomb that day. The silence that followed had been deafening.
“You did need to be perfect growing up. A part of you must have felt safe enough to say it. What did your dad do?” Bea is calm, and quiet. I’m struck how if someone were to hear her tone, they would never know my whole world is blowing up.
“I…I don’t know. Nothing? My mom…all my attention was on my mom. She said….she said it was her fault.”
“That had to feel so validating. To hear her agree with their need for you to be perfect,” Bea says softly.
“I don’t know. I still don’t. I….I told Kat to show nanna her new coloring book app, and said I had to pee. And I went to the bathroom.”
“It was a lot. How did you sound, when you said it?” We both know she means when I said the part about having to be perfect.
“Like bratty teenage me. I don’t know.” I’m ashamed of how I sounded.
“Ahhh. That makes sense. You had to be feeling some anger, some hurt, that hubby and your dad were joking about something so hurtful to you. Something that has been front and center in therapy and is still painful.”
“I just hid on the bathroom and….I couldn’t….it was too much…so I just…” I stop myself from speaking before I say something I will regret. I had cut that day, hiding in the bathroom. Calmed myself down, got back in control.
“You just what?” Bea prompts me. Maybe she knows there is something there, or maybe shw just wants to keep me talking about it all.
“I just hid,” I say sadly; both because of why I was hiding and because I am too afraid to finish that sentence for real.
“Okay,” she says. “Did your mom bring it up again when you came out?”
I shake my head. “No. She asked if I was okay, later. But she let it drop.”
“Maybe she sensed you weren’t ready to have that conversation.”
“I’m just worried I screwed up by saying what I said. Hurt her. Messed things up for her.” I’ve been taking care of her feelings for so long, I am afraid to stop completely.
“She has a therapist now. She will take it to therapy. Her therapist can hold that for her and contain her feelings about it. The therapist can support her. You don’t have to protect her anymore. She has a therapist to help her now,” Bea tells me. I realize, in some part of myself, Bea is right.
“I just feel like I screw everything up.” The tears come now, huge sobs that I can’t stop. I have been holding them in for two weeks now, and even more has built up. Plus, I still feel like 14 year old me; like nothing I do is good enough, like I am a failure, like I ruin everything, like all I do is hurt people, like everyone would be better off without me.
Bea says something, and I cry more. I told her nothing felt okay, that I will never be good enough.
Softly, Bea murmurs, “Those old messages are just so deep.”
I cry and cry. “It’s too much,” I tell her, and proceed to list out everything that is wrong with me and that I have screwed up and how I will probably screw up today. “And I just…I can’t. All I do is screw up. I told myself that I wasn’t going to do this here.”
“It’s okay to do this here.” She reassures me, but she doesn’t get it. I don’t like this panic attack, can’t breathe Alice. I do not like others to see her.
“Can you make it stop hurting? Please tell me how to make it stop,” I sob.
“Well…I think this is one of those things. The only way out is through.” Bea sounds saddened by having to say that.
“I can’t do it.”
“You can. You are,” she says firmly.
Eventually I get control of myself. Bea lets me leave, but I suspect it is only because I am going to go pick up Kat and bring her back for a session.