I’m still hiding under my blanket, too afraid, or ashamed or some feeling I can’t name, to come out of hiding. So Bea reads, and I hide.
(I’ve tried to label the email as to who is saying what because Bea and I have this habit of writing our responses directly into the email, so it becomes more of a conversation, a back and forth.)
Alice (email 1) So. Every time I try to write, I can’t find the words, or I delete them before I can share them. Stupid editor part. I’ve written this stupid email 3 times today.
Parts are all stirred up. Ms. Perfect is….well, I don’t know. Unable to run the ship all the time like she used to. I think this….all the triggers and stuff, and school starting and needing to be, I don’t know, not crazy…..maybe the editing part is what is keeping me acting normal and hiding all the ick. Except it’s not helping, not really, not like Ms. Perfect and the bubble.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) It’s interesting that now this Editing Part is a thing. Is it the same part that cuts off the words when you try to speak?
Alice (response to Bea) Yes, I think it is the same part. Maybe it’s not even a part. It just feels like a part, a part that is erasing or stopping or rewriting or ignoring all the ugly things. It feels like a part that is, I don’t know, maybe like my mother in some ways. But it’s not like Ms. Perfect. Ms. Perfect does things, is always go go go. Even with covid, I could see her scheduling out blocks of time for things like bible study, cleaning, exercise….still always go go go. The editing part, she doesn’t care what I do as long as the ugly is not acknowledged or shared. If I laid in bed all day and watched movies, as long as the ugly stuff was being shoved under the rug, the editing part would be happy. Ms. Perfect would never be okay with that level of laziness, or with that much screen time.
“It’s almost like the editor has taken Ms. Perfect’s place,” Bea murmurs.
It’s not like that, not really. I shake my head, but of course she can’t see me. “No….not exactly,” I say softly.
“Can you tell me more about this part?” Bea asks.
“I…..the editor is…..I don’t know. It’s not….she just needs things to be buried, ignored, not thought about or said out loud or anything. I don’t know. She doesn’t care about things being perfect and right and good, not like Ms. Perfect.” I try to explain it. It’s not easy.
“So, the editor doesn’t care about what is happening on the outside, as long as all the scary trauma stuff is hidden away even from yourself?” Bea asks, trying again to see if she gets it.
“No….it’s like…” I sit up straight and come out from under my blanket. I look at Bea. “I still hate the enneagram and I do not want to talk about it ever, ever again, but for this one instance, this one time, I think it will help. Ms. Perfect is the one that cares about how things look to others but also really cares about doing things perfect and good and right even if others don’t see that, or know it.”
“Thats a one on the enneagram, the perfectionist.” Bea interjects.
“Yeah, what you insisted I was for like ever and ever. And I’m not.”
“No, I don’t think you are, either.” Bea agrees.
“Okay. And the editor is the one that just kind of goes along and doesn’t like to acknowledge hard stuff or yucky feelings and hides from conflict.” I tell Bea.
“That would be a nine. So the editor is a 9 and Ms. Perfect is a 1,” she says slowly, as if she is thinking. “So, okay, what you are saying is that even though Ms. Perfect and the editor have the same job, Ms. Perfect is more of an external showing, and the editor is more internal. For me, Ms. Perfect feels like a part I know really well, it is is easy to recognize when she is running the ship. The editor, she feels more shadowy to me, I don’t have a handle on who this part is.”
“Yes. You get it. Its not the same, not exactly, but it is the same, sort of.” I smile because of the absurdity of using the enneagram to help sort this out is funny to me.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) It’s probably good that this part is being spoken of as a part—then we can work with it! Not that it wasn’t here before, but it didn’t have a name. Nice to meet you!
Alice (email 1) I write about what the creepy cousin comment means and how confused I am. And then I delete it all.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) I would love to read that if the editor would ever allow it.
Alice (response to Bea) I can’t share it. If I were writing in a paper journal this would be a folded over and taped shut page. Instead it just gets deleted. Ugh. I try to write a journal on my iPad so I can share it and end up just deleting everything. Ugh.
“Yes, I remember your folded over journal pages taped shut. We had a lot of those in the beginning.” Bea says.
I hide again, and whisper, “But then we did open some eventually.”
“Yes, we did. When you were ready and felt safe enough to do so. And you will be ready and feel safe enough to share this, too, one day. You just have to be patient.”
Ugh. Patience. I am not good at being patient with myself, or the parts. It’s really hard when some parts want so badly to talk and others are just as desperate to never share any of it. Ugh.
Alice (email 1) I write about all this mad inside, and how it all came out at kat and then hubby yelled at me for it and there is so much guilt around this and shame and it just is awful. And then I delete if before I can share it.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) I’m sure that felt bad:( It makes so much sense why it would come out that way, but of course I know you don’t want to dump it on kat.
Alice (email 1) I write about the bad memory. I write the pieces I remember, even the fuzzy parts and the parts that feel awful and the confusing parts. Then I delete it before no one can know. I can’t tell. Not ever.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) I know this is a very difficult memory. And you don’t have to tell—we can work with what is happening now because of it instead. If some of it does need to be shared, that’s okay too.
Alice (response to Bea) I need you to make the confusing bits not so confusing. Those are the worst. Scary and confusing and it doesn’t really make sense because why would this be what happened, except it’s how I remember it…ugh. I feel like I explained this a few weeks ago.
Bea starts in on some talk about how memories work, or how trauma memories can be weird or how they form different or something. I don’t know, I just know she’s not getting it.
“No. No. You aren’t listening. You don’t get it! We talked about this already, why don’t you remember? Ugh.” I feel like I’m shouting at her, but I’m in the weird space of here not here, so I could just be whispering or actually shouting.
“Can you tell me what we talked about exactly?” Bea asks.
“Because you forgot,” I say, sadly.
“Because I need a little help to jog my memory. You are important to me, and I want to get this right. I do remember talking about memories and how they can be weird and confusing sometimes, but I don’t remember exactly the explanation of what helped before. Can you share that again?”
Okay. Okay. She didn’t forget because she doesn’t care. I can say it again, I can do this. “Um….you know…it took a long time to talk about what happened before my mom found my underwear…..”
“Yes, that was a very bad memory. So many scary pieces for the little girl. It was really hard to talk about. You needed to know I was a very safe person before you could talk about it.” Bea is reassuring and present and caring.
“Well….I um….do you remember how I said….I told you that it was confusing because I felt…….pain….and I couldn’t move…..so much weight on me……I couldn’t move at all……..it hurt down there but his hands were by my face, both hands and I thought maybe he did something to hurt me before his hands were on my face but all I could remember then was his hands holding my face and pain…it hurts, it hurts so much, I think maybe I am dying or being cut in half, maybe he did something with my scissors except they are on my art desk so that’s not right……” I’m talking too fast and too mixed up and I’m so far away. I hate this memory. I hate that this is part of my life story. This crazy making stuff. I hate how easily I can be back there again.
“Yes, I remember that day, the first time you told me this memory. I remember it very well. That was a hard time for you. You were so hurt. He hurt you so badly, I was so angry that had been done to you, I wanted to kill him,” Bea tells me.
Her admission of anger and of wanting to kill him, pulls me back to present day. “And you called it something. The word I don’t say.”
“Yes, the *R* word,” Bea says.
“Yes….and that was…..it was awful because I didn’t know that was…..that that happened in that memory when I was so young……and also because it was….I don’t know, just bad and it was real after you said that but….also, the really confusing, weird bit of that memory made sense to me, to grown up me, after you called it that. I didn’t…..I couldn’t see, the grown up couldn’t see what…..couldn’t make sense of what the memory really was.”
“Yes, yes, I remember. You didn’t have a grown up version of the memory, just the little girl’s trauma memory and she wouldn’t have known that he raped you in that memory. She wouldn’t have words or context for that. She would only know what she could make sense of. So you are saying that this memory that is coming up now, you need a grown up to help you make sense of it? Because then the confusing bits won’t be so scary, because they will have a context, and maybe make a little bit of sense. Is that right?” Bea’s voice has that excited tone people get when something clicks and they finally understand something they weren’t fully grasping before.
I nod. “Yes. I need you to help me.” I cover my mouth as soon as the words are spoken. Did I really just tell her that I need her? Why did I do that? What is wrong with me?
“I’m here, and I will be here to try to help make sense of this when you are ready to share it, okay?” Bea tells me. Her voice has so much love in it. That’s the only way to describe it. She cares and she is going to be here.
Alice (email 1) I write that I wish I hadn’t said I didn’t want more than an hour for video therapy and that I wish I could ask you to have my old time back because an hour doesn’t feel like enough to talk about those awful things. But I can’t ask for that because the teen and the little girl are so afraid of and so hyper sensitive to rejection (real or imagined). Then I delete that, too, while I beat myself up for needing too much, and for wanting more than I should.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) We can plan in extra time if we want to work on those difficult things. I don’t always have more than an hour, but sometimes I do.
Alice (response to Bea) I hate this. The adult is all like, yep, that sounds good to plan extra time if I need it and it’s an option. The adult knows that early on during covid, the extra time would have been crazy, because she was not really talking about anything. The teen is just mad. She wants her time back like it was. She feels like there was no talking about stuff early on because by the time she had the sense that you were you and really here, time was almost up because through a screen it feels so much harder to feel that you are here and still her safe person. She’s mad you asked about making video therapy an hour and that I agreed without thinking it through or asking about what happens if I need my time back or anything. She just wants things back how they were. And she’s sad that this is just how it is. And she hates everything right now.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) When I come back from up north I think the following Monday I have group. So we could do 7:30 to 9:00 that day as one option, for example.
Alice (response to Bea) The grown up thinks yes, let’s try that. The teen wants to just scream never mind, forget it. 🤦🏼♀️
Alice (email 1) On Monday, I wrote that the little girl feels like you don’t want her to talk. You offered a longer time on Wednesday and then in the same breath said it’s not a good time to dig into things, and that just felt like you didn’t really want to hear all the mess that I keep writing about and then deleting. It felt like a big rejection to her. I deleted that, too, because my instinct is still to hide my hurt and pretend it’s fine.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) Oh, I’m so sorry about that! I said we had more time, then remembered as I said it that it was our last time before my vacation, so I was just thinking out loud. I was only thinking about not stirring things up too much when we have to miss three sessions right after. It wasn’t/isn’t about me not wanting to hear about it, but rather it was about keeping you safe.
Alice (response to Bea) I feel like I say this a lot but it doesn’t matter if we talk about it or not, if it’s all there under the surface and messy, it’s there even if we both ignore it. And it’s almost worse if we both ignore it and don’t talk about something so you can “keep me safe.” I feel like all this does is let you feel better about things and not have to worry that we dug up something. Because either way, it’s there for me, whether you talk with me about it or not. Why don’t you get that? It’s all dug up. It’s dug up on an almost nightly basis.
“You’re right. Trying to keep you as safe as possible does let me feel better about going on vacation and missing 3 sessions in a row. It doesn’t mean that I won’t think about you or worry about you, but yes, trying to keep you safe is about you, but it helps me feel better, too. If I didn’t try to keep you safe, I would be a bad therapist. But of course it’s there for you even if we don’t bring it up. I know that. I do know that. Let me check something…..” Bea’s voice trails off for a second, and then she’s back. “It looks like I will have wifi there, so I can email and could probably even do a short video call check in, if you needed. You know how spotty cell service is there. I know you won’t use my backup therapist while I’m gone, but now I know you can contact me if you need to. I still think trying to keep you safe and going slow, waiting for all the parts to be okay with telling is important. But I do know it is always there for you right now and that it is very hard for you to have this editing part stopping you from speaking.”
“Okay,” I respond. I feel like I should say more, but my thoughts are messy.
Alice (email 1) I write that I really hate that you are leaving. I know you will be back but this is the first time in a long time that you leaving is triggering all these fears and feelings of abandonment. I delete that, too, because there is so much shame around needing anyone.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) It’s okay to need people,
Alice (response to Bea) Ugh. I can’t. I just can’t right now. This does not feel okay. It’s not a good idea. I just can’t. So please stop. It’s not okay, not safe.
“I know it really doesn’t feel okay. I promise it is though. People need people. We are made that way. Can I ask if there is something specific making it feel bad that I’m going on vacation?”
“I don’t want to talk about this.” I whisper.
“Okay, we don’t want have to talk about it,” Bea agrees.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) and I used to feel like this when my therapist left, too. This is a vulnerable time for you for a lot of reasons.
Alice (email 1) I just can’t do this. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t pretend okay, and yet I can’t stop editing everything. I feel stuck and alone and I hate this. I hate that you kept saying how much better I seemed and how much more in the present I was and whatever. I hate that you kept telling me you sense a transition. No. No transition. Just me, doing my best to feel in control and the editing part stopping me from saying all the things that I want so very badly to not be alone with. I hate that I couldn’t talk last week and that I can’t seem to talk this week and it’s all just hard.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) Sounds really frustrating, for sure. Also sounds like I didn’t spend enough time talking to the parts yesterday. Let me clarify: I didn’t say “better,” I said “regulated,” and the positive thing about regulated is that most people can find words better than when they’re out of their window. The Editor may not allow that, of course.
Alice (response to Bea) Well it felt like you just cared that I was acting better…sorry, acting more “regulated”…because that’s much nicer to deal with than crazy stirred up messy Alice.
“I like dealing with all parts of Alice. I wasn’t pointing it out because I didn’t want to deal with the stirred up parts. I was just hopeful that feeling more regulated would help you find the words when you wanted to talk.” Bea explains. She is so patient. How many times has she had to reassure me over the years that the messy crazy stirred up me does not frighten her or worry her? Way too many to count, and way more often than she should have to.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) The transition I was talking about was the real one—school starting. I don’t just sense it—it happened, and that made left-brain stuff come on line.
Alice (response to Bea) Yes fine. School started. I acted like a functioning adult. That doesn’t mean any of this is better. It means that I obsessively cleaned and organized to ”an extreme” (not my words, hubby’s words when I was still cleaning— using an old toothbrush to scrub the grout in between the tiles in our entire upstairs—- at 2am one night). It means that in order to manage to function and get Kat to school with a good start to her day, and to pick her up and act like a mom, I have to have this extra organized house and life with every routine and schedule planned to the last detail. Because I need to control something, anything, or I’ll lose my mind. And this is something I’m great at controlling. But I wouldn’t call it a healthy left brain transition thing. I’d call it crazy with a purpose maybe, but not healthy. Yes, sure, I know on the outside it all looks healthy and positive and regulated. But it does not feel that way. I know, without it happening, that if one thing does not go according to my schedule and my very organized plans and routines, I’ll lose it in a not pretty way. This does not feel regulated or better or positive to me. It feels awful. It feels like falling apart from the inside out and no one even sees what’s right in front of them.
“Oh….oh, I see. I didn’t see on Monday, did I? I’m sorry. That must have felt really awful. This doesn’t sound like it feels very healthy or regulated at all. It sounds hard.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. She gets it. “It’s really hard.” I start crying then. I needed her to see, to get it, that I’m not okay, that I’m using every not so great tool I have to hold it together, that I’m trapped alone in my nightmare and I can’t get out, so all I can do is frantically try to regain some kind of control over everything.
“What’s coming up right now?”
“I told you on Monday,” I sob. “I told you I was….that it wasn’t regulated and you just kept telling me how better I was and something about left brain and I just…..”
“Oh, yikes. I really stepped in it, didn’t I? Of course you were mad! I didn’t listen or see you, did I? I’m sorry. I think I was just feeling so hopeful that this would be a time that you could feel a little more in your window, and I am sorry that I was so focused on that, that it caused me to have blinders on.” Bea means it. She messed up and she is willing to accept that responsibility.
“But now you see?” I ask.
“Yes, I see now that things do not feel grounded,” she answers.
“I was so mad. I’m not mad now, though.” I peek out from my blanket. Bea is just Bea, the same as always.
“It would be okay if you were still mad,” Bea teases. It is kind of a joke between us, because I hate mad so much.
“Well, I’m still mad about the editing part. I just….it’s so hard. I hate this.” The tears start again, and I hide my face with my hands for a minute before I give up and hide under my blanket again.
“Can you say more about what this is?” Bea asks.
“The….some parts wanting to talk and then the editor not wanting to talk. It’s just so hard. I can’t keep doing this.” Frustrated, I pick at my fingers until my thumb starts bleeding. Oops.
“Do we know why the editor doesn’t want some parts to be heard?” Bea wonders. She’s doing the curiosity thing, but whatever, I don’t care.
“Because…..it’s not a good idea, bad things would happen then.” It’s not grown up Alice who answers, but I’m not sure if it’s the teen or the little girl or another part.
Bea says something in response, but I don’t remember what. I’ve been dissociating off and on to different degrees all session and things get very fuzzy at this point. I know that somehow, maybe from questions Bea asks, I’m telling Bea that the editor does not want to be seen, and it physically hurts because other parts of me need so badly for her to see them.
“Yeah, that is really hard, isn’t it? Even if I don’t know the words that need to be shared, I do know the little girl and the teen, and I see them.”
“I know…it’s just so hard and I feel so alone.” I know I sound whiny, but I can’t stop myself.
“Do you know why the editor doesn’t want to be seen?” Bea wants to know.
I sigh. “It’s so hard not to edit answers about the editor!”
“Hmmm, yes, I imagine that would be very true. I’m sure the editor doesn’t want me knowing too much about her.”
“Ugh,” I mumble. And then, interrupting Bea, and speaking very quickly, I say, “Real answer, no editing, first thought after you asked that is because it’s dangerous.”
“Being seen is dangerous, yeah. It feels very dangerous. If I see you, I could reject you. If I see you, I can hurt you. Yes, being seen is scary because it can feel so dangerous.” Bea sympathizes.
I don’t say anything, but I am feeling very uncomfortable and way too vulnerable.
Bea (response to Alice email 1) I keep dozing off and starting to dream, so I need to go to bed, and I hope there’s nothing weird that doesn’t make sense. See you in the morning!
Alice (response to Bea) And now that the mad has been let out…….Are you mad with me now? please just don’t leave me okay? Please tell me you are coming back and you will still be you and it will be okay.
“No, I’m not mad at the little girl or the teen or any parts of Alice. I’m not mad at all. And I will be back, and I will be me, just me. It will be okay.”
Shame heats my face. I hate that I need this reassurance.
“Alice? Are you still here?” Bea asks.
“Yeah….just….embarrassed. I’m sorry.” I whisper.
“You don’t have anything to be sorry about,” Bea declares. “Can I tell you something?”
“Okay,” I say.
“I was worried earlier that I would mess this up and you would leave. You worry about me getting mad and leaving you, but I worry about the same thing sometimes.” She stage whispers this, like it is a secret.
It takes a minute for her words to sink in. “You would be sad if I left?” The little girl needs to check that she is understanding this right.
“Yes, I would be sad. This is a relationship. It’s real, even if it is a therapy relationship. I would be very sad if you left.” She affirms.
I am finding this to be unbelievable. “You really would be sad?” I question again.
“Yes! You matter to me. You matter to lots of people. You are important, and you have value just for being you. Yes, I would be sad.” Bea assures me.
“Oh,” is all I can say. I’m surprised, but Bea sounds authentic. She means it. I matter to her. All of a sudden, things feel a little more equal. This is no longer a relationship where I am needy and pathetic and attached to Bea and she could take me or leave me. It’s no longer a relationship where she is one of the most important people in my life and I am nothing to her. (I know Bea has never actually felt like I am nothing to her, but when those attachment and abandonment feelings kick in before she leaves for a trip, it feels like I am just an interchangeable client.)
The rest of the day, I keep returning to this idea that I matter to Bea, that she would miss me and be sad if I just suddenly left therapy. Just like that, the rupture I was so scared we were careening towards, has been avoided. We’re okay.