It’s Tuesday, and I have just come from my trauma yoga class. I run across the street, and up the stairs to Bea’s office. She’s putting a few things away. I knock on the door frame, not wanting to interrupt. “Hi…?”
She looks up and smiles at me. “Hi, come in.”
“I’m a few minutes early, I can wait if you…”
“Nope, I was just picking up. Come in,” she says again. I let myself in through the door, throw my bag down and sit in my place on the sofa. Bea takes her seat across from me in her chair on the blue rug.
We chat a bit, and then Bea tells me about the trauma training she went to yesterday. “I got this workbook, I want to let you take it home and see if you might want to use it, but I have one other person I want to show it to first. There was a lot of information, and she presented some new ideas or ways to handle flashbacks and trouble sleeping. She does a lot of art therapy; using the right brain and the left brain is part of what can help us really integrate and process trauma.”
Oh great, she’s going to be making me paint and draw, now, I think to myself. I have some drawings I have done to help with memories, but I don’t usually share them. They feel more personal than just writing. I nod at Bea, though, to let her know I hear what she is saying.
We chat about the weekend, and she tells me a little more about what she learned. The therapist teaching the training really does seem to approach things in a similar way to Bea, so it might be okay to try some of her ideas. Eventually, though, Bea brings up the email situation. Inside, I cringe. “I really am sorry I got distracted and didn’t answer Thursday’s email. I was glad you reached out about it.”
“It was really okay,” I tell her. I so don’t want to discuss this. “I was just overthinking things the way I do.”
“So what if I had been mad, and that was why I hadn’t answered your email? What would that have meant?” Bea asks me. Normally, if someone questioned me like this, my first thought would be that they really were mad, and just hadn’t wanted to tell me. With Bea, though, I do trust her, and she asks it in such a way that it is very obvious she is only asking ‘what if‘ and there is nothing else there.
I shrug my shoulders and bury my face.
“And why do we have to talk about this, right?” Bea says, stating my obvious feeling. “Because it’s important. The feelings and thoughts in a relationship matter.”
I hate this. I do not like talking about the relationship. I don’t like feeling so vulnerable, raw and open. I don’t like all the uncomfortableness that comes with this discussion. Isn’t it enough that I told her (albeit via email) it wasn’t okay for me to be mad at her because I need her? Isn’t it enough I have now admitted several times I am afraid she is going to leave? (The first time I phrased it as I was afraid she would fire me, but what I really meant was i needed her and was afraid she would leave). I have allowed small discussions about this, and have been more vulnerable than I can believe. It’s a big step from last fall when I told her ‘she could think the relationship mattered, but we would have to agree to disagree because I don’t think it’s important, and I won’t discuss it.’ I sigh and shake my head. “I don’t know. It was just me overthinking, that’s all. It was okay.”
“It’s fine if it was okay, but it would be fine if it wasn’t okay, too,” Bea says. She waits, but I don’t say anything. “Was it mad you were worried about, or maybe something else?”
“I don’t know. Mad is just what I go to. With anyone. I mean, hubby could be an hour late home and I will assume he didn’t text me because he is mad, even if we haven’t talked all day and there is no reason for him to be mad. It just is what I think when I overthink things. It’s no big deal. I was fine for the weekend, but then yesterday I knew I was coming here today and I just…I was overthinking.” I’m rushing to explain it away, to get rid of this conversation. Deep down, I might actually think talking about it could feel better, but I’m too afraid. I don’t want to go back to that needy place. I have been fighting all week to keep grown up me in charge, and the little girl is not about to take over the show.
She ignores what I said about hubby, for the moment, and says, “It would be okay if it wasn’t fine. I just wondered if maybe it wasn’t anger you were worried about but rejection, abandonment, something like that.”
I stay crunched in my little ball on the therapy couch. I hate this discussion.
“I might be wrong, but it seemed to me that maybe it felt like I had abandoned you after you had been more trusting with me. That maybe I wasn’t there for you. And maybe you were worried and felt alone but were too afraid to email sooner. In a way, I function like your secure base, and if you don’t know how your secure base feels towards you, where you are with them emotionally, it’s like being adrift at sea, lost.”
I freeze as she is talking. She has it pretty much pegged. And I can’t admit it. Why can’t I just say that her not replying felt like she left me, and I was alone and scared and so close to hopping back into the perfect bubble because without Bea to help me contain the mess of my memories, the disaster of my past and all the confusion and anxiety in my present, I can’t be here, like this, authentic and trying to be real.
We end up sitting in silence, and I eventually look up, peeking over the tops of my knees and arms. I manage to meet her eyes, and she says, “If you are ever worried about emailing because you don’t want to bother me, please email. Bother me, because I don’t feel it is a bother at all. You aren’t a bother.” She says this with so much care, and just real genuine kindness on her face and a warm smile, I believe her.
“Okay.” I whisper it. I’ll email when I need to, and just go ahead and bother her. It’s okay.
We talk about hubby, and him feeling disconnected and far away. “You are working really hard to put yourself out there and be honest and real. You are using your voice, and in a great way. That’s what is so important and huge.” Bea says at one point. She gets that hubby feeling far away is hard, but she is really happy that I’m finally speaking up.
“He just….even when he is next to me, talking to me, he’s not there. You know.”
“Yes, I know. It’s really hard to feel that. Especially when you are working so hard to be real. Maybe can you tell him that he feels disconnected?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know. He doesn’t…it just sends us in circles. Him telling me I can’t ‘tell him how to be, how to act and now to feel’ and me just trying to tell him what I need, and then I eventually just feel beat myself up for whatever I did wrong.”
“You know, that sounds more like a little boy speaking……Transference happens in all our relationships, not just in therapy. Do you think that is something a little boy with a narcissist for a mother would want to say?” Bea speaks slowly, she is thinking out loud. I really like that she thinks out loud like this sometimes.
I nod. “I guess so…maybe.”
“Does it feel like he is really talking to you when he says that? Or does it feel like it doesn’t really fit?”
“I don’t know. I’m usually too busy picking apart what I did wrong and being mad at myself,” I tell her honestly.
“Try to step back next time and see if it feels different. If it is more transference, then we can work with that and fix it,” she tells me confidently. She tells how it feels to her when someone is speaking to her from more of a transference place. The examples she gives are with coworkers and friends, real life examples. It helps.
“How? He would not like hearing he is really talking to his mom. Especially…well, me…I don’t know.” My words get muddled, but Bea knows what I’m saying.
“Well, we would find a kind way to talk about it. It would be okay.” She laughs suddenly and says,” I’m just picturing myself screaming at my husband, ‘I am not your mother!’ That is not the method I recommend, although it will get the point across.”
I laugh, too. Bea also has a mother in law who is….challenging…and I feel very lucky she gets that my mother in law issues aren’t just normal issues.
We had been talking about Mothers Day, as that is a current issue in our home. Hubby had asked me to celebrate with his mom. I told him ‘not happening‘ and that I was really hurt he would even ask me to spend that day with someone who is rude to me, doesn’t respect me as a mom, and treats me like the dirt on the bottom of her shoe. Bea is proud of me for standing up for how I really feel.
“Do you want to go to your moms for the day?” Bea asks me.
“Yes…no. I don’t know. It’s just complicated….it’s like layers. If I stick with the layers that are okay and I don’t think about it then I’m okay. But eventually I overthink and all that..I’m just..I don’t know.” I sigh, frustrated with myself.
“It’s very complicated. And with everything coming up in therapy that is really hard. One thing that was drawn out really nicely in the training was how abuse affects attachment when the abuser is outside of the family. Often times we think of a person dissociating to keep things okay and separate the good and bad when the abuser is a family member, a caretaker. The person being abused takes on all the blame to keep the good image of the caretaker. But, when the abuser is outside the family, the same happens. You take on all the blame so that you can keep a good image of your parents in you head, because the parents become the ones who didn’t protect you. As a child you need to know, to believe your parents are good and can protect you. By taking on all the blame, you can keep that image. But now, with thinking about ‘not my choice’, it means you have to start to face that your parents didn’t protect you. And that’s going to bring up a lot of feelings.”
I am listening to Bea, but I’m feeling fuzzy, grounded but gone, panicked but numb. Tears are forming in my eyes, and I’m squeezing my knees tighter, and my whole body feels tense. I’m hot, flushed. It’s like being given a shot of adrenaline but being super-glued in place. I can’t get words to come out, and I can only think how messed up it all is.
“What’s coming up right now? What are you thinking?” Bea’s voice, gentle and calm, but still strong, breaks through my circling, racing thoughts.
I struggle to answer, but I get some words out. “She left. She had to know. She left. I blamed myself. How did she not know?” I stop and cry, then calm enough to continue. “She….it’s….I know, I know all the things that could have happened, and I know I can’t really know what was going on with her, but it’s a mom….I mean…..a mom is supposed to protect her child. Even if it hurts herself. It’s just…and then I can’t think more. Because it….” I don’t continue. I can’t. But the rest should be that I didn’t matter enough, she didn’t love me enough, I wasn’t good enough.
“Yes. All of that. And we can’t know your mom’s story, but does her story really matter to yours? She wasn’t there when you needed, she didn’t see you and didn’t keep you safe.” It’s exactly the kind of validation I have been craving, but I feel so saddened by it, and still guilty for feeling how I feel.
“Did she….I thought she was mad at me! I thought she hated me,” I cry to Bea.
Bea knows what instance I’m talking about, thankfully, and she says, “I think finding your underwear was a trigger for her. I think the anger and hatred you felt was directed to herself. It had nothing to do with you.”
I cry and talk a while longer. How could she not know, how could she be so mad at me? Why was I in trouble when she found my underwear and when I kissed him? Why didn’t she love me enough to question more? She left me. I think about, but don’t say, how I sometimes prayed that she would come home, but it never worked. I used to think it was because I wasn’t good enough, so God wouldn’t grant my wish.
Eventually Bea tells me that we need to wind things down, work on coming back and grounding. She describes a new technique she learned for help with sleeping. I’m to take the images stuck in my head and imagine painting over them with a color that feels beautiful to me. It sounds goofy, but I think I might try it. I’m willing to try anything.
“I know you don’t want to talk about this, but one thing she said really struck me. She said that when it comes to these self harming things, the body is a canvas. It tells a story we can’t say in words. Where and how we harm ourselves matters.” Bea is speaking quietly, and her voice is gentle. She knows this is hard for me to hear. I feel frozen, sick. I don’t want to talk about this. “She talked about picking,” Bea says softly. At this point I want to ask if she felt like, ‘hey, I actually have this crazy client who picks her fingers to death’ but I don’t. “She said maybe someone picks, hurts their hands, because often times the hands were made to touch or do something that felt dirty, wrong.”
“I don’t wanna talk about this!” The words rush out. I feel scared, I don’t want to put my bad behaviors into a reason that fits with….this crap. No. “I pick when I’m anxious. I always have. That’s all. It’s nothing.”
“Maybe. I think there is a deeper reason. Eating, not eating, where we cut, how we eat or don’t eat, what we choose to harm ourselves with and where we do it, tells a story. It’s just something to think about. And we can talk about it when you are ready.” Bea finishes her piece. She can be so stubborn sometimes.
We talk about grounding, and Bea says that one thing she should have made me do a long time ago was to create a safe space, kind of a place to visualize and go to when I feel afraid to help ground me. It’s a place to let go and not worry about all the ugly for while. She says I shouldn’t be going to the same place in my head that I went to as a child, because that is about hiding and can be traumatizing.
“So no more hiding in my closet, huh?” I joke. I don’t see not hiding in the closet as something that will happen anytime soon.
“Something like that.” Bea chuckles at my joke.
I leave feeling okay. Everything is still a mess in my head, yes. I feel like I have my anchor back, I’m okay. She still cares, she wants me to talk and work all of this mess out. She gets it. And I’m not a bother. That might be the most important thing from the entire session. I’m not a bother. I’m not a bother.