Changes….PART three: couple’s therapy 

Hubby has been more present the last few weeks. I think it’s our couples therapy. We’ve only had 3 sessions so far, but I like the therapist– Kim.

To recap, I had been feeling so badly in September, during a time when Bea was gone, and hubby and I fought, that I called around and found a couple’s therapist. Due to hubby’s work schedule we had moved the appointment twice, so by the time it came up, I wasn’t really feeling it. I just kept thinking it wasn’t needed now, I didn’t want to connect with anyone right now, hubby was fine, I liked him being so far away from me. Bea encouraged me to go, that it would be fine, just an intake appointment so nothing too deep would be touched on at all. 

In the end, Kat ended up starting at her new school that day, and I wanted to be with her that first day, so hubby went to the appointment by himself. I think Bea and the therapist took that to mean I had a certain level,of trust in hubby, and maybe I do, but moreover, it was that I didn’t want to cancel on Kim again and appear to be a total flake who just rudely cancels every first appointment I’ve had with her, and who doesn’t really care about or want couple’s therapy. So, hubby went alone. And I honestly think that it was maybe for the best that way, because he talked to her quite a bit about his issues in this marriage– his tuning out, his not being present, his being emotionally shut down. He talked about how he grew up, and his crazy narcissistic mother. I’d already told her some of this but I think it’s good he told her himself. And, hubby liked her. 

Our first appointment together was really uneventful. They gave me a recap of what they talked about, and Kim explained that she was hoping we could get hubby to have a work brain and an emotionally attached/family brain so he could hopefully leave his work brain at work and use his family brain at home. We talked a lot about hubby’s job and how that has effected him in that it has taught him to shut down and close out feelings, and to process things quickly, filtering out irrelevant details. This clearly, does not translate well to family life, or in being married to someone who is extremely triggered when feeling not seen or heard. Hubby talked about how I talk too much, and don’t give him time to speak. Kim asked if I could maybe edit down my talking and leave bigger pauses in the conversation for him. I didn’t like her asking that, it felt hurtful, simply because of my childhood and my mothers accusations that I talked too much and needed too much. I also felt like she was wrong, that If hubby would put his phone down, stay in one place, focus on the conversation, there wouldn’t be a problem. At one point, hubby said that how we were talking in Kim’s office was “normal conversation” and not how I talk at home, and I retorted that it was different here because he was actually present and paying attention. 

Kim also brought up the idea of hubby using emotion words, and that talking to me like that would create the intimacy he was looking for. I know I dissociated at that point, because the words freaked me out. To me, that word means sex. Bea was up north then, so I couldn’t (well, I could, I just won’t) email her to ask her about it or to share my freak out. Instead. Later that day, I looked up the meaning of the word, and found that intimacy can mean several things. I wrote about it in my journal and when Bea read it she confirmed that if she were to use the word she would mean “emotional closeness”, not sex. So I felt better about that. And, while Bea was reading my journal, she murmured “I wish you would have emailed” In response to me having a freakout in my journal and feeling upset that I *couldn’t* email. She sounded sad for me, and really real when she said it. So, it appears she really doesn’t mind me emailing when she is gone. So maybe I will next time.  

Session number 3 with Kim was a lot like session 2, except I had a lot of moments of feeling uncomfortable. We started out by discussing how things had been the last two weeks, and how we were doing with hubby being present and me talking less. Hubby said he felt like I was talking a lot more with him instead of at him, and I explained I didn’t feel like I had to rush through anything I wanted to tell him before he zoned out or picked up his phone because he had been more present and had been making sure to put the phone down. Kim said that was all really good to hear. 

She asked about my birthday because we had mentioned being out of town to visit my parents to celebrate. She had wanted to know if hubby and I had gone out since my parents were there and could babysit. I shook my head, explaining that we didn’t do a lot because it was the first time I’d been back for my birthday in 3 years. And then I tried to explain why, and the tears fell. A lot of tears fell. It was embarrassing because I didn’t feel comfortable pulling my knees to my chest and hiding my face — I had my boots on and felt like I couldn’t put my feet on the couch— but I hate being seen when I cry. So I covered my face with my hands, and felt really silly. Then I felt myself get that floaty fuzzy feeling, and I didn’t feel so silly anymore, or so upset or sad anymore, either. So I stopped crying, and wiped my face, and apologized for crying. I think hubby said something, but I’m not sure because I wasn’t really there. 

That’s the point where I’m not sure what happened next, but I eventually brought up Kat, and how school was going so good. I told hubby a funny story about how she had pushed me out of class the day before. And that worked to bring me back to more or less grounded and present. It was a little awkward discussing Kat, though. It wasn’t as easy to use that subject to avoid more difficult topics as it is to do so in my own therapy. So that started to feel a little awkward to be talking about Kat. 

Later, I said something to Ryan about how I guess I should have just asked him to put the phone down instead of just talking faster and attempting to get everything out before he began ignoring me. Kim suggested I could ask for things I need or want from hubby now that he is listening better. As soon as she began that sentence, I was gone. I didn’t want to have that conversation, I didn’t want to discuss it. I shrugged and mumbled maybe. She said something about how she thought I could do it now, even if it would be really hard. I wanted to tell her she didn’t even know me, so how could she possibly have a clue? Instead I said nothing for what felt like a long time, and then I looked at hubby and managed to force out the words, “I won’t ask because if I ask and you say no, or ignore me, that’s worse than not asking and not getting…..” Kim said that it was a risk, but she still thought I could do it. Hubby said he would listen better and he would do what I asked if he could. I wanted to throw up I felt so uncomfortable. The whole conversation was just ugh feeling. I wasn’t very there and the longer the conversation went on, the further I could feel myself going away. I wanted to ask “what about all the times I did need something emotionally, and asked for it and was ignored, or you didn’t do what I needed anyway? When you said no, or said okay and then didn’t do it even though you said yes?” I wanted to say how I don’t trust his yes, and I don’t trust him to be there emotionally, and I don’t count on him for support. I didn’t though. It felt like I was wrong about all of that. Hubby on one side of me saying he will be there and listen and Kim across from me telling I could do it. Instead I just sat there far away, trying not to freak out inside. Maybe she realized I was far away, or maybe my silence spoke volumes, but she changed her tune to “Maybe you aren’t ready yet, and that’s okay, too.” But that makes me feel like maybe I should be ready and I’m not, so I’m failing couples therapy. 

I think the thing is, people meet hubby and he is so perfect and kind and soft spoken and mild mannered and protective and loving that they just can’t see why I wouldn’t want to confide in him. They meet him, and assume it should be easy to talk to such a non confrontational and caring person. So I end up looking crazy, or whiny or like a drama queen. I end up looking like I’m just being difficult for no reason. 

At the end of session, hubby’s week long hunting trip came up. I hate this trip. I think it’s unfair of him to leave for 8 days, and 7 nights. It wouldn’t bother me so much, except he goes every year, no matter what. He left me home with a screaming colicky infant who never slept, he left me when I was throwing up sick from a migraine (with a child to care for). He left me the year I broke my ankle. Every year, no matter what, he disappears. He doesn’t hear me when I protest, or say how upset I am about this, because he doesn’t want to hear me. His comeback response is always “I would have come home if you really needed me.” Kim said we could talk about it next week, but the discussion carried on outside her office. I behaved like a brat, but he finally heard me. This year he is going to go hunt for 3 days, come home a few days and go back out for 2 more days. Which is all I have ever asked— to break it up, or lessen the time spent gone. It’s not the hunting I begrudge him, or the going away, it’s the amount of time he goes and how he doesn’t care about anything else but going. Hunting turns him into an asshole. 

Anyways, we left the session with another appointment for the next (this) week, but I’m not sure why we are even going right now. It feels hard. And I’m not sure what I’m supposed to talk about there, and anything “real” or too emotional feels too scary and hard to bring up. Because I have faith that hubby will respond one way in session (present and supportive, caring) and another way later on at home (shut down and as if I hadn’t told him anything at all).  

Chit chat about hubby session 

On Wednesday, after my therapy session, when I brought Kat back, I had sat in Bea’s cozy waiting room and draw out the loop of what goes on between hubby and when we fight. I’d left the note with Bea, and emailed her about it later, as well as emailing about the therapists I had called. 

When I walk in to Bea’s office on Monday morning, she has my hand drawn loop sitting next to her chair. “Hey,” she says. 

“Hi,” I say. I’m in a more closed off shut down place than I had been, but I’m doing that here but not here thing right now. 

“I feel like we have a lot to catch up on,” she says. “I know we didn’t get to talk very in depth about the last week on Wednesday, and I’m sure there are things from this weekend to talk about, too.” 

I shrug. “We didn’t do much. My parents didn’t come to visit. We met them halfway. Which was maybe easier. I don’t know.” 

“Oh? I’m sure there is plenty to after seeing your mom,” Bea prompts. 

“Eh. Not really. It wasn’t any big deal. Kat and I visited a school on Friday.” I switch gears abruptly, not wanting to talk about my mother. 

“Oh yeah? Where was the school? Are you sending her somewhere different this year?” 

I shake my head. “Not yet. I want to, but she’s only on the wait list. It’s Montessori, it was private but last year they switched to being a charter school. It seemed so good. Even when we were sit waiting to fill out paperwork, a group of kids her age who had been helping clean up the playground came inside and they all were talking to Kat. They were really friendly, welcomed her to the school. And the director of the school was a therapist for kids on the spectrum before she became the school director. She was really amazing.” I name a well know therapy group and therapist for autistic kids in our area, one that Bea is very familiar with, and tell her that the director worked on that project. 

“I think I know her. And she is wonderful if it’s who I think. It sounds like a good fit. We’ll keep fingers crossed a spot opens up,” Bea says. She allows me to talk a little more about Kat and school, and then she says, “I want to make sure we have time to talk about you.” 

I nod. “Okay.” 

“I’m curious what you told your mom about where you wanted to be seated.” At the end of last week, my mother had told me I needed to choose between sitting at the “kids” table where Kenny would be seated, or sitting at my parents table with his parents and my grandma’s boyfriend (who I can’t stand), and that I needed to let her know by the weekend. 

“I didn’t choose. I told her I didn’t know. Because I just….if I could….” I trail off. I’m attempting to say if I could have mom move Kenny, I would sit at the kids table. But I can’t get the words out. I’m triggered just from this little conversation and so I’m shut down and can’t access my words.

“I have to say, the part of me that wants to protect you is feeling very protective and does not want you to sit at his table.” Bea tells me. 

“That’s what I was trying to say. If I could have mom move him, then I’d sit at the kids table.” I whisper.

“Ahhh. That makes sense. Neither spot is an ideal spot to be seated. But I would think his parents are better than him.” 

I nod. Probably she is right. I jut don’t want to deal with any of this. 

Somehow the question comes up of them sitting at my parents table, and I shrug. “They are like family. Like, I don’t know.” I shrug. How do I explain that they are like my aunt and uncle, like my cousins? I don’t know how to do that. But Bea nods. I think the closeness of his family is really clicking into place for her. 

Bea’s asking some other questions about the wedding, questions I can’t remember now. I do remember explaining to her that no matter how many times I double check the times, or ask my mom the other stuff, I can’t keep track of it all. It’s in one ear and out the other. I’m so lost. I can’t hold onto details about this wedding, because I don’t want to know. 

“I’m just going to pretend the wedding is not happening. And then I’ll just detach and get through it. And we can deal with the fall out, okay?” I tell Bea. 

“Yes. Okay, that is okay, as long as you have enough support in place to get through the wedding. Otherwise, I think we need to talk about it. At least to put support in place.” 

“It’s fine. I’ll be fine. I am always fine.”

“But maybe I think you should be able to be more than just fine or always fine. And you don’t always have to be fine. It’s okay to be hurting.” 

“I can’t. I just need to be fine.” 

“Okay.” She says. 

We move on, to discuss the therapists that had called me back. 

“So I called 3, and only 2 called me back. The one I had written you about, and the other one called back, I don’t know, maybe Friday?” 

“Okay. So did you call the first one back?” Bea asks.

I shake my head. “No-oo. I was waiting….to….I don’t know. I mean, I have appointments set with both of them. So,I just need to decide.” 

“What’s worrying you?” She’s curious. 

“I just…if I say the first one, and then I don’t like her but hubby does….I don’t know. And I really just….I mean, I wanted her to talk to you.” I say. I feel a little whiny, but it’s how I feel.

“Well, like I said in my email, you can tell her all the things I would have,” Bea says carefully, gently. 

“But that wasn’t how….ugh!” I don’t know what I want Bea to say. “So, the first one, well, both of them, seemed nice and soft spoken. But I just….I don’t know. The first one, she was really nice and seemed soft spoken until I asked her to talk to you. And she said no, not until we had met with her and decided to see her, and she explained it like it was for my protection. But I mean….what about what I wanted? So I didn’t say anything and when she asked if I was still there, I told her that made me uncomfortable and she attempted to explain again and I just….I didn’t really respond and then I told her that it just made me uncomfortable. And she said that maybe I would want to talk about this with my own therapist, and if I decided that it was a deal breaker for me that she wouldn’t talk to my therapist before we met then, that was okay, it wasn’t a big deal and I could call and cancel, no problem. So you know, that’s not so good thing. But then she said she is used to working with couples and it didn’t freak her out or worry her that I hadn’t informed hubby I was calling and has no plans to do so until a day or two before the appointment, she said she was used to one person not wanting to be in therapy.” 

“And where is her understanding of trauma?” Bea asks. 

“She said she is used to one or both people having trauma in their history, she asked if hubby had trauma in his past, too. I said no, just his narcissistic mother, and she seemed aware of what that might have been like for him.” I take a breath. “So I searched couples or marriage or family therapist plus trauma or PTSD, and only got 6 people. Two were men, so I tossed them out the window. One was farther away, so I tossed her out, and that left me three. Oh, and this forest lady, she used the S word.” I cover my face. I’m so embarrassed. 

“Because she doesn’t know you, or know how triggering that is. But you can tell her.” Bea reminds me. 

“The second lady, she was really soft spoken too, and she said she would talk to you, no problem, just ask you to call her.” 

“So that was a big difference.” Bea looks like she is thinking.

“And she said she works with a lot of individuals with trauma history. But she seemed…..I don’t know….to question me not telling hubby about calling.” 

“Like she was curious?” Bea asks. 

“No…..more like she was hesitant.” 

“Hmmmm. I’m wondering if she isn’t as experienced in working with couples.” Bea is curious. 

“I don’t know who is the right one.” I sigh.

We talk around it some more, and I start to think Bea has a definite opinion of it. “I think you have an opinion but you don’t think you should give it to me and influence me,” I tell her. 

“No….I…” She pauses and takes a breath. She looks down at her hands and then at me. “I’m thinking that she has very good boundaries and is possibly following best practice by not speaking with. But when I get rid of my insecurities about not having firm enough boundaries, I always come back to it being important to meet people where they are. And where you were when you called was it being very Important to you that your couples therapist speak with your individual therapist before you meet with the couples therapist. If the situation was reversed, I would have been wondering why it was so important to you, what about me speaking to your therapist would make you feel safer? That’s where I’m curious about her boundaries. Because while boundaries are for everyone’s protection, I feel very strongly that meeting people where they are at is what is most important. Which is why I am more flexible. Did you tell her why you wanted her to speak to me? Do you remember what you said?” 

I nod. “I wrote it down. So I can read to you what I wrote.” And then I read to her what I had said. 

“Hmmm,,,,Yeah, okay. I’m wondering if because she wasn’t aware you were wanting me to give her some background on your triggers and trauma history, if she thought that you were maybe hoping to get her on your side. Because a lot of people, that is what they want to do in couples work. She might have thought she wanted to meet you and hubby, start with a blank slate and not have a relationship with your therapist. So the more I am thinking about this, the more I think this is a good opportunity for you to practice advocating for yourself. You can tell her everything I would have. You can write out what you might say and we can go,over together and I am more than happy to help you write it out, but this is good for you. I think this could really be an opportunity for you to learn a lot about yourself, and to show yourself that you are strong and can stand up for yourself.” 

“Im not good at that,” I mumble, picking at my fingers. 

“Now that sounds like the little girl. We know grown up Alice is very good at being an advocate for others. And for the little girl, I’m here to help. You aren’t alone in this and she isn’t being left to fend for herself.” 

I shrug. “Maybe I just won’t go at all. Maybe we don’t need therapy.” I mumble. 

“Think about it, okay? Don’t deprive yourself the chance to grow. I know you don’t like how this is playing out, but you want things worked out with hubby. Your marriage matters to you. So just take a breath, okay?” 

I shrug. “Maybe I’ll email you.” I mumble the words, feeling a little snarky.

“Okay. I’ll be here,” Bea reminds me, and I stand to leave. Things feel unfinished, but it doesn’t bother me, because I believe that Bea is here. 

Deeper down the rabbit hole part 3 (fighting with hubby)

Continued from part 2…..and I still am going with that trigger warning, mostly for suicidal ideation. Im posting this because I am okay now. Most of these feelings have passed, now, and Bea is aware of how I was feeling. 

Sunday, hubby and I fought some more, and things were worse feeling. I needed to get away, and so I left under the guise of going grocery shopping. I ended up sitting in the grocery parking lot for the better part of two hours. I realized I wanted to talk to Bea. I wanted to call Kay, who had dealt with my bad feelings like this before. But Kay is more of an acquaintance now, a person who really doesn’t even want to think about me, let alone talk to me. I thought about calling Reagan, but didn’t want to bother her, when she had just dealt with my nonsense the night before. It sucked, because I realized how alone I really am. Yes, I’m married, but I have isolated myself, and cut myself off from so many relationships in my life, including one with my husband, that I was just really alone right then. The person I should have been able to turn to, my hubby, was the source of my pain, and was not someone I was about to turn to. All I could do is write a letter to him in my journal; a letter that won’t get sent.

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Dear hubby, 

I need you to go to therapy. I get that you are stressed out and that grumpy days happen, but I can’t keep doing this. I love you and I want us to really be together, to have the kimd of relationship where we ca talk about feelings and be open and vulnerable because it feels safe to do so, and right now, for me at least, it doesn’t feel safe to have any feeling except “happy”, “joy”, “love”, “calm”, “peace”. But that’s not life. And it really is not life as a type A, anxious person with PTSD who doesn’t feel very safe being attached to others or being in the present, or feeling emotions or somatic reactions. There’s a whole wide range of emotions and anytime I seem to display one of those emotions, you shut down, you emotionally abandon me. It’s just a repeat of my childhood and that emotional abandonment is sure to trigger all kinds of bratty destructive behaviors. I react badly because I’m hurt and scared and don’t trust that it is safe to talk about my real feelings. 

I think you need to work on communicating. You are so shut down and closed off from even your own feelings you don’t know when you are mad or grimly. But with tensions just coming off you and me asking you several times today if you you were okay or mad or whatever, I think at one point I even used the word grumpy, and you assured me “no, everything is fine.” And then later, really communication is needed because if you can not even state to me you want us all to go out to dinner as a family, well, that is a problem. I am not a mind reader, and “do you want White Castle?” does not mean go out to dinner as a family to me. I don’t even eat White Castle! I should not be expected to know what you meant, to translate your words, and I should not be punished for not reading your mind. 

The thing of it is, you want pre-therapy Alice back. You want miss perfect, in her bubble, with no feelings, who was just numb and zoned out. But she’s not coming back. Messy Alice is what you get. Messy and real. Life is messy. Add trauma to that and then a kid and it’s very, very messy. And that is not going to change. You need to find a way to accept the messy, to make your peace with it and love the messy me. Because waiting for Bea to “fix” me? Well, I’m more “fixed” than I’ve ever been. It just so happens that you don’t like this girl, this messy me. Maybe you can learn to. I don’t know. If you can’t, I guess we need to figure some things out. Because I’m so done with this. Every single time you abandon me emotionally, you set off these massive series of triggers because you are literally re-enacting how my parents chose to to react to me. It’s worse this time, because I’m already triggered from some crap Bea dredged up, and Bea is gone and the one time she was on vacation is was not good, so I feel pretty left by her, and now you, too. So I’m feeling really bad and scared and not okay, but the response I have is to act like a brat, be mean and loud and push harder because I felt you leave, and then I feel guilty and like a terrible person, when you become angry with me. And when you won’t talk to me about it or you split your attention to your phone when I’m talking as though what I’m saying is unimportant, I only spiral down more. “I’m awful, I’m terrible, I screw everything up, I’m the worst, I’m ruining everything.” And then I just want to go away, and disappear forever. I end up crying and hiding and hurt and fighting myself because parts of me feel so low they see no point in being here, and their solution is to swallow pills, cut my wrists, hurt myself badly enough that I disappear. It’s not easy. It’s a serious fight to not do those things. Kat is my motivation to not do those things, and so when you say how I’m screwing up as a mom, too, how I am as bad as my parents or worse, well, you take away the last bit of motivation to live. So good job, hubby. You didn’t want me around anymore, you wanted to leave. Well, you found the recipe. One of these times it might just work, and you won’t have to leave me, because I’ll be gone. Because I have no one. 

~Alice 
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I ended up calling Reagan on my way home from the store. Some of those suicidal thoughts were really strong, and, as I said in part one, there is a part of me that is determined to survive. We talked off and on the rest of the day and into the evening. When I exploded at Kat, yelling and having a meltdown, I called Reagan, and cried to her about it, and then told her I could not think clearly enough to figure out how to repair the fight with Kat. She gave me the words to use, told me I was okay, a good mom, and made plans to meet me in the morning for breakfast. 

To be continued………

Last week: therapy Thursday; I’m not doing my homework 

“So….hubby told me I could talk to him, and I told him I can’t.” It’s about 15 minutes into therapy when I announce this to Bea. I’m sinking fast, not sure what to talk about, and scrambling for something, anything, to keep her from turning her focus on me. 

“You did? When was this?” She asks. 

“Sunday. He asked me what was wrong, and I didn’t even know how to begin to explain, so….well, I just said there was a thing between you and me, and Kay was gone and I had no one to talk to. And he said I could talk to him. But I told him I can’t because he always shuts down, and then he said he doesn’t, and….ugh. I don’t know. I told him he does, he pulls away and I’m left alone. He said he just doesn’t bring things up the next day because he is waiting for me to bring them up! But it’s not that anyway. He’s just….gone. It’s not really something to put words to. It’s….like you were last week. He said he doesn’t mean to be that way, he just doesn’t know how else to be. So I told him to go to therapy, and he said okay…..well, I told him I want to be able to talk to him, but I can’t ….that we won’t be able to really talk and be real with each other until I work through my stuff and he works through his. And that even though I feel like I can’t talk to him now, it’s not because I don’t want to. I really do want to be able to talk and be real. So he needs therapy.” 

“Well, that wasn’t being in the bubble! That was a real, honest conversation. He clearly wants to be there for you, he just doesn’t know how. But you guys talked. That’s big,” Bea says. 

I suddenly feel annoyed with her, for some reason. I’m not sure why, but I can guess it’s because she is seeing hubby as someone who can be who I need. I don’t know. But I start to roll my eyes, then stop myself. “I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for him to go to therapy,” I say. 

Bea smiles at me. She likes this sassy part of me, for some odd reason. “You know, I believe that people are always working toward health, and just like you have grown and changed, and your parents—”

“And that only causes more problems and confusion–” I interject. 

“Yes,” she agrees, “Sometimes it does. But hubby is working towards health, too. I really believe that. When one person in the family unit changes, it influences the rest.”

I shake my head at her. “I’m still not holding my breath.” 

“Maybe this won’t be the conversation that gets him to therapy. But maybe it will. Either way, it was an important conversation. You were honest.” 

“We’ll see. I don’t expect anything will come of it. But now he knows where I stand.” I shrug. I made myself more vulnerable than I wanted to be in telling hubby how I feel. Granted, I’ve been more vulnerable, but after all the times he’s hurt my feelings, this feels pretty damn vulnerable to me. I refuse to get my hopes up and believe in him this time. I won’t be hurt again. 

Bea wisely lets the subject drop. “And you? How are you feeling? I didn’t get any emails, so I don’t know, but you seem lighter today.” 

That’s not me, I think, it’s the bubble. I want to seem okay, I desperately want to seem okay. I stare at the floor. I don’t know what to say. 

“Well, how did the dentist go?” She asks. 

“Fine. Well….yeah, it was fine.” 

“Did something happen?” 

“No, not really. Just, she wanted me to take a med that wouldn’t knock me out, but her assistant called it into the wrong pharmacy…and, I don’t know. It was a mess. I left here Monday, and went to run errands, and then got stuck in traffic, and was going to be late to pick up Kat, and no one was answering their phone, and finally hubby did, and he said he’d get Kat and  meet me at the grocery store so I could get my meds for the dentist and the groceries, but….well, I didn’t want to shop yet, I like to clean out the cupboard and the fridge and the pantry and have the kitchen clean before I get groceries and so it wasn’t time to go to the store, but hubby decided that was what we were going to do, so….ugh. We met at the store, he went to work, Kat and I shopped. I had to call ABA and have the tech meet us at the store because we weren’t going to get home in time, and then hubby said the pharmacy would have the meds by noon, and it was like 1:30, but they didn’t even have a script. So I text hubby, and he called the dentist and they had called it to the wrong pharmacy, but they fixed it. Except then I was already in the parking lot. So we went through the drive through but they said it would be 4 hours. So I cancelled it. Because I wasn’t going to drive all the way back to the store. And then I called the dentist and apologized for the inconvenience and asked if they could just call it into the little pharmacy by my house. And she got sort of snotty, saying she could but that she had already fixed it and didn’t have time to do it right then. So I just said that was fine, don’t worry about it, I wouldn’t want to inconvenience her due to an error she made in the first place. And then I hung up. And so I just took my normal med, that I still had some of, and took 1/2 the dose. So I was more awake than normal. But knocked out the rest of the day when it hit me. Plus I didn’t sleep Monday night, so I was really tired.” 

“That was a lot!” Bea tells me. “So it was okay on Tuesday though?” 

I nod. “It was.” 

“And you still like her?” 

“Yeah.” I think about it for a moment. “I do. I really do. Hubby was annoying me though.”

“How come?” 

“I don’t know. He just kept telling me I was doing a good job, but in that voice, you know…the one you use for crazy people? I don’t know. The dentist, and even her assistant were okay though.” 

“I’m thinking about Monday, and how that was a lot of loss of control,” Bea says slowly. “There are times now where you can handle that loss of control better than others. It seems there is a tipping point, where it’s too much. We’ve never really talked about it, or what happens. But maybe that is something to notice this week.” 

I don’t say a thing. I just stare at the floor. This isn’t what I need. This seems like something very concrete, and I don’t want this. But I don’t want emotions either. I don’t know what I want.

“It’s just something to notice, to see when it happens, what else it going on, how you handle it. Like, what happened when you got home from the store?”
 
“I put the groceries away.” 

“Were there feelings or actions you wanted to take?” She asks. 

Part of me is aware that she is making a good point. But part of me just doesn’t want to do this right now. “I don’t know. If I’d not had Kat and the ABA tech there, I’d probably cried in the car. I cried for a minute, just feeling really scared and like my whole life was spinning out of control after putting away the groceries but then I stopped and cleaned, and started sewing. And I sewed and sewed. Hubby came home, I was sewing, I told him I wanted to be left alone and not talk to anyone.”

“That was real, too,” she says, regarding what I had told hubby. “So, how did you stop the feelings?” 

“I just…I don’t know. I just turned them off. Like flipping a switch, I guess. I didn’t really get rid of them, so much as pause them. They aren’t….worked through. It’s not that I don’t feel things in the bubble, or let things in. I just…..switch them off. Until it’s too much and then I scream at life guards (I was referencing something I did last year while in this bubble of mine) I don’t know.”
 
“Makes sense,” she tells me. “It can be very useful to flip the switch when we need to function. But we have to let ourselves feel it, work through it. So it doesn’t all build up.” 

We sit in quiet for a moment, maybe longer. I don’t really remember. 

“So, do you think that’s something you can pay attention to, this week?” 

“That sounds hard.” I mumble. I want to explain why, to talk about it, but I’m at a loss for words. 

“Well, it’s not easy. But remember, you don’t have to change anything, or judge it. Just notice it. Do you think you can do that for homework this week?” 

Instantly, I’m on alert. Why is she assigning homework again– when she never has before? Does she think I’m not doing enough at home, working hard enough? Is she deciding I am wasting her time? “Why…..” I start to speak, then stumble. 
“You’ve never given me homework before, and that’s the second time you have this week.” I try to keep my tone light, laughing even. I think I succeeded.
 
“Well, it’s not homework– not like school. I just meant, it’s something to observe outside of therapy. That’s all.” 

“Phew. I thought you might be expecting a 500 word essay.” I’m joking, but in my head I’m wondering if that is all she meant. Oh my God, it’s hard to be in my head sometimes. 

We wrap up after that, although I’m not sure what we talk about. It’s St. Patrick’s day today. I should be meeting Kay for breakfast at this popular Irish pub. With St. Patrick’s day so close to her birthday (some years, it’s one and the same), the day has always been a day we go out— from morning until night. And living near a college town makes it easy to go out and party to celebrate st. Patrick’s day. She drinks green beer, I start with mimosas, and then move onto wine. But not this year. This year….well, I’m not out celebrating. But, I’ve already seen pictures she has posted to facebook. She’s out, with her wife and friends I don’t know. This day sucks. And I’m not doing my homework. 

A week ago: But hubby, I can’t talk to you

It’s Sunday night, and hubby has returned from his failed fishing trip. The trip was rained out, but he hung with his buddy all day, and is in this great mood. It was just what he needed. Kat is in bed, and so we are. I’m sort of cuddled up next to him, and I’m half here, half gone. Some part of me wants to kiss him. The little girl is conflicted; if she kisses him, she really wants him to say no, and stop things, but she also doesn’t want him to leave, and she wants to know he is there and loves her. It’s confusing. 

I ignore the little girl, and listen to his stories about his day. After a while, he looks at me. “You okay?” 

I shrug. I want to say yes, of course I am okay, but something stops me. “I don’t know.” I feel tears welling up. 

“What is it?” He’s concerned now. It’s his concerned voice that is coming out. Oh crap. 

“Nothing. I just…I had a thing with Bea. And I would normally talk to Kay, but she is gone. I don’t know.” 

“A thing?” He is confused. He doesn’t speak my language. He speaks the language of Miss Perfect, not the disjointed, jumbled, random mess that is the language of Alice.  

“Ugh. I don’t know! A….not a fight. Just….she came back from vacation but wasn’t really here. And Kay is not speaking to me so I have no one to talk to!” 

“You can talk to me.” His voice is gentle and kind and caring and I know he means it and he loves me. 

I don’t respond. I just nod my head. And hubby lets it go. So, just like that we are back to discussing a movie or show to watch. We choose a show, and I go away. Fuzzy, floaty, safe. That warm blurry space that is so familiar to me. 

I can’t stay there, though, so when a commercial comes on, I take a breath, focus on things around me. “I can’t talk to you. I talk….everytime……and then you are just shut down the next day. So I can’t. It’s no good.” 

“I don’t mean to be! I’m just waiting for you to bring it up again.” He protests. 

“It’s not even that…it’s…you just aren’t here. You don’t…I don’t know.” I can’t explain it. It’s some thing you feel. Not something easily put into words. 

“Well, what does Kay do?” 

“She’s just….she’s Kay.” I shrug. I can’t tell him what she does, or how she acts. He can’t just mimic that on the surface. It needs to be real. And that’s the problem, I realize. He can’t do much more than surface, and he can’t do abstract emotional stuff. 

“I want to help. Tell me what to do.” He means it, I can feel that.

“It’s okay. I just…I want us to be able to talk, and be real with each other. But you know….it can’t…we won’t be able to do that until I’ve worked through some of my stuff, and you’ve worked through yours. If you want to help me, if you want to understand what it is I need, go to therapy.” 

“Therapy? Okay. If you really think that’s it. Okay.” He says. 

I nod. “I do. Therapy will help.” 

“All right then,” he says, and unpauses the show. I guess our talk is over. 

Letter to hubby

So, I wrote a letter to hubby. It’s so vulnerable making and I’m really scared to give it to him. I keep chickening out. I’m going to post it here, and maybe you all could give me your opinions on it. Bea says it is wonderful and just perfect the way it is. It’s very much a reaching-out-in-a-loving-way gesture. I’m sure his own issues might impact in some ways how he reacts to it, and how he reads it, but I think overall he should respond positively. I don’t think it’s too much–just right.

Dear Hubby,

I don’t know how to write this letter, but I really want to, so I’m going to try. I’m afraid I’m losing you, that we are losing us. Maybe before I started therapy, I was fine with relationships staying on the surface, and I was fine with us feeling distant from each other at times; I was fine with us not talking or connecting and I was fine with the big chunks of times I was really not feeling touchy feely. I want more for us, now. We deserve more, we deserve better. 

We need to talk about communicating– really talking– and about physical touch, and sex. I think that when we can’t even really cuddle and be together in any touchy feely way, you maybe feel really shut out. I don’t like that, I don’t want you to feel shut out. I want us to be able to talk and be deeper with our feelings and thoughts, and share more than just talking about Kat or the weather or whatever. I still don’t know how to have a relationship where we stay really connected. I think some of it is communicating more, talking more about what we are really thinking and feeling, and what is going on in our lives. I don’t think I knew what it meant to be connected to someone else until therapy. It’s hard to feel connected when you are so far away. I think we have trouble keeping the connection. It makes me so sad when I feel connected to you and then that connection is lost. I think we need to figure out how to talk and share with each other better. But I also think that staying connected with your spouse includes physical touch and sex. 
I hate how I have been reacting, the freak outs I have had. In the moment, it’s awful, because I’m triggered and scared, but it’s awful after the fact, too. I’m embarrassed and feel guilty for what I put you through. And I’m afraid to bring it up, and I don’t know what to say, anyways. So, I am going to try to write to you about this. 
I spent a long time living life in this sort of numb and not really there headspace. It wasn’t until therapy that I learned that isn’t exactly normal, that to be that far away from everything is a trauma response. Being farther away, though, offered some safety. I was able to tolerate cuddling, and touching, making out, even having sex because I was so far away. I’ve really been doing a lot of work this last year or so. I have a pretty long list of things that have changed for me. One of those things is the ability to be more present in my life, and to even be able to tolerate being fully present for short amounts of time. This is a good thing, but it does make things harder, too. I’m in this really tricky in between place where I’m much more aware of how I’m feeling, what I’m feeling, and what is going on around me, but not always able to tolerate it that well. It’s almost like peeling back layers of an onion, and while I dealt with some things in one layer, now I’m dealing with those things in a different layer. And that layer is being more aware of what is happening, being more here, but because of that, many of the things I used to block out, or dissociate away from, are now triggers.
I think the next layer is being able to tolerate the things that are suddenly becoming triggers, but I can’t do that all on my own. I can do a lot of it with Bea, but the touching stuff, I need you to be my partner in that. I believe Bea talked to you about how everyone has parts, and with trauma there are parts that stay stuck in the trauma? For me, I think of that part as the little girl part, because the thoughts and feelings that take over when I’m triggered feel young to me. This new, tricky layer I’m currently in seems to bring out the little girl part of me. And that makes things so difficult between us, because when that part is running things, I truly believe that all touch leads to sex. And that makes me so very scared, to the point where I will instigate things just because I can’t take sitting in that scary place anymore. Or, on the other hand, I will do my best to avoid all touch, and anyone being in my personal space. Unfortunately, most of the little girl’s feelings and beliefs are in relation to you, because you are the romantic interest in my life, you are a guy and you are my husband. It’s not fair to you, and I can only imagine how confusing it has to feel to be in your place. I want us to try to work on this, slowly, so that I can learn to sit next to you and not have the little girl part freak out. I want to be able to cuddle with you, or kiss you goodbye without that part going on hyper alert for something bad to happen. 
I know this isn’t what you signed up for when we got married. This isn’t what you were supposed to be dealing with. And I’m sorry. You can let me feel badly about that, it’s okay. I can be sorry, and also realize that it’s not anything I planned or wanted to be dealing with either. But this is where we are at, and I think that we can work through this, and teach the scared parts of me that it is safe, that now I am safe, and you are a safe person. 
I really need you to be able to help me with this. I think I need this to go very slow. I’m thinking we could start by sitting side by side, so you would be in my fairly large personal space bubble, and I would focus on staying present, and not letting the little girl part take over, and feeling whatever I’m feeling. The thing is, I can’t do the being present thing, and feelings thing, without support. I need to be able to talk through it with you in the moment, and have you share what you are feeling, too. I need you to be present and grounded and here. And if the little girl part takes over and instigates things, I need you to (gently, and making clear you still love me, but that this isn’t safe right now because I’m not running things) tell me no. I need you to be able to help me calm down if I freak out– so asking me what is around me, what colors I see, reminding me I am an adult, that it is 2016, and that I am with you. 
I really want to be able to tell you things like, “hey, in therapy Bea and I are working on me being able to be tolerate being completely present and focused on what I am doing in the moment. We are doing this by coloring right now.” But I feel like you would laugh at me, and find me to be crazy. Right now, with being in this tricky place, it’s not just touch that triggers me. It’s all kinds of little things, like feeling blame for everything– it’s like when you were mad about the shower head breaking this morning, I felt like you were angry with me and blaming me, like I had done something wrong. It feels like this a lot. Rationally, I know that isn’t true. But the little girl part of me still is in this place of magical type thinking, and is very ego centric, so just like a little kid, I end up feeling it’s my fault. I read into all kinds of things, and often end up feeling like you just think I’m being dramatic or needy or over the top crazy. 
So, anyways, I guess what I’m saying is I feel like if we can work on this touching thing like I described, we will also be working on communicating and connecting emotionally, and that could be so good for us. I’m also really worried you are going to read this as hurtful, or feel angry, or not want to try anything. Giving you this is really vulnerable making, which is really uncomfortable. I didn’t write this to be hurtful, on the contrary, I wrote it to help us get to a place of real connection because I love you and want that with you. 

To talk or not to talk

“…..and hubby…. He’s, well……I don’t know.” I look down, averting my gaze from Bea’s face, and feeling floaty. It happens so quickly, that going away because I’m uncomfortable, I’m surprised. I’m in my usual place on Bea’s couch, with my knees pulled into my chest, and Hagrid is curled up next to me. 

Bea just waits, giving me time and space to pull the words from my brain. Finally, I say, “He’s sort of….it’s like he’s afraid of me.” I’m feeling a lot of shame, over how I freaked out the other night, and now, hubby is being very distant towards me. It doesn’t feel like anger, though, it feels like fear. 

“It had to be scary for him to have you get so upset. He may feel like he caused it, and not want to do anything else to hurt you. Have you talked about what happened?” Bea turns her chair slightly, to be able to face me a little bit better. 

I shake my head. “No…I don’t know how to bring it up. I mean, I know, like you said in your email, what guy wouldn’t want to work on this? And I think he would. But then I’d have to explain it all to him. And I can’t…..I mean…..I don’t know.” After a pause, I tell her, “Well, I do know. I’m just embarrassed to say it.” 

“I think it would be good if you could try to say it,” she says softly. 

“I know. I know. I just….ugh. How do I ever explain..I mean…it’s like….ugh!” 

Bea lets it go for the moment, and we talk about Hagrid and his goofy antics for a few minutes. “He’s just so cute,” she tells me. I agree. 

I’m feeling calmer when I blast of bravery hits me. “I’m afraid to tell him….I mean….why it was okay….why I could…..with him….I mean……I’d have to explain that I wasn’t…..that I wasn’t here, before, when…..” 

“You would have to explain to him that you weren’t really present when you were having sex before?” She is so good at figuring out my messy fill in the blank sentences.

I nod. “Yes. And I feel like that is really hurtful. Because what guy wants to hear that their wife was only able to…….because she was gone? I mean….ugh. And then to go on and explain that now I’m more present and it’s making me freak out? That just seems so hurtful.” 

“Well, yes, it could be seen that way. It could be hurtful. But if it’s explained as this is so normal– because it is really normal given your history– and that you are just at a tricky in between place in your therapy, I think it could be understood as normal and okay and not hurtful.” 

I shake my head. I’m feeling really annoyed with her. She’s not getting how hard the would be. “If you were me, and you had to tell your husband these things, how would you ever do it? Wouldn’t that be really hard?” I don’t need Bea to be therapist Bea, I need her to be fellow human Bea, and to really get this. 

She doesn’t respond right away. At first I wonder if she is upset, if I had been snappier than I thought, but then I realize she is just thinking it over. Finally, she answers, and I can tell she has truly out herself in my position, and thought out how she would approach this with her husband.

“Thank you.” I whisper the words to her, grateful she took the time to really see, to understand as much as she can. “Also….I guess I feel like I don’t really trust him, in some ways. Because every time we have a good moment, he screws it up big time, and I let myself think things changed, but then…..”

“That change isn’t sustained, and it hurts.” She’s right. That’s exactly it. “I think if you can break this down, into small steps, and give him something concrete, he can do it. Guys like to fix things, and we’ve seen before how he is very good with concrete things. And I wonder if working on this with him, and experiencing him as safe, if that will help with trust.” 

I’m set to argue with her, I want her to be wrong. Instead, I swallow my words, because I know she is possibly right, and tell her another concern I have. “I don’t know if he can handle this. I mean…I can’t do this on my own. I need him to help me with…..being present and the feelings….like….” I’m feeling really vulnerable, but I say it anyway, “like you….with this…..I couldn’t have worked on being present and feelings if you didn’t help.” I hide my face then. It’s sort of silly, because clearly, her job description is to help, but this is as close as I’ve ever come to admitting needing her without screaming that I don’t want to need her. 

Thankfully, Bea doesn’t respond to the my needing her aspect of what I’ve said. She stays really neutral, actually. “I think he could do that. He’s shown that he can in other ways. My big thing is that I want to make sure he knows, that he understands you aren’t crazy. I think he needs a lot of psycho-education so he can understand how normal this is.” 

“I know. He just won’t read any of the books I got him.” 

“It would be helpful of you had a third party to explain it to him,” she says carefully. 

“I know. I just…I can’t….it…” I feel bad, because I’m trying to tell her I don’t want him here, or them talking, even if I am here. In a way, it feels like if I allowed him into my therapy space, I’d be saying everything that happened was okay. And I can’t do that. 

“It might not feel safe to bring him here after the emails. That would make sense. If that were the case, maybe you guys could see a different therapist together,” she tells me. I feel like her voice is carefully neutral, like she is not wanting to upset me. 

“Then I’d have to tell someone else….trust them…..I can’t do that. It be so much easier to bring him here. I can’t do that, either.” I want to scream out of frustration. I really need it to be safe to bring him here, but it doesn’t. As I’m writing this now, I wonder if it has to do more with hubby than Bea. She and I worked though it, but hubby doesn’t even know I found and read the emails. We haven’t worked through it. 

We run through different ways of talking to hubby. Bea suggests that keeping things very clinical, no feelings might feel safer to me, but she acknowledges that it would be really good if he could hear the feelings and the personal, to really understand how this is effecting me. I really feel like he needs to know the feelings. In the end, I decide that I’ll write a letter, and Bea can add in psycho-education where it is needed. 

We move on to talk about other things. “Were you going to email me the list of words?” She asks. 

“Well, I was….I couldn’t. It’s too embarrassing.” 

“Words can be powerful triggers. And I’m not comfortable with all words, either. As you saw last week.” She laughs at herself, and I smile. 

“I know, I just….it’s ugh! They are just words. They shouldn’t be this big a deal. I just…it’s crazy how much words can effect me…..” My face feels hot, and I suspect it is bright red. 

“It’s really normal to have words be triggers. It’s okay. But I think we can work on it.” 

“It’s not even those words though. I mean, like I had to ask you to use a different word on Thursday! I felt like such an idiot.” 

“You mean pleasure?” She asks nonchalantly. 

“Yes.” 

“Well, that should go on the list, too. Any word that is a trigger, should go on the list. We can work on it. Maybe you can get out the list, and we can each write out a copy to make a matching game. I really see this as being something that could be quite light hearted and comical. It will be okay.” She says. 

“I just…..I know. It’s just really hard.” 

“Maybe we start with just a few words, then. Or we use the least triggering. We will figure it out as we go.” I’m always amazed at her willingness to work with me and come up with ideas to help. Often, I too embarrassed or feel too silly to try them, but I’m getting better about it. The grown up part of me needs therapy, sure, but it’s really the little girl part that struggles with things the most. And often times, I feel like the ideas Bea has are for a child, which is maybe why they are idea that are able to feel okay to the little girl. I don’t know. 

“Okay.” I shrug. 

“Did you want to try doing the safe space exercise on Thursday? I kind of forgot we were going to try it today.” She swivels in her chair, and I can see her feet moving. She’s wearing striped socks today. 

“Yeah, okay.” I’m hesitatent, but I do want to try it. I rack my brain for where my safe space could be. Where have I felt safe, and protected and truly okay? I feel a bit panicky, because I can’t think of anything. And then my room at my grandparents pops into my head, along with the woods and gardens and greenhouse surrounding their home. I feel better. I have a space besides a closet. I have a safe space to use. 

“There’s other exercises we can do, too. One that I haven’t offered to you is the personal space exercise. But we could try that one day, if you felt like it.” 

I look at Bea, curious about how the exercise works. “What is it?” 

“Well, with kids, I’ve had them draw out their personal space with yarn, and I draw out mine. Then we practice going in and out of each other’s personal space. With adults, I usually have them define the space with their hands, and then we see what it feels like to have me step into the space, or what it is like to have me put a hand into the space. And then, we usually do something where I step into the space, and you psychically push me out of your space. That’s hard for a lot of people. To push me out.” 

I’ve been feeling farther and farther away as she is talking, and anxiety is growing in my stomach. I can’t do this. I can not do that exercise. “I….I don’t…not now. I’m not saying never, but not now.” 

“That feels like a lot, doesn’t it?” She asks me. 

I nod my head. It really does. I know Bea is okay with people in her space, because I’ve seen my kid climb all over her. And we have even stood close enough to hold a whispered conversation about Kat. But I’m in a totally different mind set then. This feels like a lot. 

“I’ve had people who don’t expect it to be triggering, and then it is. This exercise can be very triggering. With you, we could break it down into steps. Maybe we could start by even sitting on the floor, and using the blankets to define our personal space–you’d have a bigger boundary– and we could just talk about what it’s like to have that space defined. We wouldn’t have to do anything else.” 

“Maybe….maybe…that sounds better. So maybe.” Writing this out now, I’m thinking maybe we can sit there and color while we talk. 

I don’t remember how we wrapped things up, but when I left, I was okay. I went home and later that night I wrote a letter to hubby. I wrote everything I wish I could tell him, and maybe more. I’m a little afraid the letter is too much, and will overwhelm him and crush me if he can’t be what I need, after making myself so vulnerable. I’m half planning on giving it to him tomorrow night so that if it doesn’t go well, I’ll see Bea in the morning. I sent it to Bea to get her input. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m sure I will.