They always saw me

Last week, therapy was more light hearted. Well, maybe not light hearted, but not majorly trauma centered. We talked about Bea, and her meeting the teen halfway. We talked about how it is scary to trust. The teen wrote that she wants to trust Bea, but she is afraid of her, afriad of Bea leaving, not being able to handle the teen. The teen thought she might test the water by talking about the party she’d gone to, and her therapist at the time, and the giant mess that followed. She thought maybe she could talk about the suicide attempt after the church’s sex education, and the way her parents handled it.

In the end, the conversation became about my Grandma. After that suicide attempt, my parents had forced me to behave as if things were normal. We went to my birthday party, at my grandparents’ house.

“They’d told everyone my stomach was upset, that I’d had a migraine earlier that day. I don’t know. I didn’t want cake. And I’m standing there, in the kitchen, and my Grandma asked me if everything was okay, if I was okay. I could have said something. I didn’t. I just, I said I had a headache.” I tell Bea.

“It would have been hard to say something,” she says, and she is as understanding as she always is.

I shrug. “Yeah, well. I just, I remember thinking I could tell her why my stomach was upset, the truth. But then there would be questions, and I didn’t want……I didn’t want to disappoint her. To have her……to have her know what I had done, because….I wanted….I could be just me with them. I didn’t want to lose that.” Tears are falling as I say this. The teen is sad that she couldn’t tell, and all the pain of wanting to talk but being afraid of losing the relationship because of what I’d done, all that pain is just so present in this moment. The grown up, though, is so mad. Kenny, my parents, they warped my head so badly that I couldn’t even tell the people I trusted the most. I spent most of my life pretending to be what my parents wanted so I would be loved, and that led to me needing so much more, it gave Kenny a way in, and it locked me in a prison where I couldn’t even ask the two people who did accept me for me, to protect me. I couldn’t risk losing the acceptance and love that my Grandparents so freely gave. It makes me sad that all of my experiences told me I couldn’t fully trust even my safest person.

Bea and I talk about this for a while, with Bea concluding that it would have felt too threatening to the teen to risk telling them, and that it may have even felt like it would destroy my safe world if I let the trauma out into it. And then we talk about the good memories I have with them as a teen. Trips my Grandma took me on, and weekend nights at their home, and showing off my prom dress to them on my way home from the mall. It feels like a betrayal to my parents, but I really did look forward to sharing my life with my Grandma and Grandpa. They were always just so proud of me, they always loved me so much, and they always thought I was wonderful, smart and beautiful– not perfect, though. They didn’t need or want perfect. They wanted me.

Sometimes, I think if they could have seen me this last year, running the PTO, leading a girl scout troop, getting a job as a teaching assistant/para pro, setting healthy boundaries, standing up for myself without getting nasty, and just really living my life, they would be surprised. But then I think, they wouldn’t be surprised at all, because they always saw me.

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A Conversation with the Pastor

I met with the Pastor. And it was good.

It’s 12:45 on Friday afternoon and as I pull into the church parking lot, I’m too nervous to think. Like filled with anxiety, too nervous to even eat today, nervous. Maybe this is a terrible idea. Maybe this is a big mistake, maybe I am going to be wasting his time, maybe, maybe, maybe. I’m spinning out, and thinking it might be best to just leave, to not go inside.

Instead, I do what I tell the kids in my class. I take a big breath. And then another. And another. At school, we use what we call “drain breathing” and I use it now. How it works is this: you take a big breath in and picture that breath as you letting calm things in. Then you let out the breath, and you picture it like a drain, getting rid of all the upset. This breathing works for me, maybe because I have used it so often with kids in my class that it feels safe, or maybe because it is less focus on feeling the body, or maybe because I am getting slightly more comfortable with body sensations. Whatever the reason, this is helpful. So, I breathe in and out, and give myself a pep talk. “You can do this. You are an adult. You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to. Alex is just a person, just like I am. I’m okay. This is okay.”

At 12:56, I walk inside, and sit down. A minute later, Alex walks over to my table. “Are you Alice?”

I nod. “Yeah. I’m Alice. It’s nice to meet you.”

The cafe area of our church is really busy, so he suggests we go sit in the middle school students’ space.

“I was just saying that I really need to tell people I will meet them in front of the students’ space, or by the welcome desk. Because I end up going around asking people if they are meeting me. It’s just a little akward.” He laughs as he says this, and I relax a little bit.

The student room is being used, so we end up in th nursing mothers’ room instead. Alex asks me first, because that room is closed off and only has one door, unlike the students’ space which is all clear glass and windows with huge open doors.

“That’s fine,” I say, “As long as we aren’t stopping someone from using it.”

“It’s really meant to be used for weekend service times, so it’s okay. And besides, this is a really cozy room. I’ll prop the door open, too.”

“Okay,” I agree. He lets me walk in first, and after I sit down, he chooses a chair that leaves me closer to the door. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it’s something I always notice.

He doesn’t make any small talk, just simply dives right in. “So, tell me about yourself, about what is going on, why you reached out.”

I freeze. Crap. This was dumb. So, so dumb. Why did I think this was a good idea? “I…I don’t know.” The old, automatic answer is back. I take a breath. Calm goes in, scared feelings go out. “I’m feeling really nervous.” I whipser.

“How come?” The question is straight forward.

“Umm. Well. I…because these things…they aren’t easy to talk about, they are uncomfortable. And there is a lot of fear in talking.”

“It is scary to say things outloud. There is power in it, too, though. When we say things out loud, it takes away some of the power it holds in our lives. Let me ask you this; what was it that convinced you to reach out?” He looks right at me when he asks this, and there is no judgement or annoyance in his face.

“It started with the starting over series. I just…it made me think about…that maybe I could move past this. But I just, I didn’t know how, or what I needed to do exactly. But it made me think it was possible. And then, well, you said if anyone had something they needed to start a conversation about they were welcome to do so, and you gave your email address. That….well, that’s what I do, it’s how I work through things, I write. So it just….. (I want to say it seemed like God had made a way for me to reach out, but I don’t. Because who am I that He would make a way for me?) it seemed like suddenly there was a path.”

He nods. “Can you say what it is you need to move past?”

I look at my hands, at the ground, anywhere but at Alex. “I……I’m mad at God. Well, on one hand I am so mad at Him, and on the other, I feel…guilty, unforgiven.”

Alex sits forward his seat, and looks at me. “Okay. Okay. Let me start with this. Do you know that it is okay to be mad at God? Anger, well, actually, all of our emotions, they come from God. And He welcomes your emotions. Being angry with God, it doesn’t make you a bad person. You are allowed to be mad at Him. Do you know that?”

I shake my head. “I don’t feel as if I have the right to be angry. There’s this…..guilt, it’s….I’ve made so many terrible mistakes.”

“What are you angry about?” His question is straight forward, so it’s not threatening but I still find it hard to answer, and so Alex continues. “The apostle Paul wrote about being honest about our mistakes, our sins, because that is where God shows his strength. It’s not in our perfection that God shines, but in our brokenness. Paul writes about this thorn in his side, and how he talks about this thorn in his side wherever he goes. And it doesn’t really matter what that thorn is. We all have sin, we all have stuff. We all have a thorn in our side. And to God, sin is sin.” Alex holds a hand level with the chair, “A lie,” and he holds his other hand above his head, “or murder, and everything in between, is all the same in God’s eyes. Now, they may have different consequences here on earth, but to Him, they are all equal.”

I sigh. “It’s so easy…well, not easy exactly, to admit to my parenting mistakes, or mistakes I have made in my marriage. The things that I have messed up in my adult life. But things from my past, it’s so much harder.”

“Those things have more power over you right now, they are harder to speak out loud.”

I nod. “If….logically, I know this isn’t my fault, but emotionally….it’s so very, very complicated.”

“Can you set the emotion aside for a minute?”

I look down at my hands again, twist my rings around my fingers. “I grew up (over there) and it’s….well, I joke that it is the bible belt of (state). Church is what you do there. It’s white, and conservative, and wealthy and you go to church. (This city) was culture shock when I moved here. I love it here, but it was culture shock. Anyway…..it was just…church was what you did where I grew up.” I stop talking, unsure how to continue.

“This is your story, and it is unique to you, but I can guarantee that awful things happening in the midst of church, or even because of church going people is not new to me. It won’t be anything I haven’t heard before.”

A small laugh escapes from me. “You might be wrong.”

“I could be. But I’m pretty confident that I’m not.” He’s just matter of fact again, gentle, but matter of fact.

“Okay. Okay. My cousins lived next door to us. And it was wonderful, and it was terrible.” I stop talking for a minute and breathe. And, that’s also the rest of the secret, the one I have never told, not to Bea, and not here in my writing. I’ve always said that Kenny was like family, that his parents were so close to mine that we called them aunt and uncle. The teen needed it that way. It made it less awful in her mind, to say he was like family, instead of that he was family. Again, it’s complicated and messy, and I don’t know why I told the truth to Alex about who Kenny was to me, but it felt right, and so I did. “My cousin, he’s eight years older than me. He sexually abused me. I was five. It…..it went on for 11 years.” I stare at the ground, unable to look up. “I….I, this….I didn’t know, it was just…I don’t know. I didn’t even know what it was. Not until…..well, in my middle school, at the time, they did this thing where they split up the boys and girls, to talk to them….” I trail off, struggling to continue.

“Yes, I remember that,” he says softly.

“My church offered an alternative. So my parents, they signed a form that I was not to attend the school talk, and they sent me to the church one. Probably half my class did the church talk instead. But that was when…….I realized what it was. What I had been doing. That I had committed this giant sin. And even if logically, I know that I didn’t……it is like ever since then I have been unforgivable.”

“That was not your fault.” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Alex looking at me. He sits forward again, and lays his hands flat on his legs. “I come from a very broken family. I was sexually abused for years. Healing from that, it has been, and is, a very big part of my story. It took a long time, but it is totally possible to come out the other side. Helping others who were hurt in this way, that has become part of my story. God has used that brokenness and hurt in me to help others.”

I stop breathing for a moment. Alex was sexually abused. He gets it.

“What happened to you was evil. But not your fault,” he repeats again.

“You sound like my therapist,” I say.

“Good,” he smiles, “Maybe you need to hear that from more than just her. It is the truth.”

“I know. Logically, I know. Most of the time, anyway. But emotionally……it gets complicated.”

“I know it does. That still doesn’t make what happened to you your sin. It’s not your sin. Even if there were times you liked it, even if there were times you sought it out, wanted it, it is not your sin to own. You have no fault here. Everything traces back to that five year old girl who didn’t understand, and didn’t ask for this. When you were seven, eight, nine, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, whatever happened, whatever part you think you had in this, it all goes back to that little girl who had something so evil and wrong done to her. And what happened to the nine year old, the twelve year old, everytime he hurt you, it was wrong, and it was evil, and you were never at fault. There isn’t anything to forgive where God is concerned. This isn’t yours to be forgiven.”

“I’m just so mad. I’m tired of being mad, I don’t want to feel like this. I want to move forward, I don’t want to keep feeling guilty and condemned and mad.” I blink back tears.

“Tell Him. Tell Him you are mad.”

I shake my head. I can’t do that. I’m afraid.

“He already knows, but He is always inviting us to have a conversation with Him. I’m guessing the mad is in wondering where He was, why He allowed this to happen to you?”

“Yes,” I whisper the word, covering my face with my hands as I blink back tears. I will not cry. I don’t like to cry in front of people. I will not cry.

“Ask Him. Let Him show you where He was in those terrible, painful moments. Maybe you need to forgive God for not rescuing you, for not stopping it.” Alex says this like it is just…..well, normal to talk about a person forgiving God. I can’t begin to wrap my head around this, I definitely do not believe I have the right to forgive God. But there is something there……I’ll think about this later.

Alex asks about feeling mad at anyone besides God. “I’m angry at everyone. At the one who hurt me, but at others in the family, too,” I tell him.

“Yes, yes! You should be angry. You have a right to be angry at this cousin who hurt you so badly. Have you told your family how you feel?”

I shake my head and stare at my hands. “No. They don’t know.”

“None of them knows?”

“My therapist, and my husband. That’s it.”

“Okay. Okay. I’m not saying you should tell, or that you have to tell, but I’m assuming this guy is still in your life?” There isn’t judgement in his voice, just sadness.

I nod. “Sorta. Not so much anymore. I….well, since I had my daughter, I avoid seeing him as much as I can, so he’s not really in my life so much now.”

“How are you ever going to really feel safe, really be able to go visit your family without being retraumatized, if there is always a chance you could run into him? Shouldn’t the people who didn’t protect you be held accountable and help to keep you safe now?” Alex asks me.

“You sound like my therapist again,” I tell him.

He nods. “Good. Why haven’t you told your family?”

“It would destroy my mother.”

“But it’s destroying you,” he says softly.

“I just can’t do that to her.”

“You haven’t done anything. You didn’t do this. You didn’t ask for this. Your cousin hurt you. You were the one who was hurt, the one who is suffering and struggling and being hurt everytime you are forced to see him, and yet, here you are, trying to protect everyone else.” He sounds sad. “This isn’t something you should have to deal with on your own. I’m glad you are starting to reach out to others besides your therapist, it’s brave of you and a good thing for you. But don’t you deserve to have the support and care of your family that you didn’t get then, now? It’s not your job to protect your mom.”

“Except it is. Or, it used to be.”

“No, it never was your job. Even if you thought it was, it wasn’t.”

“No, it wasn’t. Logically, I know that. But it was put on me. You have to understand, my mother, she, well she is……she has a pretty severe eating disorder. When I was growing up, if I messed up somehow, she would get worse.”

He nods understanding. “It was your job to keep things going smoothly, to keep your mom healthy. But really, it wasn’t your job then, and it is not your job now. Wouldn’t you want to know if your daughter had been hurt like you? Wouldn’t you want the chance to support her and love her through her journey of healing?”

“Except I have intentionally created a relationship with my daughter where we talk about everything— good and bad. My parents, they never wanted anything more than smiles and rainbows and unicorns.” Saying this out loud hurts. It’s the truth, and it’s nothing I haven’t said or thought before, but these words, they hurt. Maybe it is the idea that parents must be intentional in how they talk to their kids, and mine weren’t.

“And that’s painful, and it makes it harder for you to understand that God wants to hear all of it. He doesn’t want just sunshine and unicorns. He wants the storm clouds and the rage and the tears and the questions. He isn’t afraid of any of those things. He wants to hear it all. I know that as a mother, you want to hear everything your daughter has to tell you. I feel the same way as a father with my boys. It may not be what we grew up with. We are breaking that cycle, and the way we relate to our children, in wanting them to come to us, in welcome them and all their feelings, their triumps, their mistakes, that is how God feels about us.”

That is something to think about. It’s not how I have thought of God. Maybe I have unconsciously made God to be like my parents, only wanting perfection, and nothing else is good enough or deserving enough. I mull that over for a moment and slowly nod. “Maybe.”

“I can’t tell you what to do, but I agree with your therapist. It’s not healthy for you to keep seeing this man who hurt you. It’s not fair to you. That anger that you feel is the result of this boundary that was horrificly violated. You have a right to feel safe in your life. You’re angry because you were hurt, and angry because you weren’t protected. And you have every right to be angry, even to be angry at God.”

I nod my head. “I just don’t want to be angry anymore, to be in this place of feeling so bad.”

“What would that look like for you? To move out of that place?”

I spin my bangle bracelet around my wrist. “I’m not sure. To feel like I’m forgiven, like I belong to God. To not feel guilty. And…..I guess to not have to see my cousin ever again, or to at least….I don’t know. To know he won’t hurt me or anyone else ever again.”

“Well, the first one I can assure you, you are forgiven. If you believe He is who He says He is, and you prayed that prayer, then you are forgiven. You are His daughter, and He loves you. That, I can promise you. You are His daughter, and you are loved and forgiven. He wants you to have a full life. He wants you to feel safe. If that means setting a boundary of not being around this person without giving an explanation, then that is okay. If that means breaking your silence, then that is okay, too. You don’t have to do anything right now. You have time, and you are working to move forward.”

I’m silent, and simply thinking about what Alex has said.

“Has this cousin ever even acknowledged what he did?” Alex asks.

I shake my head. “I don’t think he even thinks he did anything wrong. It’s always just him acting like things are normal. And I just go along with it. I danced with him at my wedding.” I laugh, this sort of disgusted little laugh. I shake my head. “It’s not funny. I laugh, but it’s more just….” I’m unsure how to finish that sentence.

“The incredulousness of it all? If we don’t shake our heads and laugh at the crazy shit in our lives, then, well, we might break.” He goes on to share a story of his own that is another one of those things you just have to shake your head at and laugh.

“Yeah. Exactly that.” I smile because he gets it.

“You know, you mentioned that writing is helpful to you. Have you written a letter to this cousin? Not one you have to send, just one for yourself, to let out some of that anger. That was something I found helpful when there were all these feelings, but I wasn’t yet ready to hold anyone accountable.”

I want to ask him about telling, about breaking his silence. I want to ask what happened, what did it feel like, was he scared, does he feel safe now? Instead I say, “I do write. Writing is easier than talking. I spent a whole year of therapy only writing, never talking. Talking still scares me.”

“How often do you pray?” Alex asks gently.

Shame washes over me. I shake my head.

“Okay. It’s okay. I only ask because, well, I assumed that if you are angry, and you feel inforgiven, and you don’t like to talk, prayer might be difficult right now.” He looks at my face, and I’m trying so hard not to cry, and feeling so embarrassed I cover my face with my hands again. And then he continues talking, “It’s okay. Maybe you could write to God, instead of talking outloud. If writing is easier, then write to him. That’s an okay thing to do. He made you, and He knows you. Write to Him.”

“That….I think I can do that.” I’m smiling because it’s such a simple answer, but something I have never considered. It’s a place to start, a step that I can take.

Spolier alert…..The pastor wrote back. And again I ask, Now what?

So, he wrote back. And it’s not bad. Not earth shattering, everything I ever wanted to hear, and teen is feeling a little snarky and trying to twist things up, but I think its okay.

I don’t know how to respond, because he gave me some choices, and then put the ball in my court. I’m used to Bea giving me choices, and working collaboratively, but it still feels like a trick or something when others do so. I think it sounds like he got what I was saying, and is willing to try to help me find my answers. But I don’t know. Ugh! The teen is starting to pick every word apart, and find malice in each of them. Before she manages to decide I’m not wanted at church anymore, I’m going to go ahead and post what he wrote back.

Love your honesty and yes, of course I meant it – glad you reached out. You have shared a lot and enough – well done.

I’d love to meet with you chat more if you think that will help. But if having a female pastor on our staff would be a better fit, I can help arrange that as well.

You can take some solace, while I’m sure the details are different, that you are in a place many have been and find way through. You have hope in your words, just a need to find some answers to bring a sense of peace. God is definitely big enough for your anger and says He is near in your brokenness and hates what has happened as much as you…probably more than you do.

Let me know how you’d like to proceed.

Pastor)

So, I emailed the pastor….now what?

So, I emailed the pastor. I’m regretting it at the moment, because I haven’t received a response yet. While I kmow that it hasnt even been 24 hours since I sent my email, and that this isnt the sort of email you send a casual reply to, and that everything is probably okay, I am really wishing I had listened to my instinct to hide, not sent the email. Anyone invented an unsend button yet?

Anyway….here is the email I sent. I feel like I shared too much information, and am feeling over exposed and vulnerable right now.

Dear Pastor,

I’m writing because 2 sundays ago, during the first talk in the church vs hate series, at the end of that talk, you said if anyone had something they wanted to talk about, something they needed help with, that you were inviting them to start a conversation. You gave out your email address. I’m hoping you meant it, because I do have something I need help dealing with. I’ve been praying and wrestling with this concept of reaching out to someone else, and I’ve felt compelled to write today.

There have been some really serious topics at church lately. Topics that have just really stuck with me, but more than that, they have brougt all this hurt and pain in my heart to the surface. The RPMS series made me see that this is not a church or a ministry that avoids being real, that only wants to touch on the shiny surface. Then came the starting over series, where the whole idea of needing to start over from something that was done to you was brought up. And the story that was shared was a woman who was sexually abused as a child. Then on another Sunday, part of the testimony in the Larry Nassar trials was played. And now, we have the separation of church and hate series, and both Sundays I have cried and felt my heart just rip in pieces because there is so much pain beiing touched upon. The last two Sundays, I have felt that if I made a choice to, I could talk to someone at church, I could tell my story, with all the ugly pieces, and it would be okay. That I wouldn’t be condemned, or hated, but that there could be a conversation about these beliefs and hurts and fears and confusion and struggle with believing God loves me and I’m forgiven that I’ve been carrying around almost my whole life.

But I’m not sure where to even start. These aren’t things I really ever talk about, because they aren’t easy, nice or neat things. They are hard and messy. I don’t need a therapist, I have someone I see twice a week. She’s the one who encouraged me to go back to church, and while we have talked about God and my feelings and hurts and fears, ultimately she is a trauma therapist and hasn’t studied the Bible and Christianity and she lacks the ability to really answer questions. It has taken me five years of therapy to even be ready to find a church. (Church) wasn’t the first church I visited when I started looking for a church. It was the first church that felt comfortable and safe. I’m really happy being back in a church. It feels like I am exactly where I am supposed to be in my life. I never stopped believing in God, but I have been struggling with these feelings of not being good enough, with this fear– this belief– that God can’t love me, can’t forgive me because of all the bad things in my life, this fear that even though I believe Jeuss died on the cross and rose again, believe He is God’s son and that through him there is eternal life that I am somehow exempt from salvation and lastly, I am grappling with anger. I am angry at God. In some ways, according to my therapist, my anger is legitimate. She says God can handle my anger at him in the same way I handle my daughter’s anger towards me. I’m not sure that she is right, but I hope she is.

I grew up in church. Youth group was my social life. Lock-ins and outings and small groups and retreats and summer camp. I was a junior CIT and and CIT at church camp in the summers during my teens. I’ve been the one in the position of counseling another who is grappling with their faith. It’s been a long time, I havent been in a church to worship Jesus since I was 19 (I’m 35 now) but I havent forgotten everything. I understand that there is this thing called freewill, and that freewill means people can make choices to hurt others and that pain and hurt are not God’s fault. I know that God can– and will– use all things for his glory. I know that our pain is never in vain; God will use it. I know that we can be given tough situations because it is those hard things that draw us nearer to Him.

I know these things, I even believe these things. That doesn’t take away this hurt and pain that I hold. It doesn’t stop me from being angry and disappointed and confused. It doesn’t change anything. And I have prayed and prayed and yet, I’m still lost. I don’t know what to do with all of this. My therapist believes I won’t be able to heal until I fix my problem with God. She says I need to be able to accept that God loves me, and has forgiven me my sins.

Somehow, this feels like I have simultaneously written too much information and not enough information. Unfortunately, I need to keep things vague right now. I suppose I am testing the waters a little bit, seeing if you think you can even help me find answers.

Best,

Alice

Therapy and the what if

Wednesday’s session was weird. Not bad, just weird. It’s always like that when Bea has been on vacation, even if we only missed one session. I have this sort of compulsive need to talk about nothing and make sure she is still Bea, that it is safe to dig into the rubble of my life. I always need to do this to a certain extent; I need to form this more superficial connection, to test the waters before I hand over my notebook and bare my soul……..

It’s Wednesday, and Bea is back from her trip, and I’m back in her office and all is right in my world. She came back. I’m okay. I was okay while she was gone. And yet, I can’t settle down. I can’t get out my new notebook, even just to show off the pretty turquoise blue and cream striped fabric covering it. I love nice, well made, beautiful notebooks, and this is a really pretty one, with smooth cream colored paper inside.

I ask about her trip, and I tell her about Kat’s school, and we chat about nothingness. “I’m sorry,” I tell her, “I keep trying….I’m not trying to not talk. I just, I don’t know.”

Bea shakes her head. “You are okay. And honestly, these parenting things, and relationships, and all of that, these things you see as wasting time? These are things lots of people go to therapy to talk about. So I don’t see this as you wasting time.”

“I know, but it just..I beleive you, and I know that stuff can be hard, but for me, that’s the stuff I can usually handle no problem. It’s the other stuff that I need to talk about because I can’t talk about it anywhere else. I don’t know. Never mind.”

“Okay, so what other stuff do you want to talk about today?”

“I have writing.” I finally pull my notebook out of my bag.

“Let’s start there then,” Bea says.

I give her my notebook, but even as she is reading through it, I’m struggling to settle down. I keep talking and fidgeting. “I’m having a hard time. It’s the end, I mean the last two things I wrote about, I’m having a hard time.”

“Do you want me to stop reading?” She places the ribbon bookmark in my journal and closes the book. “I don’t have to read it, it is up to you.”

“No, read it. It’s just hard.”

“Do you want your blanket?” She asks, and I nod yes, so she goes and gets my blanket and drapes it over me. I can hear her sit back in her chair and start reading again.

“Okay,” she says once she has finished reading, “I think we need to talk about this dream, but can we just talk about the what if for a minute?”

“I….maybe. We can try. But I don’t…I mean….it’s hard.”

“I know. The second you want to stop talking about this, you say the word and we will be done. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Mostly we talk about everything that is already in my what If post. Bea offers to call CPS for me, to not mention my name, but to report it. She would need his name and his address, but she can call for me. That just feels like too much telling. Like it’s this line I can’t go back from, once she has his name. It’s just….maybe a part of still wants to hide him. I don’t know why, but I can’t give up his full name. I just can’t. Another option is that I can call CPS and report anonymously. I just don’t know. We go around and around. Finally I tell her how my life, and my world are split. There is the perfect me, the old me, from my old life. Then there is me. Just me. From this life. And on this side of the state, I’m just me. But on the other side of the state, I’m still her— Ms. Perfect, the girl I used to be. I need that separation.

“It’s a boundary. A very real, physical boundary, but also, a felt boundary, a boundary that is emotional. You need that boundary to feel safe.”

I nod my head, even though she can’t see me. “I don’t need, or want justice. I don’t need to see him in court, sentenced to jail. I just want to keep my old life over there, and to be here, to be me. I want to live my life, and feel my feelings, and to be real. I want to come to therapy and process my stuff and learn and grow and be okay. That’s all. That is enough justice for me; that I still managed to learn to be me, to live, and I’m okay. I might be messy, but I’m okay.”

“It sounds like you already know what you need.” Her voice has a question in it.

“Except the what if.” I whisper.

“You aren’t responsible for anyone but yourself. You are only responsible for keeping yourself safe and healthy so you can live your life.” She says gently.

“Am I a terrible person for not telling?” I’m crying now, feeling guilty and awful because of the what if.

“No. No. Not in any way.” Her voice is stern. She wants me to hear her and to really listen.

We go around like this for a while longer, until I say I can’t keep talking about this. Bea says okay, and then adds, “It’s 25 after, I don’t know what time you need to leave by….”

We’ve gone over again. When I apologize, Bea says it was her choice and that she thought this needed talking about.

“If you have time, can we chat about the dream?” She asks.

“Okay.” It’s a whisper, because this, too, is a hard topic.

“You didn’t write much, and that’s okay, but can I ask if it’s a flashback dream, or a dream-dream?”

“Both. It’s weird. It’s…memories, but it all….it goes from one to the next, like it’s all the same time, the same age, but it’s not. I mean, these things happened, but not the same age.”

“Okay. Do these things, the memories, are they linked somehow?”

I shake my head. “They are awful. Just really awful. And I feel it. I just….I don’t know anything. But it’s there, every night, this dream is there.”

“Okay.” Bea takes a breath. “It’s coming up for a reason. I think we need to do some work on this. I think SP is a good place to start with dreams, process things from the ground up, take away some of its’ power. If you want to do some SP work.”

“I’m scared.” I tell her. This is becoming a pattern. She brings up SP, I feel scared, and we talk about It. I suppose the pattern has changed, because I used to dissociate and freak out, and refuse to even think about it. Now I get quiet, work to stay present, admit I am really scared, talk about it and then I warily agree to try it.

The pattern holds. We talk about what SP does and does not mean, and how Bea is not going to stop me from talking. Then I warily agree to try.

“Monday, then. We will work with this dream.” Bea says.

“Okay….” I say slowly. “I’ll try to write it down.”

“If you can, that’s great. If not, that is okay, too.” I peek out from under the blanket, and Bea moves her gaze from my direction, knowing that would be too much for me. She smiles at me before she does, though.

“Okay. I’ll try. I’m just scared,” I say again.

“I know. And that’s okay,” she assures me.

Shame and Regret

Regret. Shame. These two little words can have such an impact on us. They can determine how we feel about ourselves, and they can even change the entire course of our lives. These two words have popped up frequently in my life lately. Im fact, I’d say they seem to be a theme in my therapy recently.

Last week, I wrote in my journal about this part of me that feels alone is safer. It’s most definitely the teen, and she wants to be left alone. In fact, she wants for Bea to leave me alone and stop trying to sift through all the rubble to find all the pain underneath. The teen just wants to be done, to be normal, to be okay. And she does not want to let any of these feelings out. It’s her job to control all the other parts, to protect me from their confusion and pain and anger. While there was a lot of just free writing, jumping from topic to topic last week, I felt better than I had in a long while. I felt present again. And when I went to therapy, I handed over my journal, and Bea read through it.

******************************************************************* Wednesday February 7, 2018

“I wonder if the little girl will feel alone until the teen stops believing that alone is safer?” Bea reads my question aloud. “That’s a good question. An important question. Do you have an answer?”

I shake my head. “Not really. No. I just….the teen, she has to keep everyone safe. For her, alone is safe. No one can hurt me if I’m alone.”

“Ahhhh, yes. She works so hard to keep all the parts safe. To keep you safe. I wonder if being back here feels threatening to her after a long break where things started to feel more stable?”

“Maybe. I…the adult me….I don’t think….I mean, I was okay for those weeks. I mean, there were triggers, but mostly, I just stayed on the surface and avoided feeling. Sort of numb. Not exactly, but sort of. I think, well, you know, there were times things would come up and I would think that I should sit down and write but then I would find something else to do. I would clean up, or I would watch a movie, read a book, take care of school stuff. I just stayed….. I floated on the surface, you know. And I think that’s okay, but it’s not good for me to do, not healthy long term. It’s too easy for that to suck me back into just being kinda of numb and not here all the time.”

“It’s a healthier way of coping than ways you have used in the past, but no, I don’t think it’s good long term. Maybe if you were able to sit down and let whatever come up, write about it, and then find a way back to the surface, that would feel better to you.” Bea suggests.

“Something more like that, yeah.” Her idea feels right, like that could be healthy and okay. “It’s funny that I’m saying this, but I don’t really like the sort of numb feeling.”

“It keeps you safe, but if everything bad is being numbed away, then more than likely everything feels blunted…..”

She’s not really done speaking, but I interrupt her. “Blunted! That’s exactly it. My whole life has been feeling blunted lately.”

“That can make it hard to feel joy, to feel connected to others, even to feel alive, can’t it?” Bea says. It’s not really a question, more of a statement to let me know she gets what I’m trying to say. I nod my head, and then she asks, “Does the teen feel a little threatened to have me poking around and digging under the surface after being able to keep everything blunted and safe?”

I think for moment, and then nod. “Yes. She likes things how they are.”

“I can understand that. And I think she is doing a very important job, one that helps to keep you okay enough to function in your daily life. We don’t want her to quit her job, and we don’t want to get rid of her. Do you think she would let us check in on the little girl? It’s been a while since we have checked in on her, and I bet she is feeling pretty lonely. I haven’t forgotten about her.”

“Not lonely. Not really. Confused.” I whisper the words and then bury my face in my knees.

“Confused, huh? What is confusing?”

“Nothing matches anymore.”

“Can you tell me what doesn’t match?” Bea is just so calm. She sounds curious, but not pushy, and I love that she is willing to just follow me down whatever rabbit hole I’m ready to jump down.

“Things. None of it. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t match.” I sound whiny. The little girl is not happy that things don’t match.

Bea asks again what it is that doesn’t match, and I continue to be unable to answer her. Eventually she reassures the little girl that it’s okay if things don’t match right now, that we will figure it out together. She says that she can understand it feels confusing and maybe the little girl feels sad or angry, and whatever she is feeling is okay and that she’s not alone. For a minute I feel like crying, and then it’s gone, and everything is blunted again.

******************************************************************* Sunday, February 11, 2018

We go to church again, and I’m starting to feel more comfortable here. I can smile and say hello to people who smile at me, and I even manage to make small talk with a few.

But then (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?) the service starts, and it’s all about regrets. It’s a different teaching pastor than a few weeks ago when I wrote about the Larry Nassar trials. He directs us to a bible passage, and that’s all fine and well. The whole thing is about Peter, and Peter denying Jesus three times. The pastor sets this whole scene, including a charcoal fire. Then he directs us to a second passage in the Bible, and says that in this passage is the first time Peter sees Jesus since denying the relationship. And wouldn’t you know it, Jesus is cooking something, and there is a charcoal fire? This is a trigger, for Peter, the pastor says, it triggers all the regret and shame he felt when he realized what he had done. Now, the Pastor goes on to talk about how Jesus forgave Peter, and how he gave Peter a chance to confirm their relationship, and then went on to give Peter a purpose in his life. That was all fine. Food for thought, but okay.

Now, though, the pastor continues to talk. He says that we all have regrets, and that there are three types of regret; regret of our actions, regret of our inaction, and regret that is not ours to own, but that we take on anyway. He says the last one often leads to feelings of shame, and that is so damaging to us. He says that when we regret things that have been done to us, or that have happened to us, and we hold onto shame and blame and guilt that is not ours to own, it hurts us. He says that each time we are triggered, just as Peter was triggered, and those feelings come up again and again, it is damaging to us. He talks about how shame about something that happened to us makes us begin to question our worth, our value. We begin to ask things like “what is wrong with me?” and to believe things like “I’m bad” or “I don’t deserve good things”. He talks about how these feelings can separate us from God, and how we don’t have to deal with those feelings alone, that their are people at church, including any of the pastors, that they would be happy to talk, or help find a therapist or to pray for anyone who is struggling. And then, he says that two weeks ago, we talked about the Nassar trials, and how many of the girls he had hurt felt that regret and shame for something they didn’t do, for something someone did to them. At least one in five women have been hurt in the same way, he says. Some of you are sitting out there, listening to me talk and you are thinking that you are different, that what happened to you really is your fault. But it’s not. He introduces a woman then, and says that she would like to share her story. And then she begins to speak. Her story is my story, it’s the story of so many of my blog friends. It’s not exactly the same story as mine, or as yours, of course, but it’s the story of a girl who was hurt by a man, a girl who took on all the blame and shame and regret for actions that never belonged to her. Of course, her story is also a story of finding Jesus and becoming a Christian.

I felt sick. I wanted to run out of the room. I wanted to scream and cry. It felt like a mean trick, to have such things openly discussed in public. Of course, now, with the adult in charge, I think this is maybe a good thing. They aren’t hiding from the ugly stuff, the hard stuff. This isn’t a church that pretends perfection. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it all. I think I’m still processing what church and God mean to me. Maybe that’s why I’m there. I have questions, things I may one day need to have conversations about, and I’m going to need to have a place to ask them, to be able to tell my story and figure how where I stand with God, what I believe. This might be a safe place to do just that.

Digging through the rubble

So…..here is yet another collection of sort of random thoughts.

I’ve been avoiding my life or far too long. Sure, I’ve been running the PTO, and I’ve been leading my daisy troop, and I’ve been volunteering at school and meeting for play dates and even attending church. But I’ve not gotten on my yoga mat in months. Months. I’ve had to force myself to sit and journal. My house is a very scary disaster. I’ve been avoiding my feelings, my thoughts, my life. I’m not living.

In this day and age, it’s so easy to drown out the noise in our heads. Put on a movie. Binge watch a new tv show. Listen to an audiobook. Pick up your kindle and find an e-book. For that matter, pick up your phone and get sucked into the time waster of facebook, or reddit, or Instagram, or even just the news. And then of course, are the good old fallbacks. The big guns. Eating. Purging. Starving. Cutting. Whatever it is, whatever is available to drown out my feelings and thoughts and anxieties, I’ve been doing it. And I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t like who I am becoming. I don’t like the time I am wasting, and the connections I am avoiding.

How did this happen? I don’t know. I was okay. Good. Stable. Feeling like I was here, present, grounded. And then….well, I suppose the filter was removed and all hell broke loose, and I’m still trying to climb my way out of the black hole I was plunged into. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that a part of me has climbed out, but the rest of the parts are scrambling up the side of that huge black hole to no avail. They can’t get out until I look at the feelings, the thoughts, the beliefs. All of it.

And that brings us to my last few therapy sessions. Bea has slowly been poking and digging through the rubble that’s left from the filter disappearing. It’s not easy, because I’ve been really resistant. I think with the holiday break, and then the two week break because of the flu, a bit of that “crust of perfection” (as Bea once referred to it) returned. It had to, in order for me to function in my daily life. The difficulty comes in that Ms. Perfect will do whatever is necessary to keep Bea from breaking through that crust of perfection. Unlike times in the past, however, there is an adult self that is aware that crust needs to be cracked, and I am working so hard to break through all these layers and figure out what is really going on with me.

Confusion and aloneness have been the big things that keep seeping out past my barriers. We’ve explored what alone means, and that being alone is different than feeling alone, and that is different from hiding. Last week, I told Bea that alone doesn’t feel good, but it is safer to be alone. It was just this sentence that slipped out and Bea asked if that was a part or if that was me, the adult. I didn’t know, and so I when I got home, I decided to write about it. I wrote and wrote. I didn’t find any answers, not really, but I think I’m starting to come out of this fog. I feel more present than I have recently. It doesn’t really feel good, because there are so many yucky, messy feelings seeping to the surface. But it’s not a bad thing. I’m slowly coming back to my life. I just hope I can survive the mess I’m about to dig through.