The Fight we always have

I’ve heard it said that most couples have “one” fight that they have, over and over. That it doesn’t matter what it’s about, it’s always the same; a routine, a pattern, a play book, a script. Hubby and I certainly have a fight routine. It goes like this.

Hubby begins to make a decision or plans without consulting me, but I can hear him making it.

Me: Hubby! Hey, hold on…hey. What are you doing/planning?

Hubby: huh? Oh, (brief explanation)

Me: That doesn’t work….can it be (and I suggest a different time/day/idea)

He appears to be listening, but in reality, I’m not sure he was. He goes back to making plans.

Hubby: okay, great. (Plans made for day/time I said were no good)

Me: fine. Whatever. Do what you want.

Hubby: thanks a lot, man. We’ll see you then! Looking forward to it.

The day, or evening goes on. I withdraw, because my feelings are hurt. From the outside, I assume this looks like I am giving Hubby the cold shoulder, a version of the silent treatment. I’ll talk to him if and when I have to, but otherwise, forget it. On the inside, I’m doing my very best to hold the tears inside, to not fall apart, to shove the hurt and stomped all over feelings down and away, to box them up, to put them in the trash. It’s all I can do, and it’s a struggle.

Eventually, Hubby will get annoyed, and confront me.

Hubby: if this is about the plans I made, you can’t be mad. You said fine.

If he only knew. I’m not mad. My feelings are crushed, broken, hurting, bleeding, raw. And even more so lately, because I’ve let him in, I’ve really begun to reach out and trust him. And now, this. He broke my trust. He didn’t see me. He didn’t hear me. He didn’t care. It’s such a stupid little thing to be upset over. I’m mad at myself for being upset. I’m mad at myself for thinking that emotional openness and trusting another person was a good idea. I’m trying to hold it together so he won’t know how really, really stupid I am to be upset over something so insignificant.

Me: I said it was not a good day. You didn’t listen, I gave up. I said fine, whatever. Because you didn’t care.
My tone has gotten loud, and I’m not quite yelling, but I’m speaking loudly, and I am frustrated. I do not want to talk about this. Can’t he see I am barely holding it together? Can’t he see I’m trying so hard to finish out the evening in peace?

Hubby: You will stop yelling at me right now. This instant.

He snaps it out at me, quick and angry, cruel, and mean. Scary tone.
I back away, cringe. I grab my tea, my notebook, and run to the bedroom. I lock the door and fall on the bed. Curled up as small as I can be, I cry. The crying is new. I wouldn’t cry before. That’s different.

He uses a skeleton key to let himself in, to ask if I’m okay. I freeze when he enters the room, I’m nauseous and can’t think. I can barely get the words out, but I manage to say, “GO AWAY.”

This is our fight, our pattern; it’s the script we follow.

Just because you are Alice

“I promise I’ll try to clean tomorrow,” I say. I feel terrible. I didn’t clean at all. The house is a mess. The floor hasn’t been swept for days, who knows what the dogs have tracked in? The sink is full of dirty dishes, the dishwasher is full of clean dishes that needs to be unloaded. Laundry hasn’t been done in who knows how long; there are clothes to wash, and clothes to fold and put away. The house is a disaster area.

“It’s okay. I’m not worried about it,” Hubby tells me.

I don’t believe him. I just don’t. Of course he is. Of course he needs me to keep a clean house, that’s part of being a perfect wife, that’s one of the standards I am not currently meeting….I’m not good enough, and if I’m not good enough….oh. Oh, crap. This is a problem. If I’m not good enough, how can he love me? After Monday’s session with Bea, I know where this is coming from, where these beliefs come from, of course. I’m aware now how far back they go, and I can see it’s not actually a case of me not being good enough. It’s more of a deeply ingrained message given by my parents of needing to earn love or acceptance by meeting a certain set of standards.

It’s late, Hubby has to work tomorrow. It’s not the time to start talking. I know this. But I need to talk. I need him to understand, to know that I have these ideas in my head that he needs me to earn his love.

“Well, today was better than yesterday,” I tell him. I hadn’t told him what I had talked about in therapy, only that it had been a hard day, and I had cried. So, he had known it wasn’t likely to be a great evening.

“That’s good, and tomorrow will hopefully be better.”

“Just in time to go back to Bea the next day,” I joke.

Hubby laughs, but then he turns serious, “I’m sorry this is so hard on you, hun.”

“It’s okay, really. We weren’t even talking about trauma stuff on Monday. We were talking about my parents.” I want so badly to tell him what I have realized, but I am afraid. I don’t talk about relationship things, or feelings. They scare me. I’m afraid of them. It’s uncomfortable. So I have to test the waters, see if he will talk, because I can’t put myself out there if he isn’t in the mood to listen.

“Yeah? Your parents? What did Bea have to say about your parents?” He sounds curious, like he wants to know her take on them. I’m sure he does. I think he wants to know how two “perfect” people could raise such a damaged child that he now has to deal with the fallout 31 years later.

“It wasn’t that kind of talk. It was about me. I talked, she gets stuck talking so often that she doesn’t talk when she does not have to.” I can feel myself going away a little, not wanting to be fully present and having to feel the emotions all over again. “We were talking about how my parents expected a lot……even when I was really little, they just……had high expectations……..they needed me to be perfect……….” I’m starting and stopping, stumbling my way through this. How do you tell your husband, who knows your parents, who has to be around your parents, that you grew up feeling that you had to earn your parents love by being perfect? And what if he thinks I’m just being a drama queen? What if he doesn’t believe me? Dissociating further, I say, “I think, Bea thinks, it was unintentional, but the message was that I had to be perfect to be accepted. I had to meet a certain standard to earn their attention, to be cared for, to be loved.” Even this far dissociated, I’m fighting tears, but I’m far enough away that I win, easily.

“That had to be so hard. So hard. And so hard to realize. Of course Monday was hard,” Hubby says. He is really trying not to jump in and “fix” anything for me.

“I think…, well, you know, I think I just assume that everyone in my life has a set of standards I have to live up to in order for them to want me, accept me, love me.”

And that’s when understanding hits him. He’s silent for a minute, but he grabs my hand– carefully, because we are laying in bed, and now that he knows my history he is so, so careful not to trigger me.

“I can’t imagine how hard that is, thinking you have to earn everyone’s love. It’s not like that though. I just love you. I want you to be happy. There’s no list of standards in my head, nothing for you to meet. If I care that much about something getting done, I’ll just do it. I don’t need perfect, I just need you, now, how you are. That’s who I love. I love you who doesn’t clean up, and you who does. I love you who cooks dinner and you who says we have to go out. I love you who gets angry and yells and you who is calm and happy. I love you. Just because you are Alice. The same as you love Kat for being Kat. I love you for being Alice.”

I sigh, and curl up against him. He puts his hand on my back, and I try not to cry. He loves me for being Alice. But what does that really mean? And can I really trust that? It sounds nice. I want to believe it. But it sounds like a fairy tale, a children’s story. Not something real, not something meant for me.

“I want to believe that,” I whisper.

“I’ll keep reminding you until you can,” Hubby says.

Hubby visits with Bea

I’ve been trying to tell Hubby what it’s like to live with trauma, to explain how trauma changes a person, how memories are different than normal memories. I haven’t even begun to try to explain what makes sexual abuse as a child so damaging. Even talking about these relatively benign things are hard for me. It’s hard for me to explain my experience, it hard for me to remember the “right” or “technical” explanations. It’s all hard. And that’s when I came up with my brilliant idea; Hubby could go see Bea, for a kind of trauma for dummies class. She could explain trauma to him, in a way that was relevant to me. So, on Friday, Hubby went to see Bea.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous, so I gave Bea some rules:
1. I don’t want Hubby to know who— male babysitter is enough information for now, maybe forever

2. No major details of what happened to me unless there is a specific question or example that you really believe it will help him understand something.

3. I’m really afraid that sex is going to be brought up, by either one of you. I don’t want him to know how not “there” I have always been. That seems like a cruel thing to tell him. You can talk about why it might be a really hard or scary thing to talk about or think about or do right now. Or why I might be afraid that touch is always going to lead to something more.

4. Please don’t talk about cutting or eating behaviors in relation to me specifically as he doesn’t know anything about my history. But in general, as in “these are common coping mechanisms, ext,” that might be a good starting point. If he flat out brings it up or asks, you can answer or talk about it.

And that was it. I also told her that I trusted her, so if she felt like something was important to be talked about, then she should follow her instincts and go ahead and talk about it.

Last night, Hubby told me how the session went. It was really weird to hear about my shrink from him. But he seemed really positive and happy with the session, and he was really glad that he went. He said Bea explained things really well, gave him information that was relevant, and also gave him things to do to help me; she explained to him how she sees his role in my therapy process.

Kat’s in bed. The house is (mostly) clean. Hubby and I sit down to talk. He settles in the arm chair, and I sit sideways on the sofa, tea in my hand.

“So….I’m really glad I went, Bea is really nice,” he starts out.

“Did she help?” I ask. I’m anxious, I want it to have gone well, to have been good. I want him to be happy.

“Yeah, she really did. We spent half the session on trauma stuff, and half of stuff I can actually do to help you.”

I smile. I’m glad, Hubby is so picky sometimes, so, I wasn’t sure how he would feel. “What did she tell you about trauma? Will you tell me?” I ask him.

“Yeah, yeah. I was planning on telling you all of it,” he says, “Bea told me how childhood trauma can hold a lot of self blame, because it’s not like someone is really forcing you, in the sense of you being held down. She explained grooming, how the perpetrator is an adult the child trusts, how children are taught that adults are right, to obey adults, and then if a perpetrator grooms a child, the child can feel like they were involved in their own abuse, that they were a part of it. She told me how part of that is the adult can try to make the child like it, feel some pleasure…..and a lot of those adults are very good at what they do, and so the child ends up confused, feeling good and bad, terrible, and like they are to blame. That has to be such a horrible feeling. No matter what, you weren’t. I don’t blame you.” Hubby looks sad.

I nod, say, “yeah,” because it’s all I can say.

“If this is too hard for you, let me know, okay?” Hubby tells me.

Then he continues his story of his session with Bea. “We talked about how trauma memories are different than regular memory. And I told her, I said ‘Bea, I’m a schmuck. Alice was telling me about memory, and how she doesn’t have memories of childhood, and I said that was really scary….but I was trying to empathize.’ I said, ‘Obviously, that was the WRONG thing to say.’ And Bea told me everything I did wrong.”

“Wait, what!?” I interrupt him, I can’t help it. “She told you everything you did wrong!?! What did she say? I can’t imagine her being like ‘you were so wrong.” Secretly, I’m kinda tickled pink; Bea really stood up for me! she told him he was wrong. And I wasn’t even there. She didn’t have to stand up for me, but she did, anyway.

“Well, she just told me why it’s not scary, and that saying it was is like you telling me that a fishing trip I told you about is scary. So, I get it. I asked her about the nightmares, if they will go away. I told her you don’t sleep. She said they will, or they will lessen, as you heal. We talked about dissociation, too, and how that has to do with memories not being there. She said that also with that, you might not always feel your body. So my job is to help ground you. I can hold your hand, talk to you. Things like that.

Bea said that anyone who experiences trauma….it’s to be out of control, kind of helpless. So that’s why you need so much control. She says that some of it is your personality, but all trauma victims need that control, because they never want to feel that way again. So my job is to let you have that, because you need it, to stop arguing with you about it.

I told her how I keep getting in trouble for not listening and trying to fix things for you. She said yeah, that’s gonna happen. But she said that my job (his day job, at work) I have to almost not listen, and start coming up with ways to fix the persons problem right away. She wants me to try to practice being just a little more empathetic with the callers, so I can bring that home to you.”

I’m feeling elated. This is good, this is great. “That’s good babe. She actually gave you ideas of things to do. That’s so good,” I tell him, “I usually just want to know that you understand. A lot of times I feel like we are having two different conversations, and that makes me sad….I don’t want you to fix everything. I’ll tell you if I do.”

“I know. That’s what Bea said, too. I told her how you are mad your mom,” and here, he pauses to reassure me it’s okay that I’m mad, I’m allowed to be mad, “and that we talked about how when I first met you, and until maybe Claire was born, you were on the phone with her all the time, back there visiting all the time, and now…..well, this is hard on you.”

I shrug, and look down. I can’t talk about it. Losing my mom because I’ve chosen to be honest with myself, it means I’ve lost a best friend, too. I’m sad. I can’t really talk about it yet.

“I told Bea I’m afraid to ask you questions or say the wrong thing. She said you are strong, and you’ll tell me you aren’t answering that, if you don’t want to answer it,” he says.

I nod. “If you want to know something, ask me. I just might not answer it, or I might send you back to Bea. So be ready to not get an answer. Even Bea doesn’t get a lot of answers,” I tell him.

Hubby looks like he is gearing up for something, and then he asks, “Does anyone else in your family know, besides your parents?”

“No….and my parents don’t know.”

“I thought you were mad at your mom because she knew,” he says.

I sigh. This is the difficulty, in not wanting to share the details. “I feel like my mom should have known. She should have seen signs, she should have put two and two together. She should have known. But even if she did have an idea, a suspicion, she needs for things to be good, and right, and perfect, she would have pushed that knowledge away from her so fast—- she wouldn’t have really known.”

“Oh,” Hubby says, “I get that. I told Bea I don’t know whoit was that hurt you.”

I’m wondering if he has forgotten, the carefully worded, truthful statement of male babysitter? I can’t remind him, I can’t say those words right now.

“She said that she thinks once you tell me, you will see rage, anger in me. She said you are afraid to see that much mad in someone, you aren’t ready for that. You know, you never have to tell me, if you don’t want. It’s your story, I’m okay with not knowing,” he tells me.

I’m thinking how can he be okay not knowing? Of course he’s not okay not knowing. If he was okay not knowing, he wouldn’t be saying all this, bringing it up.

“One day,” I say, “I’ll tell you, okay? But now today.”

“Okay,” he says, nodding. “After all that, I told Bea about you when we first met. I told her how timid you were, how you wouldn’t even call to order pizza. I told her how you would get scared of noises, crowds, how the big mall scared you, remember, when I took you on a Saturday? Or the haunted house? When the chainsaw guy chased you? I told her how you were quiet and kind, and never, ever would you tell anyone you were mad.”

I remember. Well, I vaguely, blurry, hazy, dissociatively remember. It wasn’t long after I had been “fixed” by the shrinks. But still, I wasn’t over what damage that abusive relationship had caused me. I wasn’t over any of it, not at all. So, what Hubby got was the “fixed”-broken girl.

“So Bea helped?” I ask.

“She helped a lot,” he says.

“Good,” I say, “but you can’t have her. She’s too busy with me.”

Hubby laughs and agrees.

Visit from the parents

I never realized that being honest with hubby was a gift to myself. Things aren’t suddenly coming up roses, we haven’t sailed off into the sunset, I’m not magically healed, and we don’t have any more answers than we did before. Sharing with hubby was hard; it brought the secret out of the container of the therapy room and into the real world— but that is exactly what has made sharing with him so wonderful, too. It has made me less alone. He understands.

When my parents came on Saturday to visit, and in the space of 15 minutes managed to question how my child was dressed, clean out my car, and question me on if my house was really all set to be left for the day– we were just heading to Kat’s therapy appointment and to lunch!– hubby had new understanding when I sent him a a text informing him of these happenings. He now knew, that I was saying, “I’m not good enough, I’m not perfect, they have to fix everything, I can’t even be trusted to lock up the house before we leave, I’m never good enough.”

All of a sudden, I wasn’t his annoying wife, bitching about her parents who seemed to be doing regular, caring, parental things. He got it. He was able to respond in a way I needed. I didn’t have to get mad at him for not getting it, and the day went on. My parents didn’t change, but I didn’t feel so bad. I wasn’t alone.

When I parked my car, and my dad spent 5 minutes fretting over how far I was over the line, I finally handed him the keys. I told him to go ahead and back up while I paid. Kat, for her part, was melting down over her Bubba “taking mommy’s car.” It’s always something. My mom, of course was busy fretting over the fact we were late. I would have been freaking out over being late, except I had texted Bea that we were stuck in traffic and running late and that my parents were now with me and not meeting us….and she had responded to take my time, not panic and drive safe. I paid for parking, and my dad spent another 10 minutes backing the car up and realigning it just perfectly– yes, 10 minutes!– before he declared it good. Finally, we could head inside. The windows to Bea’s office do overlook the street, so I wonder how much of that spectacle she saw?

Once inside, introductions were made, and I took Kat to the bathroom. My parents went into the therapy room and chatted with Bea while Kat did her thing. In my mind, it was taking Kat forever, and I was seriously beginning to wonder what they were talking about in there? Of course, after the session, my parents reverted to form and therapy wasn’t really mentioned at all. So I have no idea if they liked Bea, or enjoyed Kat’s therapy session.

It seemed to go well. Play therapy is fun. Bea is a relaxed therapist, and my mom is a good mom– she knows how to play. Even my dad was really quite animated and talkative for my dad. I wonder how often Bea gets a chance to meet the parents of her adult patients?

After, Kat chose a place to eat, so we walked over and got lunch. Eating with my mom is always a tough thing for me. Her anorexia and eating rules are a huge trigger for my own disordered eating patterns. By the time we got back to the house, hubby was home from work, and once again, I was able to marvel at how it truly feels to be not alone.

Last night, in bed, I had the sudden thought; I don’t think I’ve ever been in a shrink’s office with either, let alone both, of my parents for a session before.

It took strength, and it took courage

Hubby knows. He knows about the sexual abuse from childhood, and he knows about my abusive relationship in college. He doesn’t know about the eating disorders, the cutting, the aftermath. But he knows about a major part of my history. And, he still loves me. Let me say that one more time. In his own words, Nothing about how I view you has changed, except I maybe have more respect for you. I still love you.

Shall we rewind, and start at the top, as they say?

Yesterday 8:00am

I walk into Bea’s office, nerves flying around. She had emailed me the night before, in response to my email stating that I wanted to cancel the appointment we had set to tell hubby. I sat on the couch in my customary position; as far back as I could, knees drawn up to chest, curled into myself.

She didn’t waste much time, she said good morning, and then, “We need to meet with Hubby. We need to keep that appointment, Alice.”

I sighed. I hid my face. I counted in my head. I picked my fingers. I looked up. “I’m not ready. I don’t want to do this.”

“He needs to know. It’s not fair for him to not know, he’s left in the dark. He needs an explanation. What is going to make you feel ready?”

I don’t answer. Nothing will make me feel ready. I’ve held this secret inside for so long, that letting it out seemed wrong. Letting it out to Bea, however, was fairly safe, the secret was still contained. Letting it out to hubby was a whole different can of worms.

Finally Bea sighs. She looks sad. “I really didn’t want to be this direct. I spoke with Marge. Hubby indicated to her that he didn’t want to stay in the relationship if things didn’t change.” She’s looking at me with so much empathy that I can’t stand it, I hide my face.

My heart feels frozen. I think it might break, if it weren’t froze. I think I might feel hurt, pain, maybe mad, confusion, fear, I feel abandoned. He wants to leave. I knew It. I can’t speak. There is a lump in my throat, and words can’t get past.

“That’s hard, isn’t it?” Bea says. I nod. “That’s why we need to keep the appointment.”

I find my voice, although it cracks. “I…I am not…not telling him if he is leaving.”

“I don’t think he wants to leave,” she says,”I see love, when I see him with you. I think he is really confused by some of your behaviors.”

We talk, and because I had not yet told hubby I wasn’t going with him to see Marge, I send him a text message that reads:

Bea and Marge talked and decided it would be better if we meet with Bea first. Would Tuesday at 4:30 work?

Hubby responds with “ok”.

The rest of my session was spent on my mom. (That will have to be a whole separate post).

After therapy, I went to the park, and spent some time in the quiet, writing a letter to hubby. I told him all the reasons I was afraid to tell him my trauma. I also began to think about how far away Tuesday was. The more I thought, the more I didn’t want to wait. I finally sent Bea a text. One thing led to another, and the next I thing I knew, the appointment was moved to 5:30pm that night.

4:45pm Thursday night
I’m not sure what hubby is thinking about the session we are on our way to, or what he thinks we will be doing there. I haven’t said a thing about it all afternoon, and on the drive there, I keep dissociating. I’m fighting to remain grounded, but it’s hard. We chat off and on during the drive there, and I send several panicked text messages to Bea, as well.

Once we get there, my stomach begins to feel like I am on a free falling elevator. Heading upstairs, I lead the way. Bea greets us with a smile, and she gives me a reassuring look. I sit down in my usual spot and curl up like I normally do. Hubby sits next to me, but not too close. It’s almost as if he is aware of the walls I have around me. I am half hiding my face, not looking at hubby or Bea. Hubby must have given Bea a look regarding how I was sitting — he had never seen me like that– because she said, “This is really hard.” Hubby replied that he could see that.

Bea asked me if I had said anything about tonight’s session, and I shook my head. She said okay. I felt a little bit like I was the “naughty child” who had neglected to do what she was supposed to do, but Bea seemed to be calm about it. I said I had written a letter, and I got the letter out. I had hubby go out to the waiting room to read it.

While he read the letter, I had a mini freak out. Bea asked about the letter. I told her it referenced trauma in general, and that I had tried to explain my reasons for being afraid of this comversation. She reassured me things would be okay, and I was about to practice saying my two sentences, when hubby let himself back in.

He sat back down, and started off by saying that he was really glad I brought him to Bea’s with me, and that if I couldn’t or wasn’t ready to say more, he was okay with that. He could see how hard this was. I ended up back in my hiding position, with my face down, and picking at my fingers. The three of us sat like that for a few minutes.

Bea finally broke the ice by beginning to speak about trauma, and childhood trauma specifically. She talked about how as a child the trauma is usually done by someone bigger, stronger, and is usually a secret. She told hubby that even as an adult, it’s so hard to tell anyone about childhood trauma because a part of the adult still feels like that child, and it feels wrong to be telling that secret. She told him that from the outside they can see I did nothing wrong, but from the inside, there is a lot of shame and blame and fear and anger at the self. She talked then about PTSD and dissociation, telling hubby how I might just seem not really there, or might seem a little “out of it”, or how I might seem to be there but I might not really remember events like he would expect me to. She asked me then if I wanted to talk, and explained to Hubby that I had two sentences to say– if I could, because it was hard.

I shook my head. I couldn’t do it. I think if I had told him to go back out and been able to say those words with Bea, alone first, I might have been able to. Those are serious words. And scary. I think it might be important to say them, one day. But last night was not that day.

Bea said them for me, as she had assured me she would, when I was going around in “what if I can’t say it” circles. Hubby reacted the way you would want a person to. Shocked, but not too shocked. Sad, but not so sad they need you to support them. Supportive, and loving. He just wants me to be okay. My big fear is that he may not realize that “okay” could take a long time. Bea told him healing takes a long time. She told him the college relationship is bad, but it is the childhood piece that really forms people and is so hard to heal from.

He finally asked how old I was, and how long? Bea looked at me, and I nodded, so she explained about hazy memories, and dissociation as a defense and how it really is something learned in childhood. It’s why hubby’s version of “checking out” and mine are the same, but different. She told him the best guess we have at this point is age 5 to maybe 10. She also made sure to explain to him that I don’t typically talk about this, she has learned more from email, and then we might circle around it in a therapy session.

They discussed the fact that until I told Bea, in a round-a-bout type way, I had never told, so no adult had been informed when I was a kid. She told him I thought my mom maybe had suspicions at one point, and that caused a lot of anger on my part recently. They talked about how alone I had to have felt, and they both cried a little over that (I feel guilty over that). They talked about how he can help, what I might need on therapy days. I stayed quiet. Bea made suggestions of things he could ask, and did a lot of explaining about random reactions to trauma. In short, I am slowly learning that most of what I do or feel or worry about can be seem as a normal reaction to trauma.

I’m glad Hubby knows. It’s a little weird, but I feel free, lighter. I feel like I don’t have to hide in my own home, in my own life anymore.