“It doesn’t match!” It’s Monday, and I’m back in Bea’s office, sitting in my spot on the couch. We spent some time talking about my *grown-up* life, and although we could have spent all of our time chatting like that, Bea has directed us to things under the surface. She asked about our last session and if I’d been able to do any writing about things not matching.
“Something really isn’t matching up for you,” she says, “Can you tell me what doesn’t match?”
Last week, I really didn’t have the words for what didn’t match. It was just a feeling, a very strong feeling, that nothing matches. Now, I have the words, but I’m too embarrassed to say them. “I don’t know,” I say, instead. After a moment, I shake my head. “That’s not right. I do know. I just can’t say it.”
“Did you write about it?” She asks.
“No. Not really. I just…it’s hard. This is hard.” I haven’t covered my face yet, but I want to.
“It is hard. We can take our time with this. There’s no rush.” Her words remind me that she is here, and she isn’t leaving. I remember that she has said that she would never willing stop seeing me, that she will never fire me.
“Maybe…..can I have my blanket?” I cringe as I whisper this request, still so embarrassed that I behave like such a child at times.
Bea, however, doesn’t bat an eyelash. She gets up and grabs my turquoise blanket, unfolding it and laying it over my lap. My fingers grab onto the edges and hold on tightly. After a moment, I yank the blanket over my head and hide. It’s a relief, to not be seen, to be hidden like this. It’s also mortifying that I need this in order to feel even remotely safe enough to talk. (Now, as I’m writing this, the grown up thinks this is progress. I used to only talk in the safety of email. That first year, more therapy took place outside of my sessions than during them. This must be progress. I actually speak now, and I will share memories and painful feelings in my sessions.)
“I ummm….I….” I try to talk, I really do, but I can’t get the words out. They stick to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter.
“We were talking before about things not matching.” The prompt is gentle, a reference point to help me find what I was trying to say.
“My memories…….since things, since the filter is gone, it’s like…….I don’t know. My memories and things, they don’t match.” I’m aware that what I’m saying might not make a lot of sense, I’ve left so much out. It’s the best I can do at the moment.
“Can you tell me about the things that don’t match with your memories?”
I can feel myself going farther and farther away, but I can’t stop it. It’s like my head has been filled with helium and I’ve got this lovely floaty feeling. “It’s like, now the little girl doesn’t have to hide anymore from the reality of what happened because the filter is gone and so she has been able to stop tricking herself and the grown up can see so clearly that the little girl didn’t do anything wrong. But then, there’s……I’ve been having dreams and I just….well. I don’t know, I guess it’s that these memories the little girl holds, the scary things and the wanting to hide so nothing bad would happen, those things don’t match with these other memories. It’s………….you know. They don’t match with things I did, with things I felt.” My face feels like I have a sunburn.
“The little girl is right; she did not do anything wrong, and she is not bad. I wonder if this is a parts thing?” Bea is quick to reassure that the little girl is not bad.
“Maybe. Right now I’d really like to disappear.”
“That sounds like shame. Could this be a part we haven’t met yet?”
I think for what feels like a second but is probably much longer. Bea eventually asks if I’m here, so I know it must have been a long pause. “I……it’s sort of like maybe this part was mixed up with the little girl but now……it’s separate.”
“Mmmhmmm. That makes sense. This shame part is feeling a lot of blame and guilt.”
“Can we talk about that?” She asks this carefully, speaking softly.
“I–I–I don’t know. I’m scared.”
“Let’s start there, then. You’re scared to talk about shame. I get that. Shame feels really awful. It can feel way too exposing to discuss our shame.”
“I’m afraid if we talk about this, then you will see the truth.”
“And what truth is that?”
“That I did this. That I wanted this. That I’ve somehow tricked you by leaving things out, or by twisting things, I don’t know! But you’ll finally realize that I am awful and then….never mind.” I stop myself before I can finish the sentence.
“And then I will leave?” It doesn’t matter that I cut off my words, Bea finishes them for me.
“Yeah. That.” I whisper this, wanting to throw up as I speak.
“That won’t happen.” Her voice is confident, sure.
“You can’t know that,” I argue.
“I know most of the details of your story. I know the things you think you did, and I can say that as someone on the outside, I will never view any of this as your fault.”
“You don’t know. You don’t know what’s in my head.”
“No, I don’t know what is in your head, but I do know that this is not your fault.” She pauses for a moment and then says, “I promise you that no matter what it is that is in your head, I’m not leaving.”
Her voice sounds so serious, and I believe she means it, so I blurt out the thing in my head. “It’s the things I felt. You know. Felt like…….physical felt. It’s the things I wanted to do.” Even under the blanket, even being so far away, I still wish the floor would open up and swallow me whole.
“Ahhh…….mmmhmm,” she murmurs, with this tone that says it makes sense to her, and is not surprising. I’m far, far away now, because to be present and tell those things is impossible. I think she reminds me that we have talked about this before, and it’s okay to talk about. She says something about how our bodies are made to respond, and that is normal. Her words are a blur in my brain; I was too far away to hold onto her words. She uses the word intensity, and talks about how all of the feelings I had then would have been very intense, and that is where the trauma comes in. She says that I was too young for all those intense feelings, hence the dissociation. There was something about the excitement, and maybe feeling like you were getting away something. She said there is a feeling of power and control in being the one to start something. I think there was something said ……….about maybe there was an initiator part, or perhaps the initiator and shame are the same part. I know there was more said, more explained and more empathized with and validated, but I can’t recall her words more than that.
At some point I sense silence, and I tell Bea, “I’m not here. I mean, I’m here, but I’m not here. I can’t, I just. I am not here.”
“I know,” she says simply, and then, “That was really good to notice that you are out of your window.”
“Your window,” I remind her. Even though I’m okay with the idea of the window of tolerance now, and actually find it helpful to use the terminology, I still always correct Bea that it is her window, not my window. It’s an inside joke between us.
“Okay, my window. Let’s see if we can get you back in the window.” I can hear the smile in her tone.
“I don’t want to,” I tell her.
“Okay.” That’s all she says. Way back when she first started with the window of tolerance stuff, I had felt extremely threatened, and been terrified Bea was going to force me to be present or not allow me to talk about my traumas unless I was in her window. She had made me two promises back then: she would never force me to be present, and that she would always let me talk. Bea has kept those promises.
I sit under my blanket, holding onto the edges, feeling floaty and not happy exactly but okay. I feel like if I just stay here, in this far away place, I will be okay.
“Can we check in on the little girl? You don’t have to come back right now, I just want to make sure she is okay.”
“She’s worried. She thinks if we let this new part talk, you will decide she lied and that she is disgusting and you will not want to help her.” There is also a lot of fear that Bea will stop caring about her, but I can’t add that. It’s complicated, but it comes down to the fact that I don’t feel as if I deserve to even assume another person cares about me. I’m not allowed to matter.
Bea starts to ask if the grown up can reassure the little girl, but she stops herself. “I want to tell the little girl that she is safe now. She survived something horrific, and I know it often feels like you are still living that. It is over now, and you are safe now. You aren’t alone now. If we listen to this other part, that does not mean you will be forgotten about, or that your story won’t be believed. I believe you, and I do not find you gross. You can talk whenever you want to, and I’ll check in with you, too. I know this is hard, but I think it is important to let this other part speak. I believe that working through the shame this other part feels will help you and all the other parts. Even though I want to listen to another part, that doesn’t mean you don’t matter to me. I care about you, and all the other parts. That doesn’t just go away. Okay?”
“Okay,” I whisper. I’m more here than I was before, although I’m still far enough away to not avoid feeling all the vulnerability that comes with being told someone who really knows me cares about me.
I somehow manage to get enough here that I can safely leave. As I’m heading down the stairs, Bea says one more thing to the little girl. “You can write to me or draw me a picture if you have more to say, and can’t hold it. The grown up can help send an email. Any of the parts, if they have more to say, or just need to feel some connection, to know I’m here and can help hold this stuff, they can email. Okay?”
“Okay.” I leave, knowing I probably won’t send an email, but thankful that she is there and willing to help all the parts.