The After…..

So, I can’t really write about the sessions after the family reunion. I wasn’t really there and so we didn’t talk about much of anything. I had written a little more in addition to my emails, and put it all together on my iPad. Bea read it all and talked about it, but I don’t remember what she said. I remember hiding under my blanket both days, and I remember crying, but I just couldn’t come back to myself. 

Wednesday was really the first day I’d gotten out of the house and not been hiding in bed under my blanket at home, or in my closet. As the day went on, it was like I started to swim up from the bottom of the ocean, and the closer I got to the surface, the more I wanted to talk to panicky and scared I started to feel. I really wanted to talk to Bea. I almost felt as if I hadn’t even had any sessions this week. So, I emailed her.

Hi Bea,

So…….I’m more here than I was, I’m closer to feeling normal, but…..I’m not there. Not really. I feel like when I first was learning to be more present and really starting to deal with trauma stuff. I’m feeling very up and down, very here one moment and so far away the next. I’m taking things out of context, like hubby reminding me to grab Kat’s swimsuit bottoms and underwear for OT, I got all upset, telling him I had the bottoms and I *actually can handle stuff and I don’t screw up all the time*. Obviously it wasn’t really hubby I was talking to. It was such a snarky teenage response, something I probably would have wanted to say to my mom, but would have held inside. I just hate feeling like this, and I can’t seem to control it. I know it gets better, and I did send hubby a *heads up, I’m crazy this week* text, so he knows something is going on. 

And I know that this is past feelings but I just feel really alone. I know you’re here, I know none of this is based on current reality, but I can’t stop feeling like this. My logical side can’t control my feelings side. I keep thinking that I’m going camping and then you will be gone so you won’t be here for a whole week. And I tell myself you said I could email or call, so it’s fine, if I really need to and am truly not okay you will be there, but then I get panicked about that, there is this huge worry that you really won’t be there and I’ll be left alone because I screw everything up. 

I just literally feel like a crazy person today. Maybe this is better than being numbed out and hiding like the past two days, maybe this is just something to move through in order to get back to feeling like myself. But it sucks. And I can’t figure out how to control it and not be so up and down and grounded and far away. It’s crazy making to be so all over the place. 
I feel like I have a lot to say, like deeper more feelings stuff, and I might email later, if it’s okay. 

******
Alice, 

Feel free to email. We may want to put the brakes on the deeper stuff, but that doesn’t mean the deeper stuff will cooperate. We’ll handle whatever comes up.

Continue the self care–good time to treat yourself well!

Bea

*****

I’m really stuck in this teen way of thinking. It’s like background noise in my brain. Everything I do, it’s somehow made negative. Everything people say, is somehow twisted to a negative. It’s like this automatic thing, and before I know it, I’m feeling terrible and like I want to disappear. I mean, part of me realizes these thoughts and feelings are old, so I’m okay. It just feels quite present moment.
I’m struggling between very on edge, so jumpy, panicked and scared and just really far away and frozen– almost like I’m wrapped in thick blanket of cotton batting. I can’t control it. Far away is better, even though it doesn’t feel all that safe there. 


I know you said not to think about camping, but I can’t help it. I think I can’t get myself fully grounded and present and feeling safe because I know I am going to be camping. It feels like I’m not safe anywhere right now. I can’t be present, because all the anxiety and stuff of the present, but being so far away and spacey……I don’t know, some reason that seems to be making it easier for my brain to send me back to memories from the times I was far away like this as a child. Oh yeah, that’s the memories in different states thing, you told me about that. Right? So okay, that makes sense then? Ugh. Either way, it’s not been a fun few days since the weekend. Not that the weekend was all happy either. 


I really want to run away from my life right now. I just keep feeling like there’s not enough time, I don’t know, I can’t explain it. The little girl, maybe the teen, they are so freaked out about leaving…. It’s like I’m leaving, and then you are leaving, and maybe you won’t come back, or I won’t come back, or everything will be different and you won’t be you if you do come back, and I’m going to be all alone with all of this, and even the grown up me is having a lot of anxiety about being able to cope and be okay. Like, I know I could get back to feeling like me if we weren’t leaving to go camping so soon. But I don’t know how to cope with all the crap and all the feelings and all the memories and all the mixed up bits of all that stuff that is making a giant bowl of confusion that is from the weekend. And then I have all the crap coming up now, and then what about camping and all that? And I’m feeling so teen alice-ish it is sort of scary, and I’m just not sure at all. I know it’s probably dramatic and ridiculous, but in a lot of ways, right now, I really feel like there is no safe place. I’d like to hide under my blanket in your office and scream and cry and not be alone. 

I’m sorry, I think I’m just going to be emailing you right now. It’s just not working to write in my notebook and know that you will read it and respond on Monday. For some reason, it’s just not enough. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. And I don’t want to make you upset and have you be annoyed with me. And I’m really scared that if I email you, you will email back but it won’t sound like you, so please please can you just tell me if you are having a bad day or in a bit of a rush or something because I don’t think the little girl can handle any little bit of perceived, even if only in her head, rejection or anger. I really need to know its okay to email and that you aren’t mad and won’t be mad. I told you, I’m feeling a great little bit crazy right now.

******

I am here and have no problem with you emailing as much as you need to. I had the thought: what if you don’t go camping? It’s a choice, after all. No one is making you go–send hubby and Kat and have some alone time. Maybe just considering that will help. Remember my scary dream about my therapist and my husband asking me, ” Why didn’t you just leave?” When we’re reacting from a traumatized past we forget that now we do have choices. Let yourself explore that concept a bit.

******

(Maybe you are seeing something I’m not, that’s always a possibility, and I really don’t want to argue with you, but……)


This isn’t all that simple. Maybe it’s a choice, but only in the way that it can be argued everything in life is a choice. It’s not as simple as just not going. This is Kat’s birthday celebration with my parents, my brother and her cousins. Not going would be like not attending your child’s birthday party. On top of that, is the fallout not going would cause with hubby, with my parents, with my brother. It’s not so simple to just decide it’s a choice and not go. There are consequences to the choices we make. Making a choice to not go means hurting people, namely my daughter. Making a choice to go, hurts one person– me. And I’ll be fine, because I’m always fine. I can cope with going a lot better than Kat can cope with mommy not attending her birthday celebration. That’s not really a choice at all. 


I know this was just a thought, that it was supposed to make me feel less trapped or something. But it just upset me and made me feel like you don’t get it at all and now I’m really stuck in this mess alone. 
I’m so unsure about even sending this, I had a whole different email written that was me trying to think about not going and how that felt so much better and it was all fine now, I’m going to make a choice to go and I’m in control of this all and it’s actually okay after all. But that’s not even true. I just didn’t want to be on a different side than you when I’m leaving for vacation and then you’re leaving for vacation. Because being on separate sides is like you not being here anyway, and then really being gone makes it harder for the little girl to even remember you are here. That’s just repeating a pattern of how I related to my mom to feel safe (and I can clearly see when I’m doing that now that it’s been pointed out to me), and being agreeable for the sake of being agreeable isn’t really going to be all that helpful, is it? Ugh! Why does this all have to be so complicated? Too much is triggered right now and I can’t even sort it all out. 

*******
I know it’s not that simple. I was advocating for a psychological break and a chance to experience the feeling of this being a choice. I knew what your choice was and why! It sounds like aside from being annoyed with me what I was aiming for worked–you did define for yourself that it is a choice and you defined the reasons why you’re making it. I’ve lived with the fantasy of not doing something because it’s a choice right up to the literal moment of actually doing it (knowing on some level I was going to do it all along!). For me that’s a pretty good coping strategy!
We are not on different sides. I never thought you wouldn’t actually go–I just thought it might help to think about it differently, and give you a chance to not have to suffer now. I know it’s going to be difficult at the time it happens no matter what. Hmmm, the real choice is actually about not suffering now, isn’t it?
******

So…. at the risk of making myself more upset……


First thought: Fine. You’re right. What you were aiming for worked and I can choose to not suffer. And on that note, maybe I should just choose to get over the bad things in my life and focus on the positive. Everything is all better. Yay. *throws phone across the room*

Second thought: You don’t get it. It’s not a choice to go or not go. All this did was resolidify the fact that I don’t really have a choice. Why aren’t you understanding this? I just need you to get it. This is not such a simple thing and it hurts that you are boiling it down to so simple. I know sometimes I want things boiled down to simple, but this just feels painful, dismissive or something. *crying*

Third thought: I’m hurt. My feelings are really hurt and that made me really sad, it was easier to be defensive and angry. I feel like you are wanting to make this less of a big deal so that it is easier for me to deal with while I’m gone and when I get back. But it doesn’t feel simple and you trying to make it simple seems like a very logical. I’m not wanting logical, I want emotional connection and support. I want to feel like you are here and getting this. I don’t need to pick it apart and examine it right now, I think I just need to be here and know you are here. It feels like to me that I can’t fully come back to myself until after I am back and you are back and we can dig into all that has been triggered. Right now, it feels like I’m stuck, like I’ve been paused (through circumstance vs me being difficult) and I can’t really box the yuck back up, but I can’t sort through it right now either. So I’m stuck in this in-between place. I just need you to be here with me. *wants to hide because this feels vulnerable*

So…..I feel like I’m treading water in this giant ocean, no land in sight, and I’m too tired and too scared to turn around and look for land behind me, no matter how many times you swear it’s there. Could you just throw me a life vest instead and hang out in the ocean with me? 

******

Okay, sorry…. Sometimes “trying to help” doesn’t feel that way, does it? I’m feeling a bit torn. On one hand, yes I can swim with you in the ocean and be there to honor the pain. On the other hand, there’s a part of me that wants to push for a bit of growth in the coping arena, and I’m wondering if that needs to be acknowledged too, because that feeling usually comes when someone is ready to take that step. I don’t want to keep you in a place you’re ready to take a step away from by not putting that out there, if that makes sense. That wouldn’t be fair to you either.
So having said that, I’m really listening to what you’re saying. You’re feeling mad, really hurt, and that I don’t get it. You’re feeling awful and that nothing is okay. I will stay there with you–I am staying there with you. We both know that is what you need. We can think about this other piece that’s nagging at me another time if you want to. Your choice.
I’m afraid you’re now going to feel that you’re not meeting my expectations. Don’t go there–I don’t even know what those expectations might be! It’s literally just a little nagging feeling. We would have to explore it together. But not now. I am in listening and receiving mode now, and I am with you.
********

I don’t email her back, I hate her email. She wants to get rid of me. She is annoyed with me after she said she wouldn’t be annoyed with me, after she said she was here and I could email, and now she is annoyed. And her response about being here and listening now feels like she is doing so simply because I asked, but she doesn’t really want to be doing so. I want to scream, to cry, to break something. I hate this email as much as I hated her last one. Why am I screwing everything up? I know better than to be this needy. I know better. She wants me to cope without her. Why I did I ever trust it was okay to need her? 
*********

Right after the terrible email, Bea sends another email. 
Alice, just an FYI, I’ve had a cancellation and am free until 3:00pm of you would like to talk by telephone. -Bea

I don’t know what to do. Is she going to fire me over the phone? I’m afraid to email, afraid to call. She is already annoyed with me, after all. But if she didn’t want me to call, why would she offer to talk on the phone? I don’t understand, I’m so confused. I try to continue on with my task of washing the dishes, but I can’t focus. I finally decide to call Bea. 

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Little girl lost and alone

I arrive at Bea’s early on Thursday. The last few weeks of sessions have been mostly talk about hubby and Kat, the latest nonsense his mom has pulled, and Kat’s school and ABA stuff. And, of course, we have worked on me focusing on the present moment, through the use of coloring. I’ve done my best to avoid feeling overwhelmed with feelings when I’m supposed to be present, and have found that talking about random day to day stuff seems to work quite well. 

But today is different. While the last few weeks have been better; I feel less like I’m watching my life from a far away place, and more able to function, they have also been full of nightmares and flashbacks and memories and too many feelings. I can’t keep doing this on my own. As uncertain as I am about fully trusting Bea again, I need her. So, on Monday, I had brought my notebook and had her start to read through it. Everything in there is unfiltered, and not written for her. I have been writing after waking from the nightmares, and after or during bad times when flashbacks hit, or when I’m stuck in my closet, hiding. These are the type of journal pages I typically tear out, that I have never shared. But now, I’m choosing to share them, because everything feels more real to me than it has in a very long time, and I am scared. 

We say our hellos, and then we sit in silence. For me, it’s uncomfortable and awkward. Finally, I raise my eyes to Bea’s, and say, “So?……”

“I thought instead of me starting things off by asking questions today, I would see if anything came up for you, what you felt a need to talk about.” She smiles kindly at me, and I can feel all that anxiety come up. Crap. I did want to talk today, but how and why does she know that? 

I shake my head, “No, nothing.” We sit in that weird silence for a another moment or so, and then I turn to a safe topic: hubby and Kat. 

After a while, Bea turns the conversation back around. “Did you want me to finish reading your notebook? Or was there something else? I felt like we cut things short on Monday.” I’d needed to leave early on Monday because of plans with hubby and Kat, and Bea hadn’t pushed anything very much, not wanting me far away when I went home to spend the day with my family. 

I shrug. “Yeah, you should finish reading it.” I dig it out of my bag, and hand it to her. 

As she takes the notebook from me, she says, “I bet there is a lot more in here now.” 

“I didn’t actually write anything……I mean….I typed….” I look down at my hands, and feel my face redden. “I was um…picking at my fingers. And I picked badly enough at my thumb that it hurts to hold a pen and write…….” 

“You haven’t picked in a long time,” Bea comments. 

I shake my head. “Well, I’d been painting my nails with that gel polish. It’s thick, so it’s hard to pick, your nails aren’t sharp like normal nails with it. I used a different brand this last time, and it just….it wasn’t as thick. So…..I picked. I didn’t even know I had done it, until I tried to write, and it hurt. Then…..well….. I don’t know.” 

She says something about how even after all this time, it’s still a habit, a coping skill that I use almost unconsciously. “Do you still….even with the polish, are you still making the motions of picking, do you think? Or do you think that you picked because your nails were sharper this time?” 

“I…..I don’t know. I’d guess I still do it, I just can’t break the skin. But I don’t know.” 

We discuss it a few more minutes, ending with Bea stating, “I think choosing to paint your nails so that you can’t pick is a form of self care. Painting your nails can be seen as pampering, but also, it’s doing something to keep yourself from being harmed. So, regardless of anything, the choice to paint your nails is self care.” 

I feel a little bit…I’m not exactly sure, maybe hopeful? Self-care. I’ve been performing an act of self care, and it’s not something I have felt guilty for. 

Bea starts reading, and I sit, knees curled to my chest, half hiding my face in my knees, while she reads. I have more for her to read, on my iPad. What I had mentioned to her that I’d typed. I’d written about this struggle the little girl and teenager parts are having with trusting her, with feeling safe.

In the fall, I don’t when….I had emailed, after you had sort of picked at the scab that had formed over the summer. And I felt like so much was in that email, it wasn’t just this little thing, there were so many scary feelings and vulnerable moments in it. It took you 2 days to write back. I want to be really clear— adult me understands that we get busy, or that we read an email, mean to respond and then later have that “oh crap” moment of realizing we didn’t. It happens to me all the time with phone calls, or little things I meant to do and life just gets in the way and time slips by. So, adult me gets it, and was okay. But the little girl, she felt like she must have done something bad, something wrong. She spent 2 days very scared and worried that you were gone. Just typing that is hard. I don’t want to admit it. She doesn’t know where she stands. She is on hyper alert for any changes, any sign of you leaving, or of being rejected, and she just isn’t sure it’s safe to talk anymore. Change means different to her, and when she has found something that feels safe, changing that means it’s no longer safe and that she can not trust it. She’s having such a hard time, and I think she needs to talk, but she is afraid that it will all be different now. Too many things have felt different to her the last 6 months and she is uncertain what that means now. Any trust she had in your reactions or talking to you, it feels like a lot of it is gone. Even though adult me knows this is not true, that you really haven’t changed, that you aren’t going to react differently to anything I say than you have in the past, the little girl isn’t sure she believes that. It’s like starting over in some ways.

I’d written more than that, but that was the gist of it. The little girl feels shut down, and not okay. She feels like she had this person– Bea— who was there, and who was standing up for her and helping her find a voice, and that person just changed so much that she’s gone. And that was what I wanted to talk to Bea about. I needed her to know the little girl really needs some support and containment, and to talk and be listened to. 

Bea finishes reading, I hear her close my notebook. “What jumps out at me is how very much alive the past is right now for you,” she says softly. 

“Some days. Not….not all days are bad days,” I whisper, stumbling over my words. I’m thinking that it’s different, but no different than it ever is. It’s just that anything she has ever read that I’ve written about nightmares and flashbacks had been edited, and edited and filtered until it is safe enough to give to her to see. But now……now I need for her to see how bad it is, to really get what the little girl is dealing with on a nightly, and almost daily basis. 

“Did…..” Bea starts to speak, and stops. She sounds hesitant to say her next words. “Did your mom find your underwear and get upset……was that all the same day?” She’s referring back to the majority of my flashbacks I’d written about; Kenny raping me, my mom finding my underwear.

I’m quiet for a while. It feels like forever, but it’s probably no longer than a minute. “I ummm. Well….I guess…I’m not….I mean….” Again, I’m stumbling over my words. “Yeah. I think so.” 

Bea says something, I’m not even sure what. 

“I don’t really know. Not for sure. It’s all so blurred together in my mind. It feels like the same day. I think….it was at night, clean up before bedtime. I don’t know, though.” I shrug, trying to act like its fine, but inside me a voice is screaming that I can’t admit to not knowing something, because she will decide I’m a liar, she won’t believe me.

“It doesn’t matter either way,” she tells me. “It was an awful thing, and then to feel like your mom was mad at you, blaming you, for it. That was horrible, painful.”

I don’t say anything. I thought then, that she was going to ask me if I wanted her to read whatever I had typed. She didn’t. She started to talk about all the places trauma is stored, in different parts of the brain, the body. “I think our job, right now, is to continue working on resource building, so that when we do go back to processing some of this trauma stuff, it will be helpful and less traumatizing.” She talks about how coloring and being present by focusing on that is using one sense, but we have more stepping stones to get to before we are ready for sensorimotor therapy. She says that it won’t be for a long time, and she knows I’m not ready now, but when I’m ready, we will work through this stuff. 

As she is talking, in my mind, I run away and hide. I go far away. My feelings are hurt. She doesn’t want me to talk. All her reassurances, all the times she has said I can still talk, she just shut me down, and told me no talking about trauma stuff. I handed her this notebook, full of my fears and scariest thoughts and questions, I put myself in this horrible vulnerable place because I wanted her to know how terrifying it is to be in my head these days, and she barely responded. Where is Bea? Because this person, this does not feel like Bea. 

Her voice drifts through the fog, words don’t penetrate, but the sound of it does. I don’t move, don’t respond at all. I think she keeps talking, attempting to draw me out. I don’t care. I just do not care anymore. Why am I bothering with all of this? She doesn’t want to listen to me. She just wants me to follow directions and get to a place where I have enough resources to do sensorimotor therapy. Then, I’ll be allowed to talk. A part of me wants to scream at her to just tell me what I have to do, what things do I need to accomplish, so that I can do this therapy I don’t even want to do, just so I can be allowed to talk?!?!!? But I sit, still and quiet. Inside, I’m sobbing with hurt, and feeling left. But outside? I’m fine. 

“I’m going to get the list of the different far aways, okay? I feel like that might help us.” I hear her words this time, far away and fuzzy, blurred around the edges sounding. 

She reads through it, reading the 3 choices she thinks are most likely. She numbers them, and I think she has to repeat it more than once, before I hear and respond by holding up a finger. 

The whole time, she is working to draw me out, and I am just thinking, I want to go home. I even consider asking her if I can go home now, but there is this irrational fear she will tell me no. Or, even worse (and likely) she will want to discuss why I want to go home. So, I keep quiet. I tell myself to sit up, to color in my damn picture, and to just get through the last bit of this session, and then I can go home and hide. 

Eventually, I do sit up, and I choose a few colors, and start to color. I feel very mechanical, and my voice sounds wooden to me when I answer Bea’s questions. She asks me about normal things, nothing deep, or upsetting, not even asking me to focus on the present. I don’t offer up any form of conversation. There’s a part of me that feels as though I am behaving like a brat, but I don’t really care. 

“Do you know what helped you to be able to come out of being so far away and sit up? What helped or allowed you to start to come back?” Bea asks me, finally going for something deeper. 

I refuse to look up, or look anywhere but the markers and my picture. I shake my head. “I don’t know,” I say. But in truth, I do. I’m not much more present than I was before I sat up. I’m just doing what she expects me to do, what I’m supposed to do, so that I can leave. 

“I wondered if it was maybe about the power dynamics. Me, asking you to sit up, to do something, to try this thing that is difficult and hard for you…..I just wondered if maybe, it was partly that? Because you were able to sit up when I began to be upset about my picture and the colors I had chosen. That leveled things a bit, maybe, put me in a more vulnerable place, too. Power dynamics can be very subtle. It’s something I’m always trying to be aware of, because I don’t want to be the high and mighty therapist, that doesn’t work well for trauma clients, for anyone, to feel a power differential like that. It’s not safe feeling. And, I’m aware of it on a personal level, too, because whenever I’m in the position of lesser power, I tend to push back, I don’t like not feeling on equal footing.” She says. (A lot of what she said is lost now, but that was the general idea, anyway.) 

I hadn’t even noticed. And if I stop and think about it, I tend to be okay if the other in a relationship holds more power. Maybe it’s because I’ve always felt that way– younger, weaker, not as smart, pretty, talented, good, whatever, as other people, and maybe it’s because I often tend to feel like a child playing at being a grown up in a room full of real grown ups; so, of course they know better than me, right? I don’t know. “I wasn’t thinking that…it wasn’t….what you said makes sense. It just…it’s not something I thought about or even noticed.” 

“Okay.” Her tone is easy, neutral, calm. “I just wondered.” 

After a moment, I realize that I did think, when she was upset about the colors she had used and voicing that aloud, that she was working really hard to get me to engage with her, and I was being a brat, so I just needed to get up, and do what I was supposed to be doing. 

We color in silence, and Bea looks at the clock after a few minutes. “Whoops, it’s after 11,” she tells me. 

“I should go,” I quickly say, and begin gathering my things. 

“It’s okay. I don’t have anyone right after you, we have time to finish up. We can take a few minutes.” Her tone is gentle, and kind, her voice is soft. It’s like she’s trying not to spook me. 

“It’s okay, I’m fine,” I insist. I finish throwing my stuff in my bag, putting my markers away. 

“Why don’t we each choose a picture for next time before you leave?” She suggests. 

So, I pick up a coloring book, and flip through it. I select a picture at random. I don’t even remember now what I chose. 

I hand her my the picture for next time, along with the one I’d finished today. We say goodbyes and I feel as though I run out of her office and down the steps, out into the street. 

She does not want me to talk. She doesn’t want to hear my story anymore. I’m too broken, too much, too needy, to screwed up and crazy and she doesn’t care about anything except sensorimotor therapy and I don’t even want to do it. I hate it. It’s the worst thing in the world, and it is ruining my life. 

Scattered and separate 

My thoughts are so scattered right now. After Monday’s session, of which I remember very little, I feel like there is so much I want to say, but I am so unsure about any of it. I don’t know what I am allowed to talk about, I don’t know what is off limits. And while a part of me realizes that nothing is off limits, and that Bea had told the little girl there was nothing off limits, I am worried. I told her on Monday that the little girl was afraid to talk because she was so sure that she couldn’t stay in “Bea’s window” and she was sure she would be stopped. Bea responded by saying if there was something the little girl needed to talk about, then we would talk about it, and if she needed us to not worry about the damn window, then we would forget the window. She talked about how she only wants to keep the little girl safer, that is all she is doing,this isn’t punishment. I remember telling her that I felt like she thought there was something wrong with how we had done therapy in the past, and how that felt bad to me. That if she had focused on safety and grounding and not allowed me to talk because memories were just slamming me left and right, I would have left; I would have quit therapy and never gone back. She told me she knew that, and she didn’t think there was anything wrong with our old methods, just that now she has a way to keep me safer and more present and able to integrate everything better. That is what I remember. The rest of the session, I have no idea what we talked about. 

So, Thursday, I’m driving into therapy, and I’m feeling like there is so much under the surface that I can’t name, but that I want to talk about. So I arrived and had no idea what I wanted to to talk about. I spent 75 minutes talking about Kat and then hubby and how angry I am feeling with hubby. And, then, something changed. Bea asked a question. 

“I suppose I should have asked this sooner, but with the holiday coming up….are there fears about Kenny showing up at your parents? Or running into him?”

I can literally feel the change in me, I go from being more engaged and able to look at Bea, to staring at the floor. I want to hide. I do not want to think about this. “No…I…well, that day….it was Easter, he was bringing, dropping off carrot cake…..his mom….she always makes cake…It’s legendary…—.it is really good—” I interject the bit about the cake actually being really good as if it is a separate part of the story, almost as if maybe a different part of me is chiming in. “But she was bringing it to work and my mom didn’t work that day…so he was dropping it off…..it was a fluke.” 

“I see. He doesn’t normally drop by?” 

I shake my head. No, not exactly. 

“He doesn’t still live in [that town], does he?” She asks me. 

“Well…yeah. Not in my parents’ neighborhood, but in town. Yeah.” 

I don’t remember what she said after that. I know we talk about how I could run into him. She asks me if I was worried, before, about seeing him. If I remember being scared or even excited about the idea of seeing him. My head is really fuzzy, and I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how to explain. 

“I…well…I’d see him, before….before Kat, because I went home a lot….like…at church and stuff. I’d see him. It just was…..I didn’t think…..he was just my parents’ best friends’ son……..I don’t know.” 

“I think you are leaving my window,” Bea says quietly. 

“I don’t know what you mean,” I tell her. I feel confused.

“Well, I think that we had both agreed you were out of the window if it was hard to talk. And I know you are trying to figure out how to explain, to find the right words, but I don’t think that is all of it. And I called it my window, sort of joking, because you said it wasn’t your window and named it Bea’s Window.” She tells me. I wonder if it is ever annoying to have to explain things like this– things that should not require an explanation– to me. She doesn’t sound annoyed.

“Oh. Yes. It’s not my window.” I say, sort of joking, but serious.

“I know. But I’m hoping that one day it can be our window.” 

I shake my head, laugh, tell her, “Hey, at least I am allowing you to have your window. That’s real progress.”

I’m not sure, but I imagine Bea to be surprised by my bluntness, but maybe proud, and smiling, when she agrees with me. “It is progress. And it can be just my window.” 

There is silence while we pause for a few minutes, and then I try to explain how things were with Kenny. “I….it didn’t bother me, to see him….before I had told. But then…after, it was different.”

“What made it different?” Bea is curious. 

“I….well….it…um…well, it was real then.” I have something I want to explain, but I am afraid that I will sound crazy. “I… I know how to explain it, but I am afraid it won’t make sense.” 

“Why don’t you try it, and find out?” Bea suggests, softly. She sounds kind, like it is okay to not make sense and to sound crazy. 

I’ve been trying to be less filtered lately, so I start to speak. “It’s like, if I was at church, or around people, or anywhere, really, mostly, I was my parents’ perfect daughter. So that never happened. Because it just didn’t. Like…it couldn’t have. So…I don’t know. But when I was alone, and had a….you would have said flashback, but I wouldn’t have called it that…a memory, a quick picture, I don’t know…or a nightmare…well, I would know what happened. But it wasn’t allowed. To know. Because then I wouldn’t be prefect. I’d yell at myself, to not be upset over stupid things, to stop lying, to….I don’t know. It wasn’t allowed. So, I would just put it away, and be perfect again. Because..I don’t know. I had to. But then, sometimes, you know, I think if I had been out with friends and someone mentioned him babysitting me, I would have said no, that never happened. Because it was so separate, it didn’t exist. It couldn’t. I had to be the perfect one….or my parents, they wouldn’t love me….and I needed them. So I had to be perfect. And Kenny…that does not happen to perfect girls.” 

“It makes sense, it’s not crazy. You had to have it separated, or you wouldn’t have been able to function. And you did need your parents….it’s really no wonder them changing is so hard.” She pauses for a minute, and then asks, “Have we talked about the idea of a false self?” 

I nod. Yes, we talked about it, and it had resonated with me, at least in part. 

“This…it is like that, maybe, in some ways. But it doesn’t feel false to me, more like a separate personality you created to survive. Because you really were that perfect daughter for a long time. And part of you maybe felt it wasn’t the real you, but she is real, too.” 

“I didn’t think about it. I just…I don’t know. It’s confusing. But it was fine, really, I was able to be perfect and keep this, I don’t know, keep everything separated, but I wasn’t thinking about it. Except for when I did remember. And then…I would force it all away. But…not like I blame her…but having a baby….”

“Having a baby probably stirred all kinds of things up,” Bea agrees.

“…….and Kat being Kat….something broke. I couldn’t…perfect me couldn’t put everything away. And it…something broke.” 

“Or whatever was keeping you from being aware of your own truth, of the other parts of you, was fixed.” 

I feel a little smile on my face. Leave it to Bea to see broken as being fixed. “No…it felt like something broke.” 

“Okay, then, maybe that needed to happen. Something needs to be broken before you can heal it.” She says softly.

I nod. “Okay then.” 

“What kinds of things would you yell at yourself, to put everything away?” 

I sigh. I know, I know exactly what I would yell. But I am too embarrassed to say it. “Nothing nice.” 

“Would you call yourself bad names?” Bea asks. She asks other things, too, but I don’t remember. 

I nod. “Maybe. Probably.” 

“Who was yelling at who?” 

“The perfect one. She does the yelling.” I think how absolutely insane this conversation must sound. 

“Who was she yelling at?” Bea is talking quietly, and I don’t hear any indication in her voice that she thinks I’m crazy. But I wonder. I wonder if my being so unfiltered has made her reevaluate everything and if she thinks I am crazy, after all.

“I don’t know.” I whisper. 

“Maybe the little girl, trying to have a voice? Needing her secrets told? Or the teenager, being belligerent and refusing to follow the rules?” Bea suggests. 

I think how either could be right, but I really just don’t know. 

Bea says something about dissociation and the idea that maybe one day I would want to be able to choose to go away or not. 

I think about it for a moment, but finally tell her, truthfully, “I can’t honestly think of a situation where I would want to stop myself from going away.” 

“Well, I suppose it might seem impossible, but….well, okay. When I was at class this weekend, I discovered I can’t do a lot of the movements in a big group. I really couldn’t move my arms. I know I’ve told you about my social anxiety, not liking being part of a big group?” 

“Yeah. But that just surprises me. I don’t know why.” 

“Well, so I could move my arms when we broke off into pairs. But in the group, I couldn’t. So I needed to be present and aware of what was going on for myself, so I could work towards not being stuck and frozen in a big group.” (I think she actually explained that better than I just wrote, but I was having trouble focusing, so that is what I pretty much heard.)

“Well…..that wouldn’t be a problem, though. For me. I would go away. And move. Follow the exercise. And I might not be able to tell you much about it afterward but I would have done it, exactly, and no one would have known I was gone.” I tell her softly. 

“That’s true. Because you can go away like that. I don’t have that talent, so I have to stay present and work through it. But the point of the exercise is to be able to feel. To be aware of what is happening.” 

“But I….for all appearances I would have done it. So it would be okay.” 

“Do you remember the boundary exercise I told you about?” She asks. 

I nod. Yes, I remember. The idea is to figure out your personal space, your boundaries, and then a partner crosses your boundary line and you push them out. Or something like that.

“Well, let’s say you got to a point where you wanted to try that. So we were doing the exercise. How would you find your boundaries or push me out, and really experience pushing someone out of your space, if you went away?” Her words scare the crap out of me. To be that present, and aware, to not go hide? The idea of feeling so much, it makes me feel cold inside. I can’t do it. I’m not so strong. 

“But I…. I would have to go away. But I’d…I mean, if I though you expected me to do the exercise, I’d agree, but then I’d go away. I don’t know.” 

“I know. I know. I don’t expect you to do anything. You don’t have to do anything.” 

I sigh. “It’s…I like to know what people want, expect. And then I do it. Then it is simple. I don’t know.” 

“I know. But I don’t expect anything, I don’t want anything, except for you to be you. To do what you want, what you need.” I peek through my fingers at her, and see that she does mean it. But I really don’t understand. In my world, I matter, people keep me around, because I can be what they need. If I can’t do those things, then what is the point? Why would anyone want me around?

“I don’t know what I need.” I tell her. It feels like I need to know what the people who matter to me need, so I can be that, and everything will be okay.

“But you do. You need me to own the window. You needed to know you were still allowed to talk. You need hubby to stop being disengaged. You know some of what you need.” She reminds me.

Later, I ask Bea, “Do you ever feel like…maybe….well, sometimes when I am here, and we are talking, it’s like I get this glimpse of all the pieces and everything makes sense. And then it disappears. And I forget how it made sense.” 

“Yes, I get that. What is it like, when you have that glimpse?”

“I….like I needed it to last longer.” I could have said it feels like everything will be okay, like I am on the right path. That it feels quiet, peaceful. But I felt too seen to say that. 

“I think you will. I think talking and working through things and integrating it, well, all of that will lead to longer glimpses.” She says softly, but seriously.
 

I shrug. We circle around, talking about hubby and Kat. When I leave, I’m not super foggy anymore. I just feel like I have a lot to think about. It feels like something has shifted, and it’s neither good or bad. Just that something has shifted, and it is a result of Bea’s classes, my attempts to be less filtered, and maybe something else. I don’t know. 

Birthday processing

Bea is back from vacation, and I am sitting in her office. I’m not sure I want to be here at all, but we emailed the entire time she was gone, and I am feeling better enough about things that I came to therapy today. It’s a start, anyways. I have gone from feeling, ‘I hate this and am quitting Bea’ to ‘I don’t like the idea of this, but I’ll work with her on it.’ 

“So tell me what has happened this week?” Bea asks me. Even though we have emailed almost everyday, we were talking about the sensorimotor therapy and my feelings around it, not all that has been going on. 

“Well, I had my birthday and my parents came,” I tell her. 

“That’s right. How was that?” 

I sigh. There is so much I want to say about it all, and yet, I don’t even know where to begin. “It was okay. We…it was okay.” I blink away some tears, just thinking about it. 

“Well, you said your mom was very real when you talked about your grandpa,” she prompts. I had emailed that much. I needed someone who would understand the significance to know. Bea looks calm, and normal. She’s in her chair, holding her favorite to go cup with tea in it, and is looking at me intently, as if she really wants to know. 

“Yeah…we just talked. Cried. She didn’t try to distract me by saying he is in heaven, or would want us to be happy.”

“Who brought him up? You or her?” 

“I did. It was when we cut the cake,” I say, and then I interject with–“speaking of which, I brought you a piece.” 

“Yum. I can’t wait to try it,” she says. 

I continue with the story, explaining how we put a candle in the cake for my grandpa. “Then we talked about him for a few minutes.” 

“What about your Dad?” 

“He was listening. Not really talking. But not shutting me down either.” I shrug. It’s weird. Really weird. I don’t know. Its new and different and uncomfortable. And then I blurt out one of those things that has been bothering me, that I don’t want to talk about but that I just need to say. “My mom ate a piece of cake.” 

“Have you ever seen her eat birthday cake?”

I shake my head. “Not that I remember. Not unless….she was…well, you know.” 

“That must have felt a little strange.” Bea says slowly, carefully. 
“It’s…I don’t know. She doesn’t have any diet pills, tea…nothing for….they are all gone.” I whisper. I don’t know what to make of this. 

“It sounds like she is really trying to get this under control.” Bea says. “Can I assume you didn’t get a too small sweater for your birthday this year?” 

I sigh, and feel sad, remembering the sweater gift and all the pain that caused. “She got me a coloring book. She says she colors in therapy. I don’t know.” 

“A lot of people color in therapy. I have a lot of teenagers who do. And others, too. Is it one of those grown up coloring books?” She asks. 

I nod. Its a book of mandalas. 

“Did she get you colored pencils or anything to go with it?” 

I shake my head. “Crayons. The big box of all the colors. It’s what I always had when I was a kid. And when they weren’t sharp anymore, I would beg for a new box.” 

“Did she seem….regretful? Sad? Anything, when she gave you your present?” Bea leans toward me, takes a drink of her tea. She is trying to figure out the puzzle of my mother. 

“Honestly, I don’t know. I wasn’t….I just don’t know.” 

“Well, when you first said coloring book, I was thinking that those coloring books are everywhere now, even though it feels like something more to me. Then when you said she got you crayons, I thought it sounded like a mother with regrets, wishing she could change the past.” She doesn’t hesitate to be honest with me, tell me what she is thinking. 

“Maybe. I don’t know. She got me this bracelet, too. She has a matching one. She wrote this whole thing…in my card about the heart charm to remind me she loves me no matter what and is always here.” I can say this without crying because I have stepped back, taken the feelings away. 

“So her gifts to you really are all about connecting.” 

“Maybe it’s too late.” I say softly. I feel sad, saying it. But it is what I feel.

“Or maybe you just need time to trust this connection she is asking for.” 

“Well maybe I don’t want to connect.” I say, a snotty tone under my words, anger blurring the edges of them. 

“And yet you are still wearing the bracelet.” Bea observes. 

“Or someone put it on my wrist and I can’t unclip the clasp one handed.” My words are flippant, meant to prove I don’t want this connection with my mom. Whether I am trying to prove it to myself or to Bea, I am not sure. 

“I have a feeling if you wanted it off, you’d have found a way to get it off.” Bea pushes back, in much the same way Kay might, not allowing me to lie to myself. 

“I just….it feels too late! Why now? She can not just change things and have them be all fine and connected after not being here. It’s not fair.”  

“No, no it’s not fair. It sucks. She should have been there then. And we can look and see that she was young, dealing with loss of her mom, maybe abused, but none of that really matters. It doesn’t change the feelings. It’s not fair. And it feels like too late.” Bea gets it. She gets there is this giant disconnect between my heart and my head. We’d emailed about that disconnect feeling in general, and she had said she got it that last session. But listening to her, I am struck by the fact that she really does get it. 

“I…hubby…when mom gave me the coloring book, he said he was going to make me take it on our thanksgiving road trip, to keep me occupied, being silly you know?” The words rush out. They are the beginning of the story of the drama mess of my bday. 

Bea nods at me. 

I curl my legs up, and hugging my knees, I look at her. “My dad, jokingly, but sort of serious, said I wasn’t allowed to color in his car anymore, and then warned him to be careful not to hit any bumps while driving. Apparently, I used to get very upset about my pictures getting messed up and not being perfect.” The words are super speed, emotions buried. I’m just telling a story, nothing more. 

“Mmhmmm. What did hubby say?” 

“I don’t think anything. I said…I said…” and I suddenly can not leave emotion out of it any longer, and I hide my face. 

“What did you say?” Bea asks, after waiting a bit for me to continue. 

“I said that I had no choice but to be perfect.” The words feel once again as though they weigh a ton. It felt as though I had dropped a bomb that day. The silence that followed had been deafening. 

“You did need to be perfect growing up. A part of you must have felt safe enough to say it. What did your dad do?” Bea is calm, and quiet. I’m struck how if someone were to hear her tone, they would never know my whole world is blowing up. 

“I…I don’t know. Nothing? My mom…all my attention was on my mom. She said….she said it was her fault.” 

“That had to feel so validating. To hear her agree with their need for you to be perfect,” Bea says softly. 

“I don’t know. I still don’t. I….I told Kat to show nanna her new coloring book app, and said I had to pee. And I went to the bathroom.” 

“It was a lot. How did you sound, when you said it?” We both know she means when I said the part about having to be perfect. 

“Like bratty teenage me. I don’t know.” I’m ashamed of how I sounded. 

“Ahhh. That makes sense. You had to be feeling some anger, some hurt, that hubby and your dad were joking about something so hurtful to you. Something that has been front and center in therapy and is still painful.” 

“I just hid on the bathroom and….I couldn’t….it was too much…so I just…” I stop myself from speaking before I say something I will regret. I had cut that day, hiding in the bathroom. Calmed myself down, got back in control. 

“You just what?” Bea prompts me. Maybe she knows there is something there, or maybe shw just wants to keep me talking about it all.  

“I just hid,” I say sadly; both because of why I was hiding and because I am too afraid to finish that sentence for real. 

“Okay,” she says. “Did your mom bring it up again when you came out?” 

I shake my head. “No. She asked if I was okay, later. But she let it drop.” 

“Maybe she sensed you weren’t ready to have that conversation.” 

“I’m just worried I screwed up by saying what I said. Hurt her. Messed things up for her.” I’ve been taking care of her feelings for so long, I am afraid to stop completely. 

“She has a therapist now. She will take it to therapy. Her therapist can hold that for her and contain her feelings about it. The therapist can support her. You don’t have to protect her anymore. She has a therapist to help her now,” Bea tells me. I realize, in some part of myself, Bea is right. 

“I just feel like I screw everything up.” The tears come now, huge sobs that I can’t stop. I have been holding them in for two weeks now, and even more has built up. Plus, I still feel like 14 year old me; like nothing I do is good enough, like I am a failure, like I ruin everything, like all I do is hurt people, like everyone would be better off without me. 

Bea says something, and I cry more. I told her nothing felt okay, that I will never be good enough. 

Softly, Bea murmurs, “Those old messages are just so deep.” 

I cry and cry. “It’s too much,” I tell her, and proceed to list out everything that is wrong with me and that I have screwed up and how I will probably screw up today. “And I just…I can’t. All I do is screw up. I told myself that I wasn’t going to do this here.” 

“It’s okay to do this here.” She reassures me, but she doesn’t get it. I don’t like this panic attack, can’t breathe Alice. I do not like others to see her. 

“Can you make it stop hurting? Please tell me how to make it stop,” I sob. 

“Well…I think this is one of those things. The only way out is through.” Bea sounds saddened by having to say that. 

“I can’t do it.”

“You can. You are,” she says firmly. 

Eventually I get control of myself. Bea lets me leave, but I suspect it is only because I am going to go pick up Kat and bring her back for a session.