In the nighttime (camping)

I hear voices, male voices. I bolt upright in bed, on high alert. My heart pounds. I can’t place where I am, I’m lost, I’m trapped, what is going on? A full minute later, I remember. I’m camping, I’m in our cabin. People are walking by, outside, and I’m safely locked inside. I’m a grown up. My husband is next to me, and my daughter is in the room opposite ours. 

Except, that doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel real to me at all. I feel like a child, maybe 8 years old, that is pretending to herself she is a grownup because grownups can do whatever they want, and that sounds pretty good to her right now. 

I can’t get up and go for a walk, like I would back home. It’s not safe to go walk outside when it’s dark. (In retrospect, I’m sure it was safe, but it didn’t feel safe at the time). I get out my iPad and type out an email to Bea. I tell her exactly what is wrong, the nightmare, the fears, the feelings. All of it. And then I delete it. It’s all too embarrassing to tell her. 

I try to lay down, but I still can’t sleep. My heart is still racing, and I’m like a watch dog, scanning the room around me, listening for any sounds out of place. It doesn’t feel safe to lay down, so I use my pillows to prop myself up. I type out another email to Bea, and delete this one, too. 

I want to write about this thing that has been happening since the reunion weekend, when all the things were massively triggered. I want to write about it and I’m embarrassed. And maybe there should be a trigger warning at this point for, well, I don’t know. I guess for sex words and feelings. 🙈

I think this is happening because I’m more present in my body, and I’m more aware of things I am feeling than I have ever been. For example, I bruise easily, and two years ago, I would bump into a corner of a table, not feel it and have no memory of where the bruise that would later appear came from. Now, though, I tend to know what caused every bruise because I feel it when I bump into things. I think this newfound groundedness is allowing me to feel my body more, and lots of those feelings are triggering for me. 

My nightmares have been causing me to wake up…aroused. 🙈🙈🙈 Flashbacks have also been having the same effect. Even talking about memories has been causing feelings of wanting to be touched. I feel disgusting over this. It makes me feel like a shameful, worthless whore. I HATE feeling sexually… know, excited. 

The worst part about these new feelings is they don’t seem to go away easily. Even when I am feeling sick and disgusting and wanting to die because of how my body physically feels, the feelings don’t go away. I don’t know how to explain it, really. It’s not an emotional experienced at all. I’m not wanting my body to feel like this. It feels almost like a betrayal, to have my body feeling things I don’t want to feel, to have the body crave sexual touch. I feel dirty and broken and wrong. 

I know sex is something that is okay between two consenting adults. I know that in theory there is nothing shameful or disgusting or wrong about having sex with my husband. But I feel wrong. I feel bad. I feel like I am disgusting for having pleasurable feelings. 

Feeling sexually aroused makes me want to hurt myself. Having sex with my husband and enjoying it makes me want to hurt myself. It all feels bad and wrong and not okay. 

I can’t even talk about it because of the intense shame and self hated I feel over this. How can I ever share this with Bea? I’ll never be able to look at her again. 

I reacted during the games that Kenny played, and I reacted when the boyfriend was….well, whatever you want to call it. Maybe I am just over-sexed, maybe I was just born slutty. I don’t know. But I reacted it, and things felt good, and it doesn’t matter that sometimes I hated it even though things felt good, because I also sought him out, I wanted him to touch me. And now, I have these nightmares and flashbacks and when it’s over, my body craves touch. But it’s not just any touch, my body wants his touch. 

I’m sick. Twisted. There is something really, really wrong with me. How does a person deal with this? How does a person cope with all of this? I’m at the end of my rope, and while Monday’s session helped some, and almost all of me believes Bea is here, a part of me also believes that if she knew all this, she’d think me disgusting and she wouldn’t be able to look at me without wanting to vomit and she wouldn’t be able to keep working with me, even Bea won’t be able to contain this. But I need help. I literally want to cease to exist when I have these feelings, and those combined with being triggered and overwhelmed and having no resources left…….I need Bea to come back soon. I won’t see her for almost a week because of her vacation. I’m also truly terrified that she won’t come back and be herself. I’m so afraid that will happen, I’m almost thinking about emailing and cancelling that whole week and the next. 🙈


(Last week, Tuesday when we first got to the campground)
Driving across the state, I leave pieces of myself scattered behind. I must shrink in order to fit into the mold of Ms. Perfect. I lose pieces of myself; bread crumbs I will follow when this trip is over, to find my way back to being me again. 

I find myself becoming more agitated and panicked the closer we get. I woke this morning in a fit, scared and full of nightmares that aren’t just scary stories. It made me grumpy as soon as I left my bed. Poor hubby bore the brunt of the adrenaline pumping through my system, sending me into fight or flight mode. 

I try to breathe as we drive. I try to focus on the scenery, on what I see out the window, I can’t calm down. Hubby reaches for my hand, and takes hold. I grip his hand back. I sit like this trying to really feel his hand around mine. I don’t often allow myself to be fully present for any kind of touch and focusing on this now, I want to cry. It’s as if I can feel hubby with me, I can feel hubby on my side. It’s uncomfortable because he is here, now, but I don’t trust he will stay. I don’t trust that he is capable of being here the way I need him to be. I know as soon as I show any emotion, he will be retreat. But this display of care and support? It’s sort of overwhelming. I’m not sure what to so with it, and so I drop his hand, and drift back to far away places. 

When we get to the campground, we first have to check in at the little campground office and store. It’s the same as it was when I was a girl, and I can picture us kids running up there with our spending money to buy candy and little tchotchkes. When we get to our cabin, my parents have arrived already, but my brother — Oliver– is still on the way. By the time we finish unloading our things, Oliver has arrived. Kat is so excited to see her cousins, and we decide that the kids are old enough (his kids are 14, 12 and 10 and Kat is 7) to walk through the campground alone this year. 

Being at the campground is okay, during the day. Having Oliver there seems to off set my mother’s craziness and that helps. Somehow my conservative proper parents created two liberal, artistic, emotional, hippie children. Oliver is more relaxed than I could ever be, and truly doesn’t care if my mother approves of him or not. He never has, and that attitude helps create some balance for me now. Years ago, I didn’t get Oliver, or how he could just not care, how he could shrug off the criticisms and laugh about it. I didn’t understand, and it annoyed me. His attitude then only served to create more tension in the family because I would stick with my mom and her upset in his behavior. This was back when I was still stuck in the pattern of having to agree with my mother, so she solid be on my side. Now though, his attitude gives me freedom to hold onto some pieces of myself after all. It gives me a chance to be more myself around someone in my family. It’s easy and fun, the banter and joking and giving my mother a hard time they way only your children can. We play cards, and laugh about how my Grandpa taught us to play “bullshit”. My mother almost has a heart attack over that. 

It’s good, this new relationship I seem to be building with my little brother. We’ve never been close as adults, but we are closer now. It’s a good thing, a happy thing.

Boundaries and my mama 

I’m behind on posts, I still have the last week or so to post about, so this is going to be out of order. 
My mother…..well, she managed to hurt me yet again. I emailed Bea, and she emailed back. 

Dear Bea, 

I need to talk….email…whatever. Just please please write me back. I need to tell trough this and I can’t hold it until Monday and I have so much I have to do this weekend and I can’t think right now and I’m so hurt and so sad and I don’t even know why I am upset because really, this is just par for the course with “new mommy”.

I’m just….ugh! Speechless. Angry. Sad. Hurt. Frustrated. I don’t even know. I’m just….my mother. My mother. She texts me tonight, about an older friend of hers from her new women’s group she now goes to, the woman’s husband committed suicide earlier this week. I don’t know the woman, but my heart goes out to her. I can’t imagine the pain she had to be feeling. I said as much to my mom. And she texts back “and to think you almost put me on the same position, more than once.” I wrote “sorry” even though I’m not sure I am, exactly. I mean, I just didn’t know what to say. She kinda hurt my feelings, although exactly why I can’t explain. Anyway, then she says “I’m thankful everyday that you never succeeded in any of your attempts. What upset you so much, so many times? I wish you had been able to talk to me, that you had felt you could come to me instead of attempting suicide. That’s never the answer, it solves nothing.” I just responded, echoing “no, it never solves anything.” And then she says “So you aren’t going to talk to me about it now either? Am I that awful of a mother?” I just said it wasn’t a good time. 

WHAT?!? Why does she think it’s okay to bring this up? I can’t. Just can’t. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. Why is she doing this? I can’t talk to her. I will NOT talk to her. I just….UGH. My issues aren’t about HER, and even before I’ve shared a single thing she’s already made it all about her and about how I screw up everything. I can’t fix this for her, or make it a nice story about how great she was, because she WASN’T great. I feel sick. And hurt. So, so hurt. I can’t handle this right now. 

She wasn’t there! She was NEVER there. She was always mad at me for “over reacting” “throwing a temper tantrum” or “ruining your life” anytime there was a suicide attempt. Those are acutely verbatim things she said to me. Yet somehow I’m to blame for not talking yo her?!?!?! I mean, this is crazy, right? She doesn’t get to do this. She doesn’t just get to try to talk to me about all this now, like it’s no big deal and I should share it all with her now, because you know, we are supposed to share everything and be super close and I can’t be my own person and my mistakes reflect on her and just Ugh! 

Okay. I’m sending this now. My head is all spinny and I’ve gone sort of numb in one way but all anxious and spazzy in another way. I hope you get this soon. 


Whoa! This came out of left field, and no wonder you are a bit freaked out. You have the choice to set whatever boundary you want with her–that’s the important thing to remember. You have control now, and you can respond as you wish. Let this sit for a day or so and the activation will settle. Then you can reply from your “wise mind” and not your “emotion mind.” Just trust that somewhere in you you will know how to best deal with this. You really will. But it needs some time to settle first.
I’m sorry she made it about you “doing this” to her. Ugh:(

I just can’t Bea. Boundaries. Ugh. I know, I know I can set whatever boundary I need to, but there is a part of me that is very strong and very adamant that “that is not allowed” and that “I’m going to ruin things and hurt her if I don’t respond how she NEEDS and then easter will be ruined and it will all be my fault and I always ruin everything.” And then I think these things, and some part of me is like “oh my gosh, didn’t I JUST go through this with Bea?” These things, these beliefs really are so ingrained. I’m not sure I ever noticed them before. Then I think “And didn’t I learn it is okay to not have the same thoughts and it is okay to set boundaries and that it doesn’t mean people aren’t on the same side or that they don’t care”? But then……that’s different. That was with you. This is about my mother. It’s not the same. She can’t handle boundaries being set that don’t align with her rules. I don’t what to reply at all. Anything I can think to say is hurtful. Ugh. And you know, anything I did was never about “doing something to her”. You know that right? Because it wasn’t, and it really hurts that she sees my pain and my hurts like that. 🙁

Well, not responding, or telling her it wasn’t a good time actually are boundaries, right? So you actually did set one reasonable one already. And I honestly still think you need to let this settle. You have to trust your gut–just like with Kristen’s shower. You ended up “knowing” what felt right to do. That’s the place to respond from, if you choose to respond.

I know that you never did anything to do something to her. It was about unbearable pain caused by years of sexual abuse. That’s clear.

My mother. She makes my head spin. She has the unique ability to bring up old hurts, and hopes and make them current again. I’m lost. I wish I could believe she really wanted to know why I attempted to die multiple times as a teen. I wish I believed she wanted to know me, really know me, and comfort me if I still needed that. I wish she had cared to know the answers to these questions years ago. I wish I believed this was about me and not about her needing to feel better about herself, not about her wanting, needing to be told she was a good mom. It’s all confusing. Anyway. That was Thursday night. It’s Saturday evening now, and I’m sick with the stomach flu. Being sick isn’t helping me to think rationally or let these things with my mother settle. Being sick like this makes me feel even more vulnerable, even more confused. 

What if????

“So, how was the rest of the day on Thursday?” Bea asks me. We’ve talked about nothing major, and now she’s turning the conversation back to me, and my stuff. 

I’m sitting criss cross applesauce on the couch. Just before she asked this, I’d been looking at her, and talking like a normal person. Now, I look down. Why does answering something so simple embarrass me? “I don’t know…..I just…I was….” I shrug. The odd thing is, my answer is more positive than usual, but that scares me. I’m thinking about things differently, and that is this giant frightening thing. 

“I think it’s important that we touch base on how things felt, how the weekend was for you. Did things come up, were the nightmares of that particular memory gone, less, more? Did you feel more upset, less upset?” 

I shake my head. “I…I got sick this weekend. Sinus crap, headache, sore throat. So I was……I don’t know. The worst thing about being sick is you can’t do anything. I mean, there is no distractions. And tv, movies…those just don’t work. I mean, not like hubby. He can’t stand to turn a show off in the middle of it. But me, I don’t really care. I just, I don’t know. I can stop a movie half way through and not come back to it for weeks. So it’s not like being sick, watching tv…….it just….I don’t. I keep thinking.”

“TV doesn’t distract you, or occupy your mind very easily. It seems like a lot of the time when we don’t feel good, that is when our minds start going.” Bea states. 

“Yes, that’s….I was thinking. So I just…I was thinking.” 

“What were you thinking about?” 

“I…just stuff. I mean…Thursday, I was okay. It….I didn’t feel like hiding. I mean, like usually I would maybe want to go hide. And I didn’t feel like hiding. I was sad. But okay.” I stumble through trying to explain this to her, trying to get the words in my head, those perfectly put together and competent sounding words in my head to come out of my mouth and make sense. 

“That’s good. Okay is good.” Bea’s voice sounds like she is smiling. 

I nod. It is good. She’s right, it is good. 

“Do you want me to tell you what I thought on Thursday?” She asks. I nod my head, and so she continues. “I felt like you were more here than usual when discussing a memory. I felt like you were able to answer questions, and talk more easily. I mean, I know we didn’t talk about the actual rape, but everything with that memory is so awful, so traumatizing, and the mom stuff is big. It just feels like to me that this is one of the worst memories for so many reasons, so many layers of hurt. I mean, they are your memories, and they are all painful, and I don’t know if this memory feels worse than others to you, so maybe I shouldn’t say that. But it feels like this is a memory that took things to a whole different level. It made the traumas that much more hurtful. You really had to dissociate to be okay.” 

“It’s…it’s one that always….it just won’t go away. Even before…it’s been one of those nightmares that I’ve had a long time.” I take a drink of my vanilla chai, and peek at Bea from the corner of my eye. 

“So you felt okay on Thursday?” She brings me back to what we had been talking about. 

I nod. “Yeah. I was thinking…..I mean, I just you said something. And you’ve said it before I’m sure, but it just stuck with me this time. And I was thinking about that. I… were saying how I was afraid to get in trouble for………and how crazy that is.” 

“Well, people can’t hear things until they are ready to listen. And you are ready now, to hear that. So you were thinking how mind boggling that concept of being in trouble for being raped is?”

“Well….I was thinking about it. And then, my parents.” I pull my knees to my chest, and wrap my arms around them. 

“Your parents. Usually, you say your mom. This makes me wonder if you are including your dad in this? Because we don’t talk about him a lot.” 

“No….I mean, in general, yes. I was thinking about them in general, is all. And…well, you know. Thinking what if? What if they hadn’t needed perfect and I wasn’t so afraid of getting in trouble? Maybe I would have told. But…..I couldn’t get in trouble because then I wouldn’t be perfect and I have to be perfect for them to love me. Or what if they had done feelings? What if they hadn’t given me this message I was too much? What if I hadn’t felt so alone and unloveable? What is I hadn’t felt bad and not good enough and never perfect? What if they had been able to really see me? What if……i don’t know. I blame them sometimes.” I whisper the last part, feeling like this ungrateful brat of a daughter. 

“Well, yes. Of course a part of you blames them. Parents are supposed to protect their children, and they didn’t protect you. It’s okay to blame them, to be mad. It’s okay to feel that.” She sounds so calm, so sure of this, that it’s okay to blame them. It’s hard to listen to her and take that in. 

“But then I think….they were so young. And I….I was almost 30 when I had Kat, and it’s hard for me. Right? But they were 10 years younger. So, I mean….well. It’s just, they were young. And so much was not okay for them. She had an eating disorder. That didn’t just happen. Something wasn’t okay. So how can I blame them, when I get it?” 

“It can be both. You can understand it, and still blame them and be angry. That’s okay.” 

“I just…I needed a lot. And I must have known, somehow picked up on that. That I was too much for them.” I sigh, and squeeze my hands into fists, digging my nails into my palm. I feel so anxious and wrong to be talking about this. 

“I don’t believe you needed too much, or were too much. You were a child. We talk about parents and kids being a good fit. You and Kat, you are a good fit. But some people, they could have the easiest child in the world, and feel like they have a hard child. And others, they get a hard child and feel like it’s easy. It’s all about personality and fit. I’m not sure any child would have been a good fit for your mom at that age, with everything going on for her. She had her own stuff to deal with, right?” 

I nod. “Yes. I guess so. It’s just hard.” 

“I know. It is hard to hold both idea. But things aren’t black or white. They are grey. And grey is okay.” Bea loves grey. She sees the both sides and accepts that. She can recognize that my parents didn’t keep me safe and are to blame, and also that they had their own stuff and it’s not their fault. I don’t know how she can do that….I feel one way, but understand the reasonings, and they don’t match up. I don’t like grey, yet. Maybe this is progress though, to be able to discuss the black and white and actually hear the option for grey. 

“And I was thinking……” I drift off, unsure. 

After a moment Bea says, “Whatever you were thinking, it’s making it hard to stay here.” 

I nod, and we sit in quiet for a minute. 

“Are you having trouble finding words?” She asks me. 

I shake my head. “I have words….in my head….I just….” I drift off again, floating away. I’m afraid to say it, to make the thought real. I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about this. 

“Is it a more of the memory? Or new things in this memory? Feelings?” Bea speaks softly, trying to find a place to start. 

“No….I…it’s…..” I pick at my fingers, and even though I can’t hurt myself like this with my nails done, the act is still slightly soothing. “It’s not even a big deal. I’m being….dumb.”

“I don’t think so. Anything that send you this far away is a big deal.” It helps to hear her say it is a big deal in her mind. It feels validating, comforting, but I still can’t say anything. When I don’t respond, Bea asks, “What can I do to help you feel safe right now?” 

I don’t know. I want to tell her that just the fact she is asking, willing to do something to help me feel safe, just that alone does help. But I can’t say the words, because something about them feels too vulnerable and scary. “I don’t know. I really don’t.”

“Can I check in with the little girl? See how she felt about Thursday? I’d like to know if she felt listened to and supported. I want her to feel safe, too.” 

Her questions touch something in me, and I feel cared for. It’s sort of an uncomfortable feeling. “I….I think she feels better. It’s okay, I think.” The little girl wants to cry and say that she felt listened to and not alone and that she is so grateful to Bea for fixing things, for not letting the relationship be ruined and broken. I can’t let her say all that, though. It’s too much. 

“I’m glad. I’m so glad she talked to me last time, and that she is feeling a little bit better. She can talk whenever she wants to. I think it’s important that we check in with things after a session when we processed a memory. It’s good to compare now with how it was before, and to find a way to see if we are making progress. I think the way to do that is to compare how things are, where you are at.” Bea sounds…..I’m not sure the word, but it’s good. Maybe proud, or content…she sounds like she really feels glad that the little girl reached out and is feeling better.  

“Okay.” The word is a ghost of a whisper, barely there. I’m feeling overwhelmed with emotions and with my thoughts. I don’t like this progress talk. Does she want to get rid of me, is she trying to say I’m better and need to go away? Or does she think I’ve made no progress and she is mad at me, frusterated that I’m not making progress or doing things as quickly as I should be?

“I wonder if the little girl would like to color while we keep talking? If that would help or if that would feel bad?” 

I think about it for a minute and then slowly, quietly tell her that we can try it. Bea gets the little table and the coloring books and pencils, setting them all down between us. She picks up her page and starts to color. It takes me longer, but I finally lift my head and grab my picture. 

“We didn’t….I didn’t tell you….the actual…I mean…when he….what happened.” I’m trying to tell her that I didn’t tell her about the memory of the rape. “It’s not…I don’t…it’s spacey. I don’t know. But I didn’t tell you.” 

“That’s okay. It’s okay that you didn’t tell me. We talked about a lot of hard stuff last time. And we can keep talking, as long as you need to.” 

I select a yellow colored pencil, and start coloring a flower. I watch the yellow on the page, and surprisingly, as I focus on the flower being colored yellow, I start to feel less floaty. I stop coloring. I’m not sure I want to be more here. “I think….talking around it….what happened after….that was easier…’s…it was easier.” 

“Yes, I think so, too. I still think there is a lot of hurt and fear in the after, and it was hard work to talk about and start to process. But I do think talking around it is easier sometimes.” It feels good to hear that she doesn’t think the after of the memory is easy, or something to be brushed off. 

“I……maybe…not now, not today. But I might….the little girl…she maybe wants to tell what happened. During.” I’m afraid Bea is going to say no, that it’s too much to ask her to listen to what happened during, that I’m disgusting for wanting to talk about it. 

“She can tell me whatever she wants, when she is ready. Your window is getting bigger. They say as you process trauma, when you first start to, the window is very small, but as you go on, it gets bigger. That’s what the resourcing is all about. Being able to have a bigger window, and being able to come back if you get too pulled in. Because you have to be somewhat far away and uncomfortable, you have to be in the state you were in then to really access that memory, but we want to stay on the the edge, so you don’t get too pulled in. And it is a really powerful thing, to be able to control how far away you are, to be in control on coming back before you get retraumatized.” 

I think about that, about the experience I just had while coloring. Maybe I am able to be more in control of this than I thought, and maybe it’s not a dangerous thing. Maybe it’s okay. 

Bea says something about how she feels regret that I spent many sessions really deep in a memory and then hiding and feeling triggered and messed up when we first started working together. She says something about how where I am now is a better place for processing memories because I have so many more resources and can tolerate emotions better now. I don’t remember exactly how she said it, but it was kind. 

I shake my head, disagreeing slightly. “I think….I needed to tell someone. It didn’t matter if I talked or not, I was still hiding in my closet, hurting and scared and messy. Talking didn’t make things worse. I was already hurting. And at least with telling you, I wasn’t alone, and I had someone to talk to when I was in my closet scared. I never had that before. It wasn’t a bad thing. And I needed to talk. I couldn’t be alone with it all anymore.” 

She nods, thinking about my words. I can see her really listening, and hearing me. “You did need someone to hear you, you needed to know you weren’t alone anymore. You spent so much time, so very alone, isolated. I’m glad I was able to help you feel not alone.” 

“If you hadn’t let me talk….if you had made me work on resources….I wouldn’t be here. I’d have left. I wouldn’t have been able to be okay here.” 

“Hmmmm….you really needed to let those secrets out. Do you really think you would have left therapy though, if we had focused on resourcing first?” She sounds very curious, and maybe a little bit surprised. 

I nod my head. “Yeah, I do.” I want to explain that after the last few months of feeling like she didn’t want the little girl to talk, like she didn’t want to listen, that if I had felt that at the beginning of therapy, I would have left. Instead, when I met Bea, she was open and honest, authentic and real; everything about her said that she wanted to listen, to help, and that she cared. That is what I needed then. I needed to know someone wanted to be there. 

We talk about how things happen the way the need to, and that she had been what I needed then. She tells me that she thinks we are at the same place we would have been if she had insisted on focusing on resources and coping skills first. We talk about how I am allowed to talk about things already discussed, and how it’s okay to bring something up again and again. She says that now I can really start to process and work through it all. 

After that, we are both silent for a few minutes, focusing on our pictures. Bea suddenly sets her picture down, and looks at me. “Are you feeling as though I’m not listening to you because I’m coloring? Is that making it hard for you to say what you were thinking?” 

I shake my head. “No….you can color. That’s not…that’s not why it’s hard to talk right now.” It’s almost easier, in a way, because she isn’t looking at me when she is coloring. I just can’t get the words out. 

“Okay. I just wanted to be sure. Because I am listening, and I do want to hear what you have to say,” she says gently. 

“Okay.” I focus on coloring again, this time with a bright orange pencil. “I just…I can’t say it right now.” 

“That’s okay. We have lots of time. You’ll say it when you are ready.” She is so reassuring, so calm and confident that things will be okay. And, for the first time, I think I believe her. 

We wrap things up, and I tell her that maybe I will write it down, or talk about it on Thursday. She tells me she is listening, and here, whenever I’m ready.

When I’m in my car, I think about it. The idea, the thought just won’t stop running through my mind. I blame myself, I blame my parents, I’m hurt that no adult in my life noticed, but I can’t put any of the blame on him. Why is that? I’m afraid that if I let myself blame him, even a little bit, a massive amount of anger and rage and hurt and pain and tears will be unleashed. I’m afraid I will have to face the fact that I had no control, and that terrifies me. I think I will drown in the anger and hurt, and the loss of control will kill me. I can’t say the thought out loud because then it will be real, and I’ll have to examine it and wonder about it and talk about it. And I’m afraid Bea will be happy I’m thinking these things, thinking in this new way, and she will want me to face all of it. I can’t do it. I just can’t do. And still, I think, what if? What if I could put some of the blame on him? What if?  

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.

Everything is changing

There are a million things I should be doing right now. If I started cleaning right now, I would be able to get my kitchen back to normal, the living room too. I could catch up on laundry, and probably get the playroom organized enough to get out the big american girl dolls and maybe have time to give the dogs a bath and cook dinner. Its 10:00 am. I could clean and organize until 12:35, when I have to go pick up my daughter, and then clean and organize from 2-5 while her ABA tech is here. That’s 5 hours. I could get a lot done in 5 hours. I am very efficient. But I am struggling today. I feel lost, frozen and alone; I have this anxiety, this tension in me. It came out this morning as frustration and yelling at Kat when she didn’t follow directions or listen to me. I feel like a terrible mother. Everyone feels so far away from me. I don’t know. I know October is a hard month, but I feel like I just don’t have the right to be falling apart. The harder I try to hold it together, the more anxiety and tension, frustration, anger, comes snapping out. I hate this version of me. 

I saw Bea yesterday. I barely remember the session. We talked about the weekend, seeing my mom. I couldn’t find the words to explain it all, to tell her how it is different with my mom right now, how she is different. I was afraid to even talk about what my mom talked about with me, because so much of it involved eating disorder behaviors. I was afraid that Bea would turn it into an opportunity to talk about my stuff. I didn’t want that to happen. I remember Bea suggesting I give her a play-by-play, a transcript of the conversation, and try to leave the emotion out of it. I think I tried, but failed. I don’t know. I’m afraid of what I am feeling. I’m afraid of how everything around me is changing. 

I had put Kat to bed, and mom was cleaning up the kitchen. She left some dirty dishes in the sink, and said she would take care of them tomorrow. This is unheard of. She doesn’t leave anything left messy, left undone. There is always this nervousness, this anxious tension, this trying to be perfect and control everything feeling that….well, people around her feel it, and they almost feel this fragilness in her, this feeling of needing to help her control things, keep them prefect.  

Bea nodded, agreed with me. I remember her saying something about that is what I had always done; try to be perfect and help her have the perfect, in control feeling. She said something about having so much internal anxiety and chaos leads us to try to control things on the outside. 

I was so surprised that my mom was leaving dirty dishes in the sink. But she was calm and fine. All that nervous, anxiety, tension….I don’t think it is there anymore. I said, joking, being silly, ‘where’s my mom? My mom doesn’t leave dirty dishes in the sink.’ And thats when she started talking about how therapy has really helped her, and how she has been doing so good. She told me how she isn’t stressed out so much, how she doesn’t try to hide things that aren’t perfect. She talked about how she is eating better, how she is seeing a nutritionist, how she doesn’t even go to the gym anymore and just walks with her dog and my dad for enjoyment. She talked about how she and my dad are doing so good and learning to communicate. She talked about hoe my dad is doing so much better; he’s doing things again, they are spending a lot more time together. She talked about how she feels guilty that I learned her habits for dealing with stressful life stuff. She wasn’t crying, or upset, or falling apart. It wasn’t her telling me this so that I could take care of her, ‘fix’ it. She was just talking. She obviously felt bad, and she obviously has a lot of guilt, but she was in control of the conversation. This was a person who had worked through this stuff and could handle discussing it. She was being the adult, she was being a mom. And i hated every minute of the conversation with her. I felt uncomfortable. My skin was crawling, I had the hot and cold feeling– the one where you feel burning hot but icy cold and frozen at the same time. I felt like I wanted to cry, or yell, or run. 

I think Bea asked me how present I was during this talk with my mom. I told her ‘not very.’ The truth is, I was just gone. I felt those uncomfortable feelings, and hid in the room in my head. The whole scene with my mom feels fake. It’s that unreal, this isn’t my life feeling. Bea asked if I was angry, and I remember shaking my head no, and her saying that she didn’t feel anger from me today. I told her I just didn’t understand why my mom couldn’t do this when I needed her to. I remember her validating that, maybe saying what she felt from me was sad. I don’t know. I just remember her saying that one word– sad. I remember her saying that and I know we talked about those feelings. I remember feeling tears in my eyes, but refusing to let them fall. I have this fuzzy vague memory of Bea wiping at her eyes, under her glasses. I remember telling Bea that my mom ate pizza this weekend. I have never seen her eat pizza. I know Bea said something about feeling lost, feeling uncertain because my mom isn’t acting like my mom. I think she asked if I was having a hard time because my mom is separating herself from me. I don’t know if I responded. 

I don’t like how things have changed with my mom. Logically, I am happy to see her and my Dad both doing so well. I am glad to see her facing things and being real and authentic. But I am having a hard time trusting that, believing her. She can do this today, and be present and real, but what happens when I respond in a real way and not the rote, drilled into me way? Is that when she is going to fall apart and it will be my fault her life– the life she is finally actually living– falls apart? I can not be responsible for another mess. I’m not sure I trust that this is for real. I’m not sure that I believe it will last. I don’t know. I was really just can’t go there with her right now. And I am hurt. I don’t understand why I didn’t matter enough for her to do this when I was a kid. I want to go back in time, I want a redo, and I want to take the person my mom is now back with me. I want that woman to raise me. 

I am almost afraid to believe the person my mom seems to be becoming is real. Because if it is real, then everything I didn’t have is very apparent, in stark contrast to who she is now. I’m afraid because all of that makes me angry and it makes me feel like sobbing. It is this big huge hurt, this giant pain, that is raw and sore and it makes me so full of deep, deep sadness and rage simultaneously that it’s too overwhelming. And a very big part of me believes I have no right to these feelings, that they are absolutely not okay and not allowed. 

I remember my session with Bea ending, very quickly telling her about a conversation I had with hubby (which I will write about later) and her asking me what I was doing the after this. I told her I was actually meeting Kay for coffee, and I think that surprised her. After all, i have been avoiding Kay for almost 6 months. We discussed a scheduling thing; I needed to let her know a day that Kat may be late. She let me leave not long after, and Hagrid and I met my best friend for coffee, just down the street. 

Monday: part four, relationships and mom

This is part 4 of Monday’s session. For a short (70 minutes compared to the usual 90) session, there was so much we talked about. I think we got through a lot because I had written so much and have been processing so much at home on my own. So, Bea was mostly reading and responding as she read, and I was talking in bits and pieces. Anyway, it ended up being a lot. So, onward………

And I’m thinking about relationships because I think my mom is trying to have this much more real relationship with me, and I’m just not sure I can do that right now– and Kat and I are supposed to go to my parents this coming weekend. It freaks me out. I do not want to have a deep relationship with her right now. I can not do it. I’m afraid to be that open with her. Because she didn’t see me then, why would she see me now? Why would she want to? She wanted perfect student, perfect ballerina, perfect gymnast, perfect cheerleader, perfect daughter. She didn’t want me. She didn’t want the broken, crazy, screwed up, hurting girl I was. She wanted the perfect image I was so good at projecting. It’s awful and mean and so wrong, but I don’t trust her. Not like this. But then I think, what if she is needing my support to help her get better? What if she is needing me to listen, to be proud, to do have a real relationship? What if because I am too stubborn to forgive and forget and get over it, I’m hurting the first chance, the first progress she has made in a long time– in forever? 

“You don’t have to trust her right now. That’s okay. Why would you! There is nothing in your history that says a deeper relationship is safe. This– these feelings– is normal. Anyone would feel like this,” Bea says, almost instantly as she finishes reading about my mom. 

“You would?” I ask, doubtful. 

“Yes. I would feel the same.” She’s serious, meaning every word. 

I nod. “I can’t…she wants more than I can give. But if she…I mean. Crap.” 

“You are not responsible for her. Remember? She is an adult. She makes her own choices, and she has a support system. She has a therapist. She is responsible for herself. You don’t hold the control on whether she heals or gets better. That’s a choice she needs to make.” Bea reminds me. 

We’ve been through this before; I feel responsible for my mother’s emotional health, and at one time made choices that hurt me but I believed would keep her from breaking. Bea helped me see that I am not the one in control of my mom and her health, and that those beliefs are old beliefs of a hurting, damaged 9 year old little girl. I’m still working on fully believing that I’m not at fault, that my bad Adrian’s didn’t make my mom sick, and that my bad actions won’t make her sick again one day, but mostly now I can see how wrong that thinking is. 

“I think, what I’m getting from this, is you are more afraid of her trying to have a conversation with you about things from the past, hear your feelings or perspective on something, get forgiveness. You might feel comfortable hearing that she saw her therapist, or is doing well, you might feel okay hearing about her day to day experiences, but you are afraid of her digging into the past and asking you to go there with her. Is that right?” 

I nod. “Yeah…I can be happy for her…listen…but I can’…not about me…about her in the past, growing up..”

“Okay. So you can be supportive. And you can be there, for present day things,” Bea tells me. “You might have to let her know, if she goes digging in the past, that you can’t do that right now, that you are working through it on your right now.”

I freeze. My stomach is sick. Bea has worded that as though I am in therapy. So she is meaning, tell my mom I am in therapy? Nope. Even if mom is in therapy, if I tell her I am seeing a shrink, she will decide she is a failure. I can’t do that to her. “No. Not that. I can’t tell her. She can’t…not about therapy. No.” 

“Okay.” Bea is calm, and she speaks slowly, thinking as she talks, “why don’t you just tell her that you aren’t ready to talk about those things right now? That’s really enough explanation. I know you don’t want to but if she starts digging, this way you have a plan of what to say, and a choice: you can not talk, or talk.” 

I think about it. What she has said doesn’t feel good. But it is logical. “Okay. I don’t like it. But okay.” 

“I know. You don’t have to like it. It’s okay to not like it.” 

“I just want things back how they were. Right now.” I say, and my voice cracks, turns into a whine as I start to cry again. 

“I know. This doesn’t feel good, or safe. Change is so hard. And this change is very unnerving; it’s shaking your whole foundation, no matter how messy or fake it was, it was the story for your whole life. It’s safe.” Bea says. She does get it. But I think she is excited that my mom is changing, healing. I’m excited, too, deep down. I just can’t go there, yet. I still need to be angry, I still need to grieve. I still need to figure out what these changes mean to a story I’ve barely begun to make sense of. 

Being heard

Monday, after I wake up late and rush to Bea’s office, I walk in fairly calm, Hagrid in tow. It’s my last session before her vacation. She’s going to be gone for 3 sessions.

“Good morning,” I say, after my usual knock on the door followed by poking my head into the office.

Bea is sitting in her chair, waiting for me. She smiles, waves me in. “Good morning. I was just reading some of those funny things people put of facebook. This one was a fake study that proves children behave 200% worse for their mothers. It says the bad behavior includes kicking, whining, forgetting how to walk, crying, yelling, not knowing how to feed oneself, and so on.”

I smile, and try to laugh, but I can’t quite get a laugh out. I’ve sat on my usual spot, but I’ve opted to sit criss cross applesauce, with Hagrid on my lap. I can’t find any words, and so I just look at her.

After a moment, Bea takes a drink of her tea and says, “I was thinking today we could go through all the hard things on that list from last time, and do our best to sort through and contain them.”

I shrug a little. “Okay.” I give her a quick run down of the weekend; meeting my mom, feeling so separate from Hubby.

“Did your mom say anything about what happened?”

“No…she just…I don’t know.” I shake my head. “She said she just couldn’t deal with my Fad anymore, and his depression.”

This is news to Bea. I’m not 100% convinced my Dad is depressed, but there is something. I tell her my Dad’s history as best I know it; how my Grandpa had a nervous breakdown and ended up in the hospital, how his mother was not a good mother and would leave the kids locked out of the house while she entertained her boyfriends. I tell Bea how his mother was very narcissistic and emotionally cruel, that she has been married maybe 8 or 9 times now. I tell her how my Grandpa divorced the woman and married my Grandma, that each of the kids– all 4 of them– chose to live full time with grandpa and grandma as soon as they were old enough. I tell her how my uncle had a breakdown after my aunt left him. I tell her that mental illness seems to run in the family. I don’t tell her that my aunt– my dad’s older sister– was molested by one of the boyfriends, or that their mother believed the boyfriend over her daughter. I don’t tell her that their mother used to babysit my one cousin and that my cousin told her parents that grandma was hurting her– but she could never say how. I don’t tell her that the diagnosis that run in my family are bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. I’m not sure why, exactly. The best I can explain is that I am afraid she will decide everything I have ever told her might not be true, and maybe I really am just sick. But I give her a pretty compressive background, considering that no one talks of these things and it’s taken me my whole life to put even that much together.

“This, this all explains a lot. It gives me a 3-D picture of your Dad. Before, he was always off on the sidelines, just there, because we focused much more on your mom, but this fills in a lot.” Bea shifts positions in her seat, and reaches down to pet Hagrid.

I’m honestly not sure of everything we talked about after that. I’ve been existing in this fuzzy state, where it is hard to form memories.

Before the session ends, Bea brings up Hubby. “I think one of the things that is so sad to me is he could be such a support to you right now, but he feels too distant for you to talk to him.”

I sigh. “Please don’t try to convince me to talk to him. He can’t be that person.” There is so much I want to say about Hubby, I could fill many sessions with it all. “I just…he needs do be on the surface. I don’t know if it’s because of the stuff with his mom, or what. But I can not keep opening up to him, and ending up hurt. I don’t know. I’m done.” I look up, right at Bea and say again, “I’m done. I can’t keep doing this.” As soon as the words are out, I feel so fatigued, as if I could sleep a month.

“It’s hard when we are vulnerable and we aren’t heard or seen,” Bea tells me.

“He doesn’t get it. It’s like…layers. Before, when we first met, got married, even a year ago, if I told him xyz and he didn’t listen, I was fine with being mad and him apologizing. That was surface stuff. But now, I want him to understand it’s not about him not doing xyz, it’s about being hurt that he didn’t listen, and I want to talk about that, about the hurt of not feeling seen by him and why he is being so distant. But that’s not something he can do. So. It’s surface stuff, that’s what he can do.”

Bea says something; I don’t know what, but I think it must have been understanding.

I stumble over words and sentences get trapped in my throat. “I…ug…well…..I don’t know….what changed…but I…expect…no…need more.” I shake my head. In the course of this last year, I’ve gone from someone who needs to hide everything, remain detached and numb no matter what, someone who can not do emotions or handle anything deeper than the veryI surface stuff to a person who wants to look beneath the surface, who wants a real connection, who wants to talk through the feelings. Something changed. Maybe this is the result of “the process”, I’m not sure. I only know I’m not the same person who married Hubby. “We always end up back here. Don’t we?! With hubby unable and me tired of it? I can’t keep pushing him to do something he can not do, to be what he can’t be. So, it’s surface with him, I’m done.”

Bea points out all the ways hubby has worked to connect with me, add that there are ups and downs in marriage; like all relationships there is an ebb and flow.

I shake my head at her. “This is different. It’s what we always come back to. And I can’t keep getting hurt, banging my head on a brick wall.” I ask her again if she sees this is what hubby and I seem to always come back to.

She nods, and says something about not giving up, they being vulnerable is what lets us make connections.

“He just can’t be that person,” I tell her. I feel sad, saying that.

“Not until he does his own work,” she agrees.

“Yes. He needs a shrink. I know it seems silly, for me to want my husband in therapy but be upset my parents are in therapy.”

“Not at all. Those are two different things. Just remember though, people change. Your parents are different people now than when you were growing up.”

I nod. I know. I feel listened to, heard, seen. Finally. It’s what I have needed all weekend; what I have needed for weeks. The ironic thing is, you can’t feel heard and seen without being vulnerable first which is so counter intuitive to how I want to be seen but yet feel this giant need to hide all the vulnerable parts of myself. There is a voice in my head that says it is not safe to show these parts of myself no matter how much I want to be seen.

I think we talked about why it feels so frightening that my parents are in therapy, but I can not be sure.

At the end of session, Bea tells me she would send a picture and a message on Friday for Kat, and that she felt bad that this trip was such bad timing with all the changes in Kat’s life and with the loss of her nanny causing Kat to worry other people will leave. I smile, and say “It is what is is. You can’t change your vacation over it. She’ll be okay, and a message will help. It’s not like you can plan around every little thing that might come up.”

Bea nods and we talk about Kat for a minute. “You can email me. Or text or call of you need to.”

I shake my head at her. “It’s your vacation, I won’t bother you.”

Bea looks at me, and it seems like she is debating something with herself. Finally she says, “I don’t like leaving you when so much is going on. I want you to know I am here, and you can email or call or text. It’s okay. I’ll have time for you.”

I look away from her. It’s uncomfortable, being told so directly that even on vacation she is still here. It makes me feel safe and like she is supporting me even when she isn’t here. It’s silent in the office for what feels like a long time. Finally I say, “Okay.”

After that, it’s time to get ready to go. I wish Bea a good vacation and double check when our next appointment is. She wishes me a good week, and reminds me that she is here. I don’t feel as panicked as I did the first time she went away and we missed one session. I’ve never missed 3 sessions before, but right now I feel okay about it. Maybe it’s because I really do trust that she will respond to an email, answer a text or talk on the phone if I need her to. I finally believe she isn’t leaving me, or going to quit me I trust that she will be here while she is on vacation and that she will come back. I think I really do trust her when she says that she is on this journey with me.

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

I pull into the parking lot at 7:30am. It’s early, but I need to walk Hagrid. He is so excited when I clip his leash on him, he practically flys out of my car. I grab my bag and my coffee, and we head out. One thing I love about my therapist’s office is that it is in the city, downtown. I love downtown. So, Hagrid and I walk the sidewalks, and window shop. I stop for another coffee, and the barista says how cute he is. I smile and say thank you. He is cute.

After I get my coffee, we head back towards Bea’s office. When we get there, I have to carry him up the steps. I’m not sure if he just doesn’t do stairs, or what. But I carry him.

“Good morning,” I call out, tapping on the door. It’s open, but I never like to just walk in.

“Come on in. Good morning. You brought Hagrid back.” She bends down to scratch his head.

“Yes. We just had a nice long walk so he shouldn’t have to potty or anything,” I tell her.

I get settled on the couch, and Hagrid curls up in my lap, laying his head on one of Bea’s pillows. We have scheduling stuff to figure out, so we talk about that. I don’t like changing my schedule and I don’t like not knowing it several months– like 6 months– out, but the best we can do is figure out therapy times until school starts. Once school starts we will have to do this all over again. I was also a little nervous to even ask to change the schedule. Anxieties of Bea not being able to find time for me, Bea being done with me, Bea saying no more twice a week, Bea saying no more 90 minute sessions all danced through my head. None of that happened, though.

In fact, after we have everything nailed down, she says, “I really want to try to keep your sessions at 90 minutes. I think that extra time is really helpful when you are working through the hard stuff.” And she never said anything about cutting down to once a week.

I nod. I don’t want to disagree, because I agree, but I’m almost afraid to admit I agree. Like, if I admit I need this, it will be taken from me. I don’t know.

We talk about Kat, and about Hagrid and random everyday things. After a while, I sigh and look down at the floor. “I’m leaving Monday to go to my parent’s. By myself, without Kat. I’m a little…..I don’t really want to go. But I do. Because my Grandma is here. And she isn’t staying like she was supposed to. She messed it all up. I don’t know.” I blink back tears of frustration, pet Hagrid.

“It will be good for you to see your Grandma, I think. I know it’s hard to go back to your parents, and with no distraction of Kat.”

“She was supposed to come on August. We were going to go stay the week before school…the last two weeks, there is no camp. So we were going to go stay then. But now she is here, and she’s not even staying two weeks. And my parents hid everything from me. She still is having heart problems. Her doctor only said she can be gone two weeks. And she has a boyfriend. And no one likes the boyfriend. I don’t know. Why didn’t anyone tell me?!?”

Bea is silent for a moment, digesting everything I just threw at her. “Why doesn’t anyone like him?”

“I don’t know. They say he is crude, rude. I don’t know. Maybe they don’t like him because he isn’t my Grandpa. Maybe he really is rude and jerky.” I breathe out, notice that Hagrid is giving me puppy kisses on the back of my hand, and I bury my face in his fur. As much as I hate to admit it, Bea is right; Hagrid is one of the most grounding things in my life.

“Your Grandpa wasn’t like that, was he?”

“No. No. Not at all. He was…he was the guy that would clean his neighbor’s gutters just because he noticed they needed to be done. That was my grandpa. But. I don’t know. I’m trying to keep an open mind. I want my grandma to be happy. My grandpa would want her to be happy.”

“Believe it or not, this is common. For older people to meet someone the rest of the family dislikes. It happens a lot.”

I sigh. “I don’t know why I remember this so well, but it’s very clear in my memory. When I went to Florida with my aunt, to visit my grandma, one afternoon we were all sitting out having wine, and Grandma’s friend’s were teasing her about some new guy in their community. She said she was never going to date anyone else, my grandpa had been it for her. I told her that if she did meet someone that made her happy, I would be happy for her, and I believed grandpa would be, too, because he would not want her to be lonely. My aunt got so upset, so shoved the table and her chair fell on the floor, and then she ran in the house and we all heard the bedroom door slam– clear on the other end!”

“Wow. It’s no one you remember that so clearly. Her reaction was so extreme. What did your grandma say?”

“No one said anything about what I said, Dorothy said my aunt need to relax, and then she said we needed more red wine. And that was that.” I shrug. It was what it was.

“Hmmm. So it really must feel bad not to have been told about the boyfriend when you were so supportive like that.”

I nod. Exactly. But even if grandma didn’t tell me, why didn’t my mom?

“And the heart trouble. That messes with this idea of a secure base. We were talking about your grandma being a safe place growing up. You might not need that anymore, but symbolically, she still has been your safe place.”

“It’s why I always think that if it’s too hard, or I can’t deal, I’ll just buy a plane ticket and go to Florida.”

“Yes. She’s been your secure base.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me?!?” The words force themselves out.

“By anyone, we really mean your mom.” It’s said as a statement, but Bea waits until I nod to continue speaking. “If we look at this as part of a pattern, a life long pattern, why do you think she didn’t tell you?”

I shake my head. I don’t know. Every thought running through my head sounds stupid and childish, whiny and immature. Finally, I mumble one reason, anyway. “Because she didn’t want to deal with me when I got upset.”

“She didn’t want to upset you. She didn’t want to deal with those difficult emotions.” Bea repeats what I’ve said, but with a little bit kinder reframe towards me.

I nod. “She can’t deal. She never could.”

“This reminds me of the underwear memory. She could not deal with whatever was triggered in her, and so she made herself very sick. Because she can’t handle these harder emotions.”

I don’t say anything, but I agree silently. I snuggle Hagrid and wonder how I ever did therapy without him.

“Did you ask her why she didn’t tell you earlier?” Bea asks. It’s so simple when she says it.

“No. I just….no. I guess I could have. But then. Well…confrontation.” I shrug.

“You could ask her now. Just really direct, no judgement, or anger, or upset. Just, ‘mom I thought about it, and why didn’t you tell me this sooner?’ I don’t think that would be confrontational.”

I shake my head. How do I explain this? “I’m so angry with her…I’m just so full of mad. I don’t sound mad, but I am…it’s there. Maybe I sound mad. I don’t know.” I shake my head. The words come out on fits and starts, with lots of pauses, while I hug my dog and blink away tears and refuse to look at Bea. “I just…I feel like if I start asking questions, I’m going to ask the one I really want to ask. I want to drop this bomb of how in the world did you not know…well, I don’t know what to even call it now, I’m so confused, but whatever that was with Kenny.”

“Sexual abuse. It’s sexual abuse,” Bea tells me softly.

I don’t say anything for what feels like a really long time. “You read my email. With the what if questions. You remember?”

“I remember.”

“Then….is it really…I mean, doesn’t that make it not…I don’t know.”

“Sexual abuse?” She asks, filling in the question I was trying to ask.

I nod. Yes. Doesn’t everything that happened mean it wasn’t sexual abuse?

“It’s still abuse. All the what ifs change nothing,” Bea says.

“I..but….I mean….I did….how can you still say that?” Words stumble around my mouth, but a question finally emerges.

Bea waits a moment, and then, very calmly and very directly, she tells me, “You have PTSD. You wouldn’t have PTSD if you weren’t traumatized. You were sexually abused and raped. He hurt you. You wouldn’t dissociate, and not to the degree you do, if it had not been traumatizing, if it wasn’t abuse. You have PTSD reactions, like jumping at loud noises, flashbacks, nightmares. All of that because this was abuse.”

I think she says something about how my mom not keeping me safe might have contributed to the trauma, but I’m not sure. She says how the fact this went on for so long and was so frequent is partly what makes it so hard to work through, what makes it so traumatizing. I don’t know. I say something about how it’s hard to believe my mom didn’t notice, in all that time. I’m feeling a little bit gone, and fuzzy, like I’ve had too many glasses of some really good wine. I think I cry about how when I kissed him I got in trouble, and she still did not see.

“Well, I don’t know, but we have wondered about your moms history, and women who have a sexual abuse history have a big blind spot to those things. Not in your case, as you have already seen, because you are working through your stuff. But if a person hasn’t worked through it, or is not actively working through it, there is a blind spot,” Bea says.

I risk looking at her face, just for a moment. It’s okay. I bring up a worry I have about Kat, and her going to school and the possibility of the little girl who hurt her being at the same school. Bea and I talk it through, make a plan. I feel better about that. And then, I have this thought, I can not believe I am thinking it, but at the same time, I can not believe I have never wondered before. “My mom….my mom, her sister and one brother, none of them speak to their dad. It’s this big secret why, we aren’t even allowed to ask why. When we were kids, we would always be curious. I don’t know. He lives in town. If we run into him, we always have to leave. Right away.”

Bea gets what I’m wondering, without me saying it. “It could be. A missing piece, anyway. Is your mom’s family like her?”

“No…not really. It’s funny, I was just thinking about this. They are all more…I don’t know the word. It’s a feeling. More real.” I stop and think for a moment, and then explain how there are several social workers, psychologists, a psychiatrist, a physical therapist, occupational therapist, a teacher, a nurse, all in my moms family.

“So they’ve all chosen professions to help..but also where they would have to be more authentic. Interesting. Is your mom more or less real with them?”

I struggle to answer. It’s not a simple yes or no, it’s a yes and no answer. Finally I say, “Both. Sometimes more fake, other times, she has those moments of being so real. I don’t know. I see a contrast between her and her brothers. Not so much with her sister, but maybe it’s because my aunt lives in town, so I know her. I don’t know.”

We talk about my mom’s family a little more, and how they are nice to be around, and how I really didn’t spend a lot of time with my mom this last weekend because we both were spending time with family we only see twice a year.

It’s out of the blue, but I stop talking and then, “I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?” Bea asks. She might be confused, as nothing has happened for me to be apologizing right now.

I blink back tears. “I just….I feel bad. I’m sorry I am whining, all the time, that I’m confused, and about my mom, and crying, and I don’t know. I’m just sorry because I feel like it has to be annoying to you and I don’t want to make you annoyed with me.”

“I think being confused makes sense. You can’t get all this out in one session, or in ten. It’s not going to be all better in a few months. It is confusing, and hard. I’m not annoyed with you, not at all. Think of everything that has happened. Think of how you are able to say this family reunion was better than last year’s was. It’s confusing, and it hurts and it’s scary. You aren’t going to heal in a day. There is a lot to drag out into the light. It’s okay to be confused right now. I’m not at all annoyed. Bea’s voice is gentle, but there is a tone to it that says she is very serious.

I nod. “Okay.” I hide my face in Hagrid’s fur again, and breathe.

“We need to wrap up in a few minutes, okay?” Bea says.

I lift my head and nod. “It feels like there is so much changing right now, it’s so hard. At least we got the schedule set for now. That helps, even though I don’t like only knowing two months. Now I need the ABA schedule.” I feel a bit like I am in limbo. Like I’m just waiting for summer to be over, so I can get back to life with a more permanent schedule. I don’t want to be waiting for summer to end; I love summer.

Bea looks at Hagrid who is stretched out across my lap. “I’m glad you have this little guy to help you through it. I think he came at just the right time.” She smiles.

I smile, too. “I think so. He’s so sweet. He’s gone everywhere with me since we got home. It’s lucky it has been cooler out; he’s been able to wait in the car while I run into the grocery store, or whatever.”

I’m not sure what is said, but we end up talking about service dogs and autism. I wanted a dog for Kat, and Hagrid would be great if he weren’t already so attached to me. We would need another dachshund for her. I say that Hagrid would be a great therapy dog, and Bea agrees.

“He’s kind of doing that for you, helping you be more grounded and less anxious,” she says. She’s right, he is doing that. And more. He snuggles me at bedtime, and I’m not alone in the dark. I realize hubby is usually home in bed, too, but this is different. This is safe. I’m not afraid of Hagrid’s expectations. Hagrid cuddles with me when I have a bad dream, and he has sat with me through a panic attack. Yeah, he really is a therapy dog.

“I don’t think that’s going to get him into stores with me, though,” I tell Bea. In my head, I joke that she should write me a note. I don’t say it out loud, because Bea actually might do just that, and I can not walk around with my dog and a note from my shrink. Nope. Geesh.

Bea laughs, and asks me what is on my agenda for the day.

“Hagrid needs a walk, so maybe the park or something. And then chores. Maybe a nap. I didn’t sleep much last night. I don’t know for sure.”

“That sounds good,” she says.

We talk for a few more minutes while I gather up my things, and then say our goodbyes, have a good days. It was a jumpy session, but I feel like a lot got talked about that needed to, even if it didn’t go very deep.

That dissociated not real feeling

Monday morning, and I’m in my usual place on Bea’s couch, curled up but relaxed. She’s sitting across from me, in her chair drinking tea.

I’m talking about the weekend, about Mother’s Day. “I was up before everyone else….Saturday night was rough, I didn’t sleep, really. But it was okay when morning rolled around. I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and then when Kat and Hubby got up we ate, and snuggled. They did some yoga with me, which was really nice. And have me some flowers and cards. Kat signed her name and wrote ‘happy Mother’s Day” on the one from her, and I was so proud of her. She worked really hard to do that. Hubby told me it took a week for her to get all the letters written down. And he gave me a note saying that I should take myself shopping for new clothes. It was such a good morning. I didn’t rush around cleaning, either. I mean, I cleaned the day before, but just my normal cleaning. I didn’t go moving things around or hiding them just to appease my mom. I left my house like my house. And it was okay, I felt really good about that.” I’m smiling, and happy. The morning with my little family was so nice, so good.

Bea smiles, too. “It sounds like a really good Mother’s Day. And you didn’t change things for your mom, which is empowering. That had to to feel good, strong. Did you feel anxious later about it?”

I shake my head. “No, not really. I just….I’m tired of always trying to be perfect for her. This sounds bad, but it’s not: I give up. I’m never going to be good enough, perfect enough for her. So I give up trying.”

Bea nods. She gets it. “It sounds bad, but it isn’t. It’s a really positive thing. To realize your mother’s standards are impossible to reach, and to choose to be yourself. That’s a great thing!” She smiles at me, and I think she is maybe proud.

I don’t try to explain to her exactly why I think I was able to just be myself. I was able to be calm on Mother’s Day, even let the house be a bit messy, cluttered. Normally I would rush around, attempting to make my home look like a replica of my mothers– perfectly clean, not a speck of dirt or dust in sight, no clutter, no mess, everything has a place and is put on its place. I didn’t do that, though. I swept, did the dishes, dusted. My house is clean. But I have a 4 year old and a husband who like their things with them, setting out within easy reach. It creates clutter. But I let it be. I dressed in a royal blue jersey knit sundress that I knew my mom would approve of, but left my hair curly (I did tame the curls but that is something I normally would do). I did my eye makeup but left my face free of foundation– I’ve stopped wearing it and my skin is better for it. Yes, the roseaca still shows up but it’s better now that I’m not dumping makeup over it, trying to hide it. I left the calendar up, with all my shrink appointments right there, in black and white. I didn’t stress. And why was I able to do this? I think it was partly because of Bea. Because she has been so accepting of me, I’m starting to be able to accept myself. I’m starting to be able to believe hubby accepts me as I am, and that has helped, too.

And, I hate that. I hate that I am so damn attached to her, that because she has become my “secure base”, I can feel comfortable and okay being just me. That because she accepts just me, I can accept it, too. On one hand, I realize this is what parents are supposed to do, what I am trying so hard to do for Kat, but I am not 4 years old, I’m not a child. I might have stuck parts, I might have that little girl part who runs the show sometimes, but I’m still an adult. I’m 31 years old. I don’t want to, I should not be attached to my therapist like this. It feels like I’m….I don’t know. I don’t understand it, but it feels almost shameful to need Bea as my “secure base”. This is new, to have this. I think my best friend Kay has always accepted and somehow seen “just me” but I never attempted to be just me with her, I always worked at being perfect. So this is different, new. And I’m not so sure about it all. It feels unsafe, shameful, scary, wrong. I didn’t realize exactly how much Bea and her opinion of me mattered until Saturday when I was getting the house ready for Mother’s Day. I don’t want her to be my mom, this isn’t me being attached because of something like that. I have a mom who I love and who I wish could be more real with me, and I still have hope that we will have an authentic relationship one day. So this isn’t that. But it’s attached, nonetheless. And I hate it.

I don’t say any of that to her, though. I can’t and I won’t admit attachment like that, and I certainly will not discuss it. No way, no how. And so we sit in silence while I think about this.

Bea breaks the silence. “I’m trying to figure out….I’m getting this slightly dissociated feeling, it’s not strong, but it’s there…I’m trying to figure out if it’s coming from you or me?” She seems to be searching for words to describe the feeling, and is maybe a little at a loss for them. It’s okay, though, because I know exactly what she is talking about.

“It’s me,” I say, confidently. This, I’m sure of.

Bea nods. “You seem very rational and very here…yet there is this not quite here quality…..”

I jump in. “This is the thing I always try to explain. It’s the not here, not real feeling but I am here enough and able to connect with people so they feel connected but I feel it’s not real…I don’t know. It’s the feeling of being gone and numb but able to function, and function well. You don’t notice when I feel like this, people don’t notice it.”

Bea takes a drink of her tea before she speaks. “Usually I don’t feel the dissociation from you until you are farther away. This doesn’t feel like far away.”

“No, it’s not far away. It’s….” I have to stop and think, try to figure out how to explain this to someone else. I am glad that now she really, truly knows what I am talking about when I say I’m dissociated but here and functioning. “My parents….this is from them. I mean…when they arrived, like as soon as they got to my house, I felt this. The not real thing. Where everything feels numb, and fake, and it’s easy to function and not be upset by anything. It’s…I think it’s from them.” Now, writing this, I realize I should have explained to her this is what I mean by living in my head, by being in a room in my head and looking out through a window.

Bea is listening, and nodding, encouraging me to keep talking.

“I think…I think I never noticed it before, but I was so here in the morning, it was a big change in how I felt,” I finally say.

“It sounded like the morning was very grounding for you. When you were telling me about it, I could feel how present in that moment you were, how grounded you were celebrating with Kat and Hubby. It would feel like a big shift, to go from that to this.” Bea agrees with me.

“I think…..” I’m really afraid Bea is going to think I’m nuts, or completely discount what I say next, but I say it anyways,”I think that this was my normal. It’s how I went through life, and I didn’t know any different until recently. So I just…..I think because I was so present with Kat and Hubby, it was just really noticeable. And I’m so much more aware of what I’m feeling and where I am now, that I noticed it. It’s the first time I ever noticed it. And I think it’s what used to be normal for me.”

“I think so, too.” Bea agrees with me. I breathe a small sigh of relief. She notices and smiles at me. “I wonder if your mom experiences dissociation, or maybe has this same feeling as her normal. We assume she may have been abused, we know emotions are hard for her, and so I just wonder.”

It’s something I have never thought about. “Then I would have maybe learned it from her, in a way. So this here but not real, not here feeling might be her normal and I would have never known a difference. And then it would be all the easier to dissociate when….well, you know.”

“Yes. It’s a theory, anyways. Just something else to think about.”

I wonder about it. It could easily be true. My mother is known for not noticing when she is injured, or hurt. Like the time she ran a 5K race on a fractured leg. Or the times she has bumped into something and caused a bruise or split her skin (she has thin skin, literally, and it splits open easily. Where the rest of us might just bruise, she will bleed.) and she doesn’t notice until someone points out she is bleeding.

“Another thing to think about, is what do you want to do with the relationship with your parents? Do you want to try for an authentic relationship? Or are things okay the way the are now?” Bea asks.

I shake my head at her. “I don’t know. I’m sorry, I just really don’t know. I can’t tell them the truth, so there’s always this…this thing there……..” I trail off, unsure what I’m trying to say.

“There will always be that elephant in the room,” Bea supplies.

“Yes. But they…I’m not sure they can be more, give more, anyway. And…I don’t know, it’s just hard. I don’t know.” I stop and think, gather my thoughts as best I can. It’s actually easier for me to do when I feel like this. All the spinning thoughts are farther away, my head feels clearer in a lot of ways. “It’s like I have two different lives.”

“Yes, it’s very much like you have two separate lives. Absolutely.”

“There’s the one I have here…and I’m more real, better, I don’t know. I’m just more me, more present now. Then there’s the one with my parents….it’s almost two lives with them, too, though. There’s the perfect life, the fake one, that’s the one they live. Then there’s the truth of what really happened.” I shake my head. It’s so hard to describe. “I feel very split when I see them.”

I look up at Bea, and she gives me a look that says she understands, and it’s okay. I haven’t covered my face yet this session, but my eyes have been moving around the room, avoiding looking at her full on. She smiles at me, letting me know it’s okay. “It’s a hard thing to feel so split like that. But it makes sense that you would. It’s nothing that is going to be solved today, or right away. Your relationship with your parents and how you choose to relate to them is just going to evolve over time, I think. We’ll see what happens,” she says softly.

I nod and don’t say anything. I’m ready for a subject change, but I’m not sure I want to talk about anything else. (We end up talking about coping behaviors, but that will be another post.)

We do some grounding work, but I still feel not real and like I’m in my head. Bea wanted to get me back to my new normal, but it always seems to take some time to bounce back after I see my parents. I just never realized exactly why, or what was happening.

I use the restroom before I leave, and check my phone before I leave. I have a text from my friend Jasmine: “I need to talk to you about the nanny. Call me when you can.” We share our a nanny, who also happens to be Kat’s ABA tech.

When I exit the bathroom, I say bye to Bea, and tell her that jasmine has texted me, and she might be getting an email later because I have a bad feeling.

“Okay, let me know what is going on,” Bea says.

“Thank you,” I tell her, and then I wish her a good day and head to my car to call Jasmine.