A little below the surface: random triggers

Monday morning. I’m anxious about tomorrow’s meeting, and really unsure if I even want to go to therapy today. But I feel this need to see Bea, to hear her remind me I’m ready, and it will be okay, and I know she isn’t going to ask me to dig into stuff when I have to function like a grown up tomorrow. So, Hagrid and I head into town, park and take a quick walk before heading into Bea’s building and up the stairs to her office. 
As usual, Hagrid beats me to the top of the stairs, and I hear Bea greet him. When I arrive, she smiles and says, “Good morning.” 
I return her greeting, and get comfortable on the couch. For a while, we talk about how I am as prepared as I can be, and Bea reassures me that Kat is okay, that everything in her therapy sessions point to her being okay and working through social stuff, anxieties, but no big scary things popping up. 
After a while, we land on the topic of the ABA tech who is has more challenges with Kat. “She and Kat got into another stand off on Sunday,” I tell Bea. These fights between them really cause me stress, and emotionally drain me. 
“What happened?” 
I explain, how we had all gone on an outing and then the girls were going to do some baking, when Kat lost her cool, screamed, and locked herself in the upstairs playroom. 
“Oh dear. And nothing seemed to trigger it?” Bea questions.
“No. That’s the thing. I couldn’t pin point anything at all. And then Kat wouldn’t come out, and the tech couldn’t stay to wait her out, and Kat came out as soon as she left. It’s just…I don’t know.” I shake my head. I’m frustrated by the whole thing, and I want it to stop. 
“Does she ever do a ‘repair’ with Kat?” Bea asks. 
“No…never,” I say, something slowly dawning on me. 
Bea must see something in my face that peaks her curiosity. “What are you thinking?” 
“I…well, she just pretends everything is fine the next time she sees Kat. Like it’s a blank slate. I don’t know…..it’s really glaringly obvious– that disconnect because of the days between sessions…..but it’s…well, she is like my parents. And that…it’s no wonder why she triggers me.”
“Yes, this makes perfect sense. It would be triggering, because we know how hard those disconnects were……” Bea says. 
“She can’t handle anger…really any bad emotion. But anger….it’s like my parents.” 
Bea nods, and I think she says something validating, but I’m sort of in my own head right now. I’m thinking how confusing that disconnect has to feel to Kat, and how incredibly hard it is to be around someone who can’t handle all feelings, especially when we make a point to teach Kat that all feelings are acceptable. 
Bea asks me something, and I look up at her, confused. She repeats herself, maybe realizing I’m lost. “How did your parents handle anger?”
“It just wasn’t…allowed. I don’t know. Distraction maybe. But more like, well…like…they didn’t.” I shrug, and dig my nails into my palm. “I remember once, getting very angry, stomping off and slamming my bedroom door. And my parents took my door.” 
Bea looks surprised. “You mean took it, right off the hinges?” 
I nod, feeling an urge to giggle at the absurdity of it all. “Yup. They took it. Because I got mad.”
“What did you get mad about?” 
“Hmmm…I don’t know. Really, it couldn’t have been anything serious. I mean, I was standing at the end of the hallway that connected the bedrooms and the living room. And my mom was sitting on the couch, and my dad was in his chair. So it’s not like there was a serious discussion going on. We weren’t at the table.”
“But what you remember was really getting in trouble for being mad,” she says. “That is very much like mad wasn’t allowed.” 
“My brother…he got sent to his room for something, I don’t know what. He was maybe 7, 8? And he was mad. He picked up this toy hammer and hit his mirror so hard it shattered. He didn’t have a mirror…”
Bea interrupts, adding in some humor, “No more mirrors for him? Your mom didn’t want any more than 7 years of bad luck?” 
I laugh, but then I nod. “That room still doesn’t have a mirror, and he’s been moved out for how many years now?” 
Bea shakes her head. “Your mom was serious, huh?”
I nod. “He wasn’t allowed toy hammers anymore, either.” 
“It really felt like you were being punished for being mad. And so of course mad is very hard for you,” she validates. 
I nod, thinking about that. Punished for a feeling. Ugh. 
“What were you saying about serious discussions? Those happened at the table? What kind of serious discussions did your parents have?”
“Oh you know. Grades. College. PSATs. I don’t know. Driving, responsibility.” I shrug. Normal stuff, I think. 
“You got really good grades. What kind of discussions could you be having?” Bea is really curious. 
“I don’t know……you know. Like, why was this grade lower? And how many weeks I had to fix it before grades came out. And the plan to fix it. I don’t know.” 
“Then it wasn’t just unspoken pressure, pressure you somehow sensed, were aware of. It was spoken, discussed, their expectations of you.”
I nod. “But really. I had parents who were involved, who cared. Did I have a right to be upset by that? To complain now? When there are kids who would do anything to have their parents involved like that?” I feel guilty. I really don’t have a right to be this upset. 
“Well, yeah. There is being involved and supportive, and there is being over involved and needing your child to succeed because of your needs. There is a big difference.” Bea tells me a personal story, about her experience of being over involved as a mother. “It’s been repaired now, and my daughter and I are okay, but I was too involved, I needed her to be good at somethings to satisfy my needs, it wasn’t all about her.” 
I love that she will admit to being imperfect, that she will share her screw ups. For a minute, I wish my mom would do that, repair all this mess with me. But then I realize how vulnerable I would feel in that conversation, how scary and unsettling it would be. I feel panicky just thinking about it. I shake my head to clear it. “I’m still afraid I’m doing the same to Kat. I tried so hard not to need perfect, not to show her that perfectionism. And she still is a perfectionist. I’m screwing her up.” I look away as I’m talking. Even if Bea will admit to her parental screw ups, I’m still ashamed to address mine in front of her. 
“You aren’t. You are parenting with self awareness. That’s all any of us can do. And just try to be aware whose needs are running the show.”
I shake my head. “Kat really is still asking things like ‘will you like me if I spill this. If I hit? If I’m grumpy.’ I don’t know….”
“Do you feel like you over react when she spills or does something like that? I have one mom who does, and so we are working on things to make it easier on her.”
I shake my head. “No. Not really. I might be annoyed. Maybe. And I make her clean it up–” I glance at Bea, checking if this is okay, and she nods, yes it’s fine– “I…well, the person I’m mad at..if I spill, I yell at myself. Out loud.”
“It’s perfect to have Kat clean up her mess,” Bea says. “And the rest of it, well, this is where self compassion comes in. Because Kat does hear you being mean to yourself and so she might wonder how you feel about her in similar situations. It comes back to self compassion.”
I nod. “I did finally take her hand, spill some juice and then told her I still liked her.” 
“That’s great, that was a great thing to do,” Bea tells me. She sounds like she means it, too.
“I was just hoping that if she experienced it, she could maybe believe it,” I explain.
Bea nods. It makes sense to her. Our conversation then easily flows from Kat to talking about the meeting, again. 
As we are saying good bye, I pause at the top of the stairs. “I’ll probably email you after the meeting. Just to let you know how it went,” I tell her.
“Please do. I’d like to know what happens,” she says, like it really matters to her.
We say goodbye, and I head home. I have so much to finish up, notes and planning and preparing for this IEP meeting. 
All through that, though, I keep coming back to the reason the one ABA tech is triggering to me: she reminds me of my parents. Maybe I’m not as numb to everything happening with them as I thought.

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Too close to home

To my fellow abuse survivors, please, please be aware that this post deals with child abuse is fairly descriptive. Please read with caution, it could be very triggering.

The other night I recieved a text message from my friend Jasmine. It shook me to my core, and once again, I wondered how I had ever managed life before hubby knew about the sexual abuse I lived through.

I can’t talk right now but do not let Kat alone with M….She molested my daughter. I do not blame M but it can’t continue. I have already talked to Belle and I don’t know of she gets it. Someone is touching M and showing her this stuff…Its not normal child curiosity. text me tomorrow and come over to talk. A will be gone at 3 so I can talk about it..

A said finger in the front and mouth or kiss on her vagina. M was very aggressive and just sneaky and weird. A had no idea what was happening and she was scared. She said she never wants to see M again A also said it felt good. Damn it. How confusing for A .

I didn’t even know what to say. I was shocked. Speechless. I stared at my phone, and wordlessly handed it to hubby. M and A and Kat are the same age. M is admittedly more socially and emotionally mature than A and Kat, and she is a bit of a bully. Hubby doesn’t like Belle; he never has. He sees her as lazy and careless, as a user. I saw her as someone who needed help, as a person who was hurt and maybe didn’t have the opportunities in life I did, and I wanted to help her.

Her response to her daughter abusing another child…..I have no words. I don’t believe that young children just do these things. They learn them. I believe that M’s behavior is a form of “telling”. Belle refuses to see that. She is living in denial. She claims this is normal childhood curiousity, that Jasmine is over reacting.

I may not be the best judge of normal childhood anything, but I trust my hubby and when he says “not normal,” I believe him.

After it sunk in, I began to worry about if M had hurt Kat. I know that M has bullied Kat in the past, and called her names. I know there have been times after a play date with M where Kat has needed extra cuddles, and has slept in my bed that night because she has been so upset. I started to reevaluate, to wonder what had really happened. I thought it was being a bully, maybe not following all of Kat’s convulated, unspoken rules for play. Hubby, and later Bea, have each assured me that Kat has shown no signs of abuse, sexual,or otherwise. It still puts fear in my heart; the kind I can feel deep in my belly that makes me feel like I might be sick.

I can’t stay friends with this woman. Besides the fact that hubby believes Belle to be a toxic friend, I don’t feel it’s safe for Kat to be around M. I can’t risk my child’s safety. I can’t be around someone who takes the issue of child sexual abuse so lightly that they can deny it is happening. It’s not healthy for me to be friends with Belle.

If Belle decides to open her eyes, and see the truth to stop living in denial and allowing her child to be harmed, I will be there to support her, and M. Until then, I have to sever ties to keep my child, and myself safe.

Childhood memories

After asking the question that changed everything, Bea wants to talk about my childhood in general. I find it difficult to do. I don’t want to talk about it. Bea wants to know why.

“Because. It was just a normal childhood. There was nothing significant,” I say.

She asks about my mom, and the way I described my mom as anorexic and a control freak in my first “disclosure email” to her.

“Well, yes. My Mom is anorexic. What difference does that make? It doesn’t effect me now.”

I’m feeling argumentative today. I don’t want to have this conversation, I don’t want to discuss my mother. My feelings toward my mom are complicated. If I talk about the bad parts of her, that feels, like a betrayal. I just can’t do it. As with everything else in my life, I have compartmentalized my mother so that I only have to deal with the “good mom”

Bea finally gives up. She seems to realize I’m not really ready for this conversation. “What do you want to talk about today?” She asks me.

I stare at the floor for a while. Finally, I manage to to spit it out. “I’m worried about Kat and her eating. She refuses to eat breakfast, and then demands snacks. If I don’t give her snacks and make her wait for lunch she cries and sobs that I’m starving her, but come lunch time she won’t eat and says she isn’t hungry. I’m so afraid I’m teaching her bad habits, or teaching her body not to be hungry. I just don’t know. And I don’t want to talk about my eating issues, I just can’t yet. But I really don’t want them passed onto Kat, and I try too hard and I know I overthink things but I don’t want her to have a bad relationship with food and I try to tell her that meat has protein to give us energy and fruit has vitamins to keep us healthy and vegetables have vitamins, too and I never call foods bad or good, just what they have and why we need that, even sugar…..” Now that I have started talking, I can’t stop. My own struggles with disordered eating make setting healthy eating boundaries for a Kat extremely difficult. I don’t always have a good concept of what is normal and what isn’t.

Bea listens intently, and quietly. I can tell she is understanding, and not judging. Finally, she says, “You’re okay. You brought lunch a few times for Kat, and I did not see any weird attitudes toward food coming from you. If you hadn’t told me of your personal feelings about food, I would not have guessed.” Yup, that’s right. I’m so good at separating myself, at dissociating and blocking things out, I fooled the shrink.

Bea continues, “I would keep doing what you are doing, but I would make sure meal times are very structured. So, breakfast is from 8 to 8:20. Set a timer, and make sure Kat is aware that once the timer goes off, if she has not eaten she won’t have another meal until lunch.”

“You don’t think I’m screwing her up? I’m so, so scared she’s going to end up in therapy at my age because I messed up,” I say.

Bea laughs. “No. She’s here now. And you are here now. She’s going to be fine. You are going to be fine. In fact, I think you are both going to grow in very big ways this year.”