I lost my door

Wednesday morning, and Bea and I are talking about school, and how at most schools, it’s the teacher that makes all the difference. We are just chatting, casually, discussing Kat and possible options for school this year.

“I never really had a bad teacher in elementary school,” I say to Bea. “My second grade teacher maybe didn’t teach things the best, but she retired the year after I finished second grade, so she was just sort of done, I think. And my fourth grade teacher didn’t believe me about how much I’d read for reading month, so I didn’t win first place. She thought I had lied, but I didn’t. My dad talked to the teacher and she apologized to me in front of the class and I won first place” 

“Were you upset that she didn’t believe you? Did she call your parents or did you tell them?” Bea asks. 

“Hmmmm…..I don’t remember feeling bad or angry or shamed when she didn’t believe me. I just remember my dad sticking up for me and my teacher apologizing.” I look down at the ground. Stupid spotty memory. 

“So, you remember the good parts. You remember your Dad sticking up for you and your teacher apologizing. That’s okay, I’m glad you remember the good parts, that is a positive thing.” 

“Okay,” I shrug. 

“So, I guess that this version of your Dad seems more involved than I had been picturing. I always pictured your Dad as off to the sidelines, with your mom more front and center,” Bea tells me.

“Well, he was involved, but like…..I don’t know. He helped with math homework, but that’s like something my mom can’t like really do like all that good. You know?” 

“Did your mom delegate things for him to do? Like helping with homework?” She suggests. 

I nod. “Yes, exactly. She would like tell him what to do when it like came to us kids.” 

“He was more present than I originally pictures…..” Bea says slowly, carefully, “Do you think he was aware of things going on?” 

I don’t talk for a long time. It’s as if I’ve tripped and can’t find my feet under me. I finally find a few words. I shake my head. “Nooooooo….No. I don’t. I can’t. I mean. I hope. Because if…I just. No.” 

“Okay,” Bea says. (I’m not sure I’ve given anyone a good picture of my Dad. He’s closed off emotionally, but not because he is shut down emotionally. I fully believe he is on the spectrum somewhere; he is a typical engineer. A good friend of mine described my Dad as “extremely socially awkward, but much more real than your mom.” My dad is okay at formal events, meetings, gatherings because there are set rules for those. He simply comes off as very shy. More casual gatherings, however, he doesn’t talk or interact a lot. He also sticks with my mom, and she will do the social navigating. He’s very protective of me. I think in his way, he might accept me for me.)

“He was always calmer than my mom. Like I’d be so mad at her, and not allowed to say anything or feel, so I’d walk away and slam my door. She took my door away because I slammed it. I’m not sure my dad would have taken it if my mom hasn’t told him to.” 

“That’s just such an invasion of your privacy, of your space. It’s not allowing you to set a boundary.” Bea is angry, so on my side over this. She hates that my door was taken away from me. 

I shrug. “I knew the rules and chose not to follow them.”

She pokes at that. “Is there shame there? Anger? What feelings were there then? What about now?” 

I start to go away. Bea notices, asks, “Is there too much feeling here? Is that why you are far away?” 

She’s using the chart I drew, she noticed the moment I went away, and she knew exactly why. I can’t handle all the feelings. I nod, slowly. 

“This seems to be linked to some thing.” Bea says. “It’s causing a strong reaction, big feelings, even though your affect and your words are saying it’s no big deal.” 

I shake my head. “No….I’m not sure why all the feelings. I knew the rules, I broke them, I lost my door. It’s not like I hadn’t been warned. I didn’t like it, you know, but it was my fault.” 

“And there’s no anger there?” 

“No, I just…no.” I sigh. I don’t even remember being mad at the time.

“Okay. I think there’s a part of me that is thinking how terrible that would be as a teen and how icky it would feel to not have a boundary you set be listened to. I’m mad for you.” Bea laughs. She is angry for me, but it’s. It scary because she can laugh at herself and she isn’t out of control. I wonder if this is what it means to feel anger and to hold it?

After a long pause, Bea asks me how long my door was gone for. 

“A week, I think. So not so long.” I tell her. Why are we talking about this? And why am I struggling to stay present? Ugh. 

Not much later, sort of out of the blue, I say to her “I lost my door a second time.” 

“Were you older or close to the same age as the first time?” She asks. I appreciate how I can say something a little random and Bea will just go with it, acting as if it is the most normal conversation in the world. 

“A little older, I think.” I can’t say more, and I’m going far, far away, as far as I can. 

Bea validates feelings, reassures safety, tells me I don’t have to do anything. Then she asks if I would be willing to step back from the feelings just a little bit? She doesn’t want me to feel like she is using her new knowledge of my dissociation against me. I nod. She asks me about my safe places as a teenager?

I tell her, in starts and stops, in the disjointed language of dissociation. “My grandma’s kitchen, Grandpa’s truck and Grandpa’s boat. My aunt’s barn.” Safe places, yes, but it’s the people who mattered. 

“Did you ride at her barn?” Bea asks. 

“Yes.” 

“Was it a big barn? How many horses did she have?” 

“Just 3. Not a real big barn.” I mumble. 

“Did you find it difficult to be firm with the horses?” Bea sounds genuinely curious. 

“Maybe….at first. But then….my aunt, she pushed me to be stronger and I learned to be strong with them.” 

“That’s a really empowering thing, to have such a big strong animal listen to you and to be able to stand up to the horse, also having your aunt believe in you and push you to be firmer.”

I shrug. I think how my mother hated my love of riding, and maybe my love of my aunt. I think she was jealous. I’m not sure.

We somehow slowly return to they why of the second time I lost my door. 

“I lost my door again. That sounds funny,” I tell Bea. 

“It does sound a little funny,” she agrees. “Do you want to talk about what happened with the door?” 

I don’t say anything, but I think about how my door was taken after my suicide attempt. The therapist at the time told my parents I was acting out, throwing a temper tantrum. They took my door to avoid any more temper tantrums. “Being a drama queen won’t get you attention. There are consequences for our actions.” I can still hear my mother’s voice when I found my door taken away. I can’t tell Bea. She’s already knows about that suicide attempt, about Kenny walking by while I sat in the window. She already knows everything, except the door part. It wasn’t relevant when we discussed this memory before. It should be easier to tell her, she already knows, but it isn’t any easier to say the words. It’s an ugly memory. 

“Do I know about this thing?”

I nod. 

“Is it something we have talked about?” 

I nod. 

“Will I remember it?”

“I think so. I guess I don’t know for sure. But I think so,” I say.

“Is it a teen behavior or a coping strategy parents might not like?”

“I feel like that’s a hard question,” I say. I hurt myself, yes, but I don’t think those coping strategies include suicide attempts. I don’t know. I’m sad. My feelings feel really hurt. Thankfully Bea feels here and with me today.  

“Okay. You don’t have to share today, we can talk about it when you are ready. You don’t have to talk about anything until it feels safe to do so,” Bea reminds me. 

I nod, “Okay.” We sit in quiet and then we talk a bit more about my safe places. 

“I’m just really glad you had those safe places and people. It made me sad to think of teenage Alice not having anyone. That’s such a hard time. Socially, she had to be perfect and then at home she had all the feelings coming out, and she wasn’t allowed to have those feelings. That is such a tough time anyway, and then all of that on top of it. I’m so glad she had safe places.” Bea continues, “I know with your aunt it can be hard because she left, and that hurt a lot, but I’m glad you had her when you needed her.” 

“She really didn’t hurt me. She left. I don’t even think about it anymore. And I needed her that first year of college with the boyfriend but she was gone.” I’m snappy, and irritated. Of course it hurt when she left. It still hurts. But I’m not about to admit that right now. There’s been too much brought up, and with none of it resolved, I can’t bring up more. 

“Well, maybe we should talk about that and process it,” She suggests. 

“Or we could not talk about it,” I reply, in a bit of a sing song tone. 

“Okay.” Bea says. 

“I might…I might just write about the door….it’s just easier to write.” I say. 

“You can do that. Oh, I didn’t forget about finishing your notebook and talking about it. This just seemed to be important today. I could see how hard you were working to stay with the feelings and sit with that uncomfortable feeling without going too far away. You worked really hard, I know that wasn’t easy.” 

“I tried,” I whisper. I’m embarrassed for some reason, and just want to downplay it.

“You did really good.” She tells me. It’s a nice way to end a session, and I feel a little more connected to her than I have been, so I leave feeling a little more grounded. 

There but Not Here 

There are some seriously huge shifts happening in my life right now. Big things, or at least things that feel big even if they don’t sound big when I write them out. One would think that these shifts would make things more clear to me, when instead all they do is make things more muddled and mixed together. 

The mom stuff that has been coming up since around Mother’s Day is unfortunately still very much here. It’s not going away anytime soon. It seems the only way out is through the pain and grief. I have to find a way to move through the pain of the hard truth that real me, authentic me, isn’t good enough for my mom and never was. It’s why I went to such lengths to be perfect. It’s why I never could tell her or show her my true self. My mother doesn’t love me, she can’t accept me or see me. She loves Ms. Perfect. 

There is this giant ache inside me, an empty space that can’t seem to be filled lately. It’s a hole that was created when I realized real me isn’t good enough for mother. I’m not super close with my little brother, but we had a good talk (via text) this past week. We discussed how mom plays with our kids the same way she played with us. She would play board games, that had structure and rules. She would color, do paint by numbers. She would build Legos if they were a full set that had the directions. She rode bikes, went for walks, took us sledding and skiing. She kissed us good night, said “I love you’s” and hugged us good-bye. She did things with us, which makes it all the more confusing. Its not as if she was just completely gone, or wrapped up in herself. She simply needed everything to be very structured. There was (still is) a wall around her that even her children couldn’t penetrate. There was no such thing as free play with her. 

“No moments of connection at all this weekend?” Bea is surprised that I spent the whole weekend before the Fourth of July with my mother and there was no connection there whatsoever. She came to my home, and I’m still hurt and angry enough that I was able to use good boundaries with her, and simply be myself. (Two notes about this– One, this must be what Bea is talking about when she says anger is telling is something, it is energizing, it helps me set boundaries. And two, even if it was just because I am hurt and angry, I am awful proud of myself. I set boundaries with my mother. I was ME all weekend. I actually looked at her and said ‘well, this is how we do it in my home’ when she got upset that I wasn’t cleaning dishes as I cooked breakfast, and when I left the spilled waffle batter my 13 year old nephew spilled while making waffles until he was done making all the waffles. Then, we cleaned it up together, with me assuring him it was no big deal, not a crisis at all. I was ME!) However, the impact of that, of my mother’s clear disapproval and disappointment is only now beginning to be felt, almost a full week later.  

“No….it’s just…..we were just two grown ups. It wasn’t…..she just….I wasn’t…” I shake my head. I have no words. 

“What about those little inside jokes that families have? Those light hearted moments?” Bea asks. She is searching for something, it seems. Either she doesn’t really get how emotionally dead my mother is (and I don’t think that’s it, because we have laughed about her having the emotional capacity of a cardboard cutout), or she is feeling her way around, trying to see what it is that needs to come out. 

I flinch a bit. I can’t think of any inside jokes my mother has, unless you count her *joking* about me being a drama queen, or telling her *funny* story about how I talked so much, from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed– I truly wouldn’t shut up and I would even follow her into the bathroom to continue talking, I just drained everyone with all that talking. People were grateful for silence when I went to bed. I know I have light hearted jokes with my family now— me, hubby, Kat. We have jokes, we laugh about mishaps and silly things that happened. I can’t think of any right now, but I know we have them, and with them comes this warmth, a comfort, a sense of belonging. 

Bea notices the flinching. “Goofy kind jokes, not mean jokes directed at you. You were a kid, being a kid. Nothing more.” 
I shrug, as if it’s no big deal, but inside I’m glad that she caught it, that she saw the flinch, that she knew why I flinched. 
“Do you have any memories as a kid of cuddling up with your mom, or just being spontaneous? Just being silly, relaxed? What do you and her do now that gives that same sense of connection?” Bea asks. 

I want to scream at her, I want to throw the wooden blocks that are in a box next to me on the floor. I want to walk out. NO. No, I don’t have those memories, there is nothing I can do to feel connected with my mother, unless I want to be perfect again. But she wasn’t not there. She interacted with us, we had a very busy schedule, always going, going, going, doing, doing, doing. But snuggles? Open ended play? Messiness? Curling up in bed in the middle of the day to read a book and that ending in a pillow fight? Creativeness that wasn’t reigned in and structured? It was not to be tolerated. Instead, I shake my head no, slowly and carefully. 

It seems Bea isn’t really here after all, she isn’t really seeing me. She’s not getting it. I can’t be me and be Ms. Perfect. I can only be one or the other. It’s gotten harder and harder for me to have Ms. Perfect running the show. I don’t want to feel fake anymore. I just want to be me; messy, imperfect, talkative, loud, emotional, worrywart, goofy ME. I don’t want to pretend anymore. But by choosing authenticity, I’m not longer on the same side as my mother. She can’t love what she can’t tolerate in herself, she can’t accept or see what she can’t allow to exist in herself, and so, real me is something to despise, to pray for, to fix; she is a cancer that must be excised from Ms. Perfect. 

It hurts. It hurts to realize that had I been myself as a child, I would have been rejected, not accepted. It is painful to realize that any attachment I had with my mother was between her and Ms. Perfect, and that I will never have that connection with her. It hurts that I’m not good enough. It doesn’t matter what I rationally understand, it hurts. This is pain and grief and intense loneliness. It’s unbearable. 
I’m deep in this grief and pain, I’m drowning in it, and Bea is nowhere. She’s somewhere on the surface, not able, or not willing to dive down with me. Her absence has created some giant hurt feelings, and an even more intense alone-ness. I’m hurt because she promised to be with me. And while she’s there, she’s not really here. She told me we had the whole summer, (because there weren’t many breaks planned, just a day here or there to be missed) to work through all the memories and dreams and fear and disgust and shame and horror and hurt that have been bubbling up since Mother’s Day. But she’s not really here after all. 

Journaling and ruminating

I started this last night, and finished it just a little bit ago. It’s more journal entry than anything, not my usual posting. But I have been ruminating about what is going on with me, and this is what I got this weekend.

I’m tired, but hyped up. I’m not sure sleep is something that is going to happen, although it’s almost 1:00am. We drove out to my parent’s today. I’ve spent the day faking okay, smiling, laughing, talking, going through the motions. But I wasn’t really there. While I could tell you the things we did today, I can’t really tell you how I was feeling about those things, or the conversations that were had. In truth, I probably would leave out a few of the more minor things we did. That’s how gone I was.

What is it about being around my parents that sends me far away? I just don’t get it. Out of everyone on this earth, I should feel most comfortable being present, here and authentic, around my parents. They are the people who are supposed to always love you for you, be proud of you, like you, want to be around you, and they are not supposed to leave you (even if leaving is just emotionally leaving you). But that’s not what my parents did. On the surface, sure. It’s exactly they did. But….they really weren’t there. They didn’t give a message that they would love me just for me, or believe I was perfect just as I am. They sent the message I had to be perfect– smart, talented, happy, good, likable– if I wanted their love. So, I was those things. I worked hard at it. I’m very good at being perfect; or at least my mom and dad’s definition of perfect. I hid away, dissociated, was here but not here, all in order to be that perfect little girl. The habit is so learned, so ingrained in me, that I think I just automatically do it now when I’m with them

Why did they need perfect? Did I read the message they sent me correctly? I must have. I told Bea I remember being in second grade, and trying desperately to figure out how to change one of my marks on my report card before giving it to them, because I knew it wouldn’t be good enough. I told her I remember that same year, thinking my mom would rather me be thin and pretty like my cousin. The funny thing is, when I look back at picture of my cousin and I, we are the same size. So all of this, the crazy nonsense in my head, it started so young. Before I even knew who I was. It’s no wonder I’m still trying to figure it out, and it’s no wonder that it is all confusing and hard.

But…..on the other hand, I do have this determination, this sense of myself, somewhere deep down, that I do always somehow come back to. So my parents did a lot of things right, too. And I think my grandma and grandpa helped with that part of me. They wanted the real me, they loved just me. I knew that even as a kid. I know certain things about myself, like what I believe, what I’m afraid of, things I like. So I do have that sense. I think it’s a strange dichotomy, to have both those extremes given me from my parents. Most kids, I assume, would somehow fall into this grey space, a middle ground between being lost and knowing, believing in themselves. But not me. Oh no. I had to just split the two things apart, black and white, no grey space here.

I’m jumpy tonight. I don’t want to sleep in this room. I feel very….my head is achy and foggy. My chest hurts, I feel like I’m trying to breathe in air that is so thick you could scoop it up. My stomach hurts….like that feeling you get when a movie follows the main character from a cheerful scene to a dark road, and you know something bad is about to happen, but you don’t know when and so you are waiting, unsure when or if, and it’s a fun feeling when it’s a movie, but not so great when it’s a feeling that won’t leave you.

I emailed Bea again, trying to explain broken better, and to tell her I really feel like she isn’t getting it. Her response was probably kind and empathetic, but I only can find fault. I see and hear criticisms and frustration and a wish for me to go away and stop whining in most of what she wrote. I know, rationally, I know this is me projecting my own feelings into her words. Or maybe it’s the child part of me expecting that Bea will behave like every adult in my life always behaves. She did say that broken to her means fixable, and when the special vase in her office got broken a few weeks ago, she didn’t hesitate to take the time and the effort to fix it; that with time and effort, I will be fixed, too. I think she is saying that I matter enough for her to take the time and effort to fix. Or, on the other hand maybe she is saying I am taking too much time and effort to fix? This is what my mind does. It flips between thoughts like this, black and white. At this point, I can’t even reframe things to get them to the grey space.

I told Bea how I drew a picture for my first grade teacher in the last email. It was of a girl hiding in a closet, monsters on and under the bed. I can remember drawing it, and giving it her. I remember her asking me about it, and that scared, nervous, relieved feeling that washed over me at her words. I remember telling her that sometimes scary things happen at night. I don’t remember anything else. Obviously, nothing came of it. But I think I believed that if she only knew everything, she could stop it, she could fix it. She was the first grown up, outside of my family or my parents circle, that I really, truly believed in. On some level, I wanted to be saved. She didn’t save me though. It wasn’t until fifth grade, when she taught my class again, that I had another adult in my life I felt was trustworthy. I allowed her to catch me throwing up. I claimed I was sick. She never questioned further, but again, I think at least a part of me wanted someone to stop me. To care enough to stop me. I didn’t find another grown up to trust until I was in 7th grade. My small group leader at church, her name was Jen, was the next person I reached out to. She didn’t catch the secrets I was trying to tell, without telling. If there was anyone after that, I don’t remember them.

So, adults failed me all my life. The ones who were supposed to protect me, see me, love me for being me, couldn’t do that. The ones who were in my life– family, friends, doctors, teachers, coaches– they didn’t see what was happening, they didn’t see any sign something was wrong. And, finally, the adults I did reach out, even if it was a coded not direct message, missed the message. So, adults have always failed me. I think in some ways I am replaying this with Bea. Even though I am an adult, I don’t feel like a grown up. Bea says I’m getting more grown up and when all these pieces of me are integrated and not running the show, I will feel more grown up. But anyways, as I do with everyone my age (and sometimes with people younger) and older, I view Bea as the grown up. And I’ve reached out to her in a somewhat hidden message kind of way (instead of being very blunt and saying I’m hitting crisis point and I really need her to step on and help) and she is failing me. I did try a second time, and was more clear, and it still feels like she is failing me. I wanted someone, a grown up because grown ups can do things and have all the power, to fix it, to stop it, to save me. To make things better. Is that what I’m wanting from Bea? Because even I know she can’t do that.

If I’m honest, I can even see this scenario playing out in my marriage, and in my friendship with Kay. The thing about Kay is she has fixed me before, and she has saved me from myself. So she has done exactly what I wanted and needed. Hubby…well, he plays the role of the grown up very well. He takes care of me, and he would save me, fix me, if he could. But he is so very, very unaware of things, he misses the coded messages I send to him.

I’m not exactly sure where this is all going, I’m just trying to get out some thoughts I’ve been having since getting to my parents.

I’m trying to understand why they trusted him. I’m trying to see what it is that made my parents feel it was safe for me to be around him. Was it because he was charming? Or because he was kind, had this good boy, super helpful, super friendly kind of vibe? Bea once said– like months ago– she would be interested in Kay’s thoughts about Kenny. I asked Kay. She said he was funny, a jokester but in a good fun friendly way. That he was always very helpful towards any adult he was around, she didn’t like that, as a kid. She said she remembers thinking, and hearing from her parents, that the whole family was weird, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was exactly. He was weird, she thought, because he didn’t have a lot of friends in his own grade. And, it was weird that while the rest of us were free to ride bikes around the neighborhood, and run down to the park and whatever else, Jackie was always accompanied by Kenny. He was supposed to keep an eye on her. Kay said it was odd how strict the smiths were with their two younger children, while Mandy did what she wanted, when she wanted and ran wild. I asked Kay how Mandy was wild. She said there had been rumors of a teen pregnancy and abortion. I don’t know if I believe that. Mrs. Smith is not the type to allow for an abortion. And then, Mandy had her first child without being married and she was young– just out of high school. So there was a lot of talk about her.

I thought Kenny was so cool and so awful all at the same time. He was fun, he played, when he came with us we could ride our bikes down to the little corner store and get a candy bar or cookie. But it was a busy road, so we weren’t allowed to go alone. I don’t know. I liked him. I had a crush on him. I wanted him to never be around me. I wanted him to babysit. I wanted to stay somewhere else and not have him babysit. I thought I loved him, I wanted to marry him. I hated him. I don’t know. He had a fun game he played with me, only after a long while, it wasn’t fun anymore. But I was older by that time and it wasn’t….,I don’t know. It was confusing. Hard, I don’t know. I liked him, thought he was my friend, and couldn’t do anything about the game not being fun anymore. And I had been involved, made a choice to play his games, and likes his games. So I was stuck. I don’t know. It all gets twisted in my head.

Bea says having nightmares about the boyfriend is on par with the present happenings, even though it may seem silly that it would be that important. I don’t even know what that means.

I’m wishing now I hadn’t written that email to her, that I had just gone with pretending it all away. Now I am going to have to face her, and I’m afraid. I feel like I’m going to be walking into…..something scary. Like I’m in trouble. Or going to be shamed. Or she is not going to be happy with me. I don’t know. I also feel numb and my feelings are hurt by her last email. No matter how many ways I look at it, I can’t find her usual warmth and understanding. Even though I know it’s there, that it is the headspace I am in. I don’t know.

We went to hubby’s family get together thing today. I can’t stand his mom, and she was crowding me a good portion of the day. I realize it was becasue Kat was clinging to me, and she wanted to be around Kat, but she kept saying all these comments like “I’m so jealous mommy gets to hold you. I don’t have any babies to hold anymore, my kids grew up and left me all alone.” I finally snapped at her. She got the message and backed off. Then, Kat misplaced her shoes. Everyone was supposed to be out getting pictures taken, which Kat wasn’t going to pose for anyway, and she was perseverating on her shoes. I took her back inside to look for them, and as we were walking away from the group, hubby’s mom yelled that we were supposed to stay out there and get pictures taken. I had to stop and explain the entire situation to her, the whole group hearing it, many of them with no context for anything because hubby’s mom doesn’t want extended family knowing Kat’s autistic. Ugh. It just makes me so mad. So I was very snippy about it with her. Then, after pictures, hubby’s dad kept trying to take extra pictures of me. His mom wanted a picture of hubby and I together for her Christmas letter (which I can not stand) because I was (and I quote) “actually looking thin today.” So I moved away from th camera, thinking that should have sent the message. So then I got stuck having to actually yell and state I was done with pictures, didn’t want my picture taken anymore. Which meant hubby and I got into, ending with me saying me that “if some asshole can’t see and respect the fact I don’t want my picture taken, that’s not my problem.” Ugh. So, yeah. It was not the best of days.

Healing Tears

I’m sitting in my usual spot on Bea’s couch, curled up, but I’m relaxed, even looking at her from time to time. I’ve just finished telling her about hiding the dirty dishes in the oven when my parents came to visit.

“That was defiant of you! I like it. That’s great….it’s taking some of your own back, saying ‘this is me.’ Did you feel defiant?” Bea sounds proud, and she’s got laughter in her voice.

I smile at the memory of the dirty dishes in the oven. “Yeah. I was a little worried someone would open the oven for some reason though, and I would have a lot of explaining to do. And of course the first thing my mom said was ‘did you go on a cleaning spree?’ when she walked in the house.”

“Then having those dishes in the oven should have made you feel a little devious and like you were getting away with something, I hope, after that comment,” Bea says.

I think about it, and nod my head in agreement. It did help.

“So what else happened with their visit?”

“I don’t know. They didn’t get there until noon, so I only had 3 hours until Hubby got home. Which was good. They played with Kat. My mom brought all those pictures. They saw my new car. I opened my birthday present,” I rattle off the list of things my parents did while they were here.

“What was your present?” Bea is curious, she is looking at me like she really wants to know. I don’t usually look at her when I talk about myself, so this is different. She really seems to want to know; like I am interesting to her.

“Coffee, wine– that plum wine I like. A sweater that’s too small.”

Bea zeros in on the sweater. Oh, crap. “Hmmmm. Is that weird? That your mom got your size wrong?”

I’m looking down, not at her now. I don’t know, I can’t answer. I’m not as here as I was a minute ago. Things go hazy and floaty in a split second.

“That question sent you far away,” Bea says.

I’m surprised. This is a time I’d gone away that she shouldn’t have noticed, that she wouldn’t have noticed before I had informed her of my inside thoughts, and the truth of me. Crap.

“Did you expect that to be an easy question to answer?” I turn it around on her, but doing so helps ground me a little. I feel more present again, more in control.

“I didn’t expect it to send you away, no. But that’s okay. I was more wondering if that was a usual thing with your mom? To buy the wrong size?”

It’s easier to answer now, with a more direct question. “Yes.”

“Do you think she doesn’t know your size? Or is there a reason?”

I’m silent. I have a theory, true or not, I have a reason why. I can’t say it though.

Bea continues talking about buying clothing for other people. She talks about erring on the side of caution and buying a little bit larger if you aren’t sure of the proper size. She talks about how usually, she wouldn’t but clothing for someone if she didn’t know their size. And then she waits.

“I think she buys the size she thinks I should be,” I finally say. I’m looking down at the floor, but I don’t have my face hidden.

When Bea speaks, it is soft and sympathetic, “I was wondering about that. Did you tell her it was too small?” I shake my head no.

“Did she ask you to try it on?” I shake my head no again.

“Was there a gift receipt?” I shake my head no yet again.

“Will you return it anyway?”

This question stops me. I won’t return it, not directly. I’ll have Hubby do it. He likes returning things. I feel guilty, like I am making the store employee accepting the return feel bad.

“I’ll have Hubby do it,” I finally say.

“I say return that sweater. Say ‘this is me.’ Say I’m okay, just as I am. Your size is perfect. There is nothing wrong with your body, with your size. Take back the sweater that doesn’t fit, and get one that does,” Bea is off on some sort of empower Alice speech. I’m not following. It’s a fairy tale. Cinderella married a prince because she had a glass slipper. Alice isn’t going to magically love her body because she exchanged a sweater that was too small. Real life doesn’t work like that.

We continue on, talking about the rest of the day, dinner and when they left. Bea wants to know how I felt when they left.

“Tired. I went to bed. I had a headache. I don’t know,” I tell her.

She looks at me. “I was going to say that tired isn’t a feeling. But I guess it is, in a way. So you were tired. And? Relief? Sad? Anger? What else?”

I stare at her. Nothing. There was nothing else. How do I explain that? I should have some feeling about my parents. But I didn’t, not then.

“Numb. I was just detached from them. I’ve been detached from everything since Thursday anyways,” I say.

“Ahhhh,” Bea says, “That makes sense. I noticed that on Friday, when you brought Kat in. You were functioning just fine, but you really weren’t here. I’m not sure anyone would really notice though.”

That confirms it. I let her into my world, my head, and now she knows when I’m not here, even the times when no one should be able to tell– except maybe Kat, and that is only because she is special.

“We should talk about Thursday,” she suggests.

I shrug. “It was hard. I don’t know. And then yoga was cancelled because she was sick.”

“Oh no,” Bea says, “I was thinking that going to yoga after a session like Thursdays would be so beneficial and healing. I wish I had known it was cancelled, I’m sorry.”

“It was okay,” I say, “I went home, journaled, has a rest, cleaned. No big deal.”

“Sometimes,” Bea is speaking slowly, cautiously, “in a session like that, the therapist can almost start to feel like the abuser. You were upset, and obviously terrified, and I was really quite torn; do I pull you out, or let you work towards verbalizing something? It seemed like you really needed to get that out, and I’m sure there’s more, but once you got the word out, it was very clear that you needed to be pulled out of that memory. Being that upset, as stuck in the memory as you were at the end, that can almost be retraumatiziing. Do you know what your experience was? Of this time– the present time?”

I’m looking down again, but risking glances at her, once on a while. She is worried. She’s worried that I am not okay and she helped caused it. The only thing I experienced was her helping me, giving me choices. I think about it, try to focus on what I can remember from the “now.” She gave me choices, she spoke to me, she encouraged me, she supported me. I felt like she took care of me. Finally I say, “I felt like you were supporting me.”

“Okay, that’s good. I’m glad that’s how you felt. If that’s ever not how you feel, that’s okay, too. You are allowed to feel like I pushed too much or was not there enough, or whatever. That can happen.”

I shrug at her, “okay.”

“What we want to work on is dual awareness. That’s what allows you to be part in the “here and now” and part in the “then”. You know how that works, how it feels, you are able to do that. So we need to go back to when I check in, and ask you to name something you see in this room, or something you hear…we’ve done that before,” Bea says.

“Okay,” I say. I don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s too much right now.

“Should we look at something on your list?” Bea asks me. It’s almost like she is aware that I can’t talk about Thursday’s session anymore. And last night, I had sent her an email, listing out all my random thoughts of things I wanted to talk about, as well as a short synopsis of my teen years “issues” and therapy history and parental relationships.

“Yeah, whatever you want to pick,” I tell her.

“Well, I am curious about this talk you and Hubby had,” she says.

And so I tell her about me telling Hubby about my parents needing me to,be perfect, and Hubby saying he loves me just because I’m Alice.

“But?” Bea says the word that hangs, silently in the air between us.

“I….I don’t believe him.”

“Do you believe it for other people?” She asks.

I nod. Of course.

“So, just not youself? You believe it cognitively. Just not on a knowing level. Not for you?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s it, that’s right,” I agree.

Bea smiles, and says, “Like Kat is learning with you, to attach properly, to have a secure base, you are relearning a healthy attachment with Hubby. Your spouse would be the closest thing to a primary attachment figure, as an adult. So, this can be changed, just like it could be changed for Kat, and relearned.”

I stare at her. I’m confused.

Bea starts to explain, again, the same as she explained months ago in regards to Kat, about attachment theory, and how if a child doesn’t form a healthy, or a secure attachment, that can mean trouble later on. In Kat’s case, she was so deregulated as an infant, due to her neurology, that she was unable to form a healthy attachment; it’s taken many therapy hours and much reassurance that I didn’t do anything.

“For you, not having your parents emotionally attuned to you, emotionally supportive, emotionally mirroring you, that caused an unhealthy attachment,” Bea says, “and-”

I cut her off there, “And that’s why I’m so screwed up, I can’t even be ‘real’ in my own marriage? That’s why I’m broken?”

“No! I was about to say, and you are damn lucky you didn’t repeat the pattern and you married Hubby. He is good for you, he does love you for you, just like he says. You can learn to have a healthy attachment with him. Overtime, as you trust him a little more, you’ll start to be able to see that it’s okay, that you can be real with him, and that he does love you just for being Alice, and you’ll form new responses. That’s how a new attachment pattern is made. And I know I’m not supposed to talk about relationships, but it’s the same with me, overtime, you learn new patterns with me, too.”

I’ve gone from looking at her intermittently to looking down, and I’m picking at my fingers, an old self-harm habit that arises when I’m anxious. I’m picking with my right hand, and using the left to hide it. When Bea stops speaking, I don’t say anything, I just keep picking and looking at the floor.

“Alice, I know you are so uncomfortable right now. And you probably really are wanting to pick, I was just noticing now you are holding your hand together instead of picking, that’s such a good self care skill, and I was thinking how good you have done, how you haven’t been picking for quite a while now,” Bea says. She sounds proud, glad for me.

My heart drops. I had been doing really well. The strategy of using silly putty in place of picking was silly, but it had helped– once I had silly putty everywhere I might need it. I had added in nice lotion, doing my nails again– turning that into weekly manicure time with Kat– sometimes I had to really fight not to pick, but even grounding techniques could help there. They all failed on Thursday, though. My immediate and first response on the drive home had been to begin picking. I had not even noticed until my fingers were raw and sore. The weekend had not gotten much better after that.

Silently, I hold my hands up and out so Bea can see my fingers. Then I drop my head to my knees, which are already curled to my chest and cover it with my arms while I begin to sob, almost uncontrollably.

Bea gives me space to cry for a few minutes, then she says, “What made you feel so upset? Was it the picking? What I said? Or was it what we were talking about before— the relationship stuff and attachment?”

I cry and cry. I can’t answer, I’m just crying too hard. Even if I could answer, I don’t know. Everything just got too overwhelming. But I have no idea why I am so upset. I feel insane. I’m certain Bea is going to run for the hills as soon as she can.

“Crying, grief, tears, this can feel so painful, but it’s what needs to happen to be able to heal. It’s okay to cry,” Bea tells me.

My only answer is to cry some more, but I am grateful, so grateful for her words. To be reminded it’s okay to cry, is everything when you have spent years fighting these kinds of tears.

“I have a memory, I had almost forgotten, I used to pick at scabs, at bumps, at anything, when I was little. And my mom would always be chastising me, ‘stop picking!’ It was so shaming. I hope that’s not what you are feeling. That wasn’t my intention, I don’t care if you pick. If you need to pick right now to soothe, to cope, I think that’s okay,” Bea tells me. She is so kind, so caring. I shake my head, that’s not it, it’s not shame. I don’t feel shamed. She wasn’t scolding me, she didn’t even know I was picking again.

“Was it feelings about your parents?” She asks me.

I’m still crying, but less, and I can talk, now. “No. Yes. I….they…I mean. I don’t know.” I’m confused. It’s not really right, I’m upset about that, but not really, that’s not the whole of it, I don’t think.

“Go ahead. They what?” She asks me.

I’m sure our time has to be close to up, or up. “Nothing, nothing. Shouldn’t we be going?” I say, quickly, forcing the tears down. Years of practice at fighting my tears back has made this easy to do; not as easy as it once was, but still, pretty easy.

“I want you to get this out. We’re okay. They what?” Bea says, she’s more firm this time, but not in a mean way. Not in the way I think of when I think of someone being firm.

I stop and think, try to gather my thoughts, to push the words from my mind out into the world, into the space between Bea and I. Talking is hard work. I still can’t lift my head, I can’t look at her. Just thinking of what I am about to say, what I am thinking about saying, is enough to have tears forming again, and falling.

“They ……….they………weren’t ……there….they didn’t care. They just didn’t. When I screwed up, when I was bad, when I was the not following the script, the rules, they were just gone!” I sob the words out.

“Oh…oh. You really were alone. You really needed to feel loved, so much then, especially then, and that withdraw felt like they didn’t love you anymore,” As Bea talks, she sounds sad, but she gets it.

“I know they loved me. They dumped my butt in therapy. They came and got me when Kay called them from college. But they weren’t really there like I needed. They never were. Ever. Even when I was little. It just wasn’t so noticeable. Because I was following the rules, I was perfect. So they loved me,” I stop to choke back some sobs before I can continue, “once I was ‘fixed’ they would just rewrite history and make me perfect again, like nothing was ever wrong. And I let them. I told their story. Over and over.”

“What we have to remember is that it wasn’t you. It was them. Their shortcomings. They weren’t able to provide emotional attunement, emotional support……we might never know why. It likely made them feel very scared. Your parents weren’t strong enough to face those scary feelings, not like you,” Bea tells me.

I cry some more, and Bea lets me. I think it must be hard, sometimes, to be a therapist. I would have trouble allowing a person the space to cry. Maybe because of how I was raised, I want to stop all pain, right away. Being given the space to cry, to feel sadness, and to not be alone with the sadness and tears, is good. I’m so afraid to cry. I was afraid for a long time that if I did allow the tears out, they would never stop, and I would drown in them. That didn’t happen. Even then, I didn’t like crying. It felt bad. Crying alone seemed the thing to do. But that felt awful. It made me want to cut, or have a bulimic episode. Then, I finally broke down in front of Bea, really broke down and didn’t try to force the tears to stop. That was different. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone, and she didn’t get upset at me for crying, she didn’t panic, or try to get the tears to stop. It was okay. It was good. It was healing.

Birthday with my parents

My parents came to celebrate my birthday. Even though it was late, even though it wasn’t the day. We still celebrated.

I was tired. I’ve been opening my eyes to the truth of my childhood, including the truth of my parents and how they behaved. I wasn’t in the mood to be around them. I didn’t want to smile and act perfect. I didn’t want them to find me lacking, I wanted to still be perfect in their eyes. I didn’t know what I wanted. But I knew I was too tired to clean up and organize the house to my mother’s standards. Hubby told me to hide the mess.

“Put the dishes in the oven. Hide the toys, towels, laundry, whatever in out bedroom. Shut the door,” he said.

I thought about it. The idea seemed impossible. It was a lie. I wouldn’t really be perfect, and yet, my house would appear perfect. It would be fake. As fake as my “perfect” childhood. As fake as my “perfect parents.”

I went back and forth between it. Clean up. Leave things messy and face my mom and dad’s disgust. Put the dishes in the oven.

I put the damn dishes in the oven. 🙂

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Not a Drama Queen (Thursday’s therapy session part 1)

I decided to split this post up. Thursday’s therapy session ended up being very extra long, and a lot of things got talked about. The first half is covered in this post. The second half will be covered in the next post.

I walk in, unsettled, anxious. Why did I send Bea that list? The list saying I had a flashback?

“Hi,” she says, looking up from her chair as I sit down and curl up.

“Hi,” I say it, and I’m okay, I can talk.

“I got your list,” Bea tells me, “Was there something you maybe wanted to start with?”

I shake my head, quickly. I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s too much. I have no idea.

“Well, I’m really curious about your homework, and that you found a memory,” she tells me.

And so I tell her about rolling down the hill, but how I don’t really have a memory of it, I just know I rolled down the hill; I remember but I don’t. Like all my other memories. It’s so frusterating. But, we laugh together about the day my family had rolling down the hill, and how I showed Kat what to do, and what a good day that was.

You might not remember rolling down a hill, but your body clearly remembers rolling down a hill. You even went so far as to tell your daughter to do so, then show her how, and it felt how you expected, right down to the silly dizzy sensation and the giggles. That is a memory. And more so, you have another memory now, a really good memory, of your whole family rolling down hill. It sounds like you were wholly present during that time,” Bea says.

“Yeah, yeah, I was,” I’m smiling, remembering. It also feels wonderful to be told my not-memory is a memory. A little voice in the back of my mind whispers that’s it’s Bea’s job to tell me these things, even if it’s not true, but I “shush” the voice.

“It sounds like you don’t have memories of that kind of physical play with your parents,” Bea says.

I pause. I try to remember, to think. I shake my head. I don’t. I just don’t. I have memories of wrestling with my uncle Bryan, and of sobbing on my aunt Bethany’s shoulder. But I don’t have memories of those things with my parents.

“It seems most natural to talk about your mom because we are talking about family stuff. Do you still want to talk about your mom?” Bea asks.

I nod. She waits. She never has, but I have a feeling that she could wait a very long time if needed.

“Yeah. I wrote a letter. Not to send. Just…..I don’t know…..” I trail off. I don’t know what to say.

“I think that’s good, really good. Unsent letters can be really therapeutic,” she pauses for a minute, and then, “if you brought your letter, you could read it in session, if you felt comfortable. Something about hearing your words spoken aloud can be healing. So healing.”

“Maybe. Not today. Not right now,” I’m quickly defensive, on alert, ready to make excuses.

“No, not today. Not right now. One day, when you feel ready. It can be helpful,” Bea tells me.

“Oh. Okay.”

“Did writing that letter bring up a lot of feelings for you?” Bea asks.

I have a hard time answering, but finally say, “things I’m upset over I didn’t know I was.”

“Ahhhh,” Bea says.

“It might not have been intentional, but it doesn’t seem fair that they put that on me, that I had to be perfect to be loved.”

“It wasn’t fair,” Bea says, “I’m sad for that little girl who felt like she had to earn the right to be accepted.”

I’m quiet, but I’m crying, silently. I always cry at therapy theses days. When will the tears be over?

“What about when you got older? As a teen, when things fell apart?” Bea asks, “How did they act then?”

I shrink into myself, pull away. I don’t want to reexamine this time in my life. I had put it on the list, thinking that it was stuff that should be talked about. It doesn’t mean I want to do it. I just think Bea should know how sick and not okay I really was.

“What about when you were in the hospital, after you cut your wrists? How did your mom or dad act, treat you?”

“My mom always said and did the right thing when people were around.”

“What about later, when people weren’t around?” Bea asks me.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I know you said things always went back to normal, but how did they react to your behavior, immediately?” She asks.

My head is down, I can’t face her. I can’t tell her how much my parents hated me when I messed up, I can’t tell her just how screwed up I was, how badly I failed and see the look on her face.

“I don’t know. They took away my phone. The car when I had my lisence. It was always about me ruining my life. I don’t know.” I mumble it.

“Ohhh,” Bea makes a sympathetic sound, she sounds sad for me. “Did you mom ever just hug you, let you cry?”

My first instinct is to laugh, ask her what kind of question is that. To say “Huh? For why?” But instead I say, “No.” My voice turns up on the end, I’m curious why she would ask that.

“I don’t think she could do that for you. I don’t think she could handle your emotions, handle your pain, take that on, it would have been too much. She couldn’t even handle her own,” Bea offers an explanation, a reason.

I shrug. I don’t know. It doesn’t much matter anyways. I think I’m making too much out of nothing. I had a “charmed childhood.” My parents were well-off. I lived in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, I had everything I could ever want. Every toy, every class, every extra. I never wanted for anything. Who do I think I am, to be complaining? Boo hoo, poor little rich girl.

“Bea?” My voice wavers, I’m uncertain and scared.

“Yes?”

“I…am I …..am I being a drama queen?” I ask.

“No. No, I don’t think so. That’s probably a message you got from your parents,” she says gentley.

“They always called me that. Anyway time I was upset,” I say slowly.

“Yeah.” It’s like a nod, except my head is down, so Bea has to speak her “nods.”

“So I’m not being a drama queen?”

“No, not at all, not in my opinion. This, just this, would be enough to put someone in therapy, to isolate them and make it hard to trust people. Add in the sexual abuse, the fact that you felt unprotected by your mom, that just makes it a lot. A whole lot more to deal with. It’s not being a drama queen.”

I shake me head, unsure. I can’t figure out if I’m making a big deal out of nothing, or if I have stuff that is a big deal.

“Alice, you aren’t a drama queen. Not in anyway,” Bea says again.

Visit from the parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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