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.
“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?”
“Is it something we have talked about?”
“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.