You just gotta trust the process

It’s Wednesday and I’m still struggling with my memories not matching things. I’m back in Bea’s office, and I have writing– a lot of writing– to share with her. I’d written about the shame part, and how I wasn’t sure if the shame part and the instigator part were the same part or different parts. I’d also written that I (not the adult, but some part) would call the instigator the slutty part. Of course, I could never say that aloud, but there it was, in my journal.

Bea reads this, and stops reading to comment. “We can call this instigator part whatever she wants to be called or whatever you want to call her. If the slutty part is her name, then that’s her name. Another name for this part might be the seducer. I don’t remember exactly where I read, but in psychoanalytic theory, the seducer is a common part in sexual abuse cases.”

I don’t say anything. I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure if Bea is going to turn shrinky or not, and so I’m sort of just waiting to see where this goes. Bea goes back to reading when it’s clear I’m not going to speak. She pauses periodically and comments on something I’d written, and I don’t say anything. Most of my session went like this. I don’t know know why, when I have so much in my head, I can’t seem to speak.

Two years ago, Bea would have talked to me, using the words in my journal as if I were responding to her. Now though, she won’t let me get away with silence. “What’s going on in that head of yours? Hmmm? You’ve been so quiet today.” Her voice has this playful quality to it, but I know she is asking for real; asking because she cares.

I shrug and look down at my hands. I’ve been picking at my fingers again. “I don’t know. I just….this. It’s hard. It doesn’t match. Not like, like the little girl, she didn’t match, but it was….there was no question she was part of me, even when I didn’t like her. This….this part is different.”

“Because the feelings and thoughts are so outside of who you are, of things you value?”

“No….not like that…not exactly.” I couldn’t figure out how to explain it then, and I’m not even sure now, but this is what I do know. Bea is right in a way– the idea of a part of me being sexual and enjoying it makes me sick. I see it as bad. (I realize that sex is healthy normal part of life and isn’t bad, and I am not calling anyone who enjoys sex or who is sexual bad. It’s just this belief I’ve taken on about myself.) However, it’s not exactly this “shadow side” of myself that I can’t acknowledge. I think the difference between the little girl and this part is that the little girl’s experiences aligned with my own, and I didn’t know all of her memories at one time. Mostly, her memories lined up with the story I had always told myself about it all just being a fun game. And when fear or shame showed up in these memories, it was after I had been working through things with Bea for a while. By then, I could at least feel those things in the moment, when the little girl was running things, and she could get her feelings out, and then they would be all but gone once the adult was back in control. It took a long time — almost 4 years — for all the awfulness of the little girl’s memories to come to light. Now this shame part and this instigator part, all their feelings, all their memories, everything about them and their perspectives are all right here. It’s a lot. I think if I had been hit with the little girl’s experiences, filter free, all at once, it would have felt as if she didn’t match in a very big way. Just like these parts now feel.

Bea tries to follow this thread, but it doesn’t go very far. Or maybe I can’t let her take it very far. Either way, this wasn’t a conversation I was willing to keep having.

All session, it felt like we were each wanting to talk about these things, wanting to work on it, but some part of me just wasn’t going to let Bea in. I don’t know. We kept missing each other. I think it would have continued on like that until the very end, except Bea took another stab in the dark, and asked, “What does the little girl think about the instigator part?”

I knew, instantly I knew what the little girl thought. It took me a minute to answer Bea, though, because I felt a little silly. “She’s mad. She just.. she’s mad.”

“Mad at the instigator? Can she say more about that?” Bea is curious. There is no judgment in her voice, she’s just glad to have found a way in.

“She’s ruining everything! I just want her to go away! To shut up and go away!”

“The instigator is ruining everything?” Bea asks. I nod, and so she continues. “What is she ruining?”

“Everything.” I’m exasperated. Didn’t I just say that? Didn’t I just tell Bea that the instigator is ruining everything?

“Can you tell me more about everything? I know she is ruining everything, but what does everything mean?” Beas voice is soft now, she is not talking to grown up Alice, she is talking to little Alice, and she is very aware of that.

“This. You. She’s going to ruin this.” I whisper this, but it is a whisper that contains all the emotions of a scream; anger, fear, vulnerability.

“Ahhhh, Okay. I see. You are afraid she is going to ruin the relationship.” Bea sounds as if it all makes sense to her now.

“Maybe.” The single word is said in a teeny tiny voice, but it tries to sound as if this doesn’t matter at all.

“I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not going to stop caring about you or stop believing your story just because we let this other part be heard.” Bea reassures the little girl again. How does she never tire of reassuring me that she isn’t leaving? It’s pretty incredible.

“Okay.”

“Would it be okay with the little girl if we checked in with the instigator? I’m curious if she has something to say about the little girl being mad at her?” Bea is careful to keep her voice neutral as she asks this.

“I guess that’s okay.” I agree, but only because I’m pretty sure that if I’d said no, Bea would have been supportive of that.

“Well then…..I will say to the instigator part, did she hear the little girl speaking? Does she have anything she would like to say about the little girl being mad at her? Or just anything she would like to say?”

As Bea was speaking, I’d been feeling ridiculous, but as she finishes her question, I just know the answer. It’s strange, yes, but I knew the answer. “I feel a little silly….. but, well, the instigator is mad at the little girl.”

“She is? Why is she mad?” Bea asks. She sounds a little surprised, but it’s sort of like surprised that the instigator was willing to talk.

“Because….well, I guess it’s sort of like that kid thing of if you are mad at me, then I’m gonna be mad back at you. You know?”

“Hmmm, yeah. I do know. So she’s only mad because the little girl is mad at her?” Bea is trying to get more information.

“I think so.” I shrug. I’m not sure.

“What does the little girl think about that?” I have my face buried in my knees, but I can see Bea’s feet. She uncrosses her legs and puts both feet flat on the floor.

My first answer is that I don’t know. But I sit silently, thinking of the question and directing it to the little girl. “I don’t care. She ruined everything before. She wanted…..she did things that started….he hurt me and she wanted him to do it! I hate her!” My voice breaks as I’m speaking and the tears come. I hate the instigator. She just went along with everything. She started things. He hurt me, and she helped him do it. I hate this part.

“Yeah. Of course, of course you do. He did hurt you, and you couldn’t stop it. You did everything you could to escape it–that the dissociation, right? How can you begin to understand how she could instigate things with him, after all you went through?” She is so full of empathy and understanding, I can actually feel it. It’s like being wrapped up in a safe, warm hug. Bea lets that sit for a moment before asking, “What about the instigator? Does she have anything to she would like to say?”

It doesn’t take long for me to *hear* the instigator’s voice in my head. “She is upset. She feels like, well, if the little girl hadn’t been so dumb, so stupid to trust him, to go along with it all, to believe it was just a game, then, well, she wouldn’t have had to do the things she did.”

“Yeah. There were real reasons that the instigator did what she did. She was trying to protect herself, protect all the parts.”

That little bit of empathy for the instigator is all it takes for shame to show up. I think I’m going to be sick. I’m far away, in a flash, before I can even stop to think about grounding myself. I want to disappear. I think how that I dream of Genie trick, where you wiggle your nose and disappear, well that would be a great trick to have right about now.

“What just happened? Where did you go?” Bea asks. She’s gotten really good at knowing when I’ve gone far away.

“Not here.” The answer sounds sassy, but it’s really just all the words I can get out right now.

“Here didn’t feel very safe all of a sudden. What happened?” Bea says softly.

“I’m disgusting.” I gag on the words. Shame is so strong right now.

“I don’t think so. What made you feel that right now?”

“I…..it’s….. because of the things I did.”

“And maybe my acknowledgment of those things that the instigator did?” Bea adds this in gently, but she is fully aware that being *seen* can be a huge trigger for me.

“No…maybe. I don’t know. It’s more…it is not…..9 year old girls are not supposed to know about, much less do those things, and want them! No, ewww……just ick.” I’m crying as I speak, and trying to curl into the smallest ball I can. I need to hide. I don’t want to be seen anymore.

“Well, no, 9 year old girls shouldn’t know about those things. They don’t choose to know about them.” Bea’s voice is soft. I like how she always uses the same words I use to describe things, unless she is trying to help me use those words that I find impossible to say.

“See? Normal 9 year old girls don’t do those things! I’m sick. I’m sick and twisted and disgusting.” I sob.

“Normal,” Bea says thoughtfully. “You were normal. It is absolutely normal for a girl who was victimized to look for connection in that way. Yes, you were completely normal. You aren’t disgusting, or sick or twisted. He was sick and twisted, to sexually touch a little girl, to turn that act of betrayal into a game, to make it because he loved you and you were special. He is disgusting, not you. You behaved in a way that was normal for your history.”

I don’t say anything. I can’t wrap my head around that.

“Alice? Are you here enough to have heard me?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I heard you.” My voice sounds thick, like I’ve been drugged. I’m just that far away.

“What does shame think about that?”

I don’t answer. Shame thinks Bea is wrong, that I’ve really pulled one over on her, or that maybe she just doesn’t want to see the truth of the awful things I did. I shake my head. “I don’t wanna talk anymore right now, k?” I mumble to Bea.

“Okay. We don’t have to talk right now.” She goes on to talk about everyday type stuff. She tells me about her dogs, and her trip she is going on over the weekend, and just random conversational stuff.

When I am more present, I look up at her. “I feel silly. And crazy. All this….mismatch memories and feelings and parts being mad at each other? I feel crazy.”

“You aren’t crazy. This is just the process. It’s working through a lot of really deeply buried feelings and beliefs. It gets better, and becomes less crazy making over time. You know that from past times you have felt like this.”

“And in the meantime, I just get to feel crazy and silly?” Even though I am serious that I feel silly and crazy, with the adult back in charge, I feel okay, and my question comes out good-naturedly.

She smiles at me. “That’s the process.”

I groan, interrupting her. “And we just have to trust the process, right?” I punctuate the question with a giggle.

Bea laughs with me. “Yup. You just gotta trust the process.”

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When things don’t match

“It doesn’t match!” It’s Monday, and I’m back in Bea’s office, sitting in my spot on the couch. We spent some time talking about my *grown-up* life, and although we could have spent all of our time chatting like that, Bea has directed us to things under the surface. She asked about our last session and if I’d been able to do any writing about things not matching.

“Something really isn’t matching up for you,” she says, “Can you tell me what doesn’t match?”

Last week, I really didn’t have the words for what didn’t match. It was just a feeling, a very strong feeling, that nothing matches. Now, I have the words, but I’m too embarrassed to say them. “I don’t know,” I say, instead. After a moment, I shake my head. “That’s not right. I do know. I just can’t say it.”

“Did you write about it?” She asks.

“No. Not really. I just…it’s hard. This is hard.” I haven’t covered my face yet, but I want to.

“It is hard. We can take our time with this. There’s no rush.” Her words remind me that she is here, and she isn’t leaving. I remember that she has said that she would never willing stop seeing me, that she will never fire me.

“Maybe…..can I have my blanket?” I cringe as I whisper this request, still so embarrassed that I behave like such a child at times.

Bea, however, doesn’t bat an eyelash. She gets up and grabs my turquoise blanket, unfolding it and laying it over my lap. My fingers grab onto the edges and hold on tightly. After a moment, I yank the blanket over my head and hide. It’s a relief, to not be seen, to be hidden like this. It’s also mortifying that I need this in order to feel even remotely safe enough to talk. (Now, as I’m writing this, the grown up thinks this is progress. I used to only talk in the safety of email. That first year, more therapy took place outside of my sessions than during them. This must be progress. I actually speak now, and I will share memories and painful feelings in my sessions.)

“I ummm….I….” I try to talk, I really do, but I can’t get the words out. They stick to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter.

“We were talking before about things not matching.” The prompt is gentle, a reference point to help me find what I was trying to say.

“My memories…….since things, since the filter is gone, it’s like…….I don’t know. My memories and things, they don’t match.” I’m aware that what I’m saying might not make a lot of sense, I’ve left so much out. It’s the best I can do at the moment.

“Can you tell me about the things that don’t match with your memories?”

I can feel myself going farther and farther away, but I can’t stop it. It’s like my head has been filled with helium and I’ve got this lovely floaty feeling. “It’s like, now the little girl doesn’t have to hide anymore from the reality of what happened because the filter is gone and so she has been able to stop tricking herself and the grown up can see so clearly that the little girl didn’t do anything wrong. But then, there’s……I’ve been having dreams and I just….well. I don’t know, I guess it’s that these memories the little girl holds, the scary things and the wanting to hide so nothing bad would happen, those things don’t match with these other memories. It’s………….you know. They don’t match with things I did, with things I felt.” My face feels like I have a sunburn.

“The little girl is right; she did not do anything wrong, and she is not bad. I wonder if this is a parts thing?” Bea is quick to reassure that the little girl is not bad.

“Maybe. Right now I’d really like to disappear.”

“That sounds like shame. Could this be a part we haven’t met yet?”

I think for what feels like a second but is probably much longer. Bea eventually asks if I’m here, so I know it must have been a long pause. “I……it’s sort of like maybe this part was mixed up with the little girl but now……it’s separate.”

“Mmmhmmm. That makes sense. This shame part is feeling a lot of blame and guilt.”

“I……well, yeah.”

“Can we talk about that?” She asks this carefully, speaking softly.

“I–I–I don’t know. I’m scared.”

“Let’s start there, then. You’re scared to talk about shame. I get that. Shame feels really awful. It can feel way too exposing to discuss our shame.”

“I’m afraid if we talk about this, then you will see the truth.”

“And what truth is that?”

“That I did this. That I wanted this. That I’ve somehow tricked you by leaving things out, or by twisting things, I don’t know! But you’ll finally realize that I am awful and then….never mind.” I stop myself before I can finish the sentence.

“And then I will leave?” It doesn’t matter that I cut off my words, Bea finishes them for me.

“Yeah. That.” I whisper this, wanting to throw up as I speak.

“That won’t happen.” Her voice is confident, sure.

“You can’t know that,” I argue.

“I know most of the details of your story. I know the things you think you did, and I can say that as someone on the outside, I will never view any of this as your fault.”

“You don’t know. You don’t know what’s in my head.”

“No, I don’t know what is in your head, but I do know that this is not your fault.” She pauses for a moment and then says, “I promise you that no matter what it is that is in your head, I’m not leaving.”

Her voice sounds so serious, and I believe she means it, so I blurt out the thing in my head. “It’s the things I felt. You know. Felt like…….physical felt. It’s the things I wanted to do.” Even under the blanket, even being so far away, I still wish the floor would open up and swallow me whole.

“Ahhh…….mmmhmm,” she murmurs, with this tone that says it makes sense to her, and is not surprising. I’m far, far away now, because to be present and tell those things is impossible. I think she reminds me that we have talked about this before, and it’s okay to talk about. She says something about how our bodies are made to respond, and that is normal. Her words are a blur in my brain; I was too far away to hold onto her words. She uses the word intensity, and talks about how all of the feelings I had then would have been very intense, and that is where the trauma comes in. She says that I was too young for all those intense feelings, hence the dissociation. There was something about the excitement, and maybe feeling like you were getting away something. She said there is a feeling of power and control in being the one to start something. I think there was something said ……….about maybe there was an initiator part, or perhaps the initiator and shame are the same part. I know there was more said, more explained and more empathized with and validated, but I can’t recall her words more than that.

At some point I sense silence, and I tell Bea, “I’m not here. I mean, I’m here, but I’m not here. I can’t, I just. I am not here.”

“I know,” she says simply, and then, “That was really good to notice that you are out of your window.”

“Your window,” I remind her. Even though I’m okay with the idea of the window of tolerance now, and actually find it helpful to use the terminology, I still always correct Bea that it is her window, not my window. It’s an inside joke between us.

“Okay, my window. Let’s see if we can get you back in the window.” I can hear the smile in her tone.

“I don’t want to,” I tell her.

“Okay.” That’s all she says. Way back when she first started with the window of tolerance stuff, I had felt extremely threatened, and been terrified Bea was going to force me to be present or not allow me to talk about my traumas unless I was in her window. She had made me two promises back then: she would never force me to be present, and that she would always let me talk. Bea has kept those promises.

I sit under my blanket, holding onto the edges, feeling floaty and not happy exactly but okay. I feel like if I just stay here, in this far away place, I will be okay.

“Can we check in on the little girl? You don’t have to come back right now, I just want to make sure she is okay.”

“She’s worried. She thinks if we let this new part talk, you will decide she lied and that she is disgusting and you will not want to help her.” There is also a lot of fear that Bea will stop caring about her, but I can’t add that. It’s complicated, but it comes down to the fact that I don’t feel as if I deserve to even assume another person cares about me. I’m not allowed to matter.

Bea starts to ask if the grown up can reassure the little girl, but she stops herself. “I want to tell the little girl that she is safe now. She survived something horrific, and I know it often feels like you are still living that. It is over now, and you are safe now. You aren’t alone now. If we listen to this other part, that does not mean you will be forgotten about, or that your story won’t be believed. I believe you, and I do not find you gross. You can talk whenever you want to, and I’ll check in with you, too. I know this is hard, but I think it is important to let this other part speak. I believe that working through the shame this other part feels will help you and all the other parts. Even though I want to listen to another part, that doesn’t mean you don’t matter to me. I care about you, and all the other parts. That doesn’t just go away. Okay?”

“Okay,” I whisper. I’m more here than I was before, although I’m still far enough away to not avoid feeling all the vulnerability that comes with being told someone who really knows me cares about me.

I somehow manage to get enough here that I can safely leave. As I’m heading down the stairs, Bea says one more thing to the little girl. “You can write to me or draw me a picture if you have more to say, and can’t hold it. The grown up can help send an email. Any of the parts, if they have more to say, or just need to feel some connection, to know I’m here and can help hold this stuff, they can email. Okay?”

“Okay.” I leave, knowing I probably won’t send an email, but thankful that she is there and willing to help all the parts.

Transitions and internal shifts

Things are shifting right now. I’m in a transition and it’s incredibly painful. The last few weeks, Bea and I have been focusing on the details of memory, and so many questions have been brought up. If it was just a game, why do I remember this awful feeling of something bad was going to happen? Why can I feel those evil butterflies flapping around in my belly when I remember? Why do I want nothing more than to curl up in a ball, hide, disappear, to become invisible? Why do I remember pain and wanting to move away, to push him away? If it was nothing more than a fun, innocent, game, a special secret, then why do I hold all these bad feelings around the memories of this game?

In focusing on these details, a filter has been removed. This filter saved me when I was a child, a teen, a young woman newly engaged, a new mother. It kept me safe, and now it’s gone. I can no longer look at my past as a fun game; my childhood wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows and sunshine. There was a darkness, a cloud that covered the sun, and I can see it so clearly now. The filter twisted things, it made it seem as if I had a choice, as if I were in control, as if it was my fault. But you know what? That filter is gone now, and It wasn’t my fault.

Bea has spent years of therapy telling me it wasn’t my fault, telling me she didn’t believe I had done anything to cause any of this. She would acknowledge that I believed otherwise, and then continue to insist it was not my fault. There have been other points in therapy when this filter has begun to be removed, when I’ve see the dark clouds, when I’ve begun to question things. Each time, I’ve run from it, fought to get that filter back. Whether it was a rupture with Bea, or Ms. Perfect taking over and finding a bubble, or being flooded with memories where I *clearly* was in control, I’ve run.

This time has been different. A rupture did happen; one that Bea helped create, but one that I added to. I told myself she didn’t care, that she didn’t want to deal with me or my memories, that these details were going to break her and cause her to go away. In the past, I would have gone to therapy pretending all was well, and refused to discuss what happened. This time, there was enough of that wise, grounded grown up on board to actually talk through the rupture with Bea, and to find a repair. That’s not to say Bea never tried to find a repair in the past, but that’s hard to do when Ms. Perfect is running the show. In the past, the repair was never allowed to happen until the filter was firmly back in place. This time, the filter is still gone. I think it might still exist somewhere, and if I really reached for it, I could lock it back in place. But I don’t want to. This feels far too important, as if I’m moving forward on this path of healing.

I’m not exactly sure what this means, or where it will lead. I know the crisis I was in a few weeks ago was due to the filter being gone and my world being flipped upside down. I know that we are going to have to move slowly with this, and that it’s going to take a lot of time for my world to be flipped right side up again. I know things inside me are shifting and changing, and that on the outside that can look like a hot mess sometimes.

Last week, while reading my notebook, Bea asked what it meant for the filter to be gone. I shrugged. It means so much, I can hardly wrap my head around it. The only answer I had for her was, “I don’t know.”

“Take a minute, really think about,” she insists, because she is aware my *I don’t knows* can be a reflex, and I very well may know.

So, I thought about it, and Bea continued reading. “Okay, you talk about that here. It means different things for different parts. Can we talk about that?”

I shrug, and then nod. Then I realize Bea can’t see me because I’m hiding under the blanket. “Okay, let’s talk about that.”

“Ms. Perfect has some strong feelings about the filter being gone.” Bea steers me towards talking about the parts, as if she knows I’d sit there in silence for the entire session otherwise.

“Ms. Perfect wants to stay on the surface and ignore it all. She’s afraid things will fall apart if she doesn’t get the filter back.”

“She’s made sure you could function all those years before. But things are different now. You are stronger. You have more coping skills and you have more support. You don’t have to be pretend anymore.” Her voice is gentle, she’s not going to try to push Ms. Perfect into believing this right now.

“Yeah….but….there’s…before….I mean last week, no, two weeks ago…everything….I just…”

“You ended up feeling really alone, struggling to cope. I can’t promise that will never happen again, but I think we have a good plan in place now to prevent it as best we can. And you did find support from others, even if it wasn’t what you really were wanting.”

“Yeah. I did…people I didn’t even think….well, they were there. But it’s not the same as you because you know everything, you know how bad it really feels.” I’m sad, remembering how bad it felt that week. It was like Bea disappeared.

“I know it’s not the same. Sometimes we have to accept support even when it’s not from someone who knows the depth of our pain. And that’s okay. I know it was a bad week. And I am very sorry I added to the pain.” She’s apologizing again. I feel bad about this, but it’s nice to hear, too. It’s comforting to know she is aware she hurt me and that she feels bad about it.

“The teen is scared that you will disappear when the world flips upside down again,” I whisper.

“Of course she is. She’s been defending you and protecting everyone for so long, of course she would be worried about that. Maybe angry with me, too, for disappearing when she and little Alice needed me. She might be wondering if I’m trustworthy now.”

“I don’t know. She’s just very scared you will go away again, even if you say you won’t.”

“I know. I can’t change her mind. But I’d like to let her know I’m here, I’m not going anywhere. Even when we have ruptures like that, I will always work through them with her. Always.” Bea’s voice is dead serious. She has the mom tone I get when I want Kat to really take in what I am saying to her.

“Maybe okay.” I shrug.

“What about the little girl? I’m sure she is having some big feelings about the filter being gone.”

“She’s scared.” I answer automatically and then add, “It’s like if someone so nice can be so scary, how can I ever know if nice is really just nice? Anyone could be scary.”

“Is that the little girl or the grownup?”

“I dunno. Maybe…..both?”

“It sounds like the grown up trying to make sense of the little girl’s feelings. And that all does make sense. It’s understandable to feel that way. What is the little girl thinking?” Bea tries again to get little Alice to talk to her.

“I can’t talk to you! I don’t wanna hurt you. I don’t want you to leave!”

“There’s the little girl. You really felt like I went away because of you, didn’t you?” Her voice is softer now, and soothing to little Alice.,

“I just….I just…I never should’ve gave you my pictures!”

“Oh, but I am so glad you were brave enough to let me see them. They were really helpful in showing me how you feel and what you are dealing with. It showed me that this is a lot, and that you really needed me and it hurt that I didn’t get it. I get it now. And it’s not too much. Any details you want to tell me, anything at all, even words you don’t like, it’s okay. I can handle it. I will be okay, and I’ll help you handle it, too.” Something in Bea’s voice turns this into a promise, because she really, really means it.

“I didn’t hurt you? I didn’t make you go away?”

“Nope. Not at all.”

“Okay.” It’s a whisper, but I believe her. Little Alice believes her, too.

“Can you tell me what it means to you that the filter is gone?” Bea asks, going back to her original question.

“Scary.” It’s mumbled, but clear enough Bea hears.

“Yeah, it is scary. Is there anything else? Maybe some mad, or other feelings?” She asks gently.

“He tricked me.”

“He did trick you. That doesn’t feel very good, does it?”

“I never want to be tricked like that again!” The words are loud in this space where I am usually all whispers and silences searching for words.

“No, of course not. There’s some conviction there. He tricked you, and you never want to be tricked again!” She echoes my tone, but I think there might be pride there, too. Is that possible? Could she be proud of me?

“No. Not ever.” The words are firm, a boundary of sorts. I feel strong inside, and a little scared to be so firm in what I’m saying. I don’t feel strong on the outside, but inside, in that moment, I am a giant, I am Wonder Woman, I can do anything.

“Yes! He tricked you and you never want to be tricked again! How does that feel to say that?”

I shake my head. I don’t know. This is maybe the first time the little girl has ever set a boundary or thought about saying no. I don’t know what it feels like. It’s like taking the first step on the moon; scary, and exhilarating, and amazing, and nervous making.

Bea says something, but I’m not hearing her. I’m too far away. “Don’t go too far away, okay? Come back a little.” She says it playfully, there’s no force involved.

I’m struggling to come back, but she realizes this and changes direction. ” So, the filter being gone really feels like it changes things, doesn’t it?” Her tone is that of an adult speaking to another adult, and that helps.

“The filter being gone changes everything. Well, everything for me, even if it changes nothing for you. There is a new realization that you never had a filter, you never had this filter that made you see everything as my fault, did you?”

“No, I’ve never thought it was your fault. Not ever.” She confirms.

“For me though, it means the story of Kenny changes, but it also means the story of my mom changes, and the story of who I am changes. It brings up all kinds of questions. Looking at those details changes everything,” I say, quietly.

Bea wonders why, what made this change occur? “It feels sudden to me, in a lot of ways. It’s not been a slow realization. Maybe that’s just how it happens, I don’t know what I thought, really, how I expected it to be. I suppose, given how difficult it was for you to accept my words, and to even try on the idea of it not being your fault, I thought it would be this slow progression. What do you think it was, the thing that broke through that filter?”

I sigh, this feels like a huge question, with a big answer. “I think it’s all the seeds planted in the last few years, and how the last few weeks have been like water and food for those seeds. Seeing the details of memory, actually feeling them and focusing on the somatic things that come up, it was like giving those seeds sunlight. it made those seeds grow until I could no longer ignore them. The seeds grew strong enough to remove the filter. That filter was like a weed that would not allow the seeds to grow. It was strong. But the sunlight was stronger, and the seeds did grow.”

After I’m done talking, and Bea is very silent, I’m embarrassed. Maybe my explanation was dumb. It sounded good in my head, but it was poetic and weird to say aloud. What was I thinking? I should have just said I don’t know.

“That makes perfect sense. All those details brought questions to light you couldn’t ignore.” When she finally speaks, it feels like hours later, but really it’s probably just a minute or two. She sounds sort of amazed. “It wasn’t so quick then, it was just happening inside where I can’t go and see what changes and shifts are occurring.”

I’m quiet, because I don’t really know what to say. There’s so much in my head, but it’s all jumbled and mixed together and there are too many questions to answer today, anyways.

“I just want to take a few minutes to read the rest of your writing, is that okay?”

“Okay. You should read it. That’s a good idea.” I agree.

A moment later, and Bea is done reading. “I think you are right, when you say here that we need to just stay with the little girl, and the details, and that desire to move, and the fact the filter is gone. This is big. It’s a lot, and it’s going to take time to make sense of.”

Just like that, I’m back in the details, and thinking of wanting to push him away, and what that means that I didn’t, couldn’t push him away.

And then Bea is talking, and it’s terrible. She’s saying how we should focus on the little girl’s conviction of *he tricked me and I never want to be tricked again.* Shes telling me that we can reassure the little girl the grown up won’t let us be tricked again, and that the grown up can hang onto those convictions this week, because it’s important. She’s wondering if the teen can hear the little girl’s adamancy that she never be tricked again, if the teen can see the little girl is getting stronger, and the teen can maybe not need to defend against everyone on the outside so much?

Bea is talking, and I want to cry. She just wants me to be okay. She’s wrapping it all up in this neat bow again, and I hate it. She doesn’t care. She needs me to leave here okay, so I can be okay during the week and not bother her.

And just as I’m almost at this edge, this line I cross when I’m hurt and emotionally abandoned; this line that allows Ms. Perfect to take over, Bea realizes what she is doing. “Oh no. I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Go back, pretend I didn’t say anything. This doesn’t have to end in a nice neat bow. I wasn’t thinking about that, and I’m sorry.”

I peek out from the blanket, still covering most of my face and all of me. Bea looks crestfallen and horrified that she started down that path. “It’s okay,” I tell her.

“Well, it’s not okay, but I want you to know, all the feelings are okay. I don’t need you to be okay. I suppose I was just thinking I wanted you to leave with something that let you feel strong. Just pretend I didn’t say anything, okay?” She’s back pedaling, and trying hard to fix it in the last few minutes of my session. I’m glad she realized what she was doing, and it helps that she realized she was hurting me, and stopped and is sorry, but it still hurts.

Bea talks some more, just normal things, trying to help me regulate. It doesn’t really make a difference at this point. I’ve gone faraway, to the place that lets me act normal even when I am feeling hurt and abandoned. I fold up the blanket and pack my things, making chit chat and smiling and nodding.

Before I leave, Bea stops me and makes eye contact. “You are okay however you feel right now. I’m very sorry I started to end things like that. If you need to email, I’m here.”

“It’s okay, we can talk about it on Wednesday,” I tell her. Then we say our goodbyes, and I head to the car feeling this strange combination of numb and present.

Choices

This is Wednesday, 11/15’s session. It’s the session that led to all the upset and mess this last week. As you will see, a lot came up, but it was actually a good session, and I left feeling quite stable.

Even though there isn’t a lot of movement going on, this session is still very much full of SP type work, so this is another way an SP session might look (at least for Bea and I) , for those of you who are curious about it.

____________________________________________________

“Should we start with the nightmares, start there with the sick something bad is going to happen feeling?” Bea asks, after we’ve caught up on day to day things.

I don’t say anything, only offering a shrug. I’ve moved from that adult place to little girl in an instant.

“Or we could check in with the the little girl. She looks sad.”

I still can’t find my words. Everything feels too exposed. I curl up, hiding my face.

“Maybe she’s wishing the grown up would ask for a blanket?”

“Maybe.” I whisper, refusing to ask. The grown up is not going to be pushed into helping the little girl. (Maybe that was more teen…..) Finally, I give up. Sitting here saying nothing isn’t going to help anyone. “Can I have a blanket?”

Bea gets me my blanket, and I hide under it. “Or we could start somewhere else. There are Choices, and you can make them,” she reminds me.

“I don’t like choices.” I say.

“Why not?”

“Because one will be wrong.” There’s a tone of frustration in my voice, this feeling of *why don’t you know that?*

“Where is that coming from, I wonder?” Bea asks.

“It’s spilt 1) having choices and trying to make the one my mom would want, so i don’t mess up and make her upset 2)it’s…..I don’t….ugh….it’s messy.”

“1 is very clear, and 2 is more mixed up, but you are very clear on what 1 is. Why is 2 mixed up?”

“Because. Because, it’s….it’s like I had a choice and made a bad choice.” I’m struggling to make sense of exactly what it is I’m trying to tell Bea. It’s a very mixed up feeling and it’s hard to find the words to it.

“With what?”

“Kenny. But….then…..if it….ugh.” I’m panicking a little bit.

“If what?” Bea pushes a bit.

“If I had choice then why those other memories? And now the sick feeling is back.” The words tumble out, fast, one after the other.

“The sick feeling. Where is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“How do you know you are having it? What makes you recognize it?”

“Because I had it before.” Little girl answer. She is fully running the ship at the moment.

“Yes, lots of times before.” Bea agrees.

“Yeah.”

“Where is it?” She asks again.

Silence.

“Is it in your big toe?” Her tone is light, playful.

“No.” I laugh. What a silly idea. People don’t feel things in their big toes. “In my belly. It’s…butterflies. But not, because butterflies are nice. Something not nice.”

“Butterflies are pretty aren’t they? Maybe it’s like ugly, evil butterflies?”

“Yeah.” I nod. “And it’s hard to breathe.”

“Sit with that feeling, try to stay with it. I know it’s hard.” She says softly. “I’m right here.”

I get panicky, the body feeling, the sick feeling is too much. Bea goes to the feelings, emotions, to try to help separate things and calm down. She explains this idea. But it’s too much and too hard to figure out the feelings. She talks to me about how we can use thoughts too.

“Thoughts are good. That’s words.” I tell her.

“Yes, and you like words. Words make you feel safe.”

“Yes.”

“Do you have words now?” She asks.

I say something, a memory or thought. That it’s all a mess.

“It is a mess. Does the grown up have words to share?”

I struggle to find grown up. Then. “Maybe. I don’t know. Words are easier but not always easy.”

“That sounds like the grownup.” Bea says. I’m struck by how well she can recognize the parts.

I smile because she knows me. “It’s…hard. Because all those details….it’s like when we first took out all the rocks and then looked at them, we didn’t really look at the sharp edges, the details, we looked at the whole rock. It’s easier to gloss over the details and then the little girl can think like……it’s my choice, I started it, I caused it, it was my fault, I did this, I did that.”

“All those old beliefs that she still holds.” Bea’s voice is sad.

“Yeah. When we look at the details then it’s like…..it can’t be a choice when (and at this point the little girl is back in control)…..I can feel…..I can’t move and I want to move but he isn’t letting me.”

“No, you couldn’t move. And that was so scary. But that’s over now, it’s not happening now.”

Silence.

“It’s confusing too, isn’t it? That she feels like she had a choice, and it has felt like that for so long, and then to come face to face with the idea she wanted to move and couldn’t.” Bea is spot on. It’s all very, very confusing. It’s hard to realize something you believed for so long isn’t true, especially when those beliefs have kept you feeling as if you had some control.

“I really want to move. I mean then, I wanted to move.” The past and the present are getting mixed up in my head.

“I know. The little girl, she was alone then, and had no know to tell. But you told me, and I believe you. I believe that you wanted to move and that he wouldn’t let you.”

“You really believe me?” My voice is small, the idea that she believes me and doesn’t think I did something bad is hard to take in.

“I really do.”

I want to ask if she would have believed me then, if she knew me then, but I can’t. It’s too scary to ask.

“Is there movement that the little girl wants to make now? Just take a minute and feel.”

“I don’t know.”

“Does she feel safe right now? Does the little girl feel like she could move if she needed or? Or is she frozen?” Bea tries to help me figure out what the little girl needs to do.

“I…well. No. I don’t know. Yes. Move. But there’s no time left.”

“It’s 10:10. So you have a few minutes.” She says softly.

“No. It’s not enough.” I insist. I know myself well enough to know if I try to do any movement, it is going to take forever and then feel rushed and scary because I don’t have enough time.

“Maybe you could complete one movement?” She suggests. I think she doesn’t want me to leave feeling like something was unfinished, but to the teen it feels like she is pushing because she wants me to do SP.

“No. It’s….it takes too long to decide to move. It’s scary. It makes me feel scared.”

“I know. It’s new. Being able to move is new.” Bea gets it.

“Well I can move my arms, but it’s….when it’s with…like linked to details.” It is strange to me, how scary it can be to move within the context of a trauma memory. I mean, it’s not like I have problems moving in my everyday life.

“I know. That’s a scary thing.” She agrees.

“Yeah. Next time we can try. Not today.” I say softly.

“Okay. Okay, that’s good. What does that feel like? To be in control enough to choose to do something next time?”

I shrug. More questions I can’t answer. I’m tired of paying attention. I don’t want to feel anymore.

“Can you pay attention to what it feels like to listen to the part of you that knows you need more time?”

“I….well. I don’t know.”

“What is it that let you know you need more time? That allowed you to listen to your needs? Can you find that wise part of yourself?” It’s important to Bea that I experience being in control and making a choice, but I’m not sure I want to fully feel it.

I sit quietly trying to figure it out, to feel what let me know I needed moe time, and then finally I say, “Bea. I just don’t know.”

“Okay. That’s okay. ”

“I mean I really don’t know. Not I don’t know because I don’t want to talk about it or think about it or feel it.” And I truly don’t know.

“So there are different kinds of I don’t knows. That’s good to recognize, too.” She says.

I don’t say anything.

“Is there anything the grown up could tell the little girl, to help soothe her?”

I sit for what feels like hours. And then I say, “No.” It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

“That’s okay. We will keep working on this. Maybe this week, just think about what it was like going between the grown up and the little girl, and what it was like trying to get them to communicate.”

I freeze. My heart feels icy and on fire all at once. “The little girl doesn’t want the grown up.” I tell her. It’s as close as I can come to saying *I’m afraid you are trying to cut yourself out. The little girl doesn’t want the grown up, she wants you. And this feels like you leaving— or laying the groundwork so you can leave.

Bea says that it’s okay for the little girl to be unsure about the grown up, that the little girl has to learn to trust the grown up and that can take time. I shrug. I don’t want to talk about this right now.

We wrap things up then, because I have to leave to go babysit Kay’s baby. (Yes, that Kay. We are slowly rebuilding our friendship and it’s a much healthy, equal type of friendship. It’s good.)

Parts mixed up

Trigger warning. Negative coping skills mentioned and CSA mentioned.

**********************************

So yesterday (Wednesday) after therapy (which I haven’t posted about), I was okay, maybe a little distanced but okay. As the day went on, more and more feelings came up and by 7:00pm last night, the little girl wanted to hide, to disappear forever and the teen wanted to stuff her face and throw up or hurt herself. I ended up emailing Bea at 12:30am because I didn’t know what else to do.

Hi Bea,

So, I was starting to do some writing and then I realized things were more confused in my head than I thought and the little girl is scared and sad and I just thought, I could hold onto this the rest of the week, but I don’t think that will be a good thing. I just don’t think I can hold all the parts feelings by myself right now. It got messy and mixed up so fast, and I just can’t hold it all and be the present and grounded and more healthy Alice I am. I yelled at Kat today–  (and she’s okay, and I’m okay, and I had 2 friends validate the frustration and tell me I’m okay and Kat’s okay, and so I’m not just hiding, but……..it still feels bad) she deserved to be in trouble for a sassy attitude and rude and disrespectful behavior, but I gave her a lecture that would rival the guilt laden lectures my parents loved to give me. Maybe she needed something like that, because nothing else has nipped that behavior in the bud, but she didn’t need to be lectured for the hour drive home and then punished (to write apology letters). That was too much. And I think it happened, at least in part, (and this feels like a BIG thing I’ve just figured out and put into words) because the parts are all stirred up and conflicted and that makes me feel more of the here not here (and more of the not here than here this afternoon), so I miss the impact of my outward behavior. It’s almost like for me to “feel” the mad or the disappointment or whatever it has to be extra HUGE because I’m so far away. I mean, it’s sort of a comfortable, familiar feeling, this far away, but the more I experience something different, the more I realize how much damage being far away can do. I see and feel more and more why it was needed back then, but isn’t needed now and why it’s not healthy to keep using the far away as my go to coping skill.

But, anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent, and this is what I was beginning to write in my notebook about and was trying to email about:

The little girl doesn’t want the grown up. That’s what I told you. It’s as close as I could come to saying:

I’m afraid you are trying to cut yourself out. The little  girl doesn’t want the grown up, she wants you. And this feels like you leaving— or laying the groundwork so you can leave. I know it’s your job to push me, but this is too much change all at once. I’m doing sensorimotor, even if it’s with your and my own twist to it, and I’m revising how I think of healing, and I’m figuring out how to stay in the present and keep the ick in the therapy box and I’m facing this scary huge thing (otherwise known as ‘I didn’t get a choice, he wouldn’t let me move, It wasn’t my fault’) and I cope a lot better than ever before and I manage things most of the time between appointments on my own and it just feels like still you want more from me. And maybe everything in therapy was always leading up to these big changes but this feels like a corner was turned or something and it feels like a lot of change and I can’t do all this, I can’t handle all these new ideas if the little girl thinks you are trying to leave. And it does not matter how much you reassure that it’s her choice to leave, not yours. That feels like it still is an expectation, that at some point the little girl is expected to rely on the grown up and not need therapy or you anymore and choose to leave. I know you have explained it as a choice, but it is a choice she is expected to make at some point. And that sucks. A choice like that isn’t really a choice, is it?

It’s always a conversation about the grown up needing to be online and the grown up needing to communicate with the little girl and them needing to work together and blah blah blah. I understand why, I get it, but it feels like you are really pushing for that, like its this……I don’t know….like it is something that needs to happen sooner than later. I tried not to care, to not let it matter, to ignore it, because the grown up does think it’s a ridiculous thing to be all spun up over. The old messages of being a drama queen, needing too much, being over sensitive are running through my head as I type this out. But the teen is mad and feeling like she is somehow messing everything up, and the little girl is sad and scared and feeling like she’s just not good enough, like she will never ever be good enough.

I know it took me a long time to be willing to use words and to feel emotionally and physically all at the same time. I know it took me a long time to be able to even talk during sessions, that it was a lot to always be emailing and saying everything I needed to say in email and needing a quick response to all the ick I was pouring out and that the extra time I always seem to need to be able to connect and to sort of check if you are you is not some thing most therapists would give me (and honestly, it makes me feel less guilty to know that you enjoy that chat time and that you are really okay with it) and I know it took me a long time to be able to even start to look at the details of things and see that my story of it all as a whole doesn’t match the mixed up pieces of my memory. I know I’m lucky I have a patient therapist who was willing to wait me out and start where I was. But now, It just feels like you think I should be more of something. More present, more capable, more integrated, more healed,  more something. Some part of me, maybe the teen, although she’d need admit it, worries I have used up all your patience. After all, that’s what the little girl and teen do, you know. They need too much, and they take and take and take and they drain people of all they have to give until eventually they’ve broken them. The teen, the little girl, they break everyone eventually. So maybe, just maybe, the teen is terrified she has drained most of your patience and so you need the grown up to be able to take care of the parts because soon the teen will have broken you, too.

And the really messed up thing is that it wasn’t a bad session. I was proud of myself for being able to say I needed more time to do any moving, and for making the choice to wait until Monday to come back to the sick feeling and need to move away and I was proud I sat with the really bad sick like something bad is going to happen feelings, even if it was only a minute, maybe less time, I still stayed with the feeling and felt it and that’s more than I ever did before. Even with that, today’s session, it didn’t feel bad. I felt….I don’t know, like together you and I kept things from getting overwhelming and out of control and that felt….I don’t know. Strong? Powerful? Something I don’t have the word for because it’s not a feeling I often have. So it wasn’t a session that felt yucky. Except this mixed up piece. Except all this mess that has come up now. Ugh. The teen was so mad when you sort of set it up so the grown up would have to ask for a blanket for the little girl if the little girl wanted to be able to hide. That felt like this shrinky manipulation. It wasn’t fair. My only thought during that time? “The grown up is not going to be forced help the little girl.” Yeah, I did end up asking, but the whole time the teen was pissed. Oh boy, was the teen was mad about it all. And maybe the grown up knows that you weren’t being manipulative or shrinky and that you aren’t pushing the little girl to rely on the grown up so you can escape the little girl. But it sure doesn’t feel like it right now. It just feels like you want to get away from me before my ick contaminates you, before I break you. It just all feels confusing because there’s too many conflicting feelings about you right now, on top of conflicting feelings about the Kenny stuff. I’m confused about enough. It doesn’t feel good to be confused about my secure base. (Yes, I’m all done pretending relationships don’t matter, or that you aren’t important or that the little girl has absolutely no attachment to you at all. Or, in writing I’m no longer pretending that. Face to face might be a different story.) So. This just feels bad right now. And I couldn’t tell you if it’s past or present feelings, but it is definitely a parts thing. That much I know. And of course the other old message running through my head “what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be normal? Why do I make a deal out of things that aren’t a deal? Maybe I’m jut crazy. Maybe I am just a drama queen. Maybe this is all just a big mess I’ve created. What’s wrong with me?”

I guess the grown up is asking for help for (with?) the teen and the little girl. Because the grown up, she just can not hold all of this or sort it.

~Alice

Alone then, but not now

It’s Monday, and we leave for camping tomorrow. I’m in this dissociated hyper aroused state. I had emailed Bea over the weekend, even after our phone call on Friday because all those tiny worries began to grow bigger and bigger, and I just couldn’t hold onto them for even a few days. (I’ll post the emails in a separate post, so I don’t make this post into a novel!) Emailing helped, and walking into Bea’s office on Monday feels safe and not stressful. 

I curl up on the couch as soon as I walk in, and Bea smiles. “Good morning,” she says. 

“Hi,” I say back. 

We talk about the weather and the weekend and how Kat learned to ride her bike all by herself and how we went on a 5 mile bike ride together. We chat easily, and a part of me is there, having a conversation with Bea. I’m jumpy, though, and talking faster than is normal for me, and I keep looking over towards the door. Bea always makes sure the path to the door is clear, that I sit between her and the door, so no one and nothing is blocking my ability to exit the room if I need to. I never have, but it’s nice that she does this. 

Even though Bea is chatting casually, she notices my constant scanning of the room, and how I jump at every noise. “Are you still feeling on the other end of the spectrum, very hyper aroused?”

I nod. I can’t calm myself down. 

“It makes sense. Everything is so activated for you right now.” 

I nod again. 

“Can we talk about this weekend, for a minute?” She asks. 

I feel anxiety in the pit of my stomach and my eyes dart quickly to her face. “How come? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—” my words are coming out so fast they are blurring together. 

She cuts me off, “You don’t need to be sorry. You didn’t do anything to be sorry about. I wanted to talk about exactly what and why I had been thinking of asking you to try some CBT to help get yourself to shore.”

“Okay.” I shift in my seat, uncomfortable. I hated feeling like I disappointed her. 

“I was thinking that CBT could be useful in the negative thought loop of there not being enough time to be okay before having to leave to camp. I truly didn’t realize that all your resources were depleted from dealing with having all the things triggered. Once I got that, then, no CBT doesn’t seem so helpful. It’s hard to use this logical reframing when parts other than the grown up are running the show. I get that. And I’m sorry I didn’t realize that all of that had been activated.”

I shake my head. “It’s okay. I didn’t tell you, I just kept dropping….hints. I went back through emails and journal entries. And all I did was give you the window picture and tell you that I’d had nightmares. That’s it. I didn’t tell you about all the Kenny stuff and the mom stuff and the mixed up mom and Kenny stuff. How could you have known?” 

“Well, I wish I had realized. I feel as if I should have put the clues together, and I didn’t. But I am glad that even though I didn’t catch the hints, you were brave enough to still tell me.”

I think about this. I dropped hints to my mom, which she ignored and I never did tell her what the hints were trying to make her see. I dropped hints to Bea, which I felt she was ignoring but I still felt safe enough to tell her what the hints were about, and she reacted in the best way. Maybe it’s not a terrible thing that Bea missed the hints. “You fixed it when you knew. It’s okay.” 

“It is okay,” she agrees. 

We sit for a moment, after agreeing that even though I can see why CBT can be useful, that it’s not going to be so helpful right now. 

“If this isn’t what you want to talk about, please correct me, okay? Did you want to talk about the Kenny stuff that was triggered? I know it’s maybe not ideal, but if it’s already there, maybe it would help to share it and not be alone with it as you leave for vacation.” 

“Yeah….I think….yeah.” 

“Okay.” When I don’t say anything, she asks a few questions to help get me talking. “Is it Nightmares, or memories? Maybe more feelings or thoughts?”

“No….it’s….well dreams. But before that. It’s like when we were at the reunion, and everything was the same, I could see us— I mean, Kenny, me, my brother, Jackie, as kids, running around, and hear our parents calling after us, and it didn’t even matter that other people were there, that it was different people, that I’m a grown up now, it was just all right there. So real.” I shudder, thinking about it.

“Yeah, a very intense flashback.”

“But it was good stuff, nothing bad!” I argue. I feel crazy. Who has flashbacks of positive memories?

“Yes, maybe it was good stuff, on the surface. But it was Kenny, and no adults were really present protecting you, and it was good stuff that led to trauma. So it makes sense.”

“Everything was just so real. I’m in my bedroom, and it’s the same house, the same windows, and I’m just brushing my hair or whatever, and it all just hits me. I hate it. I hate it.” My voice gets higher and I’m all kinds of upset. “And then nightmares, camping and I’m at my house and then I’m little and at my parents and things are weird, it is a weird dream but then I end up camping and he’s there and it’s the Ferris Wheel and I can’t, it’s just, ugh!” 

“The Ferris Wheel, this memory, it comes up a lot. It’s a deep one. I wonder why.” She’s musing out loud, just being curious.

“Because it’s not bad enough to be upsetting?” My voice is tiny now, and the grown up me isn’t really here anymore. 

“No! It’s a bad memory. It’s a very legitimate trauma memory. I was just being curious about why this memory is so clear, why it is one of the memories that has lots of senses involved, what made it have such sticking power?”

“Did we talk about it before?” I ask her. I honestly don’t know.

“We talked about the amusement park, and we have emailed about the Ferris Wheel quite in depth. We haven’t talked about it. Last time we emailed and I brought it up, you went too far away to talk to me.” 

“Oh.” I sort of knew I had to of told her, but i still get a little jolt of shock that I don’t remember these emails. “My favorite ride was the Ferris Wheel, you know.”

“Yes, I did know. Was it a very big Ferris Wheel?” 

“Maybe. I don’t think it was really, but it seemed giant to me.” I shrug. It’s hard to judge now big things are when you are seeing them the way you saw them as a child.

“Did it have the bench seats that two people sit on?” She asks me.

I shake my head, thinking. I can just picture, feel, see, sense, Kenny and I on the Ferris Wheel. I can’t actually picture the seats. “Nooooo…..there’s more room,” I say slowly. I know that’s right, but I’m not sure how I know it.

“What did you like about the Ferris Wheel?” She’s curious. 

“I loved it. I loved being so high up and seeing everything, and I loved the drop.” 

“The drop once you go around after being at the top? That was my favorite part too! My mom didn’t do Ferris Wheels, so I always rode with my Dad,” Bea tells me. (These are the sorts of things I know some therapists won’t share, but this is what makes me feel safe with her, it’s a normal conversation and she feels human and real to me, a whole person. I know it’s not right for everyone, but for me, it is)

“I rode with my dad, with other kids, with whoever. I would go again and again, over and over.”

She laughs at this. It’s a delighted laugh, one that says she is picturing child Alice, getting in line over and over. “I imagine you like Kat, just so excited and asking to do the same ride over and over.” 

I nod, and smile. “That’s it exactly.” And then I become more serious. “That was the problem. Again, and again and again. But eventually everyone got tired of again and again. But I asked for one more time, and eventually Kenny said he would take me. And then….I don’t know. That’s my nightmare. He’s sitting with me on the Ferris Wheel, and I’m…..his hand is between my legs and he is touching me and I can’t do anything, not a thing, I’m just stuck there and he can do anything and I can’t….” The words spill out, like dominoes falling over. 

“Did you want to do something?” Bea’s voice sounds caring and gentle, but maybe a little hopeful, too.

“No!” I shout the word at her and grab a fluffy pillow off her couch, hiding my face. Once I’m hiding, I try to breathe. “Maybe. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“Okay. That’s okay not to know.” I hear her stand up. “I’m going to go get the blanket, all right?” 

Part of me– likely the grown up– wants to say that no, I don’t need if, but I do need it, and so I nod my head. She brings the blanket over to me, and gently lets it cover me. 

“Did you feel worried when he said he would take you on the ride?” There’s no judgement in her voice, it’s just a question. 

“No.” I hug the pillow to me.

“So you were just focused on going back on your favorite ride and you were happy and excited to get on the Ferris Wheel. So you were very much in the present moment. Maybe that is part of the reason it has such sticking power. You were more present than in other times, and it was a happy place to be, the contrast was startling for you. You weren’t able to be so far away. And your parents were right near, and didn’t rescue you. Yes. That is a lot, no wonder this memory is so powerful.” She makes a sad noise as she finishes talking. It says she is sad for the little girl I uses to be. 

“No, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t call out or make him stop. I was just stuck and it was so awful and I was so afraid. I was scared we would get caught. I don’t —I didn’t want to be in trouble.” I’m talking much too fast again, but I can’t slow down. 

“You were really scared about getting in trouble. You put all the blame on yourself. But it’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I was so scared.” 

“I know. You were really scared.”

“I didn’t want to get caught.” I tell her.

“No, you didn’t want to get caught. You were scared. But you did nothing wrong,” she reminds me. “Was there something you wanted to do?” 

“I didn’t want to get caught, I didn’t want to be in trouble. But his hand, his hand, it’s ….”

When my voice trails off, Bea pushes a bit. “What about his hand?”

“I want to push it away!” The words pour out of me, hot and intense, anger and panic boil under the surface.   

“Ahhh, yes! You wanted to push his hand away! He shouldn’t be touching you there! You were just a little girl, on her favorites ride. That wasn’t okay, he wasn’t okay.” She gets it. Her voice tells me she gets how desperately I wanted to make it stop. 

“I wanted him to stop. Just stop.” I feel as if I am shrieking the words out.

“Can him go back to wanting to push his hand away? Can you focus on that feeling for a little while?” 

I try. But then, suddenly, all these feelings– physical and emotional– hit me like a knockout punch in a fight without a boxing ring. “No– no, no, no. I can’t. I can’t. There’s…I can feel….” And I cut myself off, not wanting to tell her what I am feeling because I’m disgusting. The physical feelings are the worst. I am gross. “I…..if I think about pushing his hand away, all I can so is think about where is hand is at.” 

“Okay. Okay.” She is breathing slowly, the way I’m supposed to breathe to calm down. “Let’s just focus on you, and only on your hand. Which hand is wanting to push? What does it feel like? Is it tense? Is it warm? How does the hand want to push?”

I listen to her voice, and that helps me focus just on my hand. Slowly I lift up my right hand.

“Your right hand. That’s great. That is really great noticing. Just focus on that hand.”

Bea stops talking then, and without her voice, I’m back to where his hand is, and what his hand is doing. “I need you to talk.” 

“Alice, we can stop focusing on your hand. You did a lot, it is okay. We can stop this whenever you want to.” 

I shake my head, and then realize she can’t see me. “No, no. I….if you just talk about focusing on my hand it helps me not go to thinking about where his hand…..”

“Where his hand is?” She asks. 

“Yeah.” I’m embarrassed now. 

She runs through so many different ways my hand could feel. I can’t believe that there are this many words to describe physical feelings. 

“It’s tensed!” I say, excited that I can recognize a feeling.

“Tensed up, getting ready to move. That’s good. Is it just the hand, or the arm, too?” 

“I don’t know. Arm, maybe? I don’t know.” 

“Okay, that’s good. Just let yourself stay with that feeling.” She’s so calm.

We talk about wanting to push his hand away, and about what I notice in my hand and arm, and then Bea talks about how I am okay and how I can push his hand away now. “It’s a funny thing, but your brain doesn’t know the difference. You can push now, if you want. You can just push your hand out, or I can get a pillow you can push against if resistance sounds like what you might want.” She’s not pushing this on me, it’s just conversational, and so I’m okay.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. How am I supposed to know?” I’m suddenly panicked that I don’t know. 

“You just feel it. You can trust your body and your sense of what you need.” Again, she is the calm in the storm raging all around and inside me. 

“What if I sense wrong???!?!?”

“Then it’s okay. We have more information then. We try something else.”

“I can’t.” I whisper. 

“Can the grown up help the little girl move her right hand? Could the grown up use her left to help the little girl move the right?” When I don’t respond, she says, “Maybe there isn’t enough of the grown up here to help. And that’s okay. I’m here, and I’ll help however I can.”

“You can’t really help like that.” I whisper. 

“No, not like that. But I am here.” 

I realize that I have been holding my right hand down with my left, and gripping the pillow really tight. I let go with my left, and straighten the fingers on my right hand. Then, feeling so scared, I slowly move my right hand. I don’t push, or even move it in the direction to push. I simply set it down by my right side. 

“Ahhhh. The Little Girl, she is brave. You are so brave. You moved that hand! How did that feel?”

I stretch my fingers out, my palm flat on the couch. As I do that, I feel exactly what I want to do. “I want to scoot away from him. I can’t. I’m stuck, I can’t move. I can’t scoot away.” 

“Ahhhh, so you are noticing you want to scoot away. Do you want to push, then scoot?”

“No……. It’s weird….I know…I want to scoot then push.” It’s almost more of a scoot and push, one right after the other, almost at the same time. 

“That’s not weird, not at all. Do you want to scoot now?”

“I can’t, I can’t get away, I can’t move, he won’t like it, he won’t be happy, I’m stuck here, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” I freak out a little, but Bea holds it all and I’m okay.

“You couldn’t move then. You were frozen– super aware, on alert, frozen– but you aren’t frozen now. Your fingers wiggled. You are safe now. You couldn’t scoot away then, but you can now. You were all alone then, but you aren’t now. I’m here now, and I can promise you that you can scoot away now, and nothing bad will happen.” 

“You’re here?”

“I am right here.” Her voice is strong.

“You won’t go?” I’m a terrified child, panicked that the only safe person on my world is going to leave me.

“I won’t go.” 

I sit there, wanting to scoot, thinking how simple it should be to scoot away, but I can’t do it. I can’t move. 

“You are safe now. Nothing bad is going to happen. I’m here, you’re here, and you are safe. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. It’s your choice. You get a choice now.” Her voice is soft, reassuring. 

“I….I want to move. I just can’t. I can’t do it.” I sound sad. I really do want to move. It’s the strangest thing, I’m mostly back there, sitting in that Ferris Wheel with Kenny, and I’m frozen and can’t do anything about it. But I’ve managed to keep just enough of the grown up me on board to put Bea in the Ferris Wheel, too, maybe in the car across from me, or maybe a car above me. She’s there, though, and she won’t let me be hurt anymore. She will stay right there until I can scoot away from him, push his hand away. She will help keep me safe. The grown up me might not be strong enough yet to help Little Alice, but the grown up is strong enough to help imagine Bea into the memory, the grown up is strong enough to stay present with this so I can feel Bea here with me. I’m not alone in this. It’s taking the grown up me and Bea to help Little Alice stay with the feeling of wanting to move. 

“It’s okay. This was a lot. It was really good work, to stay with it all as long as you have. You did good. We don’t have to do anything more today. We can just sit with the feeling of wanting to move, and of not being alone.” There’s something in her voice, I’m not sure I recognize what it is. Maybe it’s just Bea, being at ease and in the moment with me. Maybe there is some pride in there, and some calm. Maybe I’ve just not been present enough to hear this in her voice. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I like it. It feels like she is happy with me, and that feels nice. 

“I……..I really do want to scoot. I just…I’m scared.” I whisper.

“Could you reach your hand out from under the blanket? Just a little bit, to reach your bag? It’s not very far. Maybe if you knew how far you had to go, that would help.”

I want to try, and so I nod my head. I suddenly want to ask her to hold my other hand, but I won’t. It is a good idea, to have something to reach to, and I very slowly move my hand out from under the blanket. I have to focus on that desire to move, and not think about anything else, but I do it. 

“That was great!” I can head excitement in Bea’s voice. It mirrors my own excitement that I did it. I feel like a child who has accomplished a new and difficult task for the very first time. When I don’t move or speak, Bea says, “Just focus on the feeling of wanting to scoot away. Remember you are safe now.” 

I just can’t make myself move. The little girl is running the show right now, and she is too scared. 

“Is it more of a lean, or a pick up and scoot away?” Bea asks. I think she is thinking leaning would be less movement, and therefore maybe easier. 

I shake my head and burying my face in the pillow I’m still holding. “I…..leaning won’t…I mean, because….” I’m embarrassed, I can’t explain it to her, can’t form the words. 

“Ohhhh, leaning wouldn’t move the part of your body he is touching away from him.” Something clicks for her, and Bea fills in the words for me. 

“Yeah,” I say. And then I’m thinking about where his hand is at, and the physical sensations of being touched are back. (As a side note, please tell me I’m not the only one who experiences this? I hate, hate, hate feeling the feeling of being touched. I’m embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted and I am afraid of the words I would need to use to fully explain it. 😔)

“It’s okay. That’s okay. Let’s try not to go back to what he is doing. Let’s stay with the feeling of wanting to move away, of wanting to push his hand away, of not being alone now, of being safe now. We can work more on this later. It’s okay.” Her voice and her words are like a salve to wounds I didn’t even know I had. 

We start working to bring me fully back to here and now, and I pull the blanket off my head, holding it in front of my face. I peak out from the blanket, meeting Bea’s eyes and then quickly covering my face again. She’s quicker than I am though, and before I hide behind the blanky again, she says, “Yup, I’m still here.” Her eyes are kind, I see, or maybe I jut sense this feeling of acceptance and caring in them. 

I peak put again, and look at her. She is patiently there, just sitting with me. I breathe for minute, come back to myself enough to set my feet on the floor and fold up the blanket. Saying goodbye is hard today. It will be over a week before I see her. She reminds me I can I email or call, and tells me she should have cell service during her whole vacation. 

“When do you leave?” I ask her. It shouldn’t really matter, but I want to know where she is in the world. 

“Friday Morning, so I will be in the car all day on Friday. And then for the weekend, hopefully I will be at the beach for a while, and maybe go for a hike, too. Tuesday I’ll be in the car for most of the day again.” I breathe a little easier. I like knowing where she will be. It’s easier to feel like she hasn’t just left if I can place her in the world. 

Now I can say goodbye. We wish each other a good trip, and then I almost run out of her office and down the stairs. I get to my car and realize something: I am okay. 

You aren’t broken and you don’t have to hide anymore part 2

Trigger warning!! This is the second half of this post. In it, Bea and I talk– fairly in depth– about a teenage suicide attempt. Please read with caution. 

“The suicide attempt,” she says slowly, “Was that it, or did you try again later? Because I would imagine with no one was addressing the pain, with no one trying to understanding why, all those overwhelming bad feelings wouldn’t just disappear. I think that with trauma and these awful feelings, it is normal to think about dying. I know we haven’t talked about it, but you have written before about not wanting to be here anymore, and we have emailed about why you wouldn’t follow through on any plans, and what to do if you felt like you might. But I’m not sure I’ve stressed the fact that I believe when we experience such extreme traumas that our minds find ways to survive, and sometimes that includes the idea that if things get too bad, we can end it. It’s an escape, right? You aren’t crazy for having these feelings. And that why I would imagine that as a teen, those awful feelings didn’t go away, and maybe you tried to escape them again.” 

It is hard to talk, I feel as if I am encased in a thick layer of quilting batting. “I….” I start and stop like that several times. I want my blanket, but I can’t ask. The words won’t come. 

“Do you want your blanket?” Sometimes, it is as if Bea is a mind reader. I nod my head. She gets the blanket, unfolds it and holds it up on front of, letting it drop gently to cover me. I feel cared for when she does this, like she wants me to feel safe, like it matters to her. 

“Okay. See if you can feel this boundary, that you are safe. See if having that solid boundary, feeling the blanket there, see if that will allow you to be more here.” Bea’s voice is soothing and soft. 

I hold up 4 fingers under the blanket. Of coarse Bea can’t see that. “Four……four times.” I whisper. It’s six or seven if you count college after the boyfriend, but I don’t want to go there.

“Four times? You really were just begging for help, for someone to see you and no one did. I just want to tell that teen girl she is seen now, she’s not alone now.” Bea’s voice is kind, but there’s an edge to it, a tone that says she is so angry with the adults in teen Alice’s life. “Did you have to go to the hospital?” 

“No.” I say, finding it funny. My parents couldn’t have me in a hospital. It would ruin that perfect image of our family. Then I think about it, and say, “Well yes, I guess. I mean, sort of. The ER. Not the hospital. I…”

“Did you cut yourself everytime? Or were there other things?” Geesh. Bea isn’t shying away from this. She’s of afraid to talk about it. It feels invasive, in a way, as if she is trying to unlock a box full of my secrets, but on the other hand I am glad that she isn’t shying away from this topic. I’ve never been allowed to talk about it.

I shake my head. “Other things. You know the first time…..before I cut my wrists.” 

“Can you remind me? I’m sorry, I think I need a memory jog.” Ordinarily I would be hurt that Bea forgot something about my story, but since this was a story told only very quickly as to how I lost my therapist Cathy, I’m not surprised that Bea can’t really remember. 

“This is hard to talk about.” I mumble the words. 

“I know. It’s not normal conversation. But it is okay.” 

“It’s….I mean….always it was just ignored. I mean, like, I knew that I was to pretend nothing ever happened. The Kenny stuff…..it might have been known, it might have been ignored, but it was me pretending it away, it was me splitting parts away and not even knowing what happened…..but this….it was just the rules. Don’t talk about it. Pretend it never happened. It’s different.” I try my best to explain, but I’m not sure I’ve made sense.

Even though I can’t see her, I picture Bea nodding. Her voice has that *light bulb* moment quality to it. Something just clicked for her. “I can see that. It’s something that was definitely known to your parents and a deliberate choice was made to cover it up and hide it.” 

“Yes!” She gets it. “So it’s….hard to talk about. I’m breaking the rules again.”

“It’s okay. We can take our time. When you are ready.”

“No….I want to….I think…..it’s just…..hard. And I wanted to say why it is hard.”

“Okay.”

After another long pause, I speak. “I……… overdosed.”

“The first time?”

“Yes.”

“What did you take?”

“Tylenol. Just Tylenol.”

“What happened? Did you tell your parents?”

“I….I’m not sure. It’s fuzzy. I was throwing up. I think they found me. Or caught me? I don’t know.”

“But you ended up at the hospital?”

“At the ER.”

“How did they treat you there? Were they kind?”

“I….I’m not sure…..I don’t remember getting there. I just….I remember when I woke up.”

“What happened when you woke up?”

“I….I was….I mean, it was, my mom was checking me out. To go home. I was. The nurse….”

And then it’s silence because I can’t get the words out. Bea waits, and then she reassures. But mostly there is a lot of silence. Finally, words begin to find their way our of my head and into the room. “It…..I feel like I’m making this a big deal when it’s not. It’s silly.”

“You think it’s silly?”

“Well, it’s just, it’s not even a thing. But I’m having a hard time talking and so it seems a big deal but then when I say it, it will be like, well that’s silly.”

“I don’t think it’s silly. I think it has some significance if it’s a struggle to talk about. Clearly this impacted you in some way.”

“It…..I was……the nurse. He was telling me……I might throw up more and if it was black not to panic it was okay.”

“Because of the charcoal?” Her voice is matter of fact. 

“Yeah. Because they pumped my stomach. And then….I had clothes there to put on. To go home. So he was to help me get up to get dressed.”

I pause again. I can’t tell this story. It’s not even a big deal. It’s not a trauma memory, it’s nothing, and Bea is going to think I’m an idiot. Yet, I can feel the panic in my belly and my chest, I can feel myself wanting to run, to hide, to disappear. 

I know we have to be running out of time and I don’t want to hold this until next time and I don’t want to write it in an email. The words come out in a rush. “There was a catheter and he reached under the blanket….under my gown to remove it. I….I freaked out….” Oh my God, the shame of this behavior is going to kill me. I’m going to die, right here, on Bea’s sofa, of shame. 

“Of course, of course you did. It was a trigger, a trauma reaction. It is a big deal. It was a big trigger. Did anyone realize? How did they react?”

“They……it’s fuzzy….they held me……a shot…..” My words are quiet and I’m pretty far away. 

“They gave you something to calm you down?” She asks, sounding like she can’t believe I was treated that way. 

“A shot. And then he finished removing the catheter and helped to get me dressed.” I can feel the sharp prick in my right arm, the fear inside me of having my arms held down, and then I can feel the fear and anxiety being covered up, blocked somehow, and everything is numb and fuzzy again. 

“Ugh! I’m sorry! You didn’t deserve that! You didn’t need that. You needed someone to see this trauma reaction and help you.” 

“I was just crazy. The crazy borderline girl. It didn’t matter.”

“It does matter. You weren’t crazy. This is revictimization. It’s doctors and other helping professionals not seeing trauma signs and not helping, just treating you like a label, like you were something needing to be fixed. You weren’t then, and aren’t now. You aren’t broken. You aren’t crazy.” 

 
“I just…..I thought something was wrong with me. Just me….being crazy. Acting out. Being broken.”

“Ahhh….the parts didn’t know about each other then. The teen didn’t know all the trauma and how she could be triggered. She had no idea. You had no idea back then why you behaved in that way. It’s not like now, where the grown up you knows about the other parts and has an awareness.”

 
I nod. “Yeah.” 

Bea is not happy that no one saw I had a trauma reaction. She is angry for me that no one realized what was going on, and no one helped me. I don’t know why I do it, but I stick up for all the people who didn’t see, and didn’t help. “It was almost 20 years ago. I don’t think anyone knew about stuff like this then. No one talked about it.” 

“That true, it’s been more in the last ten years that trauma and trauma responses, PTSD and dissociation have been talked about in the therapies world and the medical community. But I still can’t believe– I believe you– but I can’t fathom that not one nurse or doctor there thought to ask you what happened, why you got upset, how you were doing. I know that 20 years ago it was everything was more of a medical model. But it makes me angry for you! You deserved better! You’ve had so much trauma. Adding more from helping professionals, it’s just unfortunate.”

We sit in silence for a few minutes. I slowly pull the blanket off my head, holding it over my face and peeking out over the edge of it like a little kid. I’m still afraid to look at her. I’m terrified of seeing disgust, or disinterest, or something bad. I don’t know. 

Before I leave, Bea looks at me, making eye contact. “We can’t go back and change things now, as much as I wish we could. But what we can do is listen to the teen, and validate her pain and help her see that there is nothing wrong with her, that she is not crazy or broken. We can help her to feel heard and cared for. I hope that she’s listening to this now. Can I tell her something? I hope you know you aren’t alone now. You don’t have to hide any of this anymore. You don’t have to be perfect. I won’t leave, you can’t make me leave, even if you aren’t perfect. I’m here, and I see you.” 

When I finally leave Bea’s office, I feel as if I have been wrapped in a warm hug. I’m exhausted, and sad for what the teen needed but didn’t get, but I’m secure in the knowledge that Bea is here.