When the undertow grabs hold

On Monday, the teen was feeling really embarrassed that she had told Bea how feeling cared about brings up all these icky, bad feelings, and wasn’t sure she wanted to go to therapy. Things were floaty and just off feeling, and it was really hard to stay grounded and connected.

Once I am settled in my place on the couch, and we chat for a bit, Bea asks me who is here today. I tell her that I don’t know, because I don’t. I feel odd, not here, and sort of numb, not real. I feel almost like a ghost or something, like I don’t quite exist. We continue on with the surface talk, mostly because I keep directing us back that direction. This sucks. I want to feel connected to her, and right now I don’t feel connected to anything.

Finally, Bea asks if I might want to look at my notebook. I get it out and flip through it. “There’s sort of old stuff in here. From October 22. Because we didn’t look at my book for a while.” I keep flipping pages as I am talking.

“Well, we can start at the beginning or with something more recent. Really it’s whatever you need to talk about, whatever is coming up for you,” she says softly.

I shrug. “It doesn’t matter, I don’t know.”

Bea waits, and I continue to just flip through pages. I’m wasting time, I know it, but I can’t seem to stop myself. (Thinking back, I think the teen was wasting time, not wanting to feel anymore exposed.)

The silence starts to make me feel panicked. “Just read the last thing I wrote and then go back to the beginning. Okay? Because it doesn’t really matter.”

“All right. We can do that.” Bea leans forward a bit, and I hand her my notebook. “This is a new notebook. It’s so pretty.”

I nod. “It’s the Harry Potter limited edition moleskin notebook. I love it.”

“Can I read from the beginning? Would that be all right?” Bea asks carefully.

“Sure. It’s fine,” I tell her.

It doesn’t take long for her to pause in her reading and look up at me. “The teen was really mad at me, huh? I can understand that. It’s really painful to have me sort of show her what she didn’t get from her mom growing up.” Bea sounds sad, and understanding and calm and kind and just so very much the Bea that the teen loves, it sent me spiraling. Or, rather, it sent the teen spiraling.

“No, no. I’m not mad anymore, I really wasn’t mad at you. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Panic fills my voice. I’m not floaty or spacey anymore, but I am definitely out of my window.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about. You are allowed to be mad at me.” Bea says firmly. Her words are kind, though, and I’m able to calm down enough that I can breathe again.

“I said I hated you,” I sob. “I didn’t mean that. I didn’t.”

“If you did, that would be okay. I can handle it. I’m strong enough to handle all your feelings, even hating me.”

“I don’t hate you. I didn’t hate you. It was just….I was mad and I hated that you weren’t my mom. No….that came out wrong. Wait. I mean, I hated that….it should be my mom, not you. I was mad, I hated that it wasn’t her.”

“I know. I know that. I understand. It hurts. It hurts so much that your mom didn’t have the capacity to give you what you needed.” When I peak out from behind cloud pillow (when did I even grab him and hide my face?!?!) she’s sitting criss cross applesauce in her chair, and leaning in towards me.

All of this came about because I had been able to stand up to someone and set a healthy boundary in a kind and respectful way and feel safe and supported while I did it; something I have never experienced or done before. I had been alone when this happened, but I knew Bea would support me. Even if she disagreed with me, I knew that she would still be there for me, that she would try to understand my viewpoint. I can’t really explain it, but even though she wasn’t there, it was like she was there, helping me feel supported and contained while I spoke. I didn’t become dysregulated once. Afterward, I thought to myself, *this is what secure attachment feels like. This is what it feels like to have a secure base.* It was exhilarating and at the same time devastating. It didn’t take long for all kinds of feelings to pop up for the teen. Mostly, those feelings were anger and pain over the fact that her mom didn’t give this to her growing up.

“I want to be mad at her, you know. But she….she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t handle anything. I can’t be mad at someone so broken. So I don’t know who I’m mad at. Not you. Not my mom.” I sigh. This is so hard.

“Maybe no one. Not being mad at me, that might be a new experience for the teen.” Bea suggests.

“That’s not fair. Yeah, she’s angry alot, but she isn’t always mad at you. And most of the time when she is mad at you it’s because she is scared.” The adult comes back just enough to defend the teen, which is unexpected.

“That’s true. I’m sorry,” Bea says.

“Okay. I’m not mad right now, okay?”

“Okay. What are you feeling?” Her voice is curious.

“I….just….I can’t be mad at her. Mostly that is what I feel.” I’m hiding behind cloud pillow still. I would really like to have a blanket to hide under, but I don’t want to ask, and Bea hasn’t offered, and it’s probably time to go anyways.

“Why not? Why can’t you be mad that your needs weren’t met? Thats a legitimate thing to be angry and rageful about.” Her tone is matter of fact now, like this is just something everyone knows.

“Because…….” The words get lost before they are even fully formed.

“Because why?” Bea asks. She is annoying me (the teen). Doesn’t she know? Can’t she put two and two together? Do I always have to spell things out for her?

“Because I don’t get to be mad. I’m not good enough! I didn’t try hard enough to do things, to be what she needed, I was always always needing more. I don’t have the right to be angry when all I ever did was screw up and make things hard for her!” I shot the words at Bea, and then hunch into myself, hugging cloud and crying.

“So only people who are good enough ―as defined by your mother― have the right to be angry?” Bea asks. Ugh. She has this innocent, playing dumb tone to her voice. I hate her again. She is asking me questions to prove a point and I don’t want her to prove a point.

“No. That is not even what I said. But all she wanted was me to be normal and I couldn’t even do that.”

“From where I am sitting, a lot of your feelings and thoughts were just like a normal teen. And you were totally normal given your history.”

“I hate it when you say that.”

“How come?”

I shrug. “Don’t know.”

“Maybe because if you are normal then you aren’t special?” Bea asks.

“No. It’s not like that. No one want to be special like this. I feel crazy. Its crazy making.”

“What is?”

“Me. My stupid feelings. I want to be cared about but then when I feel cared about I end up….well….feeling icky. That is crazy.”

“Well, it feels crazy, and it is normal for you, for what you went through.” Bea says. She sounds like Bea again and the anger towards her dissipates, but I still hate being called normal.

“It doesn’t make sense to me.” I shake my head.

“Well, I think that you had to be so defended for so long, and being cared about for so long came with strings attached, expectations, and the knowledge that you would only be cared about if you were behaving and performing well. Listen, okay? This is important. I don’t have strings or expectations. I care about you just for being you. I’m here because I care about you, about all the parts. That’s it. Okay? I know that is hard to trust, and it is difficult because as soon as you feel my caring all those defenses kick in. If you can try to just let in one little drop of caring, just allow one drop to make it past your walls, then you can feel cared about and still feel safe.”

“Maybe. Maybe I can try.” I whisper the words.

It’s not long before it’s time to go. We went over time, and I tell Bea I’m sorry.

“I’m not,” she says, “There was some stuff the teen really needed to get out.”

“Okay.” It’s all I can get out.

We say goodbye, and Bea wishes me a good day.

I really don’t know why therapy felt so off. I am pretty sure it was me, though, not Bea, considering I had been feeling off kilter for several days. It’s more than the eating thing. I still feel weird. I tried to journal and nothing really came out. I don’t know what my deal is. I probably should tell Bea that things (and me) felt weird and off on Monday and that there is so much going on with the teen, all these crazy, strong emotions and this self hatred that is so huge I (the grown up) can’t begin to fight it, and how the teen’s feelings are like an undertow, drowning me. I’m just not sure I can. I feel really apprehensive that if I try to explain, she will make a thimg out of something that is not a thing, or she will somehow inadvertently say something that feels invalidating to the teen, and then the teen will freak and we will be right back in the middle of another rupture where Bea claims its all about the past and the teen feels more and more unseen by her, and everything spirals out of control. The worst part is, I’m not sure if those are my feelings or the teen’s feelings. Because they feel like mine, and yet…….it could be the undertow taking hold.

Advertisements

Ruptured: Ms. Perfect

Wednesday. I get to Bea’s office right on time, despite not sleeping well the night before and waking up late. I feel steadier than I have in weeks. Things don’t feel repaired, and I’m still unsure of Bea, but I don’t feel like the ground is falling away under my feet anymore.

When I walk in, we chat a little, just normal stuff, nothing serious or deep. This feels normal, familar. It’s me and Bea talking about regular, boring life stuff, and it feels like an oasis from the storm we have been in for weeks. I start to realx, and feel like Bea is really here and herself.

Before long, though, we are discussing teen stuff, in a weird random way. It starts with a conversation about clothing, which seems beign and random. We’d been discussing small town life and ideals as compared to the larger area Bea I live in now.

“I never worried about having the *right* clothes growing up. My mom always just knew the popular brands and that’s what she bought.” I shrug. It’s not strange to me, it’s just how things were.

“Did you ever want to wear something different?” She’s curious.

I think. Did I? I’m really not sure. “I don’t think so. I was so….I mean, Ms. Perfect was just so in charge back then, and that’s what I was. Blonde. Cheerleader. I looked and dressed like everyone else who was……I don’t know. Popular.” I could say well off, or in the in crowd, or something else. But it boils down to popularity. All of our parents were friends. We all went to the same church, were members of the same country club, had vacation houses in the same small touristy towns on small lakes, we all participated in the same activities, we had known each other since we were in diapers. It was also very clear what was expected of me, and I performed perfectly. There wasn’t really a wants or needs about it. I was who and what I was expected to be.

“No part of you wanted something different?” She asks again. This time, I’m sure that she is going somewhere with this, or looking for some sort of information. It’s the slight change in her voice, maybe.

“Well, no. I don’t think so. I’m not sure there was another option, anyway. Once, my brother tried to shop….what is that store, the more edgy punk store….”

“Hot topic?” Bea asks.

“Yes! He wanted to shop there. My mom threw out his clothes he had bought and replaced them with her choices from the gap, banana republic, j crew, the buckle. He was not going to look anything but perfect.”

“That seems extreme to me, to control your teen’s wardrobe like that.”

“Really?” I’m surprised. “It’s just how it was. Part of the presentation of how we looked. You know, that sort of thing matters to her. I don’t know.”

“Yes, I can see it mattered. I guess I just didn’t realize that your mom’s need to control things and present a pretty picture extended that much.” Bea says slowly.

“Once I had light pink streaks put in my hair,” I tell her.

“How did that go over?” She asks. She is back to being curious again.

“Not well. But it was acceptable. I was still mostly blonde and the streaks were little and baby pink, so it was a girly choice, so it was tolerated.”

“Why did you put streaks in hair?”

“I don’t know.” I shrug. Now, as I write this, I think I wanted something that was just mine, not something my mother chose for me. But wheh Bea asked, it was just a thing I did.

“Teens usually havs reasons for doing what they do. Especially with hair.” She pushes a bit, maybe trying to see if I am willing to dig underneath.

“I really don’t know. It was just something I did.” Thinking about it now, my mom wasn’t at the salon with me that day, so when I went for my usual highlights, it wasn’t a big deal to add pink.

“And your mom was okay with it in the end?”

“Well, it washed out quick enough. So then, it was fine. I mean, she just liked things to be how she liked them.” I feel sort of odd. Not far away, just sort of, going through the motions of this conversation.

“Like what?” Bea asks.

“I don’t know. How we behaved, what we did, what we wore. She just wanted things to be normal, I guess. She doesn’t deal with things outside of that box of normal very well.”

“No, she really doesn’t.” It’s an agreement, but maybe something more, a question or a prompt to keep talking.

“She would just….ugh…I don’t know, ignore me if I didn’t behave how she liked. Everything from not picking up my room to I don’t know what.” I sigh. I’m in a weird mood. “You know that she would just ignore me if I was talking too much, just literally walk away. She didn’t like feelings either. Some feelings weren’t allowed. Well, it wasn’t really a rule, not something spelled out, but I knew…..she made it clear. I suppose now I would say she dissociated.”

“Really?” Bea sounds surprised and, in my mind that surprise means she doesn’t agree with me, so I backtrack quickly.

“Well, maybe not, maybe that is the wrong word. I was just thinking like, if I was crying, so upset, she would just sort of check out until I stopped. She just wasn’t there. It was so obvious that certain things wouldn’t be tolerated. Sad, tears, mad, hurt, anxiety, she would just zone out.”

“Not be there, not really interact with you? Just be sort of robotic, spaced out?” Bea asks.

“Yeah.” I nod.

“I would call that dissociated,” she says. “So you knew when she was not there, and that was a signal you were being too much?”

“Yeah. Or she would just tell me, you know, I’m a drama queen, I’m overly sensitive. I don’t know. She would send me to my room until I could behave appropriately.” I blink back tears. Even now, this stings.

“It’s such a shame that being sensitive it seen so negatively, instead of helping kids understand they are sensitive, and that is okay.” Bea says.

“But it was okay, mostly, because I knew what was and wasn’t allowed and so things were okay. I didn’t get sent away very much. I knew how to behave right.”

“That makes me sad for the girl who had to hide her feelings to be able to fit what her mom needed her to be.”

“Buf then she didn’t go away or send me away, and it wasn’t so bad. I mean, it just….ugh. I don’t know.”

“So the teen never got to express herself for fear of being unacceptable.” Bea’s voice is sad.

“I guess. But I knew how to be what I was supposed to be. So it was okay, my mom didn’t….” my voice trails off. I was about to sound so melodramatic, I can’t believe it.

“Didn’t what?” Bea prompts.

“Didn’t have to get away from me.” Now I am really blinking back tears as I hide my face. “Can I have the blanket please?”

Bea covers me up, and I cry.

“Can I say something that might be a little shrinky?” She asks.

“I guess.” I’m wary. This tentative okay-ness between us feels like the smallest thing could shatter it.

“When we talk about attachment, and being securely attached, I always had this….well, it doesn’t matter. The more you are telling me about your mom and how she interacted with you, her expectations and her reactions when they weren’t met, I’m wondering if Ms. Perfect was around before Kenny. If maybe she was what some mignt refer to as a false self.”

“I wrote about parts like you asked. I wrote about Ms. Perfect…maybe you should just read it.” I get out my notebook and hand it to her.

When I wrote about Ms. Perfect, I wrote that she was maybe a little girl at first, a little girl when I was a little girl, and she just grew up with me, excpet I still think she is an older teen. I’d written that Ms. Perfect was the one my mom always liked, even loved.

“So, what I am thinking is a bit like what you wrote. I’m thinking that Ms. Perfect was…. created to be this part that your mom could accept. Ms. Perfect was the part that was able to be securely attached because she was what your mom could accept.” Bea is speaking very cautiously, very carefully.

Writing this now, I think Bea is right, my mom couldn’t accept any part except Ms. Perfect, and it’s Ms. Perfect that is securely attached. I wonder if Ms. Perfect has controlled things at times when I would have acted out with Bea, because, well, she didn’t want to have Bea go away or send me away. I need to think on this more. My thoughts are muddled right now.

“Okay….that makes sense,” I agree.

“And that leaves the rest of the parts…well, with more of an insecure attachment. Which is why we have this teen part with the borderline rage acting out when it feels like you were too much and I am leaving.”

“Because the rest of me didn’t get secure attachment because the real me wasn’t acceptable to my mom? So then I had to be Ms. Perfect so that she would….accept me?”

“Well….in a nutshell, yes. Having Ms. Perfect run the show meant that you could get your needs met. The real you, or even the parts couldn’t get attachment needs met because your mom had very specific things she could handle and stay emotionally present for.” Bea says gently.

I don’t say anything. I’m struggling to wrap my head around this. There must be some secure attachment for the real me because of my grandparents. I don’t know.

“This is all separate from the kenny piece. This is all developmental trauma stuff. Of course, already being capable of separating things and having this false self to run the show and be accepted would have made it even easier for him to take advantage. But this development attachment trauma stuff, talking about this now, I can see so many parallels between my behavior that bad Wednesday and your mom.”

“That’s what you mean by it being about the past?”

“In part, yes. We react to things that may be happening in the present, but it triggers old hurts, old beliefs, and we react like those old things are true, even if they are true of the present situation.”

“What parallels?” I ask.

“Well, your mom went away when your feelings were too intense for her to cope with, or accept. You came here that bad Wednesday feeling pretty triggered, and I wasn’t really here. And then in our email when I told you that I was making a choice to avoid the emotional piece, that mirrored your mom, too.” (I think there were other parallels she drew, but I can’t remember now.)

I don’t think I said more, and can’t remember what else Bea said. I was busy thinking what it means if parts of me are insecurely attached, and Ms. Perfect is securely attached. Where does that leave the whole of me? I have no idea.

We wrap up the session by looking at our calendars and scheduling an extra session for Thursday. Wednesday is July 4, so next week would have been a one session week otherwise. Bea’s schedule is tricky, she doesn’t have mornings open on Thurdays or Fridays, but I decide to take an afternoon appointments and ask a friend to watch Kat. When I text my friend, she tells me that she would be happy to take Kat that day and that she is glad I finally took her up on her offer to help.

Ruptured: Unconditional

Monday morning ,I wake up earlier than I need to, with a black hole of anxiety surrounding me. Bea and I had continued emailing all weekend. I had managed to sort out that I was still confused over what she thought was mean. I understood that many of my emails after the first one were angry and lashing out, and could be described as raging or mean. I couldn’t figure out what about my firsf email was so mean; was it because I had phrased things “you made me” or because she felt it was a brutal distortion, or because of something else? I questioned this in an email, and Bea sent back a scary response.

Alice,

I actually need to get my thoughts together before I can think about what I want to say.  So what needs to be addressed at this point is the “mean” part and what I think about that, right?  I want to talk about why this is a “special kind of mean,” and I want to do that very carefully.  I’ve been this kind of mean before too, so I feel like I can explain this without pathologizing it, and I can empathize with it, but it is an actual “thing” clinically.  

So in this explanation there won’t be any blaming or any threat to abandon the teen or any of the parts. There will only be an effort to make sense of all this and try to find some common ground.  What I’m not sure about is how you’re going to feel about this being a “thing” that happens to traumatized people rather than about your personal experience. I don’t want to take away from your personal experience, but I feel like you have to understand how I see this “thing” before we can turn to your particular experience.

I wonder if it would be helpful if I talked about my experiences first? If we didn’t address any of your stuff in session, but if I talked about my experience and explained the “thing” in terms of me?  Then you can see if you want to talk about your stuff, or email about it?

Bea

Yikes. Her response made me so scared. I just knew it was going to be something bad and that she was going to turn back into shrinky Bea and I was going to end up more upset. I asked her to please just email the shrinky thing and let me read it. She said that she would try, but she wanted to do so when she had a good chunck of time to sit down and explain it, and that she wouldn’t have time until Sunday night. We emailed a bit more, me worrying about it and Bea reassuring that she had nothing bad to say, and that this didn’t change anything about her and me. In the end, she didn’t email about the shrinky thing. She emailed to let me know that she was very tired and didn’t want to explain something this sensitive when she wasn’t at her best. She said she knew that this wasn’t helping my anxiety but she felt it was more important that she be well rested and able to be fully present with me in the morning.

All of that didn’t feel as terrible to me as you mignt think. Bea stayed in contact with me, she responded to my emails, she reassured me that it was okay and she didn’t leave. I was scared and anxious Monday morning but I still walked into her office without too much difficulty.

I said hello, and Bea said hello and I sat down on the couch, curling my knees into my chest. I was shaking from all the anxiety.

“I know this wasn’t easy to walk in here today. I know that your anxiety is making it really difficult, so I want to follow your lead. You tell me what you would like to do today. Would you like to color? Would it help to just sit and talk about safe topics? Do you want to talk about stuff?”

I reach over and pick up the cloud pillow, hiding my face. I can’t be here, I can’t do this. I can’t breathe. Something very, very bad is going to happen. This is dangerous, I shouldn’t be here.

Gently, Bea says, “I’m going to grab your blanket.” I hear her get up, and then she is standing near me with the blanket. “Do you want me to cover you up or just set it next you?”

I can’t even answer her. Finally I manage to whisper, “I just want to hide.” So Bea drapes the blanket over me before going back to her own seat.

Now that I’m hiding, I feel a little safer, but not much. I’m still shaking, still having trouble slowing my breathing.

“Take a minute, okay? Can you notice that you are safe? Nothing bad is happening or is going to happen. Listen to the birds outside. You aren’t in danger. You’re here in my office and you are safe. I’m here. Nothing bad is happening.” She says slowly.

“It doesn’t feel like that,” I tell her.

“I know. And that is where we have to go back to our ‘feelings aren’t facts’. I know this feels scary and dangerous, but it isn’t. We are just sitting here, in my office, listening to the birds.”

“But something bad is going to happen. You have scary things to say.” I squeeze cloud pillow tighter.

“It really feels like that, doesn’t it? This feels very scary and dangerous.” She says.

I nod, even though she can’t see me.

“I think, maybe we should just spend today working on safety.” I can hear her sit forward in her seat, and I can picture her face because I’ve seen how kind and caring she can look when she wants to make sure I am feeling safe.

I sit in silence for a long time. It isn’t easy to figure out what I need or what will help me feel safer. Hiding? Not talking? I’m not sure at first, but then it dawns on me that as long as I am filled with anxiety that Bea is going to say I am mean and terrible and she hates me and I cannot see her anymore, I’m not going to feel safe. “I think I need to know what you want to say.” I blurt the words out in a rush, and then I sit there hugging cloud and waiting for something very, very bad to happen.

“Okay,” Bea says. “I can do that. Before I do, though, how will I know you are still here? If we are going to talk about this, you have to be here.”

I think about it. If she can’t see me, she can’t know for sure that I’m present, and if what she says upsets me, I could be silent because I am hurt and upset, or I could be silent because I am very, very far away. I sigh. “You could just ask me,” I finally suggest.

Bea lets out a little laugh that seems to say *well that was simple. Why didn’t I think of that?* “Good idea. Are you here now?”

“Yes. Mostly. Enough here, I think. Just really, really scared.”

“I know. This isn’t scary, I promise. And it doesn’t change anything about you or how I feel about you.”

I bury my face in cloud. This is going to be bad. I know it. I can feel it. Very bad things are going to happen.

“Okay, I want to be very careful about explaining this, and I want you to know I really, really get it. This is a special kind of mean. I have been this kind of mean before, and I know how hard it is to feel like this. I know that it isn’t really an intentional mean. It’s almost a hijacking of our wise mind, and this emotional mind takes over. Well, it is more than emotion mind taking over. For you, it’s a part, one that gets hijacked with intense emotion when this part feels threatened with abandonment. This part reacts with intense feelings, and rage. There is no logic when this part is feeling taken over by emotion mind. This kind of rage, this sort of lashing out, the distorted thinking that goes along with it, clinically we would call it…..and I know that this word is not one you like but I am going to use it anyway. Clinically speaking, this would be a borderline trait, this reaction would be described as borderline rage. That doesn’t mean you have borderline personality disorder, or change anything about you. It means that the teen part reacts to those feelings and fears of abandonment with borderline rage. This is something that happens to traumatized people. Alice, are you still here?” Bea has been speaking slowly and carefully to me.

“Yeah….I……here.” It’s hard to get the words out, not because I’m far away, but because I just don’t know what to think. I might have distorted what Bea had said that Wednesday, but I wouldn’t have if she hadn’t been spining out with anxiety and if she had been present. If she had realized I walked into her office dissociated and triggered. And I was only telling her what I heard her saying, what conclusions I drew based on her behavior, and how that felt. Why was that mean, exactly? Why was she calling it borderline rage?

“Do you know where the term borderline comes from? It comes from this idea that people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder were on the border of psychosis. This is out dated thinking, and you already know that I don’t believe that BPD is a personality disorder, I believe it is caused by trauma. But this idea of psychosis, or what I would call an extreme distortion of reality….it’s part of this lashing out, it is what leads to the rages.” Bea pauses for a moment, and then checks in with me again. When she is satisfied that I’m still here, she continues, “I don’t want you to feel I am being shrinky, and I very much want to explain this in more human terms. I think it might make more sense, that way. But I want to make sure you are comfortable with me sharing my experience of this special kind of mean?”

“Okay.” I whisper the word.

“When I first went to therapy, way back when I first started school to become a therapist, I experienced this. My therapist had an office set up and appointments scheduled where I didn’t typically see his other patients. I had been seeing him for about a year at the point of this experience and I had never seen another one of his patients. One day I did see one of his patients leaving. It triggered something in me, and all of a sudden, in my mind, my therapist had made sure I saw his other patient because he liked her, he cared about her, and he did not care about or like me at all.” Bea pauses here and asks, “Now, does that really make sense logically?”

“No,” I tell her.

“No. It doesn’t make any kind of sense. But at that moment in time, in my mind, he hated me, he didn’t care about me, he had wanted to hurt me. I walked into his office mad. More than mad, really. In a rage. I lashed out at him and all he would say to me was that wasn’t his experience. I emailed him after my session, still in a rage. It took a long time for me to calm down and come back to my wise mind. I couldn’t see beyond my distortion of reality, and my emotion mind had taken over. My therapist refusing to engage with me just made me more angry; I wanted him to soak up my rage, to be hurt by my lashing out because in my mind he had hurt me purposefully. There wasn’t much he could do but wait for me to be calm enough that I could hear what he was saying. That’s where setting a boundary comes in; the boundary of not taking on that rage, and the boundary of waiting, standing next to the person who is raging, until they can really listen, until they are no longer completely hijacked.”

I can’t imagine Bea in a rage. I can’t imagine her lashing out at anybody.

“Does that make sense? Maybe? Sort of?” She asks me.

“I guess. I don’t know. Enough.” I want to tell her that I hadn’t wanted her to soak up any of my feelings, rage or otherwise. I want to tell her that I could see the parallel, and maybe agree with most of what she was saying, but that unlike her therapist who had done nothing wrong, she had done something wrong. I want to tell her that unlike her, I had only wanted her to understand what I had felt that day. I’m confused. This sucks.

“I’m going to stop talking now, unless you have questions or something else you want me to speak to. I’m sure you have a lot to say, and I want to make sure I give you that chance. If you want to wait and write, that’s fine, too. Whatever feels best to you.”

I sit there for a while, quiet and unable to even find my voice. Finally I tell her, “I can’t talk.”

“Because you can’t find your words? Or because you are too frozen? Or is it because you aren’t sure it’s okay to talk?”

I stick my hand out from under the blanket, holding up 3 fingers.

“Okay. I really do want to hear what the teen has to say. I want to know what she is thinking. Can I tell her it is okay to talk? I’m here, and I’m listening.” Her voice is soft and kind, warm and understanding.

“I can’t….I won’t say anything right.” I don’t exactly feel safe with Bea, or trust her right now, but I am still very afraid of making things worse. And there is so much in my head, I don’t know where to start, or how to say it without having it all blow up in my face. I want to tell her that the bad Wednesday was a big deal, even if she doesn’t think so. I want her to understand how and why I heard what I heard and came to the conclusion that I did. I want to tell her that I’m (the teen) is terrified she really does only want Ms. Perfect because it wasn’t until Ms. Perfect stepped in to smooth things out that Bea said she felt very much here, present and engaged in the conversation. I want to tell her she really hurt me when she compared me to a tantrumming toddler. I want to ask if she even remembers why that would hurt me so badly. And I can not say any of these things at all.

“Can you try to say one thing, and we can go from there?”

“No. No, because what I want to say is still just going to sound like *you made me* or some version of that and then you will just decide I am being mean again and ugh. I can’t do this.”

“Okay. Could we talk about this is third person? So instead of *I* you could say *the teen*. That would give us a little bit more distance from this.” She suggests.

“But….I might as well be saying *Alice* then,” I argue.

“Yes, but this isn’t Alice, this isn’t all of you. This is a part. I know it is a little weird to talk in third person.” Then she tells me how in Sensorimotor therapy, you always refer to a part in the third person to help keep some distance. There was more about the why that she said, but I was getting a little far away because I was feeling frustrated at the fact Bea didn’t understand what I was saying.

“No…it’s not that….I think you misunderstand what I’m trying to tell you. If I were to say *the teen* then I might as well be saying *Alice* or even *I*. It’s all the same right now.”

“Ahhh. I didn’t get it, but I get it now. Do you think that we could try using third person, for me? To help me keep keep in mind that this is a part, and that all of Alice needs me to stay emotionally here, so you can express what you need to express?”

“I don’t care if you say the teen. You always do anyways. But I always just say I.” Writing this now, I think Bea was trying to see if there was any adult onboard because the adult always says *the teen* and *the little girl* whereas if the teen or the little girl are running things, they always say *I*. I also wonder if she was trying to distract me from my anxiety and show me that she and I could still work out challenges between us.

“Okay. See, we have an ageeement and some common ground. I’ll say the teen and you will say I. Do you think you can share a little of what you are thinking now?”

“I…I feel like…..like you don’t think Wednesday was a big deal.” My voice breaks on the last word, and I start to cry.

“I do think it is a big deal. I know it is a big deal.” She takes a breath and continues, “On the surface, I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? I was talking about insurance, and I had a lack of awareness of my anxiety over that and my anxiety surrounding insurance was brought into your session. But, that isn’t really the whole story, is it? My anxiety made me not be here, and that was terrifying for you. I didn’t see that you were triggered and not present when you walked in, and it was as if I had abandoned you. Not being present, not seeing you, letting my anxiety run your session, all of that was very, very bad. It was a big deal, it is a big deal. I knew that day, this little piece of me knew that this was going to make it very, very hard for you to trust me, to feel safe with me for a long time. I do think what happened is a big deal, I know it hurt you very much, and I am so sorry for that.”

I’m surprised. She does think it is a big deal, she does understand that it was bad. “I was really, really scared. You didn’t see me. You weren’t here. I didn’t know if you were ever coming back.”

“I know. I also know that you can’t trust this right now, but I did come back. I am here.”

“I….do you….I mean, I know you didn’t say the things I heard, or sort of….assumed…..but do you see how….why I did? Because I had needed and needed and needed the weeks before with working so hard to trust you and believe you and then I got here and I needed you again and you went away. I thought, I think it is my fault, that you went away because I needed too much and then you were saying, talking about insurance and it felt like you agreed with what you were saying and that you felt that way because I was too much and you used me as an example to the insurance company and I really thought I broke you.”

“I do see how things got so distorted. Given your history, and your beliefs about yourself and needing too much, and me not being here, yes, I can see how things got so distorted. I want to make sure you hear this, okay? It’s important. You can not break me. You will not break me, you are not too much. Okay?”

“Maybe.” I whisper the word, really not sure if I can trust what she is telling me.

“Can I tell you what I meant when I said we had just the teen stuff left to deal with?” She asks.

“No. No. I can’t…..” I react immediately, and slam a wall down around her words. I don’t want to hear her tell me that I don’t need to be here for much longer. I don’t want to hear that its not much left to sort out, that it’s not a big deal.

“I know you are scared. I know. I really believe that if you will allow me to explain you will feel better about this, not worse.” Her tone says that she will follow my lead, no matter how much she would like to tell me.

“I…okay.” It’s almost a whine, and I should probably be embarrassed but I’m not. I’m too busy being scared.

“I spoke very generally, and that was not helpful to you. When I said we had just the teen stuff left, I think of your journey as climbing over mountains. The little girl stuff, all the work we have done with her memories and her feelings and her thoughts and beliefs, that was one giant mountain we climbed over. Now, we’ve climbed some smaller mountains, too. Your grief over your grandparents’ deaths. The mom stuff— that might be multiple smaller mountains. Learning to be grounded. Learning that it’s okay to say no and nothing bad will happen. Those are all things that took time, but they are smaller mountains. I see this teen stuff as the other very large mountain we have to climb. I don’t think it’s a small task, and I don’t think it’s going to be quick or easy. I expect it will take a long time. But I don’t think there are any other giant mountains for us on this journey. Lots of smaller ones left, and more will crop up, but the last big mountain to get over is all the teen’s stuff. And this is an important mountain.”

I let out a breath. That doesn’t sound bad. Not at all. “You aren’t leaving? Or makimg me leave?”

“Nope. Not at all. I know it sounds hard to believe, but there will come a time when you can take me or leave me.” Bea tells me.

“And then you will leave me?”

“No. Even then, I won’t leave. I’ll be here.”

“You really won’t leave?” I ask again.

“I really won’t.” She says with no trace of frustration in her voice.

“You said my behavior was like a toddler tantrum. That hurt my feelings. Do you know why?” It’s an abrupt change of subject, and I’m numb and far away as I ask it.

Bea follows the change of subject, although she sounds a little bit confused. “I did, yes….that…can you tell me?”

I’m even farther away as I start to tell her. “You know. I….the shrink after Kathy, he told my parents that my behavior, my—…”

Bea interupts, “Yes, I do know. He told your parents that the suicide attempts and the self harm and the eating disorder behaviors were nothing more than a toddler throwing a tantrum and should be ignored. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t mean you should be ignored. I meant that when we are raging like that, there isn’t really anything anyone can do, except wait it out. Much like when a toddler is tantrumming, and all a parent can do is stand next to them and wait. The raging isn’t to be ignored, but it can’t be engaged with.”

“I…it….you did leave, though. You said that you were ignoring the emotion part, you were disengaged emotionally because of me lashing out.”

“Yes….that’s true. I did disengage emotionally because I needed to set the boundary that I wouldn’t soak up that rage.”

“I didn’t ask you to soak up my rage. I never asked that of you, or even thought….that isn’t what I wanted!” My voice is louder, now, and my tone suggests that I am frustrated. I can’t believe she got it so wrong. “Just because that is what you wanted when you were raging, that doesn’t mean it’s what I wanted!”

“You know what? You’re right. That very well could be my stuff, and not yours. I’m sorry. What did you want? Will you tell me?” Her voice is earnest and authentic. She really means what she is saying.

“I wanted to know you were there, that you weren’t leaving, that I didn’t break you, that the way my crazy brain twists things wasn’t how you felt. That’s all.”

“Do you remember when I did tell you I was here, and you said it didn’t feel like I was?” She asks carefully.

“Yes. It didn’t feel like you were there because you gave me a bunch of shrink talk and then said *I’m here.* That’s…..all the shrinky stuff is like you hiding behind this wall of shrinky stuff so of course you aren’t here, there is a wall between us.”

“Okay. Okay. I get that. I think I assume writing more will give you more of a sense that I am here.”

I roll my eyes. “Not when it’s shrink talk. That only negates anything empathetic you might have said.”

“Thank you for telling me what you wanted,” she says softly.

“Will you please not call me a tantrumming toddler again?” I ask.

“Did I call you that?” She questions me.

“Okay, can you please not compare me to a tantrumming toddler again?”

“Okay. I won’t do that again. And I am sorry it hurt your feelings.”

I ask her if she knew when she had said she was emotionally present during our email back and forth. She doesn’t know. “When Ms. Perfect took over. Then, you were willing to talk to me.”

Bea tells me that I sound very accusatory and blaming.

“I’m not…that’s, I’m not trying to. But it is what happened and it feels a little like maybe you…well, maybe you do want Ms. Perfect.”

“I don’t have a problem with Ms. Perfect, she is very good at her job and she serves her purpose, but she’s not the part I really want to talk to.”

“Why not?” I counter. “She’s easy. She doesn’t ask for anything, she is entertaining, she isn’t difficult, she doesn’t have big feelings, she doesn’t need anything.”

“I know. And that’s sad.”

“Why? Why is that sad?” I don’t understand. Ms. Perfect is not sad.

“Because real people need people, they need a secure base, they have feelings, sometimes big ones, they are difficult af times and they can be entertaining and they are boring at times. Real people are multifaceted. Ms. Perfect, she came about because she is what your parents needed, and she ran the ship for a long, long time. Which means, relationships felt— and often were— very conditional. This relationship, our relationship, it’s unconditional. That means you don’t have to be anything except who you are.”

“So you don’t like Ms. Perfect best?” I ask. I’m trying not to focus on her use of the word unconditional, because…..well, because it is a big concept to wrap my head around right now.

“No. I don’t like her best. Look, I don’t not like Ms. Perfect, but I wouldn’t have a beer with her. But teen, if you were old enough, I would have a beer with you. Maybe we could go out for a root-beer.” She sounds genuine, and I’m speechless. She doesn’t hate me, and she doesn’t want Ms. Perfect.

We are both silent for a moment, and then Bea says, “My setting a boundary with the teen isn’t about me not liking or wanting her. It’s about keeping her safe and about not allowing her to behave in ways that are unhelpful to her. It’s about me caring enough to try to help her change behavior that pushes people away. That might feel like I’m being firmer than I usually am, but this isn’t because I don’t care.”

“Did I do something wrong?” My voice is teary.

“No. No, not at all,” she reassures.

“Then why are you telling me……boundaries?” I ask quietly.

“Because I wanted to make sure the teen knows that me being firmer than I offen am is not about me getting rid of her. It’s not because I don’t like her, or because I don’t like any of the parts. I care about all of you. The little girl doesn’t need to worry, she didn’t do anything wrong. No one did anything wrong.” Bea explains.

“It’s not the little who is worried.” I don’t bother explaining that the little girl is hiding from Bea, convinced that Bea is going to leave.

“What part is it?” She asks.

I think, and I try to sort through things. “A different part of teen?” It comes out as a question, but as soon as I say it, I’m positive that’s right.

“Ahh, yes. The vulnerable teen. She didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Boundaries….they mean go away, you are being bad, I don’t want to deal with you. Boundaries feel bad.” I tell her.

“Those sorts of boundaries do feel bad, don’t they?”

“Yeah.”

“Your mom set boundaries like that, right?” She asks.

“Yeah. She didn’t want to deal with me when I was being bad, when I was a drama queen and needed too much. It’s not okay, to be like that. So she pushed me out, she went away, she ,ade boundaries.” I’m crying, again. Ugh.

“That hurt a lot. But my boundaries aren’t like that. They aren’t to make you go away. They are to help keep you safe, and to help me be the best secure base I can be. Modeling good boundaries and keeping myself healthy so that you can learn how to have healthy boundaries is part of being a secure base. I need to be able to sit with you in the muck, but it would not be helpful for you if I got stuck in the muck or started to drown in it. Good boundaries make sure that doesn’t happen.”

We talk through that a little more and I calm down some.

At this point, Bea tells me that we need to wrap things up. “It’s 11:00,” she informs me. “I’m really sorry to let things go over so long. This felf important to get through, though.”

I’ve been here for 2 1/2 hours. I start to feel guilty, and then remember that Bea made a choice, and it’s her job to manage the time. Then I only feel grateful that we had time to sort through some of this. I don’t think I could have stopped this talk halfway through and picked it up later. I don’t think I would have felt okay stopping this halfway through. Nothing is fixed, but I have some hope now that it can be repaired. This no longer feels like it is a certainty that this is the end.

“Do you think you might be able to write about this other teen part for Wednesday?”

“Okay. I can do that,” I tell her.

It takes me a bit longer to really be ready fo leave, and when we say goodbye, I ask her one more time, “You really aren’t leaving?”

“I’m really not leaving,” she says.

Who do you trust?

I don’t remember how we ended up here, discussing this. I was up and down all last week, and Bea and I shared several emails back and forth– some with words, and some with emojis. She’d suggested that we try to work though some of the stuff, and I’d gotten quiet and bit farther away than I had been. Somehow, though, we are talking about painful things.

Bea has asked about friendships that the teen had. “I imagine that holding the secret was a lot, and made things really hard and painful at times. Was there ever a friend you thought about confiding in?”

I shake my head. She can’t really see that because I’m hiding under my blanket. “Who would I tell? They were all friends with Ms. Perfect. They like her, not me.” It’s whispered, and I want to cry. I’m sad, and it hurts that no one was friends with me.

“So even friendships were really kept separate,” she says, understanding coloring her words. “That’s a lonely place to be. Can you tell me about this part, the one that says no one likes her? Is that the part here now?”

“I…it’s the part that says if people really knew me, they would hate me. It’s the part that….well, the grown up doesn’t believe that anymore, except sometimes that part is very strong. I end up believing that hubby hates me. But….well. People like Ms. Perfect.” I shrug. Whatever. I don’t care that people like her and not me.

“Ms. Perfect was very good at her job. She kept you safe. She helped you function and excel. But it was lonely, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“And Ms. Perfect was very good at keeping this hurt and angry part away, wasn’t she?“

“She has to. No one wanted to deal with me.”

“It definitely felt that way, didn’t it?” Bea’s voice is gentle and kind, and her words are meant to be understanding and soothing. They don’t feel that way, though.

“It WAS that way. I was a problem, something to be fixed. I didn’t matter, except to get rid of me, so I couldn’t cause more problems and ruin everything.”

“Your parents….they did want to fix you, I know. I don’t think it was really about you. It was about their inability to contain your feelings, they lacked the capacity to deal with those hard things. It can feel very helpless to listen to a teen’s pain.” Bea is explaining and talking, and trying to help because she doesn’t want me to feel as if there is something inately wrong with me.

Her words are not helping, they are only making me angrier. Everything she says is blurred together. She’s still talking when I snap, “I don’t care!” The anger and frustration in my voice scare me, and I start crying.

“I know. I know. You’re right. It doesn’t matter why, or the theory of why. This is about you feeling unwanted and unacceptable. Parents are supposed to be able to help hold all those complicated feelings we have as teens, and you needed someone more than ever, because of your trauma. You had all kinds of extra complicated and painful feelings. It’s not fair, they didnt do their job of helping you with your feelings.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“What are you sorry for?” She sounds legitimately confused.

“I was so snarky.”

“I can handle snark,” she says softly. “I can handle your anger, too. I can contain it and be with you in it.”

I shake my head. “I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

“I’m not mad at you.”

“I don’t want you to get mad at me.” I tell her.

“I have no angry feelings towards you,” she reassures again. After a moment, she asks, “What would it mean if I did get mad at you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what did it mean for the teen if someone got mad back at her?”

“I……my mother does not like mad. If I got mad at her….she….she didn’t like me then.” My voice breaks a little, and fresh tears fall. Why did I bother putting makeup on today?

“What would she do?” Bea asks the question carefully, like she knows it is going to dig up pain.

It takes me a while to answer. The words swirl around and around in my head. They are right there, and I know that saying them out loud will turn the ache in my belly into a shap pain that I can’t ignore. “Silent treatment. She…….ignores me until I stop being mad.” Unable to hold back my tears any longer, I bury my face in Bea’s cloud pillow and sob.

“That’s really painful. Your mom really didn’t like mad. She wouldn’t even acknowledge you when you were angry. That’s hurtful. You go ahead and have your feelings about that. I’m right here, and I can handle whatever feelings you’re having. I can promise I won’t ignore you if you get snarky, or mad. And if I do get mad back—although I can’t imagine that happening and I am not mad at you in anyway— that will not mean I don’t like you, or I am leaving or that I don’t care.”

“I just….I worry. I am worried.” I tell her.

“I know. The teen had to be so careful, and she had to worry all the time, didn’t she?”

I nod. “Yeah.” I wipe my face and squeeze cloud pillow again. “I….this is so hard.” I start crying all over again. Ugh.

“I’m right here. Why don’t you take a few minutes and just have your feelings? I know it is hard to sit with them, but you can do it. I’m right here.” Bea speaks softly to me.

“I really don’t want you to be mad at me. I’m sorry.”

“Alice, I’m not angry with you. You don’t have anything to be sorry for with me.” She reassures again. Even now, after me forcing her to sound like a broken record, she still just sounds like Bea.

“But I am sorry,” I whisper.

“Who are you saying sorry to?” She asks.

I know what she means, but I don’t like these sort of shrinky questions. “Why can’t I just be saying sorry to you?”

“Well, you could be. Maybe there is something a part of you has felt or thought that was sensored so I don’t know about it. But as far as I am concerned there is nothing between us that you have to be sorry for.”

I know then, what I am sorry about. I just can’t get the words out. “I…maybe….what if I did do something? Maybe…..I just…..well, I think…..Ugh.”

“Whatever it is, I can hold it. It’s okay.” Her voice is soft, and her tone is caring, empathetic.

“I……I can’t tell you. I just can’t. I’m sorry. I worry that you are….I mean, I’m sorry, but I don’t know….what if you really can’t handle it and you are just saying what I want to hear so you dont have to deal with a freakout, and I know, I’m sorry, I just worry all the time that…..”

“You worry that people aren’t who they say they are.” Bea finishes my sentence in a sad, quiet voice.

“Yeah. That,” I agree.

“That’s a scary place to be, to not know if you can trust someone. It’s lonely.”

“Yeah.” I whisper the word, waiting for her to be angry with me for not trusting even her, after all this time.

“Who do you trust?” She asks gently.

“I….I don’t know….I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?” She asks. When I don’t answer, she guesses. “For not trusting me?”

“Yeah.” I’m crying really hard now, and my answer comes out garbled.

“Well, I think the teen has a lot of good reasons to be wary of trusting anyone. As far as I am concerned, she doesn’t really know me, just like I don’t really know her, yet. Trust takes time. We can work on it. We have time. And I’m here; I’ll be here for her regardless of if she trusts me.”

“Ok.”

“Maybe the teen could do some writing about trust?” Bea asks.

“Yeah. Maybe,” I say.

We start to wrap things up after that. Bea goes through a simple grounding exercise that she narrates to me. I can choose to join in, or just listen to her. Usually, I just listen to her voice and it’s enough to bring me back to my present day life.

When I leave, I am a little off balance, but okay. The teen part is so strong, and so present right now. It’s hard to feel like my grown up self.

👱🏼‍♀️💎💅🏻👠👛🤸‍♀️📓☎️ (aka the teen)

The teen showed up a few weeks ago and hasn’t left yet. I don’t think she is going anywhere, this time. Typically, the teen shows up when she feels threatened, or believes something is going to hurt another part. All the work Bea and I were doing around SP (mostly trying to expand my vocabulary to label sensation. It’s actually the same approach we used with emotions. We talked about talking about emotions, and what words might be used to label them) definitely triggered the teen, but I beleive the teen showed up because of the recurring nightmare I’ve been having for over a month now.

Typically, the teen shows up, gets mad, causes a rupture and then the little girl freaks out, the stuff that triggered the teen is put away so that repairing the rupture and helping the little girl can be focused on. It’s actually a very smart, and very effective system. However, I don’t want to continue repeating that cycle everytime something gets too close to all the teen’s pain. The teen stuff must be worked with, worked through. Most often, the ruptures the teen causes are focused on something Bea said or did, or didn’t say or do. The teen is very, very good at twisting words and actions and making even innocent ones seem malignant. She’s always done this– in actions or words of others she finds hatrd, disgust, apathy. She finds warning signs that someone is leaving, she finds clues that inform her trusted people hate her and want to get rid of her, and she hears in the others words a message of “I dont care about you, you are an unwelcome obligation.”

In order to avoid this twisting of words, I asked Bea to please not respond to email with words, but to use emoji imstead. It felt so silly, asking that, but it has helped. I’m having a hard time right now, with all the intense feelings and all this pain that has been triggered. I often feel like I am breaking, shattering, into a million pieces from the pain of it all. I knew with the teen triggered and present all my feelings would be even more intense and I would need Bea outside of sessions. I also knew I might survive another rupture where it feels like she left. So, emoji. The teen can’t twist pictures so easily. Partly because she can assign her own meaning to them, but also because when Bea sends emojis in response it is usually something like this: 👂👁🤝🐶👟👣🌱🌷⛅️🥗🍫🍺. Which the teen interperts as: I hear and see you, and I am here. I took the dog for a walk and saw some flowers, it was partly sunny out. I had salad for dinner and chocolate and beer later. Now, that could be wrong, but based on what I know about Bea, and on the simplicity of communicating with pictures, it seems likely I’m right. The thing is, the 👂👁🤝 really is reassuring that she is here, and the rest of her message (whatever it is) always just feels like she is still Bea.

Where all this will lead, I don’t know. The teen is just as vulnerable as the little girl. In fact, there really is no surface place to go with the teen. Anywhere you try and stand, you will fall through– right into the mud. I’m not sure what that means in terms of working through this pain. I know most of the little girl hurts still exist within the teen; they are simply amplified by the teen’s intensity. I’m scared. I feel like this is something I have to face if I am ever going to live a full life, if I am ever going to be able to have real deep relationships (with someone other than my therapist), if I am ever going to be able to get rid of some of the very worst of my triggers and responses to those triggers.

I feel like I’m heading into a great abyss, with no map to help show me the way.

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.”

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.