Ruptured: part three

Monday, July 9, I walk into therapy nervous and sick to my stomach. Bea sets my blanket next to me as she says hello.

“Where did you want to start today?” She asks gently.

I shake my head. “I don’t know.”

“Let’s take a minute, just sit here and feel this moment, feel safe. Notice that nothing bad is happening.”

“But…it will.” Stubborn as always, I am insistent that something bad is going to happen. I feel it.

“I think this is where it is useful to use our feelings aren’t facts saying.”

I groan. “Ugh. Maybe.”

“Well….what about this? What happens if it does blow everything up?” She’s asking in that curious way she has.

“I don’t know. We end up back where we were, or worse.”

“What’s the worst case scenario?” She asks.

“You….you quit dealing with me.” I mumble the words.

“That I can guarantee won’t happen. And if we end up where we were, or another bad place, then we start from there. That’s how I see it. Right now, we have to start where we are at. If that path leads us somewhere else, then I think we have to start in that new place.”

“Okay,” I say. “Okay. Let’s start with my response. I brought it.” I dig out my ipad and pull up my response. She takes it, and I hide, burying myself under the blanket and my face in a pillow.

You don’t sound shrinky. This just sounds like you, trying to understand something I don’t really understand. Both are “not here”, is just a different kind of not here. Remember when we made a list of different far aways? I think it’s like that. The here not here isn’t “me the adult grounding functioning Alice” but it’s not far away out of the window can’t talk and can’t think, frozen and hyper aware scared….it’s just that Alice not being here. It’s like some part is “here” but grounded Alice “is not here”. And the effect of things being a bit foggy and the emotions and feelings being blunted and even numbed, things not feeling quite real, feeling safer because of the detachment, is the same. Ms. Perfect definitely gives the here not here feeling, but I think because she ran the ship for so long, that feeling is more detached, functioning on auto pilot, and numb, but not so foggy. I don’t know. It’s complicated. Does that help at all?

“Mmmhhmmmm…yes…..okay….” Bea talks as she reads. I hate that she does this. I mean, I know whatever I have written is making sense to her, but I also hate it because I always wonder what part she is *Mmmhhmming*.

“Well, I am glad that wasn’t shrinky! And this does make sense. It is different kinds of not being here, although I still think that having a part running things so completely that you, the adult you, can’t….well, I guess remember the experience is still what I would consider being out of your window. I don’t know, for sure. I guess we will have to think about that. Maybe as parts feel safer, then the adult won’t have to be so far away.”

“Okay,” I whisper, mostly because I want her to know I am listening.

I’m not saying that is how things are, or that this is how you would handle things. I’m not accusing you of anything, just writing what this feels like to me (teen) and I am so afraid to say anything at all because I probably won’t say it in the right way for you and I am just going to mess everything up again. It feels like you get all the say so in this. Like, if you feel strongly that Z is what happened, then even if I am sure X happened, my viewpoint/feeling/worry is a distortion. And how can I even argue with that? Because clearly, I am distorting things and can’t even trust what my heart and mind are telling me. It’s like when I say you did not contain anything for me because my feelings felt ignored and you tell me you did contain things, it feels like the “final word” and the “reality” or “true version” is that you contained things. In that instance I think it might be more correct to say “Bea felt very confident she was containing things and feels that keeping things contained was never an issue, but Alice (teen) did not feel that containment on any level, so for her things were not contained.” I don’t know if this is even making sense. I don’t know how to explain it. But to me, it feels very much like the final say about what is reality lies with you.

“You’re right,” Bea says.

Wait…what? She is agreeing with me? I’m surprised.

“This is a perfect example, and as you said before, who decides that things were contained— the person who needs to feel contained or the one who is holding the container? I’d have to say it is the person needing the container. If that person doesn’t feel contained, then the container isn’t really doing their job.” Bea pauses, but when I don’t speak, she continues. “I don’t think the final word is mine, I can be wrong. I know there is a power dynamic, a power differential that can really make it seem like I have all the power. But I don’t care about being right, or about my reality being the true one. I’m not sure there is a true reality, I think what we need to do is find a common reality. And that is exactly what the example is that you gave. I did feel like I was containing things, but you didn’t feel contained, and I would add that ultimately, that means the container wasn’t working as it should.”

“I…okay….I didn’t expect you to agree….I mean, I really am not saying that is how it is, it is just how it feels. But I didn’t think….okay. Okay. This is okay.” My words are messy and scattered, but Bea gets what I am saying.

“I know. But it makes sense for it to feel that way. And I want to make sure you know I don’t care about being right. I care about finding a common reality.”

This is a hard part for me to respond to. (Bea’s explanation of negative feelings) Right away, reading this, I just feel sick and anxious and like I should just give up on working through this stuck thing— that the best that can be done is to agree to disagree and move on. And yet, I don’t think I can do that. But I also can not say what I am really thinking or feeling. I’m too scared to express what is in my head. You didn’t even say anything that is all that scary or upsetting, really. It’s just…… a mess. This whole thing is just one big mess that keeps getting messier. I don’t know if I want to share the writing below. We should talk about that first. It’s written in orange.

“Okay, I’m not going to read farther unless you give me the go ahead,” Bea says.

“Okay,” I say. I’m unsure what else to say.

“Is there something specific you want to talk about, before I read anymore?” She asks.

I shrug. I just don’t know. Finally, I tell her, “It’s…..weird…to talk to you about you. I mean, I would not talk to hubby about hubby, or to Kay about Kay. If I was upset or hurt by hubby, I would talk to you. I wouldn’t try to work through all the mess and feelings and fears and distortions and hurt and pain that he is involved in by talking to him. So it’s just….I don’t like this.”

“It is different, isn’t it?” She agrees.

“Yes. And I don’t know how to talk to you about you. Maybe I…maybe if would be better if I didn’t….I mean if I talked to someone else about this. I feel like maybe I need a therapist to deal with my relationship with my therapist.”

“Do you feel like I get defensive?” Bea asks me.

“I don’t know.” The words are automatic, because I can’t tell her yes. But I think it is yes. “Maybe?” My voice shakes. She is not going to like this.

“I might. I need to think about that. I don’t always handle what I feel is criticism well. My parents were very critical of me, so having my mistakes pointed out can make me defensive. It’s one of my triggers.” She is speaking very softly, very carefully.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“No, you don’t be sorry. Being upset with me, or having criticism to give, you are allowed to do that. The….responsibility is on me to recognize if I am triggered and becoming defensive. I need to be aware of it, and I wasn’t aware of it this time. I’m sorry because that is on me, not you. Thinking about it, I was hurt by your words, and I did react emotionally, and become very defended. It took me time to sort things out, and clearly, there was still more to sort out.”

I’m not sure what is happening, but it seems like she is really back, really Bea again. She’s here, really, fully, authentically here. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I say.

“I know that, but I am responsible for my feelings. This isn’t on you. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Do you think you would be willing to try sharing the stuck thing with me? Giving me a chance to work through this with you? I still believe this can be repaired.” Her voice is soft, steady.

“I….I don’t want to upset you,” I say honestly.

“Well, first, it is on me to manage my feelings. Second, now that I am aware of my defensiveness, I will watch for it. So much of these things are just about being aware of what we are doing. Therapists are supposed to be aware, so we can sort out what is our stuff, and not react to that. Sometimes we mess that up. And I am very sorry I messed that up.” She really is sorry. I can hear it in her voice.

“Okay. Maybe….I think maybe I will rewrite it….I think I’m going to write in third person, using the teen and her therapist. That seems….better.”

“I think you should write it however you want to. Don’t change to third person because of me, okay?”

“No…it’s not that. It’s…less weird talking to you about you in third person. And its……better. Easier.” I sigh and pick at my fingers.

“Third person it is then,” she says.

“Can….can I email it?”

“Yes. I think that is a great idea. You email it, and we will work through it.”

When session ends, I’m still struggling to feel grounded, but the wound has been cleaned and is beginning to be stitched shut.

And so, very late Monday night, a third person explanation of the stuck thing was sent.

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Repaired: part two

Between Thursday and Monday, we emailed about the stuck thing. First it was me worrying and seeking more reassurance that this wasn’t a terrible idea, and then I finally wrote out a part of it. (Mine is in italics, Bea is underlined)

So, Monday, you should read what I wrote about the stuck thing. I guess it’s just a matter of feeling like it’s okay to tell you about the stuck thing. I was feeling like maybe it was okay, maybe you got that this was this stuck thing and I can’t let it go but I’m really not sure if I’m over reacting and being silly and I am so afraid that you will put up a wall and leave, or not be there emotionally or be upset that I’m not over this or that I am making a thing out of if or that I am bringing it up again. I know that this rupture feels like it’s in the past for you, but I feel like it’s just right there, right behind us and could easily swallow us both up again. I feel like me being upset or confused or hurt or not over things that happened during that rupture is sort of keeping it alive and I need to let it go. It’s disconcerting to have something be so stuck and be so upset and scared and worried because of it, and to feel like more than anything, all I want it to not have to deal with the stuck thing, for it to just not exist. 

Yeah, it definitely seems that we need to address the stuck thing. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to move on without doing so.

I think you are right, this is a new thing for me, this idea of bringing something up again after it is done and over with, and….question another person’s feelings about something. I mean, really, the way to deal with a situation like this stuck thing is to just, well, forget about it. Shove it to the side, bury it, let it go. Pretending like that does work because eventually you sort of forget about it and the feelings just go mostly numb around the thing you buried, and before you know it, it really is no big deal. And questioning someone’s feelings? Disagreeing with them? No, no, no. That is not how these things are dealt with. The thing to do is to agree with the other person’s feelings. Then nothing bad happens. I know that is not how you do things, and so it probably seems crazy but it is how I have done them almost my entire life. I hope that by writing about small bits of it, it won’t feel so bad to give you the few pages of writing describing the stuck thing. Or, just this little bit could blow everything up and then I guess…..well, I don’t know. I think there was a plan for if that happened.

Well, we’ve all developed our various strategies for coping with things and getting our needs met. They work until they don’t, right?! That’s why we usually get to a point where we’re ready to give them up, scary as that can be.

What can I write or say that will tell you a little about the stuck thing without ruining everything? I don’t know. Everything feels like a risk. Maybe we talked about this already, but I don’t think so. Maybe I should have you give me a summary of what we did talk about (joking…sort of).  I mean, some things I know we talked about…..really, all of our sessions since (and probably including) the bad Wednesday, it’s all bits and pieces because I was having a lot of trouble being present enough to really remember. I know one session you said something about the teen being very present and here and not far away, and I wanted to laugh because I was in that weird here but not here space that I’m so good at seeming very grounded and present in, and sort of going between far away and that weird space. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for me to show up at all. I don’t even want to tell you that because I know you have this thing about me being present and in the window, and I get that, but I am so scared and so anxious, I just cant be super present right now. Well, Ms. Perfect can. Her sessions I remember pretty much in full. And like today, the grown up can be present as long as it’s all just surface stuff. Which is pretty much using Ms. Perfect’s coping skills. But anyway. Please just let this be. The teen can’t be all that present right now, and well, I need to be able to be far away to even show up. Maybe, if being more far away starts to feel safer, then I can be less far away. I’d say I have been less far-away than I was. So there’s that.

I’m beginning to think there’s a real physiological difference between the not here when you’re out of the window and the “here but not here” when you can talk and really be engaged, but be “not here” in a detached way.  What I mean is, it looks completely different from the outside. I don’t want to describe the physical ways they differ because I don’t want that to be a trigger.  The day I thanked the teen for being present I could see it was not the adult, but whoever it was had the language thing online and expressed herself without difficulty. She had a bit of an angry, defiant vibe, and spoke her mind in a defended sort of way. I guess I wouldn’t have said you seemed grounded and present as you, adult Alice, but it sure felt like this part was functioning well. You know how cut off parts can feel like “not me?”  I wonder if that could be part of “here but not here?” I’d sure like to talk more about this so I can understand it better. (Sorry if shrinky—just trying to sort this out)

There’s so much worry.  Worry you will think I am making a big deal out of nothing. Worry you will be upset with me for bringing this up again. Worry you will decide I am acting out, or being a drama queen. Worry that you will decide the stuck thing is just me distorting things yet again and displaying borderline behavior. 

If it’s a worry it needs to be brought out.  If it’s a distortion we’ll talk about why that is happening. We’ll work through it.

So, maybe first I should let you know that even though I have access to some reasoning right now, it’s a very thin grasp. This is emotional for me, it is painful and terrifying and all of the abandonment fears and attachment nonsense feel really triggered because of how extremely scary and vulnerable making even writing this much feels. I can say without too much worry that the stuck thing is about our rupture. I can say without too much worry that it is about me not understanding your feelings about something. You already read those things and didn’t get upset, so there’s not a lot of worry about saying those things again. There is some worry though. And I guess that the worry goes along with the stuck thing. Well, it is part of it….I mean, I guess the stuck thing is a lot of worries or fears combined with me not understanding something you feel and maybe disagreeing with you about something all sort of mushed together. So is this worry the stuck thing in real time? Ugh. I don’t know.  But maybe I could explain the worry, and we could start there.

The worry is that you told me you had no negative reaction to anything I said, but then later, you said you did have a negative reaction and it was very clear that you did. That makes it so hard to talk. In this current instance, maybe on Thursday you had no problem with me not understanding why you feel a certain way about something  but today you might have a negative reaction to it. I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing, or of saying it the wrong way, all my words are trapped. It’s like I can’t express anything without having an anxiety attack. Just the thought of sending this makes it hard to breathe and makes me light headed and I feel like I need to go hide right now. 

Negative reactions—where to start?!  I think there are several things I want to say, some of which I already explained. There are a lot of things I have to factor in when I have emotional responses to things that come up in therapy—and realistically, I’m always going to have emotional responses on some level, whether I’m aware of them or not. When things are complicated I have to take the time to figure out if I am having an emotional response.  First and foremost is always, why am I having this response? Is it my stuff? It’s probably in some part my stuff, so what stuff is it?  I can’t respond until that is figured out.  Usually these responses aren’t giant, so when I say I can contain your stuff, or I’m not having negative emotions I guess it’s more accurate to say that they aren’t “emotion mind” level responses. Then—and here’s where the wall and boundary thing comes in—if I’ve sorted through the “my stuff” part of the reaction and there’s still feelings there, I have to look at what was sent my way. This last time, as I’ve said, it took me a while to know what to do with that, and my negative reaction became part of the wise mind understanding that boundaries were needed.  So it wasn’t until after I had sorted through the “my stuff” piece that I could choose to use some of my real, post-reflection reaction to let you know what the negative impact was.  Does that make sense? I wasn’t trying to be dishonest about the negative reaction at first—I was trying—in my mind—to do my professional job of offering containment and doing self-reflection on “my stuff.”

Does that make sense at all? I guess the truth is, I always have some sort of reaction to most things, which is normal.   It’s okay if I have a negative reaction to something you say—it’s not really different than a neutral or positive reaction in my mind. It gives us information. I admittedly—like most people—have less negative reactions when I’m trying to work with a struggling part that’s not being mean—I don’t feel any mean from you (teen) right now. Even if I have a negative reaction I will take ownership of it, and I’ll still like you and won’t leave.

I write Bea back, but then I can’t send it. Instead, I write her to let her know I am working on a response but it is taking me longer to process this than I expected. She writes back that that is okay, that thinking and taking time is good.

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.

The teen’s questions

The teen showed up today. She handed Bea the notebook, saying, “I talked to you in here.” And so Bea read, and responded, while I hid under my blanket.

I wonder, what would you have done with me? What would you do if teen me walked into your office today?

You would have known the diagnosis of bulimia, cutting, and anxiety. You probably would have been told I was resistant to treatment. You would have known I was from a good family. That I got good grades, was well liked, participated in school activities like cheerleading and newspaper and that I was active in my church.

“Well, I would think that what was going on underneath– the cutting, the bulimia, the suicide attempts– didn’t match the picture I was being presented. I would be curious about that, about what that meant.”

You would have met a quiet polite girl. I would have willingly discussed school, church, friends, cheerleading. Anything else you brought up would be likely to make me ignore you, to go quiet and zone out.

What would you have done?

“So, that is lots of teens. I would try to get you to play a board game or to do some art with me. I would make sure that you knew I was aware there was more going on than you were saying. I wouldn’t push you to tell me, just make sure that you knew I knew there was something that was triggering the cutting, the bulimia.”

Kathy talked about normal things, and then would try to get me to talk about food, or maybe my feelings. She would try, and I would tune her out. But then, a few months after I had been seeing her, I went to that party and my whole world fell in on itself. Everything was was just one big mess and I couldn’t make sense of it, I thought I was going crazy.

Things got worse. I was cutting more, throwing up more.

I got caught cutting, and my mom called Kathy. I ended up seeing her that night. Mom wanted Kathy to “talk some sense into me” but that’s not what she did.

She asked if she could see what I had done, and I showed her. She was kind and understanding. Sitting on the floor, side by side, she looked at the cuts, new cuts, old cuts healing, scars. She said, “You must have been hurting really bad for a really long time.”

I said, “No, I’m fine. Everything is okay.”

She said, “Your words say you are okay, but your cutting tells me something else. It tells me you are hurting.”

I denied it, and she told me it was okay to not be okay, that in her office, I didn’t have to be okay. She talked about people cutting themselves to feel pain physically because they couldn’t feel it emotionally.

I told her that wasn’t right, that I had cut to make it stop.

She wanted to know, “To make what stop?”

But I didn’t tell her. Not then. Not that day. But that was the day I started to trust her. She was so understanding, and not mad, and she didn’t need me to be okay, and she acted like she really cared about me.

We had sat on the floor that day, side by side, and she didn’t try to fix me. She just sat next to me and tried to understand.

“She did see you, didn’t she? It sounds like she was very attunted. That she realized the cutting was because of something. It makes sense that you would trust her.”

And things went like this. Talking, slowly about feelings, about numb, about cutting, about throwing up. And she was always Kathy, always caring, always okay with what I said or did.

So, months later, I told her about the party. She had been my therapist for close to a year then. So, I told her. She didn’t believe me. I’d trusted her, I’d thought she was on my side, and she did not beleive me.

Nothing was okay. Nothing at all. I was crazy. And so I tried to die. And my mother fired Kathy and I never saw her again.

“This is painful. It is painful to read.” Bea’s voice has tears in it.

“I’m sorry.” I don’t want my words to cause her pain.

“You don’t need to be sorry, I just want you to know I feel how painful this is. A year of building trust, to have it end like that. It’s so hurtful. She really did so much damage. It’s really to bad there wasn’t the opportunity for a repair.”

So, I wonder. What would you have seen? What would you have said or done— in the beginning when I wouldn’t talk, and the night my mother wanted my therapist to talk sense into me, and the day I told you about the party? How would you have responded?

She diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder. I was 13, 14. What would you have said, done, believed back then? What would you say, do, believe if you met me now, in present day?

“Well, first of all, you shouldn’t have been daignosed with anything like that, not at your age. Secondly, BPD is just trauma. If someone comes to me with that diagnosis, I see trauma. That’s all. I do think that in the 90’s, anytime cutting was a symptom, BPD was considered. It was….well, that was how things were viewed then. Be it the knowledge we had, or cultue, or what, cutting was often viewed as manipulation.” She tells me about when she was doing internships, how therapists, psychologists, doctors would talk about BPD patients, and how it made her cringe. She tells me how not everyone agreed with the old school viewpoint, even at that time.

Did Kathy just pretend? Was it all an act to make me trust her? Was it just her doing her job? If it wasn’t, then what happened when I told her about the party? Why did she change, why was she so not caring? Why wasn’t she the therapist I knew and trusted that day?

“I don’t think she was pretending. You are too sensitive to changes in people around you, to people being fake, that you wouldn’t have trusted her if she weren’t being real. She clearly wasn’t very attuned that day. Was she asking questions kindly, like, just trying to understand?”

I shake my head. “No. No, it was….like she was interrogating me, like she…..she thought I had done something wrong or was lying….it…she just wouldn’t stop questioning me. She wasn’t Kathy.”

“Maybe she was triggered, maybe something about your story brought something up for her. Maybe she was having a very off day. Therapists make mistakes. We screw up. And we forget how important we are, that we matter.”

“The first thing….the first response I have is to say, she wasn’t important, she doesn’t matter. But she did matter.” I start to cry again.

“Yeah, she did matter. She was important. This was a loss, and painful. So much pain.”

“I needed her. I was going crazy, and I….she was the only person I had to talk to, and I talked to her and she didn’t beleive me. And then there was nothing, and I had no one, and I couldn’t handle it anymore, I just needed it to stop and it wouldn’t and I couldn’t even trust my own mind, I wasn’t sure what was true anymore, and it was all just too much. So I…I tried to end it.”

“You really did feel all alone. Abandoned and let down. Of course it hurt. I wish you had gotten to go back, to see her again, to maybe repair the relationship and not be alone with all of this.”

“I wouldn’t have talked to her anyway,” I say, angrily.

“Maybe not. But she could have talked.” Bea counters.

“My mother made that choice, not me.”

“True. That doesn’t mean Kathy didn’t want to see you again.”

I guess I can’t know if she wanted to see me again, or what my mother even told her.” I say.

“No, you can’t know.”

“My mom was mad. Kathy wasn’t doing her job of fixing me because I was still trying to kill myself. She might have told her just that.”

Bea sighs. “If that were me, I would have done everything I could to get your mom to let you come back to me. I woild have talked to her about repair, and relationship, I would have asked her to come in so we could talk.”

“You would have?”

“Yes. I would have wanted to repair things,” she assures me.

“I guess there is no way of knowing.” I shrug.

I think for a while. “What would you have done if that was you, and I came back?”

“Well, I would probably cry. I would feel really terrible that I had missed the mark so horribly, and caused you more pain. I’d tell you that and say that I want to find a way to repair the damage I had done.”

“I probably would come into your office mad.”

“Would you be able to tell me that you were mad, or would that have felt too threatening to risk having me be on an opposite side?” When Bea asks this, I feel touched that she remembers how hard it was for me to be mad at her because I didn’t want us to be on opposite sides. That was before I learned, and experienced, that people can be mad at each other and still care and work together on the same side to repair the rupture.

“No, I would tell you because it wouldn’t matter to me. You would already be gone, not on my side.”

“Then I would start with the mad; I’m glad you came back, even if you are mad at me. I’m glad you can tell me you are mad. I understand something really upset you last time. Can you tell me what that was?”

“No. I’m not talking to you about this. Not ever again.” My tone says that this is final, that I am angry and hurt.

“We were talking about the party, and I clearly missed something. I hurt you, because I missed something. I’m sorry.” Bea says softly.

“I don’t care,” I say in my coldest, angriest voice.

“And then I would just stay with that,” Bea tells me. “I would wait and carefully bring up the party and my clear misattunement, and wait until you were ready to respond.”

“Just like that? You would wait? How long?” I ask. I don’t beleive she would wait until I were ready to talk.

“As long as you needed. I would do art, and plah games, take walks with you, and make sure you knew that I knew there was a lot going on that you weren’t saying, and that I was just waiting for you to be ready to work on repair.”

“Will you wait for the teen to be ready to talk? To trust you?” I ask.

“Yep. I’ll wait. And I think the teen is doing a great job talking in her own time. And I will just keep waiting, trusting that she will know when it is time to talk more.”

“You are good at waiting,” I tell her. “You waited four years for the filter to be removed.”

“I did. That had to happen in your time, not mine.”

Somehow we get to discussing Kathy, and if she had kids, or was married, how old she was. I have no answers. I only know she was mom-age, but older than my mom, more like the age of my friend’s moms. “She didn’t tell me stuff about herself,” I say.

“She had some firm boundaries, not like your self disclosing therapist.” Bea laughs.

“I wouldn’t have been able trust you if you didn’t tell me about you, if you weren’t real.”

“I know. And really, I shouldn’t say that. The old school of thought was that therapy should be single person; meaning the therapist is a blank slate. But there is also 1 1/2 person therapy, where the therapist gives some feedback, maybe shows emotions, that sort of thing, but leaves out anything personal about herself. Then there is 2 person therapy, meaning the therpaist shares more of herself, shows her feelings, discusses her reactions to things, and the relationship is more collaborative and that of working side by side. Sharing things about myself is only being a bad therapist if I were sharing things that were me wanting you to take care of me. Or if you didn’t want to know about me. I have people who don’t want to know anything about me, and so they don’t know anything. You need to know about me, to know that I’m real, that I am not pretending to be something I’m not. You need that to feel safe, to know that I’m just me. Honestly, you probably know more of me than anyone else I see, because you need that.”

I laugh. “I never thought you were doing anything wrong. Different than therapists in my past, yes. But not wrong. And it helped me. You being real means I can talk about things, that it is safe. I mean, with the teen present, there is no way I would have been able to trust you, not after…..well, the story abour Kathy became that she pretended to care, she acted one way to make me trust her, and then she got what she wanted, and she hurt me.”

“Now, what does that parallel?” Bea asks.

I think for a minute. Feeling shame, guilt, apprehension, I say, “What the teen thinks about you?”

“Well, yes. But also, Kenny.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah. It does.” I’m surprised. Does this mean something? I don’t know.

We talk a little more, mainly about trust, and the teen, and how it makes perfect sense to Bea that the teen would struggle with not wanting to be alone, but being so afraid to trust Bea.

As my sessions is ending, Bea says, “Everything we have talked about today reminds me, I have a conference for new therapists, and interns I’m to attend, to do a presentation about therapy relationships and not rushing the process when working with trauma, with sexual abuse. What I keep hearing from more experienced therapists is that the newer therapists and interns are rushing things, pushing to rush things.” She pauses, and then says, “I was going to use the story of a person I saw long ago, but your story fits the topic better. You reminded me how we did just follow the process and really let things unfold.” She says the next part slowly, carefully, “Would you let me use your story— our therapy story– to talk about these things?”

Surprising myself, I say, “You could do that.” And then I add, “You should tell them about Kathy.”

“Yes, I could do that.”

“They need to know how much hurt they can cause, how much power they have,” I say softly.

“They do need to know that. And you could write about your therapy experience then, and your therapy experience now. If you wanted to, that is.”

“I would like to do that,” I tell her. “Maybe…..if I can, I mean, it’s not good that this happened to me, but maybe if my story can help therapists help someone like me, then that is a good thing. Isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is a good thing. A very good thing.” She pauses after she says this, and adds, “You know you don’t have to let me share your story, or talk about our relationship, or write anything to share. You can tell me no.”

I pull the blanket off my head. “I know. But I wanted to say yes.”

“Okay. Then we will decide what to share, together. Okay?”

“Okay.”

She Believes Me

Monday, I tell Bea about camp, and my experience with my co-leader. I’m proud (aside from one snarky thing I said) of how I behaved. I’m proud that I was able to speak up, because that is not something I am often able to do, especially with men, especially with no one else there to back me up. I’m proud that I was able to speak up in an appropriate way, and that I was able to keep my cool for as long as I did. I’m proud that I did not allow his accusations to make me question myself, that I have a strong enough sense of self now to know who I am and how I have behaved. Bea is proud of me, too. We spend most of my session time on this, because it is big— it is proof of how far I have come.

Towards the end of session, Bea checks in with the teen. The teen has written a few pages, and so Bea reads those while I hide under my blanket.

I know what I will test things with. My therapist. Kathy. She was the third? fourth? therapist they sent me to. I didn’t trust her. Not at first. But then, somehow, she was different. And I liked her. I trusted her. And then I went to that party, and everything was a mess, and I was so confused, and all these Kenny memories were just coming up, getting mixed in with the waking nightmares (what I know now is a flashback) of the party, and everything was so confusing, I felt crazy and not even Ms. Perfect could hold it together. So, I told Kathy. And she didn’t believe me. She just…..she didn’t believe me. She kept pointing out how all my friends were right there; why didn’t I get up, or say something? She said it didn’t make sense that I did not have any answers for her questions, but parts of that night are just not in my memory. I didn’t have the answrs, but she thought I was lying about something. She didn’t believe me.

Bea is mad about this, mad at Kathy. “She really hurt you. She did real damage. It’s no wonder you (the teen) don’t trust me. It would be very hard to trust anyone after that.”

The teen’s best defense is to dissociate, and that’s exactly what I did. Somehow, I am telling Bea about the party, and the teen is running the ship.

“I was at my friend’s birthday sleepover, her cousin was in town, on break from school.”

“School?” Bea asks.

“College. Her parents had gone out, so he was in charge. Which was way cooler anyway. And he was…..cute. Everyone, we all had been…..flirting, laughing. I don’t know.” I shake my head, full of shame.

“So, you were doing what girls your age are supposed to be doing, developmentally appropriate.” She murmurs. She wants me to realize I hadn’t done anything bad, or wrong, or abnormal.

“Well. We had a movie on, at bedtime. We were all just spread out on the floor, curled up with blankets, sleeping bags. And….he asked to share my blanket.” I feel a sense of wonder, that rush of *he picked me* and then shame and disgust and self hate rush in. “They were all……jealous.” The last word is hard to get out.

“Ahhh, yes. Of course they were.” Bea says.

“And….then he…..well, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” She agrees.

“And….Kathy, she womderd why I didn’t get up, say something. I don’t know. I swear to you, I really don’t know why.”

“Well, Kenny stuff aside, and I’m sure that played a big role, this wouldn’t have been an easy situation. I mean, even if your friends were there, you had a status thing from him choosing you, and they all liked him, and you couldn’t know how they would react, and it was probably very confusing. Add Kenny, another college boy in your life, who has groomed you to be quiet and go along with what he wanted, and the trauma he had caused, you probbaly froze and dissociated.” She theorizes.

“She didn’t believe me. She just kept asking me things. Things I couldn’t tell her, like the movie we watched or his name. I don’t even know his name.” I’m crying now.

“You dissociated, clearly that is what happened. It’s why you don’t remember everything. It’s okay.”

“And she just kept asking, and asking things, she did not believe me. She thought I lied.”

“It wasn’t her job to believe you or not believe you. It was her job to stay with your experience. And clearly, your experience was awful. Really, truly awful.” Bea tells me.

I mostly remember crying, and Bea just being there with me.

And then it’s time to wrap things up, and Bea says we should talk about this more, but that for now she wants to know if the teen needs anything to feel okay before we end.

“I just…I have a question.”

“Okay. You can ask it.”

“Do you….I mean, I know it’s not your job to believe me but….” and then I can’t say the words, because the idea of her answer is too frightening.

“Do I believe you?” She gently finishes the question for me.

“Yeah.” I mumble the word, shame heating my face.

“I do. I believe you. I believe the teen, and the little girl, and all of you. I do believe you,” She says confidently.

I’m able to leave feeling warm and safe. She believes me.

A Conversation with the Pastor

I met with the Pastor. And it was good.

It’s 12:45 on Friday afternoon and as I pull into the church parking lot, I’m too nervous to think. Like filled with anxiety, too nervous to even eat today, nervous. Maybe this is a terrible idea. Maybe this is a big mistake, maybe I am going to be wasting his time, maybe, maybe, maybe. I’m spinning out, and thinking it might be best to just leave, to not go inside.

Instead, I do what I tell the kids in my class. I take a big breath. And then another. And another. At school, we use what we call “drain breathing” and I use it now. How it works is this: you take a big breath in and picture that breath as you letting calm things in. Then you let out the breath, and you picture it like a drain, getting rid of all the upset. This breathing works for me, maybe because I have used it so often with kids in my class that it feels safe, or maybe because it is less focus on feeling the body, or maybe because I am getting slightly more comfortable with body sensations. Whatever the reason, this is helpful. So, I breathe in and out, and give myself a pep talk. “You can do this. You are an adult. You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to. Alex is just a person, just like I am. I’m okay. This is okay.”

At 12:56, I walk inside, and sit down. A minute later, Alex walks over to my table. “Are you Alice?”

I nod. “Yeah. I’m Alice. It’s nice to meet you.”

The cafe area of our church is really busy, so he suggests we go sit in the middle school students’ space.

“I was just saying that I really need to tell people I will meet them in front of the students’ space, or by the welcome desk. Because I end up going around asking people if they are meeting me. It’s just a little akward.” He laughs as he says this, and I relax a little bit.

The student room is being used, so we end up in th nursing mothers’ room instead. Alex asks me first, because that room is closed off and only has one door, unlike the students’ space which is all clear glass and windows with huge open doors.

“That’s fine,” I say, “As long as we aren’t stopping someone from using it.”

“It’s really meant to be used for weekend service times, so it’s okay. And besides, this is a really cozy room. I’ll prop the door open, too.”

“Okay,” I agree. He lets me walk in first, and after I sit down, he chooses a chair that leaves me closer to the door. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it’s something I always notice.

He doesn’t make any small talk, just simply dives right in. “So, tell me about yourself, about what is going on, why you reached out.”

I freeze. Crap. This was dumb. So, so dumb. Why did I think this was a good idea? “I…I don’t know.” The old, automatic answer is back. I take a breath. Calm goes in, scared feelings go out. “I’m feeling really nervous.” I whipser.

“How come?” The question is straight forward.

“Umm. Well. I…because these things…they aren’t easy to talk about, they are uncomfortable. And there is a lot of fear in talking.”

“It is scary to say things outloud. There is power in it, too, though. When we say things out loud, it takes away some of the power it holds in our lives. Let me ask you this; what was it that convinced you to reach out?” He looks right at me when he asks this, and there is no judgement or annoyance in his face.

“It started with the starting over series. I just…it made me think about…that maybe I could move past this. But I just, I didn’t know how, or what I needed to do exactly. But it made me think it was possible. And then, well, you said if anyone had something they needed to start a conversation about they were welcome to do so, and you gave your email address. That….well, that’s what I do, it’s how I work through things, I write. So it just….. (I want to say it seemed like God had made a way for me to reach out, but I don’t. Because who am I that He would make a way for me?) it seemed like suddenly there was a path.”

He nods. “Can you say what it is you need to move past?”

I look at my hands, at the ground, anywhere but at Alex. “I……I’m mad at God. Well, on one hand I am so mad at Him, and on the other, I feel…guilty, unforgiven.”

Alex sits forward his seat, and looks at me. “Okay. Okay. Let me start with this. Do you know that it is okay to be mad at God? Anger, well, actually, all of our emotions, they come from God. And He welcomes your emotions. Being angry with God, it doesn’t make you a bad person. You are allowed to be mad at Him. Do you know that?”

I shake my head. “I don’t feel as if I have the right to be angry. There’s this…..guilt, it’s….I’ve made so many terrible mistakes.”

“What are you angry about?” His question is straight forward, so it’s not threatening but I still find it hard to answer, and so Alex continues. “The apostle Paul wrote about being honest about our mistakes, our sins, because that is where God shows his strength. It’s not in our perfection that God shines, but in our brokenness. Paul writes about this thorn in his side, and how he talks about this thorn in his side wherever he goes. And it doesn’t really matter what that thorn is. We all have sin, we all have stuff. We all have a thorn in our side. And to God, sin is sin.” Alex holds a hand level with the chair, “A lie,” and he holds his other hand above his head, “or murder, and everything in between, is all the same in God’s eyes. Now, they may have different consequences here on earth, but to Him, they are all equal.”

I sigh. “It’s so easy…well, not easy exactly, to admit to my parenting mistakes, or mistakes I have made in my marriage. The things that I have messed up in my adult life. But things from my past, it’s so much harder.”

“Those things have more power over you right now, they are harder to speak out loud.”

I nod. “If….logically, I know this isn’t my fault, but emotionally….it’s so very, very complicated.”

“Can you set the emotion aside for a minute?”

I look down at my hands again, twist my rings around my fingers. “I grew up (over there) and it’s….well, I joke that it is the bible belt of (state). Church is what you do there. It’s white, and conservative, and wealthy and you go to church. (This city) was culture shock when I moved here. I love it here, but it was culture shock. Anyway…..it was just…church was what you did where I grew up.” I stop talking, unsure how to continue.

“This is your story, and it is unique to you, but I can guarantee that awful things happening in the midst of church, or even because of church going people is not new to me. It won’t be anything I haven’t heard before.”

A small laugh escapes from me. “You might be wrong.”

“I could be. But I’m pretty confident that I’m not.” He’s just matter of fact again, gentle, but matter of fact.

“Okay. Okay. My cousins lived next door to us. And it was wonderful, and it was terrible.” I stop talking for a minute and breathe. And, that’s also the rest of the secret, the one I have never told, not to Bea, and not here in my writing. I’ve always said that Kenny was like family, that his parents were so close to mine that we called them aunt and uncle. The teen needed it that way. It made it less awful in her mind, to say he was like family, instead of that he was family. Again, it’s complicated and messy, and I don’t know why I told the truth to Alex about who Kenny was to me, but it felt right, and so I did. “My cousin, he’s eight years older than me. He sexually abused me. I was five. It…..it went on for 11 years.” I stare at the ground, unable to look up. “I….I, this….I didn’t know, it was just…I don’t know. I didn’t even know what it was. Not until…..well, in my middle school, at the time, they did this thing where they split up the boys and girls, to talk to them….” I trail off, struggling to continue.

“Yes, I remember that,” he says softly.

“My church offered an alternative. So my parents, they signed a form that I was not to attend the school talk, and they sent me to the church one. Probably half my class did the church talk instead. But that was when…….I realized what it was. What I had been doing. That I had committed this giant sin. And even if logically, I know that I didn’t……it is like ever since then I have been unforgivable.”

“That was not your fault.” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Alex looking at me. He sits forward again, and lays his hands flat on his legs. “I come from a very broken family. I was sexually abused for years. Healing from that, it has been, and is, a very big part of my story. It took a long time, but it is totally possible to come out the other side. Helping others who were hurt in this way, that has become part of my story. God has used that brokenness and hurt in me to help others.”

I stop breathing for a moment. Alex was sexually abused. He gets it.

“What happened to you was evil. But not your fault,” he repeats again.

“You sound like my therapist,” I say.

“Good,” he smiles, “Maybe you need to hear that from more than just her. It is the truth.”

“I know. Logically, I know. Most of the time, anyway. But emotionally……it gets complicated.”

“I know it does. That still doesn’t make what happened to you your sin. It’s not your sin. Even if there were times you liked it, even if there were times you sought it out, wanted it, it is not your sin to own. You have no fault here. Everything traces back to that five year old girl who didn’t understand, and didn’t ask for this. When you were seven, eight, nine, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, whatever happened, whatever part you think you had in this, it all goes back to that little girl who had something so evil and wrong done to her. And what happened to the nine year old, the twelve year old, everytime he hurt you, it was wrong, and it was evil, and you were never at fault. There isn’t anything to forgive where God is concerned. This isn’t yours to be forgiven.”

“I’m just so mad. I’m tired of being mad, I don’t want to feel like this. I want to move forward, I don’t want to keep feeling guilty and condemned and mad.” I blink back tears.

“Tell Him. Tell Him you are mad.”

I shake my head. I can’t do that. I’m afraid.

“He already knows, but He is always inviting us to have a conversation with Him. I’m guessing the mad is in wondering where He was, why He allowed this to happen to you?”

“Yes,” I whisper the word, covering my face with my hands as I blink back tears. I will not cry. I don’t like to cry in front of people. I will not cry.

“Ask Him. Let Him show you where He was in those terrible, painful moments. Maybe you need to forgive God for not rescuing you, for not stopping it.” Alex says this like it is just…..well, normal to talk about a person forgiving God. I can’t begin to wrap my head around this, I definitely do not believe I have the right to forgive God. But there is something there……I’ll think about this later.

Alex asks about feeling mad at anyone besides God. “I’m angry at everyone. At the one who hurt me, but at others in the family, too,” I tell him.

“Yes, yes! You should be angry. You have a right to be angry at this cousin who hurt you so badly. Have you told your family how you feel?”

I shake my head and stare at my hands. “No. They don’t know.”

“None of them knows?”

“My therapist, and my husband. That’s it.”

“Okay. Okay. I’m not saying you should tell, or that you have to tell, but I’m assuming this guy is still in your life?” There isn’t judgement in his voice, just sadness.

I nod. “Sorta. Not so much anymore. I….well, since I had my daughter, I avoid seeing him as much as I can, so he’s not really in my life so much now.”

“How are you ever going to really feel safe, really be able to go visit your family without being retraumatized, if there is always a chance you could run into him? Shouldn’t the people who didn’t protect you be held accountable and help to keep you safe now?” Alex asks me.

“You sound like my therapist again,” I tell him.

He nods. “Good. Why haven’t you told your family?”

“It would destroy my mother.”

“But it’s destroying you,” he says softly.

“I just can’t do that to her.”

“You haven’t done anything. You didn’t do this. You didn’t ask for this. Your cousin hurt you. You were the one who was hurt, the one who is suffering and struggling and being hurt everytime you are forced to see him, and yet, here you are, trying to protect everyone else.” He sounds sad. “This isn’t something you should have to deal with on your own. I’m glad you are starting to reach out to others besides your therapist, it’s brave of you and a good thing for you. But don’t you deserve to have the support and care of your family that you didn’t get then, now? It’s not your job to protect your mom.”

“Except it is. Or, it used to be.”

“No, it never was your job. Even if you thought it was, it wasn’t.”

“No, it wasn’t. Logically, I know that. But it was put on me. You have to understand, my mother, she, well she is……she has a pretty severe eating disorder. When I was growing up, if I messed up somehow, she would get worse.”

He nods understanding. “It was your job to keep things going smoothly, to keep your mom healthy. But really, it wasn’t your job then, and it is not your job now. Wouldn’t you want to know if your daughter had been hurt like you? Wouldn’t you want the chance to support her and love her through her journey of healing?”

“Except I have intentionally created a relationship with my daughter where we talk about everything— good and bad. My parents, they never wanted anything more than smiles and rainbows and unicorns.” Saying this out loud hurts. It’s the truth, and it’s nothing I haven’t said or thought before, but these words, they hurt. Maybe it is the idea that parents must be intentional in how they talk to their kids, and mine weren’t.

“And that’s painful, and it makes it harder for you to understand that God wants to hear all of it. He doesn’t want just sunshine and unicorns. He wants the storm clouds and the rage and the tears and the questions. He isn’t afraid of any of those things. He wants to hear it all. I know that as a mother, you want to hear everything your daughter has to tell you. I feel the same way as a father with my boys. It may not be what we grew up with. We are breaking that cycle, and the way we relate to our children, in wanting them to come to us, in welcome them and all their feelings, their triumps, their mistakes, that is how God feels about us.”

That is something to think about. It’s not how I have thought of God. Maybe I have unconsciously made God to be like my parents, only wanting perfection, and nothing else is good enough or deserving enough. I mull that over for a moment and slowly nod. “Maybe.”

“I can’t tell you what to do, but I agree with your therapist. It’s not healthy for you to keep seeing this man who hurt you. It’s not fair to you. That anger that you feel is the result of this boundary that was horrificly violated. You have a right to feel safe in your life. You’re angry because you were hurt, and angry because you weren’t protected. And you have every right to be angry, even to be angry at God.”

I nod my head. “I just don’t want to be angry anymore, to be in this place of feeling so bad.”

“What would that look like for you? To move out of that place?”

I spin my bangle bracelet around my wrist. “I’m not sure. To feel like I’m forgiven, like I belong to God. To not feel guilty. And…..I guess to not have to see my cousin ever again, or to at least….I don’t know. To know he won’t hurt me or anyone else ever again.”

“Well, the first one I can assure you, you are forgiven. If you believe He is who He says He is, and you prayed that prayer, then you are forgiven. You are His daughter, and He loves you. That, I can promise you. You are His daughter, and you are loved and forgiven. He wants you to have a full life. He wants you to feel safe. If that means setting a boundary of not being around this person without giving an explanation, then that is okay. If that means breaking your silence, then that is okay, too. You don’t have to do anything right now. You have time, and you are working to move forward.”

I’m silent, and simply thinking about what Alex has said.

“Has this cousin ever even acknowledged what he did?” Alex asks.

I shake my head. “I don’t think he even thinks he did anything wrong. It’s always just him acting like things are normal. And I just go along with it. I danced with him at my wedding.” I laugh, this sort of disgusted little laugh. I shake my head. “It’s not funny. I laugh, but it’s more just….” I’m unsure how to finish that sentence.

“The incredulousness of it all? If we don’t shake our heads and laugh at the crazy shit in our lives, then, well, we might break.” He goes on to share a story of his own that is another one of those things you just have to shake your head at and laugh.

“Yeah. Exactly that.” I smile because he gets it.

“You know, you mentioned that writing is helpful to you. Have you written a letter to this cousin? Not one you have to send, just one for yourself, to let out some of that anger. That was something I found helpful when there were all these feelings, but I wasn’t yet ready to hold anyone accountable.”

I want to ask him about telling, about breaking his silence. I want to ask what happened, what did it feel like, was he scared, does he feel safe now? Instead I say, “I do write. Writing is easier than talking. I spent a whole year of therapy only writing, never talking. Talking still scares me.”

“How often do you pray?” Alex asks gently.

Shame washes over me. I shake my head.

“Okay. It’s okay. I only ask because, well, I assumed that if you are angry, and you feel inforgiven, and you don’t like to talk, prayer might be difficult right now.” He looks at my face, and I’m trying so hard not to cry, and feeling so embarrassed I cover my face with my hands again. And then he continues talking, “It’s okay. Maybe you could write to God, instead of talking outloud. If writing is easier, then write to him. That’s an okay thing to do. He made you, and He knows you. Write to Him.”

“That….I think I can do that.” I’m smiling because it’s such a simple answer, but something I have never considered. It’s a place to start, a step that I can take.

Dark and twisty

It’s Wednesday. The Wednesday before Bea leaves for a trip, to be precise. I won’t see her for seven wake ups. I won’t email, or text, or have the option for a phone call. I have to practice having her unavailable when she is out of town because this summer, when she goes on her big trip, she will be unavailable for twenty wake ups. That is a long, long time. And I hate it.

But right now, it is Wednesday, and I am in Bea’s office. She is reading my notebook, and I am hiding.

A few weeks ago, Bea and I had been discussing a timeline, where Kenny was when I was a teen. Things seemed unclear, because I had memories of him leaving when I was around teen age, of him going off to college and feeling very abandoned by him. That didn’t add up, though, if he was 10 years older. The grown up simply went on facebook, looked up his brithday including the year, and made a chart. He was 7 when I was born in October, and he turned 8 in June. That makes him 12 the first time I remember him touching me, and 15 or 16 the first time I remember him raping me and I was 11 or 12 when he left for college. The fact that I had been wrong about his age didn’t really bother the adult, or Bea, but it upset the teen a lot.

I’m afraid. I am afraid you are mad at me. Because I said he was 10 years older, but he isn’t. I was wrong. He is only 8 years older. So now you are probably not happy with me because I have basically lied about this for the last 4 years and so now you must be angry and upset and maybe now you think I lied about everything, that I have been wrong about what happened all along but you can’t say that because you would have to deal with the mess that that would create and and all my upset and no one wants to deal with that. So you tell me you aren’t mad, but really, you are.

When she reaponds to this fear, it’s with gentlness and empathy, but her tone is also firm. She wants me to really hear her. “I’m not mad at you. Not in th slightest. I think it even makes sense that you had his age wrong. Let me tell you how I am seeing this. From my perspective, we have always heard about Kenny from the little girl. She is the one who has shared her story, and her feelings, with me. Now, what did she know about age? What do kids think about age? They know when people are old, like mom or dad old, or grandpa old, or even when someone is an older kid. Kids will routinely pick round numbers, like 20 or 50 to describe how much older a person is. To the little girl, Kenny was old. He might have been the cool older kid, but he was given responsibility from the parents to watch the younger kids. That would have made him old in her mind, but he’s definitely not 20 years old. So, he must be 10 years older. That’s one of my thoughts on this. The other is that it doesn’t matter. Not really. His age helps us make the timeline clearer, but it doesn’t change anything. It doesnt change what he did.”

“But….I…maybe….ugh. Okay.” I stumble over my words, struggling to get them out.

“What is it?” Bea isn’t going to let me get away with pretending it’s all okay.

“Things get twisted in my head. Its dark and twisty in here. I just….I don’t know. I tried to write about it.” I sigh. I just want her to read what I have written. That is easier than speaking.

“Okay. I’ll read what you have written.”

Things get all twisted in my head. Everything gets twisted. It’s like this. On Monday, you said that we should deal with stuff then, so we didn’t dig up stuff right before your vacation. The grown up hears that and is secure enough in this relationship to remind you that it doesn’t work like that, that we can not plan when stuff comes up, and we end up laughing a little bit about it. The littl girl hears that and just shrugs. She doesn’t feel like that statement even pertains to her, because she is believes you will be there if she needs you, and that you are coming back.

“This….this is huge. For the grown up and the little girl to feel safe in our relationship. This is a big thing. And I think this is why we can deal with the teen’s stuff now.” Bea’s voice has a smile in. She sounds proud of me.

But the teen….things get twisted. There’s so many conflicting thoughts and beliefs.

(1) you care and don’t want to leave the teen upset and alone for a whole week with a mess.

“That’s true. I don’t want to leave you alone with hard stuff.”

(2) you don’t want to deal with messy stuff right now and this is a nice way to tell her that.

(3) the teen shouldn’t be thinking that (#2)

(4) she should be fine with this. What is wrong with her that she is upset over this?

(5) this stings a little. It’s like rejection.

(6) fine. I just won’t talk at all. That will make sure nothing is dug up.

(7) bea just doesn’t want to deal with me

(8) this is silly. Just stop being a drama queen

(9) push all this nonsense to the side. Forget about it. This is not even a big deal.

“All of this tells us a lot. But the underlying feeling I get from this, is that the teen doesn’t believe she deserves to be cared about. The first thought, that is the correct one, it’s exactly why I said what I did about diggers stuff up. The rest of the thoughts seem to be talking the teen out of believing someone can say something nice to her, or care about her and mean it.”

“I guess so.” I mumble.

“Writing out the thoughts is helpful for us, because we can…I know this isn’t a good word for the teen…study thoughts and work with them. I wonder though, if after writing out the thoughts, if the teen could write about why the nice one, the caring one, can’t be true. Could she do that?”

“I can try.”

“Okay. Let’s try that then. Let’s see if that can help us work though the dark and twisties.”

I’m not sure it will help, and I’m not sure I will even know what to write. Twisting things is automatic for the teen. It’s not something she even thinks about, it happens in the blink of an eye. But she will try.