I’m sorry to publish two posts back to back like this, but I wanted to let you all know how things ended up.
As most of you are aware, this was a really tough week. I struggled, a lot. Although I haven’t responded to comments, your comments and kind words– just the care shown and support offered– did help. It made me less alone, and reassured me in so many ways. While I don’t think there is anything super triggering in this post, maybe just be careful, just in case, because I’m not all here right now, and I would hate to trigger some one because I am not paying enough attention.
Driving Kat to school, I am acutely aware that I must make a choice today: to go to therapy or to go home. I don’t know which to choose. It makes my head hurt when I think about it, so I stop thinking about it. I take Kat into school, and go through our morning school routine, all the little things that help her to transition to school. She lets me go easily this morning, and I walk to the car feeling off balance.
I don’t need to think, my mind and body automatically head towards Bea’s office. My heart is frozen, and the evil ugly butterflies are flying around in my stomach full speed ahead. My arms feel numb, and my chest is prickly, tingly. I can’t breathe. I don’t think I want to do this. I don’t want to see Bea. It’s going to hurt too much.
I get to her office and park the car. I’m frozen. All I can think is *she will send me away* and *she is going to leave* and *I can’t do this*. I begin to get my things together, but it is as if I am moving through thick mud; taking a long time to put my phone in my bag, to shut the car off, to grab my car keys. I stare into my bag. The large sized pink polka dotted notebook (I bought it when I was having my mini criss and my beautiful orange notebook was at home. I needed to write, so I bought a new book.) is sitting in my bag. I stare at it. Do I want it in my bag? Do I want to give it to Bea? It’s really vulnerable. The middle of the notebook is okay. But the beginning is horrible. The teen is pissed at her and struggling not to hurt herself. And the end, Little Alice drew the pictures that are stuck in her mind. They are pretty disgusting and terrible. I finally decide to carry it with me, so I can always throw the notebook at her and run away if it feels like too much.
I walk up the stairs slowly. Heart pounding. I can’t breathe. I’m so scared. Despite all that, I put one foot in front of the other and climb the steps. Bea is waiting at the door for me, and she opens it to let me in.
“I’m glad to see you,” she says. “I know it wasn’t easy to make it here today.”
I can’t look at her. I try to say hi, but no sound comes out.
I sit down fast, almost like I’m afraid if I don’t, I’m going to run out the door. I curl my legs up, and stare at the puppets in a bucket on the floor. I’m playing with my hands, the edges of my sweater, picking at my fingers. All that nervous energy has to come out somewhere, I guess, and the rest of me is frozen.
When it’s obvious I am not going to say anything, Bea begins. I’m half listening, and her voice is so far away. I don’t want to hear what she has to say. I already know she is going to take away email, or my extra session time, or possibly even fire me. I was hurt and angry and I behaved like a brat and now she is going to punish me.
“I want to apologize for what happened this week. I missed the mark, and I am sorry about that. I take full responsibility for this rupture,” she says softly.
Wait….what? She’s sorry? But it’s not all her fault. I know that. I wrote it down, somewhere. I tried and tried to understand and make sense of what had happened in between my meltdowns over flashbacks and nightmares and body sensations. Bea is still talking, but I am struggling to hear.
She is saying something about being sorry, and that she had always argued with colleagues that email wasn’t a problem because the clients she offered email to understood what she was meaning and she understood what they meant, and it just worked. “We need to make a plan,” she tells me, and that sentence breaks through the fog. I don’t respond, because now everything in my is frozen and I’m so scared she is going to say the plan is no emailing, or only ever emailing but her not responding or something equally terrible. “I have some ideas about a plan.”
I shake my head. I don’t want to talk to her about a plan.
“We can wait and talk about a plan in a little bit. I see you have a new notebook there. Did you want me to read?” She asks.
I look over at my notebook. There is so much vulnerability in there. I pick it up, and flip through it. “I don’t know.”
“Okay,” she says. And then she waits.
I flip through the notebook, again and again, numbly. I’m aware I’m doing it, I’m just not really here. I stop in the middle of the notebook, where I had rewritten my email. “I don’t think….it’s not all your fault.” I whisper. It feels like I haven’t used my voice in years.
“It’s not what?” Bea didn’t hear me, because the sound in my voice just disappeared as I was talking.
“Your fault. I wrote….I wrote that….I said….. I said polka dots but you heard stripes and you responded to stripes but I really needed polka dots. And I think…..I wasn’t so clear. I mean…..I don’t know. Never mind.” All of this said with a mumble and a whisper, while I refuse to look at her. Thank goodness Bea has become fluent in Alice speak (most of the time).
I honestly don’t remember what she said, but I know she apologized again, and she said if the teen was mad, it was okay and she could let that mad out. I shook my head at that and told her no one was mad anymore. She sighs and tells me, “I hope that all the parts know they can be mad and share that with me. I feel like the teen gets mad at me, just like my kids do, but my kids let me have it. They don’t hold back. And I can take it. I hope the teen knows that I can take it if she is mad, and that won’t make me go away. It won’t make me mad back, or make me care any less.”
I sit very still, very quiet, but I’m listening now. She continues, “I feel a bit like I do with my kids right now, when they are struggling and hurting and there is nothing I can do to take that away. I don’t like seeing you in so much pain, and I am so sorry for the pain I caused. I never want to stir up those abandonment feelings. I am not going to abandon you, not ever, there is nothing you could do that will make me go away. I do feel very badly that my response felt so bad to you. I didn’t want to make you feel like this, and I honestly felt like I had responded in the way you were needing. I had no idea I had been so off base, and your second email did surprise me. If I could take away this pain, I would.”
I’m still so scared something bad is going to happen, I’m shaking. I open the pink notebook to the middle page. “I rewrote my first email. I wasn’t…well, here.” And I hand her the notebook.
“Do you want me to start reading here?”
“Yeah. I….it’s….the beginning is where all the mad is at.” I cover my face in shame.
“So there is mad! Good! I’m glad to know its there!” I can hear a smile in Bea’s voice, and I shake my head. She is so weird. Who gets happy that mad showed up?
Bea starts to read and I grab the cloud pillow that is behind me on the back of the couch. She pauses and then asks, “Do you want your blanket?” She sounds so gentle, the way you would speak to a very emotionally exhausted child. Before I say anything, she says, “You know, I’m just going to get it and set it next to you, okay? That way it’s there if you want it.”
After she sets the blanket down, she starts reading. (I don’t have the pink notebook, the little girl wanted to leave it and all the scary pictures with Bea, so I’m going solely by memory.) I’d written that I wasn’t very coherent in my first email and so I didn’t get my message across. I wrote in the notebook: this is what I should have said.
1) I’ve realized that when I am far away, my reactions tend to be bigger than they should be, because that is the only way I can feel them, and I am having a very big problem being present right now and managing my reactions.
2) The little girl is so afraid you keep bringing up the grown up and wanting the grown up to help her. She thinks this is because you don’t want to have to listen to her or help her anymore.
3) The little girl is really triggered. She is having flashbacks and nightmares and these body feelings that make her feel disgusting and shameful and bad and they make her want to go away forever and ever.
4) The teen is so triggered by the little girls flashbacks. All of this has triggered her suicidal ideation, her need to self harm and she wants to throw up in this extreme way. It’s all so big, and her need to do something is next to impossible for the grown up to contain.
5) I need help. I’m balancing on this very small edge and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep myself from falling over it.
“Right away, I can read this and tell, you were really struggling. Things were really bad.” Bea says almost immediately.
I don’t say anything, so she goes back to reading. I’d written that I didn’t understand why she didn’t just tell me she was really busy, but she was there and listening and she knew it all hurt and she cared and that even though she couldn’t respond much, I could keep writing and pouring out the toxic gunk, it wouldn’t hurt her, and she could help contain it. The Teen had written *that is what the Bea I know and trust would have said.*
I don’t know what was going on for Bea, but when she spoke, she was very serious. “The teen is right. I didn’t make it clear that I was listening and that it was okay to keep writing. I went more the explaining route, instead of just focusing on the feelings. I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t…I mean, I just…ugh. You were talking to the grown up, explaining things, but it wasn’t the grown up that needed to be talked to.”
“No, it wasn’t the grown up that needed me to talk to her. The little girl needed soothing. I don’t think— I didn’t realize when I read your email that morning that you were screaming HELP. I read it, and heard “help”. I mistook your email….I experienced it as the little girl just needing to hear me say *I’m here and nothing I said in session means I am leaving*. I thought explaining why I brought up the grown up would help. I see now why it didn’t. There wasn’t enough grown up on board to hear that. The little girl needed to be calmed in order to calm the teen. Had I realized it was a HELP, I would have responded differently. My second email, I honestly was so surprised that you were upset by the first email, and I didn’t even see that you were trying to scream HELP again, or that you were upset because I had not responded to HELP. I went right to teacher mode, trying to explain to the parts that I didn’t have a lot of time, and that I had them in my mind. I suppose I was sort of trying to say *calm down guys, I am here even if I can’t write a long email back.*” Bea talked a lot, and she was really honest. She was human, regular Bea.
“You were really in teacher mode.” I say seriously.
“I know. And that’s not what you needed.”
Our conversation went like that for a while. Bea explaining what was happening on her end, me saying that *I know* and Bea apologizing again for missing this crisis and not realizing the little girl needed more validation and soothing. (The thing we realized is that had she known, she could have sent one email most likely taking care of the little girls needs. She apologized for not having the time to read my email throughly enough to read between the lines, and I told her that I knew I could have been more clear in what was happening. I think I get afraid to shout HELP, because I don’t want to be accused of being a drama queen.)
At one point, I’d written out what she had said in email, and what the little girl took that mean. As she read that, she stops and says,”This all had to feel terrible. These are awful things to be told, aren’t they?”
I nod. “Yeah.”
“I know this is what was heard, but let me make sure that all the parts know, this is not what I meant. I do not think you are too much. I don’t want the grown up to be the only one helping the little girl. I want to work with the grown up. My hope is….because all of this goes on inside, and the grown up can be inside, too, it would feel really good for the little girl to have the grown up be able to sit with her. But it’s okay if no one is ready for that. It’s okay. I’m here, and I’m not leaving. The grown up is supposed to be an addition to the little girl’s support. We aren’t taking anything away. I’m not being taken away from the little girl. And anything the little girl needs to share is okay. It’s not too much, it’s not going to contaminate me or break me. Okay?”
“Okay.” I whisper the word.
She goes back to reading. “On, look here. You even say that maybe I was still emotionally present but the teen and the little girl took the teacher feeling they were getting from me to mean I was going to be pulling away. And it felt like a wall.”
“Because maybe both things can be true. Maybe you were emotionally present, and maybe it felt to me like you you weren’t there. Maybe you responded in the right way to what you heard me saying and maybe your attunement was off in your response to what I had actually been trying to say.”
“Yes. I heard help when you meant HELP. I was going to ask about the third email, when I had time to sit down and respond more throughly, but here you already answered that. That email still was misattuned, and had that same teacher trying to get the class under control and explain things to them feeling. It just wasn’t what you needed. That’s why I’m thinking, in the future if that happens, then instead if continuing to email (I cringe, I knew it), we schedule a phone call. So we can talk this through before it gets to this point.” She doesn’t sound mad, or annoyed, or anything else.
I shrug. “You aren’t taking email away?”
“No. No, that is not the answer. And nine times out of ten, email works great for us. I feel like taking away email would be a terrible idea. But sometimes I will be busy and not able to put 100% of my attention on your email the way I can when we are face to face. And sometimes that means I miss the mark in a huge way. Maybe we need a signal. Like message me HELP in all caps when I miss the mark like that. But seriously, if we schedule a time to talk, then I can spend 15 or 30 minutes focused just on you. And if we need more time, then during the phone call we can schedule another call for later. And then you won’t be sitting with all this pain for so long.” She explains. And she sounds okay with this plan, and even more so, she sounds serious that taking away email would be terrible idea.
I breathe a sigh of relief over the plan. It’s okay, even though phone calls are hard for me. And then little Alice is running the show. “It was a really long time. And none of the yuck went away and it was so hard because I thought you left and I lost you and then it was just me and all the awful thoughts and feelings and the teen wanting to do scary things to herself and it was so so bad.” I start to cry then, and so I yank the blanket over my head and hide.
“It was really bad, and I’m so sorry. I wish I could help you understand that I’m always here, even if I’m not right there every moment. I wish I could help you trust that I am always able to hold you in my mind, even if I am busy.” Bea’s voice is soft and kind.
“But I can’t hold onto that. I get so scared every time that all my ick is going to make you hate me and need to leave so I don’t get the icky on you.” Little girl voice, crying and trying not to.
“The ick isn’t yours. You aren’t icky. And no matter what icky things happened, or what icky things you tell me about, I’m not going anywhere.” Bea’s tone is warm and caring, but also serious. She wants so badly for the little girl to get it.
“But…but….you were too busy to hear me. You didn’t see me when I needed help.” I cry.
“I know. That felt really bad. That’s why we are going to make a plan. I thought about you a lot this week. I was worried, and I felt bad that you were feeling so bad. You have to understand, you have a place in my heart, and you will always have a place there. That doesn’t just go away because I was busy, or because I was misattuned. That doesn’t mean I stop caring, or that you aren’t in my heart anymore. All the parts of you have a place in my heart. I care about you.” She says gently.
“I don’t want to hurt you or make you feel bad. I’m not supposed to matter like that.” The words come out of Little Alice’s mouth and they surprise me. It’s the push pull of attachment issues and relationships. I hate you, don’t leave me. Care about me, I don’t deserve to matter to you.
“Well, too bad, because you matter to me. That’s a relationship. Just because this is a therapy, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a real relationship or that I don’t care about you. You matter to me, and with that comes feelings. It’s okay. You deserve to matter to people.” Her words make me freeze again. I matter to her. I have a place in her heart and it won’t just go away because of a rupture. Things don’t work like that. I don’t know what that means to me, and it hurts to think about it, and so I don’t.
After a few minutes of me not speaking, Bea asks if I want her to finish reading. “Yeah. But just from where you are. Not the front.” The little girl might be beginning to believe Bea that she isn’t leaving and that she cares, but the idea of all that mad being poured out at Bea, it’s more than the little girl can believe is okay.
Bea goes back to reading. She’s found the pages and pages of dissociative, confused writing just spilling out onto the page. “You really needed me. This was too much to hold.” She says quietly. Her voice is so sad.
Hearing her say those words, just the very act of Bea realizing how bad it all was and how much I needed her lets loose the floods of tears I hadn’t even known I’d been fighting to hold onto. “I really, really did.” I gulp the words out, between sobs.
“The little girl did drawings? Where are they….” Bea is mostly mumbling to herself, just thinking outloud, and just when the little girl is starting to speak up, to tell Bea not to look at the drawings because they will contaminate Bea with all of my disgustingness, Bea says, “Oh, here they are.”
My heart freezes, and I want to disappear in that moment. The little girl was at a loss for words, the pain of all that she was trying so hard to hold onto was too much for words and so she drew all the images and nightmares and feelings. (Okay– these descriptions of the drawings could be triggering.)
The first picture shows Bea, in her sunny office with her comfy couch standing on one side of a thick door with a giant lock on the door knob. I’m on the other side of the door, curled into myself, with greenish-black slime covering the walls, and a box with an open lid and a big lock on the floor. Coming out of the box is a black shadowy ghost like creature with horns and red eyes. Black ooze is leaking out the bottom of the box. “You really felt like I was gone. This is so scary, and it’s too much for one little girl to handle. It’s too much for anybody to handle.” The picture seems to hit Bea hard; that imagery of her on this sunny okay side, with the lock on the door while I am stuck in the room of horrors all alone.
The next pictures depict a bruised arm, a black shadow monster with horns on top of the little girl while another part of her is sitting huddled on the floor, curled into a ball. There’s a picture of a girl drowning in green toxic slime, and a clawed hand stopping her from escape. There is another picture of a girl with her limbs and head all separate, just floating around like balloons, there is no torso, no private parts, nothing that can be hurt. Bea makes a noise as she flips through these pictures, not a gasp and not a sigh, but a sad noise, regretful. “This was all so scary, and you really needed me.”
“I did. I’m sorry, but I did.” I cry.
“No, no sorry. You are allowed to need me. You were feeling some real big, real scary feelings. They didn’t feel good and you didn’t feel safe at all. I’m really glad you shared them with me. I can see how really bad this week felt. That is a lot to hold onto. It was really hard, I know. You did a good job. Writing and drawing, that was a good job.” She sounds a little like a teacher again, but now she is a kind and open teacher. One whose voice is affectionate and caring and who gets how bad it all felt.
“You were just gone and I couldn’t and the teen couldn’t and she was being scared too and the grown up isn’t always so strong and I just wanted to go away forever and ever.”
“I know, I know you did. That’s why when all the parts are here, we are going to make a plan, so this doesn’t happen again, okay? We will make a plan and keep you safe. You are safe now. All those really, really scary things are over. I know they don’t feel over sometimes but they are. You are safe now, and we aren’t going to leave you alone like that again. Okay?” Bea tells me.
I sniffle, nod. “Okay.”
She tells me that we have just a few minutes left. I don’t want to leave, I really really don’t want to leave but I say okay, and tell her I can go. “Take a few minutes. Even if you don’t want to be fully present, I still want the grown up to try to get back online, at least a little bit.”
As I am trying to get back to a place where Bea will let me leave, I peak out from my blanket and quickly glance at her. She’s the same Bea.
Bea sits forward in her chair, and standing up, goes to set the pink notebook next to me.
“I don’t want that notebook back. No. I don’t want everything in it.” I’m in that weird place where the grown up is back online but not fully in control either and so the little girl manages to shout out her wishes at Bea.
Bea walks over to her table desk, where she has her planner and crafts and paints and projects kids ask her to save and her notes and who knows what else. She puts the pink notebook there. The little girl likes that it’s there. She doesn’t want Bea to get rid of her pictures, not yet, and if they are safe on her desk then maybe they can look at them next time and talk about it.
“Can we talk some logistical things for a moment, before you go?”
I nod. “Alright.”
“Are you going to you mom’s for Thanksgiving?” She asks.
“No, to hubby’s sister.”
“Then you will be in town. Kat doesn’t have school, does she? Can you still come on Wednesday?”
“Are you working Wednesday? I didn’t think….I mean, I don’t want…” I whisper. I’m trying to say I don’t want to make her work when she wasn’t going to, or take time away from her holiday but the little girl is screaming that she wants to see Bea and the teen is trying to convince the little girl not to be too much.
“I was planning to come in to see you if you were in town, and under the circumstances, I think we need to have a session.”
“It’s okay, because I don’t want to make you work when you weren’t going to and I don’t want to mess things up and I don’t want….”
Bea cuts me off. “This isn’t you messing anything up. Nothing is messed up. I do think, if you are able to, that it would be a good thing to have a session. You really need to experience me being here right now, so I think it’s important.”
“Okay.” I whisper.
“What time do you want to come?” She asks.
“Anytime in the morning. Whatever works for you.”
“Can you come at 8?” She asks.
“Yes, I can be here then.” I stand up and grab my bag.
“Okay then. I’ll see you Wednesday,” she says, smiling.
Just as my hand is on the door knob, I stop and look at Bea. “Are we okay?”
“Yes. I’m okay. You are okay. And we are okay. This didn’t damage us. We’re okay and I’m here.” She says softly. She’s standing next to me, because she always walks me out to the top of the stairs.
I nod. “Okay.” And then we say our goodbyes.
I’m okay when I leave. I’m sort of sad and just emotionally drained. The parts are still stirred up and I am still a little numb. I’m all sorts of mixed up, but mostly I believe Bea is here now and she gets how bad everything feels.