It’s not the end

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.

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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.

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Is this goodbye?

I know I’ve posted a lot in the last day. I’m really close to walking away from Bea. I’m more hurt than I’ve ever been. I haven’t sent this email yet, I’m letting it sit in my drafts so I can really think it through.

Bea emailed me a more in depth email last night. It’s clear in that email that she has decided the teen is simply venting all her rage at Bea. She’s decided that the teen is angry that the little girl has shared so much and made herself so vulnerable lately. She actually wrote: The teen feels she needs to step in and fight against me because the little girl has let herself be too vulnerable. I was just thinking yesterday that it almost seemed too easy the way we were working on things.

You guys, I can’t believe this. I don’t know how we went from okay to this mess. I’ve mostly shut down and gone numb because how am I supposed to cope with the big bad scary ideas and images and feelings that I allowed myself to let out, because I believed she would be there to help me, and now my secure base has decided to hide behind a locked door. I just don’t see a way through.

Dear Bea,
I’m not okay. I’ll be fine, because this numbed perfect part of me kicked in Friday morning and so I’m no longer feeling anything at all. But it is a fragile bandaid, and underneath that, I’m not okay.

I want to cancel therapy this week. I don’t want to see you. It feels like walking into therapy right now is only going to rip off the fragile bandaid I’ve applied and make things worse.

I understand that you are busy and stretched thin. I understand that you can not be available all the time. The thing is, though, every time this happens, and I need you, you put up this wall. I understand that it is you setting a boundary so you can practice good self care, but it is painful. The boundary in and of itself may or may not feel hurtful, but that is not the issue.

I think we can both agree I am extremely sensitive to any changes in your emotional availability. Your first emailed response clearly upset me. Upon further reflection, I don’t believe the problem was that you didn’t respond in a way that that felt helpful, but rather a subtle shift had taken place that triggered me. Unfortunately, that shift is so subtle, I can not pinpoint it. Whether it was the tone, or the language used or something else all together, it set off alarm bells in my head that despite the reassurance you are still here, you are in fact, not here. Obviously, your second email explained that you are busy and stretched too thin, which made my reaction clear to me.

This situation has happened before, at other times when you have felt stretched too thin. It makes since that if you are feeling this way, a shift would take place and you would pull back emotionally. Everyone does this at times. To me, it is like instead of a door that is easily opened, there is a very solid door that is firmly shut. You may be on the other side of the door, telling me you are here, but the reality is, I’m sitting in this room of horrors alone. In the past, we have talked it out, repaired the rupture and agreed that you would tell me when you are stretched to your emotional capacity and that you would simply focus on validating any feelings that came up as a result of the work done in therapy or due to any triggers. We agreed that it wasn’t helpful to have anything else happen, because it all feels clinical and cold to me.

You can’t change this right now, and nor should you, because the door is clearly shut for a reason. But I can’t do this. It is unfair that you let the little girl open the lock box holding this big bad scary idea that she couldn’t do anything to stop it, and that she didn’t do anything to cause it. I emailed because I can’t handle this on my own. I emailed because it’s too big and too overwhelming to hold by myself. The little girl feels like you lied. The teen feels like you said you would be there, and then you turned shrinky and clinical instead of actually being there. The parts don’t trust you right now. Even the grown up is questioning why she trusted you enough to let the little girl open that box.

I understand you are human, and that you have a life and obligations beyond me, and my needs. I understand that you can’t meet all my needs, and nor should you. I understand that I am an adult and as such, I am responsible for myself. That still doesn’t change the fact that I am feeling abandoned and like you betrayed the little girl’s trust.

I just can’t do this right now.

Alice

It’s Wednesday and I hate her

I walk slowly down the steps, out the door and onto the sidewalk. I’m numb, empty of all thoughts and feelings. Right now, I’ll do anything to stay numb. If there were any feeling here, I would feel as if I don’t matter at all. I would feel abandoned and alone. Bea’s words keep replaying in my head. “Yes! Notice that, this new idea. Let it really sink in. This is a great place to end things for today. Take a few moment and notice what that feels like. Notice the boundary the blanket creates and notice this new idea. Let yourself feel those things.” 

I hate her. I hate her. I wasn’t done. She cut me off, not wanting to hear the negative nearly intolerable thoughts and feelings. She doesn’t care. She wants to focus on the positive and get me out of her office for some reason. I feel rushed, in a way I have never felt rushed out her door before. I hate her and I don’t need her. I’m never going back. These awful feelings are never going to end, and she just made them that much worse. 

Of course, later– much, much later when the grown up Alice has some control over things, an email is sent to Bea, and she responded: I want to tell you what I was thinking at the end of the session–not that it should be all tied up nicely, but that it’s better for your brain if you leave feeling the resource than the yucky stuff. So I was trying to flip the switch to that instead of the yucky, but it sounds like it felt invalidating that I basically turned away from the feelings you were having? And maybe that made the little girl feel invisible and like she wasn’t being seen or given attention? Reassure her that next time we can surely spend lots of time with her!

The teen reads this and shakes her head. Lies. It’s all lies, she thinks. Bea does not care. She was simply following stupid SP protocol of things needing to end with some form of resource learned or used, some lesson or some growth or some crap like that. It doesn’t matter anyway, because she doesn’t need Bea. Bea is not going to spending anytime with the little girl, the teen will see to that. She’s so angry. Bea left her in all the crap feelings and thoughts, left her right when she almost had found the courage to say something about the after and the body memories that keep popping up because of the after memories. The teen was curious about things Bea had said, and she wanted to talk about it them. Not now, though, not anymore, never again. I hate her. 

Never mind that the teen is deeply curious about this idea of feelings or thoughts being stored in the nervous system. Does that mean these are thoughts of feelings that she never really got to have before or are they things she felt and thought that are just stored some where in her? Sure, the grown up has done a lot of reading about this, but for some reason that information isn’t easy to hold onto. The teen had wanted to talk about it. To ask a question, maybe. What does it matter now? I trusted her, and for what? She doesn’t understand. She doesn’t get it, and she never will. I hate her for making me feel abandoned and as if I don’t matter. 

The phone call 

Alice, just an FYI, I’ve had a cancellation and am free until 3:00pm of you would like to talk by telephone. -Bea

I stare at the email, unsure if I really want to call. I’m hiding out in our guest room, because the fan is the perfect noise filter so I can feel like I’m not being overheard. I have my water, my blanket, and my phone. I should just call her. I want to. Every time I read the email sent before the one offering to a phone call, I start to cry. If I read the entire thread, I feel hopeless, unheard, unseen, and alone, and all I want to do is quit therapy, forget about Bea. 

Instead I pull up her phone number and hit the call button on the screen.

“Hello?” She answers the phone with just the slightest question at the end of the word. 

Moments before, I’d been struggling not to cry, but now, all I can say is, “Hi.” 

“Hi there,” she says quietly. 

I can’t find my words, I say nothing. 

“I wasn’t sure you would call.” 

“Because you didn’t really want me to?” I whisper. 

“No! No, not at all! I guess I thought you might feel awkward because I know you don’t like to call me.” 

I don’t understand why she is telling me this, but not much makes sense to me these days. “Oh,” is all I can manage to say. 

Bea starts talking again, but I don’t hear her because Kat interrupts my phone call. She wants me to know she is going downstairs to play with her dolls. “All right, that’s fine.” My words are short and clipped, I’m annoyed. 

Bea has stopped talking, but I have no idea what she said before. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you were saying,” I tell her.

“Oh, can you hear me now?” 

“No, no, I could hear you, it was just Kat, I couldn’t hear you over her.” This isn’t going well. We aren’t connecting, it’s not better to be talking to her, we are just missing each other somehow. Why did she tell me I could call? Why did I take her up on it? 

“I’m sorry that I missed the mark earlier, that you felt more alone after emailing with me than before, I feel bad that I made you feel bad,” she says. Her voice is authentic, I can head that she is sorry, that she wasn’t trying to make me feel worse. 

I start crying, “I can’t do anything right, right now. I just keep screwing up, over and over. And I didn’t want to make you feel bad.”

“No, I know you don’t want to make me feel bad. I’m glad you told me I was way off base.” 

 
“I’m just so sorry I’m making everything worse. I’m messing it all up.” I’m sobbing now. 

“Did you get my other email?” Her voice is soft, almost a whisper. 

“Yeah, I got it.” I don’t want to talk about it. 

“I was afraid that if I said something, you would feel like you were messing up by not meeting some expectation I have for you. I don’t have any expectations, I am not even sure what that feeling is about, but I felt I needed to think about it, to sit with it, to try to understand it. It’s not a bad thing, not at all. I just need to think about what this feeling is telling me, if maybe I do need to push you a little more in the coping arena. That’s all it is, is something to notice and think about, talk about it.” 

I want to die. I literally want to curl up and die. She just told me to email as much as I needed to, that I could call, that she is here, and now she is telling me that she is having this feeling of maybe needing to push me in the coping arena. I am hearing that as I should be coping with this on my own and not needing her like this. “Nothing feels right. Everything just…..it all feels not okay. I’m not okay, nothing was helping. I thought, if I emailed you then maybe I’d feel better because I’d be less alone. But then, it didn’t help.” I’m crying harder now. I burying my face in my pillow. 

“I’m hearing you, nothing feels safe, just everything feels wrong. I’m here and I’m listening. But I can’t help thinking that you have a few more days left, before you leave. I wish for you that you could enjoy them. Maybe do some yoga, get out and swim at your beach, take Kat for a bike ride.”

“No! I can’t.” I’m crying harder now.

“Even that doesn’t feel okay. I know that is easier said than done, that it’s not so easy to switch parts like that. They sort of show up when they want to and take control. I guess this is more about my desire to fix things for you.” She says. 

“I don’t want you to fix anything! I just want to not be alone. I don’t need you to fix it. I don’t expect people to fix my stuff for me!” 

“I know you don’t, I know that. It’s hard not to want to fix things for you. That not on you, it’s just me, being human. I do know that when I feel bad, I don’t want someone to fix it, I just want someone to sit with me. Sometimes you want to fix things for people, don’t you?” 

“Yes. I want to fix everything for everyone I care about.” It hits me as I’m saying it. She cares. She feels a desire to fix it because she cares.

I sigh. How can I make her understand? “It’s like if I had more time…..I just….there’s so much that came up and now I just can’t…….if I wasn’t going camping, I would be able to just put this stuff away, put it in my notebook, box it up, and be back to myself, because I would know you and I would deal with it and I’d be okay. But this? This is like I’m stuck here. I can’t open the box with all the crap oozing out of it, because I know I have to leave in a few days to go camping. I can’t box it up better than it is because it’s all triggered and messy and awful.” 

“You are stuck in the in between. You can’t dig into it because then you will be all the more triggered and raw, and you can’t set it aside because then you would be letting down any defenses.” The tone in her voice says she is getting it. 

“I can’t come back to myself. I’m stuck here. And I’m just…I just want this week to be over with.”

“Yeah, I get that. Are you frozen far away, or the other end of the spectrum right now?” 

I’m trying to think of how to answer that, when she adds, “Are you more anxious with nervous energy, waiting for the week to be over, or are you more far away and fuzzy?”  

“It’s….like I’m over caffeinated. And I didn’t even drink coffee today. Or yesterday. For a few days. Because I feel too hyper. I can’t calm down. I had tea, but not coffee. And it’s caffeine free. I can’t…I don’t know. It’s like I’m running on a treadmill, but no matter how fast I run, I can’t….” 

“Get anywhere?” She suggests when I stop talking.

“No…..I can’t get away.” 

The words feel heavy, and are punctuated by silence. I think we both can feel the weight of them. 

“It’s very telling, isn’t it? The language. You can’t get away.”

“No. I can’t get away,” I agree. 

“What can’t you get away from?” She asks. 

I pull my blanket over my head. It’s silly, because Bea can’t see me, but I’m suddenly feeling too exposed and vulnerable. “I’d like Kenny to get out of my head now.” I say the words softly. 

More silence, and then Bea asks, “What?” I’m unsure if she just didn’t hear me, or if she isn’t following my choppy hyper over caffeinated thinking. 

“I want Kenny to get out of my head.” I say the words again, stronger this time. 

“Oh, okay. I didn’t know that he was there in such a big way.”

“It’s just….he’s…it’s….I don’t even want to be in my body right now. It’s all….I just can’t.” My mind is jumping all over the place, and I can’t think very clearly. Why didn’t Bea know that Kenny was a problem right now? Did I not tell her?

“I’m so glad you are telling me this now, that Kenny stuff was really triggered too. I know the mom stuff is awful and painful and full of grief, but it makes sense now, why you are having such strong reactions, so many flashbacks and nightmares and jumping from frozen far away to hyper running in place. It’s making a lot more sense to me now.”

“Monday…..I wasn’t really there, was I?” 

“No, you were really far away on Monday, it was next to impossible to keep you in the room. Wednesday you were more present than Monday, but not much. You really weren’t able to sit with much or talk about very much. We talked about your mom some, and how she hurt you by not accepting you, but we didn’t go very deep.” 

“I don’t think I could…talk about this before now.” Doesn’t it just suck when stuff won’t come up on therapy days?

“No, you needed to do this in layers, I think. You needed to be more here than you were.”

“I……he’s just…..I sent you that picture?”

“Yes, you sent me that picture.” It was a picture looking out my childhood bedroom window– the window on the side of the house. The window directly across from mine was Jackie’s window. The window to the left of my window was Kenny’s window. 

“I think, I just wanted you to see.” I’d snapped the picture and sent it after all the Kenny stuff had been stirred up. I didn’t have words, I couldn’t find words to tell Bea exactly how not okay I was feeling, but I had this picture of just how close Kenny had been. 

“You didn’t leave the house that weekend, did you? Normally you do the winery visits and that puts you in a much more adult place to start the weekend off. This time, you were at the house.”

“Backyard party,” I say woodenly. “Just like…I know, I know it’s not even the same group of people, I know that I’m an adult, I know all that……but…….I mean, I could see us all, as kids, running around. Back and forth between the yards. My mom put out the same yard games as we used do play. And the grown ups always sat on the porch. And the fire pit for bonfire later. It was all the same. So much the same. And I couldn’t…..I just….there’s no getting away.”

“Yes you are a grown up and you know all those things, but parts of you aren’t grown up and they were really triggered, of course they were really triggered. I can see it as you are describing it. When you sent that picture. I had a visceral reaction to how close he was, all the time, of course you felt like you could tell no one, he was always right there! And now you are describing how much last weekend was like those childhood backyard parties, and I can see it and feel it. It makes everything more real, doesn’t it? How could it not send you right back there? Of course you are really struggling, it makes so much more sense now, why this is all so bad right now. I’m so glad you are able to share this with me now, I’m just sorry I didn’t get it sooner, that I didn’t realize what had happened.”

“I just, I couldn’t figure out…it was all so right there, but I couldn’t tell.” I’m crying again.

“It’s okay. You needed time. That’s all. And I was very focused on the mom triggers, I wasn’t seeing anything else.” 

“I should have used my words earlier, I guess.” We both laugh at that. 

“I’m sorry I got so upset with you,” I tell her. 

“I’m not! I’m glad you could tell me you were upset. You couldn’t tell your mom when you were growing up that you were upset or that your feelings were hurt, but you feel safe enough to to tell me, now. That’s a good thing.”

“It was still hard .” 

“It still feels scary, maybe a little bit dangerous, to tell me when you are mad?” 

“Yeah.” I agree. It feels scary. 

“I think of it as a positive that you can tell me, now, when you are upset with me. It’s okay to be upset with me. I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to miss things, I’m going to screw up some times. But if you can tell me when I’ve made you mad, or hurt your feelings, or aren’t giving you what it is you need from me; if you can tell me those things, that is a gift. It gives me a chance to correct it and keep the connection we have and keep helping you heal. If I don’t get a chance to correct it, we can lose that connection, and I can’t help you of you are hiding things because you are afraid of my reaction. I’m glad when you trust me enough to tell me you are mad at me. And just because you are mad at me, that doesn’t mean we are on opposition sides. You can be mad at me, and I can still be on your side.” 

“I know. It’s just hard to be mad at you. I don’t like feeling like we are on opposite sides.”

“I’m on your side. Sometimes, we try things and they don’t work, right? Sometimes we try something and it brings up some feelings. We have to talk about it, otherwise how can we know what else to try or not try? I’m on the side of helping you feel better. If I suggest something or do something that upsets you, it doesn’t mean I’m not still on your side. And if you tell me I messed up, I’m on your side then, too. It just means you and I have more information to work with. That’s all. Okay?”

“Okay.” I say.

“I need to get off the phone in a few minutes,” Bea says. 

I don’t want to hang up. “Okay.”

“I am very glad you called and told me more about what is going on,” she says. 

I want to ask her if she is going to get rid of me, if I’m messing everything up, if she is really on my side. Instead, I take a breath, remind myself of everything she just said and tell her, “I need to clean and organize some things and I have some baking to do. I’m okay. I have stuff to be busy, I’m up and doing things and functioning. I just….I’m okay.”

“Okay, but not really okay at all?” She asks. 

“Yeah. That.” 

“It’s okay to not be okay.” The reminder is nice. 

“Okay. I’ll let you go,” I tell her. 

“I’m swimming in the ocean with you, all right? You aren’t alone. And I’ll see you Monday, bright and early.” She says. 

“See you Monday.” I hang up the phone. I sit there for a few minutes, trying to digest the conversation. Bea had no idea that so much more had been triggered. I honestly thought I told her when we talked about the picture I sent her. I guess I never said any of that out loud. 

I worry that she is feeling an annoyance towards me for not being all better, that she is going to decide I don’t need the option to email or call, or she is going to cut my session time or she is going to take away a session. I don’t want any of those things to happen. And I honestly think I cope with things pretty good, much better than I used to. But when all the things get triggered and I’m heading to place filled with more triggers, I can’t do it on my own. And it is nerve wracking to know that all the things are triggered, I’m going into another triggering situation and Bea will be gone on vacation. It is scary to know I’ll be home from camping for a whole week before I get to see her, that she will be on vacation, and it just really makes me feel all alone. At least she knows now why everything is so bad. Maybe Monday’s session will be better now that she knows. Or maybe she will just take away everything and leave me all alone to cope.    

Charts

It’s 7:40am, but I walk up the stairs to Bea’s office anyway. I have so much stuff that I need to talk about, I need to make Bea see, make her understand. My notebook is very, very full of all kinds of messy, overwhelmed feelings. 

I had emailed Bea on Thursday, and unsure and uneasy with her response, I finally emailed her back Saturday. I spent a lot of the week making charts, lists, graphs. I was trying to find a way to feel in control, I think. One thing Bea has been insisting we work on is my dissociation. She wants to find what triggers it; why we can be talking about baking and I will be fine, but the moment the subject turns to me and my stuff, I begin to go away. To Bea it seems very sudden, and I’m sure it is, but for me, I can feel that I am uncomfortable with the emotions bubbling up and I can sense, in my mimd, that I am going to feel very scared of this topic. It’s at that point, this split second moment, when time slows down for me, and things get a little bit fuzzy, like I’m looking though a telescope at the world around me; that’s the moment I can make a choice. I can choose to use those grounding skills Bea has so diligently taught me, or I can go far, far away from the bad scary stuff in the present. And please don’t tell me the present is safe, nothing bad is happening there. The feelings are there. The memories are there. It’s not safe there. Not in the very least. 

In my email I explained that Parts were split, and fighting over what was the best thing to do with these charts I had made. One chart in particular had everyone stirred up. I had created a chart showing what I am feeling on one side and what my reaction is on the other side. For example, the right side of the chart says,” feelings start to grow, and can be named and recognized.” The left side of the chart says,”Really uncomfortable. Danger! This is not safe to feel these things.” Grown up real me is excited about this chart, it makes sense, Bea will understand it, and I am excited to understand more about how my dissociation and my system works. The little girl is scared that if Bea knows how dissociation works, then Bea will take it away because Bea doesn’t want any of the parts to dissociate, Bea says we have to be more present to deal with the trauma. Every part is conflicted over this. So, I emailed. It was a bit messy, but I wanted to talk to Bea about this. The little girl was so upset over not being able to tell Bea something because she was afraid Bea would use it against me. I also wrote about how alone I felt, but I couldn’t say that I felt as if Bea was there but not HERE. I was too afraid that she would tell me it was my fault she was far away, that I was too draining, too difficult. So I simply described the far away and all alone feeling. 

Bea’s response was fine. There was nothing wrong with it. And maybe if I weren’t so hyper alert to any changes in her behavior towards me and therapy, then it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. She addressed the loneliness, saying, “the being so alone feeling sounds like a part that has no access to an attachment figure.” And then she went on to discuss the fear over letting her in on the secret of how my dissociation works, “The part that doesn’t want to tell sounds like a good protector part. I think the grown up should assure that part that you will only share with me as much as feels safe. I don’t need to know any secrets, unless you think it would help you. There is no reason to alarm parts of you that have organized this system of keeping you safe. We only want the grown up to be more in control of the system.” Even though her response was fine, it left me with a sense of not being seen, of being alone, as if I had dove down to the middle of the ocean and there was no one on the surface to pull me up. I felt left. It felt as if she didn’t care, she was just replying to get rid of me. Finally, I gathered up some courage, and emailed again. I told Bea the little girl really had been looking for reassurance that Bea was safe to share secrets with, that Bea wouldn’t use secrets against me to hurt me or to get what she wants. The little girl needed reassurance that Bea had no ulterior motives, no tricks. Bea responded, and it all felt off. She wrote, “My thought while reading the beginning of your email: *Well of course I’m not going to use that against you*. It seemed so obvious to me, but I understand you actually needed to hear it! Please be reassured that this is a collaborative effort, and I don’t have any ulterior motives.” Why does her email feel both causal and authentic, but then so formal and rigid? I don’t understand, and I don’t write back. 

So, at 7:40am, I walk into Bea’s office. I’m planning on sitting in the waiting room, because I know I am early, but Bea sends me in, even with my protests that I can wait. 

“Go on in, I’ll be right there. I’m just going to warm up this tea,” she says. 

“Okay,” I say back. 

By the time I’ve sat down and gotten cozy, Bea is in the office, too. She sits down, and I blurt out, “My mother in law is moving 5 minutes away and hubby isn’t really seeing the big deal of this and I just found out last night but I’m freaking out and I really don’t want to waste my session on her but I need to talk about this all a little bit but I have a whole notebook full of stuff that I really need to talk about.” 

“Whoa. That’s a lot! She’s moving 5 minutes away from you? I know that can’t be an easy thing to have found out.” Bea says, her face holding this look of shock and anger at the awfulness of this situation, at the audacity of hubby’s mother. 

(I don’t want to waste a lot of blog space on this woman, either, but for those of you newer to my blog, 2 summer ago, my mother in law (aka MIL) —- who never liked me and always caused problems between hubby and me—- flipped out on me in public, and then attempted to take us to court to take Kat away from us. I have nothing to do with my mother or father in law since then. Hubby still sees them. I didn’t allow him to take Kat over there for a long time, but for about a year, Kat has occasionally gone with hubby to visit for no more than an hour. Hubby’s sister doesn’t talk to MIL, and her daughter’s don’t see MIL either. MIL, we are all pretty sure, has narcissistic personality disorder. I’m sure she is moving closer to all of us to be difficult, to find a way to weasel her way back into our lives.)

I vent about MIL, and about hubby and the whole mess. Bea listens and understands. Eventually I stop venting and pull out my notebook. “I don’t want to waste all my time on her. I have so much in here.” 

“Okay.” She takes the notebook from me. “We can talk about whatever you want to or need to talk about. This isn’t wasting time.” 

I shrug. “I just….ugh. It’s like I don’t want her to take all MY time for dealing with my stuff. I don’t know. But I’m done talking about her for now.” I laugh, because I’m sure we will be talking about MIL again soon. 

Bea nods, and starts reading. “Ahhhhh. The little girl was really feeling worried about it not being safe to talk to me. I need to apologize for not realizing that was her fear, that she needed an emotional connection and reassurance from me that I wasn’t going to hurt her. I think my response was just an everyday life Bea response, sort of that first instinct, not so much from my wiser self. I don’t know if it’s summer, or what it is exactly, but I haven’t been able to be very deep lately. I’ve been much more on the surface, and not seeing the deeper stuff. I’m sorry because that isn’t helpful to you, and I know you are very sensitive to those shifts, and you can easily internalize that to be about you. This isn’t your stuff– it’s my stuff, and it’s something I’m working on.” 

If I were braver, I would say to Bea: *I’m glad you told me that. I have so much mom stuff popping up lately that I’m already feeling this loss of an attachment figure, or I am realizing that mom was never there for the real me anyway, or something, that this distance I have been feeling of you not being here, this feeling of being disconnected, it is 1000 times worse because it seems I am losing attachment figures all over the place, and I really am alone.* Instead, I simply nod. 

Bea continues reading, letting that drop for now. I think how in the past she would have actually reassured the little girl, she would have made sure that parts knew she was there, and wouldn’t hurt them. But this more surface Bea doesn’t do that. She stops reading and looks up. “I wondered what you and your brother had talked about.” I and told her via email that I had talked to my brother. “So you really remember and see the same things about your mom. This….the playing with Legos IF there was a full set with directions, that really speaks to her needing to hold everything very rigid, very controlled. She couldn’t allow free play, or messy play. That probably would be very scary for her. But that couldn’t have been easy on you. Reading this, there is so much pain there.” Her voice is sad for me, but I can’t let down my guard right now. 

Bea reads about my heartache over my mom not loving me, and she reads the pages and pages I wrote after nightmares, during flashbacks. Those pages are full of confusion, and anger and hurt. Some of them are written when overwhelmed and unable to control it. Some were written when I was trying to control everything, and you can see it in my handwriting; messy, large and loopy cursive versus teeny tiny perfectly formed print. She stops reading periodically to say something empathetic and kind, or to ask a question. 

Before she gets to the end, but as our session is close to over, she stops and says, “I hope the little girl, and all the parts, I hope you know, I would never hurt you. I won’t use anything you share with me against you.”

I shrug. “Maybe. But you can’t promise that. Maybe you really do want me to stop going away and….I don’t know.” 

She nods. “You’re right. I can’t know for sure. But if there was a part of me that you picked up on, a part that just wants to make it all better for you, make it easier for you, help you…..if there is a part like that, then because we’ve talked about it, and I’m aware to be paying attention for that within myself, I would be aware of an impulse to ‘fix’ you, and I would curb that impulse.” 

I’m not sure what to say. I value Bea’s honesty, it is one reason I trust her. But I sort of hate that what she is saying isn’t what I wanted to hear from her. It’s how I know her response is real, and it feels caring. She cares enough to be honest with me. I hand her 3 pieces of paper. One is a list of different far aways, another is a list of how to make things real, and the last (and only chart Bea hasn’t seen before) is about what triggers dissipating. 

“Ahhh. This is good. It’s really good, really helpful. You did some hard work with this.” 

“Thanks.” I whisper it.

“This makes so much sense. When you start to feel too many feelings, that triggers danger signals, and you go away. This makes total sense. This will be really helpful with our work. I think the thing is to stay between the pink and light green on the present side of the line. Because while even keel is nice, and that’s where we want to function in our day to day lives, we heal when we are on the edge our window, right?” Bea is excited, I can hear it in her voice.

“Yeah. I know. It’s just….well, I don’t know how to stay there.” 

“I know, it’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable. We can use the other side of your chart, somewhere in the pink and blue writing, that says it is being more logical and more in your head. We don’t want to go too far into the pink but that being in your head, being more logical can help you feel calmer and safer when you get overwhelmed. We can go between the two, staying on the edge of your window. This is great, because it shows us right where your window is and what triggers your need to dissociate, what signals you that it’s time to go away.”

Bea is talking more theory and logic right now, but I’m okay with it. She doesn’t feel quite so far away as she did earlier. I think it’s because I shared my chart with her. I had been a little proud of working on that, and I can feel Bea is proud of me, and excited to have this explanation. “Okay. We can try,” I tell her. Little Alice is still afraid that having Bea direct me to leave a memory and ground myself again, will feel like rejection, like she doesn’t really want to deal with the memory. 

Before I know it, Bea is telling me we have just a few minutes left. I’m not so far away now, so I nod, and easily pack up my bag when she hands me back my notebook. 

“I didn’t get a chance to finish all of it,” she says, “And I do want to read it all and talk through it. You have enough there to keep us busy for months!” Her voice is light, not worried in the least. 

“I’m sorry. I just….there was a lot in my head. I don’t know.” 

“No, you don’t need to be sorry. This is good. It gives us….or at least me, a general idea of what is going on, what is coming up. Okay?” She checks in with me.

“Yeah. Okay.” I say. 

We chase for a few more minutes and then we say goodbye and Bea smiles when she wishes me a good day. 

The baby shower 

Kay is pregnant. I’m happy for her, but it’s strange for me, too. I’m not involved in knowing about this baby, not the way I would have been a year ago. An invitation arrived in the mail last week, and it hurt. I can’t explain it, but that invitation caused a lot of grief to come up, and I knew I could not attend that baby shower. I also knew that not attending could very well be the equivalent of drawing a line in the sand and that coils cost me what semblance of friendship I have left. 

So, Monday’s session started off very on the surface again. I didn’t want to bring up Kay and the baby shower. I knew Bea would see it as a big deal, and I wasn’t sure I wanted that validation. Part of me really wanted some one to tell me to suck it up, to be appropriate and attend the shower like a good girl. Eventually, though, I told Bea about the invite. 

“Well, the million dollar question is, of course, are you going to go?” She asked. 

I shrugged, looked down. “I don’t know. I just……not going is sort of drawing a line in the sand. But I don’t want to go.”

“Could you go, take Kat with you, and just be happy for Kay, celebrate the baby and stay focused on Kat?” Bea asked. 

“Sure, I could,” I said. “It’s just…..I don’t fit anywhere now. I would have been the one THROWING the shower. Now I’m not even really a friend. I just….it would be really uncomfortable and I don’t want to deal with it.”

“That’s understandable,” Bea agreed.

We talked about the friendship, and how my setting a boundary ended the friendship a while. We go through how Kay and I began talking again, and how Kay isn’t even really in my life now. She doesn’t know me. She isn’t a person I would call if I needed to talk. Bea suggests that maybe I am ready to let go of this friendship, that I have, in a sense, outgrown it. 

All week, even outside of therapy, I think about this. I start to see that I am beginning to know who I am, and who I am is a person who doesn’t want to pretend things are great and wonderful when they aren’t. I don’t want to pretend to be friends and be closer to someone than I’m not, and I don’t want to make excuses, either. I want to be real, I want to be authentic. 

“I used to be that person, the one who pretended everything was good and did whatever the other party needed or expected, but I’m not that girl anymore,” I said to Bea. 

“No, you sure aren’t. I think this whole week, here in therapy and in your writing, it’s been about finding out who you are,” she told me. 

I nodded. “With Kay…..I thought, in a perfect world, I would send a gift and then call her and explain why I can’t attend the shower, that this rupture between us being left umrepaired makes it awkward for me, and I am feeling very sad because the last baby shower she has, I threw it. I would explain to her that I am happy she is having a baby, and that is something to celebrate and I would not be very celebratory with how I am feeling, and it is important to me to be authentic and true to myself. And then we would talk and she would understand and I would attend or not, but I wouldn’t be faking my way through anything. But this isn’t a perfect world, and so of I send a gift and message her my regrets, I think it will cost me the friendship.” 

“That’s hard. That is the hard thing. But you do know what you want to do, what feels right. You really are developing a sense of self,” Bea said to me. She sounded happy, maybe even proud of me.

I talked about how losing her friendship at this point would be more about losing the memories or the possibility of things being fixed— although I don’t believe I’d ever trust her the way once did. I shared wit Bea that I am planning on sending a gift with a nice card, and sending Kay a message that says “I am sorry we can’t make it to the shower, I have a conflict, but I wish I could be there. I’m so happy for you guys.” That puts the ball in her court, and if she chooses do question the conflict, I can then choose to share with her the conflict I have with our not exactly real, very surface, no repairs made friendship. 

Bea agreed that made sense, and she seemed proud of me for making a choice that was right for me. 
.  

Friendship 

Monday’s session was much of the same as Thursday’s at the beginning and then we spent some time discussing a Kat and her weekend of meltdowns. I’m thankful she will see Bea this week. I wondered, but didn’t say, if maybe missing a week of therapy effects Kat more than we think it does. My thought process was along the lines of Bea providing some extra holding space and containment for Kat’s BIG feelings and BIG worries, because while I do my best, my container is sort of leaky, and I struggle to hold my own crap at times. Although, I do think I now have separate containers for myself and Kat, but both still have lots of holes. Which is where Bea comes in. She holds the stuff that leaks out. Maybe that theory is way off base. 

It was the end of the session that got interesting. Bea had asked before she left on vacation about friendships, and if I noticed friendships forming now that were maybe different from friendships that were formed when Ms. Perfect was running things. I didn’t really answer then, but I ended up writing about three woman who I think I may be forming friendships with. All three have kids that Kat is friends with, which is how we met, but they also seem very authentic and real, their parenting values are similar to mine, we each have a similar quality of quirkiness, of nerdiness. Two of these women I have spent time with outside of having our kids with us, and it was really nice to have grown up conversations, just someone to have girl talk with. I stayed me, most of the time, and I didn’t leave our outings feeling drained and in need of a lot of quiet, down time like I usually do after a social engagement. 

I’ve noticed that the more real and authentic I am being, the less exhausted I am. I’d written about this in my notebook, along with a lot of other things, but the friendship thing is something Bea was really interested in today. She asked a lot of questions about them, and I talked a bit, but I also felt a little embarrassed. Why am I, a grown woman, having to discuss new friendships and how to navigate those new friendships, with my therapist? I mean, I am very appropriate in social settings. I am competent and confident in speaking to anyone, really. Or at least Ms. Perfect is. She isn’t afraid of people. She doesn’t let them in, but she is great at focusing on a person, being polite, talking to anyone and everyone and getting along with all kinds of people. But me? I have no idea how to be that person. I’m okay in social settings, maybe a little awkward, maybe a little preoccupied with whether or not people are perceiving me as weird, or crazy, or needy, or annoying, or any other thing that would separate me from them. But navigating and building real friendships? Yeah, I’m lost and uncertain, like a middle school girl who doesn’t fit anywhere. 

Bea asked about close friendships, if I felt like any of the women were people who would end up as close friends. 
I smiled and shook my head. “I don’t do close friends.” 

Bea paused for a moment. “Maybe you do now.”

I shook my head. “Nope. I don’t have close friends. It’s not something I do. I do surface stuff. I prefer to play by myself in my sandbox.” I’m joking, but I’m also a little bit serious. After all, if I play alone in the sandbox, no one can mess up the design I have for the sandcastle, or think my idea is silly, no one can throw sand at me and hurt me, and no one can smash my castle. I’m safe in the sandbox all alone. 

Bea laughs, a small delighted laugh that says she enjoys my stubbornness, and my humor. In a silly voice she says, “Well, Alice, now, you are gonna make close friends.” We both crack up. 

In a small voice, I say, “I HAD a close friend. I HAD Kay. I don’t want close friends again.” 

Bea doesn’t respond right away. “You did have Kay. She was a very close friend. And maybe you really don’t want close friends. But I’m thinking there are all different kinds of friendships. Like my friend I walk with? I see her a lot and we do a lot together, we’ve already texted this morning about something, but things are sort of on the surface with her, she just doesn’t have the capacity to go to difficult places. But she is still a good friend. We have a lot in common. Then I have a friend who I see rarely, but when we do get together, there is a deeper connection, and time spent together feels much more meaningful. I have a younger friend, from my old job, who I have a lot of fun with, but we have a deeper friendship, too. Oh, and then my friend Julia, she’s weird. We have a lot of shared history, both of us have parents who passed away (I already knew Bea’s father had passed away, we discussed that when we worked through grief over my grandpa), and she can go to those grief filled places, but anything else, there is a wall and she will not go there. So, maybe there are all kinds of friendships. I think Kay was unusual; most friendships aren’t like that.”

“I know….I know it was maybe one sided in a lot of ways. But she did talk to me, too. Actually, she was quite the open book. But…..I don’t know.” I shake my head. 

“I wonder…I know her friendship was important, but I wonder if you were acting something out with her?” Bea is thinking out loud again. 
I groan. She’s heading into shrinky thinky territory, but as I’m not feeling very emotionally connected, I don’t really care. “I don’t….I mean…..well maybe.” I think for a bit. 
I think in my head, and Bea thinks out loud. “You were always shutting her out, disappearing. I wonder if you were acting something out with that.” 
“Well, it’s not like I shut her out for no reason. I mean…..well, like, if I was going to treat you like I did her……” I’m embarrassed to admit this, because there have been times where I have thought of running, of disappearing on Bea. “Like, when you brought up relationships in the past and talked about them even though you knew I did not want to discuss relationships— now it’s been okay— I would have just not come back. I’d have walked out and not looked back.” 
“But Kay, when you did that to her, she didn’t let you shut her out.” 
“Well. It’s like…….if something came up in conversations and upset me, she’d see it. Where I would be working to hide it, and others would not notice, or maybe they noticed and I am not so good at pretend as I think, and they ignored it. Kay would see it and she’d call me out on it. She wouldn’t let me pretend. She’d push to know what upset me.” I shrug. 
“Usually, I’d tell her and we would talk and then I would disappear for a few weeks.” 
“Boundaries……” Bea says slowly. “She wasn’t respecting your boundaries at all.” 

“Maybe…..” I say. I don’t want to agree with Bea right now. I can see where she is coming from, but I feel like that isn’t the whole story. “I mean, she put up with a lot from me…..I was a lot. So maybe she felt like she didn’t need to listen to any boundary I set.” I’m not sure.

“Well……..let’s say something comes up in conversation that upsets you, it’s touches on those vulnerable places. You don’t want to talk about it, so you pretend everything is okay. A friend who notices and asks you about it, they say something like ‘hey, did something just upset you? Are you okay?’ If you say you don’t want to talk about it, that is an authentic response, and a boundary. A healthy friendship would respect that boundary. If you say nothing is wrong, that is maybe coming more from Ms. Perfect, but still, a healthy friendship would respect that boundary.” 

I nod slowly. “That’s Reagan. She asks, but won’t continue to push or ask about it. She hears the boundary, I guess.” I don’t think I’ve ever thought of pretending to be okay as a boundary, as a choice, as a way of saying ‘no’. I’ve always thought of prefect as building a wall to keep people from knowing the real me that they would inevitably hate. 

“That is a healthy relationship.” Bea says.

We continue talking about friendship and boundaries, and when it’s time to leave, Bea says, “I think this is important. Maybe this is something to do some writing with, if you feel like it.” 

I nod. It might be. I’m not sure I want to talk about friendships. I’m not sure what I want to talk about, though. It seemed like so many big things were coming up before Bea’s week long break (to be fair, she was only gone for 4 days, it was just I saw her on a Wednesday and not again until Thursday), and they have just disappeared. I’ve detached from her and don’t really feel an emotional connection. Part of me wants to stay that way, talk about the shrinky side of things, because when I feel like this, I can. The other parts me are desperate to feel emotionally connected with Bea again. I don’t know which part of me is going to win.