“They’ll have to go through me” (11/7/16) 

I talk about nonsense– the morning and traffic and how foggy it is outside. 

We slowly go into talking about hubby’s hunting trip, and how he had lessened the days he will be gone. Bea says, “It was good you discussed it in therapy, how was that, to talk something like that through in therapy?”

I correct her, “No, we didn’t go last week because Kat was sick and I just acted like a brat to prove my point (snarky teen really helped with that) and hubby cancelled therapy but never rescheduled and we can really only see Kim once in December and not in November now at all and that seems like too much space between appointments, but whatever.”

 “Did you feel relieved or upset to miss therapy? Was it like, oh good, I don’t have to go deal with this today? Or maybe more like, you had psyched yourself up to go, and now had to cancel?” 

“Neither. Both. I don’t know.” I’m really unsure exactly. “I’m more upset that we are missing so many appointments and that hubby never rescheduled.”

“That makes sense. For you, it’s going to be about the relationship. And a lot of time between appointments can feel like you are starting over at each appointment.” Bea agrees. 

“She made me so mad one appointment…..she was saying that all the feeling words and labeling feelings and staying with feelings is hard for hubby, it’s hard for men, and when I said I didn’t grow up like that either, she said that it was easier for women. That isn’t fair. She doesn’t know me. It’s not fair to make this generalization. I said, no, not really, and that I learned in therapy.” 

“And what did she say?” Bea asks. 

“I don’t know. I was already too far away by that point to know.” I shrug. 

“That’s okay. It’s okay. I’m glad you were able to correct the assumption she made. Too be honest, I’m sure I’ve made similar assumptions. It really isn’t fair, is it? We sort of coddle men around that in couples therapy, and it is unfair. It’s male privilege, assuming they need more help with feelings, or that women don’t need to,work just as hard.” Bea says.
“Thank you! I mean…..It’s like, you know, I couldn’t even label my feelings except to say happy or bad or I would say I was feeling like I wanted to go for a walk, or feeling like I needed to go to bed when I started seeing you. I couldn’t stay with my feelings, and there was any number of feelings I wouldn’t even admit existed. I didn’t know how to be present. And I couldn’t feel my body at all, unless I was in some kind of extreme pain.” 

Bea nods. “That’s right. I forget how far we have come. I forgot about all the work we did with the kimochis around naming feelings and with working to feel even little bits of your body and to sit with your feelings. You’ve come a long way with feelings.”  

“I feel like hubby and I are on equal playing fields now, because…..like, he might have trouble with feelings, but when he is present he is able to label them and handle them. Not great, but you know…..better than I could before I started therapy. And his mom didn’t have issues with feelings existing, her feelings were just really big. Always, these huge feelings.” 

“Hmmmm……….and maybe that is part of his discomfort with big feelings.” Bea says. 

We talk about that for a bit, and then she says, “I want to make sure we have time to dig into your stuff a little before our time is up today. Is there anything coming up for you, anything you want to talk about?” Bea looks at the clock and says we have 40 minutes left. I wonder how I used up almost an hour. Oops. 

I shrug. I feel myself going away, just a little. I force myself to stay sitting up, I don’t want her to get shrinky about me curling up. 

“Maybe we need a checklist, like eating and sleeping, feeling grounded or dissociated, that kind of thing. We could use it to start sessions, to sort of guide us.” 

I think that she wants a damn plan because SP says we need a plan and so I had told her things I needed to talk about and told her to put them in her plan, but then she ruined that by being shrinky and now I can not talk to her about what was in the plan because it feels too scary to really trust that she is there and present and not gone and I’m too closed down to feel if she is or isn’t there. 

“I was glad the little girl reached out on Wednesday night. I wonder how the little girl has been feeling since then, how you are feeling?”

 I feel tears behind my eyes. ‘Go away, Bea. Just shut up,’ I think. 

She eventually throws out ideas, “Is she still feeling alone? Is she angry? Maybe you are annoyed with her for emailing me? What is the feeling that first made made it okay to email me?”

When I don’t answer her, she lands on the fact we had talked about finding a middle— somewhere between on the surface and present and talking about deeper things and far, far away. She asks if the dream I’d written about (the one we were supposed to work through on Wednesday but didn’t) would be a middle place? The reaction is instant. I cover my face, as I feel hot and cold in my body, my heart pounds, I feel tears falling down my cheeks and I am frozen. I shake my head. No, no it is most certainly not a middle place. 

“Have you still been having the dream?”  
It take me a minute, or longer, to work through the fog. Slowly, I nod, and then silent tears turn to sobs. 

“I don’t think I have a copy of the dream,” Bea says. 

It feels like a long time before I eventually sit up, pull my blanket scarf over my face, find the dream on my iPad,, and hand the iPad to her. 

And my dream. I’ve been trying to write it out, but I can’t. I feel sort of silly writing it out, because there is this very much hazy weird dreamy, it’s not real quality to it, but I’m so scared and upset when I wake for it, that I can’t really shake that feeling when I’m thinking about it either. It’s more of a fuzzy thing as opposed to my usual nightmares that are so crisp and clear. 

It always starts out the same. I think I’m me, like just regular me-me and I’m with hubby. We’re playing at the park I used to play at when I was a kid, even though I’m pretty sure we aren’t really kids but I’m happy and the sun is shiny and it’s a good day. And then someone asks hubby something, and he says okay. Suddenly he’s gone, and I’m not really me, I’m actually a Barbie sized doll, so it’s just my mind that is there, really, because the rest of me is a doll, and I’m being picked up and carried away. And then things get really messy and scary. For a lot of the dream I’m made to do things I don’t want to do, wear clothes I don’t like, ext, ext……think of a child playing with a doll. It’s like that. Except it’s not a kid playing. I don’t know who it is, but he isn’t nice. The dream jumps around a lot, from place to place, or maybe *scene* to *scene*. At some point in the dream, I get passed around, like kids do with dolls, and then I’m thrown in the bottom of a toy bin and forgotten about. There’s more specifics, and sometimes it’s different, but that’s the general overview. Crazy and weird. And so absurd, it’s silly, and I feel seriously ridiculous for being afraid of this dream, for waking up scared out of my mind from it. I mean, seriously?!?! I have nightmares that are like flashbacks, replicas of my memories and they are so real and terrifying. It is silly that this dream is bothering me. But I’ve been having it for weeks now, always more or less the same, and it’s not going anywhere. 

She reads, and I try to stay sitting up. When she says it is a very scary dream, I’m okay. But when she asks me about it, and talks about why it would be so scary, I can’t stay here, and I bury my face again, sitting princess style, my legs tucked under me knees bent and to the right, with my upper body turned to the left, arms encircling the pillows I’d buried my face in. 

“This dream is very scary. It’s a lot. You don’t usually have more symbolic trauma dreams, but those can feel just as real as the reality based ones, and even scarier sometimes because what you are left with are all these very big feelings.” 

I can’t talk about this, it’s too much, I change my mind. I don’t know. “It really scares me,” I tell Bea.

“I can see why! You know…..when kids play out trauma here, they always start their play with ‘it was a normal day’ or ‘it was a good day’. And that’s really speaking to the heart of trauma, right? Scary things don’t happen when we are expecting them to happen, they can happen anytime time, and even on a good day or a normal day. That is part of what makes trauma so scary.” 

“I didn’t know that was how kids play.” The words are whispered. It’s interesting to me that this is how kids start off their play, and that this dream feels very much like a dream a child would have. It just doesn’t feel very adult to me. 

“There is so much here that this dream speaks to. The wedding, even, and hubby saying yes to you dancing with Kenny. Feeling so abandoned by that, and even more so, how it parallels your mom leaving you and you feeling helpless to stop it as a child. It speaks to you being frozen and it speaks to your having to be that perfect girl, having to act how your mom needed you to act, as if you were a doll.”

I’m trying so hard not to cry, but I don’t succeed. 

“Can we try something?” Bea asks. 

“Maybe.” I don’t quite trust her not to try to mix in some SP stuff, or not to turn shrinky. 

“Can the doll in the dream move?”

I shake my head. “She’s a doll. She can’t do anything.” 

“Hmmm. Okay. Can we pretend she can move?” 

“I guess.” 

“If the doll could move, what would she want to do in the dream?” Bea asks me. 

I don’t answer right away. The words are in my head, they are just hard to get out. “She’d run away and hide.” 

“Yeah, she would run away and hide. Where would she hide?” Bea’s voice is soft, it’s the voice she uses when the little girl is running the ship.

“I don’t know. Somewhere really good.”

“What about somewhere in my office? Could the doll hide in my office?” She suggests. 

I nod my head; I like that idea. 

“Where would she hide here? She’s tiny, which is lucky because she has lots of places to hide.” 

“Behind something big and heavy. So no one could move it and make her come out.” I’m being very serious, this is serious business to the little girl. 

“Maybe behind the couch?” I shake my head no. 

“Maybe behind the toy shelf?” She gestures behind her, and I shake my head no again. 

“Maybe in my messy closer, behind the shelf in there?” Bea suggests. 

“Maybe,” I say. 

Bea gets up and opens the door to the closet, so I can see. 

“Yes. The doll could hide behind the big shelf in your closet.” I agree. 

Bea shuts the door and sits back down. We talk about the doll hiding a little bit more, and how she is safe now and then we wrap things up. “If you wake up from bad dreams tonight, remind yourself the doll can get away, and she can hide behind the big shelf, in the closet, in my office. And anyone who wants to hurt the doll will have to get through me first,” Bea says. 

I nod, feeling a little bit embarrassed, because the little girl isn’t running things anymore, and grown up me is embarrassed to have acted like such a child. I won’t admit it to Bea, but it is comforting to think of someone having to go through her to get to the doll. It means I’m safe. 

So now she knows the truth about “Not okay”

On Monday, I sent Bea an email. In it, I very bluntly told her that I was “not okay” and that she needed to stop telling me I was okay; that I needed her to see past my act of being fine, that I needed to her believe me that I wasn’t okay. And then I told her I wasn’t eating, I was cutting daily. I told her I was cutting before therapy. I told her I had an all out bulimic episode last week– something I am terribly ashamed of.

I was so afraid to send this email, but I sent it. I know I need help. I don’t want to be self destructing this way. Not anymore. I want to have energy to play with my daughter. I want to sit down and eat dinner with my husband. I don’t want to feel an urgent need to run off and cut myself every time I get overwhelmed.

Bea responded kindly, and in her non-judgmental way, that we really needed to go back to symptom management and safety this week. So, when I showed up to therapy on Tuesday, it was with dread. I do not like talking about my behaviors. I don’t like picking them apart, and I don’t like talking about why. I didn’t want to hear that I should just eat, or a lecture on the damage I was doing, or listen to theories on why I cut. Nope. I didn’t want to be doing this. I wanted to keep starving, keep cutting, keep pretending I was fine. Except……I really didn’t want to do that, either.

I walked into Bea’s office feeling like a kid that is in trouble. How I hate that feeling. It’s not a good feeling. I couldn’t even get a “hello” out. I sat down, and just hid my face. I wanted to run out of there, and just go and go and go. What was I thinking? Telling her I wasn’t okay? Telling her exactly how bad things had gotten? Maybe I really was crazy.

“Hi,” Bea says, “this is going to be hard today for you, isn’t it?”

From my spot on the couch, I nod my head without looking up.

“I think it’s really important that you told me. I’m really glad you sent that email, thank you for telling me. We need to go back to working on being safe, keeping you safe.”

I don’t say anything. I can’t. I don’t want to be here. I know we need to talk about these things, I know I should pick my head up and start talking, start behaving like an adult. I’m just too tired, though. And she knows now, anyway, so what’s they point in trying to pretend?

“I do need to be able to trust that you will tell me if you have worsening symptoms. We are stirring up a lot of stuff, and we are staying on the edge of safety here, that’s a given, considering you have behaviors you have never given up or have been willing to give up. And that’s okay. But you have to communicate with me, I can’t see what is being stirred up, or what is happening on the inside. That’s why I was so glad that you reached out with your email. We can work on these things, together, okay?”

I nod again. I’m still not talking.

“I want us to make a list of behaviors that you are using the most to escape, or to feel better when things are overwhelming,” she says.

I cringe. I don’t want a list. That requires my participation. Crap.

After a while, Bea asks me what I think the number one thing I use to avoid feeling or dealing with stuff is right now. It’s an easy answer. “Not eating,” I mumble it, embarrassed and mad at myself.

“I don’t think this is rooted in a need for being a certain weight, or being a perfect size,” she tells me, “I really, really believe that this is you being in complete control of your body. You weren’t in control of your body during the abuse, and now, I think you get the feeling of you can be— ‘oh no, body, you aren’t hungry, I will not feed you, I am the one in comtrol. And we know that’s fine and well, until it doesn’t work anymore, because one day it will make you sick. I’m not going to lecture you on that, or tell you to eat. It’s not that simple. But I do think, for you, it’s the ultimate control over what you had no control over.”

I don’t say a word. I don’t react, I won’t react. Bea’s words hit me deep; maybe because she is the first therapist who knows what happened, maybe because she is the first therapist I have really ever begun to trust, whatever the reason, she seems to get it, to put into words what I can not, what I have never really been able to explain or express. I won’t tell her, I can’t tell. It seems imperative that she not know how close to home her words have hit, or true they ring in my heart.

We sit in silence for a while, again. I am struggling to get words out, to say the second thing that should go on the list.

Bea is laughing at herself. “You should be encouraged; the most disorganized therapist in the world is making a list! You love lists….maybe you are rubbing off on me……”

Finally she asks if I would rather write the list at home and bring it to her on Thursday.

I sigh. “No. Either way, you want the list, so you’ll know what’s on it.”

“I can’t help you if I don’t know, that’s all,” she tells me, “you did this before. I already know all the things you do, and about them, too. It’s okay. But if I don’t know what’s being used the most often, how can I even try to help you? That’s the only reason I want to know.”

I try to remind myself that this is Bea, who does not think I’m crazy, who usually convinces me I’m normal (for a person with a trauma history), who has never judged me, who already knows all the crap I do to myself, and all the other “crazy” things I do to try to be okay.


I can hear her pen on paper, and then she asks me if my experience is like other people who cut, “I’ve had people tell me that it almost feels good to hurt themselves, either because they feel numb, or because it makes them numb, but then there is a second part to it, almost a self care part….like you are being kind to yourself, bandaging the wound, cleaning it—”

I’m shaking my head no, because she’s wrong. This is not my experience. This might be what other cutters say, or maybe is the typical cutter experience. I don’t know. But I have heard this all before, and Bea is heading into the dangerous “shrinky things” territory. But, maybe, this is why no one has ever been able to help me before. I’ve never tried to explain it, or correct their assumptions. So, I shake my head no.

“Not your experience?” Bea asks.

I gather my courage, and then I blurt out, as fast as I can, “it’s like throwing up, without haveing to eat or puke, so it’s better.”

“Oh, oh!” She sounds like something just clicked for her, “it’s about relief, then. It’s release, for you.”

And with that, I feel like a weight is gone. I’m still hiding my face, still curled up, still tense but not as much. She got it. She understood.

“Is this why not eating and cutting go together for you?” She asks me, and I nod. “So…..don’t eat, and you have control. Cut and you have release,” she says. I nod again.

She gets it. She understands the twisted way my head works, and why I self destruct.

The list is easier after that. Bulimic behavior, running/over exercising (which I don’t really do anymore thanks to my fibro). Then I say swimming can make me feel better, but not the same as the other stuff. We add sewing, reading, playing with Kat, cooking, baking, taking care of others.

Bea wants me to spend time outdoors. I tell her I’m not an outdoors kind of girl. I used to like to sit outside and read, or take relaxing boat rides, things like that. The type of outdoors stuff you do without kids. So, no, I’m not a go for a walk outdoors kind of girl. She’s surprised by this. I get the feeling I surprise her a lot.

We talk about yoga. Bea has wanted me to try yoga for quite a while now. I’m not against the idea, but it has taken me a while to warm up to it. She suggested it, and has gently reminded me since then how much yoga could help me to be grounded and connected to my body.

“I just really want you to think about yoga. It could be another tool for you to use instead of hurting yourself,” Bea says.

I nod. I’ve talked a little this session, but not very much. Poor Bea. She doesn’t really like to talk, but somehow, with me, she gets stuck talking an awful lot.

“I really want us to try the container exercise today,” Bea says.

“Ok. But I already have a box,” I remind her.

“Right, so this should be an easy one for you. But remember, you said your lock was broken. So I want to make a new container. And fix the lock.”

I nod.

“Okay, close your eyes if it feels safe, if you like, I usually do, and take some good deep belly breathes,” Bea starts walking me through the exersise. I hate belly breathes, but they don’t trigger me like they used to. I don’t focus on them though I can’t. I focus on her voice, on the noises outside, on the fact that I am picking at my fingers. “Okay. We are going to build a container……” And so we start. In my mind, I picture a big box, dark and shadowy, strong enough to hold all the ugly inside. Bea continues, guiding though how to build the container, and then putting the ugly, the memories inside.

That’s when the anxiety kicks in. I start to feel like I have to get everything, all the ugly in the box right now. I feel like a scared little girl. I want to cry, I feel so overwhelmed, but I have to get all the memories picked up, so I can smile and be okay or nothing will ever be okay again. I have to do this right now. I’m shaking, and I’m fighting back tears. I can’t even listen to Bea, but at some point the exercise is over. I’m still lost in the anxiety and scared and the trying not to cry.

“Did that work for you? Could you follow it through? Did you make a box and lock everything inside?” Bea asks me.

I nod, it’s all I can do, because if I open my mouth to talk, I know the tears will fall, and then how will I ever explain that?

Bea is quiet for a minute. She finally says, “Did you really do it, or are you telling me you did because you think that’s the right answer? Because this doesn’t work for everyone. And that’s okay.”

The part of me that is “here” and not stuck in the scared anxious place is so thankful she knows to ask now, that she realizes I will always give what I perceive to be the “right” answer, that I can’t stop myself from pretending to be okay. It gives me the courage to think about telling the truth.

It takes me almost 5 minutes, and then I say, “I didn’t do it.” I whisper it, barely getting it out. I’m still stuck in the scared anxious place.

“Did you go somewhere? I feel like you are in a scary place,” Bea says very softy.

I shake my head no….then yes. Finally, “I don’t know, it’s a feeling. I’m anxious, scared. I want to cry. I’ve been trying not to cry.”

Bea helps me calm down, come back, get grounded. She asks me to email her later about where I was, what happened. She also says that we won’t do any more imaginative exercises; that sometimes childhood sexual abuse survivors are already too good at going away. So it’s back to working on grounding. And, as I head out the door, she tells me to really think about yoga.