Therapy has been weird. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s been weird. I think it’s because I’ve been working really hard to stay in this surfacey safe place where no real feelings or even thoughts can get in. It’s not that I haven’t had things to bring to therapy, and when I actually sit down and write, a lot comes out. Unfortunately, while there must be some parts of me that want to talk and share all this with Bea, there is a stronger part that doesn’t want to talk about anything deep. The stronger part– Ms. Perfect, I call her– works so very hard to keep things on the surface, and she is good at her job. She laughs and smiles, and is chatty and engaging. She is great at finding the perfect *sort of deep, sort of important* thing to bring up when it seems that Bea might be trying to get below the surface. Ms. Perfect knows the topics that distract Bea and she is so sneaky in the way she brings them up.
That other part, though? The one who wants to talk? She’s desperate to talk, to not be alone, and that gives her strength, too. She spends the majority of my sessions trying to get past Ms. Perfect so she can share. Then, she spends a lot of time hemming and hawing because she is scared. It’s been about the last fifteen, maybe twenty minutes of my sessions when I finally hand over my notebook and give Bea something real. That’s hard because I’m constantly feeling like I’m wasting time and like there is a lot I want to talk about.
Monday was different. October 23. The day before my birthday. During the previous session, on Wednesday, I had managed to give Bea my notebook earlier in the session. Ms. Perfect wanted to run things and the idea of letting go of her tenuous grasp on control of everything below the surface was really scary, but someone the part that needed to share managed to make that happen. I’d written about how so much that I am feeling right now is so reminiscent of my childhood. I’m floating on the surface because feeling anything else is too frightening and confusing. Ms. Perfect is running things again, and so I am functioning quite well. That, too, is childhood like, this need to be perfect and hide all the other stuff. I’ve been having nightmares, and flashbacks but they are weird. They seem much more intense and real, there is much more feeling and emotion involved in them, and they are tiny intense pieces of whole memories. Anyway, I have been feeling very split lately, and I don’t like it. It’s too much like being a little girl again, and that in and of itself is a trigger. In that particular segment of writing, I had written something about how my flashbacks and dreams leave me with a little girl feeling from long ago; it’s the same feeling I would get after he was done playing with me. There wasn’t a lot of time left in session, and I wasn’t at all present because just having her read my words felt too exposing. She suggested that we could talk more about these “after” feelings, and when I shook my head, she said maybe I would write about them in my notebook. I honestly don’t remember how we left things, but I did write about the after. It took a lot for me to do it, and it was painful and confusing, and it felt like an actual fight to stay present enough to write, but I did it.
So, Monday the 23 was different. Ms. Perfect was no where to be found. I was chatty, but it didn’t feel like a desperate attempt to block Bea out or keep my feelings buried. It just felt like things I wanted to share with her, things I wanted to talk about. I’d been back to my parents on Saturday to celebrate my birthdays and that quickly became the topic of discussion.
“This was the first time you had been back to your parents’ house since your Grandma’s funeral and the month of triggers?” Bea is sitting across from me in her chair, looking relaxed and grounded and open. She was here with me, and somehow I was able to let that in a little bit.
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“How was that?”
I shrugged. I really didn’t want to think about it. With Ms. Perfect apparently off on holiday, I stumble in my attempt to gloss over things and make it out to be no big deal. “It was fine. I mean, it was, well, it was just, like I focused more on the Halloween activities we had going on and then we were busy, well actually not really busy but there was stuff we did and it was easy being with my parents this time around and it was just really not a thing, I mean I was sad a little but it was, well, it was okay and my brother and the kids came over for dinner and a bonfire and it was good. And I’m planning to do something fun tomorrow, Kat is staying home from school and we are going to the zoo if it doesn’t rain. So I’m okay, I’m fine.”
Bea smiles at me, as if she can tell that I’m just being me, there is no facade anymore. “So, you let things be low key then. It seems like that was the right choice for yourself. Yes, there is sadness and bittersweet feelings but you feel grounded and here today. You felt more present last time, too. I think that means you are doing the right things for yourself because Ms. Perfect felt it was safe enough to let you run the ship again.”
“Okay,” I say awkwardly. Bea’s right in what she is saying, but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to respond. I wonder if I should agree with her, or talk about being more here, or something. Her assessment of me almost feels like praise, or at least as if she is saying something positive about me, and I don’t know what to do with that. I never know what to do with that.
“Did you do birthday presents this year?” She asks and I nod my head. “What did your mom get you? I remember the year she got you that sweater and all the grief that caused.”
I’m surprised that Bea remembers that, that must have been the first October we were working together, before we knew that lots of teen feelings came up every year at this time, and that sweater sent me right over the edge. I wasn’t an easy person to deal with during that time, I’m sure.
“She got me some new notebooks, and some sharpies.” I love notebooks, planners, and calendars. I am addicted to sharpie markers and fancy pens.
Bea says something about my mom getting me a gift that says maybe she does see me. I shake my head. “She asked hubby what to get me.”
“How does that feel?” She is being serious and wants the question answered but she rolls her eyes because she knows that I’m going to be annoyed at the typical shrink question.
“It’s fine, I hadn’t even thought about it. I don’t want to talk about this,” I tell her.
“Well, this is therapy, and so I have to ask. Can you just take a minute and let that sink in? Your mom asked your husband what to get you for your birthday. What does that feel like? It’s bound to bring up something.” Her voice is quiet, and she is so calm. I watch as she takes a deep breath in and let’s it out. It is as if she is silently encouraging me to let my feelings come up.
I sigh. I don’t want to talk about my mom because I really just want to give her what I’d written in my notebook. I worked so hard to write about the after, it had taken me days to write very little. I can’t just tell Bea that I have this other thing I want to talk about, because she hasn’t asked if I have writing and maybe she forgot that she asked me to write about the after and so bringing it up myself would make me too vulnerable. I decided to take things a different route, one that might be quicker than if I talk about my mom. Also, taking things in this direction will allow me to take things back to the surface if need be.
“Well,” I say, “I guess it feels like my husband really does know me.”
If Bea is surprised that this is the path I’m leading us down, she doesn’t show it. “I think he really does know you. He loves you, and he gets you.”
“Ummm, you know, I think he gets part of me. He gets the…..it’s not the surface parts, the facade anymore, but it’s….I don’t know what part it is. It’s just not the big feelings or whatever. He does not get that part of me.”
“No, he doesn’t get that part of you,” Bea agrees. “But it is like he is making space for it. He doesn’t get it, and he doesn’t know it, but he does see that it is a part of you and that notebooks and pens go along with the that. So he is making space for it and trying to get your mom to make space for that part, too.”
I feel something, an anxiousness maybe, about this idea of hubby making space for these dark and twisty parts of me. This should be making me happy, I should feel good about this. Instead I am uncomfortable to the point of wanting to go far away. I dome know why I feel like this and I don’t want to examine it, so I simply nod my head.
Things get fuzzy there for a bit, so I don’t know how, but the conversation changes direction when Bea asks if I have any writing.
This is what I had wanted to begin with, to give her my notebook and maybe talk about these complicated, confusing feelings. I pull the small book out of my bag and then I turn shy all of a sudden. I can’t look at Bea, and I can’t hand her my notebook. I flip through the pages, and fidget with the corners of the notebook. I’d written Bea a letter and used it as a sort of bookmarks to mark the new segment of writing.
“This is really hard.” Her voice is warm and understanding. She gets it.
“Yeah. I…it’s just…it’s hard.” I’m mumbling my words because I’m pretty dissociated at the moment.
“Was it hard to write?”
“Mmmhmm. Yea. I….it was hard to be present.” I say sadly.
We sit like that for what feels like a very long time, me holding my notebook, curled up on the couch, flipping absent mindlessly through the notebook. Bea was probably talking to me that whole time, but her voice didn’t penetrate the fog surrounding me until she said, “You don’t have to share it with me. Or you could choose one part to share. It’s a choice, it’s your choice. I wonder if you can let yourself feel what it would feel like to tell me you aren’t going to share your writing today and put your notebook away.”
I shake my head. IfI don’t share what I wrote then I am going to feel very lost and alone when I leave here. I’ll be sad, and maybe overwhelmed. I don’t want to do this by myself anymore. “No, I want to share it. I just…well I’m not sure. It’s hard.”
“You know, writing, this is how you communicate, how you share your story with me. It’s what gives us an opening so we can talk about what is going on below the surface. Because there always a deeper layer for you that is hard to start a conversation about. This system, it’s worked so well for us that we really haven’t ever stopped to think about it, have we?”
Is she trying to say she wants to take away writing? “I know. I know it’s not talking. But it is the only way….I mean, there’s so much and I can’t say the words or bring it up or explain out loud, because it is just really hard. There’s so much I wouldn’t have ever talked about if I wasn’t writing.”
Bea pauses for a long moment, and when she speaks it is with a reassuring tone. It’s the voice adults use to reassure children they are safe and all is right in their world. “Alice. I’m not saying anything is wrong with writing, or with using it in therapy. It works for you. Using your writing has allowed is to do some amazing work. I’m just curious about the notebook and feelings we have about it, how we react. I guess I’m thinking more sensorimotor therapy stuff.”
Inwardly, I groan. I should have know this was some sensorimotor stuff. “Okay…..” I say slowly, drawing out the word.
“For instance, what does it feel like to be holding your notebook right now? What if you put it on the floor between us?” She asks.
I shrug. I don’t know what I feel. Worried, maybe. Anxious that Bea will read my words and think I’m being dramatic. Or she will read my words and not get it, and that will be the worst thing ever.
“Maybe does it feel like you have the control right now, holding onto the notebook?”
I shake my head. “No. It’s not…no.”
“If I focus on how I’m feeling, what comes up for me, there is a little nervousness in my belly because I can feel that you have some anxiety and so a part of me sort of becomes nervous with you. And then there is a part of me that wants to help you, to make this all better and easy for you because I don’t want you to feel more anxiety. That part of me just feels likes you have been through so much, and I want to make this as easy as I can on you. There’s also a part of me that wants to grab the notebook from you and read it all because that part can’t stand not knowing. There’s a part of me that is curious about what you have written, but this part of me wants you to take your time and feel safe enough to let me have the notebook. This part wants to do what I can to help you feel safe.”
I think I should be upset that a part of Bea wants to read my words without my permission, but oddly I’m not upset. The fact that there is this part of her feels a little bit like my words do matter to her. Actually, everything she has said feels like I matter to her, like maybe she does care. I believe that Bea is just being Bea, and without meaning to she has said the exact right thing to help me. “It’s not really about the notebook. It’s about the words inside. It would be fine to hand you the notebook.”
“That makes sense,” she says.
I hand her my notebook, and she doesn’t open it. Instead, she holds it carefully on her lap so that it stays closed.
Eventually I nod my head. “You can read it. It’s okay.”
Bea opens it to the page that is bookmarked with the letter I’d written to her. “Should I read this first?”
“Yea,” I say so softly I don’t think anyone hears me. I’m suddenly embarrassed that I wrote a letter detailing how difficult this all has been, it’s as if I wasn’t sure she would get it just from reading my words.
Bea starts to read, and pulling my knees into my chest, I hide my face and go far away again.
This has been so hard to write. So, so hard. It took me days, and it was a lot of work to stay present enough that I could write it all down. It wasn’t easy. All these feelings are big and confusing. Sad, mad, happy, worried, frustrated. These are feelings I can do. I recognize them when I feel them, and I can label them. But this stuff? It’s complex. I don’t know. This is like a giant mixture, some vague not okay, anxious, sick, empty, confused feeling that is physically present but is an emotion and I can’t name it or really describe it. I don’t have the words. It’s like I need to learn another new language to even be able to talk about anything. I’m having such a hard time with this. I feel very present with theses feelings, almost like I can’t go away to avoid them, and that’s hard, too. It’s all scary to me. This is just as scary as learning to feel and identity emotions like sad, glad, mad. Maybe more scary.
“Do you know how big this is? That you can even feel these big mixed up complex feelings? I know they are scary, that feeling them and staying present and talking about them is scary. But do you see how far you have come? Even last year, you weren’t able to feel like this, to even recognize a vague feeling that you can’t name. This is huge.”
I can’t respond. First, I’m embarrassed that she is making this out to be this huge thing I am now able to do (even if it is a big deal, and even if part of me is basking in this attention, I’m embarrassed). Something about positive recognition or praise embarrasses me. I think it’s because I feel I don’t deserve it. I never know what to say, and all these complicated feelings come up. Secondly, all this praise over being able to do something that I couldn’t do a year ago makes me worried. It worries me because Bea could decide I’m all better, and make me leave.
“I know, I’m making a big deal out of this. It just is a big deal in a lot of ways. Things are becoming more integrated. It’s because of all your hard work,” Bea says, still loud and excited. Then, softly she adds, “In case you had the thought, I’m going to share with you that a part of me had the thought *what if she decides she is all better now?* That part was worried and sad. But I reminded myself that there is still lots of work we can do, there is still things to process and feelings to work with and other stuff that still needs to integrate more.”
I breathe for a moment. She still believes there is work we can do, she doesn’t think I’m all better enough to kick me out of therapy. Later, I think about her words and wonder, would she miss me if I left? I’m surprised. I’ve never thought that I would matter enough that she might miss me. I always see termination as Bea getting rid of me, as being relieved she doesn’t have to deal with me anymore.
There’s always something more going on under the surface. That’s true. But on Wednesday in therapy, I wasn’t being pretend or prefect, I was just being me. I don’t feel fake every time I’m having more surface-type talk, I think it’s partly how I feel when I’m talking. If I’m disconnected, and talking to simply avoid going below the surface, if I’m working hard to appear to be together and on top of things, to give the appearance of being absolutely okay, then it’s the facade, the pretend me. But just talking and staying closer to the surface…..that’s not the same thing. Maybe it was acknowledging that if we went below the surface, there is a lot of feelings there. Maybe it was that I felt like it would be okay if we did end up below the surface and some of those not so perfect feelings came out. Maybe it’s the fact that I was working really hard to stay present. I don’t know. But there is a difference.
“There’s a difference,” she agrees with me.
“Yeah,” I say. “I didn’t know, before that there was a difference. Or maybe there wasn’t a difference before.”
“It could be a little bit of both. It’s interesting you are thinking about this, and able to tell a difference. This is great to be able to recognize the differences between them. I think it’s important, too, that we know that staying on the surface doesn’t have to mean you aren’t being authentic or that you aren’t here.” Bea tells me.
I nod my head at her words as she returns to reading.
So, this is supposed to be about the “after” with Kenny, and all the different layers there are to that. I have had lots of things I could say about it, lots of things that popped into my head this week. So I could write it here, or say it on Monday. But it feels so dramatic, the words that have popped into my head to describe the after. It’s embarrassing to have such dramatic words and descriptions. It’s just, I don’t know. It feels wrong.
“A lot of judgement about how you feel or the words you want to use for describe the feelings. This was hard to get past, but you did it.” It took me a whole day to go back to writing about the after. I was (and I am) judging myself harshly.
After. After he leaves my room. I want to get out of bed but I can’t. I don’t know why, I just can’t. It’s as if getting out of bed will break the spell I cast, this magic spell that put me far away where nothing happened and if I move the spell will break and it will all be real. When I do move, I want to keep moving, I want to run and run and run for miles and miles and never stop. Like maybe I can run away from all this or maybe it’s because I can sense that as long as I keep busy, keep going and don’t stop, don’t pause to think, then I won’t have to feel the yuck. There’s no running, no place to go, but I can hide in my secret space (closet).
After. I feel, I don’t know, it’s something I definitely didn’t know then, and it’s hard to describe even now. It’s sad, but more than that. There’s something, it’s like there is something I wanted but didn’t get and now I feel left. I feel like I’m the doll in the bin of barbies that had her hair chopped off, or was drawn on with marker. You know, the doll no one wants to choose, the one that is the last resort when all the other dolls are already take. Maybe the word is “left” or lonely. But it’s not really one of those things. Or it’s not just one feeling, it’s also this feeling of wanting or needing something but not getting it. It’s sort of, isolating. It’s soul crushing. Maybe I feel used. Or not as loved as I thought I would feel. I don’t know.
After. There’s more layers for this. Sensorimotor. I feel empty. Like someone scraped out my insides. I feel like my body isn’t mine. I feel hollow. My head feels like static. No, my life feels like static, like when you turn on the tv, and you can hear and see the show, but it’s filled with static and the picture is jumping around. That’s it. I feel like static. My body isn’t mine. My head is light, maybe it will just float away like a balloon. My heart feels, not my heart, but around my heart feels like a block of ice. It’s just so frozen, which makes no sense because I feel hot, like I could have a strange kind of fever. Maybe I’m sick. My stomach….it’s like the feeling you get on a roller coaster and you go fast down a big hill.
“Lots of dissociative feelings here. And so many confusing feelings. I wonder if it’s that these feelings were too much to have back then. You couldn’t feel them back then and you didn’t have help with your feelings so you do the only thing you child do– ignored them. Now they are popping back up because the part hat held them feels safe enough to let them out. As painful as it is, I think if we are careful to work with small pieces of these old feelings, this will all start to feel better.”
I want to talk, to say something but I’m so far away I can’t get words to form. I manage to bring myself back to the the present. Finally I whisper, “Can I have a blanket?”
Bea gets up. “Of course,” she says. She gets a blanket and drapes it over me. “We only have a few more minutes, so just try to feel that you are safe, and work on coming back a little bit more. Try to feel that boundary the blanket sets for you.”
“Okay.” I whisper the word.
“If you want, we can talk about the after on Wednesday, okay? Of any other time. When you are ready to talk about if and work with it, there is a lot we can do.”
“I won’t. I mean, we won’t talk about it. I can’t because, well, I don’t know.its because it would be breaking my rules. You know. I’ll feel like I won’t be able to bring it up a second time.”
“Okay. How about this? I’ll ask you on Wednesday of you would like to talk about and work with this after stuff?” Bea suggests.
I nod. “Do you….? Will you hold onto my notebook?”
“Sure, I can do that.” Bea tells me.
I know time is up, and before she can gently tell me, I pull the blanket out from under my head, and fold it up. I still can’t look at her.
“Alice,” Bea says seriously. “I read it, and nothing bad happened. I read it and you are okay. I read it and my opinion of you has not changed. I read it and nothing bad happened.”
“Okay.” I finally look up and she’s still just Bea. I stand up then, and we say our good byes. Bea wishes me a Happy Birthday as I walk out door.