It’s been a rough few days. Actually, it’s been a rough few weeks, but the last few nights have been almost unbearable. Bea wanted me to look at the hopes and fears worksheet, and I did. I wrote about a part who is afraid that writing any sort of hope down will give Bea leverage to use against me if I say I don’t want to do an SP thing during a session. I wrote that fear is too big to untwist. I wrote that if I wrote down any hopes, they would be something generic, because even the idea that maybe I could focus on something internally, or notice some physical feeling and have it be positive and safe is so far out of left field for me, I can’t really comprehend it. And then I wrote in my notebook, after a particularly real dream, followed by a frozen sort of flashback when I awoke. I wrote that the hope and the fear is the same: I don’t want to feel THIS anymore.
Now it’s Wednesday and Bea is in her chair. A stack of worksheets that she filled out sits next to her along with the notebook from that horror filled week when she disappeared and the filter was just gone, and my SP book and journal are in her lap. I had requested that we maybe look at the pink polka dotted notebook because it is all written by parts, and it’s the parts that need dealing with.
She’s talking to me about the notebook. “It was really awful for you, wasn’t it? I read back through it and it is painful to read. I know how painful it was. But it’s real. It’s raw and unfiltered. The little girl’s pictures, there’s so much feeling to them, that rawness just pours off the page.” She asks me something, but I can’t remember what. I’m not sure her question ever really penetrated through the fog that swallowed me up almost the moment I walked into her office.
I had wanted to go through the notebook, maybe read it and talk about it. Now, though, I can’t focus on what she is saying. Bea’s fuzzy blanket covers my feet, and I’m burying my head in a pillow. “Can we just not?” I ask her. “I just….let’s just hold this conversation.”
“We can, of course. Did you want to take this notebook back home with you?” Her voice is mild, neutral.
“I don’t know.” I sigh. I feel a little like I’m drowning at the moment.
“Okay. We can come back to that later, or another day,” she says softly, and then it’s quiet for a minute.
“I tried to answer your question in my SP book,” I tell her.
“Do you want me to look at that now?”
“My journal, first, I think.” I whisper.
“Okay.” She opens my journal and finds the new writing.
I’ve managed to sit up and stop hiding my face in the pillow, but now I take the blanket and cover up with it. I don’t hide under it, but I am ready to hide at any moment.
“Mmm hmmm, yes. This. Exactly. You are feeling these things no matter how hard you try to avoid them.”
“I can avoid them. As long as I stay awake, don’t lay down. Oh, and don’t be in the dark. Then it’s fine. I’m fine.” As soon as I say it, I laugh a little. It sounds ridiculous.
“You can’t avoid things. You need to sleep. You deserve to sleep and not be afraid.” She’s firm in this moment, because she hates when I don’t sleep.
“I know. And I know avoiding the feelings here, it’s not doing any good. They show up when I lay down, when I sleep.” I say, quietly.
“When you wake up, and it’s all too real and stil feels real, are you here and frozen? Or far away?” She asks carefully. I pull the blanket over my head as she asks this question.
From my safe hiding spot, I answer. “I don’t know. Not far away. Frozen, but not here. Or….I feel like I’m here, but it’s not really present day. I mean….it feels like it’s then, but I’m present and frozen back then. Except it’s now, but it isn’t really. If I could go farther away, I would feel better. The feelings wouldn’t be so real.”
“Okay. So it feels like you are present and frozen, and what’s happening feels real, as if it is happening right now. So you feel present moment, even though we know it’s in the past.” Somehow it seems that she gets it, despite my convaluted explanation.
“But I don’t always know it’s from the past.” I whisper the words, embarrassed.
“Of course not. That’s part of why it feels so real.” Her voice is so matter of fact, that I believe her. “So, what if we were talking about this, and I asked you to pay attention to a feeling that doesn’t feel as bad? It could be your toes, and so we would focus on your toes. We would take the focus off the bad feelings, to help regulate you.”
I shake my head. “But the little girl….that feels like you saying no talking about this.” It’s so hard to find a way through this. Little Alice is so sensitive to feeling not seen, to being shut down, and Bea directing attention away from her memories…..well, it’s the same as if Bea got up, walked away and refused to see me ever again. I don’t know how to help Little Alice understand that Bea isn’t leaving, that she wants to help.
“Right. She really doesn’t like being directed away from a memory. Can we help her understand it’s not forever? Can I tell her right now that if I asked you to notice something else, and focus on that in order to help calm down and not feel so scared that we could go back to the memory again? That she could be the one to focus on something else, that she doesn’t have leave, or feel ignored? That I want her to work with us on this every step of the way? And learning to focus on something that doesn’t feel so bad could help in the middle of the night, help to stop the bad scary feelings?”
I shake my head. “No.” The fear that she just wants to make me stop talking is so huge. The little girl really believes that Bea doesn’t want to listen.
“Can I ask the Little girl something?”
“I guess so,” I say tentatively.
“Whose body is it, that is feeling those things? Is it yours (the little girl’s)?” Bea’s voice is gentle.
I don’t answer for a long time. Finally, I sigh and say, “The grown up thinks yes, it is.”
“Okay….” Bea says, waiting for me to say more.
“But…well….the little girl…she’s….” I stumble, finding it hard to say the words. “Not my body. Not me. That was not happening to me. No, no.”
“Yeah,”Bea soothes. “You don’t want that to be you. If it is, you have to feel it, and that is scary.”
“Yeah. Scary.” I agree.
“What if we could find a way to direct attention away from those feelings? That’s why you, or the grown up, or another part could help to focus on something else. So in the night, you don’t have to be so scared. And so that here, we can talk about memories and feelings without it getting too scary.”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay. That’s okay. You can think about it.” She tells the little girl, and then she talks about some normal simple stuff for a few minutes, enough so that the grown up is back on board.
“I just really don’t want to feel that anymore. I’m so scared that I will if we try to focus on….Any of that SP stuff. I think it is the way to help this……. but….I’m afraid.” I cover my face with my hands, even though I’m hiding under the blanket. I feel so exposed and vulnerable right now.
“I know. It’s scary, and uncomfortable. Can I challenge that idea a little bit? Can we remind parts that we have done some SP work in the past, and you were able to find some resources and it did help? Can you remember those two times?” She’s gentle as she says this, but I feel a little bit thrown. The teen feels like Bea is using those two helpful times against me, to tell me why I should be willing to try more, or do better at SP.
“Yes. Sort of. I mean, I know we did it, and that it helped, but the actual sessions….I don’t have the details. I think both times everything was all too overwhelming.”
“I do think it was times when you were a bit desperate and falling of the edge of the cliff. But the SP resourcing did help to pull you back from the edge, at least enough to get through those bad times.” She says.
When I don’t say anything for a long while, Bea offers to share her hopes and fears worksheet with me. I say okay, and she reads me her fears. It’s easy for me to jump into a helping role, and so I easily come back to being more present by listening to her. I validate her fears, but then I offer a different viewpoint, something to think about. I won’t share her list here, because it’s not mine to share, but one of her hopes sparked a conversation and that I will share.
“I guess my hopes are more things I like about SP, and that I hope to do more of,” she tells me as she starts to read her list. She reads two or three things off it, and then reads, “I like the way I feel when I take a few moments and just really connect to where my body is in space, and what sensations I’m noticing. It makes me feel calm and centered, peaceful. I hope to do more mindfulness exercises because I know how helpful it can be and I like how I feel afterward.”
She says that, and I’m just sort of….flabbergasted. Calm? Peaceful? I don’t understand. This literally makes no sense to me. I can’t really comprehend it. It takes a moment for me to even find words. “That just….it makes no sense to me. I don’t understand. This isn’t….that’s not my experience, and I don’t…peaceful? I don’t understand that. I understand feeling calmer by focusing on what I hear, or what I see. On outside things.” Maybe a tiny part of me feels betrayed, Bea is never going to understand exactly how scary and hard this is, if she finds focusing internally peaceful and calming.
“Well, so what I was thinking about when I was writing out my hopes, it wasn’t about feeling or noticing things attached to memories. It was more about, I guess like doing a check in with my body, just on what it happening in this moment.”
I stare blankly at her, but she can’t see that because I’m still hiding under my blanket. She must somehow sense I’m still confused, because she suggests, “I could go through a mindfulness exercise that I like, say it out loud while I do it, so you can hear what I mean. You wouldn’t do anything, just listen to see if it helps explain what feels peaceful to me.”
“Okaaay. I guess so.” I’m heisitant to ageee, but it’s not anything I have to do, so it’s probably okay.
Bea takes a deep breath. “I always start with a deep breath or two. Then, I tell myself that I know there is a lot to do, or that I know things were busy today, or whatever. I focus on where my feet are. Maybe they are on the floor, or resting on a chair. Maybe I can feel my socks, shoes. I focus on if my toes need to wiggle, or feet need to move. I notice where else in my body I can feel the chair. Maybe against my back. I notice what the chair feels like against my back. I focus on if I can let myself relax against the chair because it will support my back…….”
She’s talking and I’m going far, far away. I can’t do this. Just the thought of this is too much….it’s too much, and I’m gone away, to the place where I feel like my head is just a balloon on a string, floating away somewhere else. Everything is numb and wrapped in thick cotton, so no feelings will ever get through. It’s peaceful here, in this land of nothingness.
Bea’s voice isn’t really gettting through. She asking me if I have seen any of the mindfulness apps.
“No,” I say, even though I have. Of course I have, they are everywhere. I even have one on Kat’s iPad because she likes to use it before bed. My voice is hollow because there is nothing there. I’m empty. Numb. Not here.
“They might be helpful. Usually there is a pretty picture, or a circle or something you focus on, so it’s more of that external mindfulness that feels safe to you.”
I don’t respond. Not because I don’t want to, I want to tell her that those apps focus on breathing and I don’t like the breathing thing.
“Alice, are you here? Are you far away?” She asks me, realizing I’m gone.
I can’t find my words. Finally I manage to say, “Frozen. Far away.”
“Okay, okay, that’s good that you could tell me that. If just talk, will that help?” Her voice is calm. I think she is speaking slower than usual to give my foggy brain time to catch up.
I don’t answer her, and so she just talks. I don’t even know what she said. I was farther away than I’ve been in a long while. Eventually, I manage to be a bit more here, at least enough to be able to move. Being more here means feeling vulnerable, and even with the blanket, I wish I could build a pillow fort and hide in it.
Bea notices that I’m back, and says, “So, l’m going to use one of our bad words. Okay?”
She means she is going to say a word on the *words we don’t use list* and so I whisper, “Please don’t.” I know I can’t handle that right now.
“It’s not a scary one. The e one.” The e word is experiment. In SP, they use experiments to test things, or to observe new information. It makes the whole thing feel very lab rat like to me, and that is so triggering and painful for the teen.
“No. I can’t,” I tell her, realizing that I am on high alert to find something wrong with Bea, to get mad at her, a reason to push her away, to cause a rupture. I’m teetering on the edge of something and if she says anything shrinky, it will be all over; I will fall off this narrow ledge.
“Okay. Let me think.” She won’t just use a synonym, because she knows that’s not better, so she has to find a different way to tell me whatever it is she wants to tell me. “All right. I know that was triggering, and made you go far away. That wasn’t my intention, but I think that this tells us where we need to start. Just hearing a mindfulness exercise that focuses internally and on the body is too much. And that’s good for us both to know. And it’s okay. We have to start where you are at.”
I sigh. “I feel broken.”
“If you were one of the kids I see, I would challenge that. This is bringing up a lot of black and white thinking for you.”
“No, well, yeah, okay. But it is because…….the point…the whole thing in the book is to, I mean what they expect is that you can…..ugh!” I’m frustrated. Why did I think I could do this?
“Focus on the body and notice what is happening internally?” She asks.
“Yeah. And I can’t. I’m not good at this. I’m used to being good at things.” I say softly.
“There is no good or bad. It just is.”
“I don’t like this.” I tell her.
“Well, no. It’s uncomfortable. And new. And. It is challenging those old beliefs. That’s not easy.” She says in that reassuring way she has.
“Well, no. But I just….it shouldn’t feel this hard. Especially worksheets. I rock at worksheets. Ms. Perfect could fill out every worksheet in the book with all the right answers.” I tell her. I’m out from under the blanket, and I’m gathering my things as I say this.
“Well, there are no right answers.” She smiles at me.
I shake my head. “There are. For Ms. Perfect, there are.” There isn’t time to explain the thinking behind this, or to talk through it, because I have to go, and Bea’s next appointment is here. I leave feeling a little…..off.
Later, Ms. Perfect fills out all the worksheets in chapter 4, even the one that asks you to write a letter to the body. It takes her all of fifteen minutes to whip through them. In her world, the right answer is whatever a normal person would write. It’s all about what someone who isn’t broken, who is okay, would say. And she is very, very good at this game of being normal and okay. It’s actually a little bit scary how good she is at this.