This post contains memories of sexual abuse. It’s not extremely detailed, as my memory is not all there, and I have a hard time with most of the actual words, but it does tell the story of what happened when I flipped the switch in the boyfriend. It could be triggering, so please be careful and take care of yourself when reading.
Traffic is terrible today, and of course I’m running late. I’m running late because I overslept. I never oversleep. But today I overslept. Which means I fell asleep at 4:30am and didn’t wake up until 7:40– twenty minutes before my appointment with Bea. Luckily when I sent a frantic text message, she was still able to see me.
It’s 8:40 when I finally arrive, ten minutes after I had said I would be there. I rush up the stairs, and find Bea sitting calmly, not stressed or upset in the least.
Taking my boots off outside her office, I say, “I am so, so sorry. Traffic was terrible, I can’t believe I overslept.” I’m still shaking my head as I walk into the office and set my things down on the couch next to me.
“It’s okay. I’m just happy you overslept. Because that means you were sleeping.” Bea smiles at me. She means this. I think she might be going insane. Maybe my craziness is rubbing off on her.
“No. No it’s not okay. I don’t oversleep. I never oversleep. I don’t even need to set an alarm. I should have set an alarm. I’m really, really sorry.”
“It’s really okay. It worked out. I was still able to see you, and you slept.”
“I know, but I should have been on time. You shouldn’t have to change your schedule because of me. I had to text Kris and see if we could move yoga back, too. This is just so not okay,” I tell her. I’m curled up on the couch, trying to relax, to calm down, but I can’t. I’m tense because I’ve screwed up. I’ve broken several cardinal rules of mine– don’t be late, don’t make others have to accommodate me, and never, ever oversleep.
“There’s that ‘should’ again. Was Kris able to be flexible?” Bea asks. She’s still smiling.
“Yeah, she said it’s fine, and she’ll see me at 11:00am. But people shouldn’t have to be flexible for me.” I sigh. I’m so angry with myself.
“Why not? If she and I can be flexible with the time, and everything worked out, and no one is upset or hurt by this, why isn’t it okay?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. It just isn’t.”
“Can you see that I’m not upset? That I’m happy you slept?” Bea takes a drink of her tea, and looks at me.
I nod. I can tell she is not upset, and I believe she is happy I slept. Not thinking about it, I reach up to adjust my ponytail that I’d hastily thrown my hair into, and laugh. “Well, here’s my hair. Not straightened, or blown dry, or even having the curls fixed. Just my mess of hair.” My hair is crazy. It’s a spiral curl mess of a lions mane, huge and untamable. I didn’t have time this morning to fix the curls or tame it, so it’s thrown in a side pony, that just touches my shoulders. When it’s straightened, my hair reaches the middle of my back.
Bea laughs with me. “It’s pretty. My daughter’s hair curled like that when she was younger, but the older she gets the less curl she has.”
I shake my head. “It drives me crazy. But I guess the worst thing that happened today is I had to leave my hair like this.”
Bea nods at me. “It’s not so bad, then?”
I grudgingly agree. “It’s not so bad. Everything managed to work out.”
“And I’m still just so glad you were sleeping.”
I sigh. “So, I know I’m not supposed to talk about Kat anymore, but she burned her hand on the fireplace. She might bring it up tomorrow, I don’t know. But it was pretty bad.”
“We can talk about Kat; and I would find it curious if you hadn’t brought this up,” Bea tells me, and then she asks what happened.
I tell her how Kat had touched the wood burning stove, which was really strange because she has always been so careful about hot things and followed the no touching rule. I tell her how I was so proud that Kat used other coping skills outside of her pacifier– which we are working on not using during the day– and how she asked for things she needed. I explain how awful I felt, and how we cuddled and how I gave her the new board games I had ordered for ABA early, and the special teddy bear tea party we had, and how brave Kat had been.
“You handled that all so well,” Bea says, after hearing the whole story.
“Thanks.” I take a drink of my chai tea (no milk, just tea) and smile. “It was rough. But she seemed okay by bedtime.”
We pause for a minute, drinking tea and I think about what we said we would talk about this time around.
“So….last time we had said we would continue with the story of the boyfriend. We kind of left off on the cusp of things turning bad. Have you thought about the idea that you didn’t flip this switch?” Bea finally breaks the silence, and I immediately curl my knees tighter to my chest and set my tea down.
“No…I did write out the rest of it, though. In case I can’t tell it.” I shrug. This is hard.
“Even though this is hard, I get the sense it’s easier to talk about than Kenny, and it’s easier to find words and put words to what happened,” Bea says softly.
I nod at her. “Yeah. I think so.”
She waits, which is a little unusual for our sessions, but I don’t feel panicked at the silence. Eventually, I start talking. “I slept with him. That was what started it, I think. You know this, already, though.”
“Yes, but I don’t have the story. How it happened, what happened. And, like I said before, we are at a different point now.” We’ve talked about how therapy is not a straight line, that it’s like an onion, peeling back layers and revisiting things happens often.
“We’d gone out, our 3 month anniversary. And we went back to his place, but his roommates had the living room taken over, so we went to his room to watch a movie. Which wasn’t unusual, it wasn’t strange. And, I don’t know……….I don’t know what happened.”
“Was it like things had been progressing and went farther than you intended this time? Maybe going a little farther every time?” Bea prompts me, but she seems a little far away. I’m partly back there, remembering.
I shake my head, bury my face in my knees. “No……” I know what I want to say, but getting the words out is embarrassing and difficult. “I wasn’t one of those girls who did everything but….you know….just so they can claim to technically still be a virgin. I was really waiting. Kissing. That’s it, that’s all I ever did.” I can feel how red my face is, and I’m so thankful I can hide my face. There is no way I could actually look at Bea right now.
“Mmm-hmmm,” Bea says, letting me know she is still listening. “So you were truly waiting.”
“I just….I don’t know. Things went really fast, and too far…I couldn’t stop it, or say no. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.” My voice is quite, and I can feel the way I felt so stuck and unable to do anything but go along with him. “It was like I was just stuck, I don’t know.”
“Frozen. Was it like being frozen?” Bea asks.
I nod. “A little.”
“I’m not surprised, with your history. Whether you were thinking about it, acknowledging it, or not, that had to be a big trigger for you, it had to be really hard.” Bea’s voice is gentle and understanding.
“I don’t know…..I don’t even remember actually….I mean, it’s just kind of gone. I know what happened…but I don’t really remember it.”
“You probably dissociated. It makes sense, with a trigger like that, how you would dissociate and not really remember what happened.”
“After…I was so upset. So mad at myself, guilty, horrified. It was awful. And he was….happy. Like it was this big deal, such a good thing.” I shake my head, and blink back some tears.
“Did you tell him then, how you felt?” Bea asks.
“No…no. I couldn’t. He was so happy. I couldn’t say anything. It was later, when he came over a few days later, I think. That’s when….that’s when I told him. But you know this story, too.”
“That’s okay. There’s always new things we learn when we tell a memory again. And we are talking about something different, and at a different point now.” Bea sounds so calm, so sure of the fact it’s okay for me to tell the story again.
“It was a Thursday. He came over, we were going out. And we were on the couch, kissing.” I can feel myself shaking, now, because this is getting to the ugly part of the story. “I knew I had to tell him. I should have told him right away. But….I don’t know. I didn’t. We were kissing, it was okay, but then he moved his hands from my hair…..down….I pulled away, started talking. I didn’t think. I said never again, it was a mistake, that it should never have happened. I didn’t think. I was so selfish. I didn’t realize it would hurt his feelings. He argued with me. That he would marry me one day, so it was okay. I said it wasn’t the same as being married, I was waiting. He said a person can’t just take that back. I said I was forgiven, and waiting for marriage now. He said that no good Christian boy would ever want me now, I was tainted, ruined………” I stop talking, try to catch my breath, stop the tears that are falling.
“That really hit you where it hurts. He knew just what to say to hurt you,” Bea says, sympathetically. “I wonder what happened in his life that made him so hurt by what he considered rejection. You found a spot where he was vulnerable, and it likely had nothing to do with you, but with him and his feelings….feeling vulnerable, not being able to handle rejection. It’s my guess that you would have hit this vulnerable spot in him no matter what, at some point. It wasn’t anything you did.”
This is a foreign idea, that it wasn’t me, it was something in him that was unable to handle anything he felt as rejection, and I immediately reject it. “I don’t know. We argued. I was mean, he tried to convince me it was okay to have sex again. He said I had liked it. And I said….” I pause here, upset, shaky. This is where things get fuzzy and hard to talk about. Ugly. Taking a deep breath, I finish my sentence. “I said I didn’t. I didn’t like it. And he slapped me.” Just the words shock me into silence.
“Were you stunned?” Bea asks, and her voice is soft and even.
“I couldn’t believe it. It seemed fake. I don’t know. Just…not my life.” I feel like I’m in a daze. Stunned is a good word, I still feel stunned that he hit me. “He pushed me…..I fell and hit my head on the table…I don’t know….”
“Where were you? Standing?”
“No…no, I was still sitting on the couch. I never moved. I just stayed right there.”
“Okay. A what was next?” Bea asks.
“I….I…there’s a blank space, I don’t know what happened then. I just…it’s not there.”
“Is there anything after that? Something more you remember?” Bea’s voice is quite, kind, calm. She’s okay, which somehow means I can be okay to keep talking.
“I remember being on the other side of the coffee table….near the fireplace. And I…well, I just um…my clothes……” I’m struggling now. I don’t know if I can get through this. The words are hard.
“Were your clothes ripped?”
“No…not on. Not folded. I was so upset they weren’t folded.” I’m sick to my stomach. I don’t know what I’m doing.
“Where was he at?” Bea prompts me.
“I…right there. Touching me…he was going to prove I liked it.” Tears are falling now, and I feel frozen there, and scared.
I think Bea says something to me, maybe asks a question, or says something about his inability to accept rejection. I’m not sure. Maybe she says how scary that had to feel. I’m a little bit not here, lost in my past.
“He…he made a list then. This is when he made a list….” I have to stop talking for a minute, but that’s okay. Bea knows about his list, we’d talked about this before. His list…where he listed out, telling me everything my body was doing, how I was responding to his touch. I cringe. I’m sick to my stomach, and feel like I might throw up. “He said….he said that no…..” I can’t get the words out. I’m incrediably ashamed. And knowing what I know now about my childhood….it’s worse.
“What did he say?” Bea questions, sounding full of compassion.
I shake my head, and we sit in silence for a moment. “He said no virgin acted like I had in bed…that I was a slut…” I break into bigger sobs, now. I’m still so hurt by this, and now knowing I hadn’t been a virgin….well, that adds a whole new layer of hurt.
“I wonder how he even knew that. I feel like he was saying what he knew would hurt you…” I can hear Bea talking, pointing things out to me, putting my memories in a new light. I can’t listen or pay attention though. She doesn’t get it, I did this.
“After….I threw up. And he was nice again…I showered, he got me soup.” The words sound wooden to me. I don’t elaborate, because Bea and I have talked over this part quite bit.
“He normalized it, and made everything more confusing for you.”
“Do you see? Do you get now how I flipped the switch?” I ask her. I feel timid and afraid. I want Bea to understand, but I don’t want her to hate me or think I’m this disgusting slut.
“No matter what you said, or how you guys argued, or what vulnerable spot you poked without meaning to, he didn’t have a right to hurt you like that, he didn’t have the right to rape you.”
I shake my head at her, forcefully. “I never even said no.”
“You said no, very clearly. When you told him it had been a mistake and never could happen again, that was saying no.” Bea insists.
I don’t remember much of the session after that, although I’m sure I argued with her, or possibly shut down. We talk about saying no, his vulnerable spots, how it’s confusing and strange the things you remember and forget. I wonder, and Bea wonders what happened with my clothes; how they were removed, and what happened surrounding that. I say again that I don’t remember, and that I wish I knew.
We end the session with Bea reiterating that he would have flipped eventually, that maybe his sense of rejection made it happen sooner, but that it wasn’t my fault. She talks about how giving up the idea of fault means I have to give up the illusion of having control over this. And she says that on Monday she would like to hear about the next time the switch flipped in him.
“Okay. On Monday,” I agree.
I’m sure we spend a few minutes talking about normal things, light conversation, but I can’t remember what. By the time I call goodbye as I walk downstairs, I feel steady and okay– or at least as okay as I feel these days.
Driving to yoga, Bea’s message about control, and blame and the boyfriend reacting badly to something from his last that made rejection intolerable to him plays in my head, and I turn it over and over.