When the undertow grabs hold

On Monday, the teen was feeling really embarrassed that she had told Bea how feeling cared about brings up all these icky, bad feelings, and wasn’t sure she wanted to go to therapy. Things were floaty and just off feeling, and it was really hard to stay grounded and connected.

Once I am settled in my place on the couch, and we chat for a bit, Bea asks me who is here today. I tell her that I don’t know, because I don’t. I feel odd, not here, and sort of numb, not real. I feel almost like a ghost or something, like I don’t quite exist. We continue on with the surface talk, mostly because I keep directing us back that direction. This sucks. I want to feel connected to her, and right now I don’t feel connected to anything.

Finally, Bea asks if I might want to look at my notebook. I get it out and flip through it. “There’s sort of old stuff in here. From October 22. Because we didn’t look at my book for a while.” I keep flipping pages as I am talking.

“Well, we can start at the beginning or with something more recent. Really it’s whatever you need to talk about, whatever is coming up for you,” she says softly.

I shrug. “It doesn’t matter, I don’t know.”

Bea waits, and I continue to just flip through pages. I’m wasting time, I know it, but I can’t seem to stop myself. (Thinking back, I think the teen was wasting time, not wanting to feel anymore exposed.)

The silence starts to make me feel panicked. “Just read the last thing I wrote and then go back to the beginning. Okay? Because it doesn’t really matter.”

“All right. We can do that.” Bea leans forward a bit, and I hand her my notebook. “This is a new notebook. It’s so pretty.”

I nod. “It’s the Harry Potter limited edition moleskin notebook. I love it.”

“Can I read from the beginning? Would that be all right?” Bea asks carefully.

“Sure. It’s fine,” I tell her.

It doesn’t take long for her to pause in her reading and look up at me. “The teen was really mad at me, huh? I can understand that. It’s really painful to have me sort of show her what she didn’t get from her mom growing up.” Bea sounds sad, and understanding and calm and kind and just so very much the Bea that the teen loves, it sent me spiraling. Or, rather, it sent the teen spiraling.

“No, no. I’m not mad anymore, I really wasn’t mad at you. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Panic fills my voice. I’m not floaty or spacey anymore, but I am definitely out of my window.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about. You are allowed to be mad at me.” Bea says firmly. Her words are kind, though, and I’m able to calm down enough that I can breathe again.

“I said I hated you,” I sob. “I didn’t mean that. I didn’t.”

“If you did, that would be okay. I can handle it. I’m strong enough to handle all your feelings, even hating me.”

“I don’t hate you. I didn’t hate you. It was just….I was mad and I hated that you weren’t my mom. No….that came out wrong. Wait. I mean, I hated that….it should be my mom, not you. I was mad, I hated that it wasn’t her.”

“I know. I know that. I understand. It hurts. It hurts so much that your mom didn’t have the capacity to give you what you needed.” When I peak out from behind cloud pillow (when did I even grab him and hide my face?!?!) she’s sitting criss cross applesauce in her chair, and leaning in towards me.

All of this came about because I had been able to stand up to someone and set a healthy boundary in a kind and respectful way and feel safe and supported while I did it; something I have never experienced or done before. I had been alone when this happened, but I knew Bea would support me. Even if she disagreed with me, I knew that she would still be there for me, that she would try to understand my viewpoint. I can’t really explain it, but even though she wasn’t there, it was like she was there, helping me feel supported and contained while I spoke. I didn’t become dysregulated once. Afterward, I thought to myself, *this is what secure attachment feels like. This is what it feels like to have a secure base.* It was exhilarating and at the same time devastating. It didn’t take long for all kinds of feelings to pop up for the teen. Mostly, those feelings were anger and pain over the fact that her mom didn’t give this to her growing up.

“I want to be mad at her, you know. But she….she just couldn’t do it. She couldn’t handle anything. I can’t be mad at someone so broken. So I don’t know who I’m mad at. Not you. Not my mom.” I sigh. This is so hard.

“Maybe no one. Not being mad at me, that might be a new experience for the teen.” Bea suggests.

“That’s not fair. Yeah, she’s angry alot, but she isn’t always mad at you. And most of the time when she is mad at you it’s because she is scared.” The adult comes back just enough to defend the teen, which is unexpected.

“That’s true. I’m sorry,” Bea says.

“Okay. I’m not mad right now, okay?”

“Okay. What are you feeling?” Her voice is curious.

“I….just….I can’t be mad at her. Mostly that is what I feel.” I’m hiding behind cloud pillow still. I would really like to have a blanket to hide under, but I don’t want to ask, and Bea hasn’t offered, and it’s probably time to go anyways.

“Why not? Why can’t you be mad that your needs weren’t met? Thats a legitimate thing to be angry and rageful about.” Her tone is matter of fact now, like this is just something everyone knows.

“Because…….” The words get lost before they are even fully formed.

“Because why?” Bea asks. She is annoying me (the teen). Doesn’t she know? Can’t she put two and two together? Do I always have to spell things out for her?

“Because I don’t get to be mad. I’m not good enough! I didn’t try hard enough to do things, to be what she needed, I was always always needing more. I don’t have the right to be angry when all I ever did was screw up and make things hard for her!” I shot the words at Bea, and then hunch into myself, hugging cloud and crying.

“So only people who are good enough ―as defined by your mother― have the right to be angry?” Bea asks. Ugh. She has this innocent, playing dumb tone to her voice. I hate her again. She is asking me questions to prove a point and I don’t want her to prove a point.

“No. That is not even what I said. But all she wanted was me to be normal and I couldn’t even do that.”

“From where I am sitting, a lot of your feelings and thoughts were just like a normal teen. And you were totally normal given your history.”

“I hate it when you say that.”

“How come?”

I shrug. “Don’t know.”

“Maybe because if you are normal then you aren’t special?” Bea asks.

“No. It’s not like that. No one want to be special like this. I feel crazy. Its crazy making.”

“What is?”

“Me. My stupid feelings. I want to be cared about but then when I feel cared about I end up….well….feeling icky. That is crazy.”

“Well, it feels crazy, and it is normal for you, for what you went through.” Bea says. She sounds like Bea again and the anger towards her dissipates, but I still hate being called normal.

“It doesn’t make sense to me.” I shake my head.

“Well, I think that you had to be so defended for so long, and being cared about for so long came with strings attached, expectations, and the knowledge that you would only be cared about if you were behaving and performing well. Listen, okay? This is important. I don’t have strings or expectations. I care about you just for being you. I’m here because I care about you, about all the parts. That’s it. Okay? I know that is hard to trust, and it is difficult because as soon as you feel my caring all those defenses kick in. If you can try to just let in one little drop of caring, just allow one drop to make it past your walls, then you can feel cared about and still feel safe.”

“Maybe. Maybe I can try.” I whisper the words.

It’s not long before it’s time to go. We went over time, and I tell Bea I’m sorry.

“I’m not,” she says, “There was some stuff the teen really needed to get out.”

“Okay.” It’s all I can get out.

We say goodbye, and Bea wishes me a good day.

I really don’t know why therapy felt so off. I am pretty sure it was me, though, not Bea, considering I had been feeling off kilter for several days. It’s more than the eating thing. I still feel weird. I tried to journal and nothing really came out. I don’t know what my deal is. I probably should tell Bea that things (and me) felt weird and off on Monday and that there is so much going on with the teen, all these crazy, strong emotions and this self hatred that is so huge I (the grown up) can’t begin to fight it, and how the teen’s feelings are like an undertow, drowning me. I’m just not sure I can. I feel really apprehensive that if I try to explain, she will make a thimg out of something that is not a thing, or she will somehow inadvertently say something that feels invalidating to the teen, and then the teen will freak and we will be right back in the middle of another rupture where Bea claims its all about the past and the teen feels more and more unseen by her, and everything spirals out of control. The worst part is, I’m not sure if those are my feelings or the teen’s feelings. Because they feel like mine, and yet…….it could be the undertow taking hold.

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When the teen thinks your doctor called you fat

Monday was weird. Therapy felt weird. (I’ll do a separate post about therapy.) I was sort of numb and tired and just not really with it. I’ve been feeling weird and off kilter since Thursday or maybe Friday. I’ve gotten so much stronger and capable in the last five years. The teen is still really strong though, and her feelings are like a tornado roaring through me and destroying any grip I have on reality. The thing is, there is a thing that the adult think needs to be discussed, although she is feeling quite embarrassed over it. The teen is adamant that it not be discussed or acknowledged, and she is feeling so much shame and self hatred over this, it’s unbearable. I saw my doctor on Tuesday. It was just a med-check appointment because of all my fibromyalgia meds.

Trigger warning! Talk about eating disorder and weight. If you continue reading, I ask that you please try not to judge my behavior. Please be kind. This is such a sensitive and embarrassing topic for me, a lot of my eating stuff ties into my mother’s eating disorder and the shame I felt my whole life over not be thin enough for her.

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For the first time in my life, my doctor brought up concerns about my weight gain. Always, always in my past there have only been concerns about weight loss. But now this.

I know I have gained weight, I know I haven’t been making healthy choices, and I know there have been so many times that I have binged but not purged in the since the awful rupture in April. I know I have spent a lot of time avoiding exercise and hiding in my bed these last 6 months.

The teen is livid with herself. She hates everything about this body. She is ashamed and disgusted and it was awful to have weight brought up like that.

My doctor is wonderful. She was kind and not judgmental at all. But it doesn’t matter, not really. That discussion was all the teen needed to take over and unleash ED. Sometimes, my eating disorder creeps up on me, like when I realized that I have been binging since the rupture. Other times, it sneaks up on me like when I have the best intentions to eat right and exercise, and before I know it I am restricting and only eating a limited number of foods without purging. And then there are the times, like now, when the teen takes over and begins severely restricting right away.

It’s only been a few days, but the thing is, the teen feels better, less overwhelmed and crazy. Things feel slightly fuzzy and distant all the time when you are restricting and that feels safe. I’m not sure I want to stop this, to stop her. I’m not sure I can stop it. I know this is a bad path to go down. I know it’s not healthy, or smart. But really, I just want to lose the weight and show up to my next appointment not so fat. I don’t want another talk. I’m not sure the teen can handle another talk.

I know I should talk to Bea. I know this, and the grown up me wants to. The teen though, is so, so strong, and she does not want to talk to Bea about any of this. She does not want to tell Bea that her doctor called her fat (okay, not exactly what happened, but for the teen, it’s exactly what happened) and she doesn’t want Bea to agree with her doctor. There’s also this little voice in her head, in my head, that says I am too fat, no one would believe that I have been restricting for the past week. The voice says that if anyone did believe it, they would be glad, because I am gross.

I don’t know where this leaves me. I guess I just needed to write about this, to try to sort it out, to at least not lie to myself.

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👱🏼‍♀️💎💅🏻👠👛🤸‍♀️📓☎️ (aka the teen)

The teen showed up a few weeks ago and hasn’t left yet. I don’t think she is going anywhere, this time. Typically, the teen shows up when she feels threatened, or believes something is going to hurt another part. All the work Bea and I were doing around SP (mostly trying to expand my vocabulary to label sensation. It’s actually the same approach we used with emotions. We talked about talking about emotions, and what words might be used to label them) definitely triggered the teen, but I beleive the teen showed up because of the recurring nightmare I’ve been having for over a month now.

Typically, the teen shows up, gets mad, causes a rupture and then the little girl freaks out, the stuff that triggered the teen is put away so that repairing the rupture and helping the little girl can be focused on. It’s actually a very smart, and very effective system. However, I don’t want to continue repeating that cycle everytime something gets too close to all the teen’s pain. The teen stuff must be worked with, worked through. Most often, the ruptures the teen causes are focused on something Bea said or did, or didn’t say or do. The teen is very, very good at twisting words and actions and making even innocent ones seem malignant. She’s always done this– in actions or words of others she finds hatrd, disgust, apathy. She finds warning signs that someone is leaving, she finds clues that inform her trusted people hate her and want to get rid of her, and she hears in the others words a message of “I dont care about you, you are an unwelcome obligation.”

In order to avoid this twisting of words, I asked Bea to please not respond to email with words, but to use emoji imstead. It felt so silly, asking that, but it has helped. I’m having a hard time right now, with all the intense feelings and all this pain that has been triggered. I often feel like I am breaking, shattering, into a million pieces from the pain of it all. I knew with the teen triggered and present all my feelings would be even more intense and I would need Bea outside of sessions. I also knew I might survive another rupture where it feels like she left. So, emoji. The teen can’t twist pictures so easily. Partly because she can assign her own meaning to them, but also because when Bea sends emojis in response it is usually something like this: 👂👁🤝🐶👟👣🌱🌷⛅️🥗🍫🍺. Which the teen interperts as: I hear and see you, and I am here. I took the dog for a walk and saw some flowers, it was partly sunny out. I had salad for dinner and chocolate and beer later. Now, that could be wrong, but based on what I know about Bea, and on the simplicity of communicating with pictures, it seems likely I’m right. The thing is, the 👂👁🤝 really is reassuring that she is here, and the rest of her message (whatever it is) always just feels like she is still Bea.

Where all this will lead, I don’t know. The teen is just as vulnerable as the little girl. In fact, there really is no surface place to go with the teen. Anywhere you try and stand, you will fall through– right into the mud. I’m not sure what that means in terms of working through this pain. I know most of the little girl hurts still exist within the teen; they are simply amplified by the teen’s intensity. I’m scared. I feel like this is something I have to face if I am ever going to live a full life, if I am ever going to be able to have real deep relationships (with someone other than my therapist), if I am ever going to be able to get rid of some of the very worst of my triggers and responses to those triggers.

I feel like I’m heading into a great abyss, with no map to help show me the way.