Teens and shrinky cupcakes

So, we talked about the shrinky cupcake. I had been okay all week. Emailing had given me my connection to Bea back, and up until Wednesday morning, I was okay. As I walked into her office, though, the teen’s anxiety, embarrassment and hurt took center stage in my head. I did what I always do in those moments; I shoved the teen aside and let Ms. Perfect run the show.

Bea isn’t fooled by Ms. Perfect any longer, but she will let Ms. Perfect have her bubble of perfection for a bit before Bea pops that bubble. We talked about Halloween and school activities I had organized, and I showed Bea pictures from the Halloween festival in our town square. (Side note, I would love to live in Stars Hollow because the town seems so great with all their wacky festivals, but in all actuality, the town that hubby and I live in is very much like stars hollow― complete with the town square and a gazebo, a diner with great coffee and many, many festivals for weird and wacky things)

Eventually Bea said, “I think Ms. Perfect is here today. I can tell because of the here-not-here feeling and the upbeat chatter. I’m wondering if there are other parts that would like to talk but are feeling scared or upset?” Bea really doesn’t pull any punches anymore when Ms. Perfect is around. I hate it sometimes, but it is a good thing because if you aren’t straight forward like that, Ms. Perfect is very good at avoiding things and changing the subject.

As soon as Bea outed Ms. Perfect, all the teen’s feelings rushed back in. I looked at my hands, picked my fingers, and didn’t answer.

“We need to talk about the cupcake.” Her tone was gentle and calm, but firm. She wasn’t going to budge on this.

I grabbed blue cloud pillow off the couch and hid my face. “Maybe you do, but I don’t need to talk about it.” The teen’s words shot out from my mouth before I could gain control of the situation.

“I know. You really don’t want to talk about this. I just think that I upset you, and you have every right to be mad at me. But we do need to talk about this.”

“Why? Why do we have to talk about something that wasn’t even a thing until you turned it into a shrinky thing?” I snapped.

“I guess, well, because I did turn it into a thing and we need to talk about that. Otherwise, it is like how you grew up, and that can feel lonely and awful. I think its better, even if it feels hard and uncomfortable, to air things out. I don’t want things festering and sitting between us, and I know you don’t like it when things feel like that. It makes the relationship feel unsafe.” Bea answers slowly, like she is trying to find the words to explain to me why she thinks it’s important we talk this out.

“But I wasn’t upset! I was fine. It was all fine until you turned it into a shrinky thing. I wasn’t upset until you did that.”

“It really upsets you when I make things feel shrinky. I wasn’t trying to do that. I know did, and I’m sorry. I was worried, and I wanted to make sure you weren’t stuck with bad feelings, like worrying that I was expecting something of you because I gave you a gift, or feeling like I crossed a boundary that you had set by telling me earlier in the week that you were ignoring your birthday. I didn’t want you stuck with that all week.”

“But I wasn’t! I was fine! I didn’t feel any of those things! I wasn’t stuck with any bad feelings until you made everythung go shrinky right before you were leaving and then I was stuck with those feelings for a week!” My face is buried in cloud pillow, and I feel like I am yelling because there is anger in my voice, but while the words come out short and snappy, they are said barely above a whisper.

“Okay. I thought you looked uncomfortable when I gave you the cupcake. Maybe that is my stuff, and not yours. Can you tell me what you felt when I gave it to you?”

I sigh. “That it was nice of you.”

“What about below the surface?” Bea pushes, just a bit. The way she says it, it’s like a gentle nudge.

I stare at the floor, at my hands, at the bin of stuffed toys sitting on the floor near me. After what feels like forever, I ask, “Can I have the blanket?” Sometimes I say *my* and other times I say *the*. It seems to be the little girl and the grown up who will ask for *my blanket*, and the teen who refuses to call it hers, even though Bea calls it mine.

“Sure.” I hear her get up, and then she covers me with the blanket.

I sit there, hiding and not wanting to talk, trying to find the words. Realizing that my parts all felt differently, I decide I can safely and easily talk about the little girl and maybe the grown up’s reactions. “The little girl……for her, it really was simple. She was happy to get cake.” I shrug.

“It makes sense that different parts felt different,” Bea says. “I’m glad the little girl was happy.”

“The…..the grown up……that was…..well, she thought it was nice of you, but it also made her….sad…..sort of nostalgic for…..I guess for birthdays in years past, for the time when she would have danced in here singing about her birthday and expecting a cupcake because, well, I guess because Grandpa believed she was a gift and should be celebrated and she believed it because he did. And thats not……it doesn’t feel like that anymore. The last time my birthday felt like that was six years ago, before Grandpa was sick. I don’t……its sad because things won’t feel like that again. So maybe that is what you saw. It didn’t have anything to do with you. Just sadness and nostalgia for the way things used to be.” My voice cracks as I mention Grandpa, tears streaming down my cheeks as I speak.

“He loved you so much. He really did. And you do deserve to celebrate and to sing and dance on your birthday if you feel like it again. You lost a lot, and it is understandable that you would be sad about it. If that is what I was picking up on, I am truly sorry for making it a thing and upsetting you. And I apologize for not fully picking up on that sad feeling.” Her voice is warm and caring as she talks to me.

“It’s okay. None of the parts are really upset or mad anymore.”

Bea waits, to see if there is more, and when I don’t she asks, “And what about the teen? How did she feel?”

I groan. The teen doesn’t want to discuss this. “That it’s fine. She’s not mad anymore.”

“If she was, that would be okay. And I understand why she was mad with me,” Bea says simply.

“I’m not mad.”

“Okay.”

We sit quietly, Bea waiting patiently, and me trying to find the words, to figure out how to put them together to make sense. “I don’t…..the teen doesn’t….(I was having a lot of trouble keeping the grown up in charge, so while I did try, the teen was definitely running the show.) ……like talking about relationships with the person……you know?”

“I know. It’s incredibly uncomfortable for her.”

“Why is this so hard for me? It’s impossible,” I grumble, frusterated with myself.

“It definitely feels that way, doesn’t it? Why do you think it’s hard?”

Frustrated, and feeling like Bea literally just did the shrink thing of turning a question back around, I snap, “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be asking!”

Bea chuckles softly. She enjoys the teen’s snark. “Very true. I think it’s because for so long the teen had no voice, no one but Ms. Perfect had a voice, and so some of it is learning that it’s okay. I think some of it is when the teen did use her voice, it wasn’t very well received. I want to know what she has to say, and I promise to listen and to try to understand.”

I sigh. Take a deep breath. “I……..I thought….” my voice wobbles. “I thought it was………………. nice. I liked that you thought……………. about me not just here (in Bea’s office). It….it was like……it made me feel like you cared. It……….felt……..good.” I feel vulnerable, exposed. This feels dangerous. I do not like to tell people when they make me feel cared about, or that I like feeling cared about.

“I do care,” Bea tells me, in her serious voice. “I know this feels vulnerable, and uncomfortable, but these are all good things to feel. And it is safe to feel them.”

“No. No no. This isn’t……not good. It’s not okay.”

“Because it feels like too much?” Bea asks.

“No. Yes. No.” Frustrated, I snap at Bea again, “I don’t know! Okay? I just don’t know how to explain this.”

“That’s okay. Just take your time. There’s no rush.”

“When……..as soon as……if I feel cared about then…….I think what you felt, what you noticed was…..I felt like you cared, and that felt good but right away, then I feel bad and I can’t…….it’s just…..so then it just has to go away, all the feelings I just have to shut them down.” I shake my head. I’m not making sense.

“Why do the bad feelings come up?” Bea’s voice is the soothing one she uses for the most hurt parts of me.

“Because……..” I don’t want to answer this. The teen doesn’t want to answer this. I feel tears falling again, shame heats my face and every muscle in my body is tense and shaking. I only want to run away. This feels too painful to say.

“Because…..?” Bea prompts.

“I…..it’s like……..I don’t get to……I mean, because I don’t have the right…………………. to want ………..people ……….to care…………..about me……………I’m not good. I can’t……I can’t do this. I’m sorry, I can’t.” Huge, wracking sobs come pouring out of me. I can’t stop shaking.

“You don’t feel like you deserve to be cared about. That is painful. And it is not true. You do deserve to be cared about.” Bea has tears in her voice. I’ve made her sad.

I want to tell her it’s more than that. I want to tell her that bad things happen when you feel those good feelings of being cared about. I want to tell her that I desperately want someone to care about me, just me, even with all the bad and messy and complicated pieces that make up who I am, that I want that, crave that, but it’s not okay. It’s not okay because I don’t deserve that, and when I think I have it, very bad things happen. So I can’t. I can’t feel the warmth of being cared about without all the icky feelings creeping in. I want to have a way to explain this without sounding like a crazy person. But I’m unable to weave the words together in a way that makes sense.

Bea doesn’t ask for more explanation, and she doesn’t tell me to stop crying. She just sits with me, letting me cry until my sobs slow and I can breathe again. She murmurs things about the teen really not liking herself, and how that is painful, and how the teen got so many negative messages about herself, and how she really does enjoy the quirky, snarky teen. Bea reminds the teen that if the teen were 21, she is someone Bea would have a beer with (this was something Bea told the teen a long time ago when the teen accused Bea of liking Ms. Perfect and only wanting the teen to be like Ms. Perfect.)

As awful and painful and uncomfortable as it was to talk about, and as unfinished as the conversation felt to the teen who still feels a need to explain better, strangely, I feel lighter. Nothing bad happened, Bea is still here, she didn’t call me crazy or seem confused by the complicated mess of my feelings around being cared about. And, the teen wants to write some in her notebook to share with Bea. She want to sort it out. She doesn’t want to feel bad anymore.

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Shrinky 10-24

A week ago, I had a birthday. Well, almost a week ago. It was hard. I tend to cope by avoiding my birthday. This year, I really wanted to avoid it. I miss my Grandparents so much, it still hurts. Bea, however, had other plans.

Wednesday, October 24……..

I walk into Bea’s office, acting like it is any other day. I have stuff to deal with, namely this collision of attachment stuff and my mom and my Grandparents and my uncle dying unexpectedly and Kat’s challenges, and all of this, and the time of year have collided to trigger the teen like nothing else. Of course, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to deal with any of this. It’s painful.

Bea greets me like normal, and when I am settled on the couch, she hands me a small bag. “I don’t usually do this, but I was thinking about you yesterday, and so I did.”

I take it and open the bag to find a carrot cake cupcake. My heart feels warm. “Thank you,” I tell her.

“You’re welcome,” she says, and then I start talking about Kat, and regular things. Bea tries to interject a few times, to switch the subject, but I don’t let her. At one point she makes the observation that while I had been really, really far away on Monday (I had just come back from a three day trip with my mother), today I am far away, but it is more of that here-not here variety, where I seem very present but am really still far away and talking nonstop seems to be a way of controlling what is happening around me. I ignore her observation, though it isn’t wrong. Before I know it, she is telling me we have about 15 minutes or so left, and she wants to make sure we haven’t missed anything because she will be out of town Monday.

I sigh. Pick my fingers. Look at the floor. Whisper, “I did write.”

“Do you want me to read it?” Bea asks.

“I dunno. I don’t, there isn’t time to talk about it now.” Suddenly, I just want the hour (yeah, we only got an hour today which is unusual) to be over.

“Well, we could take this opportunity to do some work in the present moment. We talk about reach, and grab or push, and attach in SP. I gave you a cupcake for your birthday, and that is a type reaching.” Bea is speaking slowly, and I don’t like it. I don’t like what she is saying, and I want to tell her to shut up. But I don’t. I don’t say anything at all. So she continues, “What did it feel like when I gave you the cupcake?”

I shrug. I don’t say anything. It’s a cupcake. It was a nice thought. The little girl and the teen liked that she thinks about me even when I’m not right there. That meant something to them.

“Well, I want you to know that you don’t have to take the cupcake, you could tell me no. And I guess I should tell you, it was from my heart, I wanted to do something for you, but also, I guess I was thinking that it is sad you don’t want to acknowledge your birthday, and I wanted the little girl and the teen to know it’s not forgotten and your day still matters.” She says the last part gently, carefully, as if she knows it could set the teen off.

And it does set the teen off. “Stop it. Stop being shrinky! I hate it when you get all stupid and shrinky! Why are you making a thing out of something that wasn’t even a thing? You always do this. Just stop talking. I have to go.” I start to sit up, to put my new perfect fall boots on.

“Will you wait? For a minute? Please. I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to be shrinky. I really wasn’t. It was shrinky though. I just wanted you to know you didn’t have to take something from me, that whatever reaction you had was okay, and that there weren’t expectations around it.” Bea says. She is calm, grounded and so very much here and present and the teen hates her for it.

“Ugh. You didn’t……you always ruin everything! Just when I was feeling like you are here and safe and it is okay, you do this! And you do it just before you are leaving so now I get to feel like you are gone (out of town) and that you aren’t even here (emotionally). I hate this. I can’t do this right now. And it’s time to go anyway.” I stand to leave. The teen wants to throw the cupcake at Bea, but instead I leave it on the couch. I don’t want it anymore.

I walk out, and Bea doesn’t try to stop me. That feels bad, too, even though I am the one leaving. If she had tried to stop me, I would have been really mad. As I leave, she gently but firmly says, “I am here. I’m not leaving you.”

The rest of the day passes by quickly, and Thursday does, too. It’s Friday before I email her, and then only to request a schedule change for Kat. Bea doesn’t respond and I am hurt, until I realize she wouldn’t just ignore an email. I email again to see if she got my first email. Bea texts me in response, and she is just so very Bea. Something has gone wonky with her email and so her emails are not being sent. But she had gotten them both. We text a bit, and she gives me a different email address to use if I want to email more this week.

We end up touching base a few more times, and while we don’t go much below the surface, I feel more connected again. Now it’s Tuesday night, and I will see Bea in the morning. The teen’s anger has dissipated, and all that is left is embarrassment. I feel anxious about seeing Bea tomorrow. The teen is afraid Bea is mad at her for acting like a brat. She’s also afraid that Bea will bring it up, and she would rather forget it. But she wrote about it, so if Bea reads her notebook, she will see that the teen was really upset. The teen knows that it will probably be talked about, and deep down she knows it will probably be okay― uncomfortable, but okay.

Repaired: part six

On Wednesday, July 11, I walk into Bea’s office, feeling scared, but not as scared as I have been. I feel vulnerable, too, and it shows when I walk in, unable to look at Bea. Today, she notices, she sees me.

“I was really glad to get the teen’s email this morning. To know that she is able to feel some of those things. And I want her to know that she is right. I do care.”

I don’t say anything, just sit down, my face reddening. Bea already has my blanket sitting on the couch.

“You know,” she says slowly, as I grab a pillow to hide behind, “Let’s just notice for a moment we are safe. That nothing bad is happening. Maybe feel the pillow in your arms, hear the birds. Just take a moment. We aren’t in any hurry. We don’t have to rush into anything.”

I try, I really do, but it’s hard. I’m so scared that I have made a bigger mess.

“We don’t have to do anything today, we don’t have to talk about anything. Maybe we just need to focus on safety and being here this morning. That’s okay. Take a moment, think about what will help you feel safe. What do you need?”

I do think about it. At first, I don’t know, I’m uncertain. But then I relize what I do need. “I need…..I don’t….I need for…….. this to be fixed…..if….I can’t do nothing today because until we talk about it and it’s…..resolved, I’m going to stay worried and anxious.”

“Okay. We can talk about things. I think to do that though, you have to stay here, at least here enough to talk. What is the anxiety connected to?” Bea asks.

“I don’t know. Something bad is going to happen.”

“Okay, good. That’s a starting place, right? What are the things you worry about happening?”

“There’s no list, not…I guess it’s like nothing, no things to write down, not something I can tell you. I’m not worried about anything…..just something bad is going to happen.” I stumble over words and explanation. This is difficult to describe.

“Is is more of a feeling, just a general sort of thing?” Bea gets it.

I nod. “Yeah. I guess so.”

“So, I think that sort of generalized worry that we cannot pinpoint is our trauma brain. It’s normal, and the feelings are real. This is again where we have to tell ourselves, feelings aren’t facts. I can’t promise you nothing bad will happen, because bad things do happen, but we also have to realize that it’s not likely. Right? I mean, what are the chances a plane is going to crash into my office?” Bea’s voice is sympathetic, but she isn’t going to let me worry about things unlikly to happen.

“No……it’s not that……..not like that……I don’t worry…..it’s not worries about accidents. More….it’s maybe more about people.” I don’t know how to say what is in my head. I don’t know that I have the words or the language to really define it. I just know that the general something bad is going to happen worries aren’t about accidents or things like that.

“Okay, Okay. That’s good. This is helpful. Is it more worries that people will let you down somehow, or is it more worries that people will hurt you?”

It’s too much, and overwhelmed, I hide under my blanket, hugging cloud pillow to me. “I don’t know, people……. leaving me, rejecting me, not wanting to deal with me.” I wish I had the words to explain the fear I have surrounding my relationships.

“So, attachment stuff then. When attachment stuff is triggered…..that fear, that worry that something bad will happen, it’s very real. Attachment trauma, there really isn’t a list of worries. It’s very young, such early stuff, it’s from this time when we were too little and too helpless to care for ourselves, and so any rupture, any sign that our people were leaving us, that would have meant…anniliahtion back then. Developmental trauma, attachment trauma, this is all to do with very early years, so young we probably have no memories of it. With you, I think the trauma of sexual abuse compounds and even confuses the issue, but…this, what you are describing, it is attachment trauma.” Bea is speaking slowly, but with certainty.

“So….not crazy then?” I ask.

“Not crazy. This is a real thing, and when it’s triggered, it is incredibly scary and incredibly painful. I’m not sure I realized how deep…..well, how deep your attachment trauma runs. I see now I wasn’t seeing that, and I’m sorry. I’m aware of it now,” she tells me, and I think how well I have hidden this from her. I know when my impulse to freak out over a relationship is not *normal* and most offen, Ms. Perfect is really good at stopping those reactions.

We sit quietly for a moment, and then Bea asks me if I am here. “Here enough,” I say.

“Are you here enough to talk?” She checks.

“Yeah….it’s just hard. But I am here.”

“Okay. Then we will talk about all this scary stuff. Slowly, and as safely as possible.” She is using the voice that she uses when she is speaking to the little girl, that gentle, soothing voice.

“Okay. I can do this.” I hug the pillow and I feal my stomach twist in fear, but I mean what I am saying.

“I want to start by saying I am sorry I didn’t recognize your cry for help. I think, well, I know my own stuff got in the way. You are right about that. I was hurt, and I reacted from that hurt place. It doesn’t make it okay, but I was really struggling with how you could think those things of me after all this time, given our relationship, and I reacted from that place. I chose to ignore it, because in my hurt, I read it as rage.”

“But I— the teen doesn’t have a relationship with you! You don’t know her anymore than she knows you. I mean…that’s unfair.” The words jump out of me, frustrated and slightly angry.

“You’re right. We were building a relationship when all this happened. But you are right, we don’t have a relationship. Not yet. I didn’t think of that. It also….well, as I said, I was expecting coping skills like reality testing, to kick in. But I don’t even know what coping skills the teen has. We need to spend some time on the relationship, working on that safety and trust, maybe building some skills.” Bea sounds….well, like she means it when she says she wants to work on a relationship with the teen.

“There were no coping skills. That’s why I emailed you! I just wanted…..” I trail off when I realize what I was about to say, horrified that I had been about to admit to wanting anything.

“Wanted what? You just wanted…..?” Bea prompts me after several seconds tick by and I don’t continue.

“I…well, I just….ugh. I told you thing get all twisted in my head. I told you I go to the dark and twisty place where everyone hates me and……I mean, I thought…I just….I wish you had just said, *Alice stop. You’re in the dark twisty place. Those things aren’t true.* Or something.”

Bea is silent, thinking. I can hear her fingers tapping on her chair. “I don’t know that I could have done that. I don’t want to presume to know what is going on in your head, or to impose my reality on you as the true reality.”

“Maybe ask me then? If I’m in that place? I don’t know. I mean, sometimes I know I’m there, sort of, but…….it’s too risky to say it or ask someone, I just…I don’t know. But you not acknowledging those feelings, that just made them true in my mind. And then I did rage. Before, if you had just been able to say, “Those things aren’t true. I know they feel bad, but they aren’t true, I don’t think those things. I think you are in the dak and twisty place, you need to come out and I’ll be here waiting. I think that would have changed this. That’s all I wanted. Not….logic and explanations.”

“You wanted me to help you stop the distortions. Which is what my boundary of not responding to them was meant to do. It felt like responding to them would reinforce them.”

“Ignoring them reinforced them.” I tell her..

“I see that now. I think….I was feeling this need to set a boundary, but I set the wrong one, and even when I was clear that a boundary was needed, I maintained a boundary that was unhelpful.”

“I get not wanting to reinforce distortions, but can’t you acknowledge them without doing that? Can’t you just reassurance they are not true?” I don’t understand.

“You know, that’s a boundary. You wanted a boundary set. I just set the wrong one. I’ve never felt a need for boundaries with the little girl. I think the teen wanted a boundary set, and I was picking up on that.”

“No….I didn’t want a boundary. Boundaries are mean, they mean go away, you are a bother, I don’t want to deal with you….. no! I don’t like boundaries. And I don’t want you to change everything.”

“I’m not changing anything. Anything that changes we will do together. I’m not going to spring a bunch of changes on you, okay? But we need to talk about boundaries. Boundaries aren’t bad. They don’t have to feel bad to either person. Like right now, you have set a boundary. The blanket is a physical boundary. But even with the boundary there is a connection between us, there is attunement and a feeling of us both being present. I don’t see the blanket as a go away….it is what you need to feel safe, and so I feel glad you are taking care of yourself, that you can set a boundary and feel safe. And, dare I say, that boundary making you feel safer…… perhaps it makes it possible for us to feel more connection than we would without the boundary.”

I shake my head. “I don’t like boundaries. Boundaries are scary.”

“They can be. But I think once you feel, experience healthy boundaries, well, then they aren’t so scary.” She says gently.

“They are. Well, I guess I don’t really know about boundaries. My Mom’s boundaries are…..I weird. Maybe just all over the place.”

“Like your therapist’s have been lately?” Bea sounds, disapointed in herself, or something.

I think about what she has said. “No… not like that. Hers…..either they didn’t exist, I think….like, I just….I did what she wanted, dressed how she wanted, acted like she wanted, I was…like I just was part of her…I don’t know.” I sigh, not sure how to explain this.

“There’s a shrinky word for that. Enmeshment. It means your mom viewed you as extension of herself.”

“Yeah…..and I was loved and accepted and we were close as long as I was…..well, being like her. But if I didn’t….if I diagreed….she just……I don’t know. She would be upset. Then she set these boundaries….over silly things. Like really, truly, silly things. Like one time, I didn’t like these one shoes that she liked and so I just like got a different pair and she was really not happy with me. There was a boundary set then. Well, I think anyway. Silent treatment.” I blink away tears. It still hurts now, thinking about it.

“That is a boundary. Wow. No wonder me ignoring your feelings about me expressing anxiety over insurance was painful. It felt like I was giving you the silent treatment.” Bea’s voice has that sound in it, the one that means things are falling into place and she is making sense of things.

“You know….I don’t….I mean….well, you know what, never mind.” Words tumble out of me, a mess of them, blocking what I really need to say.

“Whatever it is, you can say it. I’m listening. It’s okay,” Bea reassures me.

“I don’t like it when you say it was just about you expressing worries over insurance. That’s not the story, not at all. I wish you would get that.” I whisper the words, cringing as I say them.

“You’re right. That’s not the whole story. But I do want to say, it’s important that we discuss insurance…that the adult and I talk about those things.”

“But it wasn’t a conversation! It was you freaking out and not even aware of what was going on for me! You can’t say it was us having a conversation, because you were talking…..at me. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, it isn’t about insurance! It’s about how you were talking!” I feel like I am shouting, but really, I am speaking firmly, and louder than usual.

“You know….what you wrote, asking me to imagine the situation, and describing it from your viewpoint, I….well, I have been that client before. I have had my therapist not be as present as I needed, and I have left sessions feeling unseen and unheard and hurt.”

“Except this wasn’t even my session! Not really. You can not compare the two. We have had sessions where you weren’t as attuned as I needed, and I’ve left feeling bad. But this, no. Wednesday was something else. It wasn’t my session, because I never….this was nothing about me, it wasn’t a case of I shared where I was at and you weren’t super present. This was you talking and spinning out from the moment I sat down. It wasn’t even a session! I mean, I don’t even know why I was there.” I’m being blunt, but I can’t, I won’t sugar coat it.

“You’re right. The two things don’t compare. Which I was going to say, that I have experienced the unattuned sessions, and so I can imagine how painful this was, how scary. I am so sorry, I really am. I knew the it was bad, I wanted to stop, to erase it, to have a redo, because I knew it was bad. And I am so sorry,” Bea says, sadly.

“I know. I know you are sorry. It’s okay. It was a bad day and a bad mistake, and I can’t pretend it didn’t happen, or call it something it’s not, but I’m not mad or upset or hurt anymore.” As I say the words, I realize they are true.

“If you were, that would be okay,” she reminds me. Bea worries that I forgive to make sure people don’t leave me.

“No…It’s okay. Honestly, I was more hurt and upset that I was ignored when I was hurting and scared. I just wish you had said to me, from the first email, *hey, listen, those things aren’t true. I don’t feel that way at all. You need to get out of the dark twisty place so we can talk, because I can’t help you when you are there. So come out now, I want to help you.* You know?” I say.

“Now that, that sounds like you are channeling your Grandma.” Bea sounds like she is smiling.

“Yeah….that is something she would say. She didn’t….well, she would just tell me what was and wasn’t okay. She didn’t….she made things very clear. I guess that is boundaries?”

“Yes. Your Grandma had good boundaries.” Bea agrees.

“She really did, if I think about it. She didn’t….not like mom. Grandma didn’t ignore me when I messed up or didn’t agree with her. She just, well, she just said it. Jusf plain, just like that.”

“And I’m thinking that while I was feeling it would be harsh or feel cruel to just say, hey you are twisting things, maybe that sort of bluntness feels safe to you because your Grandma set boundaries in that way. Straight forward, honest. I need to channel your Grandma, not your mom. Because in my concern of behaving like your mom and trying to avoid it, I did exactly what I was trying not to do.” Bea sighs.

“Well, you definitely don’t remind me of my mom. More of my grandma. Not age wise, but just….you feel the same, sometimes.” I shrug. It’s not something I have words for. “Like hubby feels the same as my grandpa sometimes. He reminds me of him, he always has.”

Bea laughs. “That is a very big compliment. I know how much your grandma means to you. Thank you.”

“Am I right in saying that what I was wanting from that first email was reassurance and to be told I was in the dark and twisty place….which you said was a boundary. And you felt it was me raging and so there was this feeling of needing to set a boundary……so we both really wanted the same thing?”

“Yes, yes, you are. We both did want the same thing.” Bea chuckles again.

“So….next time….maybe you can set a different boundary sooner?”

“Yes. I can do that,” Bea agrees.

I break the silence by saying what pops into my head. “Hey, you did what you said you would!”

“What do you mean?”

“When……when we talked about Kathy, and I asked you what you would have done…..and you told me? Do you remember?” I ask.

“Yes. I remember that.”

“Well….this rupture, you did what you said you would do.” I smile. Something about that feels right.

“I did? Well, thank goodness I did what I said I would!” Bea laughs, but she is sort of serious, too.

“Yeah….I’m glad you did what you said you would.”

Her tone lignt, Bea says, “You know, that brings up the whole question of enactment. Maybe you needed to see if I would do what I said I would, or maybe I needed to see if I would do what I said……it’s so interesting……”

“Don’t get shrinky,” I say, cutting her off. “And I definitely didn’t cause this mess on purpose.”

“No, enactments aren’t a concious thing. It’s all completely unconscious. But it is interesting, especially in this situation…..”

I cut her off again. “Don’t be shrinky!” I recognize this as a boundary, a need for her to not be shrinky so I can feel safe and secure knowing that Bea is Bea and not a cold analytical shrink.

“You brought it up,” she laughs.

“Just talk to your shrinky friends about this,” I tell her. It’s such a teen response, that I laugh, too.

Laughing, she agrees. “Okay. But the grown up might want to talk about this one day, and when she does want to, we can. It will be okay.” .

“Maybe. Not now.” I am stubborn.

“No, not right now. When you are in it, it’s the wrong time for shrinky. I get that. So not right now.” She is so calm, so sure, so caring again. Bea is herself again, she is really back.

“I think it’s okay. I feel okay, this is okay. Nothing bad happened and you did what you said you would.” I breathe out relief and fear and anxiety and anger as I say the words.

“Yes. Nothing bad happened. Actually, something good happened,” Bea says kindly.

“Yeah. And it’s new. Something new. And it was ok.”

“Yes. I think you grew a lot, even if it’s not something we want to happen again, I think there will be more growth and learning, more felt experience from this. I think there was a lot of new things in this for you.”

“Yes. You listened. And didn’t want me to just agree and be…whatever you wanted.” This….this means so much to me. I don’t have words for it, but there is a lightness where the fear of not being what she wanted used to be. The fear isn’t gone because it is old, old fear, but there is less of it there.

“No! Never. I want you to just be you. You are enough. Just like you are, you are enough and you deserve to be seen and heard and cared for just for being you.” Bea is adamant, and while I think she has said this before, everytime she says it, it sinks in a little more.

“Is that….is what I wrote, what you said true?” I ask quietly.

“That I care?” Her voice is neutral, maybe curious about what part of what I wrote.

“Yeah.” Shame floods me as I confirm her guess.

“Yes. Very much so. This is a real relationship. Just because it is therapy doesn’t make it not real. If it weren’t real, and I didn’t care about you, you wouldn’t have been able to hurt me. What you wrote, all of it, is true. Absolutely. I care.” She means it, I can hear it in her voice.

“Okay,” I say. It’s all I can say, because I don’t know how I feel about this. It’s….I want her to care, and I care about her, but I don’t….well, I guess I don’t want to matter. I’m afraid to matter, and there is something painful about having the whole of me accepted so openly. I blink back tears.

After a while, I ask Bea to tell me something regular, and so we talk about dogs and coffee and clothes. When I leave her office, I feel drained, but also more present and peaceful than I have felt in a while.

The wound will never be erased, the scar remains, but it’s not a bad thing. There is beauty to be found in the scars that make us who we are.

Repaired: part four

And so, very late Monday night, a third person explanation of the stuck thing was sent.

Okay. Let’s try this in third person. I want to put a caveat here, though to say that although I will say “the teen”, for me, writing this, saying “I” or “the teen” is the same thing. There is some adult here, but the adult is not very here, and the adult is just as twisted up and confused as the teen is.

The teen feels like she understands the difference between a hitting screaming child who needs to be told “I’m here and I will sit here next to you and wait for you to be calm, but you may not hit me to express yourself ” and the emotionally swamped child that is crying out for help who needs a hug and reassurance.

Using that analogy, she feels like her therapist misinterpreted a crying out for help child as a screaming hitting child. The teen is scared, though, to even try to talk about this with her therapist. She doesn’t want to make things worse, and she doesn’t want to make her therapist upset. She also doesn’t want to disagree. The teen feels like she would rather just agree with her therapist and let it go, but for some reason she can’t. The teen knows her therapist feels very strongly that she is right, but the teen feels just as strongly that her therapist’s interpretation is not fully accurate. She feels like it won’t matter, though, that her therapist’s opinion and feelings will carry or hold more weight than the teen’s opinion and feelings.

The teen knows she did behave in a rageful way in several of her emails. She knows she was also rageful in her notebook, although it doesn’t feel fair to her to have that judged because her notebook— by definition of what it is— is messy and raw and unedited and not pretty. It’s instantaneous thoughts and feelings, and it’s the working through of things and the very formation of her thoughts and conclusions and feelings. It’s the first place she goes to when things are hard and she needs to get the scary things out. She had thought that her therapist understood that although it had never been explicitly discussed, and she shared her angry notebook because she wanted so badly for her therapist to see the mess of confusion and pain and anger she was stuck in. This part of things feels worked through to the teen. She believes her therapist understands that she was in a lot of pain, and that her therapist understands why she behaved as she did, and the teen also knows she was raging and not able to have a constructive conversation, hence the boundaries. It’s important to the teen that her therapist know she understands that.

The sticking point is in that very first email. To the teen, calling that first email raging, mean, brutal, distorted, accusatory, blaming and out of line feels inaccurate. It is not how she felt, or how it was meant. She knows that she distorted what she heard, but she can’t help how she interpreted information, and she believes that how she interpreted things that Wednesday makes some sort of crazy sense, given her history. She wants to learn to not distort and twist everything people say to her, but she is terrified of people. She’s afraid to be even a little bit close or vulnerable with them. She can understand that her email could be read as blaming and mean, but it wasn’t that way in her mind. It wasn’t even that way in the adult’s mind. (Which adds another layer to this, because the therapist keeps saying the adult can help the teen communicate appropriately, but the adult did try to help before. The adult helped by making sure all the information of where the teen was emotionally was included in that email, and she helped by telling the teen it was okay, she could trust the therapist, the therapist had made a mistake but she wasn’t gone, and that this couldn’t be fixed if the teen didn’t explain what she was feeling, what she was afraid of, if she didn’t explain why she felt like she didn’t even have the right to be there. So, the adult did try to help but she just managed to help mess things up more. Both the teen and the adult feel as if the adult must be more broken, more crazy, more screwed up than either of them or the therapist thought. The end result is the teen doesn’t trust the adult, and the adult doesn’t want to help, anyway.)

The teen wrote what she emailed, almost word for word in her notebook, using an analogy her therapist had used earlier that day. As her therapist had talked, and said, “I took the boat away, I drove off in the boat and left you in the water, but I’m back with the boat now.” the teen thought, “But it’s not just that you drove the boat away and left me. It’s that I feel like you don’t think I should even be in the boat. It’s that I don’t know if you will leave me in the water again. It’s that I feel like I broke you and you had to leave me in the water and drive off because I’m too much, too crazy, so of course it will happen again because I break people. It’s that on Wednesday I felt like you thought I should be better, or more capable, or not need all this support to function.”

Later, the teen wrote in her notebook. The adult, feeling overwhelmed and struggling to deal with all the feelings of abandonment from all the parts (including her own feelings of hurt and disappointment and anxiety over the bad Wednesday and the stress of trying to cope with the triggers and flashbacks and emotions) knew that the teen needed some reassurance and help before things got completely out of control.

So the teen copied her notebook entry into an email and sent it. She wasn’t mad. There was no anger, or rage. Was she probably in emotion mind? Yes. But the emotions were terror of abandonment, and deep. deep sadness. She was heart broken and afraid, and confused, but not mad.

The adult— while admittedly not really on board the ship at all with all the emotion and panic and overwhelm happening— believed that the teen explaining in the email how she felt too vulnerable, that all of this was too much, that she had written this in her notebook (so, messy, raw, unedited), and that this was too painful to talk about face to face (the reason, which was not included is because there was a fear— however irrational— that her therapist would say yes, that is how I feel) was enough to let her therapist know the teen was in a very bad, very frightening place, and was overwhelmed emotionally. The adult thought that the teen signing the email, instead of the email being signed from the adult, was also helpful in showing who was writing, and had thought that would help her therapist to understand where the feelings were coming from.

The teen sent the email and she did her best, in her terrified state, to explain that this was what she felt like, this is what it had sounded like to her (distorted yes, but still the message she heard). She knows that her words did not land with her therapist in the way they sounded and felt in her mind, and she doesn’t really understand why. The teen feels like this vulnerable part (maybe the vulnerable teen?) of her was crying out for reassurance and help, and that cry was misinterpreted as rage.

The teen has this theory (before her therapist shared about criticism and her own stuff) that something was triggered in her therapist by the teen’s feelings and words that caused her therapist to view her words as if the teen were pointing her finger and screaming at the therapist. In the teen’s reality, she was hiding in her closet, under a blanket, with her dog and her teddy bear, feeling utterly devastated, alone, and abandoned, just sobbing for her therapist to come back and help her. The teen feels like the therapist didn’t see that she was crying out for help because her therapist wasn’t “her normal self”. The teen really thinks that if her therapist had been in a different state of mind, then she would have read her email as it was meant. The teen has read all the emails from the rupture, and she feels a difference in the way her emails sound. The first email sounds and feels scared and anxious and defensive. The following emails sound angry— this amount of anger that scares the teen, if she’s honest. She doesn’t like that she has all that anger in her. The emails after the rageful ones sound numb, detached, polite, cold, appropriate—totally Ms. Perfect’s voice.

The teen is still so hurt. She feels like she was abandoned twice; once on the Wednesday, and then again after reassurance that her therapist was back, and that it was okay to talk to her therapist about the therapist. On the verge of spinning out, and with the adult’s insistence it would be okay because the therapist had said she was back, the teen took a risk. Sometimes the teen thinks this can’t be fixed. She’s just not sure that talking to her therapist about her therapist is ever going to be okay. Her therapist asked the teen if she felt like the therapist gets defensive, and the teen couldn’t really answer, but the word she used was “defended” when she wrote about this in her notebook. The teen wonders if she should just let this go, or if she can’t let it go if it would be easier and better all around for everyone involved if she tried to talk to Kristin or Ryan about this rupture. She’s even had the thought that she needs to find a therapist to deal with her relationship with her therapist, because she doesn’t know what else to do and she wants everything to be okay again. She doesn’t want a different therapist, she just wants her therapist, but she also needs to talk about this and work through it, to process it, and it doesn’t feel safe or okay to do so with her therapist. The teen doesn’t think this is all, or even mostly because of her therapist, she’s pretty sure that most of the feeling it’s not safe is because of her past. This is scary and hard for her, and the idea that this will be okay one day feels like a fairytale. She wishes it could be true, but she can’t believe it, no matter how much she wants to.

And that’s it. It’s pretty much the whole of the stuck thing. The teen is definitely, 100% sure that emailing this is a bad idea. She feels like she has no good choices left….she can box it up and pretend it away, or she can share it and blow everything up. She’s once again hiding in her closet, hugging her dog and her teddy bear under a blanket. She’s scared. She is very, very scared and vulnerable feeling.

Bea responsed first thing Tuesday morning, “You did it! You sent it and nothing terrible is happening and things aren’t getting worse.  Of course I haven’t answered anything yet, but I don’t imagine having anything to say that could make things worse. I think it’s very brave to make yourself this vulnerable when you were so hurt by this.”

Ruptured: part three

Monday, July 9, I walk into therapy nervous and sick to my stomach. Bea sets my blanket next to me as she says hello.

“Where did you want to start today?” She asks gently.

I shake my head. “I don’t know.”

“Let’s take a minute, just sit here and feel this moment, feel safe. Notice that nothing bad is happening.”

“But…it will.” Stubborn as always, I am insistent that something bad is going to happen. I feel it.

“I think this is where it is useful to use our feelings aren’t facts saying.”

I groan. “Ugh. Maybe.”

“Well….what about this? What happens if it does blow everything up?” She’s asking in that curious way she has.

“I don’t know. We end up back where we were, or worse.”

“What’s the worst case scenario?” She asks.

“You….you quit dealing with me.” I mumble the words.

“That I can guarantee won’t happen. And if we end up where we were, or another bad place, then we start from there. That’s how I see it. Right now, we have to start where we are at. If that path leads us somewhere else, then I think we have to start in that new place.”

“Okay,” I say. “Okay. Let’s start with my response. I brought it.” I dig out my ipad and pull up my response. She takes it, and I hide, burying myself under the blanket and my face in a pillow.

You don’t sound shrinky. This just sounds like you, trying to understand something I don’t really understand. Both are “not here”, is just a different kind of not here. Remember when we made a list of different far aways? I think it’s like that. The here not here isn’t “me the adult grounding functioning Alice” but it’s not far away out of the window can’t talk and can’t think, frozen and hyper aware scared….it’s just that Alice not being here. It’s like some part is “here” but grounded Alice “is not here”. And the effect of things being a bit foggy and the emotions and feelings being blunted and even numbed, things not feeling quite real, feeling safer because of the detachment, is the same. Ms. Perfect definitely gives the here not here feeling, but I think because she ran the ship for so long, that feeling is more detached, functioning on auto pilot, and numb, but not so foggy. I don’t know. It’s complicated. Does that help at all?

“Mmmhhmmmm…yes…..okay….” Bea talks as she reads. I hate that she does this. I mean, I know whatever I have written is making sense to her, but I also hate it because I always wonder what part she is *Mmmhhmming*.

“Well, I am glad that wasn’t shrinky! And this does make sense. It is different kinds of not being here, although I still think that having a part running things so completely that you, the adult you, can’t….well, I guess remember the experience is still what I would consider being out of your window. I don’t know, for sure. I guess we will have to think about that. Maybe as parts feel safer, then the adult won’t have to be so far away.”

“Okay,” I whisper, mostly because I want her to know I am listening.

I’m not saying that is how things are, or that this is how you would handle things. I’m not accusing you of anything, just writing what this feels like to me (teen) and I am so afraid to say anything at all because I probably won’t say it in the right way for you and I am just going to mess everything up again. It feels like you get all the say so in this. Like, if you feel strongly that Z is what happened, then even if I am sure X happened, my viewpoint/feeling/worry is a distortion. And how can I even argue with that? Because clearly, I am distorting things and can’t even trust what my heart and mind are telling me. It’s like when I say you did not contain anything for me because my feelings felt ignored and you tell me you did contain things, it feels like the “final word” and the “reality” or “true version” is that you contained things. In that instance I think it might be more correct to say “Bea felt very confident she was containing things and feels that keeping things contained was never an issue, but Alice (teen) did not feel that containment on any level, so for her things were not contained.” I don’t know if this is even making sense. I don’t know how to explain it. But to me, it feels very much like the final say about what is reality lies with you.

“You’re right,” Bea says.

Wait…what? She is agreeing with me? I’m surprised.

“This is a perfect example, and as you said before, who decides that things were contained— the person who needs to feel contained or the one who is holding the container? I’d have to say it is the person needing the container. If that person doesn’t feel contained, then the container isn’t really doing their job.” Bea pauses, but when I don’t speak, she continues. “I don’t think the final word is mine, I can be wrong. I know there is a power dynamic, a power differential that can really make it seem like I have all the power. But I don’t care about being right, or about my reality being the true one. I’m not sure there is a true reality, I think what we need to do is find a common reality. And that is exactly what the example is that you gave. I did feel like I was containing things, but you didn’t feel contained, and I would add that ultimately, that means the container wasn’t working as it should.”

“I…okay….I didn’t expect you to agree….I mean, I really am not saying that is how it is, it is just how it feels. But I didn’t think….okay. Okay. This is okay.” My words are messy and scattered, but Bea gets what I am saying.

“I know. But it makes sense for it to feel that way. And I want to make sure you know I don’t care about being right. I care about finding a common reality.”

This is a hard part for me to respond to. (Bea’s explanation of negative feelings) Right away, reading this, I just feel sick and anxious and like I should just give up on working through this stuck thing— that the best that can be done is to agree to disagree and move on. And yet, I don’t think I can do that. But I also can not say what I am really thinking or feeling. I’m too scared to express what is in my head. You didn’t even say anything that is all that scary or upsetting, really. It’s just…… a mess. This whole thing is just one big mess that keeps getting messier. I don’t know if I want to share the writing below. We should talk about that first. It’s written in orange.

“Okay, I’m not going to read farther unless you give me the go ahead,” Bea says.

“Okay,” I say. I’m unsure what else to say.

“Is there something specific you want to talk about, before I read anymore?” She asks.

I shrug. I just don’t know. Finally, I tell her, “It’s…..weird…to talk to you about you. I mean, I would not talk to hubby about hubby, or to Kay about Kay. If I was upset or hurt by hubby, I would talk to you. I wouldn’t try to work through all the mess and feelings and fears and distortions and hurt and pain that he is involved in by talking to him. So it’s just….I don’t like this.”

“It is different, isn’t it?” She agrees.

“Yes. And I don’t know how to talk to you about you. Maybe I…maybe if would be better if I didn’t….I mean if I talked to someone else about this. I feel like maybe I need a therapist to deal with my relationship with my therapist.”

“Do you feel like I get defensive?” Bea asks me.

“I don’t know.” The words are automatic, because I can’t tell her yes. But I think it is yes. “Maybe?” My voice shakes. She is not going to like this.

“I might. I need to think about that. I don’t always handle what I feel is criticism well. My parents were very critical of me, so having my mistakes pointed out can make me defensive. It’s one of my triggers.” She is speaking very softly, very carefully.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“No, you don’t be sorry. Being upset with me, or having criticism to give, you are allowed to do that. The….responsibility is on me to recognize if I am triggered and becoming defensive. I need to be aware of it, and I wasn’t aware of it this time. I’m sorry because that is on me, not you. Thinking about it, I was hurt by your words, and I did react emotionally, and become very defended. It took me time to sort things out, and clearly, there was still more to sort out.”

I’m not sure what is happening, but it seems like she is really back, really Bea again. She’s here, really, fully, authentically here. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I say.

“I know that, but I am responsible for my feelings. This isn’t on you. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Do you think you would be willing to try sharing the stuck thing with me? Giving me a chance to work through this with you? I still believe this can be repaired.” Her voice is soft, steady.

“I….I don’t want to upset you,” I say honestly.

“Well, first, it is on me to manage my feelings. Second, now that I am aware of my defensiveness, I will watch for it. So much of these things are just about being aware of what we are doing. Therapists are supposed to be aware, so we can sort out what is our stuff, and not react to that. Sometimes we mess that up. And I am very sorry I messed that up.” She really is sorry. I can hear it in her voice.

“Okay. Maybe….I think maybe I will rewrite it….I think I’m going to write in third person, using the teen and her therapist. That seems….better.”

“I think you should write it however you want to. Don’t change to third person because of me, okay?”

“No…it’s not that. It’s…less weird talking to you about you in third person. And its……better. Easier.” I sigh and pick at my fingers.

“Third person it is then,” she says.

“Can….can I email it?”

“Yes. I think that is a great idea. You email it, and we will work through it.”

When session ends, I’m still struggling to feel grounded, but the wound has been cleaned and is beginning to be stitched shut.

And so, very late Monday night, a third person explanation of the stuck thing was sent.

Repaired: part two

Between Thursday and Monday, we emailed about the stuck thing. First it was me worrying and seeking more reassurance that this wasn’t a terrible idea, and then I finally wrote out a part of it. (Mine is in italics, Bea is underlined)

So, Monday, you should read what I wrote about the stuck thing. I guess it’s just a matter of feeling like it’s okay to tell you about the stuck thing. I was feeling like maybe it was okay, maybe you got that this was this stuck thing and I can’t let it go but I’m really not sure if I’m over reacting and being silly and I am so afraid that you will put up a wall and leave, or not be there emotionally or be upset that I’m not over this or that I am making a thing out of if or that I am bringing it up again. I know that this rupture feels like it’s in the past for you, but I feel like it’s just right there, right behind us and could easily swallow us both up again. I feel like me being upset or confused or hurt or not over things that happened during that rupture is sort of keeping it alive and I need to let it go. It’s disconcerting to have something be so stuck and be so upset and scared and worried because of it, and to feel like more than anything, all I want it to not have to deal with the stuck thing, for it to just not exist. 

Yeah, it definitely seems that we need to address the stuck thing. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to move on without doing so.

I think you are right, this is a new thing for me, this idea of bringing something up again after it is done and over with, and….question another person’s feelings about something. I mean, really, the way to deal with a situation like this stuck thing is to just, well, forget about it. Shove it to the side, bury it, let it go. Pretending like that does work because eventually you sort of forget about it and the feelings just go mostly numb around the thing you buried, and before you know it, it really is no big deal. And questioning someone’s feelings? Disagreeing with them? No, no, no. That is not how these things are dealt with. The thing to do is to agree with the other person’s feelings. Then nothing bad happens. I know that is not how you do things, and so it probably seems crazy but it is how I have done them almost my entire life. I hope that by writing about small bits of it, it won’t feel so bad to give you the few pages of writing describing the stuck thing. Or, just this little bit could blow everything up and then I guess…..well, I don’t know. I think there was a plan for if that happened.

Well, we’ve all developed our various strategies for coping with things and getting our needs met. They work until they don’t, right?! That’s why we usually get to a point where we’re ready to give them up, scary as that can be.

What can I write or say that will tell you a little about the stuck thing without ruining everything? I don’t know. Everything feels like a risk. Maybe we talked about this already, but I don’t think so. Maybe I should have you give me a summary of what we did talk about (joking…sort of).  I mean, some things I know we talked about…..really, all of our sessions since (and probably including) the bad Wednesday, it’s all bits and pieces because I was having a lot of trouble being present enough to really remember. I know one session you said something about the teen being very present and here and not far away, and I wanted to laugh because I was in that weird here but not here space that I’m so good at seeming very grounded and present in, and sort of going between far away and that weird space. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for me to show up at all. I don’t even want to tell you that because I know you have this thing about me being present and in the window, and I get that, but I am so scared and so anxious, I just cant be super present right now. Well, Ms. Perfect can. Her sessions I remember pretty much in full. And like today, the grown up can be present as long as it’s all just surface stuff. Which is pretty much using Ms. Perfect’s coping skills. But anyway. Please just let this be. The teen can’t be all that present right now, and well, I need to be able to be far away to even show up. Maybe, if being more far away starts to feel safer, then I can be less far away. I’d say I have been less far-away than I was. So there’s that.

I’m beginning to think there’s a real physiological difference between the not here when you’re out of the window and the “here but not here” when you can talk and really be engaged, but be “not here” in a detached way.  What I mean is, it looks completely different from the outside. I don’t want to describe the physical ways they differ because I don’t want that to be a trigger.  The day I thanked the teen for being present I could see it was not the adult, but whoever it was had the language thing online and expressed herself without difficulty. She had a bit of an angry, defiant vibe, and spoke her mind in a defended sort of way. I guess I wouldn’t have said you seemed grounded and present as you, adult Alice, but it sure felt like this part was functioning well. You know how cut off parts can feel like “not me?”  I wonder if that could be part of “here but not here?” I’d sure like to talk more about this so I can understand it better. (Sorry if shrinky—just trying to sort this out)

There’s so much worry.  Worry you will think I am making a big deal out of nothing. Worry you will be upset with me for bringing this up again. Worry you will decide I am acting out, or being a drama queen. Worry that you will decide the stuck thing is just me distorting things yet again and displaying borderline behavior. 

If it’s a worry it needs to be brought out.  If it’s a distortion we’ll talk about why that is happening. We’ll work through it.

So, maybe first I should let you know that even though I have access to some reasoning right now, it’s a very thin grasp. This is emotional for me, it is painful and terrifying and all of the abandonment fears and attachment nonsense feel really triggered because of how extremely scary and vulnerable making even writing this much feels. I can say without too much worry that the stuck thing is about our rupture. I can say without too much worry that it is about me not understanding your feelings about something. You already read those things and didn’t get upset, so there’s not a lot of worry about saying those things again. There is some worry though. And I guess that the worry goes along with the stuck thing. Well, it is part of it….I mean, I guess the stuck thing is a lot of worries or fears combined with me not understanding something you feel and maybe disagreeing with you about something all sort of mushed together. So is this worry the stuck thing in real time? Ugh. I don’t know.  But maybe I could explain the worry, and we could start there.

The worry is that you told me you had no negative reaction to anything I said, but then later, you said you did have a negative reaction and it was very clear that you did. That makes it so hard to talk. In this current instance, maybe on Thursday you had no problem with me not understanding why you feel a certain way about something  but today you might have a negative reaction to it. I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing, or of saying it the wrong way, all my words are trapped. It’s like I can’t express anything without having an anxiety attack. Just the thought of sending this makes it hard to breathe and makes me light headed and I feel like I need to go hide right now. 

Negative reactions—where to start?!  I think there are several things I want to say, some of which I already explained. There are a lot of things I have to factor in when I have emotional responses to things that come up in therapy—and realistically, I’m always going to have emotional responses on some level, whether I’m aware of them or not. When things are complicated I have to take the time to figure out if I am having an emotional response.  First and foremost is always, why am I having this response? Is it my stuff? It’s probably in some part my stuff, so what stuff is it?  I can’t respond until that is figured out.  Usually these responses aren’t giant, so when I say I can contain your stuff, or I’m not having negative emotions I guess it’s more accurate to say that they aren’t “emotion mind” level responses. Then—and here’s where the wall and boundary thing comes in—if I’ve sorted through the “my stuff” part of the reaction and there’s still feelings there, I have to look at what was sent my way. This last time, as I’ve said, it took me a while to know what to do with that, and my negative reaction became part of the wise mind understanding that boundaries were needed.  So it wasn’t until after I had sorted through the “my stuff” piece that I could choose to use some of my real, post-reflection reaction to let you know what the negative impact was.  Does that make sense? I wasn’t trying to be dishonest about the negative reaction at first—I was trying—in my mind—to do my professional job of offering containment and doing self-reflection on “my stuff.”

Does that make sense at all? I guess the truth is, I always have some sort of reaction to most things, which is normal.   It’s okay if I have a negative reaction to something you say—it’s not really different than a neutral or positive reaction in my mind. It gives us information. I admittedly—like most people—have less negative reactions when I’m trying to work with a struggling part that’s not being mean—I don’t feel any mean from you (teen) right now. Even if I have a negative reaction I will take ownership of it, and I’ll still like you and won’t leave.

I write Bea back, but then I can’t send it. Instead, I write her to let her know I am working on a response but it is taking me longer to process this than I expected. She writes back that that is okay, that thinking and taking time is good.

Repaired: part one

Repaired. Things are fully, and truly repaired. Not erased, not magically all better, but repaired. The wound isn’t just covered with a band aid, it has been stitched together and healed. It is still tender and sore, and there is a scar. The scar is okay, though. It’s evidence that Bea stayed, and I stayed, even when it was hard. Its evidence that she didn’t leave, that she truly listened, that she wanted to see me and help me. It is evidence that she cared enough to help me stitch the wound.

The last two weeks have been about painstakingly stitching together the wound. They have been rough. I’ve been in this constant state of feeling like something very, very bad is going to happen. I’m okay, though. I got through it.

Early Sunday morning, on July 1, the teen had a bad nightmare. She woke up, and couldn’t calm herself down. She was overwhelmed and alone, and badly needed an anchor. So, she sent Bea an email, with only emojis.

😴🧟‍♂️🐍😈☠️🌪⛈😱😢🙈🙈🙈🐢🐢🐢. 🤝? ⚓️?

Bea responded:

🤝⚓️🏄🏼‍♀️🏝🌞🌈

And that paved the way for Monday, July 2. It was enough of a tentative connection that I reached out and wrote to Bea in my notebook. Bea read everything I wrote, and we talked. I told Bea there was this stuck thing and I was struggling, but afraid to even try fo talk about it. Bea suggested to the teen that the adult could help her when things feel intense, and that would help the teen not rage at people, and not push people away. The session is foggy, because I went so far away at that point. The problem was that the adult had tried to help before, and it only messed everything up. After therapy, I went for a walk, and I wrote a lot. I wrote about the adult doing the best she could to help teen, and how it still messed everything up. I wrote about feeling like Bea’s stuff was all mixed up in this rupture and how I wasn’t sure she was seeing clearly.

Between Monday and Thursday, we emailed and talked a little bit about the belief everything would be ruined, if I talked about the stuck thing. It was tentative and careful, and lots of emojis were used, but it helped some.

I didn’t see Bea until July 5 because Wednesday was a holiday— the fourth of July. I had a lot of writing, but had simply pared it down to 1/2 a page, describing the stuck thing. It takes over half of my session to hand Bea the writing. I’m anxious and scared that this is a bad idea.

I’m trapped. I can’t really talk to you because of X, but to be able to talk, we need to deal with X. There are no good choices. I could tell you the stuck thing has to do with our rupture. I could tell you that it’s partly something I don’t understand about your feelings. I don’t even like saying that much. It’s too vulnerable making, too scary. If I tell you about the stuck thing, it’s going to blow everything up. I can’t do it.

“It has to feel awful to be stuck in that place.” Bea is gentle and present and she sounds so kind. I’m hiding under the blanket, shaking, because I am so afraid something bad will happen.

“You know,” she says slowly, “If there are things I have said or done that you don’t understand, I’m happy to explain them to you. If this is stuck, we need to deal with it, it is stuck for a reason. That’s okay. We can deal with it, together.”

But she won’t want to deal with it if I tell her. She will go away again, and having a sort of here secure base is better than no secure base at all. “I just can’t. Everything will blow up. You won’t like it.” My voice is teary and quiet, but my words are sure and certain.

“I don’t know what it is, so I can’t promise it will be okay, but I can tell you that I am here, and I feel very centered and present. Whatever it is, I don’t think I will react emotionally. Actually, that is a promise I can make you. I won’t react emotionally to the stuck thing. I will listen, and I will do my best to explain and help you understand.”

“But I don’t want you to not be here, to be shrinky. That won’t help.” I’m almost whining. The idea of Bea going back to the detached shrinky place, it’s distressing.

“It is important to you that I am here and attuned. I feel very here, very attuned, very aware that this is the teen’s experience. Maybe I should explain that this rupture, it feels in the past to me. The recent past, but the past, and so I don’t think I will react emotionally because I have some distance around it.”

“But I don’t,” I tell her.

“I know that, too. And that is okay,” she reassures.

“I just can’t. I hate that this isn’t okay.”

Bea is quiet for a minute, and then she asks, “Is this a new experience for the teen? Maybe a new feeling or experience for the teen to not pretend everything is okay?”

I shrug. I don’t want to say yes, or no. Maybe it is, but if I tell her that then she is just going to make this all about my past.

Bea continues offering all the reassurance she can give me, and just as I am feeling like maybe it is okay to give her the written explanation of the stuck thing, our time is almost up. Bea says she will read it before I leave, or I could email it (which prompts a loud “NO!” from me) or we could wait until Monday. I can’t decide, and Bea tells me it is okay to wait. Before I leave, she says if I want to email small pieces or even clues of a sort, or even if I just want to email to check in, that is okay. Basically, whatever I need is okay.