The teen’s questions

The teen showed up today. She handed Bea the notebook, saying, “I talked to you in here.” And so Bea read, and responded, while I hid under my blanket.

I wonder, what would you have done with me? What would you do if teen me walked into your office today?

You would have known the diagnosis of bulimia, cutting, and anxiety. You probably would have been told I was resistant to treatment. You would have known I was from a good family. That I got good grades, was well liked, participated in school activities like cheerleading and newspaper and that I was active in my church.

“Well, I would think that what was going on underneath– the cutting, the bulimia, the suicide attempts– didn’t match the picture I was being presented. I would be curious about that, about what that meant.”

You would have met a quiet polite girl. I would have willingly discussed school, church, friends, cheerleading. Anything else you brought up would be likely to make me ignore you, to go quiet and zone out.

What would you have done?

“So, that is lots of teens. I would try to get you to play a board game or to do some art with me. I would make sure that you knew I was aware there was more going on than you were saying. I wouldn’t push you to tell me, just make sure that you knew I knew there was something that was triggering the cutting, the bulimia.”

Kathy talked about normal things, and then would try to get me to talk about food, or maybe my feelings. She would try, and I would tune her out. But then, a few months after I had been seeing her, I went to that party and my whole world fell in on itself. Everything was was just one big mess and I couldn’t make sense of it, I thought I was going crazy.

Things got worse. I was cutting more, throwing up more.

I got caught cutting, and my mom called Kathy. I ended up seeing her that night. Mom wanted Kathy to “talk some sense into me” but that’s not what she did.

She asked if she could see what I had done, and I showed her. She was kind and understanding. Sitting on the floor, side by side, she looked at the cuts, new cuts, old cuts healing, scars. She said, “You must have been hurting really bad for a really long time.”

I said, “No, I’m fine. Everything is okay.”

She said, “Your words say you are okay, but your cutting tells me something else. It tells me you are hurting.”

I denied it, and she told me it was okay to not be okay, that in her office, I didn’t have to be okay. She talked about people cutting themselves to feel pain physically because they couldn’t feel it emotionally.

I told her that wasn’t right, that I had cut to make it stop.

She wanted to know, “To make what stop?”

But I didn’t tell her. Not then. Not that day. But that was the day I started to trust her. She was so understanding, and not mad, and she didn’t need me to be okay, and she acted like she really cared about me.

We had sat on the floor that day, side by side, and she didn’t try to fix me. She just sat next to me and tried to understand.

“She did see you, didn’t she? It sounds like she was very attunted. That she realized the cutting was because of something. It makes sense that you would trust her.”

And things went like this. Talking, slowly about feelings, about numb, about cutting, about throwing up. And she was always Kathy, always caring, always okay with what I said or did.

So, months later, I told her about the party. She had been my therapist for close to a year then. So, I told her. She didn’t believe me. I’d trusted her, I’d thought she was on my side, and she did not beleive me.

Nothing was okay. Nothing at all. I was crazy. And so I tried to die. And my mother fired Kathy and I never saw her again.

“This is painful. It is painful to read.” Bea’s voice has tears in it.

“I’m sorry.” I don’t want my words to cause her pain.

“You don’t need to be sorry, I just want you to know I feel how painful this is. A year of building trust, to have it end like that. It’s so hurtful. She really did so much damage. It’s really to bad there wasn’t the opportunity for a repair.”

So, I wonder. What would you have seen? What would you have said or done— in the beginning when I wouldn’t talk, and the night my mother wanted my therapist to talk sense into me, and the day I told you about the party? How would you have responded?

She diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder. I was 13, 14. What would you have said, done, believed back then? What would you say, do, believe if you met me now, in present day?

“Well, first of all, you shouldn’t have been daignosed with anything like that, not at your age. Secondly, BPD is just trauma. If someone comes to me with that diagnosis, I see trauma. That’s all. I do think that in the 90’s, anytime cutting was a symptom, BPD was considered. It was….well, that was how things were viewed then. Be it the knowledge we had, or cultue, or what, cutting was often viewed as manipulation.” She tells me about when she was doing internships, how therapists, psychologists, doctors would talk about BPD patients, and how it made her cringe. She tells me how not everyone agreed with the old school viewpoint, even at that time.

Did Kathy just pretend? Was it all an act to make me trust her? Was it just her doing her job? If it wasn’t, then what happened when I told her about the party? Why did she change, why was she so not caring? Why wasn’t she the therapist I knew and trusted that day?

“I don’t think she was pretending. You are too sensitive to changes in people around you, to people being fake, that you wouldn’t have trusted her if she weren’t being real. She clearly wasn’t very attuned that day. Was she asking questions kindly, like, just trying to understand?”

I shake my head. “No. No, it was….like she was interrogating me, like she…..she thought I had done something wrong or was lying….it…she just wouldn’t stop questioning me. She wasn’t Kathy.”

“Maybe she was triggered, maybe something about your story brought something up for her. Maybe she was having a very off day. Therapists make mistakes. We screw up. And we forget how important we are, that we matter.”

“The first thing….the first response I have is to say, she wasn’t important, she doesn’t matter. But she did matter.” I start to cry again.

“Yeah, she did matter. She was important. This was a loss, and painful. So much pain.”

“I needed her. I was going crazy, and I….she was the only person I had to talk to, and I talked to her and she didn’t beleive me. And then there was nothing, and I had no one, and I couldn’t handle it anymore, I just needed it to stop and it wouldn’t and I couldn’t even trust my own mind, I wasn’t sure what was true anymore, and it was all just too much. So I…I tried to end it.”

“You really did feel all alone. Abandoned and let down. Of course it hurt. I wish you had gotten to go back, to see her again, to maybe repair the relationship and not be alone with all of this.”

“I wouldn’t have talked to her anyway,” I say, angrily.

“Maybe not. But she could have talked.” Bea counters.

“My mother made that choice, not me.”

“True. That doesn’t mean Kathy didn’t want to see you again.”

I guess I can’t know if she wanted to see me again, or what my mother even told her.” I say.

“No, you can’t know.”

“My mom was mad. Kathy wasn’t doing her job of fixing me because I was still trying to kill myself. She might have told her just that.”

Bea sighs. “If that were me, I would have done everything I could to get your mom to let you come back to me. I woild have talked to her about repair, and relationship, I would have asked her to come in so we could talk.”

“You would have?”

“Yes. I would have wanted to repair things,” she assures me.

“I guess there is no way of knowing.” I shrug.

I think for a while. “What would you have done if that was you, and I came back?”

“Well, I would probably cry. I would feel really terrible that I had missed the mark so horribly, and caused you more pain. I’d tell you that and say that I want to find a way to repair the damage I had done.”

“I probably would come into your office mad.”

“Would you be able to tell me that you were mad, or would that have felt too threatening to risk having me be on an opposite side?” When Bea asks this, I feel touched that she remembers how hard it was for me to be mad at her because I didn’t want us to be on opposite sides. That was before I learned, and experienced, that people can be mad at each other and still care and work together on the same side to repair the rupture.

“No, I would tell you because it wouldn’t matter to me. You would already be gone, not on my side.”

“Then I would start with the mad; I’m glad you came back, even if you are mad at me. I’m glad you can tell me you are mad. I understand something really upset you last time. Can you tell me what that was?”

“No. I’m not talking to you about this. Not ever again.” My tone says that this is final, that I am angry and hurt.

“We were talking about the party, and I clearly missed something. I hurt you, because I missed something. I’m sorry.” Bea says softly.

“I don’t care,” I say in my coldest, angriest voice.

“And then I would just stay with that,” Bea tells me. “I would wait and carefully bring up the party and my clear misattunement, and wait until you were ready to respond.”

“Just like that? You would wait? How long?” I ask. I don’t beleive she would wait until I were ready to talk.

“As long as you needed. I would do art, and plah games, take walks with you, and make sure you knew that I knew there was a lot going on that you weren’t saying, and that I was just waiting for you to be ready to work on repair.”

“Will you wait for the teen to be ready to talk? To trust you?” I ask.

“Yep. I’ll wait. And I think the teen is doing a great job talking in her own time. And I will just keep waiting, trusting that she will know when it is time to talk more.”

“You are good at waiting,” I tell her. “You waited four years for the filter to be removed.”

“I did. That had to happen in your time, not mine.”

Somehow we get to discussing Kathy, and if she had kids, or was married, how old she was. I have no answers. I only know she was mom-age, but older than my mom, more like the age of my friend’s moms. “She didn’t tell me stuff about herself,” I say.

“She had some firm boundaries, not like your self disclosing therapist.” Bea laughs.

“I wouldn’t have been able trust you if you didn’t tell me about you, if you weren’t real.”

“I know. And really, I shouldn’t say that. The old school of thought was that therapy should be single person; meaning the therapist is a blank slate. But there is also 1 1/2 person therapy, where the therapist gives some feedback, maybe shows emotions, that sort of thing, but leaves out anything personal about herself. Then there is 2 person therapy, meaning the therpaist shares more of herself, shows her feelings, discusses her reactions to things, and the relationship is more collaborative and that of working side by side. Sharing things about myself is only being a bad therapist if I were sharing things that were me wanting you to take care of me. Or if you didn’t want to know about me. I have people who don’t want to know anything about me, and so they don’t know anything. You need to know about me, to know that I’m real, that I am not pretending to be something I’m not. You need that to feel safe, to know that I’m just me. Honestly, you probably know more of me than anyone else I see, because you need that.”

I laugh. “I never thought you were doing anything wrong. Different than therapists in my past, yes. But not wrong. And it helped me. You being real means I can talk about things, that it is safe. I mean, with the teen present, there is no way I would have been able to trust you, not after…..well, the story abour Kathy became that she pretended to care, she acted one way to make me trust her, and then she got what she wanted, and she hurt me.”

“Now, what does that parallel?” Bea asks.

I think for a minute. Feeling shame, guilt, apprehension, I say, “What the teen thinks about you?”

“Well, yes. But also, Kenny.”

“Oh. Oh, yeah. It does.” I’m surprised. Does this mean something? I don’t know.

We talk a little more, mainly about trust, and the teen, and how it makes perfect sense to Bea that the teen would struggle with not wanting to be alone, but being so afraid to trust Bea.

As my sessions is ending, Bea says, “Everything we have talked about today reminds me, I have a conference for new therapists, and interns I’m to attend, to do a presentation about therapy relationships and not rushing the process when working with trauma, with sexual abuse. What I keep hearing from more experienced therapists is that the newer therapists and interns are rushing things, pushing to rush things.” She pauses, and then says, “I was going to use the story of a person I saw long ago, but your story fits the topic better. You reminded me how we did just follow the process and really let things unfold.” She says the next part slowly, carefully, “Would you let me use your story— our therapy story– to talk about these things?”

Surprising myself, I say, “You could do that.” And then I add, “You should tell them about Kathy.”

“Yes, I could do that.”

“They need to know how much hurt they can cause, how much power they have,” I say softly.

“They do need to know that. And you could write about your therapy experience then, and your therapy experience now. If you wanted to, that is.”

“I would like to do that,” I tell her. “Maybe…..if I can, I mean, it’s not good that this happened to me, but maybe if my story can help therapists help someone like me, then that is a good thing. Isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is a good thing. A very good thing.” She pauses after she says this, and adds, “You know you don’t have to let me share your story, or talk about our relationship, or write anything to share. You can tell me no.”

I pull the blanket off my head. “I know. But I wanted to say yes.”

“Okay. Then we will decide what to share, together. Okay?”

“Okay.”

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She Believes Me

Monday, I tell Bea about camp, and my experience with my co-leader. I’m proud (aside from one snarky thing I said) of how I behaved. I’m proud that I was able to speak up, because that is not something I am often able to do, especially with men, especially with no one else there to back me up. I’m proud that I was able to speak up in an appropriate way, and that I was able to keep my cool for as long as I did. I’m proud that I did not allow his accusations to make me question myself, that I have a strong enough sense of self now to know who I am and how I have behaved. Bea is proud of me, too. We spend most of my session time on this, because it is big— it is proof of how far I have come.

Towards the end of session, Bea checks in with the teen. The teen has written a few pages, and so Bea reads those while I hide under my blanket.

I know what I will test things with. My therapist. Kathy. She was the third? fourth? therapist they sent me to. I didn’t trust her. Not at first. But then, somehow, she was different. And I liked her. I trusted her. And then I went to that party, and everything was a mess, and I was so confused, and all these Kenny memories were just coming up, getting mixed in with the waking nightmares (what I know now is a flashback) of the party, and everything was so confusing, I felt crazy and not even Ms. Perfect could hold it together. So, I told Kathy. And she didn’t believe me. She just…..she didn’t believe me. She kept pointing out how all my friends were right there; why didn’t I get up, or say something? She said it didn’t make sense that I did not have any answers for her questions, but parts of that night are just not in my memory. I didn’t have the answrs, but she thought I was lying about something. She didn’t believe me.

Bea is mad about this, mad at Kathy. “She really hurt you. She did real damage. It’s no wonder you (the teen) don’t trust me. It would be very hard to trust anyone after that.”

The teen’s best defense is to dissociate, and that’s exactly what I did. Somehow, I am telling Bea about the party, and the teen is running the ship.

“I was at my friend’s birthday sleepover, her cousin was in town, on break from school.”

“School?” Bea asks.

“College. Her parents had gone out, so he was in charge. Which was way cooler anyway. And he was…..cute. Everyone, we all had been…..flirting, laughing. I don’t know.” I shake my head, full of shame.

“So, you were doing what girls your age are supposed to be doing, developmentally appropriate.” She murmurs. She wants me to realize I hadn’t done anything bad, or wrong, or abnormal.

“Well. We had a movie on, at bedtime. We were all just spread out on the floor, curled up with blankets, sleeping bags. And….he asked to share my blanket.” I feel a sense of wonder, that rush of *he picked me* and then shame and disgust and self hate rush in. “They were all……jealous.” The last word is hard to get out.

“Ahhh, yes. Of course they were.” Bea says.

“And….then he…..well, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” She agrees.

“And….Kathy, she womderd why I didn’t get up, say something. I don’t know. I swear to you, I really don’t know why.”

“Well, Kenny stuff aside, and I’m sure that played a big role, this wouldn’t have been an easy situation. I mean, even if your friends were there, you had a status thing from him choosing you, and they all liked him, and you couldn’t know how they would react, and it was probably very confusing. Add Kenny, another college boy in your life, who has groomed you to be quiet and go along with what he wanted, and the trauma he had caused, you probbaly froze and dissociated.” She theorizes.

“She didn’t believe me. She just kept asking me things. Things I couldn’t tell her, like the movie we watched or his name. I don’t even know his name.” I’m crying now.

“You dissociated, clearly that is what happened. It’s why you don’t remember everything. It’s okay.”

“And she just kept asking, and asking things, she did not believe me. She thought I lied.”

“It wasn’t her job to believe you or not believe you. It was her job to stay with your experience. And clearly, your experience was awful. Really, truly awful.” Bea tells me.

I mostly remember crying, and Bea just being there with me.

And then it’s time to wrap things up, and Bea says we should talk about this more, but that for now she wants to know if the teen needs anything to feel okay before we end.

“I just…I have a question.”

“Okay. You can ask it.”

“Do you….I mean, I know it’s not your job to believe me but….” and then I can’t say the words, because the idea of her answer is too frightening.

“Do I believe you?” She gently finishes the question for me.

“Yeah.” I mumble the word, shame heating my face.

“I do. I believe you. I believe the teen, and the little girl, and all of you. I do believe you,” She says confidently.

I’m able to leave feeling warm and safe. She believes me.

The meeting place

I just had this image of taking everything out and setting it on a table under a bright light to examine it, but I got this awful too exposed feeling, and thought, no, that’s too vulnerable, too much. Now I have this image of a dark tunnel, and there is light at one end, and darkness at the other end. The teen might be stuck in the darkness right now, but I can reach out my hand, and come halfway to her. I can wait in the middle until she is ready to meet me there. And it’s her choice, she has a choice. But I’ll be there, waiting for her.

Bea said this to me on Wednesday. I don’t really remember a whole lot of that session. The teen was really present, and she was really upset. She had worried all week that Bea wouldn’t come back and be Bea. It’s happened before. There hadn’t been much writing in my yellow notebook, but the teen had a poem she had worked on all week. She shared the work in progress with Bea.

We talked about how there are so many things that make it hard for the teen. So many people let her down, hurt her. She just can’t trust Bea. She is afraid all time that the moment she does share something, open up more, the next moment Bea will leave. Adults failed the teen, time and again. The very ones who should have wondered where all this pain was coming from only wanted to cover it up. The first therapist the teen trusted didn’t believe her story and interogated her. The second therapist she trusted never pushed for deeper understanding, simply focused on the teen’s eating disorder behavior and her self harm behaviors. The teen trusted her one aunt, but that aunt left without a word (and while that had more to do with her uncle and the aunt’s own stuff, it hurt, a lot). Every person the teen ever trusted either hurt her, left her, or both.

“How do I know who to trust? How do I know that you can deal with me?” The teen asked Bea.

“I suppose you have to take a little leap of faith and test me a bit.”

“I don’t think that will work. If you know I am testing you, it’s easy for you to say or do the right thing. But….it could just be pretend. I mean, I’m sorry, I’m scared. It’s, well, it is your job to make me trust you, and so why wouldn’t you say or do the things that will make me trust you if you know I am testing you? Just because you pass the test doesn’t mean that you will really be able to handle me or that you won’t leave.” The teen is snarky and frustrated, anger colors the undertone of her voice. She’s not really angry though. She is afraid that what she is saying will make Bea mad, or hurt her feelings or upset her, and it is easier to be mad at Bea before she gets mad at the teen. Confusing, dark and twisty logic all around.

Bea doesn’t get mad. She doesn’t appear to be upset. “So many people really did let you down. So many people weren’t who they said they were, and didn’t do right by you. I understand that this is hard, that believing I could be different is almost impossible to do. And you are right. At some point, I probably will mess up, and I will fail in some way. The beauty of relationship, though, is that we can talk about it, and work through it. I will admit to you when I have messed up, and take responsibility for that. I think if the teen looks back at my relationship with the little girl, and with the grown up, she will find times I have messed up. But she will see those things were able to be worked through. She might also be able to look back and see the times I have gotten it right, the times I have been there and was deserving of trust.”

“What if that isn’t enough?”

“Then I’ll wait. I feel confident that I can handle all of the teen’s stuff. I’m not afraid. I know there is a lot of confusing, difficult, ugly things to unpack. And I’ll be here when she is ready. We have time to just keep having this conversation. The teen needs to get to know me. I get that that will take time, and I’m not worried.”

“There’s just so much stuff to deal with.”

“I know that, and I’m okay with that,” she says gently. And then she is talking about unpacking everything and I’m feeling to exposed and vulnerable just listening to her. As soon as I start to feel that, she says, “I just had this image of taking everything out and setting it on a table under a bright light to examine it, but I got this awful too exposed feeling, and thought, no, that’s too vulnerable, too much.”

I breathe a little sigh of relief hearing that, and then she says, “Now I have this image of a dark tunnel, and there is light at one end, and darkness at the other end. The teen might be stuck in the darkness right now, but I can reach out my hand, and come halfway to her. I can wait in the middle until she is ready to meet me there. And it’s her choice, she has a choice. But I’ll be there, waiting for her.”

The teen wants to cry when she hears those words. They sound like this fantasy, that someone would come join her in the darkness, would meet her halfway to walk the twisy tunnels in her messy head. Mostly, though, it is too much to even hope that Bea’s words are true. And she thinks that Bea shouldn’t walk into the darkness, that she shouldn’t get that close. The teen doesn’t trust Bea, exactly, but she cares about Bea and she doesn’t want to contaminate her. This isn’t right. Bea should be running from her darkness, Bea belongs in the light. If she meets the teen halfway, she’s going to end up hurt and running from the teen eventually. The teen really can not deal with being left.

I don’t remember how things ended on Wednesday, or even if the teen responded to Bea’s words. What matters is this: All week, the teen has seen this image of a dark and twisty tunnel. Some places in the tunnel feel safe, they are a place to hide. Other parts of the tunnel are scary and confusing and cause things to get mixed up. But she can see light at one end, and in the light is a beautiful garden, with flowers, and butterflies, and a perfect weeping willow tree where she can still hide if she needs to. And in the middle of the tunnel is Bea, just waiting patiently. She’s made a cozy meeting place, with bean bags, and blankets and flashlights. Maybe Bea can go back to the light if she needs to, and come back to the meeting place when the teen needs her, just like the teen can go back to the darkness and come to the meeting place when she needs Bea. Maybe the teen can take a few steps towards the meeting place. Maybe she can think of something small to trust Bea with. Maybe she can do this. Maybe she can heal.

Who do you trust?

I don’t remember how we ended up here, discussing this. I was up and down all last week, and Bea and I shared several emails back and forth– some with words, and some with emojis. She’d suggested that we try to work though some of the stuff, and I’d gotten quiet and bit farther away than I had been. Somehow, though, we are talking about painful things.

Bea has asked about friendships that the teen had. “I imagine that holding the secret was a lot, and made things really hard and painful at times. Was there ever a friend you thought about confiding in?”

I shake my head. She can’t really see that because I’m hiding under my blanket. “Who would I tell? They were all friends with Ms. Perfect. They like her, not me.” It’s whispered, and I want to cry. I’m sad, and it hurts that no one was friends with me.

“So even friendships were really kept separate,” she says, understanding coloring her words. “That’s a lonely place to be. Can you tell me about this part, the one that says no one likes her? Is that the part here now?”

“I…it’s the part that says if people really knew me, they would hate me. It’s the part that….well, the grown up doesn’t believe that anymore, except sometimes that part is very strong. I end up believing that hubby hates me. But….well. People like Ms. Perfect.” I shrug. Whatever. I don’t care that people like her and not me.

“Ms. Perfect was very good at her job. She kept you safe. She helped you function and excel. But it was lonely, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“And Ms. Perfect was very good at keeping this hurt and angry part away, wasn’t she?“

“She has to. No one wanted to deal with me.”

“It definitely felt that way, didn’t it?” Bea’s voice is gentle and kind, and her words are meant to be understanding and soothing. They don’t feel that way, though.

“It WAS that way. I was a problem, something to be fixed. I didn’t matter, except to get rid of me, so I couldn’t cause more problems and ruin everything.”

“Your parents….they did want to fix you, I know. I don’t think it was really about you. It was about their inability to contain your feelings, they lacked the capacity to deal with those hard things. It can feel very helpless to listen to a teen’s pain.” Bea is explaining and talking, and trying to help because she doesn’t want me to feel as if there is something inately wrong with me.

Her words are not helping, they are only making me angrier. Everything she says is blurred together. She’s still talking when I snap, “I don’t care!” The anger and frustration in my voice scare me, and I start crying.

“I know. I know. You’re right. It doesn’t matter why, or the theory of why. This is about you feeling unwanted and unacceptable. Parents are supposed to be able to help hold all those complicated feelings we have as teens, and you needed someone more than ever, because of your trauma. You had all kinds of extra complicated and painful feelings. It’s not fair, they didnt do their job of helping you with your feelings.”

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“What are you sorry for?” She sounds legitimately confused.

“I was so snarky.”

“I can handle snark,” she says softly. “I can handle your anger, too. I can contain it and be with you in it.”

I shake my head. “I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

“I’m not mad at you.”

“I don’t want you to get mad at me.” I tell her.

“I have no angry feelings towards you,” she reassures again. After a moment, she asks, “What would it mean if I did get mad at you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what did it mean for the teen if someone got mad back at her?”

“I……my mother does not like mad. If I got mad at her….she….she didn’t like me then.” My voice breaks a little, and fresh tears fall. Why did I bother putting makeup on today?

“What would she do?” Bea asks the question carefully, like she knows it is going to dig up pain.

It takes me a while to answer. The words swirl around and around in my head. They are right there, and I know that saying them out loud will turn the ache in my belly into a shap pain that I can’t ignore. “Silent treatment. She…….ignores me until I stop being mad.” Unable to hold back my tears any longer, I bury my face in Bea’s cloud pillow and sob.

“That’s really painful. Your mom really didn’t like mad. She wouldn’t even acknowledge you when you were angry. That’s hurtful. You go ahead and have your feelings about that. I’m right here, and I can handle whatever feelings you’re having. I can promise I won’t ignore you if you get snarky, or mad. And if I do get mad back—although I can’t imagine that happening and I am not mad at you in anyway— that will not mean I don’t like you, or I am leaving or that I don’t care.”

“I just….I worry. I am worried.” I tell her.

“I know. The teen had to be so careful, and she had to worry all the time, didn’t she?”

I nod. “Yeah.” I wipe my face and squeeze cloud pillow again. “I….this is so hard.” I start crying all over again. Ugh.

“I’m right here. Why don’t you take a few minutes and just have your feelings? I know it is hard to sit with them, but you can do it. I’m right here.” Bea speaks softly to me.

“I really don’t want you to be mad at me. I’m sorry.”

“Alice, I’m not angry with you. You don’t have anything to be sorry for with me.” She reassures again. Even now, after me forcing her to sound like a broken record, she still just sounds like Bea.

“But I am sorry,” I whisper.

“Who are you saying sorry to?” She asks.

I know what she means, but I don’t like these sort of shrinky questions. “Why can’t I just be saying sorry to you?”

“Well, you could be. Maybe there is something a part of you has felt or thought that was sensored so I don’t know about it. But as far as I am concerned there is nothing between us that you have to be sorry for.”

I know then, what I am sorry about. I just can’t get the words out. “I…maybe….what if I did do something? Maybe…..I just…..well, I think…..Ugh.”

“Whatever it is, I can hold it. It’s okay.” Her voice is soft, and her tone is caring, empathetic.

“I……I can’t tell you. I just can’t. I’m sorry. I worry that you are….I mean, I’m sorry, but I don’t know….what if you really can’t handle it and you are just saying what I want to hear so you dont have to deal with a freakout, and I know, I’m sorry, I just worry all the time that…..”

“You worry that people aren’t who they say they are.” Bea finishes my sentence in a sad, quiet voice.

“Yeah. That,” I agree.

“That’s a scary place to be, to not know if you can trust someone. It’s lonely.”

“Yeah.” I whisper the word, waiting for her to be angry with me for not trusting even her, after all this time.

“Who do you trust?” She asks gently.

“I….I don’t know….I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?” She asks. When I don’t answer, she guesses. “For not trusting me?”

“Yeah.” I’m crying really hard now, and my answer comes out garbled.

“Well, I think the teen has a lot of good reasons to be wary of trusting anyone. As far as I am concerned, she doesn’t really know me, just like I don’t really know her, yet. Trust takes time. We can work on it. We have time. And I’m here; I’ll be here for her regardless of if she trusts me.”

“Ok.”

“Maybe the teen could do some writing about trust?” Bea asks.

“Yeah. Maybe,” I say.

We start to wrap things up after that. Bea goes through a simple grounding exercise that she narrates to me. I can choose to join in, or just listen to her. Usually, I just listen to her voice and it’s enough to bring me back to my present day life.

When I leave, I am a little off balance, but okay. The teen part is so strong, and so present right now. It’s hard to feel like my grown up self.

Hopes and Fears: I don’t want to feel THIS again

It’s been a rough few days. Actually, it’s been a rough few weeks, but the last few nights have been almost unbearable. Bea wanted me to look at the hopes and fears worksheet, and I did. I wrote about a part who is afraid that writing any sort of hope down will give Bea leverage to use against me if I say I don’t want to do an SP thing during a session. I wrote that fear is too big to untwist. I wrote that if I wrote down any hopes, they would be something generic, because even the idea that maybe I could focus on something internally, or notice some physical feeling and have it be positive and safe is so far out of left field for me, I can’t really comprehend it. And then I wrote in my notebook, after a particularly real dream, followed by a frozen sort of flashback when I awoke. I wrote that the hope and the fear is the same: I don’t want to feel THIS anymore.

Now it’s Wednesday and Bea is in her chair. A stack of worksheets that she filled out sits next to her along with the notebook from that horror filled week when she disappeared and the filter was just gone, and my SP book and journal are in her lap. I had requested that we maybe look at the pink polka dotted notebook because it is all written by parts, and it’s the parts that need dealing with.

She’s talking to me about the notebook. “It was really awful for you, wasn’t it? I read back through it and it is painful to read. I know how painful it was. But it’s real. It’s raw and unfiltered. The little girl’s pictures, there’s so much feeling to them, that rawness just pours off the page.” She asks me something, but I can’t remember what. I’m not sure her question ever really penetrated through the fog that swallowed me up almost the moment I walked into her office.

I had wanted to go through the notebook, maybe read it and talk about it. Now, though, I can’t focus on what she is saying. Bea’s fuzzy blanket covers my feet, and I’m burying my head in a pillow. “Can we just not?” I ask her. “I just….let’s just hold this conversation.”

“We can, of course. Did you want to take this notebook back home with you?” Her voice is mild, neutral.

“I don’t know.” I sigh. I feel a little like I’m drowning at the moment.

“Okay. We can come back to that later, or another day,” she says softly, and then it’s quiet for a minute.

“I tried to answer your question in my SP book,” I tell her.

“Do you want me to look at that now?”

“My journal, first, I think.” I whisper.

“Okay.” She opens my journal and finds the new writing.

I’ve managed to sit up and stop hiding my face in the pillow, but now I take the blanket and cover up with it. I don’t hide under it, but I am ready to hide at any moment.

“Mmm hmmm, yes. This. Exactly. You are feeling these things no matter how hard you try to avoid them.”

“I can avoid them. As long as I stay awake, don’t lay down. Oh, and don’t be in the dark. Then it’s fine. I’m fine.” As soon as I say it, I laugh a little. It sounds ridiculous.

“You can’t avoid things. You need to sleep. You deserve to sleep and not be afraid.” She’s firm in this moment, because she hates when I don’t sleep.

“I know. And I know avoiding the feelings here, it’s not doing any good. They show up when I lay down, when I sleep.” I say, quietly.

“When you wake up, and it’s all too real and stil feels real, are you here and frozen? Or far away?” She asks carefully. I pull the blanket over my head as she asks this question.

From my safe hiding spot, I answer. “I don’t know. Not far away. Frozen, but not here. Or….I feel like I’m here, but it’s not really present day. I mean….it feels like it’s then, but I’m present and frozen back then. Except it’s now, but it isn’t really. If I could go farther away, I would feel better. The feelings wouldn’t be so real.”

“Okay. So it feels like you are present and frozen, and what’s happening feels real, as if it is happening right now. So you feel present moment, even though we know it’s in the past.” Somehow it seems that she gets it, despite my convaluted explanation.

“But I don’t always know it’s from the past.” I whisper the words, embarrassed.

“Of course not. That’s part of why it feels so real.” Her voice is so matter of fact, that I believe her. “So, what if we were talking about this, and I asked you to pay attention to a feeling that doesn’t feel as bad? It could be your toes, and so we would focus on your toes. We would take the focus off the bad feelings, to help regulate you.”

I shake my head. “But the little girl….that feels like you saying no talking about this.” It’s so hard to find a way through this. Little Alice is so sensitive to feeling not seen, to being shut down, and Bea directing attention away from her memories…..well, it’s the same as if Bea got up, walked away and refused to see me ever again. I don’t know how to help Little Alice understand that Bea isn’t leaving, that she wants to help.

“Right. She really doesn’t like being directed away from a memory. Can we help her understand it’s not forever? Can I tell her right now that if I asked you to notice something else, and focus on that in order to help calm down and not feel so scared that we could go back to the memory again? That she could be the one to focus on something else, that she doesn’t have leave, or feel ignored? That I want her to work with us on this every step of the way? And learning to focus on something that doesn’t feel so bad could help in the middle of the night, help to stop the bad scary feelings?”

I shake my head. “No.” The fear that she just wants to make me stop talking is so huge. The little girl really believes that Bea doesn’t want to listen.

“Can I ask the Little girl something?”

“I guess so,” I say tentatively.

“Whose body is it, that is feeling those things? Is it yours (the little girl’s)?” Bea’s voice is gentle.

I don’t answer for a long time. Finally, I sigh and say, “The grown up thinks yes, it is.”

“Okay….” Bea says, waiting for me to say more.

“But…well….the little girl…she’s….” I stumble, finding it hard to say the words. “Not my body. Not me. That was not happening to me. No, no.”

“Yeah,”Bea soothes. “You don’t want that to be you. If it is, you have to feel it, and that is scary.”

“Yeah. Scary.” I agree.

“What if we could find a way to direct attention away from those feelings? That’s why you, or the grown up, or another part could help to focus on something else. So in the night, you don’t have to be so scared. And so that here, we can talk about memories and feelings without it getting too scary.”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay. That’s okay. You can think about it.” She tells the little girl, and then she talks about some normal simple stuff for a few minutes, enough so that the grown up is back on board.

“I just really don’t want to feel that anymore. I’m so scared that I will if we try to focus on….Any of that SP stuff. I think it is the way to help this……. but….I’m afraid.” I cover my face with my hands, even though I’m hiding under the blanket. I feel so exposed and vulnerable right now.

“I know. It’s scary, and uncomfortable. Can I challenge that idea a little bit? Can we remind parts that we have done some SP work in the past, and you were able to find some resources and it did help? Can you remember those two times?” She’s gentle as she says this, but I feel a little bit thrown. The teen feels like Bea is using those two helpful times against me, to tell me why I should be willing to try more, or do better at SP.

“Yes. Sort of. I mean, I know we did it, and that it helped, but the actual sessions….I don’t have the details. I think both times everything was all too overwhelming.”

“I do think it was times when you were a bit desperate and falling of the edge of the cliff. But the SP resourcing did help to pull you back from the edge, at least enough to get through those bad times.” She says.

When I don’t say anything for a long while, Bea offers to share her hopes and fears worksheet with me. I say okay, and she reads me her fears. It’s easy for me to jump into a helping role, and so I easily come back to being more present by listening to her. I validate her fears, but then I offer a different viewpoint, something to think about. I won’t share her list here, because it’s not mine to share, but one of her hopes sparked a conversation and that I will share.

“I guess my hopes are more things I like about SP, and that I hope to do more of,” she tells me as she starts to read her list. She reads two or three things off it, and then reads, “I like the way I feel when I take a few moments and just really connect to where my body is in space, and what sensations I’m noticing. It makes me feel calm and centered, peaceful. I hope to do more mindfulness exercises because I know how helpful it can be and I like how I feel afterward.”

She says that, and I’m just sort of….flabbergasted. Calm? Peaceful? I don’t understand. This literally makes no sense to me. I can’t really comprehend it. It takes a moment for me to even find words. “That just….it makes no sense to me. I don’t understand. This isn’t….that’s not my experience, and I don’t…peaceful? I don’t understand that. I understand feeling calmer by focusing on what I hear, or what I see. On outside things.” Maybe a tiny part of me feels betrayed, Bea is never going to understand exactly how scary and hard this is, if she finds focusing internally peaceful and calming.

“Well, so what I was thinking about when I was writing out my hopes, it wasn’t about feeling or noticing things attached to memories. It was more about, I guess like doing a check in with my body, just on what it happening in this moment.”

I stare blankly at her, but she can’t see that because I’m still hiding under my blanket. She must somehow sense I’m still confused, because she suggests, “I could go through a mindfulness exercise that I like, say it out loud while I do it, so you can hear what I mean. You wouldn’t do anything, just listen to see if it helps explain what feels peaceful to me.”

“Okaaay. I guess so.” I’m heisitant to ageee, but it’s not anything I have to do, so it’s probably okay.

Bea takes a deep breath. “I always start with a deep breath or two. Then, I tell myself that I know there is a lot to do, or that I know things were busy today, or whatever. I focus on where my feet are. Maybe they are on the floor, or resting on a chair. Maybe I can feel my socks, shoes. I focus on if my toes need to wiggle, or feet need to move. I notice where else in my body I can feel the chair. Maybe against my back. I notice what the chair feels like against my back. I focus on if I can let myself relax against the chair because it will support my back…….”

She’s talking and I’m going far, far away. I can’t do this. Just the thought of this is too much….it’s too much, and I’m gone away, to the place where I feel like my head is just a balloon on a string, floating away somewhere else. Everything is numb and wrapped in thick cotton, so no feelings will ever get through. It’s peaceful here, in this land of nothingness.

Bea’s voice isn’t really gettting through. She asking me if I have seen any of the mindfulness apps.

“No,” I say, even though I have. Of course I have, they are everywhere. I even have one on Kat’s iPad because she likes to use it before bed. My voice is hollow because there is nothing there. I’m empty. Numb. Not here.

“They might be helpful. Usually there is a pretty picture, or a circle or something you focus on, so it’s more of that external mindfulness that feels safe to you.”

I don’t respond. Not because I don’t want to, I want to tell her that those apps focus on breathing and I don’t like the breathing thing.

“Alice, are you here? Are you far away?” She asks me, realizing I’m gone.

I can’t find my words. Finally I manage to say, “Frozen. Far away.”

“Okay, okay, that’s good that you could tell me that. If just talk, will that help?” Her voice is calm. I think she is speaking slower than usual to give my foggy brain time to catch up.

I don’t answer her, and so she just talks. I don’t even know what she said. I was farther away than I’ve been in a long while. Eventually, I manage to be a bit more here, at least enough to be able to move. Being more here means feeling vulnerable, and even with the blanket, I wish I could build a pillow fort and hide in it.

Bea notices that I’m back, and says, “So, l’m going to use one of our bad words. Okay?”

She means she is going to say a word on the *words we don’t use list* and so I whisper, “Please don’t.” I know I can’t handle that right now.

“It’s not a scary one. The e one.” The e word is experiment. In SP, they use experiments to test things, or to observe new information. It makes the whole thing feel very lab rat like to me, and that is so triggering and painful for the teen.

“No. I can’t,” I tell her, realizing that I am on high alert to find something wrong with Bea, to get mad at her, a reason to push her away, to cause a rupture. I’m teetering on the edge of something and if she says anything shrinky, it will be all over; I will fall off this narrow ledge.

“Okay. Let me think.” She won’t just use a synonym, because she knows that’s not better, so she has to find a different way to tell me whatever it is she wants to tell me. “All right. I know that was triggering, and made you go far away. That wasn’t my intention, but I think that this tells us where we need to start. Just hearing a mindfulness exercise that focuses internally and on the body is too much. And that’s good for us both to know. And it’s okay. We have to start where you are at.”

I sigh. “I feel broken.”

“If you were one of the kids I see, I would challenge that. This is bringing up a lot of black and white thinking for you.”

“No, well, yeah, okay. But it is because…….the point…the whole thing in the book is to, I mean what they expect is that you can…..ugh!” I’m frustrated. Why did I think I could do this?

“Focus on the body and notice what is happening internally?” She asks.

“Yeah. And I can’t. I’m not good at this. I’m used to being good at things.” I say softly.

“There is no good or bad. It just is.”

“I don’t like this.” I tell her.

“Well, no. It’s uncomfortable. And new. And. It is challenging those old beliefs. That’s not easy.” She says in that reassuring way she has.

“Well, no. But I just….it shouldn’t feel this hard. Especially worksheets. I rock at worksheets. Ms. Perfect could fill out every worksheet in the book with all the right answers.” I tell her. I’m out from under the blanket, and I’m gathering my things as I say this.

“Well, there are no right answers.” She smiles at me.

I shake my head. “There are. For Ms. Perfect, there are.” There isn’t time to explain the thinking behind this, or to talk through it, because I have to go, and Bea’s next appointment is here. I leave feeling a little…..off.

Later, Ms. Perfect fills out all the worksheets in chapter 4, even the one that asks you to write a letter to the body. It takes her all of fifteen minutes to whip through them. In her world, the right answer is whatever a normal person would write. It’s all about what someone who isn’t broken, who is okay, would say. And she is very, very good at this game of being normal and okay. It’s actually a little bit scary how good she is at this.

Thinking about Sensorimotor Therapy

“I’ve watched you for years put your hand out in front of you push at the air, setting a boundary, or maybe pushing away what we are talking about.” Bea tells me.

“Memories have been more intense for you, you have felt more present and frozen during them, and you are physically feeling them ever since the filter was removed.” She validates my feeling that every memory and dream is much more intense than before.

“Would you be willing to get the SP book and we could read it together?” She asks gently.

“We have to deal with the parts. They matter. All the parts of you are equal, and every part can have a say. But we need to deal with the stuff that is coming up, and we can’t do that without all the parts on board.” Bea informs me.

“I believe the best way to deal with the physical memories and feelings that are coming up with your current flashbacks and dreams is by working with the body. But we are smart and creative people, we can find another way if that isn’t something that feels safe right now.” Bea says carefully, as if her voice, her words, are walking on eggshells.

************************************************************************************************************************

Three weeks of therapy and this is what we have been talking about. Every session, every week for almost four weeks, we have discussed SP, and parts, and dreams and memories being so very, very real. We’ve discussed the horror of *this really happened*.

The day she asked if I might think about reading the SP book with her, I ordered it from amazon. It took me another week to open the book, and a week after that to tell her I had bought it. Bea let me know of I wanted to discuss any of it, that we could, but that we didn’t have to. She said we could do the worksheets in each chapter if I wanted to, but that we didn’t have to. She said that just because I bought the book, we didn’t have to do any SP if I didn’t want to. She said all the right things, and that helped.

So, I started to read the book. I read through chapter five. Then I bought post it notes, and read through the first five chapters again, using the blue post it notes to write my thoughts down as I read. Everything I wrote was snarky and angry and suspicious. Later, I read through it a third time and used the pink post it notes to try to write reactions from a more adult place.

The challenge is that when it’s just the grown up Alice on board, I do think SP could help. I do believe that the best way to deal with the things coming up is by working with the body. The other parts do not agree in the slightest. The little girl is terrified, and the teen is snarky and suspicious and the shame part doesn’t want to even think about the body– any body and Ms. Perfect believes SP is a waste of her time, because she is fine.

I brought the book to therapy last week, and practically threw it at Bea. “This is not going to help. I can’t do this. And the person who made this therapy just wants a bunch of guinea pigs.” I snapped as she sat calmly, holding my book.

She didn’t agree or disagree with me, just asked who was feeling that way and why.

“I wrote it down. In the book. Just read that.” My tone was all snark. The teen really wasn’t going to make this easy for Bea.

So, she opened the book, and she started to read. And you know what? We talked about the blue post it notes. It turns out, Bea agreed with some of the things that the Teen took issue with. After a while, there was enough of the grown up Alice online that we were able to talk about the pink and the blue post it notes. And that was okay. Not easy, and not comfortable, but okay. It was a bit like reviewing a book at a book club.

On Wednesday of last week, Bea asked if i has time, would I think about and maybe look at the worksheets at the end of chapter 4 (titled *The Wisdom of the Body: lost and found*. On a blue post it note, I had written, “The body has no wisdom, and if it does, it should stay lost. It’s safer that way.”). I said I might look at them. I had little to no intention of doing so, but then, curiosity got the better of me, and I did. My immediate reaction was “Nope. Not doing this. Cant do this. Nope. Nope. Nope.” So that’s what I wrote on my post it note.

Later, I looked at the worksheets again, and I wrote on another note that it was just too hard, that these sheets were asking for too much.

Monday, we talked about SP some more, and Bea read my post it notes on the worksheets. She put one of her own post it notes on one of the worksheets, asking if I could pinpoint what part or parts was reacting to that particular worksheet. She wondered if I could try to write about the parts viewson that particular worksheet.

We talked about that worksheet today, but I will write about that later on. For now, I’m going to including a photo of the worksheet, in case anyone is curious.