Ruptured: Ms. Perfect

Wednesday. I get to Bea’s office right on time, despite not sleeping well the night before and waking up late. I feel steadier than I have in weeks. Things don’t feel repaired, and I’m still unsure of Bea, but I don’t feel like the ground is falling away under my feet anymore.

When I walk in, we chat a little, just normal stuff, nothing serious or deep. This feels normal, familar. It’s me and Bea talking about regular, boring life stuff, and it feels like an oasis from the storm we have been in for weeks. I start to realx, and feel like Bea is really here and herself.

Before long, though, we are discussing teen stuff, in a weird random way. It starts with a conversation about clothing, which seems beign and random. We’d been discussing small town life and ideals as compared to the larger area Bea I live in now.

“I never worried about having the *right* clothes growing up. My mom always just knew the popular brands and that’s what she bought.” I shrug. It’s not strange to me, it’s just how things were.

“Did you ever want to wear something different?” She’s curious.

I think. Did I? I’m really not sure. “I don’t think so. I was so….I mean, Ms. Perfect was just so in charge back then, and that’s what I was. Blonde. Cheerleader. I looked and dressed like everyone else who was……I don’t know. Popular.” I could say well off, or in the in crowd, or something else. But it boils down to popularity. All of our parents were friends. We all went to the same church, were members of the same country club, had vacation houses in the same small touristy towns on small lakes, we all participated in the same activities, we had known each other since we were in diapers. It was also very clear what was expected of me, and I performed perfectly. There wasn’t really a wants or needs about it. I was who and what I was expected to be.

“No part of you wanted something different?” She asks again. This time, I’m sure that she is going somewhere with this, or looking for some sort of information. It’s the slight change in her voice, maybe.

“Well, no. I don’t think so. I’m not sure there was another option, anyway. Once, my brother tried to shop….what is that store, the more edgy punk store….”

“Hot topic?” Bea asks.

“Yes! He wanted to shop there. My mom threw out his clothes he had bought and replaced them with her choices from the gap, banana republic, j crew, the buckle. He was not going to look anything but perfect.”

“That seems extreme to me, to control your teen’s wardrobe like that.”

“Really?” I’m surprised. “It’s just how it was. Part of the presentation of how we looked. You know, that sort of thing matters to her. I don’t know.”

“Yes, I can see it mattered. I guess I just didn’t realize that your mom’s need to control things and present a pretty picture extended that much.” Bea says slowly.

“Once I had light pink streaks put in my hair,” I tell her.

“How did that go over?” She asks. She is back to being curious again.

“Not well. But it was acceptable. I was still mostly blonde and the streaks were little and baby pink, so it was a girly choice, so it was tolerated.”

“Why did you put streaks in hair?”

“I don’t know.” I shrug. Now, as I write this, I think I wanted something that was just mine, not something my mother chose for me. But wheh Bea asked, it was just a thing I did.

“Teens usually havs reasons for doing what they do. Especially with hair.” She pushes a bit, maybe trying to see if I am willing to dig underneath.

“I really don’t know. It was just something I did.” Thinking about it now, my mom wasn’t at the salon with me that day, so when I went for my usual highlights, it wasn’t a big deal to add pink.

“And your mom was okay with it in the end?”

“Well, it washed out quick enough. So then, it was fine. I mean, she just liked things to be how she liked them.” I feel sort of odd. Not far away, just sort of, going through the motions of this conversation.

“Like what?” Bea asks.

“I don’t know. How we behaved, what we did, what we wore. She just wanted things to be normal, I guess. She doesn’t deal with things outside of that box of normal very well.”

“No, she really doesn’t.” It’s an agreement, but maybe something more, a question or a prompt to keep talking.

“She would just….ugh…I don’t know, ignore me if I didn’t behave how she liked. Everything from not picking up my room to I don’t know what.” I sigh. I’m in a weird mood. “You know that she would just ignore me if I was talking too much, just literally walk away. She didn’t like feelings either. Some feelings weren’t allowed. Well, it wasn’t really a rule, not something spelled out, but I knew…..she made it clear. I suppose now I would say she dissociated.”

“Really?” Bea sounds surprised and, in my mind that surprise means she doesn’t agree with me, so I backtrack quickly.

“Well, maybe not, maybe that is the wrong word. I was just thinking like, if I was crying, so upset, she would just sort of check out until I stopped. She just wasn’t there. It was so obvious that certain things wouldn’t be tolerated. Sad, tears, mad, hurt, anxiety, she would just zone out.”

“Not be there, not really interact with you? Just be sort of robotic, spaced out?” Bea asks.

“Yeah.” I nod.

“I would call that dissociated,” she says. “So you knew when she was not there, and that was a signal you were being too much?”

“Yeah. Or she would just tell me, you know, I’m a drama queen, I’m overly sensitive. I don’t know. She would send me to my room until I could behave appropriately.” I blink back tears. Even now, this stings.

“It’s such a shame that being sensitive it seen so negatively, instead of helping kids understand they are sensitive, and that is okay.” Bea says.

“But it was okay, mostly, because I knew what was and wasn’t allowed and so things were okay. I didn’t get sent away very much. I knew how to behave right.”

“That makes me sad for the girl who had to hide her feelings to be able to fit what her mom needed her to be.”

“Buf then she didn’t go away or send me away, and it wasn’t so bad. I mean, it just….ugh. I don’t know.”

“So the teen never got to express herself for fear of being unacceptable.” Bea’s voice is sad.

“I guess. But I knew how to be what I was supposed to be. So it was okay, my mom didn’t….” my voice trails off. I was about to sound so melodramatic, I can’t believe it.

“Didn’t what?” Bea prompts.

“Didn’t have to get away from me.” Now I am really blinking back tears as I hide my face. “Can I have the blanket please?”

Bea covers me up, and I cry.

“Can I say something that might be a little shrinky?” She asks.

“I guess.” I’m wary. This tentative okay-ness between us feels like the smallest thing could shatter it.

“When we talk about attachment, and being securely attached, I always had this….well, it doesn’t matter. The more you are telling me about your mom and how she interacted with you, her expectations and her reactions when they weren’t met, I’m wondering if Ms. Perfect was around before Kenny. If maybe she was what some mignt refer to as a false self.”

“I wrote about parts like you asked. I wrote about Ms. Perfect…maybe you should just read it.” I get out my notebook and hand it to her.

When I wrote about Ms. Perfect, I wrote that she was maybe a little girl at first, a little girl when I was a little girl, and she just grew up with me, excpet I still think she is an older teen. I’d written that Ms. Perfect was the one my mom always liked, even loved.

“So, what I am thinking is a bit like what you wrote. I’m thinking that Ms. Perfect was…. created to be this part that your mom could accept. Ms. Perfect was the part that was able to be securely attached because she was what your mom could accept.” Bea is speaking very cautiously, very carefully.

Writing this now, I think Bea is right, my mom couldn’t accept any part except Ms. Perfect, and it’s Ms. Perfect that is securely attached. I wonder if Ms. Perfect has controlled things at times when I would have acted out with Bea, because, well, she didn’t want to have Bea go away or send me away. I need to think on this more. My thoughts are muddled right now.

“Okay….that makes sense,” I agree.

“And that leaves the rest of the parts…well, with more of an insecure attachment. Which is why we have this teen part with the borderline rage acting out when it feels like you were too much and I am leaving.”

“Because the rest of me didn’t get secure attachment because the real me wasn’t acceptable to my mom? So then I had to be Ms. Perfect so that she would….accept me?”

“Well….in a nutshell, yes. Having Ms. Perfect run the show meant that you could get your needs met. The real you, or even the parts couldn’t get attachment needs met because your mom had very specific things she could handle and stay emotionally present for.” Bea says gently.

I don’t say anything. I’m struggling to wrap my head around this. There must be some secure attachment for the real me because of my grandparents. I don’t know.

“This is all separate from the kenny piece. This is all developmental trauma stuff. Of course, already being capable of separating things and having this false self to run the show and be accepted would have made it even easier for him to take advantage. But this development attachment trauma stuff, talking about this now, I can see so many parallels between my behavior that bad Wednesday and your mom.”

“That’s what you mean by it being about the past?”

“In part, yes. We react to things that may be happening in the present, but it triggers old hurts, old beliefs, and we react like those old things are true, even if they are true of the present situation.”

“What parallels?” I ask.

“Well, your mom went away when your feelings were too intense for her to cope with, or accept. You came here that bad Wednesday feeling pretty triggered, and I wasn’t really here. And then in our email when I told you that I was making a choice to avoid the emotional piece, that mirrored your mom, too.” (I think there were other parallels she drew, but I can’t remember now.)

I don’t think I said more, and can’t remember what else Bea said. I was busy thinking what it means if parts of me are insecurely attached, and Ms. Perfect is securely attached. Where does that leave the whole of me? I have no idea.

We wrap up the session by looking at our calendars and scheduling an extra session for Thursday. Wednesday is July 4, so next week would have been a one session week otherwise. Bea’s schedule is tricky, she doesn’t have mornings open on Thurdays or Fridays, but I decide to take an afternoon appointments and ask a friend to watch Kat. When I text my friend, she tells me that she would be happy to take Kat that day and that she is glad I finally took her up on her offer to help.

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Ruptured: Unconditional

Monday morning ,I wake up earlier than I need to, with a black hole of anxiety surrounding me. Bea and I had continued emailing all weekend. I had managed to sort out that I was still confused over what she thought was mean. I understood that many of my emails after the first one were angry and lashing out, and could be described as raging or mean. I couldn’t figure out what about my firsf email was so mean; was it because I had phrased things “you made me” or because she felt it was a brutal distortion, or because of something else? I questioned this in an email, and Bea sent back a scary response.

Alice,

I actually need to get my thoughts together before I can think about what I want to say.  So what needs to be addressed at this point is the “mean” part and what I think about that, right?  I want to talk about why this is a “special kind of mean,” and I want to do that very carefully.  I’ve been this kind of mean before too, so I feel like I can explain this without pathologizing it, and I can empathize with it, but it is an actual “thing” clinically.  

So in this explanation there won’t be any blaming or any threat to abandon the teen or any of the parts. There will only be an effort to make sense of all this and try to find some common ground.  What I’m not sure about is how you’re going to feel about this being a “thing” that happens to traumatized people rather than about your personal experience. I don’t want to take away from your personal experience, but I feel like you have to understand how I see this “thing” before we can turn to your particular experience.

I wonder if it would be helpful if I talked about my experiences first? If we didn’t address any of your stuff in session, but if I talked about my experience and explained the “thing” in terms of me?  Then you can see if you want to talk about your stuff, or email about it?

Bea

Yikes. Her response made me so scared. I just knew it was going to be something bad and that she was going to turn back into shrinky Bea and I was going to end up more upset. I asked her to please just email the shrinky thing and let me read it. She said that she would try, but she wanted to do so when she had a good chunck of time to sit down and explain it, and that she wouldn’t have time until Sunday night. We emailed a bit more, me worrying about it and Bea reassuring that she had nothing bad to say, and that this didn’t change anything about her and me. In the end, she didn’t email about the shrinky thing. She emailed to let me know that she was very tired and didn’t want to explain something this sensitive when she wasn’t at her best. She said she knew that this wasn’t helping my anxiety but she felt it was more important that she be well rested and able to be fully present with me in the morning.

All of that didn’t feel as terrible to me as you mignt think. Bea stayed in contact with me, she responded to my emails, she reassured me that it was okay and she didn’t leave. I was scared and anxious Monday morning but I still walked into her office without too much difficulty.

I said hello, and Bea said hello and I sat down on the couch, curling my knees into my chest. I was shaking from all the anxiety.

“I know this wasn’t easy to walk in here today. I know that your anxiety is making it really difficult, so I want to follow your lead. You tell me what you would like to do today. Would you like to color? Would it help to just sit and talk about safe topics? Do you want to talk about stuff?”

I reach over and pick up the cloud pillow, hiding my face. I can’t be here, I can’t do this. I can’t breathe. Something very, very bad is going to happen. This is dangerous, I shouldn’t be here.

Gently, Bea says, “I’m going to grab your blanket.” I hear her get up, and then she is standing near me with the blanket. “Do you want me to cover you up or just set it next you?”

I can’t even answer her. Finally I manage to whisper, “I just want to hide.” So Bea drapes the blanket over me before going back to her own seat.

Now that I’m hiding, I feel a little safer, but not much. I’m still shaking, still having trouble slowing my breathing.

“Take a minute, okay? Can you notice that you are safe? Nothing bad is happening or is going to happen. Listen to the birds outside. You aren’t in danger. You’re here in my office and you are safe. I’m here. Nothing bad is happening.” She says slowly.

“It doesn’t feel like that,” I tell her.

“I know. And that is where we have to go back to our ‘feelings aren’t facts’. I know this feels scary and dangerous, but it isn’t. We are just sitting here, in my office, listening to the birds.”

“But something bad is going to happen. You have scary things to say.” I squeeze cloud pillow tighter.

“It really feels like that, doesn’t it? This feels very scary and dangerous.” She says.

I nod, even though she can’t see me.

“I think, maybe we should just spend today working on safety.” I can hear her sit forward in her seat, and I can picture her face because I’ve seen how kind and caring she can look when she wants to make sure I am feeling safe.

I sit in silence for a long time. It isn’t easy to figure out what I need or what will help me feel safer. Hiding? Not talking? I’m not sure at first, but then it dawns on me that as long as I am filled with anxiety that Bea is going to say I am mean and terrible and she hates me and I cannot see her anymore, I’m not going to feel safe. “I think I need to know what you want to say.” I blurt the words out in a rush, and then I sit there hugging cloud and waiting for something very, very bad to happen.

“Okay,” Bea says. “I can do that. Before I do, though, how will I know you are still here? If we are going to talk about this, you have to be here.”

I think about it. If she can’t see me, she can’t know for sure that I’m present, and if what she says upsets me, I could be silent because I am hurt and upset, or I could be silent because I am very, very far away. I sigh. “You could just ask me,” I finally suggest.

Bea lets out a little laugh that seems to say *well that was simple. Why didn’t I think of that?* “Good idea. Are you here now?”

“Yes. Mostly. Enough here, I think. Just really, really scared.”

“I know. This isn’t scary, I promise. And it doesn’t change anything about you or how I feel about you.”

I bury my face in cloud. This is going to be bad. I know it. I can feel it. Very bad things are going to happen.

“Okay, I want to be very careful about explaining this, and I want you to know I really, really get it. This is a special kind of mean. I have been this kind of mean before, and I know how hard it is to feel like this. I know that it isn’t really an intentional mean. It’s almost a hijacking of our wise mind, and this emotional mind takes over. Well, it is more than emotion mind taking over. For you, it’s a part, one that gets hijacked with intense emotion when this part feels threatened with abandonment. This part reacts with intense feelings, and rage. There is no logic when this part is feeling taken over by emotion mind. This kind of rage, this sort of lashing out, the distorted thinking that goes along with it, clinically we would call it…..and I know that this word is not one you like but I am going to use it anyway. Clinically speaking, this would be a borderline trait, this reaction would be described as borderline rage. That doesn’t mean you have borderline personality disorder, or change anything about you. It means that the teen part reacts to those feelings and fears of abandonment with borderline rage. This is something that happens to traumatized people. Alice, are you still here?” Bea has been speaking slowly and carefully to me.

“Yeah….I……here.” It’s hard to get the words out, not because I’m far away, but because I just don’t know what to think. I might have distorted what Bea had said that Wednesday, but I wouldn’t have if she hadn’t been spining out with anxiety and if she had been present. If she had realized I walked into her office dissociated and triggered. And I was only telling her what I heard her saying, what conclusions I drew based on her behavior, and how that felt. Why was that mean, exactly? Why was she calling it borderline rage?

“Do you know where the term borderline comes from? It comes from this idea that people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder were on the border of psychosis. This is out dated thinking, and you already know that I don’t believe that BPD is a personality disorder, I believe it is caused by trauma. But this idea of psychosis, or what I would call an extreme distortion of reality….it’s part of this lashing out, it is what leads to the rages.” Bea pauses for a moment, and then checks in with me again. When she is satisfied that I’m still here, she continues, “I don’t want you to feel I am being shrinky, and I very much want to explain this in more human terms. I think it might make more sense, that way. But I want to make sure you are comfortable with me sharing my experience of this special kind of mean?”

“Okay.” I whisper the word.

“When I first went to therapy, way back when I first started school to become a therapist, I experienced this. My therapist had an office set up and appointments scheduled where I didn’t typically see his other patients. I had been seeing him for about a year at the point of this experience and I had never seen another one of his patients. One day I did see one of his patients leaving. It triggered something in me, and all of a sudden, in my mind, my therapist had made sure I saw his other patient because he liked her, he cared about her, and he did not care about or like me at all.” Bea pauses here and asks, “Now, does that really make sense logically?”

“No,” I tell her.

“No. It doesn’t make any kind of sense. But at that moment in time, in my mind, he hated me, he didn’t care about me, he had wanted to hurt me. I walked into his office mad. More than mad, really. In a rage. I lashed out at him and all he would say to me was that wasn’t his experience. I emailed him after my session, still in a rage. It took a long time for me to calm down and come back to my wise mind. I couldn’t see beyond my distortion of reality, and my emotion mind had taken over. My therapist refusing to engage with me just made me more angry; I wanted him to soak up my rage, to be hurt by my lashing out because in my mind he had hurt me purposefully. There wasn’t much he could do but wait for me to be calm enough that I could hear what he was saying. That’s where setting a boundary comes in; the boundary of not taking on that rage, and the boundary of waiting, standing next to the person who is raging, until they can really listen, until they are no longer completely hijacked.”

I can’t imagine Bea in a rage. I can’t imagine her lashing out at anybody.

“Does that make sense? Maybe? Sort of?” She asks me.

“I guess. I don’t know. Enough.” I want to tell her that I hadn’t wanted her to soak up any of my feelings, rage or otherwise. I want to tell her that I could see the parallel, and maybe agree with most of what she was saying, but that unlike her therapist who had done nothing wrong, she had done something wrong. I want to tell her that unlike her, I had only wanted her to understand what I had felt that day. I’m confused. This sucks.

“I’m going to stop talking now, unless you have questions or something else you want me to speak to. I’m sure you have a lot to say, and I want to make sure I give you that chance. If you want to wait and write, that’s fine, too. Whatever feels best to you.”

I sit there for a while, quiet and unable to even find my voice. Finally I tell her, “I can’t talk.”

“Because you can’t find your words? Or because you are too frozen? Or is it because you aren’t sure it’s okay to talk?”

I stick my hand out from under the blanket, holding up 3 fingers.

“Okay. I really do want to hear what the teen has to say. I want to know what she is thinking. Can I tell her it is okay to talk? I’m here, and I’m listening.” Her voice is soft and kind, warm and understanding.

“I can’t….I won’t say anything right.” I don’t exactly feel safe with Bea, or trust her right now, but I am still very afraid of making things worse. And there is so much in my head, I don’t know where to start, or how to say it without having it all blow up in my face. I want to tell her that the bad Wednesday was a big deal, even if she doesn’t think so. I want her to understand how and why I heard what I heard and came to the conclusion that I did. I want to tell her that I’m (the teen) is terrified she really does only want Ms. Perfect because it wasn’t until Ms. Perfect stepped in to smooth things out that Bea said she felt very much here, present and engaged in the conversation. I want to tell her she really hurt me when she compared me to a tantrumming toddler. I want to ask if she even remembers why that would hurt me so badly. And I can not say any of these things at all.

“Can you try to say one thing, and we can go from there?”

“No. No, because what I want to say is still just going to sound like *you made me* or some version of that and then you will just decide I am being mean again and ugh. I can’t do this.”

“Okay. Could we talk about this is third person? So instead of *I* you could say *the teen*. That would give us a little bit more distance from this.” She suggests.

“But….I might as well be saying *Alice* then,” I argue.

“Yes, but this isn’t Alice, this isn’t all of you. This is a part. I know it is a little weird to talk in third person.” Then she tells me how in Sensorimotor therapy, you always refer to a part in the third person to help keep some distance. There was more about the why that she said, but I was getting a little far away because I was feeling frustrated at the fact Bea didn’t understand what I was saying.

“No…it’s not that….I think you misunderstand what I’m trying to tell you. If I were to say *the teen* then I might as well be saying *Alice* or even *I*. It’s all the same right now.”

“Ahhh. I didn’t get it, but I get it now. Do you think that we could try using third person, for me? To help me keep keep in mind that this is a part, and that all of Alice needs me to stay emotionally here, so you can express what you need to express?”

“I don’t care if you say the teen. You always do anyways. But I always just say I.” Writing this now, I think Bea was trying to see if there was any adult onboard because the adult always says *the teen* and *the little girl* whereas if the teen or the little girl are running things, they always say *I*. I also wonder if she was trying to distract me from my anxiety and show me that she and I could still work out challenges between us.

“Okay. See, we have an ageeement and some common ground. I’ll say the teen and you will say I. Do you think you can share a little of what you are thinking now?”

“I…I feel like…..like you don’t think Wednesday was a big deal.” My voice breaks on the last word, and I start to cry.

“I do think it is a big deal. I know it is a big deal.” She takes a breath and continues, “On the surface, I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? I was talking about insurance, and I had a lack of awareness of my anxiety over that and my anxiety surrounding insurance was brought into your session. But, that isn’t really the whole story, is it? My anxiety made me not be here, and that was terrifying for you. I didn’t see that you were triggered and not present when you walked in, and it was as if I had abandoned you. Not being present, not seeing you, letting my anxiety run your session, all of that was very, very bad. It was a big deal, it is a big deal. I knew that day, this little piece of me knew that this was going to make it very, very hard for you to trust me, to feel safe with me for a long time. I do think what happened is a big deal, I know it hurt you very much, and I am so sorry for that.”

I’m surprised. She does think it is a big deal, she does understand that it was bad. “I was really, really scared. You didn’t see me. You weren’t here. I didn’t know if you were ever coming back.”

“I know. I also know that you can’t trust this right now, but I did come back. I am here.”

“I….do you….I mean, I know you didn’t say the things I heard, or sort of….assumed…..but do you see how….why I did? Because I had needed and needed and needed the weeks before with working so hard to trust you and believe you and then I got here and I needed you again and you went away. I thought, I think it is my fault, that you went away because I needed too much and then you were saying, talking about insurance and it felt like you agreed with what you were saying and that you felt that way because I was too much and you used me as an example to the insurance company and I really thought I broke you.”

“I do see how things got so distorted. Given your history, and your beliefs about yourself and needing too much, and me not being here, yes, I can see how things got so distorted. I want to make sure you hear this, okay? It’s important. You can not break me. You will not break me, you are not too much. Okay?”

“Maybe.” I whisper the word, really not sure if I can trust what she is telling me.

“Can I tell you what I meant when I said we had just the teen stuff left to deal with?” She asks.

“No. No. I can’t…..” I react immediately, and slam a wall down around her words. I don’t want to hear her tell me that I don’t need to be here for much longer. I don’t want to hear that its not much left to sort out, that it’s not a big deal.

“I know you are scared. I know. I really believe that if you will allow me to explain you will feel better about this, not worse.” Her tone says that she will follow my lead, no matter how much she would like to tell me.

“I…okay.” It’s almost a whine, and I should probably be embarrassed but I’m not. I’m too busy being scared.

“I spoke very generally, and that was not helpful to you. When I said we had just the teen stuff left, I think of your journey as climbing over mountains. The little girl stuff, all the work we have done with her memories and her feelings and her thoughts and beliefs, that was one giant mountain we climbed over. Now, we’ve climbed some smaller mountains, too. Your grief over your grandparents’ deaths. The mom stuff— that might be multiple smaller mountains. Learning to be grounded. Learning that it’s okay to say no and nothing bad will happen. Those are all things that took time, but they are smaller mountains. I see this teen stuff as the other very large mountain we have to climb. I don’t think it’s a small task, and I don’t think it’s going to be quick or easy. I expect it will take a long time. But I don’t think there are any other giant mountains for us on this journey. Lots of smaller ones left, and more will crop up, but the last big mountain to get over is all the teen’s stuff. And this is an important mountain.”

I let out a breath. That doesn’t sound bad. Not at all. “You aren’t leaving? Or makimg me leave?”

“Nope. Not at all. I know it sounds hard to believe, but there will come a time when you can take me or leave me.” Bea tells me.

“And then you will leave me?”

“No. Even then, I won’t leave. I’ll be here.”

“You really won’t leave?” I ask again.

“I really won’t.” She says with no trace of frustration in her voice.

“You said my behavior was like a toddler tantrum. That hurt my feelings. Do you know why?” It’s an abrupt change of subject, and I’m numb and far away as I ask it.

Bea follows the change of subject, although she sounds a little bit confused. “I did, yes….that…can you tell me?”

I’m even farther away as I start to tell her. “You know. I….the shrink after Kathy, he told my parents that my behavior, my—…”

Bea interupts, “Yes, I do know. He told your parents that the suicide attempts and the self harm and the eating disorder behaviors were nothing more than a toddler throwing a tantrum and should be ignored. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t mean you should be ignored. I meant that when we are raging like that, there isn’t really anything anyone can do, except wait it out. Much like when a toddler is tantrumming, and all a parent can do is stand next to them and wait. The raging isn’t to be ignored, but it can’t be engaged with.”

“I…it….you did leave, though. You said that you were ignoring the emotion part, you were disengaged emotionally because of me lashing out.”

“Yes….that’s true. I did disengage emotionally because I needed to set the boundary that I wouldn’t soak up that rage.”

“I didn’t ask you to soak up my rage. I never asked that of you, or even thought….that isn’t what I wanted!” My voice is louder, now, and my tone suggests that I am frustrated. I can’t believe she got it so wrong. “Just because that is what you wanted when you were raging, that doesn’t mean it’s what I wanted!”

“You know what? You’re right. That very well could be my stuff, and not yours. I’m sorry. What did you want? Will you tell me?” Her voice is earnest and authentic. She really means what she is saying.

“I wanted to know you were there, that you weren’t leaving, that I didn’t break you, that the way my crazy brain twists things wasn’t how you felt. That’s all.”

“Do you remember when I did tell you I was here, and you said it didn’t feel like I was?” She asks carefully.

“Yes. It didn’t feel like you were there because you gave me a bunch of shrink talk and then said *I’m here.* That’s…..all the shrinky stuff is like you hiding behind this wall of shrinky stuff so of course you aren’t here, there is a wall between us.”

“Okay. Okay. I get that. I think I assume writing more will give you more of a sense that I am here.”

I roll my eyes. “Not when it’s shrink talk. That only negates anything empathetic you might have said.”

“Thank you for telling me what you wanted,” she says softly.

“Will you please not call me a tantrumming toddler again?” I ask.

“Did I call you that?” She questions me.

“Okay, can you please not compare me to a tantrumming toddler again?”

“Okay. I won’t do that again. And I am sorry it hurt your feelings.”

I ask her if she knew when she had said she was emotionally present during our email back and forth. She doesn’t know. “When Ms. Perfect took over. Then, you were willing to talk to me.”

Bea tells me that I sound very accusatory and blaming.

“I’m not…that’s, I’m not trying to. But it is what happened and it feels a little like maybe you…well, maybe you do want Ms. Perfect.”

“I don’t have a problem with Ms. Perfect, she is very good at her job and she serves her purpose, but she’s not the part I really want to talk to.”

“Why not?” I counter. “She’s easy. She doesn’t ask for anything, she is entertaining, she isn’t difficult, she doesn’t have big feelings, she doesn’t need anything.”

“I know. And that’s sad.”

“Why? Why is that sad?” I don’t understand. Ms. Perfect is not sad.

“Because real people need people, they need a secure base, they have feelings, sometimes big ones, they are difficult af times and they can be entertaining and they are boring at times. Real people are multifaceted. Ms. Perfect, she came about because she is what your parents needed, and she ran the ship for a long, long time. Which means, relationships felt— and often were— very conditional. This relationship, our relationship, it’s unconditional. That means you don’t have to be anything except who you are.”

“So you don’t like Ms. Perfect best?” I ask. I’m trying not to focus on her use of the word unconditional, because…..well, because it is a big concept to wrap my head around right now.

“No. I don’t like her best. Look, I don’t not like Ms. Perfect, but I wouldn’t have a beer with her. But teen, if you were old enough, I would have a beer with you. Maybe we could go out for a root-beer.” She sounds genuine, and I’m speechless. She doesn’t hate me, and she doesn’t want Ms. Perfect.

We are both silent for a moment, and then Bea says, “My setting a boundary with the teen isn’t about me not liking or wanting her. It’s about keeping her safe and about not allowing her to behave in ways that are unhelpful to her. It’s about me caring enough to try to help her change behavior that pushes people away. That might feel like I’m being firmer than I usually am, but this isn’t because I don’t care.”

“Did I do something wrong?” My voice is teary.

“No. No, not at all,” she reassures.

“Then why are you telling me……boundaries?” I ask quietly.

“Because I wanted to make sure the teen knows that me being firmer than I offen am is not about me getting rid of her. It’s not because I don’t like her, or because I don’t like any of the parts. I care about all of you. The little girl doesn’t need to worry, she didn’t do anything wrong. No one did anything wrong.” Bea explains.

“It’s not the little who is worried.” I don’t bother explaining that the little girl is hiding from Bea, convinced that Bea is going to leave.

“What part is it?” She asks.

I think, and I try to sort through things. “A different part of teen?” It comes out as a question, but as soon as I say it, I’m positive that’s right.

“Ahh, yes. The vulnerable teen. She didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Boundaries….they mean go away, you are being bad, I don’t want to deal with you. Boundaries feel bad.” I tell her.

“Those sorts of boundaries do feel bad, don’t they?”

“Yeah.”

“Your mom set boundaries like that, right?” She asks.

“Yeah. She didn’t want to deal with me when I was being bad, when I was a drama queen and needed too much. It’s not okay, to be like that. So she pushed me out, she went away, she ,ade boundaries.” I’m crying, again. Ugh.

“That hurt a lot. But my boundaries aren’t like that. They aren’t to make you go away. They are to help keep you safe, and to help me be the best secure base I can be. Modeling good boundaries and keeping myself healthy so that you can learn how to have healthy boundaries is part of being a secure base. I need to be able to sit with you in the muck, but it would not be helpful for you if I got stuck in the muck or started to drown in it. Good boundaries make sure that doesn’t happen.”

We talk through that a little more and I calm down some.

At this point, Bea tells me that we need to wrap things up. “It’s 11:00,” she informs me. “I’m really sorry to let things go over so long. This felf important to get through, though.”

I’ve been here for 2 1/2 hours. I start to feel guilty, and then remember that Bea made a choice, and it’s her job to manage the time. Then I only feel grateful that we had time to sort through some of this. I don’t think I could have stopped this talk halfway through and picked it up later. I don’t think I would have felt okay stopping this halfway through. Nothing is fixed, but I have some hope now that it can be repaired. This no longer feels like it is a certainty that this is the end.

“Do you think you might be able to write about this other teen part for Wednesday?”

“Okay. I can do that,” I tell her.

It takes me a bit longer to really be ready fo leave, and when we say goodbye, I ask her one more time, “You really aren’t leaving?”

“I’m really not leaving,” she says.

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.”

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.