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.

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I know this to be true 

We chat like always, me pretending not to notice my notebook– with all the after stuff that she kept last time– sitting on the floor at her feet. Even with my superior avoidance skills, we eventually move onto talking about my writing. 

“I read the after stuff again and it really is all so normal, exactly what I would expect. It’s just how I would expect a kid– and even an adult– to feel considering everything you were dealing with.” Bea is matter of fact, and her words are slightly reassuring. She doesn’t find me crazy. 

“Okay.” I shrug and pick my fingers. Whatever. I don’t care what she thinks, and even if I did care, I’m not about to let her know. 

I had handed her my new orange notebook when I arrived, and after asking me if it’s okay, she begins to read. “This is good, really good. You say it’s hard to only talk about one part of a memory because it all snowballs together. That’s exactly what SP is for. So, with developmental stuff, we work to stitch feelings, emotions, memories, and thoughts all together. But with trauma, it all does snowball exactly as you have described. So, we want to unstitch those things and then they can be processed separately and then either they’ll be integrated into normal memory and they lose their power, or we stitch them back together, make sense of if, and then it can be integrated into normal memory.” 

“Okay.” 

Bea continues reading and talking to me, unperturbed by my lack of conversational engagement. “I’m reading this here, and it makes a lot of sense, so much sense! This worry of needing me to know the whole memory and not just the emotions or body feelings. So, it’s not that we go right to body feelings, or even emotions. We access that by talking about a memory. And when the memory gets to be too much, then we focus on one part– like body feelings.”

Annoyed, I snap, “Right. So then you are just telling me no more talking. No more telling that memory.” I hate SP. This is stupid. I want to walk out of her office, I want to go home. 

“I know it feels like that. It feels like I might tell you no more talking, and that would hurt a lot. That’s not how this would work for us, though. Stopping and focusing on one piece of the memory and going between that one piece and your resource is only to give your system a chance to calm down. We always, always will go back to talking.” Bea is so calm, and her voice is so full of understanding that I lose some of my snark. 

“I don’t know,” I whisper, uncertain. It seems too big of a risk, to trust *SP Bea*.

Bea explains it all again, in that straight forward way she has, and suddenly something just clicks. 

“So, it’s like you are taking me out of the memory because it got to be too much for me, not too much for you?” I ask.

“Right! I’m still holding the memory as a whole, but it is my job to help keep you safe, so I take you to one tiny part of the memory and instead of you having to look at and hold the whole thing, I hold it for you.” Bea realizes that something has clicked, and she’s still calm but under the calm is excitement. 

“So it’s like clicking on a link to leave a webpage but leaving the original tab open on the iPad? And you won’t forget to come back to the original page?”

“No, I won’t forget,” she promises. 

“Okay,” I say, and then thinking about it, I say okay again. 

“Is this making sense?” She asks. 

I nod slowly. “Maybe. Sort of. I think it’s maybe just something I have to do.”

Bea agrees. “Yeah, it is more of a thing you need to experience, it’s hard to really get it just by talking about it.” 

“Okay. I’ll try,” I say, and I mean it.

Bea says something, maybe about resourcing and using my hands, I can’t remember exactly what, but it causes me to pull my fingers inside my sleeves. 

“Well, those fingers don’t like being noticed.” She says. I hear the gentle teasing in Bea’s voice and smile.

“I don’t much like being noticed.” I whisper. 

“Ahhhh,” Bea says. We (and what I mean by that is she) talk a bit, and then she suggests we talk about my need to hide. I hesitantly agree. I don’t want her to take away hiding. 

“I’m going to go get your blanket,” Bea tells me. 

I hear her get up, and walk a few steps over to the shelf holding blankets and then I hear her walk back and sit in her chair. She forgot to cover me up with the blanket. 

“So, I will give you the blanket, but I was hoping that we could first try to notice what it is like to hide without the blanket.” It’s funny, because when I type it out, it sounds like an ultimatum but it didn’t sound that way at all. In fact, I never doubted that had I said no, or asked for the blanket right then, she would have given it to me. Maybe that’s why I decided to try and do as she was asking. 

“Okay,” I say quickly before I can change my mind. 

Bea fires questions at me, too many, too fast. As soon as she asks one and the answer pops into my head, she is asking another and that answer erases the first one. I can’t hold onto any of the answers for long. They float in one ear as questions and out the other as answers. I can’t seem to direct them to turn into words. 

“I’m hiding…because you…..I don’t want you to see me when you are reading my words. Can you just ask me one thing at a time?” My voice is far away now and quiet. I’m not sure it’s really my voice at all. 

“Yes, of course.” Bea sounds a bit surprised, but not upset. “I’m curious, if you are hiding because of your notebooks and words being in my hands, would you feel safer if I gave them back?”

I shake my head. “No. You already read the words. And you might need them again anyway.”

“So there is a sense I may need them again?” She echoes. 

“Well, because you, if I can’t find the words, then you have them there. Or at least some of them.” My voice has that curious hollow sound to it, the one that means I’m heading towards too far away, but I don’t really care. 

“Ahhhh. Okay, that makes sense. It’s important that I have your words. I wondered if I gave them back now if there would be a sense of rejection?”

“No. You always give my notebooks back. And it’s not about the notebook, it is about the words in it.” I tell her. Why doesn’t she get this? Bea isn’t a writer, not like I am, anyway, or she would understand how the right words are worth more than many pounds of gold. 

“Okay. It’s the words, not the books themselves.” She pauses, thinking. “Are you feeling frozen right now?” 

“I could move.” I put the emphasis on could. “I just don’t want to.” 

“Why don’t you want to move?”

“Because then I might be….noticed. Seen.” The words are out of my mouth before I can even think about what they mean. 

“So it’s about being seen?” Bea repeats curiously.

“Yes……I don’t want anyone to see me. I don’t want anyone to pay attention to me.” That’s what’s said out loud. In my head, I continue, *if you can’t see me you can’t hurt me. And I don’t want to see your reactions to my words in case they mirror my own disgust with myself.*

“Ahhhh. I know that is such a big worry, and I know it doesn’t take away the worry but I can honestly say I can’t imagine anything you would say that would make me feel disgusted by you.” Sometimes, Bea really is a mind reader. “Is there an image that comes when you say that?” 

I think about it, focus on those words, *I don’t want anyone to see me,* and an image does pop up. I shove it away, fast. “Do you mean right away, like when I said it, or if I think about, focus on the words?” 

“Either one,” she tells me.

Inwardly, I groan. “Then yeah. Something comes up.”

“Can you tell me what it is? What do you see?” 

I sit for a long while, trying to get the words out, to tell her what it is I see, but I can’t find the words. I’m embarrassed and sick. 
Finally, I shake my head. “I can’t. I can’t say it.”

“That’s okay, we can come back to the image. Let’s notice what it is like now, and we can try again with the blanket,” Bea says simply. “Before I give you your blanket, can you take a minute and see what you notice about your body? I’d say it is curled inward, protective.”

I don’t say anything for a long time. But I do focus on what it feels like to be curled into myself. “Tight.” I finally say. 

“Your body feels tight,” Bea says. I nod my head, agreeing.

“I’m going to give you your blanket now.” She tells me before she stands up and steps over to the couch. She drapes the blanket over me.

I let out a big breath, and feel myself relax a little bit. I’m not present, but I’m not as far away as I was. 

“That was a big breath.” Bea notices. I don’t say anything, and so she begins with questions again. What do I notice? Can I move easier, knowing she can’t see me? Is there a part of my body that wants to hide more than another? Do I realize my toes are not covered? Can I feel that?

“My toes? No….I didn’t know. I mean, now I know because you told me. But I don’t feel it.”

“Do you want to focus on your toes for a moment? Try to feel them?” She asks. 

I agree, but all I can think of is her question about what body parts want to hide the most. The answer is my face. When I think of hiding, I want more than anything to cover my face, to not let anyone see my emotions playing out across my face, and I don’t want to see the other person, either. Hiding for me is not just about not being seen, it’s also about not seeing. We talk about how I do feel a little more relaxed now, that she can’t see me under the blanket. 

Eventually she asks about the image again. “I said we would come back to this, and I want to make sure we don’t run out of time. With that boundary of the blanket, could you talk about the image now?” 

I try, I really try, but the words just will not come out. I can’t say it. “I can’t. I just can’t.” 

“It’s okay, take your time. We have time. We can always come back to this next time.” Bea says soothingingly. 

“No…..I just…..it’s like I’m making it into a deal and now you expect a big thing. It really……… it’s just this stupid little piece that shouldn’t be so upsetting!” 

“Is it part of a memory that we have talked about before?” She sounds curious, like maybe she is wanting more Information so she can figure out the best way to approach it.

“Yes….no. Sort of. It’s a piece of…well, it’s a thing that probably we did talk about a memory but it’s not something we ever….it’s just this detail that I don’t know how to say and it’s awfully upsetting for just a small detail.” My eyes fill with tears as I speak. 

“The details. Those tiny pieces make things hard sometimes. I’ll never forget when a professor told me that the emotions and the story, the trauma, it is all in the details. The pain lives in the details. So it makes perfect sense that the details would feel so difficult to share.”

I struggle some more, trying to get the words out, and find a way to share this disturbing image. I take so long that Bea tells me that it’s time to start to come back, to get ready to go. “I know you have a full day to get on with, and I am going to go walk my dogs before this afternoon’s appointments. It’s nice out again, it looks like the sun should be out for most of the day.” 

I don’t say anything, but my brain goes into overdrive trying to find a way to blurt out the words before I leave. 

“Alice?” Bea says my name, a question, asking if I’m present enough to respond. 

“Yeah, I’m here. I’m fine. I just…..trying…..I mean……I was trying to get words out.” 

“Do you need to get the words out? If you need to talk about this, to get the words out, we can stay and do that. I don’t have any appointments until later this afternoon,” She says. 

“So if I said it was really important and I needed to talk now, you would stay and we would talk?” I ask.

“Yes, absolutely,” she says with no hesitation. She is ready and willing to listen if I need her to. And she means it, of that I have no doubt.

“I’m okay. It can wait until Monday.” I say easily. I think I just needed to know she would stay, that I was worth listening to, that I mattered.

“Okay.” Bea draws the word out, surprised. She was planning to stay and listen. “If you decide it can’t wait, you can write it down, or email it. And I’m only a phone call away if you need to talk about it.” 

“I know,” I tell her, and as I say it, I realize I do know. I believe deep down that Bea is here for me, that she isn’t leaving and that she will respond to me and listen to me and that it will be my choice to leave when I feel ready. Today, anyway, I know this to be true. 

Feeling Again 

Therapy has been weird. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s been weird. I think it’s because I’ve been working really hard to stay in this surfacey safe place where no real feelings or even thoughts can get in. It’s not that I haven’t had things to bring to therapy, and when I actually sit down and write, a lot comes out. Unfortunately, while there must be some parts of me that want to talk and share all this with Bea, there is a stronger part that doesn’t want to talk about anything deep. The stronger part– Ms. Perfect, I call her– works so very hard to keep things on the surface, and she is good at her job. She laughs and smiles, and is chatty and engaging. She is great at finding the perfect *sort of deep, sort of important* thing to bring up when it seems that Bea might be trying to get below the surface. Ms. Perfect knows the topics that distract Bea and she is so sneaky in the way she brings them up. 

That other part, though? The one who wants to talk? She’s desperate to talk, to not be alone, and that gives her strength, too. She spends the majority of my sessions trying to get past Ms. Perfect so she can share. Then, she spends a lot of time hemming and hawing because she is scared. It’s been about the last fifteen, maybe twenty minutes of my sessions when I finally hand over my notebook and give Bea something real. That’s hard because I’m constantly feeling like I’m wasting time and like there is a lot I want to talk about. 

Monday was different. October 23. The day before my birthday. During the previous session, on Wednesday, I had managed to give Bea my notebook earlier in the session. Ms. Perfect wanted to run things and the idea of letting go of her tenuous grasp on control of everything below the surface was really scary, but someone the part that needed to share managed to make that happen. I’d written about how so much that I am feeling right now is so reminiscent of my childhood. I’m floating on the surface because feeling anything else is too frightening and confusing. Ms. Perfect is running things again, and so I am functioning quite well. That, too, is childhood like, this need to be perfect and hide all the other stuff. I’ve been having nightmares, and flashbacks but they are weird. They seem much more intense and real, there is much more feeling and emotion involved in them, and they are tiny intense pieces of whole memories. Anyway, I have been feeling very split lately, and I don’t like it. It’s too much like being a little girl again, and that in and of itself is a trigger. In that particular segment of writing, I had written something about how my flashbacks and dreams leave me with a little girl feeling from long ago; it’s the same feeling I would get after he was done playing with me. There wasn’t a lot of time left in session, and I wasn’t at all present because just having her read my words felt too exposing. She suggested that we could talk more about these “after” feelings, and when I shook my head, she said maybe I would write about them in my notebook. I honestly don’t remember how we left things, but I did write about the after. It took a lot for me to do it, and it was painful and confusing, and it felt like an actual fight to stay present enough to write, but I did it. 

So, Monday the 23 was different. Ms. Perfect was no where to be found. I was chatty, but it didn’t feel like a desperate attempt to block Bea out or keep my feelings buried. It just felt like things I wanted to share with her, things I wanted to talk about. I’d been back to my parents on Saturday to celebrate my birthdays and that quickly became the topic of discussion. 

“This was the first time you had been back to your parents’ house since your Grandma’s funeral and the month of triggers?” Bea is sitting across from me in her chair, looking relaxed and grounded and open. She was here with me, and somehow I was able to let that in a little bit. 

I nodded. “Yeah.” 

“How was that?” 

I shrugged. I really didn’t want to think about it. With Ms. Perfect apparently off on holiday, I stumble in my attempt to gloss over things and make it out to be no big deal. “It was fine. I mean, it was, well, it was just, like I focused more on the Halloween activities we had going on and then we were busy, well actually not really busy but there was stuff we did and it was easy being with my parents this time around and it was just really not a thing, I mean I was sad a little but it was, well, it was okay and my brother and the kids came over for dinner and a bonfire and it was good. And I’m planning to do something fun tomorrow, Kat is staying home from school and we are going to the zoo if it doesn’t rain. So I’m okay, I’m fine.” 

Bea smiles at me, as if she can tell that I’m just being me, there is no facade anymore. “So, you let things be low key then. It seems like that was the right choice for yourself. Yes, there is sadness and bittersweet feelings but you feel grounded and here today. You felt more present last time, too. I think that means you are doing the right things for yourself because Ms. Perfect felt it was safe enough to let you run the ship again.” 

“Okay,” I say awkwardly. Bea’s right in what she is saying, but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to respond. I wonder if I should agree with her, or talk about being more here, or something. Her assessment of me almost feels like praise, or at least as if she is saying something positive about me, and I don’t know what to do with that. I never know what to do with that. 

“Did you do birthday presents this year?” She asks and I nod my head. “What did your mom get you? I remember the year she got you that sweater and all the grief that caused.” 

I’m surprised that Bea remembers that, that must have been the first October we were working together, before we knew that lots of teen feelings came up every year at this time, and that sweater sent me right over the edge. I wasn’t an easy person to deal with during that time, I’m sure. 

“She got me some new notebooks, and some sharpies.” I love notebooks, planners, and calendars. I am addicted to sharpie markers and fancy pens. 

Bea says something about my mom getting me a gift that says maybe she does see me. I shake my head. “She asked hubby what to get me.” 

“How does that feel?” She is being serious and wants the question answered but she rolls her eyes because she knows that I’m going to be annoyed at the typical shrink question. 

“It’s fine, I hadn’t even thought about it. I don’t want to talk about this,” I tell her. 

“Well, this is therapy, and so I have to ask. Can you just take a minute and let that sink in? Your mom asked your husband what to get you for your birthday. What does that feel like? It’s bound to bring up something.” Her voice is quiet, and she is so calm. I watch as she takes a deep breath in and let’s it out. It is as if she is silently encouraging me to let my feelings come up. 

I sigh. I don’t want to talk about my mom because I really just want to give her what I’d written in my notebook. I worked so hard to write about the after, it had taken me days to write very little. I can’t just tell Bea that I have this other thing I want to talk about, because she hasn’t asked if I have writing and maybe she forgot that she asked me to write about the after and so bringing it up myself would make me too vulnerable. I decided to take things a different route, one that might be quicker than if I talk about my mom. Also, taking things in this direction will allow me to take things back to the surface if need be. 

“Well,” I say, “I guess it feels like my husband really does know me.” 

If Bea is surprised that this is the path I’m leading us down, she doesn’t show it. “I think he really does know you. He loves you, and he gets you.” 

“Ummm, you know, I think he gets part of me. He gets the…..it’s not the surface parts, the facade anymore, but it’s….I don’t know what part it is. It’s just not the big feelings or whatever. He does not get that part of me.” 

“No, he doesn’t get that part of you,” Bea agrees. “But it is like he is making space for it. He doesn’t get it, and he doesn’t know it, but he does see that it is a part of you and that notebooks and pens go along with the that. So he is making space for it and trying to get your mom to make space for that part, too.” 

I feel something, an anxiousness maybe, about this idea of hubby making space for these dark and twisty parts of me. This should be making me happy, I should feel good about this. Instead I am uncomfortable to the point of wanting to go far away. I dome know why I feel like this and I don’t want to examine it, so I simply nod my head. 

Things get fuzzy there for a bit, so I don’t know how, but the conversation changes direction when Bea asks if I have any writing. 

This is what I had wanted to begin with, to give her my notebook and maybe talk about these complicated, confusing feelings. I pull the small book out of my bag and then I turn shy all of a sudden. I can’t look at Bea, and I can’t hand her my notebook. I flip through the pages, and fidget with the corners of the notebook. I’d written Bea a letter and used it as a sort of bookmarks to mark the new segment of writing. 

“This is really hard.” Her voice is warm and understanding. She gets it. 

“Yeah. I…it’s just…it’s hard.” I’m mumbling my words because I’m pretty dissociated at the moment. 

“Was it hard to write?”

“Mmmhmm. Yea. I….it was hard to be present.” I say sadly. 

We sit like that for what feels like a very long time, me holding my notebook, curled up on the couch, flipping absent mindlessly through the notebook. Bea was probably talking to me that whole time, but her voice didn’t penetrate the fog surrounding me until she said, “You don’t have to share it with me. Or you could choose one part to share. It’s a choice, it’s your choice. I wonder if you can let yourself feel what it would feel like to tell me you aren’t going to share your writing today and put your notebook away.” 

I shake my head. IfI don’t share what I wrote then I am going to feel very lost and alone when I leave here. I’ll be sad, and maybe overwhelmed. I don’t want to do this by myself anymore. “No, I want to share it. I just…well I’m not sure. It’s hard.” 

“You know, writing, this is how you communicate, how you share your story with me. It’s what gives us an opening so we can talk about what is going on below the surface. Because there always a deeper layer for you that is hard to start a conversation about. This system, it’s worked so well for us that we really haven’t ever stopped to think about it, have we?” 

Is she trying to say she wants to take away writing? “I know. I know it’s not talking. But it is the only way….I mean, there’s so much and I can’t say the words or bring it up or explain out loud, because it is just really hard. There’s so much I wouldn’t have ever talked about if I wasn’t writing.” 

Bea pauses for a long moment, and when she speaks it is with a reassuring tone. It’s the voice adults use to reassure children they are safe and all is right in their world. “Alice. I’m not saying anything is wrong with writing, or with using it in therapy. It works for you. Using your writing has allowed is to do some amazing work. I’m just curious about the notebook and feelings we have about it, how we react. I guess I’m thinking more sensorimotor therapy stuff.”  

Inwardly, I groan. I should have know this was some sensorimotor stuff. “Okay…..” I say slowly, drawing out the word. 

“For instance, what does it feel like to be holding your notebook right now? What if you put it on the floor between us?” She asks. 

I shrug. I don’t know what I feel. Worried, maybe. Anxious that Bea will read my words and think I’m being dramatic. Or she will read my words and not get it, and that will be the worst thing ever. 

“Maybe does it feel like you have the control right now, holding onto the notebook?” 

I shake my head. “No. It’s not…no.” 

“If I focus on how I’m feeling, what comes up for me, there is a little nervousness in my belly because I can feel that you have some anxiety and so a part of me sort of becomes nervous with you. And then there is a part of me that wants to help you, to make this all better and easy for you because I don’t want you to feel more anxiety. That part of me just feels likes you have been through so much, and I want to make this as easy as I can on you. There’s also a part of me that wants to grab the notebook from you and read it all because that part can’t stand not knowing. There’s a part of me that is curious about what you have written, but this part of me wants you to take your time and feel safe enough to let me have the notebook. This part wants to do what I can to help you feel safe.” 

I think I should be upset that a part of Bea wants to read my words without my permission, but oddly I’m not upset. The fact that there is this part of her feels a little bit like my words do matter to her. Actually, everything she has said feels like I matter to her, like maybe she does care. I believe that Bea is just being Bea, and without meaning to she has said the exact right thing to help me. “It’s not really about the notebook. It’s about the words inside. It would be fine to hand you the notebook.” 

“That makes sense,” she says. 

I hand her my notebook, and she doesn’t open it. Instead, she holds it carefully on her lap so that it stays closed. 

Eventually I nod my head. “You can read it. It’s okay.” 

Bea opens it to the page that is bookmarked with the letter I’d written to her. “Should I read this first?”

“Yea,” I say so softly I don’t think anyone hears me. I’m suddenly embarrassed that I wrote a letter detailing how difficult this all has been, it’s as if I wasn’t sure she would get it just from reading my words. 

Bea starts to read, and pulling my knees into my chest, I hide my face and go far away again. 

Bea,

This has been so hard to write. So, so hard. It took me days, and it was a lot of work to stay present enough that I could write it all down. It wasn’t easy. All these feelings are big and confusing. Sad, mad, happy, worried, frustrated. These are feelings I can do. I recognize them when I feel them, and I can label them. But this stuff? It’s complex. I don’t know. This is like a giant mixture, some vague not okay, anxious, sick, empty, confused feeling that is physically present but is an emotion and I can’t name it or really describe it. I don’t have the words. It’s like I need to learn another new language to even be able to talk about anything. I’m having such a hard time with this. I feel very present with theses feelings, almost like I can’t go away to avoid them, and that’s hard, too. It’s all scary to me. This is just as scary as learning to feel and identity emotions like sad, glad, mad. Maybe more scary. 

“Do you know how big this is? That you can even feel these big mixed up complex feelings? I know they are scary, that feeling them and staying present and talking about them is scary. But do you see how far you have come? Even last year, you weren’t able to feel like this, to even recognize a vague feeling that you can’t name. This is huge.”

I can’t respond. First, I’m embarrassed that she is making this out to be this huge thing I am now able to do (even if it is a big deal, and even if part of me is basking in this attention, I’m embarrassed). Something about positive recognition or praise embarrasses me. I think it’s because I feel I don’t deserve it. I never know what to say, and all these complicated feelings come up. Secondly, all this praise over being able to do something that I couldn’t do a year ago makes me worried. It worries me because  Bea could decide I’m all better, and make me leave.

“I know, I’m making a big deal out of this. It just is a big deal in a lot of ways. Things are becoming more integrated. It’s because of all your hard work,” Bea says, still loud and excited. Then, softly she adds, “In case you had the thought, I’m going to share with you that a part of me had the thought *what if she decides she is all better now?* That part was worried and sad. But I reminded myself that there is still lots of work we can do, there is still things to process and feelings to work with and other stuff that still needs to integrate more.” 

I breathe for a moment. She still believes there is work we can do, she doesn’t think I’m all better enough to kick me out of therapy. Later, I think about her words and wonder, would she miss me if I left? I’m surprised. I’ve never thought that I would matter enough that she might miss me. I always see termination as Bea getting rid of me, as being relieved she doesn’t have to deal with me anymore. 

There’s always something more going on under the surface. That’s true. But on Wednesday in therapy, I wasn’t being pretend or prefect, I was just being me. I don’t feel fake every time I’m having more surface-type talk, I think it’s partly how I feel when I’m talking. If I’m disconnected, and talking to simply avoid going below the surface, if I’m working hard to appear to be together and on top of things, to give the appearance of being absolutely okay, then it’s the facade, the pretend me. But just talking and staying closer to the surface…..that’s not the same thing. Maybe it was acknowledging that if we went below the surface, there is a lot of feelings there. Maybe it was that I felt like it would be okay if we did end up below the surface and some of those not so perfect feelings came out. Maybe it’s the fact that I was working really hard to stay present. I don’t know. But there is a difference. 

“There’s a difference,” she agrees with me. 

“Yeah,” I say. “I didn’t know, before that there was a difference. Or maybe there wasn’t a difference before.”

“It could be a little bit of both. It’s interesting you are thinking about this, and able to tell a difference. This is great to be able to recognize the differences between them. I think it’s important, too, that we know that staying on the surface doesn’t have to mean you aren’t being authentic or that you aren’t here.” Bea tells me. 

I nod my head at her words as she returns to reading. 

So, this is supposed to be about the “after” with Kenny, and all the different layers there are to that. I have had lots of things I could say about it, lots of things that popped into my head this week. So I could write it here, or say it on Monday. But it feels so dramatic, the words that have popped into my head to describe the after. It’s embarrassing to have such dramatic words and descriptions. It’s just, I don’t know. It feels wrong. 

“A lot of judgement about how you feel or the words you want to use for describe the feelings. This was hard to get past, but you did it.” It took me a whole day to go back to writing about the after. I was (and I am) judging myself harshly. 

After. After he leaves my room. I want to get out of bed but I can’t. I don’t know why, I just can’t. It’s as if getting out of bed will break the spell I cast, this magic spell that put me far away where nothing happened and if I move the spell will break and it will all be real. When I do move, I want to keep moving, I want to run and run and run for miles and miles and never stop. Like maybe I can run away from all this or maybe it’s because I can sense that as long as I keep busy, keep going and don’t stop, don’t pause to think, then I won’t have to feel the yuck. There’s no running, no place to go, but I can hide in my secret space (closet). 

After. I feel, I don’t know, it’s something I definitely didn’t know then, and it’s hard to describe even now. It’s sad, but more than that. There’s something, it’s like there is something I wanted but didn’t get and now I feel left. I feel like I’m the doll in the bin of barbies that had her hair chopped off, or was drawn on with marker. You know, the doll no one wants to choose, the one that is the last resort when all the other dolls are already take. Maybe the word is “left” or lonely. But it’s not really one of those things. Or it’s not just one feeling, it’s also this feeling of wanting or needing something but not getting it. It’s sort of, isolating. It’s soul crushing. Maybe I feel used. Or not as loved as I thought I would feel. I don’t know. 

 After. There’s more layers for this. Sensorimotor. I feel empty. Like someone scraped out my insides. I feel like my body isn’t mine. I feel hollow. My head feels like static. No, my life feels like static, like when you turn on the tv, and you can hear and see the show, but it’s filled with static and the picture is jumping around. That’s it. I feel like static. My body isn’t mine. My head is light, maybe it will just float away like a balloon. My heart feels, not my heart, but around my heart feels like a block of ice. It’s just so frozen, which makes no sense because I feel hot, like I could have a strange kind of fever. Maybe I’m sick. My stomach….it’s like the feeling you get on a roller coaster and you go fast down a big hill. 

“Lots of dissociative feelings here. And so many confusing feelings. I wonder if it’s that these feelings were too much to have back then. You couldn’t feel them back then and you didn’t have help with your feelings so you do the only thing you child do– ignored them. Now they are popping back up because the part hat held them feels safe enough to let them out. As painful as it is, I think if we are careful to work with small pieces of these old feelings, this will all start to feel better.”

I want to talk, to say something but I’m so far away I can’t get words to form. I manage to bring myself back to the the present. Finally I whisper, “Can I have a blanket?” 

Bea gets up. “Of course,” she says. She gets a blanket and drapes it over me. “We only have a few more minutes, so just try to feel that you are safe, and work on coming back a little bit more. Try to feel that boundary the blanket sets for you.” 

“Okay.” I whisper the word. 

“If you want, we can talk about the after on Wednesday, okay? Of any other time. When you are ready to talk about if and work with it, there is a lot we can do.”

“I won’t. I mean, we won’t talk about it. I can’t because, well, I don’t know.its because it would be breaking my rules. You know. I’ll feel like I won’t be able to bring it up a second time.”

“Okay. How about this? I’ll ask you on Wednesday of you would like to talk about and work with this after stuff?” Bea suggests. 

I nod. “Do you….? Will you hold onto my notebook?”

“Sure, I can do that.” Bea tells me.  

I know time is up, and before she can gently tell me, I pull the blanket out from under my head, and fold it up. I still can’t look at her. 
“Alice,” Bea says seriously. “I read it, and nothing bad happened. I read it and you are okay. I read it and my opinion of you has not changed. I read it and nothing bad happened.”

“Okay.” I finally look up and she’s still just Bea. I stand up then, and we say our good byes. Bea wishes me a Happy Birthday as I walk out door. 

After phone call emails 

Even though Bea and I talked on the phone, I still had some lingering worries, and so I finally emailed her. These are the emails that we exchanged then. I usually try not to post every email we exchange, but so much was in these emails the last almost two weeks it feels like it would take me longer to relay the information in them, than to just lost them. So here they are.
From Alice to Bea: 

I’m glad we talked yesterday. It helped. I sort of didn’t know that you didn’t know Kenny stuff had been triggered, last weekend and I’m not sure I would have written about it. I think, as out there as this sounds, I’d given little clues, like writing that I’d had nightmares and showing you the picture of Kenny’s window. It’s as if I couldn’t say or write the words. I don’t know. But I think it’s good we talked because otherwise I’m pretty sure I would have kept giving little hints that Kenny stuff was really triggered, but not been able to say anything. 
So, I’m glad we talked and I’m glad you know just how much is stirred up. But…..this—–On the other hand, there’s a part of me that wants to push for a bit of growth in the coping arena, and I’m wondering if that needs to be acknowledged too, because that feeling usually comes when someone is ready to take that step. —- Is just really bothering me. 
I worry that you are feeling an annoyance towards me for not being all better, that you are going to decide I don’t need the option to email or call, or you are going to cut my session time or you are going to take away a session. I don’t want any of those things to happen. 
The little girl is really hurt because you said on Wednesday that I could feel free to email and that we would handle whatever comes up and on Thursday you said you are here and have no problem with me emailing as much as I need to. And then on Friday you said that you are having a nagging feeling that you need to push me to take the next step for more growth in the coping arena. That is really confusing. I’m sure I’m seeing it as black and white but to me it is like one day you said “I’m here” and the next you said “I’m annoyed that you need me so much, I’m leaving.” And I just don’t understand what happened, what I did wrong, what you what me to be doing. 

I honestly think I cope with things pretty good, much better than I used to. But when all the things get triggered (and now really, ALL the things are triggered, even relationship stuff with you. Ugh) and i know that I’m heading to place filled with more triggers, it’s just really hard. 
In my head, I see it as different sized cups (coffee cups, of course) getting full and once the cup is full, coping skills go out the window. So, in the beginning of therapy I had a short cup, so I was easily overwhelmed and unable to cope. Something as simple as Hubby being irritated with me, or a sleepless night or even just having strong feelings would overflow the short cup. 
But gradually that cup has gotten bigger. I’ve gone through a tall cup and ended with a grande. (With venti and trenta being the biggest sizes) 
I don’t know if that’s helping to explain. I just feel like I typically do really good with coping between sessions now. And I usually don’t even fall back on harmful coping techniques anymore (yes, this weekend I did, but it’s been a long time since I have used them). I have learned to write out whatever is going on, and then move on (as much as I’m able) and get back to my life. I’ve gotten to a point where even after a bad nightmare I will go for a walk, or do yoga, or go for a swim. I’ve figured out that when I’m panicking, I can stop and create new recipes in my head. Yeah, often times I write about it in my notebook and I want you to read it and to talk about it, but I’m getting better at actually talking all the time. I honestly thought it was growth in the coping arena to not be running to email you every time I am triggered and to be able to be out in the world, living, instead of hiding in my closet or forcing myself to go out and act like a grown up all the while feeling like a fake. I don’t often feel as if I’m pretending to be a grown up. That’s huge for me. 
I don’t know what I’m trying to say, exactly. I guess that I know this last weekend sent me backwards and has me using old coping techniques and relying on email with you to help me cope and not really being here and not really okay, and I know that has to be annoying. 
But Bea, all the things are triggered right now. I can’t seem to function well enough to use the other, newer, more resourceful skills I’ve developed. And I feel like I did the first time you asked me to do something that would ground me and put me back in my body– terrified of doing anything that will put me back in my body because I don’t want to physically feel anything right now. There’s been too many physical memories all mixed in with all this.
I don’t want to have this conversation, I really really don’t, because I’m scared of the outcome. But I can’t let it sit either. It’s like one part of me is so glad that you are willing to listen and swim in the ocean with me and another part of me is so sure that you are in the ocean but you don’t really want to be there — that you really just want me to grow up and stop whining. I know that those are extremes, but I can’t not worry about it. I just hate feeling like ALL the things are triggered and you are having this expectation that I should be dealing with this on my own (not that you said that, it’s just what I am feeling). So I guess we have to talk about your nagging feeling. 😞

From Bea to Alice:

The nagging feeling came from before the knowledge about the Kenny stuff being so activated. I can see now that all of the coping resources you have have been swamped by this. What I think I was thinking about before knowing that was about trying to rein things in on these days between last weekend and the camping trip. I think I had some vague notion that some CBT stuff might be good to try–that’s a different lens than what we usually do, but it seemed appropriate for trying to get to a better place for these days in between trips. I wasn’t intending this as something you should do instead of emailing me–in fact, I think I was more thinking that you would email more to say how it was working. None of this was fleshed out for me yesterday, but in thinking about it after the fact I think I now have a plan to go with the nagging feeling. But, of course, now that you’ve made clear just where you’re at and what you’re dealing with that seems pretty unrealistic, doesn’t it?!

From Alice to Bea::

Well……maybe it’s unrealistic. But it’s not a bad plan. I like that you have a explanation of that nagging feeling (is it still there?). On one hand, I’m thinking anything CBT is absolutely not doable because it all feels so shrinky and logical and I’m afraid that the shrinky bits will make me feel alone again and I’m just now breathing a sigh of relief that you aren’t gone. On the other hand, I’ve hit that point where I’m willing to try anything, because being so triggered and feeling this not okay…..it takes a lot for me to feel bad enough that I’ll try anything to feel better and it doesn’t happen very often (thankfully). So, I guess maybe I’m asking you to lay out the options, what can we try? (Because my default when I feel like this is to hide in the closet with my blanket and my dog) CBT? Sensorimotor stuff? And whatever is on that list, what would that look like? Is there a way to use it and not feel like you are shrinky far away? I don’t know the answers. I’m trying. I really am trying to cope and be okay. And…….Okay, I am breathing a sigh of relief. Thank you for not leaving me and working with me to understand even when I’m being irrational.

From Bea to Alice:

I’m a little too exhausted to think straight about CBT stuff tonight. I had this bright idea to make pesto with my son, and that was sort of messy and irritating, then Agate attacked Iris and had to be yanked off and yelled at to get back under control. If I use my CBT skills I will have helpful thoughts instead of unhelpful thoughts, and I will say, “Some of today was really nice, like my dinner at Coney Island where the pita bread was just right and not leathery, and then the store wasn’t crowded, so I didn’t think mean thoughts about anybody and then judge myself negatively.” I will avoid the “My life sucks, and I wasted hours thinking I was going to freeze nine little containers of pesto and only ended up filling two, and now the day’s over and I’ve done nothing fun, and to top it off Agate is going to kill Iris.”

CBT is all about finding the distortions in your thinking. It’s pretty surfacey, but it’s been proven effective because thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to behavior. And then it’s a cycle of either positive or negative thinking. We can look at the various kinds of distortions on Monday, or you can probably find a description online. This stuff doesn’t typically come to mind in working with you–this was the first time I’ve thought of it. It definitely isn’t helpful when a person is completely overwhelmed and triggered. That’s what DBT was developed for–it’s CBT with some skill building that helps with such things as distress tolerance and emotion regulation. Not as good as SP, I don’t think.
Anyway, I hope that didn’t sound too shrinky. I don’t feel shrinky. I feel like a big, exhausted basil leaf.

From Alice to Bea:: 

You just sound like you, not shrinky. 🙂 I think CBT feels shrinky or uncaring to me because it’s so surfacy. I think CBT was used with me a long time ago, more around food/disordered eating stuff. Would that make sense? 
I don’t know what I need right now, but I’m just very overwhelmed and feeling maxed out. And right now, I’m still willing to try just about anything to feel calmer. 

From Bea to Alice:

Yes, it would make sense that CBT was used with you around eating stuff. We can talk about it in the morning, and you can see if you think it would be helpful. I think in different contexts it’s helpful for everybody, but it’s definitely not trauma treatment. To me it’s most helpful just in identifying if you’re in a negative thought loop that can be altered at the thinking level. Often, though, I find myself resistant to giving up my negative thoughts!
I hope you got through this day okay–should have been a good lake day.
See you in the morning!

You aren’t broken and you don’t have to hide anymore part 2

Trigger warning!! This is the second half of this post. In it, Bea and I talk– fairly in depth– about a teenage suicide attempt. Please read with caution. 

“The suicide attempt,” she says slowly, “Was that it, or did you try again later? Because I would imagine with no one was addressing the pain, with no one trying to understanding why, all those overwhelming bad feelings wouldn’t just disappear. I think that with trauma and these awful feelings, it is normal to think about dying. I know we haven’t talked about it, but you have written before about not wanting to be here anymore, and we have emailed about why you wouldn’t follow through on any plans, and what to do if you felt like you might. But I’m not sure I’ve stressed the fact that I believe when we experience such extreme traumas that our minds find ways to survive, and sometimes that includes the idea that if things get too bad, we can end it. It’s an escape, right? You aren’t crazy for having these feelings. And that why I would imagine that as a teen, those awful feelings didn’t go away, and maybe you tried to escape them again.” 

It is hard to talk, I feel as if I am encased in a thick layer of quilting batting. “I….” I start and stop like that several times. I want my blanket, but I can’t ask. The words won’t come. 

“Do you want your blanket?” Sometimes, it is as if Bea is a mind reader. I nod my head. She gets the blanket, unfolds it and holds it up on front of, letting it drop gently to cover me. I feel cared for when she does this, like she wants me to feel safe, like it matters to her. 

“Okay. See if you can feel this boundary, that you are safe. See if having that solid boundary, feeling the blanket there, see if that will allow you to be more here.” Bea’s voice is soothing and soft. 

I hold up 4 fingers under the blanket. Of coarse Bea can’t see that. “Four……four times.” I whisper. It’s six or seven if you count college after the boyfriend, but I don’t want to go there.

“Four times? You really were just begging for help, for someone to see you and no one did. I just want to tell that teen girl she is seen now, she’s not alone now.” Bea’s voice is kind, but there’s an edge to it, a tone that says she is so angry with the adults in teen Alice’s life. “Did you have to go to the hospital?” 

“No.” I say, finding it funny. My parents couldn’t have me in a hospital. It would ruin that perfect image of our family. Then I think about it, and say, “Well yes, I guess. I mean, sort of. The ER. Not the hospital. I…”

“Did you cut yourself everytime? Or were there other things?” Geesh. Bea isn’t shying away from this. She’s of afraid to talk about it. It feels invasive, in a way, as if she is trying to unlock a box full of my secrets, but on the other hand I am glad that she isn’t shying away from this topic. I’ve never been allowed to talk about it.

I shake my head. “Other things. You know the first time…..before I cut my wrists.” 

“Can you remind me? I’m sorry, I think I need a memory jog.” Ordinarily I would be hurt that Bea forgot something about my story, but since this was a story told only very quickly as to how I lost my therapist Cathy, I’m not surprised that Bea can’t really remember. 

“This is hard to talk about.” I mumble the words. 

“I know. It’s not normal conversation. But it is okay.” 

“It’s….I mean….always it was just ignored. I mean, like, I knew that I was to pretend nothing ever happened. The Kenny stuff…..it might have been known, it might have been ignored, but it was me pretending it away, it was me splitting parts away and not even knowing what happened…..but this….it was just the rules. Don’t talk about it. Pretend it never happened. It’s different.” I try my best to explain, but I’m not sure I’ve made sense.

Even though I can’t see her, I picture Bea nodding. Her voice has that *light bulb* moment quality to it. Something just clicked for her. “I can see that. It’s something that was definitely known to your parents and a deliberate choice was made to cover it up and hide it.” 

“Yes!” She gets it. “So it’s….hard to talk about. I’m breaking the rules again.”

“It’s okay. We can take our time. When you are ready.”

“No….I want to….I think…..it’s just…..hard. And I wanted to say why it is hard.”

“Okay.”

After another long pause, I speak. “I……… overdosed.”

“The first time?”

“Yes.”

“What did you take?”

“Tylenol. Just Tylenol.”

“What happened? Did you tell your parents?”

“I….I’m not sure. It’s fuzzy. I was throwing up. I think they found me. Or caught me? I don’t know.”

“But you ended up at the hospital?”

“At the ER.”

“How did they treat you there? Were they kind?”

“I….I’m not sure…..I don’t remember getting there. I just….I remember when I woke up.”

“What happened when you woke up?”

“I….I was….I mean, it was, my mom was checking me out. To go home. I was. The nurse….”

And then it’s silence because I can’t get the words out. Bea waits, and then she reassures. But mostly there is a lot of silence. Finally, words begin to find their way our of my head and into the room. “It…..I feel like I’m making this a big deal when it’s not. It’s silly.”

“You think it’s silly?”

“Well, it’s just, it’s not even a thing. But I’m having a hard time talking and so it seems a big deal but then when I say it, it will be like, well that’s silly.”

“I don’t think it’s silly. I think it has some significance if it’s a struggle to talk about. Clearly this impacted you in some way.”

“It…..I was……the nurse. He was telling me……I might throw up more and if it was black not to panic it was okay.”

“Because of the charcoal?” Her voice is matter of fact. 

“Yeah. Because they pumped my stomach. And then….I had clothes there to put on. To go home. So he was to help me get up to get dressed.”

I pause again. I can’t tell this story. It’s not even a big deal. It’s not a trauma memory, it’s nothing, and Bea is going to think I’m an idiot. Yet, I can feel the panic in my belly and my chest, I can feel myself wanting to run, to hide, to disappear. 

I know we have to be running out of time and I don’t want to hold this until next time and I don’t want to write it in an email. The words come out in a rush. “There was a catheter and he reached under the blanket….under my gown to remove it. I….I freaked out….” Oh my God, the shame of this behavior is going to kill me. I’m going to die, right here, on Bea’s sofa, of shame. 

“Of course, of course you did. It was a trigger, a trauma reaction. It is a big deal. It was a big trigger. Did anyone realize? How did they react?”

“They……it’s fuzzy….they held me……a shot…..” My words are quiet and I’m pretty far away. 

“They gave you something to calm you down?” She asks, sounding like she can’t believe I was treated that way. 

“A shot. And then he finished removing the catheter and helped to get me dressed.” I can feel the sharp prick in my right arm, the fear inside me of having my arms held down, and then I can feel the fear and anxiety being covered up, blocked somehow, and everything is numb and fuzzy again. 

“Ugh! I’m sorry! You didn’t deserve that! You didn’t need that. You needed someone to see this trauma reaction and help you.” 

“I was just crazy. The crazy borderline girl. It didn’t matter.”

“It does matter. You weren’t crazy. This is revictimization. It’s doctors and other helping professionals not seeing trauma signs and not helping, just treating you like a label, like you were something needing to be fixed. You weren’t then, and aren’t now. You aren’t broken. You aren’t crazy.” 

 
“I just…..I thought something was wrong with me. Just me….being crazy. Acting out. Being broken.”

“Ahhh….the parts didn’t know about each other then. The teen didn’t know all the trauma and how she could be triggered. She had no idea. You had no idea back then why you behaved in that way. It’s not like now, where the grown up you knows about the other parts and has an awareness.”

 
I nod. “Yeah.” 

Bea is not happy that no one saw I had a trauma reaction. She is angry for me that no one realized what was going on, and no one helped me. I don’t know why I do it, but I stick up for all the people who didn’t see, and didn’t help. “It was almost 20 years ago. I don’t think anyone knew about stuff like this then. No one talked about it.” 

“That true, it’s been more in the last ten years that trauma and trauma responses, PTSD and dissociation have been talked about in the therapies world and the medical community. But I still can’t believe– I believe you– but I can’t fathom that not one nurse or doctor there thought to ask you what happened, why you got upset, how you were doing. I know that 20 years ago it was everything was more of a medical model. But it makes me angry for you! You deserved better! You’ve had so much trauma. Adding more from helping professionals, it’s just unfortunate.”

We sit in silence for a few minutes. I slowly pull the blanket off my head, holding it over my face and peeking out over the edge of it like a little kid. I’m still afraid to look at her. I’m terrified of seeing disgust, or disinterest, or something bad. I don’t know. 

Before I leave, Bea looks at me, making eye contact. “We can’t go back and change things now, as much as I wish we could. But what we can do is listen to the teen, and validate her pain and help her see that there is nothing wrong with her, that she is not crazy or broken. We can help her to feel heard and cared for. I hope that she’s listening to this now. Can I tell her something? I hope you know you aren’t alone now. You don’t have to hide any of this anymore. You don’t have to be perfect. I won’t leave, you can’t make me leave, even if you aren’t perfect. I’m here, and I see you.” 

When I finally leave Bea’s office, I feel as if I have been wrapped in a warm hug. I’m exhausted, and sad for what the teen needed but didn’t get, but I’m secure in the knowledge that Bea is here.

Thing we never talk about: The shrinky shrink 

This is the second half of a post, “Things we never talked about”. Bea and I had been discussing the fact that parts of me were so separated, I truly didn’t know why I had tried to commit suicide. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I thought I was crazy. So did the shrink my parents had found. They found one that agreed with them, one that they liked.”
“Did you like him? Did he try to connect with you?” Bea is curious. I’ve never talked much about this shrink. 

“No. I didn’t like him…..he couldn’t…He was a guy. I was scared…I didn’t like being alone in that room with the door shut with him.”

“Did you think anything about that?”

“I think I just thought I was weird. There was no reason to be afraid of him. I don’t know.” I feel like I sound sort of monotone, numb.

“Your parts really were so split. That’s why you didn’t know why you were scared. But you weren’t weird.”

“Okay.” 

“Did he do any drawing or anything like that with you?” She asks. 

I shake my head. “I can see how hard it would be to deal with a teen who wouldn’t talk to you at all.” 

 Bea says, “Nope, it’s. It hard. You start wherever they are, that’s all. It’s simple, really.”

I shrug again. “He thought I was crazy. He told my parents I was throwing a temper tantrum and trying to get attention.”

“Ahhhhh,” Bea says. “So they took your door so you couldn’t throw another tantrum?”

“Exactly.”

“I really don’t understand how you don’t even try to understand why your patient tried to kill herself. How you don’t start where she is! Ugh!” Bea is angry with him for not looking into why I cut my wrists, for saying it was a tantrum, a fit, a bid for attention. 

“He didn’t ….he label me….lots of things people don’t like….Defiant….but that’s not the word. What’s the shrinky word for someone not following directions, not cooperating?” I ask her.

“Resistant?” She says.

“Yup. Resistant and borderline. That’s what he called me. Labeled me.” 

“Oh….oh yuck. Did you know then that is what he labeled you?” She asks. 

I nod. Then I remember she can’t see me. “Yes. He explained it to me. It wasn’t….what was wrong with me, my behavior, it was me. It was part of my personality. I was broken.” My voice cracks. 

Bea’s voice is firm, maybe firmer than I’ve heard her before, “You weren’t broken. You aren’t broken. There is nothing wrong with you except you experienced some serious trauma.”

Time is almost up, but she talks to me a few more minutes. She wants to make sure I know that she doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with my personality, with who I am as a person. She tells me that It makes sense to her now, how that therapist and other professionals treated me, it’s all because of how he labeled me and the stigma attached to it. All my behaviors that were from trauma were easily explained away as me being borderline. 

“Bea?” I say, after a silence. I’ve pulled the blanket off my head and am holding it in my lap.

“Yes?” 

I pull the blanket over my face, peek out at her. I feel really vulnerable, but I need to say this. “Thank you for starting where I was at. For not forcing me to talk and putting up with emailing and silence. Thank you for still not making me talk and just reading my notebook.” 

“I wasn’t putting up with you. I was glad to start where you were. It’s really not hard. You did all the hard work. We just had to find our way to what would make you feel safe enough to open up to me. If that email, I was happy to email with you and to do the talking in session.”

“I talk a lot now, considering, huh?” I say. 

“You’ve grown a lot and gotten braver. And I’m glad to hear your voice in session, but reading your words is no problem.” 

“Well…..I just……thank you.” I say again. I know how lucky I am to have Bea, but when I think about some therapists of the past, well, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I have her in my life.  

I need him to be wrong 

I had a bit of a breakdown. Not in the traditional sense, but in the way I do breakdowns and falling apart. It started when Bea asked a simple question, way back in November. Things had been messy and up and down for a while, really since my brother’s wedding, and as we talked about the mess, I curled up and hid, in that way I do. I began to tell Bea that I couldn’t do this, couldn’t do any of it, and that it didn’t matter anyway. 

When she asked me what “it” was, I had no answer, and told her again, “it doesn’t matter.” Then she asked why. And my world crashed in upon itself. Frustrated, terrified, full of panic, I shouted at Bea, “why? Why? Because he can do whatever he wants. He can do whatever he wants, and I can’t stop it. I can’t stop him. It doesn’t matter what I do. I can’t keep the scary out, he can do whatever he wants and I can’t stop it. I can’t stop it.” 

That is where is started. 7 weeks later, there has been a lot of up and down. There was a lot of miscommunication, and hurt feelings and being stuck. January 2, I was ready to quit, to walk away and be done. Instead, I went against my instincts and emailed Bea. That started a line of communication, it gave Bea a way in, past the hardened crust of perfection, and it gave me a way out from behind the facade. It was hard. So hard. It was terrible, and excruciatingly vulnerable feeling, and so much shame wrapped up with all of it. But we talked it through, in several sessions, and email. And that brings us to today. 

I obviously haven’t been doing great, I’m struggling a lot to be present and not overwhelmed, and these days it feels as if triggers are everywhere. No where really feels safe. At my session on Monday, we talked more about what had occurred over the month of December, my feeling that Bea had left me, that she just didn’t want to deal with me— which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I sent an email later to touch base, because we had discussed so much and it felt as if so much has happened, I really needed to know that we were on the same page. She confirmed that yes, that covered everything, and we were on the same page.

It’s Wednesday morning, so I drop Kat off at school, and head to Bea’s office. I didn’t sleep much again last night, and I am so, so tired. I am in a hurry to get to her office, to see her. I’ve felt so alone and in so much turmoil the last 7 weeks, it is a relief to feel that she is a safe person again. I’ve been on the edge of tears since around 5:00am this morning. As I’m driving, Bea sends a text, warning me the stairs are slippery, she wants me to be careful. I text back a smiley face, feeling warm and cared for (although I probably wouldn’t admit that to Bea).

When I get to her office, I hurry up the stairs and pause outside the door to remove my boots. It snowed earlier this week, and yesterday the weather warmed up and the snow melted away, turning everything a wet muddy mess. 

“Hey, come on in.” Bea stands up, and opens the door all the way. “I’m just going to go warm my tea while you get seated.” 

I can hear her in the other room, putting her tea in the microwave and turning it on. Her office is warm, and safe. It feels sort of homey and cozy to have her in the next room, warming up tea and chatting with me. 

“The porch isn’t slippery anymore just really wet,” I call to her. 

“Oh good, I’m glad,” she calls back, and we chat easily until she is back in the office, and sits in her chair. 

“Okay,” I say as I’m pulling out my phone, “I don’t want to spend the whole session talking about Kat, I’m not avoiding things or doing that distract you with Kat talk, we just need to talk about her for a minute. We are ending ABA this month, the last day is going to be January 31. She wants to be with her peers, at school. It was her choice to end things even sooner than planned.” 

Bea is excited for Kat, for her progress, for me. I’m happy about this change. I honestly never thought Kat would choose to be with her peers. It’s amazing. I’m thankful Bea isn’t trying to make this a thing about transitions, about things changing, about losing support. It’s a good thing in my world and I’m glad she is able to recognize that. 

Once that is out of the way, she asks me where I want to start. I shrug. Even if I have things on my mind or writing to share, it’s hard for me to figure out how to answer that; it’s almost like it’s too open ended of a question. 

“Well, In your email, the thing that stuck out the most to me was the last paragraph. But I want to make sure there isn’t something else that needs to be addressed from your email, or otherwise. That’s all, that’s why I am asking.” 

“Oh. No….we can start with the email, that’s good.” I’m sitting up, one leg tucked under me right now. I’m comfortable, I’m glad that Bea feels safe again. 

“I wanted to make sure you knew that there wasn’t anything bad about anything you said. I wrote that I wanted to talk about this paragraph so you would know I wasn’t discounting it, that I did want to talk about it all, it was just too much to type. Because it’s important. What you said here, I think about it, and I want to die (and no, I am not going to do anything, everything I said before in regards to safety is still very much a factor). I think that is just how huge those feelings are, or maybe they are feelings from the little girl, maybe these out of control feelings made her feel like she would die back then and so I hid the truth from myself so I could grow up. And now, all these feelings are mixed up, me, teen, little girl feelings of horror at the truth. I feel like I’m going to be talking about this for a long time. This is it, exactly it. You are very right about all this. That’s what trauma is. That little girl couldn’t face the feelings of being out of control, they really did make her feel like she was going to die. So she tucked those feelings away. She was really smart, and so brave, because she knew she had to tuck all those feelings away so that she could grow up, and function. And she did grow up. That’s the healthy adult part of you, right? But there are those other parts, and the little girl, who held onto that truth all those years. She held it for a long time, but she doesn’t have to hold it anymore. It really was that awful back then, but it’s not like that now. She’s not alone now, and she has power now.” 

“It’s still so horrible,” I whisper.

“Yes, it still feels horrible. And it is mixed up and confusing because all those parts of you are working to understand this.” 

I’m more curled up now, but I’ve managed to stay sitting up. I keep covering my face with my hands, moving them away, covering it again. I move my hands halfway down, so I’m peeking out over the top of them, “This is so hard.” 

“It is hard. It’s very all encompassing right now, I know. And, you are right that we will be talking about this for a long time, because this– the realization, working to make sense out of it, to be able to function with that knowledge– this is the work.” 

I’m sort of going between not here and here. It’s a lot of work to not just go all the way away. It’s what I want to do. 

“Can I say something that is a little bit thinky?” Bea asks. “You can say no, that’s okay.” 

I’m grateful for the reminder that it is okay to say no, but I tell her, “I think so. I think that is okay.” 

“In SP, we talk about separating out the core definers. So, right, in this, it’s everything, right? It’s thoughts and emotions and physical feelings?”

I nod. I’m listening, and I’m not feeling a sense of Bea leaving. This feels more like she is working with me to find a way to unravel this a bit, to find a starting place. 

“So, maybe we start with the thoughts that come up, or the feelings, the emotions. We could also start with the body feelings, but that can feel triggering for you, so it may work better to start with thoughts or emotions.” She explains. And she sounds like Bea, like regular, with me in this Bea. 

I don’t say anything right away. I just sit and go a little farther away that I had been. It’s really hard to separate things out, and finding words to describe the feelings is really hard, too. “Maybe…..thoughts?”

“Sure, yeah, that’s a great place to start. We can also just be here, together, sitting with all of this. We don’t have to start anywhere or do anything.” Her voice is gentle, and she sounds so okay with whatever I choose. 

I sit there, quietly for a while, fighting back the tears I’ve been fighting since early this morning. “I think…I think everything….there’s so many……it’s a lot more……I think everything is a trigger. I can’t sleep. I can’t lay down in my own bed.”

“Mmmhhhmm,” Bea does her verbal nod thing, because I have rested my head on a pillow sitting on the arm rest of the sofa, and I’ve wrapped my arms around my head, effectively hiding. “You don’t feel safe in your bed right now.”

“No…I don’t.” My voice is soft as I agree with her. 

“Is it falling asleep, staying asleep? What happens?” 

“I….I..I just can’t relax. I can’t relax to fall asleep. I can’t lay down, that’s a flashback right then. I just stay up until I literally can’t keep my eyes open any more, and then I just fall asleep. Two hours, three hours later it’s a nightmare.” 

“Do you try sleeping sitting up? What about hubby? Is he in bed, too? Does that help you feel safer?”

Without thinking, I blurt out, “No, I don’t (and then I caught myself, thought about editing what I was saying but chose to finish my words the way they had started, because I’m trying this new thing of being more honest with Bea and not hiding who I am or what I think or feel) want him there!” 

“Ahhhhh. So having him there isn’t creating that sense of safety.” 

“No. Nothing’s safe.” Now I’m crying, and I’m annoyed with myself for crying. “Everything is changed. It changes everything. I can’t….he didn’t…” I shake my head. 

“This is a big deal, and it changes a lot of everything. I was thinking though, likely there was a side of Kenny— if you think of internal family systems, so parts, not exactly like your parts, not as separate as your parts, but just the parts that we all have– that did care about you, or didn’t want to hurt you.” Her voice is quiet and soothing. She’s remembering how I was so upset by the idea he didn’t care at all that he hurt me. 

“I….I need him….to be…..” I start and stop a few times, tripping over the strangeness of the words. “I need him to be wrong.” 

“Oh, he was wrong! He was very wrong. He was old enough to know right from wrong and what he did to the little girl was very, very wrong!” Bea is very adamant sounding, and there is a bit of….I’m not sure, it’s not happiness, exactly, but more like she is glad that I am saying these words. 

“I….it needs to be…..I need it to be cut and dried. I….I need him to be…..it just needs to be simple!” I’m falling over these thoughts, and getting twisted up, and the words are alien and frightening to say aloud. 

“It is. It is simple. I’m hearing that this is really important, for it to be cut and dried. Can I hear more about that? What do you need him to be?” 

I try to tell her, and the words freeze in the back of my throat. Clearing it, I find new words. “Why is it what I can feel as if I’m screaming in my head, and yet I can’t say a single word?” 

“I’m not sure. I wonder that, too. I’ve always though it has to do with not having a voice for so very, very long. Is the screaming angry? Or more like wanting to be heard?”

“It’s not angry.” I tell her. 

“So wanting to be heard? If I think of screaming to be heard, it feels like desperation to me.” 

I nod. Yes. Yes. That is is. I feel desperate to be heard, because this…..it needs out. 

“Okay. Then we wait. I’m right here, and I’m ready to listen whenever you are able to speak. You will be heard, okay?” Somehow, she knows exactly what I need to hear. 

Tears come again, and this time they are frustration and fear and relief that Bea is here, all rolled into one. 

“We can sit with the feelings, and just be here, okay?” She asks me. 

I nod. Okay. 

“While we are sitting, can we see what we can do to help you feel safer? I think creating a sense of safety, finding that again, is going to be really important right now.”  

“I can try.” My voice is tiny. 

“I’ve noticed that as we have been talking, you are really curling into yourself. You are really needing to feel safe right now. You know what you need, your body knows it needs safety. So I’m thinking how can we help add more safety in? I could turn around, not be looking at you. Or maybe you would like a blanket, that can feel very safe.” She is speaking with that slow, quiet voice that I sometimes think of as the ‘don’t spook the crazy girl’ voice, except when she sounds like this it is soothing, and comforting and feels very genuine.  

I want to say a blanket, but I feel stupid, so I say nothing.

“A blanket, that weight, having a boundary that can be seen and felt can feel very safe. For a long time, I kept a blanket at my therapist’s office. I used to hide under it all the time. And, we don’t have to do anything. Just sitting here, knowing you aren’t alone, that can feel safe, too.” 

Because she told me she has hidden under a blanket in her own therapy, I feel less silly, less crazy, wanting a blanket to hide under. “Maybe…..maybe try a blanket.” 

“Okay. I’m going to get up to get a blanket, okay?” Because my head is down, she warns me that she is going to be moving around her office. 

When Bea steps near me, she simply holds the blanket up, the way you might hold a sheet up for a person to change behind. I can easily sit up to grab the blanket from her and remain hidden. I pull the blanet over my head, and curl back up. “Thank you,” I whisper. 

“You’re welcome. Anytime you want a blanket, that is what they are there for. Did you want me to turn around?”

“No….no, because it…even though I won’t see you….it….just no.” 

“Because it would feel like I left?” She puts the pieces together easily. 

“Yes.” I admit it, because I’m trying that whole ‘be honest and stop editing’ thing with Bea. 

“Okay. That’s that attachment piece, it is important, and you do need it. I’m just sitting down and I’m facing you,” she says. “Let’s see if we can establish some safety. Maybe you can feel that is is warm under the blanket? And no one can see you, and I’m right here, making sure that no one can get past that blanket. You are safe now. Can you feel that having a blanket makes a boundary?” 

We sit together with that for a few moments. I feel hidden and safer than I have felt in months. I’d really like to stay right here, in Bea’s office, with her keeping watch, me hidden in a blanket, and sleep for a few hours. These are exactly the thoughts I work so hard to never allow to surface or take form– even just in my own head. “I need things to be cut and dried,” I say, “Because……because well…..I need him to be…….” I’m stuck again, unable to let the words out. 

“Well, we know you need him to be wrong, and he was so, so wrong. What else does he need to be?” 

“I……I need him to be wrong, and I need him to be…….” Instead of words, sobs erupt from deep inside. 
“I know it is so important to you to get the words out. It’s okay to let the feelings out, too.” 

It’s a back and forth struggle now, stopping the tears, trying to get the words out, and crying again when the words don’t come. Through it all, Bea is there. There is this sense from her that she is in no rush, that she isn’t trying to get us anywhere, that we can stay right here until I can get it out. That feels safe, too. And so finally, the words come, all in one big rush. “I need him to be wrong. I need him to be bad. I need it to be his fault, all his fault right now because if…if I have to feel this out of control and be my fault, I can’t do it, it’s too much, it’s all too much, I can’t do if, and it needs to be his fault. He needs to be bad.” Then I burst into tears. 

“Oh! Oh! That is too much, way too much. This is not your fault. It is all his fault. He was wrong. He is the one who is bad. Not you, never you. He did bad things, and he was wrong. It’s not your fault at all. Oh, that would be so much, just too much. You can’t be at fault for your own trauma.” Bea is full of compassion and empathy, but also sounds just horrified at the thought I was feeling so out of control and to blame. 

I’m not 100% sure it’s as simple as I am making it out to be, I’m still pretty sure I hold some responsibility, but right now, I need it to be simple. I need it to be all his fault, his wrong, because he is all bad. 

“He hurt me. He was wrong and he hurt me,” I feel whiny, and sad and a little bit mad. 

“He did hurt you. He hurt you and he was very, very wrong. It was his fault. All the blame is on him.” She tells me. 

“But nobody came. He was hurting me, and nobody came to stop it. And he hurt me and I couldn’t stop it, I couldn’t do anything, not anything at all.” I’m crying, and farther away than I’ve been all session. In my head, I keep hearing the r word, but I can’t say it. 

“No, you couldn’t stop it. But you know what? That little girl, she was so smart, and so brave, she knew she could go far, far away in her head and feel safe. So that’s just what she did. And the little girl grew up, and when she felt safe enough, she was able to tell her most awful secrets, because she survived. That little girl is safe now. It’s okay to let it out. No one can ever hurt her again. She’s safe now.” Bea tells the story— a very short version, obviously– with me being smart and brave. That’s crazy to me. I can’t wrap my head around it. 

We sit, and talk, not surface stuff, but not as deep as what we had been working with. We somehow get on the topic of the last month. I think I said I wished I had just told her what was wrong, how bad I felt. But we ended up discussing the stuck and trapped feeling again. 

I’m not sure who started the conversation, but when Bea says something about feeling helpless, during that time, I’m struck by how bad I feel about that. I’m not sorry for how how things happened, I’d do them differently, if I had a do-over, but I can’t change it and the last month brought me here, to this more open and honest place. “I didn’t mean to make you feel helpless,” I say softly. 

“I know.” 

“I would never mean to make another person feel like that.” I can’t let it go. 

“I know you wouldn’t. You aren’t a person who wants to strike out at others when you feel bad. You turn all of the upset on yourself. But feeling that helpless feeling, feeling like I was stuck and couldn’t do anything to get past that wall of okayness you had built, that needed to happen. Because when I took a step back, and went to the thinky place, I could see that these helpless, stuck, trapped feelings, they weren’t about me. They were about you. They were your feelings. When I can step back like that and see that you were sharing your feelings with me in the only way you could at that moment, then I picture myself as a big Bea container, holding all of those feelings so you aren’t alone with them.” 

“Okay.” I smile a little bit. I think that sounds sort of nice. A big Bea container holding all the yucky scary stuff with me. At first I felt like she was placing a barrier between her and I– as in, this is my job, to hold this stuff for you, I am the shrink and you are the patient– but then I realized that Bea has never behaved or spoken like that, and I was being silly. And then I thought of how I sit with Kat in her feelings, and how I do my very best to contain her huge feelings when she is having a melt down, and really, the only reason I can do that is because Bea modeled it for me, and because I care about Kat. So I conclude that she cares, because you can’t fake your way through this. 

We talk about sleep and nightmares. Bea says she knows I know this, but she wants to just remind me of the grounding techniques that help, like naming 5 things I can see, and looking in the mirror to remind myself that I’m grown, or using scents to help ground. 

“I still have vanilla on my nightstand. I never stopped those tricks….I just….” I shrug. 

“What about turning on a light?” 

I feel my face redden. “I’ve been sleeping with the lights on. I don’t want to be in the dark.”

“Understandable. You need to do whatever helps you feel safe. What about Hagrid? Is he still sleeping in your bed?” 

“Yeah. He helps. But it’s like I can’t even…..I’m trapped. I wake up, still in the nightmare and I can’t think enough to even do anything to ground to get out of it.” 

“That sounds really scary, to wake up like that. Do you know how you get out of it? Because you do get out of it. You aren’t trapped forever.” Her voice is curious and gentle, a soft reminder that I’m not still in my nightmare. 

“Maybe it ends? I don’t know. I just….it stops enough that I’m not so trapped. But,…”

“But what?” 

“Then I end up doing things I’m not supposed to do.” I whisper the words, afraid I’m disappointing her, afraid she will be angry. 

“Well, my first thought was to say, ‘Alice use your CARES worksheet.’ But then, I think that’s not what you need right now. You are using the tools you developed to feel safe. That’s what this is about; feeling safe. And so you are doing what you need to do right now. I think that is okay, because this is so big, it is such a shift you are working towards, it’s going to be very unsettling and as long as you are safe– and you know where my concerns lie– then this is okay right now. We can work on this, it is okay. And I accept this part of you, too. This part of you is very smart, and creative, to have found tools that work to make her feels safe. Sometimes using those tools meant she could go to school and learn, or it meant she could attend a social function and not be full of fear. Those things were important. This part of you worked hard at making sure you felt as safe as she could make you. That is important work. And now, we can work to create safety and build some new skills, and that part, she can still use her creativity to help find new ways to cope. It is okay, where you are at just now is okay.” 

“Okay,” I whisper. I believe her. I’m relieved, she’s not disappointed in me. 

We sit together, and it’s quiet but Bea is there, and I’m there– hiding under my blanket– and I’m calming down a little more. Every once in a while, she murmurs some reassurance, that she is there and I am safe, and it is okay to be where I am and feel what I feel and that we have all the time we need to work through this. 

“Those little micromovements, the shaking in your legs, try to let those happen, if you can. Can you feel them? That they are releasing some stress and tension?”

I hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out. I’m still so disconnected from my body, it’s as if things are back to how they used to be, ever since I danced with him at my brother’s wedding. “No….I can’t. I can’t do this. I just can’t. Stop. Stop it. I need this to stop.” I start to cry.

“Okay. Okay. We don’t have to notice anything. Let’s go back to that calm space, where we are okay. We can just sit, and feel safe under the blanket, and no one can get through that blanket. It’s a strong boundary, you are safe, and I’m out here, right here, making sure you are safe.” 

I keep crying. 

“We have almost 20 minutes to just be in the space, to feel that sense of safety.” Bea says softly. 

“Okay. Okay,” I sniffle. 

“And we can let those feelings out, too. That’s okay to do, too.” Her voice feels safe, and I can feel myself starting to relax a little bit. I don’t feel so on edge, it’s not like I need to be on guard. Bea can keep watch for a little bit. I’m safe right now, with her there. 

When there’s maybe 5 minutes left, Bea says, “I’m going to go make another cup of tea, and use the restroom, so you can have some time. Is that okay?” 

“It’s okay,” I confirm. It’s easier to sit up and come out from under the blanket when I don’t feel as if Bea is watching me. By the time she comes back, I’ve folded the blanket and righted the sofa pillows. 

“I’ll see you later today, with Kat, right?” Bea asks. 

I hand her the blanket. “Yes. We’ll be back at 2:30.” I can’t look at her, and she is being very gentle with me, and understanding of that.

She reminds me she is here and that I am safe, and I risk a glance at her. She’s fhe same Bea, looking at me the way she always looks at me; there is no disgust or annoyance or anything negative in her gaze. I look away quickly, and mumble goodbye.

Things aren’t better, exactly, but they aren’t worse, either. And I don’t feel so alone now. Maybe this truly is a time where the only way out is through.