I’ve fallen back down the rabbit hole. I’m so tired. Beyond tired, really. I forgot how exhausting it is to not sleep and be plagued with nightmares and to spend days in a weird here not here fog and to be oddly jumpy and unable to settle even while being in the fog. I forgot how stupid, stupid things, not even big things, can trigger all kinds of images, thoughts, feelings, that I don’t want to have. Intrusive thoughts, I think is what Bea labeled them. And I forgot how painful this is. How hard it is to even look at anyone and try to explain how I am struggling, and how shame just overwhelms and takes over everything. I forgot the huge fears of being not good enough and the very real fear that if I’m as bad as I feel like I am, I will be abandoned. I forgot the fear of Bea being disgusted by me, of her hating me or being mad at me and deciding not to speak to me anymore. I forgot what it feels like to feel so much like a little girl, more little girl than adult, with just enough grown up there to know how I feel, or am acting, or am thinking isn’t “normal or okay for a grownup”. I forgot the middle of the night wake ups, and the middle of the day freak outs. I forgot being so frozen I cant find words and I forgot what it was like to need to desperately hide because you cant bear the thought of being seen (except you also want nothing more than to be seen and heard. How much sense does that even make?), but even more so, you cant bear seeing the look on another’s face when they realize the truth about you. I forgot what it was like to be consumed by the borderline teen’s anger, and be so mad at Bea over nothing. I forgot what it was like to be snarky and impulsive and sometimes mean, but more than that, I forgot what it was like to feel all the hurt and fear of being rejected and I forgot the feeling of needing to hide any and all vulnerabilities at any cost. I forgot reenacting things with my husband and I forgot being afraid of words. I forgot how hard it is to ignore the voice that promises things will feel better if I just cut, or hurt myself in someway. I forgot the overwhelming need to throw up. I forgot about suicide ideation(no, I’m not planning anything, I don’t want to die. But the teen really does find some crazy weird creepy relief in thinking that she could make everything go away forever). I forgot how hard it is to live like this.
To my blog friends…..
I wanted to thank you all for your kind comments and support this last few weeks. I want to respond to everyone’s comments, I’m just in a very triggered state right now and struggling. I know I’ve been writing a lot, it helps me to sort things out and process them— and your comments and experiences you write about in your own blogs help me process things or to see things in a different light. Thank you.
I’ve been attempting to keep up with your blogs, but commenting has proven to be difficult; I just can’t find my words right now. If I “like” your post but don’t manage to comment, please know I am sending support and hugs and understanding your way. I care about you all and am so glad I’ve found a tribe here on WordPress. Xx
I’m struggling and triggered but I’m okay. There’s a part of me that realizes I will get through this. Bea will be back in 3 wake ups.
Falling deeper down the rabbit hole……..
I’m so deep in this hole, I’m having trouble seeing how I will get out. Thankfully, because of my trauma, my mind created fragments, or parts. The human body is designed to adapt, to survive. Even our minds are made to adapt and survive. I’m not sure if I should be in awe of that or horrified. Maybe both. But my mind was determined to adapt and survive, and in my family growing up, I had to be able to function, to be be perfect and more than normal— I needed to be the all american, perfect, involved, popular, beautiful, smart, little girl, teenager, college student. So Bea has this theory that my mind split into extra parts; it created these “going on with normal life parts” to deal with things. It’s why I am so very, very good at switching from a complete mess to a smiling hostess, asking after a guest, in thirty seconds flat. It’s why I can shut off my emotions, get control of myself, and walk out of Bea’s office after an intense session, as if we just had tea and cookies. So, despite being so far down this hole, I can’t even see a light at the end of the tunnel, there is a part of me that is determined to survive.
Now, I feel like I better put some trigger warnings in here, but for what exactly I’m not sure. I just know it has been a really terrible week and a half. I’ve used some not so awesome coping skills. I’ve had some not so good thoughts about how to make it all go away. I’ve had a lot of nightmares and confusion over the abuse and what really happened and what it all meant, and as shamed as I am over it all, I’m so tired of being afraid and alone with it all. So, I’m going to write and write and write, and I’m not going to edit myself. I’m going to let it be raw and authentic and me. Because that was why I started this blog, to have a place to be truly, authentically me. I’ve been blessed to have found a community of bloggers who accept me. I don’t have to hide anymore (at least here, in bloggy land). So, trigger warning and all that jazz, okay?
Wednesday, a week ago, before Bea left for her trip
I’m in Bea’s office, and I’m trying not to cry. We’d been looking at some charts that draw out trauma, and its effects, and I wasn’t having it.
I’d redraw my own version, which had my “noticing brain” bypassing my amygdala and going straight to the reptilian brain, with the explanation that I was broken. “All that happens when I use my noticing brain to pay attention to sensations, or even emotions, is that somatic scared stuff increases, safety is not restored, and the body is not calmed. Everything is more activated! The alarm is not turned off and the reptilian brain does not calm down.” I had written that if Bea notices my fingers moving and comments on it, I will work very hard to focus on my fingers and stop moving them, I will focus on being very, very still, so that there is nothing for her to notice, nothing for her to draw my attention to because it is not safe.
Bea nods, it makes sense to her. I’m agitated. In my head, I’m sarcastic, and I’m thinking, “of course it makes sense to her. Everything freaking makes sense to her.”
“It’s where the disorganized attachment comes on,” She begins. My stomach flips, and I feel cold but hot at the same time. She’s bringing up attachment, she’s talking about me and how I relate in relationships. I spaced out for most of what she was saying, but I think it was basically something like this, explaining how disorganized attachment or relationships that maybe weren’t always safe feeling could lead to the issue of noticing things making me more agitated, not calmer. Bea’s explanation was probably much more conversational and normalizing, but this was what I could find in my search online. If anyone has anything to add, please do!
“When we feel safe in relationship, we stay within our window of tolerance and our cortex stays functional. When we perceive threat or danger, the SNS arouses the amygdala to prepare for fight or flight. We can experience this as an emotional hijacking; our rational self temporarily nowhere to be found. When we perceive a life threat, the PNS calms down everything, down to the point of shut down. We go numb and freeze. The most well-known structure of the limbic system is the amygdala, almond shaped structures of perception-appraisal-response. Our 24/7 alarm center, constantly scanning the environment for threat or danger, even in our sleep. The amygdala generates the fight – flight response, very important to attachment.
The amygdala is also the core of our interactive social processing and the center of our emotional learning. The amygdala assesses every experience, including relational experience, for safety or danger, for pleasure or pain, and pairs each experience with an emotional valence, an emotional charge, positive or negative, that makes us approach or avoid similar experiences in the future. The more intense the emotional charge, the more neurons will fire in our brain and the more likely we will register the experience in implicit memory. The amygdala operates below the radar of conscious awareness, and it stores all of its responses to experience in implicit memory, outside of awareness.
The amygdala operates much faster than the more complex cortex – 200 milliseconds to trigger fight or flight rather than the 3-5 seconds of the cortex that notices we just got in somebody’s face or bolted out of the room just precious seconds before. So the processing of the amygdala does not have to come to our awareness for an experience to register and be stored in our implicit memory. 80% of the time it doesn’t.
Here’s where that disorganized attachment challenge comes in………. Any emotional-relational-social experiences that are processed before the brain structures that can process experience consciously are fully mature, those experiences are stored only in implicit memory, only outside of awareness. This includes ALL early patterns of attachment. Attachment patterns are stable and unconscious before we have any conscious choice in the matter and unless new experiences change them, will remain stable “rules” of relating well into adulthood.
Unfortunately, for purposes of attachment, because the amygdala is the structure of both our social emotional processing and is our fear center, the negotiation of relationships and the modulation of fear so overlap, our earliest relating, our earliest implicit experience of self can have a bias toward the negative.
If the parenting style of the parent is Pre-occupied: inconsistent, unpredictable, sometimes attentive and loving, sometimes harsh or punitive, sometimes over-involved, sometimes off in their own world –
Then the attachment style that develops in the child is likely to be Insecure-Anxious: the child is insecure about the reliability of the parent for safety-protection; they are not easily soothed; ambivalence: they are sometimes clingy and possessive, sometimes angry-defiant. There is an internalization of anxious mom. There is a focus on others, not on self.
Insecurely-anxious children are likely to become Insecure-Anxious adults: they are subject to abandonment fears; there is chronic vigilance about attachment-separation, there is emotional dysregulation and anxiety, passivity and lack of coping; there can be a victim stance.
In insecure-anxious attachment, the sympathetic nervous system is over-stimulated and under-regulated. The personal can feel flooded with stress, fear of abandonment, panic and not be able to self regulate enough, not enough calming of the parasympathetic nervous system. There is energy for fight; people engage through anger aggression.
If the parenting style of the parent becomes Disorganized: if the parent, even temporarily, is fragmented, disorganized, dissociated; or is frightening, bizarre, abusive, traumatizing to the child –
Then the attachment style of the child can become Disorganized: the child can become, even temporarily, helpless, paralyzed, fragmented, chaotic dissociated; they cannot focus; they cannot soothe.
Experiences of disorganized attachment can lead to an Unresolved/Disorganized adult: there are difficulties functioning; they are unable to regulate emotions; there are dissociative defenses.
In disorganized attachment, “fright without solution,” there can be such a sense of danger or life threat, even the momentum of the amygdala, the flight-fight response, collapses. Only the brainstem is operating. The parasympathetic nervous system over-regulates bodily energy to the point of paralysis and helplessness.”
When she finishes explaining, in that moment, part of me believes her and feels better, because at least there is a reason, a logical explanation that this noticing/mindfulness/being present, makes me feel more anxious and freaked out. At least I’m not crazy and broken. But the rest of me feels off, like she’s just spouting shrink talk at me to make me feel better, but it doesn’t solve anything, and I’m not really understanding it, but I can’t even get to a place where I can ask her about it because I don’t want to discuss relationships.
I hand her a notebook, a new one, because even when notebooks aren’t finished, sometimes I just really need to change them, get away from what was written in one, I don’t know. So, I hand her a new notebook, it’s slim, and had a pink and turquoise paisley pattern on it.
I’d written about having awful dreams, and the bad things in my head, and how if Bea could see inside my head, she would know how bad I was, how disgusting and bad, and awful I really truly was, she would despise me, blame me, and she would leave. I’d written about blank spaces in my memory, and having to fill in gaps. I’d written that the words I do have are fuzzy and difficult and that it’s all too awful because everytime I go to find the words in my head, I just panic and can’t think.
Bea reads. “Mmmhmmm, you are really scared. I’m not going anywhere. Even if I could be inside your head, I wouldn’t think you bad, or blame that little girl. I’m not leaving. Whatever that little girl went through, whatever she thinks she did, she did to survive, and I’m not leaving her. Okay?”
I’m crying now. I don’t know why, exactly. Bea’s words make me sad. I’m thinking they should make me happy, she is saying she won’t leave, but I’m sad, and scared and crying instead.
“What’s coming up for you? What’s happening right now?” She asks.
“I….you don’t know. You don’t know. You only have……those sentences, and I just…it’s not….” I’m continually stopping, shaking my heading and then starting again.
“Who is shaking their head?” She asks me. When I can only shake my head in response and shrug my shoulders, she says, “Maybe a protector part? Is the the part with that amazing filter? An editing part, maybe?”
I shrug, and nod. It makes sense. The part with the filter.
“Can you ask her to step back for a little bit? We can let her know she does such a great job filtering things out and keeping your secrets, keeping you safe, but it’s okay to take a little rest right now. I can take care of the little girl right now. She needs a chance to speak, too. I’ll make sure she is safe.” Bea is speaking in this low, soft tone, this careful conversational tone. She is really here, that much I can tell, shes here and she’s in this with me, and maybe, just maybe, she really means it when she says she is not leaving.
For a minute, the little girl feels connected to Bea, she feels safe. I even lift my head from where it had been buried in my knees, hiding, and meet Bea’s gaze. All I see is acceptance. All the little girl feels from Bea right then is acceptance, and safety, and understanding. Before I can stop myself, I blurt out, “Everything in my whole life is flipped now. Everything is flipped and I don’t want it to be true, but it is, and I’m not okay, it’s not okay, nothing it okay and I don’t have any words and Its too hard.” And then a massive amount of tears burst free, and I’m doing that ugly crying thing.
On Monday, the little girl has written something for Bea to read. I referenced it in my blog post, but did not share what it was. *****I’m going to say trigger warning, just in case, because this is a memory about the abuse that is deeply disturbing ******* I had written about how, I have this memory, of bits and pieces, blended up and thrown back at me, of being at the summer cabin. I’m maybe 7, or 8. It’s night, or at least it is dark and it feels like night time. I’m in the hallway, and there is this feeling of I am not supposed to be up and out of bed, but I’m standing outside a room, and Kenny is in the room, with his little sister, my then-best friend.
There’s more to that memory, bits and peices, mixed up and confusing, frightening, but that was all the little girl had written to Bea about it, and that was enough.
“What do you mean, everything is flipped?” She questions. She is curious, and open, and even though I’m sort of far away, I can feel that.
I shake my head. I can’t explain it. I want to, I do, but right now it’s more of a feeling, it’s not something I can logic out and pit words to. And I’m afraid if I try, I might have that breakdown.
“Sometimes, a person might feel as though they took on the role of the abuser, if they participated in certain situations,” Bea says carefully. “A child wouldn’t be to blame, I would never think a little girl was bad if this was the case. Is that what you mean by everything being flipped?”
I freeze. I can’t move. She knows. She knows and it is not okay and everything is falling apart. I don’t know how long I am frozen there for. Maybe a second, maybe a minute, maybe an hour. Time has no meaning when you are that frozen. When I move, it’s to sit up and grab my bag.
Bea is saying something, trying to tell me she doesn’t think I am bad or that the little girl is bad, that she does not blame me, that none of this is my fault. She’s speaking soothing words to the little girl. I can’t really hear her, though. None of it matters. She knows this horrible awful thing. Maybe the worst thing, and it’s too much. I can’t handle it.
“Stop it. Just stop it!” I shout at her. “Shut up! Shut up, shut up! I’m not doing this. I won’t do this.” And I walk out.
To be continued in part two………….
I am seen
This post may be triggering. I wrote about sexual abuse, self harm, eating disordered behaviors. Please be careful when you are reading it.
This hasn’t been a good week. In all honesty, things haven’t been good since that bad doctor appointment. It’s been a sort of steady decline since then, of me getting more and more overwhelmed. Bea had a thing Monday morning that couldn’t be done any other time, so I saw Tuesday instead. We kept in touch via email over the weekend; mostly it was me writing how gone I was, how alone I feel, and checking that she was still there. She offered up grounding ideas, and reassurance that she was still there, and that she sees me and is still listening.
I emailed her that I was afraid, that the last time I was feeling and acting like this my husband emailed her. I told her these memories are similar to the ones the last winter, when I lost it. I told her I was lost and confused. I said that I thought it didn’t matter anymore, I had to find a way to fix it, to work through it, to get over it, so I’d try whatever she threw at me, I’d try it. Because I don’t want to be this person, and I’m not sure how much longer I can be okay when I feel like this.
I spent the weekend baking. I made french macarons. I made many, many macarons. My kitchen, freezer, and fridge are full of macarons. I used to bake cupcakes. I used to make fancy, creative flavors, and fancy beautiful frosting. Cupcakes are simple, now, though. I can make them without thinking, I can make them completely dissociated and falling apart, and they don’t distract me anymore. Macarons, on the other hand, take attention, careful attention. They can be made in all kinds of crazy, creative flavors. They are small and cute and different. And they offer a small distraction, they aren’t mindless.
I need a distraction. I’m so lost in hurt and mess and memories I can’t breathe. I’m lost and scared, and being dissociative doesn’t offer any relief because it feels unsafe to be so far away. It feels unsafe to be far away, and it feels unsafe to be here. I want to spend every minute of everyday cutting, throwing up. Those things stop me from hurting. They numb all the fear. So, instead I’ve been baking and I will continue to bake, and bake and bake.
I’ve all but lost Tuesday’s session. Its fuzzy. The last few weeks are fuzzy. I drive there in a daze, a fog. I take Hagrid with me, and he offers me some comfort. He always does, and I’m so glad I have him with me. I love this dog.
Bea greets us with a smile, and we settle onto her sofa. I don’t think she let me get away with much distracting small talk. Or maybe I was too far away to make small talk.
“Did hubby ever talk to you?” Bea asks. She was referring to an email I sent her about a fight– or rather a me screaming at him thing– in which I told hubby I wasn’t Polly-fucking-Anna. I’d told him I try to be, I want to be, and that was who he met, married and fell in love with, but no one listens to Polly-Fucking-Anna. I screamed that he wanted whatever “this”– meaning the issues between us are– was to be my fault, to be because my of PTSD, my triggers, my issues, but it is about us, the both of us, it’s him, too. I told him that this issue was going to remain until he dealt with his stuff. And he said nothing in response. Not one word.
I shook my head. “He doesn’t….he doesn’t see me. And I yelled. I mean, I swore. I don’t swear. It’s not…..I just…ugh. He had me so upset, I was swearing. I just….I don’t know.”
“Well, you had a voice, you expressed something you have needed to for a long time, and that’s important.” Bea says.
“Ummmmm…….I’m not so sure. I just screamed and screamed and he didn’t say a word. So what was the point? I don’t know. He needs therapy.” Hagrid nudges me with his nose, and I run my fingers through his ears.
“I wasn’t trying to be discouraging in my email; I think asking him to go to therapy is good, it’s great, but I think people have to go to therapy for themselves, and choose it for themselves to really heal.” She’d written: People have to want to work on their stuff in order to change, so if he’s not motivated to go to therapy for himself I’m not sure how much work would actually get done. (if you convinced him to go). Most people change best when they are in pain, which makes sense I guess. That’s not encouraging in a situation like yours, of course, but still it’s worth continuing to encourage him to go.
“I didn’t think that,” I say honestly. “And I know. I just wish he would go. Did you think I was right though? About us being good, and him seeing me when I was Polly-Anna, and now all this PTSD stuff coming out has triggered something in him, it triggers his stuff and makes him shut down, which only triggers me more because I feel not listened to and that triggers his stuff more, and it’s just this bad cycle we are in. Is that right? Am I right about that?”
I had explained it more throughly via email and asked if what I said was right, and she had responded in a way that told me she agreed, but she hadn’t explicitly said I was right. “Yes, it’s right, it makes sense. It’s good to understand the cycle that you are in, what is happening.” She tells me.
“I just…I don’t know.” I cover my face, and stop talking. I don’t want to talk about hubby anymore.
It seems we sit in silence for a long time. Or, at least there is a big blank in my mind. I’m really not sure where the conversation went from there.
“What happens when you get snappy with hubby?” Bea asks. I had told her that I was snappy all week, and that was what led to our fight.
“It’s anyone. I mean…..it’s…I’m in this far away place. I don’t…..it’s not okay, I don’t…..it’s not this safe feeling…..it’s not okay here, but then…..it’s….I’m…….anything that interrupts me, that distracts me lit of the far away, I snap.” I shake my head. It’s really hard to explain this. I don’t have the words to explain my internal world, my reactions, my feelings, any of it.
“Do you feel irritable?” She asked more, described it better, but I don’t remember what her words were. Maybe she talked about being short tempered, snapping before you can think, feeling slightly out of control.
Her words make me feel really understood. I hate this part of myself, but she says it all so kindly, so full of empathy and just curiosity but it doesn’t sound like she is hating this part of me. I nod my head, but then realize that because I’ve curled up and hidden my face in my knees, Bea probably can’t see me, so I say, “Yeah.”
We talk about the far away, and Bea tells me that the here and now is safe, that I am Grown up and safe.
“It’s too much,” I tell her. Our session is near the end, but I need her to hear this, to get it. “It’s like….I’m on this tightrope. Trying to balance. And I can’t. I’m falling, and I have to balance. If I don’t….I…..I’m falling and I have to balance. If I fall, there’s no one there to catch me.” My voice catches and I start to cry.
“Ahhh. You are feeling really alone.” She says softly. “What would happen if you fell?”
“No one would catch me. I….all this….it would be right there. And then….I don’t know. I don’t know what would happen.”
“These memories that are so real lately. They really have you feeling so alone and scared. Have any of them connected or have you been able to put words to it?” She asks me.
“No…it’s just pieces.” Really bad pieces. I don’t know. I can’t.” There’s so much about these memories I am afraid to say. They are pieces, little ransoms pieces that don’t fit together. They are body memories, images, sounds, smells, thoughts. I’m scared and ashamed of them. It literally like being attacked all day and night.
“Could you write them down, and we could look at them and see how they fit together?” She asks me.
“Maybe.” I blink back tears. “Maybe. I can try.”
“Okay. That’s good. Trying is good.” Her voice is kind.
When I do sit up, and get ready to leave, she tells me she is here, I’m not alone, that she sees me. I leave her office with the message that I’m seen and my voice, my story matters. My voice is heard, and my story matters. I am seen.
I just want someone to fix it
It’s pouring rain out this morning, so I leave Hagrid at home. When I arrive at Bea’s, the rain is literally coming down in sheets. Even my umbrella that is the size of a small car doesn’t keep all the rain off me. I walk into Bea’s office, brushing drops of water off my face, legs and arms.
“This rain is crazy!” Bea smiles as she says this.
“It really is. I had to leave poor Hagrid at home. He’d be a soaking wet dog if he was out in this!” I take my seat, and smile back.
“I guess when you are barely off the ground even a little puddle can pose a problem,” Bea says. I laugh, and nod my head in agreement. It’s so true.
Bea doesn’t give me much of a chance for chat type talk today. Just when I’m about to tell her about Kat’s Easter dress, and our plans for the goodbye party for her favorite ABA girl (which really was a great themed party I managed to put together last minute) she gets a semi-serious look on her face, and says, “I really thought you were off to a great start with your letter.”
“I feel like this is silly to be spending so much therapy time on.”
“I don’t think so. It is a big deal. This is how your trauma effects your life in a very real way. And aside from the therapeutic value of acknowledging what happened with your doctor, it’s also a practical life thing. You need to be able to go to the doctor, right?” Bea tells me.
“Or…I could just pretend it never happened……and then I could just not go for like a year or two so she will forget,” I say hopefully.
“She’s not going to forget. I’m sorry to tell you, but she’s not. And what if you get sick? You need to be able to go to the doctor.”
I give Bea a look. I’m annoyed, because I know she is right.
“I’m the last person to talk about not going to the doctor. I’m not good about going. I don’t think I’ve gone for like 4 years. But that’s not good. It’s hard to get into my doctor, but I could go if really wanted to. I have irrational fears about going. I think, if I don’t go, then they can’t tell me I’m dying of every kind of cancer there is.” She laughs at herself, and shrugs her shoulders. “It’s not the same, but I really do know it can be scary to go to the doctor. And I’d like you to be better than I am about going!” She laughs again. And I feel a little better, and less silly for needing to take so many sessions to talk about this. (This is the kind of disclosure that some people might find to be too much info, but for me, it helped me feel less silly and less like I was wasting Bea’s time. It made it okay to need to keep talking about the doctor in way that her just saying it was okay wouldn’t have. And even though her fear is surrounding cancer, it wouldn’t stop me from talking about my grandpa’s cancer, or any other instance of cancer…not because I don’t care about her fears, but I guess partly because she laughed at herself, told me it was irrational, and because I do trust her to take care of herself.)
I pull my knees to my chest, wrap my arms around them. I shake my head. “I can’t…just that first paragraph the rest…I just can’t…”
“What is it that feels like you can’t send it? What part of the letter feels like it’s not okay?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know. It’s just too much. I just….its just too much.”
“Let me pull it up, okay?” She asks me.
“Yeah….I can pull it up, too,” I say. I find the copy of the letter on my iPad and stare at it. It feels like the words ‘I was sexually abused for a good portion of my childhood by a family friend’ are written in bold, bright red, a scarlet letter on my forehead for all to see. I can NOT do this.
“I think what you wrote and explained is great. I think you just need to finish it by saying something about needing some time before you come in again because you are feeling apprehensive about coming back to finish the exam.” Bea tells me, after reading through it again.
“I….no….its just too much.”
“Well, you could always go the other route of simply saying you have a trauma history, and a diagnosis of PTSD and you were triggered. You really are in control of how much you disclose.” She reminds me.
“That’s….its…that’s just the problem. I can’t…I’m just…ugh!” I get frustrated, trying to get words out that feel insignificant and silly, and hard to sort out with all the mixed up crap in my brain. I take a breath, start again. “I’m a person who needs explanations. I’d rather have an explanation and the truth than some lie to hide things. I just…I need to truly explain things, even everyday stuff. It’s why hubby gets so mad at me for talking so much, or speaking a block of text at him or whatever it was–” here, we both laugh a little, because it’s just such a ridiculous statement– “so it feels wrong to send the generic letter. But the other one is too much.”
Bea doesn’t answer right away. “I think this is about breaking the secret. It’s been something we have struggled with since the beginning. You had to keep this secret quiet for so long. And that was so hard to do. You still don’t feel like you are allowed to tell this secret. Maybe you just need more time before you can do anything with it. And that’s okay.”
I’m quiet, withdrawing into my head. At some point, I bury my face because I know I’m going to cry, and I don’t want her to see me cry. I spent the rest of the session like this, hiding my face, crying and being very, very far away. I was farther away than I have been in a long time, to the point that everything I remember is choppy, and maybe even out of order.
At some point, I tell her, “I just want everything to stop. I just want it all to stop. To hit pause and just….stop.”
She tells me about how one summer, she and her sister drove by an Amish community and how she had this thought that it would be really wonderful to stop her life and go spend time there, being someone else. I smile, and tell her it’s funny, because I had just finished a book where the main character was Amish, and I had the same thought. That it would be so great to just go live someone else’s life for a while.
But that’s not what I mean by wanting everything to stop, exactly. I meant I want to stop thinking and feeling and dealing with stuff and just…everything. I don’t want to talk, or be spoken to, i don’t want to cook dinner, or do laundry or play with my kid, or have nightmares or have to be functionable. I don’t want to do anything. I want it all to just stop for a while.
Later, I say, “I don’t want it to be real.”
“I know,” Bea says, “Who would? It’s heartbreaking to realize that the little girl you were was hurt in such a horrible, violating way. It’s painful. But it is real.”
“I don’t want it to be!” My voice is firmer this time. And then the tears come.
“I know. I know. And that’s where this telling the secret stuff is so hard. Because it makes it feel more real. But it’s real either way.”
I cried a lot. I remember Bea telling me she wasn’t sure if this was a time when I needed to sit with the feelings or work on grounding, on orientating, on being outside of myself.
“I don’t know. I really don’t. I don’t want to be present, I just don’t. But I don’t want to be locked in my head, either.” I’m honest today. I don’t have the capacity to edit, or to try to appear perfect. I’m too tired.
“Maybe I will get the coloring stuff out, so you can use it if you want to,” she suggests.
“No.” It’s one word, but it’s all I can get out. I don’t want to color, I don’t want to be in the here and now. It’s dangerous.
“Just being able to say that is powerful. That one word is so powerful,” she tells me.
“It’s not. Its….not okay.” More tears fall.
Bea sits with me, gives me space to cry. I’ve been holding onto these tears for a long time. They need to come out.
“I just want everything to go away.”
“What would that look like? Would something replace the everything?” Bea asks.
I feel like she is toeing the line of shrinky, but it’s a good question, so I let it go. “I don’t know. I just…I want it to go away, to stop. I’m failing at life. I can’t do this anymore.” I didn’t have an answer then, but now I see nothing, just nothing around me, nothing in me, just a clean bright white place, with nothing. Maybe that is what lies at the heart of my anorexic behaviors. Who knows.
“Life is so varied, and huge, I don’t think you can fail at it,” She says.
I’m staring at the chip in my candy pink toe nail polish. I need to fix that. “Well, it’s how I feel. If I could erase it, make it not true, I would.” I’m back to talking about the abuse.
“Yes, I think most people would feel the same. But is there a part– even a teeny tiny part–that would worry you wouldn’t be the same compassionate, kind, patient person you are?”
“No. If it…..no. I’d be…..” I can’t say it out loud. It hurts too much. I was going to say, ‘I’d be good.’
“You would be what?” She asks.
“I wouldn’t be bad.” I finally say.
“You aren’t bad. Not because you were triggered, not in how you reacted. You didn’t hurt anyone. You aren’t bad. And I hope, I really want you to know that you weren’t bad then, either. You didn’t do anything for this to happen, and you aren’t bad.” Her words are soft, and gentle.
I shake my head. “But I am….its funny…not funny haha, but funny…that you think I am those things…”
“Because you don’t think you are?”
I can’t speak, I’m too ashamed to admit that no, I don’t think I’m those things, so I shake my head.
“You are really feeling bad about yourself and having some harsh judgments today.”
Somehow, this led to me saying that all this isn’t just about a doctor appointment, or needing to write a letter.
Bea agreed. “No, it’s about much more. That’s just…the trigger this time. I think it’s about your identity, about who you are.”
“I don’t know who I am,” I whisper.
“This is the time to explore that. Developmentally that’s what your early 30s are for, it’s where you are supposed to be. It can be painful, but there is a fun side, too. Do I like to work with my hands, be in nature, enjoy physical activity?”
“I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I’m NOT doing this,” I say. It’s not loud, but it’s said louder than I have been speaking, so the noise feels almost as if I have yelled. I instantly feel bad, which starts another round of tears.
“I’m feeling some anger there, maybe some defiance– I’m not doing this and no one is going to make me,” Bea says.
After some time, while I am still crying, I shake my head. “No…well, yes. But no. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, and so I am angry because it is easier. And I’m angry that I’m afraid.”
“Yes, that makes sense. It’s okay. Defiance is okay. Angry is okay. It’s okay.” She reassures me.
There was more around this, I’m sure, but I have no clue what it was.
I pull my knees closer, curl into a smaller ball. I feel like a little kid, who is alone and lost and maybe made a big mistake and who just wants their mommy to come give them a hug and make it better.
“I have this sense of you really feeling like the little girl right now, very alone and scared and vulnerable,” Bea says softly.
As hurt as I am, I smile a little bit, because she does get me. “I was thinking, feeling the same way,” I whisper.
Bea “mmmhmms,” encouragingly. It’s what I’ve come to think of as her verbal nods– because I hide my face, I would never know if she were actually nodding or not.
I continue, “And I really just want my mommy. I want her to fix it.” I burst into tears then.
“I know. This is really hard, and painful.” She says. And then, after a minute or so, “What if your therapist wrote a letter to your doctor for you to send?” She says it with so much compassion and care, I don’t know, I could really feel her wanting to help if she could.
“I….I can’t. I wish…but it’s…no. It’s too much like being a child. Like I’m not acting like an adult if I have you or anyone else fix even that part of it.”
“I can see that. But it is okay if you decide you want a letter. That is okay.” She reminds me.
“I just really want it to stop, I don’t want to feel like this. It’s too much, overwhelm and sad and scared, can’t breathe can’t think, need it to all stop right now hurting feeling. And even if I cried to my mom, she wouldn’t fix it. It would just be more secrets and lies to hide it all away.”
“Maybe. It really feels that way. This is really, really hard work. It is. And you are doing it.”
“I’m…. Secrets and lies and pretending nothing bad happens. That’s half my life. More than. Im so tired of secrets and lies and hiding things. But…it’s easy. It’s the easy out.”
“It’s exhausting to hold the secrets and keep the lies going. But it does feel like it’s easier at times, until it isn’t.” She gets it. She validates exactly what I needed her to.
“Sometimes, it feels safer,” I tell her.
“Yes, it does. Of course it does. When that was the norm, of course it feels safer. But it’s only safer until it isn’t. You can’t hold all the secrets, and you shouldn’t have to.”
I don’t know where things went from there, or where this happened, but at one point, I said something– I don’t know what, and it was just this really connected feeling moment, where I could feel that she does care about me, and I needed that.
I say something, and am sobbing through my words, maybe about hurting or wanting someone to fix this, or wanting it all to just end, stop, go away, disappear.
And Bea tells me, “That you are hurting so much just triggers the mom part of me. I wish I could make it better, make the hurt stop for you. If I had a magic wand, and could just wave it and make this all go away for you, I would.”
I just felt really so cared for, and actually believed, for a moment, that she cares and wants to help just because of me, that I am enough for her to care about. I sniffled, and got my sobbing slightly under control, and smiled sadly, even though she couldn’t see me. “But you can’t. No one can.” I wanted to add thank you, and that it meant a lot to have her want to, and that it was okay that she couldn’t because I really don’t expect anyone to be able to fix it, but I don’t do very well sitting with others having positive feelings for me, and I couldn’t say more.
Towards the end of session, Bea got out the coloring stuff, and she pulled out a picture one of her teens had drawn. I was still hiding my face, but she told me that they had been discussing suicidal thoughts and feelings, and Bea suggested she draw them. “It’s sort of dark and morbid, but her drawing turned out so beautiful. She’s really talented.”
I think Bea knew that behind the wanting everything to stop, to go away, to disappear is this desire to not exist anymore. It’s not exactly suicidal ideation, but sort of. And it’s the sort of scary thing I can barely allow myself to think. So instead, I want it all to stop. But Bea isn’t stupid, and I think she wanted me to know it was okay to bring it up. That things that were not allowed to be discussed, verbalized, or even thought of, when I was a teen are allowed with her. That it is okay to talk. It seems she often tells me little stories about teens she has worked with, or is working with, that match up really perfectly with my teen self, only Bea allows their thoughts, feelings and questions, and when I was a teen nothing less than perfect was allowed. It’s another healing thing, just to know that those things are allowed now.
And when I left, I had pulled myself together, and said goodbye with a smile. But by the time I walked to my car, and paid for parking, the shell had cracked. I held the tears back until Jewel’s ‘you were meant for me’ came on, and then I lost it. While I’m not missing the love of my life, the way she is in the song, there is something about what she is describing that just feels the way my restless, can’t settle, nothing is really right, but trying so hard feelings feel. I don’t know. The last stanza always gets me. “Put on my pj’s and hop into bed…I’m half alive but I feel mostly dead…keep tryin’ to tell myself it’ll be all right, I just shouldn’t think anymore tonight…. Cause dreams last for so long, even after you’re gone…..”
That pretty much is exactly how I feel. I’ve put on my pj’s, and crawled into bed. I have my teddy bear and blanky snuggled with me. I feel emotionally drained, and heartbroken. I am half alive, but mostly dead, and it will be all right as long as I don’t think anymore tonight.
Broken (trigger warning)
I’ve been MIA for a little while, and I’m sorry about that. Things have been messy. I haven’t posted about my therapy sessions because I’ve been so dissociated, I start having trouble remembering what happened before the session is fully over. Normally, I can leave session and write down some notes of what happened, and that helps me to remember so I can write about it later. But now, well, I just don’t remember enough to even write some notes. I’m here but not here and the feeling is so strong right now, I feel floaty and gone, yet I’m able to present a perfectly present appearance. How is that possible? I don’t know. Bea once told me I have a talent for dissociation. Perhaps that is all it is– a talent. Yet it feels like a curse at times because then the people I need to know I’m not okay, can’t see it.
I feel broken. I don’t have any other words, just broken. Bea is convinced that the problem is not the past this time, but current day struggles. I don’t know. I think she is wrong. My current day life is triggering a lot of past stuff. I don’t know. I hate being in conflict with Bea. I need her to see my stuff from my view, my side, regardless of what she really thinks. But I don’t want her to lie or placate me, I trust her because of her honesty. So it’s all very messy. I don’t know what I want. I’m lost, I can’t see the forest from the trees. Or something.
I see my past everywhere. I was sitting at a cafe, downtown today, and a man walked by wearing sandals. Triggered; a guy wearing sandals. He wore sandals all summer long. I put my daughter to bed, and I’m laying in her bed next to her, rubbing her back and singing our pacifier song, and I’m seeing, feeling, thinking of him rubbing my back and what’s happened next. And I can feel the anxiety, the anticipation, the fear, sometimes the excitement I had then. At my daughter’s age, when he put me to bed. I’m upset and hurt and feel abandoned because no one saw, no one saved me. I wanted someone to save me. So no; it’s not my current day life, not exactly. Of course, Kat is signed up for school for the fall now. That is triggering and anxiety producing and it is current day problems. Our nanny is leaving to go back to school herself. That is a current day problem that is scary and upsetting. I’m still unable to talk to hubby, to get him to be really emotionally present with me. Which is causing fear and the feeling that he has left me. So yes. There are current day problems. Which are probably adding to this. But that’s not all this is. And I don’t think Bea gets this. And some of whatever this is, some of this huge broken feeling is just something I can not put words to right now. So I can’t make someone understand, because I have no words to explain.
I can fake okay for short periods of time. But really, I’m not okay. I’m so far past not okay, I’m broken. And broken is bad. Broken is scary. Broken is a very dangerous place to be. I don’t get to this place often. The last time was after I left the boyfriend, found out I was pregnant and had an abortion. Before that, it was when I was 15; late spring, early summer, I think. And before that, it was the October I turned 14. And maybe when I was 9; but that time I was really hiding the broken feeling, even from myself. So I’m not sure I’m right about that.
I’ve emailed Bea, and told her I feel broken. I wrote that broken and not okay means that I am eating and throwing up and cutting, it means that everything feels messy, and unorganized, out of control and it’s hard to do much beyond what I have to do to function. But there is another kind of not okay when I’m feeling broken. It’s the not okay that I claim is okay. It’s the other extreme, the bubble. It’s restricting, still cutting, being organized and scheduled and on top of everything and completely in control. And it works, as long as I don’t have to admit to not being okay, and as long as I don’t allow any of the negatives, the ugly, the scary stuff and bad thoughts into the bubble. I can feel myself swinging towards the other end of this, the okay that really isn’t okay. So, I wrote to Bea, I told her that I had to let someone know I’m not okay, before I get to that place of denying anything that might pop the bubble.
I don’t think she got it. She seemed intent on telling me to try something new, that this was current day stuff, and I don’t need old behaviors that I use to deal with past stuff to cope with current day stuff. She said something about being glad I emailed, and glad I could define not okay. That clearly I don’t like what I’m doing and feel it’s unhealthy, so trying something new now, because it’s current day problems, would be good. Doesn’t she get it? If I knew how to do something else, if it was that easy, I’d already be doing it. I’m not ready to give up the ways I cope. But I know I’m losing control of myself, of my life. I don’t know.
I called Kay, yesterday. I told her I’m broken again. She didn’t have a lot of time to talk to me, but she told me is okay, I’m okay, she’s here. She reminded me there is nothing I can do or say that will make her leave me. And she reminded me I can call her anytime, anytime at all and she can be to me within an hour if I really need her. So I have a “safety net”, so to speak. And Kay gets it, she knows what broken means. She’s been there for broken before, and helped me get the pieces put back together.
I’m not going fall apart completely, not on the outside. I have my daughter to care for. In a way, it’s harder, because I know if she wasn’t around, I wouldn’t be struggling as much to appear normal and fine. I’d just let myself fall apart and get it over with. Instead. I’m struggling to hang on and function. Which is the good part; I’ll keep going until I get the pieces put back together, because Kat still needs me.
Brass keys and finding me
Last week, Thursday’s session. It was one of those sessions that I barely remember, but feels like a turning point. We talked about a lot of things, maybe the most important the idea of telling hubby more about my past. I’ve refused to discuss it with Bea lately. She has been pushing me to talk to hubby, and I finally told her I needed her to stop, to be firmly on my side and it felt like she was against me when she pushed for me to talk to him. She agreed to follow the road I was on, even though she was afraid I was heading towards self destruction.
It started out talking about Easter, and seeing kenny. It still feels slightly surreal, like it didn’t happen, couldn’t have happened.
“He was talking to him. They talked.” I’m still in shock over this. They have talked before, of course. But it feels different now that I’m not hiding my past from myself. It feels wrong, to have my husband talking to the guy who hurt me.
“What if hubby had been aware, and could have been supporting you? You wouldn’t have had to be alone in the kitchen, thinking about cutting,” Bea says. Her eyes are kind, and she isn’t pushing me to talk to hubby, it’s a question, but not pushy, just calm. She has a way of making this conversation feel like normal talk between two people, and not like we are discussing a scary moment, one of my nightmares come to life.
I shake my head. I’m curled up on the couch, and Bea is across from me in her chair. She’s looking at me intently, but patiently. I cover my face with my hand, and then set it down. Looking back at Bea, I shake my head again. “He can’t know. He wouldn’t be able to act normal.”
She nods. “There would have to be an understanding that he could not say anything to anyone, that it’s your choice to tell. He’d have to know ahead of time that he would need to be able to act like things were no different than before he knew.”
“He can’t do it. He’d be too angry to sit and have a conversation and pretend things are normal and okay.”
“Would that feel good to have him angry? Like a protector?” Bea asks.
All I can think is of the damage his anger could do. “No. It would ruin everything.”
“Ahhh. You would have to be really reassured he could hold it in,” she says, understanding on her face.
“I think….I mean….most people….” I stop, frustrated with myself. I don’t know how to express this, or explain it without sounding like I think I’m special. “I don’t think I’m special, and I think this is going to sound like I think I’m so great…..but most normal…” I stop and look at Bea. She doesn’t like the word normal, she challenges me on what normal is constantly. “Average. Regular people can’t do what I do. They can’t pretend as well as I can. I’ve spent my whole life pretending, it’s easy for me. Most people…I don’t think they can do that.” I look down, embarrassed. I feel like I’m placing myself above other people, and I don’t want to do that. But I also know my ability to pretend things away and act ‘normal’ is not something everyone can do.
Bea waits a moment before answering. “No. Not everyone can do that like you do. Most people can’t to the level that you can. But hubby had to be able to hide somewhat, with his mother. He developed a way to hide and pretend her actions away.”
I shake my head. “That’s different. It’s not the same as me. It’s pretending she isn’t crazy, that she is a normal mom. But it’s not the same as me.”
I’m surprised when Bea nods. “It’s not the same. You really developed what therapists would call a false self. You had lots of reasons to do this, and you did it very well.”
We have never talked about my ability to pretend like this. I’ve told her how good I pretend, I’ve thought she didn’t believe me, I have thought she was buying the miss perfect facade, and she’s popped the bubble of perfection. But we have never talked about it like this. I feel slightly validated to hear Bea admit I can do this very well. I secretly like that she sees through the facade, but I am glad she realizes how good of a facade it is.
“It’s harder…I can’t pretend like I used to.” I look down. I hate this, I miss my ability to pretend. Ever since Bea popped the bubble, I’ve struggled to put the facade back in place. But it’s not the same. It’s not as good as it used to be, and it feels wrong, somehow. I don’t want to hide and pretend anymore.
“That’s a good thing!” Bea smiles at me.
“In your world, it is. In mine……it’s hard.”
“What would it be like to be honest with hubby? To stop hiding in your life, in your family? Well, your family here, not your extended family.” Bea asks.
I shake my head at her. It’s not happening. But the idea of it is like a cool breeze, it’s like a swim in the ocean, it’s like sitting on a beach with a fruity drink in my hand. It’s refreshing and freeing. But it can’t be. “I just can’t do it.”
“This is progress…you aren’t shutting the conversation down. Before, you have refused to think about it. It was too much to even consider. Now, we are talking about it a little. Whatever happens, it’s going to take time, and lots of conversations before you really make a choice.”
I shrug. Maybe. I hate that she is so confident we are heading down a road to talk to hubby. Even if she is right, even if I can see that might be where this road ends. I’m not ready to admit it.
“I imagine there were a lot of feelings that came up, seeing him again. Do you know what you were feeling when he walked in the door?” Bea asks.
There is too much to categorize, to explain. It’s a tidal wave of feelings, an undertow threatening to drown me. “I don’t know. I just….he was there, and I said hi. I went in the kitchen. I couldn’t think. I don’t know.” It’s all a blur.
“Was he there a long time?”
“No…maybe 10….15 minutes. Not long.” I breathe deep, trying to calm down. Those few minutes were a lifetime. Time slowed down, I swear. I stared at the knife block in my parent’s kitchen, sitting on the counter by the stainless steel stove. I pictured picking one up, cutting my wrists. The thought was so similar to my actions when I was 15. It’s confusing. Time mixes up, and I’m lost. I can hear hubby and him talking, and hubby has the tone in his voice that is relaxed. He likes the guy. Crap. This is not okay. My mom is gushing thank you for bringing the cake over. I don’t know. It’s all a mess. The knives are right there. This crazy can stop running through my head, and I can be back in control. I don’t grab one of the knives. I clench my fists, and let my nails dig into my palms. That’s what I focus on. Time is never ending.
“That had to feel like the longest 15 minutes of your life, like it was never going to be over.” Bea is sympathetic, but the look she gives me isn’t full of pity, it’s understanding. She gets it, she can imagine it, feel it.
She asks me if there were good feelings of seeing him. I barely register her question, I don’t even know the words she used, but it penetrates the fog I’m in, and I know what she is asking. I cover my face, and then bury my head. “I don’t know, I just….it was…I don’t know.” My face is hot, flaming with shame.
“They are just feelings. They don’t mean anything. Letting them out is better than keeping them trapped,” Bea says softly, soothingly.
I shake my head. My face is still hidden. “I shouldn’t…I can’t.”
“That’s judgement. Stop judging yourself for feelings. They are just feelings, acknowledge them, accept them. They don’t mean anything.” She says.
I sigh. “When I was 12…..”
“Did you remember more?” She prompts me softly to keep speaking.
“No. But the feelings….it’s the same.” I shake my head. It’s all mashed together in my mind, a confusing tangle. “He pushed me away. He pushed me away from him.” My voice cracks now, and tears threaten to fall. “I know, rationally, I know why he pushed me away, and was disgusted. But it hurts. And I don’t understand why it hurts now.” The words come out in a rush. I’m afraid if I don’t say them quickly, I won’t say them at all.
“And why did he push you away?” Bea asks. She knows the answer, and the way she asks I can tell she wants me to say it; that she is hoping my saying it and talking it out will help the mess in my head.
“Because someone was there.” I can’t say more, I can’t explain it better,
“Who?” The question is gentle, but firm.
“My mom.” I breathe out the air I’d been holding, and the tears come now.
Bea talks about how hard that had to be, confusing, difficult. That maybe I had kissed him in front of my mom because I was testing if the game was really okay and normal. She says how terrible it had to feel to be the one who was in trouble, when kenny had been raping me all those years.
“I don’t know if I got in trouble. I don’t remember. It just feels like I was talked to. But I don’t know.” I’m frustrated with myself for not knowing more.
“When I read what you wrote, it sounded like a 12 year old speaking to me. And the ‘talked to about appropriate behavior for a crush’ sounds like adult words. I believe you were talked to. And it’s no wonder you blocked this all out. It’s painful.” Bea tells me.
I breathe a sigh of relief. She believes me. Even if I don’t believe myself, Bea believes me. “It hurt. My feelings were hurt. And that’s how I felt on Saturday. Just the same…all the same feelings.” It’s the best I can do to explain.
Bea gets it. There is understanding in her voice when she speaks. “Of course. Your mom let him in the house, talked to him, was happy to see him. And your feelings and needs were ignored. It felt like rejection all over again. And he was right there, acting like everything was fine, like he had done nothing wrong, and you were forced to go along with that act. Of course the feelings were the same.”
It’s enough that I look up at her, wipe my eyes. “I really don’t want to cry today,” I tell her, as fresh tears stream down my face.
“Let’s stop here then, take some time to just get grounded and come back,” she tells me. The look on her face is understanding, sympathy…it’s kind, but no pity. She’s not looking at me like I’m less than because of all this. I wonder how that is possible.
We talk about me, about this therapy journey and how far I’ve come. I’m hazy and emotionally wiped out, so the actual words don’t stick with me. The feeling does, though. It’s like a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders. Comforting. Bea believes me, even when I doubt myself. Bea sees that I’ve changed, that I’m more ‘me.’ We talk about hiding, and how I can’t do it so much anymore. She says it’s okay, although I wonder. I feel raw, exposed, naked, a good portion of the time. It makes me defensive and hypervigilant when I feel like I have to hide and can’t quite get the facade in place. I don’t know.
Things feel different inside me. I don’t know exactly what it is. It’s not numb, but a strange calm. It’s not bad, simply different, new. It feels like the fact I can’t hide as easily is peaceful in a way. I feel like something is changing. Like something is on the horizon, just out of reach, and if I work hard enough, stretch enough, I will be able to grab it. I don’t know what ‘it’ is. It’s like an elusive brass key, one that will open a door to finding me. Maybe, this is all a journey to finding myself, and maybe, just maybe, I’m finding me piece by piece.
Are you okay?
Trigger warning for talk about sex, touching and mention of childhood sexual abuse. Please be careful, and take care of yourself.
I’m curled on my side, facing away from hubby. I’m trying to hold back the tears and the panic. He lays down, and curls himself around me.
“I love you,” he says. His voice sounds far away.
“I love you, too.” I whisper it, for if I speak out loud, I know my voice will crack and I will cry.
A half hour ago, I was sleeping with my husband. I think I instigated things again, but I’m not 100% sure about that. I remember snuggling up to him, and then the next thing I know, we are having sex. Well, not sex exactly, he was touching me, and my body was feeling good, and my mind was panicking.
He seemed intent on touching me until….well, you know. And I can fake it. But he was doing something that was overwhelming, and I felt out of control, and it was all too much for me to handle. I felt held down, I felt scared and alone, helpless, like I couldn’t stop it and I wanted the too good, too much feeling to stop. I felt like I was 5, maybe 6– a child.
Some part of me remembered I am a grown up, and that this is 2015. “Stop, stop!” I yelled, begged, pleaded. It took a moment, but he stopped touching me. He didn’t get it, though, didn’t realize I was stuck in the past, having a flashback, and he bent over me to kiss me, hands on my shoulders. I screamed again, “Stop, stop.” And rolled on my side, curled in the fetal position.
That’s when he realized it wasn’t okay. “Hon? Are you okay?” He asked.
I panicked. Old habits kicked in. I rolled over, smiled, “I’m good, come over here. I’m sorry. I’m okay.” I was dissociated and numb, but I made out with Hubby until he was convinced I was fine. And we had sex. I said sorry a few more times. Old lessons from the boyfriend told me it wasn’t safe to say stop, to ruin the mood. I wasn’t there, not really. I couldn’t feel or think. I was frozen. When it was over, and he went to the bathroom, I rolled over, facing away from him.
“Are you okay?” He asks.
I nod my head. I don’t think I can talk. The tears really want to fall.
“Are you sure?” He asks again.
I nod. “Yeah.” It’s another whisper. He holds me, and I let him. Even though he’s right there, I feel so far away from him.
I wonder what he would do if I had said I wasn’t okay? I think this over. Maybe this is the time to be honest and authentic, to be real. Maybe it’s time to start. “Hubby?” I whisper, in case he is asleep.
“Yeah?” He asks.
“Nothing. Just checking if you were awake,” I say stupidly. I’d wanted to ask him what if I said I wasn’t okay? What if I said I was feeling flashbacky and like I might cry? But at the last minute, I chicken out. I can’t be sure he will go along with the hypothetical, and let me pretend it’s really a what if in order to feel safer. I’m not sure he won’t be hurt by this. So I say nothing.
“Are you sure?” He asks.
I pause. He’s double checking, something I have wanted him to do. But now, it feels like he is distant, not really there or caring. “Yeah.”
“It doesn’t sound like you are okay.” He sounds serious. “You can talk to me,” he says.
I’m not so sure I can. I want to tell him I don’t know if I can talk to him, if I can trust him with some of my pain, and if he can hold that pain, not try to fix it, be okay with the broken parts of me. I want to tell him I’m afraid his reaction will be wrong, and I’ll only be more hurt. I want to tell him that I want so badly to talk to him, because I feel so disconnected from him, and that hurts. I want to say that I feel like crying, and I don’t know exactly why. That it was too much, and I felt out of control just like I did when I was a child, and that I’m really quite dissociated and feeling much more like a child than an adult right now. I want to tell him I’m afraid if I start talking, I won’t stop, and he will leave because it will be too much, because I am too needy.
Instead, I say, “I know.”
When he asks a third time if I’m okay, it’s because I jump when the dog gets up and loudly stomps to the kitchen for a drink. “I don’t know,” I say in response.
“What don’t you know?” He asks.
I’m quite for what feels forever, hubby even repeats his question. “If I’m okay or not. I don’t know.” I finally tell him.
“Why don’t you know? What is it that’s bothering you?” He asks. I’m sure it’s not, but his voice sounds very business like and annoyed.
“I don’t know, babe. Go to sleep, I’m okay,” I say, reverting to the familiar. He argues about it for a moment, but he finally rolls over and shifts around until he is comfortable.
I grab my iPad. “I’m going to read or write for a little while. Sleep good.”
“I love you. Sleep good, honey,” he says. He sounds content now. Things are back to normal. I’ve told him I am okay, and he can stop worrying. His life is back on track–smooth sailing, easy and calm.
How am I ever going to talk to hubby? I love him so much, I want to protect him, and allow him the calm, easy life he wants and needs. But….I love him so much, it’s lonely feeling disconnected from him, and it hurts. What’s a girl to do?
I’m sick. The two weeks of no sleep, of trying to hold it together but failing miserably, of not taking care of my body, have caught up to me. I’m pretty sure I have the flu (the cough, sore body, headache, cold type flu, not the puking flu), plus a sinus infection. It’s awful. I’m downing meds, and sleeping nonstop.
On Wednesday, I felt more tired and run down than normal. I drank extra coffee, and told myself to suck it up. On Thursday morning, I woke up stuffy, and tired, feeling sore and weak, but I blamed it on my fibro and allergies. By late Thursday afternoon, I had no choice but to admit I was sick. I crawled into bed, and had Kat join me with snacks and her iPad with headphones. I set her up with a show and bribed her with gummies. I felt awful, yesterday I hadn’t had much energy to play, and now today I had none. I texted hubby, and he managed to leave work early and get home by 5:30. It’s a perk of his new position at work that he can set his hours, work around things I need from him. Aside from meetings and trainings he has to attend, his schedule is pretty flexible. It’s great. And, the stress of his old job and the insane hours are gone.
So, it’s late Friday afternoon, and I’m still sick. I hate being sick. There’s something about being sick, especially this time, that has knocked all my defenses out, so on top of being sick, I’m having a lot of trouble emotionally. I feel like everything is a trigger, and while I’m so tired I am sleeping way more, it means more nightmares. Between the stuffed up nose, pressure from my sinuses, and sore throat, it’s hard to breathe. And that sets off triggers of the boyfriend. And the phlegmy snot in the back of my throat makes me gag. I’ve thrown up from it twice today. It reminds me of things in my mouth, stuff in my mouth that I was told to swallow. Ugh. My stomach is churning just writing that.
My body being being sore like this triggers memories of the boyfriend, too. He liked to be rough with me. It made him happy. And then there’s the physical memories of soreness down there. I thought maybe those were done, but with my defenses down, those memories are back too. So I’ve spent some of my day crying over the pain and horror. Of course, as I cried about it all, I wanted to call, or text, or even email Bea. I wanted her to tell me it was okay, that I was okay. That this will end. I didn’t reach out to her, for fear of being too needy.
I wonder if getting sick was the way for me to avoid going to my parents. I’m really very conflicted about going, about wanting to go. So maybe sickness overtook me in my rundown state so I could avoid time spent with them. I don’t know. A part of me wishes we had gone anyway, and I could be there with my mom taking care of me. She’s a good care taker when people are sick. I have hubby taking care of me today, which mostly meant he got Kat out of the house.
He’ll snuggle me and be there for me after she goes to bed. That much I know. I could choose to open up to him. To tell him being sick triggers all kinds of horrific memories. I’m not sure I can do that though. I need to think about it.
Looking for the grey and not okay
Monday night, before I managed to get my perfect facade back in place, I emailed Bea. I told her I maybe wasn’t okay. I told her I hated that she brought those things up. I told her that I was struggling. I said my feelings were hurt, and confused that she was saying we were done talking trauma; that maybe I was finally feeling like I was allowed to talk about the ugly things for the first time in my life. I said that maybe the fight with hubby was a lot worse than she thought, and I recapped the fight we had, although I left out the fact I debated ways to run away from my life permanently (I’m a little scared to admit that to my therapist). I said I didn’t understand why she wasn’t going to talk anymore, and that it felt bad and made me anxious. I said that I had maybe stopped talking about some things because I was afraid to keep bringing them up, that I thought she would get tired of having that same conversation, and that she would decide I was too needy, so I just put away the things I was talking about too much. I was really honest, more honest than I’ve been in a long time, despite the fact I kept things hypothetical by using “maybe” in almost every sentence. It feels safer somehow to do that. I even listed out symptoms, and admitted there was an increase, but I refused to say how much or how often. I sounded a lot like 15 year old me in the email; snotty and bratty, mean, and angry. But mostly? 15 year old me was scared, always scared, and felt really unloveable. She used the snottiness to keep a thick shell of perfectness and okayness around her.
Bea wrote back pretty quickly, thankfully.
Thank you for your honesty and for being the “real” Alice here–the one who has feelings, and struggles, and isn’t perfect. I will gladly bear responsibility for this, so if it helps you to rage at me then do so! It is that meaningful and important, and it wasn’t until today that I decided to try to break through the crust of perfection and “okayness” that has been so thick lately. I know the inside part of you, the part beneath the crust, has been denied its life lately, and while it might not be pretty it is real and authentic. And that counts. It has been denied its voice and its existence–warts and all–for too long.
It’s fine at times to have to function, right?! I get that. But that’s not our goal for therapy. Well, it is, but it’s to function authentically without sacrificing your real self to do so. I do get that the fight with hubby was really, really bad. I have been concerned ever since then. I don’t really know how we can move forward much more without bringing hubby into the picture. His need for you to be perfect and “okay” is about him, not you. He needs to understand what this is doing to you. You might be “okay” on the outside, but I feel like this is a big step backwards. We need not only you to step forward, but hubby and your relationship to step forward as well.
I didn’t mean it’s supposed to be over!!! Not at all. I just meant that it’s been less intense, with no new memories to process at the moment. I know there’s plenty more work to be done, but it hasn’t felt so intense lately. That is why I wanted to check in about the symptoms–that, and I also have been concerned about the fact that you have been stuffing your needs and feelings inside in order to function in your marriage.
Sorry for the trifecta today:( No, we aren’t all done I’m sorry, but I don’t regret it because it had to be done or I would be pretending everything’s okay too. And as a general rule across all my sessions, I need to talk less. I will be mindful of the stress–if you need me to talk more just ask.
I decided to write back, and her second response was that we are missing all the shades of grey, and that seems to be the biggest dilemma: how do we make it so the okay and the not okay parts can coexist at the same time?
I suppose the grey space would mean both parts– the good and the bad– would feel real. But how does that work? How do two ways of being, that both feel not real, merge and feel real? I don’t understand. Maybe it’s because my parents were professionals at living only the good and perfects parts, so I learned to split off anything ugly really early on. And thanks to Kenny, I had some really ugly stuff to push away and pretend wasn’t real. It feels like I have two me’s, two lives. I don’t know. It’s confusing. I keep trying to find a good way to explain it, but I can’t seem to find the right words.
This always seems to be what I come back to. I live in the black or the white, the bad or the good. If I’m living in a place where I am the good me, the bad stuff feels like it never happened, I can almost pretend it away, and I begin to believe that I’m a liar, and nothing really ever happened. Even then, I feel like I am wearing a mask, pretending to be perfect, pretending to be something I’m not. If I am living in a place where I am the bad me, I feel like the good parts are fake, and that I’m evil deep down to my core.
There’s the “good and perfect” story of my life, mostly the family/public version, and there’s the “story with the ugly stuff.” They might be about the same person, but the stories don’t really mesh. If I’m in a place where the good perfect story is what I’m living, then the ugly stuff feels fake, and like it can not intrude into my life or it will ruin everything. If I’m in a place where the ugly bad stuff feels real, then the good me feels fake. Well, even when I’m living the “perfect” story, the good me feels fake, like a very good actress, or someone who wants to be good but just isn’t. I guess it’s like how could it be real, feel real, when Friday night he was touching me, having sex with me, and Sunday morning we would all be sitting in church, and he would be a completely different person? It’s like I had to work even harder to be perfect so I could hide the bad things I did, but that perfect part doesn’t feel real, either; she hid all the bad, tried to be perfect, worked very hard to earn my parents’ love. That feels like an act, not like the real me.
It’s like only one of those “alices” can be real. Either the bad one who played the game, or the good perfect girl my parents loved. I don’t know. I don’t know how they are supposed to be combined. I wasn’t a stupid kid, I knew the game Kenny played wasn’t okay, that it was bad, and that I was bad for…well. Anyway. So I had to be perfect, and good, and pretend it was okay, and be okay, because I was a good girl, my parents couldn’t love a bad girl, and I knew good girls didn’t play games like that. I never want to be a child again, being a child was scary because I had no power or control over anything and oh my God, I really just realized that right now this moment. Being a child meant doing what my parents expected and always performing and being perfect and good enough in order to earn their love, and it meant never saying a word about the bad things happening with Kenny, because I was a good girl, and good girls don’t play games like that. Even I knew that. But I couldn’t say no. I had no power to tell anyone no.
And I’m not okay, and this isn’t okay, and nothing feels okay. But it only took me until late Tuesday morning to get my “outside okay” back. So. I admit it. I’m not okay. I’ve been pretending okay for a long time, but at least I was being mostly honest about the not okay in therapy and even a little with hubby, but then we had that fight, and all I’ve done is really pretend okay all the time, no matter what. Because I don’t know how else to be. Because if I really stop and think about everything, and stop hiding from feelings and the bad hard stuff, then I will fall apart, because it’s too much and it makes me feel out of control and crazy and like I might drown in the bad feelings. So, where do I go from here? I’ll admit, there is a small part of me that maybe is thankful someone saw through the crust of okayness. But I also hate it. Because now I have this mess in my head, and I don’t feel okay at all. I don’t want to hear that I will work through this. Or that I should sit with it. I can’t sit with it. It’s too much. Way, way too much, because it’s everything. It’s like I’m being smothered by it all.
I emailed Bea back, talking about the grey space. I tried to find the words, but it really was a convoluted mess of crazy. Mostly, it was everything written up above, me thinking out loud, trying to figure this mess out.
I don’t understand why things have to feel so messy, and so hard and so out of control if I’m not pretending to be perfect and if I don’t have that thick crust of okayness on. If I’m pretending everything is fine, I can ignore all the bad feelings, and smile and be fine. But, without that….I am falling apart. Bea cracked the shell on Monday, and the honesty filled emails I have sent since finished it off. It’s barely there anymore. The thick crust of perfection is more of a veneer now, and all my insides are falling out left and right. I’ve broken down into tears multiple times the last two days. I’ve caught myself dissociating and feeling fuzzy and not here. My eating habits are out of control. And cutting….well, we just don’t need to go there. Everything is worse.
I’m not okay. And I have no idea how to live in the grey.