The teen’s questions

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

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

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

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

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

What would you have done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My mother made that choice, not me.”

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

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

“No, you can’t know.”

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

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

“You would have?”

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

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

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

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

“I probably would come into your office mad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, yes. But also, Kenny.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I could do that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

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She Believes Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

“School?” Bea asks.

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

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

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

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

“And….then he…..well, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” She agrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just…I have a question.”

“Okay. You can ask it.”

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

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

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

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

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

The meeting place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What if that isn’t enough?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you trust?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. Maybe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

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

“I was so snarky.”

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

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

“I’m not mad at you.”

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

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

“I don’t know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I am sorry,” I whisper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. That,” I agree.

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

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

“Who do you trust?” She asks gently.

“I….I don’t know….I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

“Ok.”

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

“Yeah. Maybe,” I say.

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

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

Monday: part six, she wants to hear what I have to say 

Here we are! Part 6; the very last post about this session. Gah. If you read all of these, you should get a cookie. I can’t send you home made cookies or cupcakes over the Internet, so go buy some, or something, okay? 

Bea goes back to reading, and I hug Hagrid close to me, grateful to have him and the comfort he offers. What did I ever do without him? 

And on Thursday (or maybe it was Monday?) you asked me to remind you of the October stuff. I really couldn’t, just couldn’t say all of it for whatever reason. Even thought I know you know, even though I’ve written and even maybe talked about some of it before, I just couldn’t. So here’s the list.  



I overdosed in October when I was 14



I left Brian in October and then I found out I was pregnant in October. I had an abortion in November right around thanksgiving. The time is blurry. I know it’s crazy sounding. I just know it was like right before break. I don’t know. 

 


my grandpa died two years ago, November. Also before thanksgiving. I don’t remember the exact day. I feel like I should. I remember what I was doing when my mom called. I remember that night. It’s like watching a movie of myself. Not real. But I remember the events, just not the day or the date. 

grandpas birthday is October 23, and mine is the 24th. The last time I saw him was our birthday party, two years ago. It’s stupid but I feel like seeing grandma…..when she hasn’t planned to be here….seeing her in the fall, it’s so much like the last time with grandpa. I have this irrational fear I’m never going to see her again.

“I knew there was a lot in October. This is a lot,” she says, pausing from her reading.  

I want to talk about Brian. The boyfriend. I’m having nightmares about him again. It’s sort of that time of year, I guess. We met in early fall. And I left in the late fall. So. I don’t know. Maybe that’s all it is. But a part of me really just wants to tell you my nightmares — memories, really–about him. But they are awful and disgusting and it’s……I don’t know. They are scary, but scary in this very grown up something very bad and disturbing is happening way. It’s different than Kenny memories. But just like with Kenny, I was usually agreeing to do whatever it was Brian wanted me to do. It was easier that way. But now, it seems more shameful. So I’m…maybe embarrassed?…….afraid of your reaction and what you will think?….I don’t know. Something. I just……I want to talk but I am afraid. And I’m sure you are probably sick of this. I know I’m always afraid but when I decided I want to talk, I do end up talking after going through all this talking of being afraid. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I can’t just talk.

“I am not sick of you in anyway. I’m not mad or frustrated. If you want to talk about talking, about being afraid, about being unsure, I want to hear it. I’m not sick of that at all. This is hard stuff. It’s tough to believe it’s safe to tell, to talk about. If you want to talk about it, I want to hear you talk about it. I want to hear your stories, what you have to say, your feelings. I’m not upset at all. I enjoy working with you, and I am not going anywhere. I am not leaving.” Bea speaks so adamantly, so seriously, every word has weight and meaning, I believe her. In that moment, I believe her. And I feel so safe. 

“Do you want to talk about the boyfriend?” She asks me after a moment,,

I nod, slowly. “I’m afraid. But I think….maybe. I just….you don’t know. I…the things….I did…I just….” I can’t explain, but a part of me wants to. The things I agreed to do, the things he forced, they play in a loop in my mind lately, awake or asleep. It’s sick. 

“I’m not going to judge you. I haven’t yet, and I won’t now. I can promise you that. This wasn’t your fault.” 

I shake my head. “It’s not so simple.”

“It never is as simple as black and white. But I’m not leaving you, or judging you.” Bea says, 

I nod, “okay.” 

“We need to wrap up in a minute, I want you to have some time to get grounded,” Bea says gently. “We can talk about the boyfriend on Thursday if you want, that will give you some time to think about it more.” 

“Okay, Thursday. Maybe. Or we talk about talking?” I ask, afraid of beinf reprimanded. 

“Sure. We can so that, too.” Bea agrees easily, and I remember her earlier words. 

I want to hear what you have to say. I want to hear your stories. I’m not leaving. I’m not mad. I’m not judging you. 

I’m not sure anyone has ever said words like that to me– ‘I want to hear what you have to say’– and I feel deeply cared for and valued right now. I spend the rest of my session working on picking my head up, looking at Bea, moving my body; coming back to the present. The whole time this is going on, a part of me is simply basking in the warm sunshine of Bea’s words. They feel like a fantasy, pixie dust sparkling in the air, nothing more than an illusion. But they are real words, and there is real true meaning behind them. And so I sit and soak up the warmth provided by her words. 

“She wants to hear what I have to say.”  

The first thing: part two

Bea is reading, and I am shaking and crying, curled in a sitting up ball on the couch. Hagrid has pressed himself into my side, and he licks my hands and arms every once in a while. It’s taking what feels like forever for her to read what I’ve written, and I’m ready to bolt out the door now, let her keep my iPad. Instead, I force myself to sit and wait, and I cry from the massive amount of anxiety I am feeling. 
Just when I’m about to speak, to tell Bea she isn’t talking and that’s bad, that I’m mega freaked out, she starts to talk. “Let me say again, how sorry I am for not getting to your email sooner. I know how important it is to get a response, and I am really sorry.” 
I want to scream that it’s not important, that it didn’t matter, and that I don’t want an apology. But I don’t. Because it did matter. But I don’t say anything, instead I try to shrink into myself even more. I don’t know. I don’t like this. 
“The truth is, I have been busy and distracted these past few weeks. Like everyone else, getting into a new routine, new schedule. It’s not an excuse, but it’s what happened. I saw your email, and meant to reply and it got pushed down in all my emails. So it got answered later than it would have.” She pauses for a moment, then. I get it, what she is saying. It’s exactly what I had thought– logically. 
“That doesn’t take away from the feelings of rejection, or hurt. And I am sorry. I know how important getting a response to an email is. You don’t know this,– because how could you know this if I don’t tell you?– I am constantly judging what kind of state you are in, what you can handle, if I should push or back off, or protect you and keep you from digging too deep. I am thinking about you are where you are emotionally all the time. That is very important to me. And this summer, I was very aware of needing to help protect you, keep you from digging too much. There were so many high stress events and changes happening in your life, and I knew that you just needed to stay together and cope until these events passed. But I have no expectation that you will always be able to cope, or that you won’t get upset, or that you won’t fall apart sometimes. You can’t fail, because I have no expectation of that whatsoever. I’m not leaving, not at all. I’m not going anywhere. I might, at times, email you back to say I’m taking a two hour break ands will email back after that, or I might at times be busy in sessions and have to email back that I won’t be able to respond until tonight. But, I am not going anywhere. And if you do email, and I haven’t emailed back as quickly as you needed a response, then please send me a text, just saying you need me to reply to an email. That’s okay. I’m perfectly okay with that, because I am a therapist that believes if your therapist is going to encourage you to go to these yucky scary places, then your therapist should be there to support you, so you aren’t alone. Does that sound fair?” 
I’m still shaking, and a little zoned out, gone, but Bea’s words are sinking in. It might take a while for me to process them, but I’m hearing her. I nod my head. “Yeah…..I didn’t….I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad.” 
“I know you weren’t, that’s not what this letter was about. I’m glad you wrote it. You were right, this was the first thing.” Bea’s voice is genuine, not a hint of anger in her tone. I don’t understand it. “I don’t have more affection towards coping Alice than broken Alice. In fact, when coping Alice is around, I wonder about the little girl, and the broken Alice and all the other parts. I like this part, this honest and creative and vulnerable and authentic Alice who wrote this. But again, it’s not this or that. They are all you. The Alice who organized everything for Kat for school, who impressed the school officials and teachers with her organization and comprehension of her child, the Alice who fought and got that IEP? That’s the same Alice who is hurting so much right now. They are all parts of you.” 
I shrug. Nothing feels like parts of me. Everything feels separated, smashed into a million pieces. I wonder if I should say something. I really can’t, any words I might have are lodged in the back of my throat. I’m just….stuck right now.
“It makes sense to me, that the little girl would be feeling like this. It’s like starting over, in some ways. She needs to know I can still handle her feelings, still contain things, still keep the space safe. She’s wondering if I’ll still be there. It makes so much sense. And it’s okay.” Once again, Bea pauses. I sniffle. She gets it. Even unsure and wary, I’m grateful to have all these feelings validated. 
“I do think, this year, I am going to expect that we do some work around the eating stuff. Not right now. Not this moment. It doesn’t feel very urgent to me, but I don’t think it’s entirely unfair of me to feel that we need to do some work on this, talk about this a little. What kind of therapist would I be if I just ignored a major symptom? Not a very good one.” 
I know. I know. I get it, I do. But I just….ugh. I’m afraid of that mess, too. But she didn’t say right now. So I tell myself to let it go for now, not to worry about it. Of course, even Bea’s simple statement, even her belief that she can’t take my eating disorder from me, even knowing that she just wants to have some discussion about it, make it real, terrifies me. It makes me feel like that defensive teen, and it makes me want to grab onto the eating disorder with both hands and never look back. 
“I’m not surprised that the dreams about the boyfriend and his list are back. They are kind of that internal voice, working towards stopping everything you are working for. Those dreams, that list, it helped keep you separated, making it harder to be one integrated whole.”
I shake my head. “The list….it’s….” I can’t finish. 
“I know. It’s cruel. Just cruel. It says nothing about you, or who you are.” 
“It’s true…I mean…he…it was….he listed out true things…” I blink back tears, but it’s a wasted effort. And they fall down my cheeks, which are heated with shame. 
I think I must have gone farther away for a minute, because the next thing I know, I’m literally snapping out of it, and Bea is talking about my parents. 
“It’s not fair. It’s not. I need them to go back to their old story. The fake story. I just…..I need them to.” I feel like a whiny little kid. 
“This really doesn’t feel safe,” Bea muses. It sounds like she is re-reading what I’d written. “I wonder….what is it, specifically, that makes this feel so unsafe? I get the sense it’s more than just a safety net being gone, or a fear of your story being real now. This feels…bigger maybe. What is is that makes your parents changing their story, being real, so scary?” 
“I don’t know. It just is. It’s not okay. They need to stop it. It’s not okay.” 
We circle around like this a few times, until Bea asks, one more time, “What is it that makes them being real so threatening?”
And I know, just like that. It’s more than feelings, odd thoughts now. It’s words. And everything in me revolts at it. “No. No, no, no…no, no….no no…” I whisper the words like a mantra, shaking my head as I do so. 
“What is it?” Bea pushes gently. 
“I….they might know…I mean…we know my mom knows…and I can’t…I can’t….no…no…if they knew…..and…no, no…no, no……” 
I hear Bea’s sigh, and it sounds very sad. “Yeah. That’s…impossible to understand. But I don’t think you have to worry about them facing anything like that anytime soon. Most likely, it would be slowly, not wick. 
“I just…if they knew and they didn’t do anything…didn’t stop it…thus didn’t care…or they thought I was bad and started it…I don’t know….I just…I can’t know this. I’m afraid. I just can’t.” 
“It feels like too much right now. I really don’t believe your parents would have thought you were bad, or started it. That I can’t believe. You weren’t, you didn’t.” 
“They made me be perfect…when I really was hurting. They made me love in that stupid fake world. They should have to go back to that stupid fake perfect world.” I tell Bea. I hear venom in my voice, and I don’t like how angry and scared and upset I feel right now. 
“Of course. They stuck to that story for years. Even when it hurt you. Now you need them to stick with if. It’s not fair they can’t do that.” Bea echoes what I’ve said. Good grief does it feel like exactly what I need right then. 
We sit in silence, me calming down, Bea sitting with me. And Hagrid doing his thing to help ground me. 
Bea laughs at Hagrid and tells me that she is going to give him a treat every time he catches me going too far away, and train him to be my grounding dog. “It seems he was made to ground you. He’s even low to the ground, a visual reminder,” she says, smiling. 
“He is….I never really thought about that…..you can’t give him all those treats though…He’d get so fat. I’d have to walk him way more than 2 miles a day. And he wouldn’t just be close to the ground, his belly would be on the ground.” I laugh with her. 
We chat for a minute more about nothing type thing– coffee drinks and morning rituals, walking the dog, household chores– and then say goodbye. As I’m leaving, Bea reminds me, “You’ll have to test the email situation again, okay? I’m here, and you can email, and I will write back. I’m not leaving.”
I nod. “Okay.” But I’m not sure I’m ready to test out email quite yet. I feel like someone just cut me in two, or maybe in fours. I’m tired, drained. I’m ready for bed. I’m not sure I trust that she will be there, and part of me is afraid she will be there for the first email because she is expecting me to test her, but then she will falter later, when I feel safe and trusting of her again. It’s all so confusing. I have a feeling I’m going to be processing this for days. 

The first thing :part one

I’m sitting on the sofa, criss cross applesauce, in Bea’s office. Hagrid is laying next me, tuckered out from our 7 am walk. I’ve told Bea how we moved Kat’s room upstairs and how the downstairs is one giant playroom now. We’ve talked about how I spent all weekend organizing and cleaning, and how Kat seems much happier with her room being upstairs. Now, I’m sitting, staring at the floor, silent and unsure of myself. 
“I wondered how the weekend was going to be for you, after Thursday. It was the first time in a long time we’ve dug down deeper, and I wondered if you were going to be able to be grounded or not. But it sounds like you had a productive and present weekend,” Bea says. 
I stare at the floor, my eyes going back and forth, looking but not really seeing. I feel so nauseous, I know what I need to bring up. I just don’t know how to, or if I can. “I….usually….cleaning like that is a distraction. But….it’s like auto-pilot….not really thinking at all.” I stop, try to to breathe. “I…it wasn’t like normal this time…..I was thinking a lot.” It’s all I can get out for now. I’m not trying to be cryptic, I’m just so uncomfortable with this topic I can’t say more than that.
“What were you thinking about?” Bea asks. 
I shake my head. The answer is in my head, but it’s hard to actually put the words out there, into that space between Bea and I. I’m tempted to say ‘stuff’, but the answer feels like sassy teenager, and I’m not feeling sassy. I feel scared, alone, nauseous, nervous. But not sassy. “Something that makes me anxious,” I finally answer. 
Bea waits, maybe to give me space to say more, maybe thinking of a response. “Something that makes you anxious. Do you want to say anymore about it?” Her voice is kind, curious, gentle. If I had asked that question, it would have been full of irritation and maybe even anger. But Bea is accepting of my inability to say much at a time, even if she doesn’t know what this is.
I shake my head. “I can’t. I just…I wish…I’m scared.” The words are a whisper. Maybe quieter than a whisper. 
“It’s been a long time since you’ve been in this place of digging and searching for words. It is scary to think about putting things out there. Is this something we’ve talked about before?”
Hagrid kisses my hands, head-butts me until I scoop him up and hold him for a minute. He always seems to have this sense of where I am, and he usually intervenes before I get too far away. I feel like it takes me a really long time to answer her question. “I don’t know,” I finally say. “I think so. Sort of.” It’s so confusing. Bea has talked about it. I don’t talk about it. I’ve always refused to talk about it. I don’t know. 
“Have we talked about it a lot?” Bea tries a different angle. 
I shake my head at her. “I just….I don’t know. I really don’t even know how to answer that.” 
“Can you tell me if this is the past or the present?” 
“I don’t know how to answer that, either,” I answer her honestly. 
“Okay, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with just talking about talking about it. Talking about the feelings talking about it brings up. Talking about why it’s so scary to say it,” Bea says. She sounds so reasonable, so kind. And I’m hating myself, because I think she is probably thinking this is a memory, something to do with my trauma history, and it’s not a memory. I feel like a liar, like I am misleading her.  
“I don’t know why I am so scared. I don’t know,” I tell her. 
“Maybe this is one of those things that goes in the ‘let Bea help make sense of it’ category,” she suggests. I know she means it, because she has been saying things like that from the beginning of my therapy with her; that our job is to make sense of things together. 
I shake my head. “I’m afraid. I’m just really afraid…..but I think…..I think I should talk about this.” 
“It’s so hard, isn’t it? When we have been thinking and putting things into coherent thoughts in our minds, but it’s almost like we don’t think in words sometimes because it’s so hard for us to find words to say.”
I take a deep breath. Take another. “I…I…have the words. This time, I have the words.” I whisper this confession; it takes longer than it should for me to get the words out. 
“Okay. This isn’t one of those wordless times. That’s good,” Bea says softly. 
“I’m…I’m afraid to say the words. Because once they are out there, I can’t take them back.” 
“Maybe we can reframe this. Maybe we can look at this as if once the words are out there, they are a lump of clay, waiting for us to form them and make sense of them.” I like what Bea says; I like the idea that the words aren’t the be all end all. But I don’t know if she’s right. 
“I imagine this feels like starting over, again, in some ways. Maybe you have to figure out how to trust me again, how to feel safe opening up again. It’s a hard space to be in.” Bea adds. A little bit of the fear I feel lessens as she speaks; she gets it, she has once again somehow seen a lot of my fears.
“I wrote something.” I blurt the words out, quietly, as quickly as possible. 
“Maybe we should start there, then?” Bea asks me. 
I find it hard to respond, but eventually I whisper, “I don’t know.” I’m in that heart racing, panicked, stomach upset, migraine inducing, wanting to run away and hide but too frozen to do that place of anxiety. That place where it feels like these feelings won’t ever end, that they will go on and on forever, and you will be swallowed whole by them, until there is nothing left except anxiety. 
“Tell me, why do you think that you should talk about this?” Bea asks me. She is usually the first to point out to me that ‘should’ is one of those clue words that means I’m judging myself in some way or another, but she lets it slide this time. 
I don’t want to explain. I don’t really know how to explain, exactly. Partly, I think I should talk about it because I believe if Bea was in my head, she would be pushing me to talk. “I….well…it’s that…I mean…..if I don’t……I don’t think………I don’t think I can talk about anything else until I talk about this.” 
“So this is the first thing, then. Okay.” She says this matter of factly, simply. 
I nod, and then I slowly pull out my iPad mini and open the letter I wrote to her this morning (or last night, however you want to look at it). I stare it for several minutes, internally debating if I can really do this. “How about you read this, not out loud, and then we can not talk about it?”
“Yes, ok. We can do that. But not talking doesn’t help you very much,” Bea points out.
“You can talk then. I don’t know. I just..I’m scared.”
“We can leave the talking open ended, okay? You can see, decide after I read it.” Bea says.
I nod. I’m tempted to ask if I can leave after she reads it, but my session is only about 1/2 over. I hand her my iPad, and bury my face in my knees, curling into the smallest ball I possibly can. 
To be continued in another post……..