Repaired: part six

On Wednesday, July 11, I walk into Bea’s office, feeling scared, but not as scared as I have been. I feel vulnerable, too, and it shows when I walk in, unable to look at Bea. Today, she notices, she sees me.

“I was really glad to get the teen’s email this morning. To know that she is able to feel some of those things. And I want her to know that she is right. I do care.”

I don’t say anything, just sit down, my face reddening. Bea already has my blanket sitting on the couch.

“You know,” she says slowly, as I grab a pillow to hide behind, “Let’s just notice for a moment we are safe. That nothing bad is happening. Maybe feel the pillow in your arms, hear the birds. Just take a moment. We aren’t in any hurry. We don’t have to rush into anything.”

I try, I really do, but it’s hard. I’m so scared that I have made a bigger mess.

“We don’t have to do anything today, we don’t have to talk about anything. Maybe we just need to focus on safety and being here this morning. That’s okay. Take a moment, think about what will help you feel safe. What do you need?”

I do think about it. At first, I don’t know, I’m uncertain. But then I relize what I do need. “I need…..I don’t….I need for…….. this to be fixed…..if….I can’t do nothing today because until we talk about it and it’s…..resolved, I’m going to stay worried and anxious.”

“Okay. We can talk about things. I think to do that though, you have to stay here, at least here enough to talk. What is the anxiety connected to?” Bea asks.

“I don’t know. Something bad is going to happen.”

“Okay, good. That’s a starting place, right? What are the things you worry about happening?”

“There’s no list, not…I guess it’s like nothing, no things to write down, not something I can tell you. I’m not worried about anything…..just something bad is going to happen.” I stumble over words and explanation. This is difficult to describe.

“Is is more of a feeling, just a general sort of thing?” Bea gets it.

I nod. “Yeah. I guess so.”

“So, I think that sort of generalized worry that we cannot pinpoint is our trauma brain. It’s normal, and the feelings are real. This is again where we have to tell ourselves, feelings aren’t facts. I can’t promise you nothing bad will happen, because bad things do happen, but we also have to realize that it’s not likely. Right? I mean, what are the chances a plane is going to crash into my office?” Bea’s voice is sympathetic, but she isn’t going to let me worry about things unlikly to happen.

“No……it’s not that……..not like that……I don’t worry…..it’s not worries about accidents. More….it’s maybe more about people.” I don’t know how to say what is in my head. I don’t know that I have the words or the language to really define it. I just know that the general something bad is going to happen worries aren’t about accidents or things like that.

“Okay, Okay. That’s good. This is helpful. Is it more worries that people will let you down somehow, or is it more worries that people will hurt you?”

It’s too much, and overwhelmed, I hide under my blanket, hugging cloud pillow to me. “I don’t know, people……. leaving me, rejecting me, not wanting to deal with me.” I wish I had the words to explain the fear I have surrounding my relationships.

“So, attachment stuff then. When attachment stuff is triggered…..that fear, that worry that something bad will happen, it’s very real. Attachment trauma, there really isn’t a list of worries. It’s very young, such early stuff, it’s from this time when we were too little and too helpless to care for ourselves, and so any rupture, any sign that our people were leaving us, that would have meant…anniliahtion back then. Developmental trauma, attachment trauma, this is all to do with very early years, so young we probably have no memories of it. With you, I think the trauma of sexual abuse compounds and even confuses the issue, but…this, what you are describing, it is attachment trauma.” Bea is speaking slowly, but with certainty.

“So….not crazy then?” I ask.

“Not crazy. This is a real thing, and when it’s triggered, it is incredibly scary and incredibly painful. I’m not sure I realized how deep…..well, how deep your attachment trauma runs. I see now I wasn’t seeing that, and I’m sorry. I’m aware of it now,” she tells me, and I think how well I have hidden this from her. I know when my impulse to freak out over a relationship is not *normal* and most offen, Ms. Perfect is really good at stopping those reactions.

We sit quietly for a moment, and then Bea asks me if I am here. “Here enough,” I say.

“Are you here enough to talk?” She checks.

“Yeah….it’s just hard. But I am here.”

“Okay. Then we will talk about all this scary stuff. Slowly, and as safely as possible.” She is using the voice that she uses when she is speaking to the little girl, that gentle, soothing voice.

“Okay. I can do this.” I hug the pillow and I feal my stomach twist in fear, but I mean what I am saying.

“I want to start by saying I am sorry I didn’t recognize your cry for help. I think, well, I know my own stuff got in the way. You are right about that. I was hurt, and I reacted from that hurt place. It doesn’t make it okay, but I was really struggling with how you could think those things of me after all this time, given our relationship, and I reacted from that place. I chose to ignore it, because in my hurt, I read it as rage.”

“But I— the teen doesn’t have a relationship with you! You don’t know her anymore than she knows you. I mean…that’s unfair.” The words jump out of me, frustrated and slightly angry.

“You’re right. We were building a relationship when all this happened. But you are right, we don’t have a relationship. Not yet. I didn’t think of that. It also….well, as I said, I was expecting coping skills like reality testing, to kick in. But I don’t even know what coping skills the teen has. We need to spend some time on the relationship, working on that safety and trust, maybe building some skills.” Bea sounds….well, like she means it when she says she wants to work on a relationship with the teen.

“There were no coping skills. That’s why I emailed you! I just wanted…..” I trail off when I realize what I was about to say, horrified that I had been about to admit to wanting anything.

“Wanted what? You just wanted…..?” Bea prompts me after several seconds tick by and I don’t continue.

“I…well, I just….ugh. I told you thing get all twisted in my head. I told you I go to the dark and twisty place where everyone hates me and……I mean, I thought…I just….I wish you had just said, *Alice stop. You’re in the dark twisty place. Those things aren’t true.* Or something.”

Bea is silent, thinking. I can hear her fingers tapping on her chair. “I don’t know that I could have done that. I don’t want to presume to know what is going on in your head, or to impose my reality on you as the true reality.”

“Maybe ask me then? If I’m in that place? I don’t know. I mean, sometimes I know I’m there, sort of, but…….it’s too risky to say it or ask someone, I just…I don’t know. But you not acknowledging those feelings, that just made them true in my mind. And then I did rage. Before, if you had just been able to say, “Those things aren’t true. I know they feel bad, but they aren’t true, I don’t think those things. I think you are in the dak and twisty place, you need to come out and I’ll be here waiting. I think that would have changed this. That’s all I wanted. Not….logic and explanations.”

“You wanted me to help you stop the distortions. Which is what my boundary of not responding to them was meant to do. It felt like responding to them would reinforce them.”

“Ignoring them reinforced them.” I tell her..

“I see that now. I think….I was feeling this need to set a boundary, but I set the wrong one, and even when I was clear that a boundary was needed, I maintained a boundary that was unhelpful.”

“I get not wanting to reinforce distortions, but can’t you acknowledge them without doing that? Can’t you just reassurance they are not true?” I don’t understand.

“You know, that’s a boundary. You wanted a boundary set. I just set the wrong one. I’ve never felt a need for boundaries with the little girl. I think the teen wanted a boundary set, and I was picking up on that.”

“No….I didn’t want a boundary. Boundaries are mean, they mean go away, you are a bother, I don’t want to deal with you….. no! I don’t like boundaries. And I don’t want you to change everything.”

“I’m not changing anything. Anything that changes we will do together. I’m not going to spring a bunch of changes on you, okay? But we need to talk about boundaries. Boundaries aren’t bad. They don’t have to feel bad to either person. Like right now, you have set a boundary. The blanket is a physical boundary. But even with the boundary there is a connection between us, there is attunement and a feeling of us both being present. I don’t see the blanket as a go away….it is what you need to feel safe, and so I feel glad you are taking care of yourself, that you can set a boundary and feel safe. And, dare I say, that boundary making you feel safer…… perhaps it makes it possible for us to feel more connection than we would without the boundary.”

I shake my head. “I don’t like boundaries. Boundaries are scary.”

“They can be. But I think once you feel, experience healthy boundaries, well, then they aren’t so scary.” She says gently.

“They are. Well, I guess I don’t really know about boundaries. My Mom’s boundaries are…..I weird. Maybe just all over the place.”

“Like your therapist’s have been lately?” Bea sounds, disapointed in herself, or something.

I think about what she has said. “No… not like that. Hers…..either they didn’t exist, I think….like, I just….I did what she wanted, dressed how she wanted, acted like she wanted, I was…like I just was part of her…I don’t know.” I sigh, not sure how to explain this.

“There’s a shrinky word for that. Enmeshment. It means your mom viewed you as extension of herself.”

“Yeah…..and I was loved and accepted and we were close as long as I was…..well, being like her. But if I didn’t….if I diagreed….she just……I don’t know. She would be upset. Then she set these boundaries….over silly things. Like really, truly, silly things. Like one time, I didn’t like these one shoes that she liked and so I just like got a different pair and she was really not happy with me. There was a boundary set then. Well, I think anyway. Silent treatment.” I blink away tears. It still hurts now, thinking about it.

“That is a boundary. Wow. No wonder me ignoring your feelings about me expressing anxiety over insurance was painful. It felt like I was giving you the silent treatment.” Bea’s voice has that sound in it, the one that means things are falling into place and she is making sense of things.

“You know….I don’t….I mean….well, you know what, never mind.” Words tumble out of me, a mess of them, blocking what I really need to say.

“Whatever it is, you can say it. I’m listening. It’s okay,” Bea reassures me.

“I don’t like it when you say it was just about you expressing worries over insurance. That’s not the story, not at all. I wish you would get that.” I whisper the words, cringing as I say them.

“You’re right. That’s not the whole story. But I do want to say, it’s important that we discuss insurance…that the adult and I talk about those things.”

“But it wasn’t a conversation! It was you freaking out and not even aware of what was going on for me! You can’t say it was us having a conversation, because you were talking…..at me. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, it isn’t about insurance! It’s about how you were talking!” I feel like I am shouting, but really, I am speaking firmly, and louder than usual.

“You know….what you wrote, asking me to imagine the situation, and describing it from your viewpoint, I….well, I have been that client before. I have had my therapist not be as present as I needed, and I have left sessions feeling unseen and unheard and hurt.”

“Except this wasn’t even my session! Not really. You can not compare the two. We have had sessions where you weren’t as attuned as I needed, and I’ve left feeling bad. But this, no. Wednesday was something else. It wasn’t my session, because I never….this was nothing about me, it wasn’t a case of I shared where I was at and you weren’t super present. This was you talking and spinning out from the moment I sat down. It wasn’t even a session! I mean, I don’t even know why I was there.” I’m being blunt, but I can’t, I won’t sugar coat it.

“You’re right. The two things don’t compare. Which I was going to say, that I have experienced the unattuned sessions, and so I can imagine how painful this was, how scary. I am so sorry, I really am. I knew the it was bad, I wanted to stop, to erase it, to have a redo, because I knew it was bad. And I am so sorry,” Bea says, sadly.

“I know. I know you are sorry. It’s okay. It was a bad day and a bad mistake, and I can’t pretend it didn’t happen, or call it something it’s not, but I’m not mad or upset or hurt anymore.” As I say the words, I realize they are true.

“If you were, that would be okay,” she reminds me. Bea worries that I forgive to make sure people don’t leave me.

“No…It’s okay. Honestly, I was more hurt and upset that I was ignored when I was hurting and scared. I just wish you had said to me, from the first email, *hey, listen, those things aren’t true. I don’t feel that way at all. You need to get out of the dark twisty place so we can talk, because I can’t help you when you are there. So come out now, I want to help you.* You know?” I say.

“Now that, that sounds like you are channeling your Grandma.” Bea sounds like she is smiling.

“Yeah….that is something she would say. She didn’t….well, she would just tell me what was and wasn’t okay. She didn’t….she made things very clear. I guess that is boundaries?”

“Yes. Your Grandma had good boundaries.” Bea agrees.

“She really did, if I think about it. She didn’t….not like mom. Grandma didn’t ignore me when I messed up or didn’t agree with her. She just, well, she just said it. Jusf plain, just like that.”

“And I’m thinking that while I was feeling it would be harsh or feel cruel to just say, hey you are twisting things, maybe that sort of bluntness feels safe to you because your Grandma set boundaries in that way. Straight forward, honest. I need to channel your Grandma, not your mom. Because in my concern of behaving like your mom and trying to avoid it, I did exactly what I was trying not to do.” Bea sighs.

“Well, you definitely don’t remind me of my mom. More of my grandma. Not age wise, but just….you feel the same, sometimes.” I shrug. It’s not something I have words for. “Like hubby feels the same as my grandpa sometimes. He reminds me of him, he always has.”

Bea laughs. “That is a very big compliment. I know how much your grandma means to you. Thank you.”

“Am I right in saying that what I was wanting from that first email was reassurance and to be told I was in the dark and twisty place….which you said was a boundary. And you felt it was me raging and so there was this feeling of needing to set a boundary……so we both really wanted the same thing?”

“Yes, yes, you are. We both did want the same thing.” Bea chuckles again.

“So….next time….maybe you can set a different boundary sooner?”

“Yes. I can do that,” Bea agrees.

I break the silence by saying what pops into my head. “Hey, you did what you said you would!”

“What do you mean?”

“When……when we talked about Kathy, and I asked you what you would have done…..and you told me? Do you remember?” I ask.

“Yes. I remember that.”

“Well….this rupture, you did what you said you would do.” I smile. Something about that feels right.

“I did? Well, thank goodness I did what I said I would!” Bea laughs, but she is sort of serious, too.

“Yeah….I’m glad you did what you said you would.”

Her tone lignt, Bea says, “You know, that brings up the whole question of enactment. Maybe you needed to see if I would do what I said I would, or maybe I needed to see if I would do what I said……it’s so interesting……”

“Don’t get shrinky,” I say, cutting her off. “And I definitely didn’t cause this mess on purpose.”

“No, enactments aren’t a concious thing. It’s all completely unconscious. But it is interesting, especially in this situation…..”

I cut her off again. “Don’t be shrinky!” I recognize this as a boundary, a need for her to not be shrinky so I can feel safe and secure knowing that Bea is Bea and not a cold analytical shrink.

“You brought it up,” she laughs.

“Just talk to your shrinky friends about this,” I tell her. It’s such a teen response, that I laugh, too.

Laughing, she agrees. “Okay. But the grown up might want to talk about this one day, and when she does want to, we can. It will be okay.” .

“Maybe. Not now.” I am stubborn.

“No, not right now. When you are in it, it’s the wrong time for shrinky. I get that. So not right now.” She is so calm, so sure, so caring again. Bea is herself again, she is really back.

“I think it’s okay. I feel okay, this is okay. Nothing bad happened and you did what you said you would.” I breathe out relief and fear and anxiety and anger as I say the words.

“Yes. Nothing bad happened. Actually, something good happened,” Bea says kindly.

“Yeah. And it’s new. Something new. And it was ok.”

“Yes. I think you grew a lot, even if it’s not something we want to happen again, I think there will be more growth and learning, more felt experience from this. I think there was a lot of new things in this for you.”

“Yes. You listened. And didn’t want me to just agree and be…whatever you wanted.” This….this means so much to me. I don’t have words for it, but there is a lightness where the fear of not being what she wanted used to be. The fear isn’t gone because it is old, old fear, but there is less of it there.

“No! Never. I want you to just be you. You are enough. Just like you are, you are enough and you deserve to be seen and heard and cared for just for being you.” Bea is adamant, and while I think she has said this before, everytime she says it, it sinks in a little more.

“Is that….is what I wrote, what you said true?” I ask quietly.

“That I care?” Her voice is neutral, maybe curious about what part of what I wrote.

“Yeah.” Shame floods me as I confirm her guess.

“Yes. Very much so. This is a real relationship. Just because it is therapy doesn’t make it not real. If it weren’t real, and I didn’t care about you, you wouldn’t have been able to hurt me. What you wrote, all of it, is true. Absolutely. I care.” She means it, I can hear it in her voice.

“Okay,” I say. It’s all I can say, because I don’t know how I feel about this. It’s….I want her to care, and I care about her, but I don’t….well, I guess I don’t want to matter. I’m afraid to matter, and there is something painful about having the whole of me accepted so openly. I blink back tears.

After a while, I ask Bea to tell me something regular, and so we talk about dogs and coffee and clothes. When I leave her office, I feel drained, but also more present and peaceful than I have felt in a while.

The wound will never be erased, the scar remains, but it’s not a bad thing. There is beauty to be found in the scars that make us who we are.

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Repaired: part five

I felt some relief in the very fact that she had read it and was responding and still sounding like herself. Bea replied in depth later that morning and I responded back late that night. Below is the full email conversation.

In order: the strikethrough is the email I’ve already posted, the third person explantion of the stuck thing. Next comes the underlined which is Bea’s response. Last is the italics which is my response to Bea.

Hi Bea,

Okay, here is my response. I didn’t, well, it’s not in third person, and not as detached sounding, and I don’t know, I haven’t thought and thought and edited and changed and deleted and made it pretty and perfect and so this is a bit nerve wracking too. Because it might not be written so it’s how I am supposed to say things, it isn’t careful, I didn’t monitor my thoughts and I just wrote and responded with how I felt. But there it is. I answered under your response, so there is a bit of scrolling you will have to do. But I thought having my third person explanation might still be helpful…..so it’s all color coded. So, the third person writing is in pink, your response is in black and my response is in blue. Then I put the original email that ruined everything in green. So. Here goes nothing, again.

Can  👱‍♀️👩🏻‍🚒🙈 🐢🚫🐚🕸🌪💣⛈➡️ 🗣👂🗣✍🏻✍🏻👀👂➡️✍🏻✍🏻👀👂✍🏻👂🗣🗣👀✍🏻👂🗣 ➡️🐵🐢🐚🌈⛅️……🤝? I’m trying to believe it can.

So, here it goes, I guess. 🙈🙈🙈🙈🙈

The teen feels like she understands the difference between a hitting screaming child who needs to be told “I’m here and I will sit here next to you and wait for you to be calm, but you may not hit me to express yourself ” and the emotionally swamped child that is crying out for help who needs a hug and reassurance.

Using that analogy, she feels like her therapist misinterpreted a crying out for help child as a screaming hitting child. The teen is scared, though, to even try to talk about this with her therapist. She doesn’t want to make things worse, and she doesn’t want to make her therapist upset. She also doesn’t want to disagree. She doesn’t like disagreeing, and it does not feel safe or okay. The teen feels like she would rather just agree with her therapist and let it go, but for some reason she can’t. The teen knows her therapist feels very strongly that she is right, but the teen feels just as strongly that her therapist’s interpretation is not fully accurate. She feels like it won’t matter, though, that her therapist’s opinion and feelings will carry or hold more weight than the teen’s opinion and feelings.

It sounds like the painful, crying out for help part felt very obvious to the teen, but not so obvious to me, huh?  I don’t feel any need to be “right,” honestly.  I think what I misinterpreted was the ability for you to use your coping resources—I know now my expectations were beyond what you were able to do in the moment. That surprised me, I remember—I didn’t lower my expectations to where you were.

Ugh. This feels awful. Like I failed or something.

The teen knows she did behave in a rageful way in several of her emails. She knows she was also rageful in her notebook, although it doesn’t feel fair to her to have that judged because her notebook— by definition of what it is— is messy and raw and unedited and not pretty. It’s instanous thoughts and feelings, and it’s the working through of things and the very formation of her thoughts and comclusions and feelings. It’s the first place she goes to when things are hard and she needs to get the scary things out. She had thought that her therapist understood that although it had never been explicitly discussed, and she shared her angry notebook because she wanted so badly for her therapist to see the mess of confusion and pain and anger she was stuck in. This part of things feels worked through to the teen. She believes her therapist understands that she was in a lot of pain, and that her therapist understands why she behaved as she did, and the teen also knows she was raging and not able to have a constructive conversation, hence the boundaries. It’s important to the teen that her therapist know she understands that.

I didn’t feel any judgement about the raging journal. I just didn’t see any way to productively work with it.  You’re right that the journal is your place to rage, vent, and put down all of your anguish. I believe that’s very important!

The sticking point is in that very first email. To the teen, calling that first email raging, mean, brutal, distorted, accusatory, blaming and out of line feels inaccurate. It is not how she felt, or how it was meant.  She knows that she distorted what she heard, but she can’t help how she interpreted information, and she believes that how she interpreted things that Wednesday makes some sort of crazy sense, given her history. She wants to learn to not distort and twist everything people say to her, but she is terrified of people. She’s aftaid to be even a little bit close or vulnerable with them. She can understand that her email could be read as blaming and mean, but it wasn’t that way in her mind. It wasn’t even that way in the adult’s mind. (Which adds another layer to this, because the therapist keeps saying the adult can help the teen communicate appropriately, but the adult did try to help before. The adult helped by making sure all the information of where the teen was emotionally was included in that email, and she helped by telling the teen it was okay, she could trust the therapist, the therapist had made a mistake but she wasn’t gone, and that this couldn’t be fixed if the teen didn’t explain what she was feeling, what she was afraid of, if she didn’t explain why she felt like she didn’t even have the right to be there. So, the adult did try to help but she just managed to help mess things up more. Both the teen and the adult feel as if the adult must be more broken, more crazy, more screwed up than either of them or the therapist thought. The end result is the teen doesn’t trust the adult, and the adult doesn’t want to help, anyway.)

I think it’s great that you just clarified how the adult helped—that’s really awesome to acknowledge.  I need to look more at that email—and can we talk about that in session tomorrow? That might be the best place to start tomorrow if it’s okay with you?

I don’t know. We can try. Maybe. You know that distance feels safer. As much as I don’t want to be alone, it feels safer to be alone when I feel hurt or upset. I’m not even sure that makes sense. But yes, we can try. I’ll hide and you can talk and I’ll try to talk.

I feel a need to set boundaries with the distortions because I don’t want to reinforce them. That would be very unhelpful!

I guess this just doesn’t ring true for me right now, for this instance. I was, in my mind at least, hoping you would correct them, hoping you would reassure that “no, those things aren’t true, I’m sorry you ‘heard’ that and felt that, but they aren’t true. I don’t think those things at all.” Or whatever. I think there must be a way to not reinforce distortions that doesn’t involve choosing to ignore the emotion piece. Ironically, it was the very ignoring of the emotion piece that made the distortions, well, bigger….to my way of thinking, if you weren’t acknowledging those things to say “this isn’t true”, then they must be true. It was the ignoring of the feelings and distortions that caused them to become this huge thing that had to be true. And yes, at that point, those distortions couldn’t have been easily, if at all, reasoned with.

When a person is in emotion mind having the distortions pointed out is only going to cause a huge rage—pouring gas on the fire, so to speak.

But what caused the rage was feeling ignored and unseen and unheard. What caused the rage was trusting you and feeling abandoned again.

I think this is a generalization about emotion mind. Really, pointing out and reassuring and helping is less likely to pour gas on the fire than ignoring the feelings. Ignoring the feelings pours gas on the fire everytime. Even saying that the feelings make sense given what was heard, but that things are being twisted and asking if I’m aware of that, would be better than ignoring the feelings. Or however you would approach it. But I genuinely believe that a real response to my first email, and responding to my feelings would have been better than the rational reflections. You still could have said that I was distorting things, or that I needed to try change my approach in what I’d written, or whatever you needed to say. Ignoring the feelings is going to trigger me and upset me eveytime. (Maybe that can be changed, but in the meantime, it will trigger me more than telling me I am wrong ever will). I will say that after the first email, anything you said was probably going to upset me and escalate me, aside from maybe going back to what I was seekinf in the first email and reasuring me. It was when you finally said “none of it is what I was trying to say, or anything close to what I thought I said. Or nowhere close to what I think……….I’m sorry that this is what you heard and felt because truly that is awful. We will have to figure out what to do with it—but please know that there is none of the actual me as I know myself in those words you wrote.” There was relief in that, that you didn’t feel those things or think those things, and that hearing what I heard was awful. Of course, the relief and the calm didn’t last long and the next email spun things up again and sent Ms. Perfect into the captain’s seat. But just that, even as out of control as I was feeling, just those sentences of you not feeling that way, and that not being you, was enough to bring a bit of relief, to feel like maybe I could find solid ground again.

In a calmer place and with some distance, however, I think we can talk about them, which I think will be helpful.

You have distance, but I am not sure I do. This is still so painful, and it still hurts so much.

The teen wrote what she emailed, almost word for word in her notebook, using an analogy her therapist had used earlier that day. As her therapist had talked, and said, “I took the boat away, I drove off in the boat and left you in the water, but I’m back with the boat now.” the teen thought, “But it’s not just that you drove the boat away and left me. It’s that I feel like you don’t think I should even be in the boat. It’s that I don’t know if you will leave me in the water again. It’s that I feel like I broke you and you had to leave me in the water and drive off because I’m too much, too crazy, so of course it will happen again because I break people. It’s that on Wednesday I felt like you thought I should be better, or more capable, or not need all this support to function.”

I will admit, I had a hard time empathizing with this. The reason is that it just felt so extreme, and as I said at the time, so uncharacteristic of anything I know about myself or my intentions. I  found myself asking, “How does me expressing worries about insurance coverage lead to any of this???”

I think you are looking at this….I don’t know the right word. What you are saying doesn’t really tell the whole story, its sort of a skewed viewpoint. That’s why the other day, when you said your therapist group jumped on the insurance thing, I said it wasn’t fair to have said I got upset because you talked about insurance. That’s not really the whole truth.

Yes, you expressed worries over insurance that day. But that statement would be like me cooking a 5 course gourmet meal and saying “I cooked dinner.” Did I cook dinner? Well, yes….but calling a 5 course gourmet meal dinner is sort of, well, misleading. I think you did express worries about insurance, but it was your anxiety and a very worried part that was expressing those worries. They weren’t expressed in a grounded, calm, controlled way. That worried part used me as an example multiple times, and also spent a lot of time talking about people who deserve therapy or not, and what criteria insurance uses to judge that and how insurance would view me and my therapy. But it wasn’t made extremely clear that this worried part was talking about how insurance views things, at times it seemed like that part was judging and weighing me against the criteria. My therapist wasn’t present that day, from the moment I walked into her office, she didn’t see me. Because of what had recently been being worked on, combined with the triggered state I arrived in, combined with this worried part of my therapist seeming to judge and weigh me against insurance criteria, plus this anxious part of my therapist talking about dropping to once a week (out of the blue, completely unexpected and very jarring) and how there wasn’t really any deeper work left to do combined with this belief that I need too much and break people, and this very new, very tenative trust I (meaning the teen) was starting to have in my therapist, along with my therapist not being present and not seeing me……..all of that would need to be included in the story, and probably your view point of what you said and what made you anxious and how you just couldn’t control that worried part would need to be added to really be the whole story. It really was the perfect storm to form that bad Wednesday. If anyone of those things hadn’t been present, then maybe it never happens.

To me, none of this is even about insurance coverage. You could have been talking about trying a different way of doing therapy, and had the same circumstances and I would have probably been just as triggered. It’s never been about what you were discussing; it’s always been about how you didn’t see me (there was no checking in, no how was your weekend, nothing, just this jarring jump into this anxiety driven place about insurance) and how things were discussed. This will probably make you defensive, but I’m going to say it anyway. You ended my session in tears, telling me you were going to go to the bathroom and try to get your shit together before your next person. I ended my session so far away that I could barely function, and you didn’t see that. It has been a very, very long time since I was so out of my window. I actually texted Abby and told her I was going to be late to school because my appontment was running late. And when I got to school, I still wasn’t present. What I remember most about the rest of that day was everyone asking if I was okay, and two friends checking in on me that evening because I had seemed “off” when they saw me at school. I claimed the weather had given me a migraine and had me feeling off.

Maybe you just can’t empathize in this situatuon. Maybe it is too hurtful to you that I felt like this, and knowing yourself and our relationship, it’s just too hard to understand how I could have felt the way I did. I guess what I would say, is you are thinking about your relationship with the adult and the little girl, and even Ms. Perfect, not the teen. The teen really doesn’t have much of a relationship with you— she has some ruptures that were sort of just set aside because the little girl needed dealing with, and she has that month of working on trust and finally sharing a little with you the week before this rupture. And maybe, what I can say, is imagine this and think about how you would feel in this situation. Last week, you worked on some very hard things, and you are having a lot of worries over being too much. You are also worried that your therapist won’t be herself because it’s been a whole week since you saw her and things were rather intense that week. You spent Monday triggered and had a flashback. You have spent the last two nights having nightmares, and are just generally in this hyper aware triggery scared state. You can’t email your therapist or reach out because you are gripped by this intense fear that you are being too much, and so you are just treading water until Wednesday. You show up on Wednesday, relieved that you didn’t drown, and in desperate need of a container. Only, when you walk into your therapist office, she doesn’t see you. She doesn’t see how triggered you are. She doesn’t see that you are dissociated and struggling. She tells you she just finished reading an email from her therapist and then begins to anxiously talk to you about insurance— in this very nervous, jumpy, jarring sorf of way, like she is trying to sort out her worries. This doesn’t feel like a discussion the two of you are having, this feels like your therapist is anxiously speaking at you, even maybe just voicing all her thoughts aloud. You can’t breathe, or even think. And then your therapist is using you as an example in how insurance companies don’t like long term twice a week therapy. She doesn’t explicitly tell you that she doesn’t agree with them, and while you have always thought she thinks insurance rules are sort of bogus, she is suddenly sounding like maybe she does agree with them. She is saying how you are proof therapy works, because you function so well and she is telling you how you don’t have a lot of twice a week sessions this summer anyway, and so it makes sense to go to once a week, especially because she doesn’t think there is all that much deeper stuff to work on, really there is just this stuff that is being worked on now. She is seeming to get more anxious by the moment, and you can’t handle it. You really needed her today, and she isn’t here. She left you. So you go somewhere far, far away. When session is over, your therapist is crying, and telling you she is going to go to the bathroom to get her shit together, and sort of runs out of the room. You feel awful. You broke her. You did this. And you can’t handle it. In a fog, you leave. A little part of you knows that if your therapist had been present, she would never let you get so out of your window, let alone leave like this, but you can’t be here right now. Everything is broken.

Maybe this wouldn’t upset you, or hurt you or send you spiraling into a dark overwhelmed place. I don’t know. I just thought maybe setting out what happened that Wednesday, from my viewpoint, might be helpful. I don’t really think this is about you as a person, or about your relationship with the little girl or the adult. But what I wrote above….that is my memory, my experience of Wednesday, without adding in my thoughts and what was said or felt brought up or made me feel.

I get that it triggered all of these worries, but here’s where I was expecting some coping resources to kick in, and they didn’t. And I think I was hurt that after all this time you could think those things of me.

The adult honestly wasn’t thinking those things about you, and she did her best with what she had to work with, by encouraging the teen to reach out and share the mess in her head. The adult wouldn’t have been able to do that if she thought bad things about you.

When I reflect on that, I know I had to depersonalize it to find empathy.

So I really was expecting that there were more coping resources there based on how well you’d been functioning over the previous several months. That was why I had those expectations—not because I needed you to have them, but because I genuinely thought they were there. This just turned out to be way too much for them, and it took time for me to get that.

I think all my coping resources were already drained from what we had been working on, combined with being so triggered two days before. There was legitimately nothing there to kick in to help. Also, I think, or rather, the adult knows she can function well because she has support, because she has therapy twice a week, and emailing and can reach out if she needs help. So, no therapy that Monday, plus the trigger, plus the Wednesday mess….it was just too much. All the parts were left unsupported and alone and scared.

Sort of how you try out being firm with a kid to see if they really can handle something, but once you see that the challenge is too big you modify your expectations.  For clients to grow, I try to stay on that edge, if that makes sense?  I was way off the edge in this instance:(

Later, the teen wrote in her notebook. The adult, feeling overwhelmed and struggling to deal with all the feelings of abandonment from all the parts (including her own feelings of hurt and disappointment and anxiety over the bad Wednesday and the stress of trying to cope with the triggers and flashbacks and emotions) knew that the teen needed some reassurance and help before things got completely out of control.

So the teen copied her notebook entry into an email and sent it. She wasn’t mad. There was no anger, or rage. Was she probably in emotion mind? Yes. But the emotions were terror of abandonment, and deep. deep sadness. She was heart broken and afraid, and confused, but not mad.

The adult— while admittedly not really on board the ship at all with all the emotion and panic and overwhelm happening— believed that the teen explaining in the email how she felt too vulnerable, that all of this was too much, that she had written this in her notebook (so, messy, raw, unedited), and that this was too painful to talk about face to face (the reason, which was not included is because there was a fear— however irrational— that her therapist would say yes, that is how I feel) was enough to let her therapist know the teen was in a very bad, very frightening place, and was overwhelmed emotionally. The adult thought that the teen signing the email, instead of the email being signed from the adult, was also helpful in showing who was writing, and had thought that would help her therapist to understand where the feelings were coming from.

The teen sent the email and she did her best, in her terrified state, to explain that this was what she felt like, this is what it had sounded like to her (distorted yes, but still the message she heard). She knows that her words did not land with her therapist in the way they sounded and felt in her mind, and she doesn’t really understand why. The teen feels like this vulnerable part (maybe the vulnerable teen?) of her was crying out for reassurance and help, and that cry was misinterpreted as rage.

I want to look at this email again for sure—we need to look at it again together.  I realize now that once it felt to me like things were so distorted that I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do, I had reached the point where I had to stop and reflect and wait for clarity—and that’s where the need for boundaries arose.  I know we need to revisit this, and we will.

The teen has this theory (before her therapist shared about criticism and her own stuff) that something was triggered in her therapist by the teen’s feelings and words that caused her therapist to view her words as if the teen were pointing her finger and screaming at the therapist.  In the teen’s reality, she was hiding in her closet, under a blanket, with her dog and her teddy bear, feeling utterly devastated, alone, and abandoned, just sobbing for her therapist to come back and help her. The teen feels like the therapist didn’t see that she was crying out for help because her therapist wasn’t “her normal self”. The teen really thinks that if her therapist had been in a different state of mind, then she would have read her email as it was meant. The teen has read all the emails from the rupture, and she feels a difference in the way her emails sound. The first email sounds and feels scared and anxious and defensive. The following emails sound angry— this amount of anger that scares the teen, if she’s honest. She doesn’t like that she has all that anger in her. The emails after the rageful ones sound numb, detached, polite, cold, appropriate—totally Ms. Perfect’s  voice.

I’m sure it did touch some of my stuff—absolutely.  I think I’ve sorted through that. I know by the time it got to the “boundaries” emails I felt pretty clear about things. I’m not sure that I would have read the teen’s email as the teen intended—let’s look more at that too!

Maybe between it touching some of your stuff and coming right off of this major anxiety and worry about insurance and you expecting more coping resources to be present, it made it impossible to even have a chance of reading the teen’s email and seeing where she was and how much she needed help. I don’t know. I’m not saying that I didn’t screw up, or that I couldn’t have expressed myself better, but I was so far past capacity to even be able to say, “Hey Bea, I know I twist things and get confused and right now I’m feeling X, Y, Z because of Wednesday.” I literally had nothing left in me to cope.

The teen is still so hurt. She feels like she was abandoned twice; once on the Wednesday, and then again after reassurance that her therapist was back, and that it was okay to talk to her therapist about the therapist. On the verge of spinning out, and with the adult’s insistence it would be okay because the therapist had said she was back, the teen took a risk. Sometimes the teen thinks this can’t be fixed. She’s just not sure that talking to her therapist about her therapist is ever going to be okay. Her therapist asked the teen if she felt like the therapist gets defensive, and the teen couldn’t really answer, but the word she used was “defended” when she wrote about this in her notebook. The teen wonders if she should just let this go, or if she can’t let it go if it would be easier and better all around for everyone involved if she tried to talk to Kay or Hubby about this rupture. She’s even had the thought that she needs to find a therapist to deal with her relationship with her therapist, because she doesn’t know what else to do and she wants everything to be okay again. She doesn’t want a different therapist, she just wants her therapist, but she also needs to talk about this and work through it, to process it, and it doesn’t feel safe or okay to do so with her therapist. The teen doesn’t think this is all, or even mostly because of her therapist, she’s pretty sure that most of the feeling it’s not safe is because of her past. This is scary and hard for her, and the idea that this will be okay one day feels like a fairytale. She wishes it could be true, but she can’t believe it, no matter how much she wants to.

I hope we can make some progress in the way the teen feels about things. I think going through the emails and sharing what was meant and what the reactions were/are could be really useful. I hope that feels like it would be possible face to face?

I dont know right now. I can try. I’m really, really scared. But I can try.

I put the original email below, in green. I didn’t copy anything else, though.

And that’s it. It’s pretty much the whole of the stuck thing. I am definitely, 100% sure that emailing this is a bad idea. I feel like I have no good choices left….I can box it up and pretend it away, or I can share it and blow everything up. I am once again hiding in my closet, hugging my dog and my teddy bear, hiding under a blanket. I’m scared. I am very, very scared and vulnerable feeling.

I don’t know—I think emailing this was a good idea:). And it was very brave!

~the teen👱🏼‍♀️👩🏻‍🚒

The (original) email ——— (I’ll bold it)

I feel like this is a very big risk, like I’m taking a scary chance by sending an email, but I can’t do this in your office. It’s too much. It’s so….what I wrote, how I feel, I’m too vulnerable. I feel like a turtle who lost her shell. And I’m scared.

I wrote this in my notebook, but then….well, I’m not sure I can deal with this one face to face. Because it’s….painful. And I’m so afraid for so many reasons that this is going to make things worse. I don’t want to upset you, I don’t want to break things further. I don’t want you to read my words and get all shrinky. I don’t want my words to make you feel bad. I don’t want you to read them, and then be mad with me for feeling like this. I don’t want to end up in a worse place. I just don’t know.

I should have said—

On Wednesday……….You said, you sounded like, it felt like you thought I didn’t really need to be here anymore, like I wasn’t deserving of therapy, should not need to be here twice a week, like you should not have to deal with me twice a week anymore, like you believe there is nothing major left to do, like whatever is left is not enough to warrant being here twice a week, to take up that much of your time.

You didn’t just take the boat away, you made it sound, you made it feel as if I deserved to have to boat taken away.

You took the boat away and made it feel like I shouldn’t even be in the boat, and that makes all of this impossible.

It’s impossible because I can’t schedule appointments to make things twice a week when I feel like that is needing too much, when I feel like you don’t think I should need to be here at all.

It makes it impossible to talk to you. To trust that you even want to hear what I’m saying, and to trust that you won’t decide the boat got too heavy when I let all the crud out of my bag and take the boat away again.

It makes me so angry because I’m left on my own, treading water. And sure, okay, I can tread water really good for a long time, maybe even forever, but I don’t always make safe choices when I’m alone treading water. It’s not easy, I don’t go on really living and being present in my life, I don’t function well when all my energy and time and brain power are being used to tread water.

You see this all as one tiny part of the whole, but to me, it is the whole. Or maybe more like Wednesday broke the whole, and this is all that is left. And I don’t want to make it worse. What I’m saying feels like it will make things worse. It feels like Wednesday broke us because I broke you. Just call it wrecking ball Wednesday.

—The teen

And then, as I got ready for bed, a thought struck me.

Hi Bea,

I had this thought, and I guess I just wanted to tell it to you. Which is sort of…not regular for me. But it hit me all of a sudden, you really do want to work through this and help me be okay again. That’s why you are doing this, the emailing and the talking and the waiting and not pushing and letting me take my time with talking about the stuck stuff. You really do want to be an anchor for me, even after all the raging. You aren’t gone, and you are making a point to work through this again, and you aren’t mad at me that we have to keep talking about this or that I’m still struggling to trust you again and just be okay. You aren’t angry that I can’t just let this go and agree with you. I don’t think you would even want me to pretend it away and and agree with you, even though that might make things easier for you. This isn’t easy for you, or comfortable for you, but you are doing it anyways because it matters to me, because I still feel hurt and pain over it and you don’t want me to keep feeling like this. Or, maybe I’m just being crazy, but I just, I don’t know, I guess the way you keep responding and being there and actually listening, like you want to hear what I have to say, even if it isn’t all rainbows and sunshines and unicorns, and I think you are listening to listen, not to appease me to make me be quiet or because you have to listen so you can prove you are right and I am wrong. You aren’t leaving because I wasn’t perfect and you don’t even prefer Ms. Perfect to me. This is new. A new thing for me. It’s not easy. It’s scary. New is scary. But it is new and different. 

I guess I just wanted you to know this because I think you have been trying really hard to show me it’s okay to talk to you, that you aren’t leaving and that all my twisted thoughts are just that— dark and twisty thoughts that are not true. And I guess something sort of clicked in my crazy head and I get it, I feel it. I believe it (at least in this moment). You are here. 

So, I’ll send this (and it took me almost 40 minutes to decide that yes, I should send it), but you know, two seconds after I send it I will feel vulnerable and mad at myself for telling you that you maybe matter to me and that I maybe am trusting you again. I’ll hate that I made this a thing, and I’ll hate that I told you this was new, something different and I’ll be embarrassed that I took another step closer to the halfway point of this dark cave I likeso much. The teen 👩🏻‍🚒👱🏻‍♀️

Repaired: part four

And so, very late Monday night, a third person explanation of the stuck thing was sent.

Okay. Let’s try this in third person. I want to put a caveat here, though to say that although I will say “the teen”, for me, writing this, saying “I” or “the teen” is the same thing. There is some adult here, but the adult is not very here, and the adult is just as twisted up and confused as the teen is.

The teen feels like she understands the difference between a hitting screaming child who needs to be told “I’m here and I will sit here next to you and wait for you to be calm, but you may not hit me to express yourself ” and the emotionally swamped child that is crying out for help who needs a hug and reassurance.

Using that analogy, she feels like her therapist misinterpreted a crying out for help child as a screaming hitting child. The teen is scared, though, to even try to talk about this with her therapist. She doesn’t want to make things worse, and she doesn’t want to make her therapist upset. She also doesn’t want to disagree. The teen feels like she would rather just agree with her therapist and let it go, but for some reason she can’t. The teen knows her therapist feels very strongly that she is right, but the teen feels just as strongly that her therapist’s interpretation is not fully accurate. She feels like it won’t matter, though, that her therapist’s opinion and feelings will carry or hold more weight than the teen’s opinion and feelings.

The teen knows she did behave in a rageful way in several of her emails. She knows she was also rageful in her notebook, although it doesn’t feel fair to her to have that judged because her notebook— by definition of what it is— is messy and raw and unedited and not pretty. It’s instantaneous thoughts and feelings, and it’s the working through of things and the very formation of her thoughts and conclusions and feelings. It’s the first place she goes to when things are hard and she needs to get the scary things out. She had thought that her therapist understood that although it had never been explicitly discussed, and she shared her angry notebook because she wanted so badly for her therapist to see the mess of confusion and pain and anger she was stuck in. This part of things feels worked through to the teen. She believes her therapist understands that she was in a lot of pain, and that her therapist understands why she behaved as she did, and the teen also knows she was raging and not able to have a constructive conversation, hence the boundaries. It’s important to the teen that her therapist know she understands that.

The sticking point is in that very first email. To the teen, calling that first email raging, mean, brutal, distorted, accusatory, blaming and out of line feels inaccurate. It is not how she felt, or how it was meant. She knows that she distorted what she heard, but she can’t help how she interpreted information, and she believes that how she interpreted things that Wednesday makes some sort of crazy sense, given her history. She wants to learn to not distort and twist everything people say to her, but she is terrified of people. She’s afraid to be even a little bit close or vulnerable with them. She can understand that her email could be read as blaming and mean, but it wasn’t that way in her mind. It wasn’t even that way in the adult’s mind. (Which adds another layer to this, because the therapist keeps saying the adult can help the teen communicate appropriately, but the adult did try to help before. The adult helped by making sure all the information of where the teen was emotionally was included in that email, and she helped by telling the teen it was okay, she could trust the therapist, the therapist had made a mistake but she wasn’t gone, and that this couldn’t be fixed if the teen didn’t explain what she was feeling, what she was afraid of, if she didn’t explain why she felt like she didn’t even have the right to be there. So, the adult did try to help but she just managed to help mess things up more. Both the teen and the adult feel as if the adult must be more broken, more crazy, more screwed up than either of them or the therapist thought. The end result is the teen doesn’t trust the adult, and the adult doesn’t want to help, anyway.)

The teen wrote what she emailed, almost word for word in her notebook, using an analogy her therapist had used earlier that day. As her therapist had talked, and said, “I took the boat away, I drove off in the boat and left you in the water, but I’m back with the boat now.” the teen thought, “But it’s not just that you drove the boat away and left me. It’s that I feel like you don’t think I should even be in the boat. It’s that I don’t know if you will leave me in the water again. It’s that I feel like I broke you and you had to leave me in the water and drive off because I’m too much, too crazy, so of course it will happen again because I break people. It’s that on Wednesday I felt like you thought I should be better, or more capable, or not need all this support to function.”

Later, the teen wrote in her notebook. The adult, feeling overwhelmed and struggling to deal with all the feelings of abandonment from all the parts (including her own feelings of hurt and disappointment and anxiety over the bad Wednesday and the stress of trying to cope with the triggers and flashbacks and emotions) knew that the teen needed some reassurance and help before things got completely out of control.

So the teen copied her notebook entry into an email and sent it. She wasn’t mad. There was no anger, or rage. Was she probably in emotion mind? Yes. But the emotions were terror of abandonment, and deep. deep sadness. She was heart broken and afraid, and confused, but not mad.

The adult— while admittedly not really on board the ship at all with all the emotion and panic and overwhelm happening— believed that the teen explaining in the email how she felt too vulnerable, that all of this was too much, that she had written this in her notebook (so, messy, raw, unedited), and that this was too painful to talk about face to face (the reason, which was not included is because there was a fear— however irrational— that her therapist would say yes, that is how I feel) was enough to let her therapist know the teen was in a very bad, very frightening place, and was overwhelmed emotionally. The adult thought that the teen signing the email, instead of the email being signed from the adult, was also helpful in showing who was writing, and had thought that would help her therapist to understand where the feelings were coming from.

The teen sent the email and she did her best, in her terrified state, to explain that this was what she felt like, this is what it had sounded like to her (distorted yes, but still the message she heard). She knows that her words did not land with her therapist in the way they sounded and felt in her mind, and she doesn’t really understand why. The teen feels like this vulnerable part (maybe the vulnerable teen?) of her was crying out for reassurance and help, and that cry was misinterpreted as rage.

The teen has this theory (before her therapist shared about criticism and her own stuff) that something was triggered in her therapist by the teen’s feelings and words that caused her therapist to view her words as if the teen were pointing her finger and screaming at the therapist. In the teen’s reality, she was hiding in her closet, under a blanket, with her dog and her teddy bear, feeling utterly devastated, alone, and abandoned, just sobbing for her therapist to come back and help her. The teen feels like the therapist didn’t see that she was crying out for help because her therapist wasn’t “her normal self”. The teen really thinks that if her therapist had been in a different state of mind, then she would have read her email as it was meant. The teen has read all the emails from the rupture, and she feels a difference in the way her emails sound. The first email sounds and feels scared and anxious and defensive. The following emails sound angry— this amount of anger that scares the teen, if she’s honest. She doesn’t like that she has all that anger in her. The emails after the rageful ones sound numb, detached, polite, cold, appropriate—totally Ms. Perfect’s voice.

The teen is still so hurt. She feels like she was abandoned twice; once on the Wednesday, and then again after reassurance that her therapist was back, and that it was okay to talk to her therapist about the therapist. On the verge of spinning out, and with the adult’s insistence it would be okay because the therapist had said she was back, the teen took a risk. Sometimes the teen thinks this can’t be fixed. She’s just not sure that talking to her therapist about her therapist is ever going to be okay. Her therapist asked the teen if she felt like the therapist gets defensive, and the teen couldn’t really answer, but the word she used was “defended” when she wrote about this in her notebook. The teen wonders if she should just let this go, or if she can’t let it go if it would be easier and better all around for everyone involved if she tried to talk to Kristin or Ryan about this rupture. She’s even had the thought that she needs to find a therapist to deal with her relationship with her therapist, because she doesn’t know what else to do and she wants everything to be okay again. She doesn’t want a different therapist, she just wants her therapist, but she also needs to talk about this and work through it, to process it, and it doesn’t feel safe or okay to do so with her therapist. The teen doesn’t think this is all, or even mostly because of her therapist, she’s pretty sure that most of the feeling it’s not safe is because of her past. This is scary and hard for her, and the idea that this will be okay one day feels like a fairytale. She wishes it could be true, but she can’t believe it, no matter how much she wants to.

And that’s it. It’s pretty much the whole of the stuck thing. The teen is definitely, 100% sure that emailing this is a bad idea. She feels like she has no good choices left….she can box it up and pretend it away, or she can share it and blow everything up. She’s once again hiding in her closet, hugging her dog and her teddy bear under a blanket. She’s scared. She is very, very scared and vulnerable feeling.

Bea responsed first thing Tuesday morning, “You did it! You sent it and nothing terrible is happening and things aren’t getting worse.  Of course I haven’t answered anything yet, but I don’t imagine having anything to say that could make things worse. I think it’s very brave to make yourself this vulnerable when you were so hurt by this.”

Repaired: part two

Between Thursday and Monday, we emailed about the stuck thing. First it was me worrying and seeking more reassurance that this wasn’t a terrible idea, and then I finally wrote out a part of it. (Mine is in italics, Bea is underlined)

So, Monday, you should read what I wrote about the stuck thing. I guess it’s just a matter of feeling like it’s okay to tell you about the stuck thing. I was feeling like maybe it was okay, maybe you got that this was this stuck thing and I can’t let it go but I’m really not sure if I’m over reacting and being silly and I am so afraid that you will put up a wall and leave, or not be there emotionally or be upset that I’m not over this or that I am making a thing out of if or that I am bringing it up again. I know that this rupture feels like it’s in the past for you, but I feel like it’s just right there, right behind us and could easily swallow us both up again. I feel like me being upset or confused or hurt or not over things that happened during that rupture is sort of keeping it alive and I need to let it go. It’s disconcerting to have something be so stuck and be so upset and scared and worried because of it, and to feel like more than anything, all I want it to not have to deal with the stuck thing, for it to just not exist. 

Yeah, it definitely seems that we need to address the stuck thing. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to move on without doing so.

I think you are right, this is a new thing for me, this idea of bringing something up again after it is done and over with, and….question another person’s feelings about something. I mean, really, the way to deal with a situation like this stuck thing is to just, well, forget about it. Shove it to the side, bury it, let it go. Pretending like that does work because eventually you sort of forget about it and the feelings just go mostly numb around the thing you buried, and before you know it, it really is no big deal. And questioning someone’s feelings? Disagreeing with them? No, no, no. That is not how these things are dealt with. The thing to do is to agree with the other person’s feelings. Then nothing bad happens. I know that is not how you do things, and so it probably seems crazy but it is how I have done them almost my entire life. I hope that by writing about small bits of it, it won’t feel so bad to give you the few pages of writing describing the stuck thing. Or, just this little bit could blow everything up and then I guess…..well, I don’t know. I think there was a plan for if that happened.

Well, we’ve all developed our various strategies for coping with things and getting our needs met. They work until they don’t, right?! That’s why we usually get to a point where we’re ready to give them up, scary as that can be.

What can I write or say that will tell you a little about the stuck thing without ruining everything? I don’t know. Everything feels like a risk. Maybe we talked about this already, but I don’t think so. Maybe I should have you give me a summary of what we did talk about (joking…sort of).  I mean, some things I know we talked about…..really, all of our sessions since (and probably including) the bad Wednesday, it’s all bits and pieces because I was having a lot of trouble being present enough to really remember. I know one session you said something about the teen being very present and here and not far away, and I wanted to laugh because I was in that weird here but not here space that I’m so good at seeming very grounded and present in, and sort of going between far away and that weird space. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for me to show up at all. I don’t even want to tell you that because I know you have this thing about me being present and in the window, and I get that, but I am so scared and so anxious, I just cant be super present right now. Well, Ms. Perfect can. Her sessions I remember pretty much in full. And like today, the grown up can be present as long as it’s all just surface stuff. Which is pretty much using Ms. Perfect’s coping skills. But anyway. Please just let this be. The teen can’t be all that present right now, and well, I need to be able to be far away to even show up. Maybe, if being more far away starts to feel safer, then I can be less far away. I’d say I have been less far-away than I was. So there’s that.

I’m beginning to think there’s a real physiological difference between the not here when you’re out of the window and the “here but not here” when you can talk and really be engaged, but be “not here” in a detached way.  What I mean is, it looks completely different from the outside. I don’t want to describe the physical ways they differ because I don’t want that to be a trigger.  The day I thanked the teen for being present I could see it was not the adult, but whoever it was had the language thing online and expressed herself without difficulty. She had a bit of an angry, defiant vibe, and spoke her mind in a defended sort of way. I guess I wouldn’t have said you seemed grounded and present as you, adult Alice, but it sure felt like this part was functioning well. You know how cut off parts can feel like “not me?”  I wonder if that could be part of “here but not here?” I’d sure like to talk more about this so I can understand it better. (Sorry if shrinky—just trying to sort this out)

There’s so much worry.  Worry you will think I am making a big deal out of nothing. Worry you will be upset with me for bringing this up again. Worry you will decide I am acting out, or being a drama queen. Worry that you will decide the stuck thing is just me distorting things yet again and displaying borderline behavior. 

If it’s a worry it needs to be brought out.  If it’s a distortion we’ll talk about why that is happening. We’ll work through it.

So, maybe first I should let you know that even though I have access to some reasoning right now, it’s a very thin grasp. This is emotional for me, it is painful and terrifying and all of the abandonment fears and attachment nonsense feel really triggered because of how extremely scary and vulnerable making even writing this much feels. I can say without too much worry that the stuck thing is about our rupture. I can say without too much worry that it is about me not understanding your feelings about something. You already read those things and didn’t get upset, so there’s not a lot of worry about saying those things again. There is some worry though. And I guess that the worry goes along with the stuck thing. Well, it is part of it….I mean, I guess the stuck thing is a lot of worries or fears combined with me not understanding something you feel and maybe disagreeing with you about something all sort of mushed together. So is this worry the stuck thing in real time? Ugh. I don’t know.  But maybe I could explain the worry, and we could start there.

The worry is that you told me you had no negative reaction to anything I said, but then later, you said you did have a negative reaction and it was very clear that you did. That makes it so hard to talk. In this current instance, maybe on Thursday you had no problem with me not understanding why you feel a certain way about something  but today you might have a negative reaction to it. I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing, or of saying it the wrong way, all my words are trapped. It’s like I can’t express anything without having an anxiety attack. Just the thought of sending this makes it hard to breathe and makes me light headed and I feel like I need to go hide right now. 

Negative reactions—where to start?!  I think there are several things I want to say, some of which I already explained. There are a lot of things I have to factor in when I have emotional responses to things that come up in therapy—and realistically, I’m always going to have emotional responses on some level, whether I’m aware of them or not. When things are complicated I have to take the time to figure out if I am having an emotional response.  First and foremost is always, why am I having this response? Is it my stuff? It’s probably in some part my stuff, so what stuff is it?  I can’t respond until that is figured out.  Usually these responses aren’t giant, so when I say I can contain your stuff, or I’m not having negative emotions I guess it’s more accurate to say that they aren’t “emotion mind” level responses. Then—and here’s where the wall and boundary thing comes in—if I’ve sorted through the “my stuff” part of the reaction and there’s still feelings there, I have to look at what was sent my way. This last time, as I’ve said, it took me a while to know what to do with that, and my negative reaction became part of the wise mind understanding that boundaries were needed.  So it wasn’t until after I had sorted through the “my stuff” piece that I could choose to use some of my real, post-reflection reaction to let you know what the negative impact was.  Does that make sense? I wasn’t trying to be dishonest about the negative reaction at first—I was trying—in my mind—to do my professional job of offering containment and doing self-reflection on “my stuff.”

Does that make sense at all? I guess the truth is, I always have some sort of reaction to most things, which is normal.   It’s okay if I have a negative reaction to something you say—it’s not really different than a neutral or positive reaction in my mind. It gives us information. I admittedly—like most people—have less negative reactions when I’m trying to work with a struggling part that’s not being mean—I don’t feel any mean from you (teen) right now. Even if I have a negative reaction I will take ownership of it, and I’ll still like you and won’t leave.

I write Bea back, but then I can’t send it. Instead, I write her to let her know I am working on a response but it is taking me longer to process this than I expected. She writes back that that is okay, that thinking and taking time is good.

The teen’s questions

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

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

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

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

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

What would you have done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My mother made that choice, not me.”

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

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

“No, you can’t know.”

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

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

“You would have?”

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

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

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

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

“I probably would come into your office mad.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, yes. But also, Kenny.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I could do that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

She Believes Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

“School?” Bea asks.

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

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

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

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

“And….then he…..well, you know.”

“Yes, I know.” She agrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just…I have a question.”

“Okay. You can ask it.”

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

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

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

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

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

The meeting place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What if that isn’t enough?”

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

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

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

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

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

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