Get away from her, you bitch!
~Ripley, Aliens (1986)
I saw my therapist today, and it was both easier and harder than the last time. It was more uncomfortable, and also less. I hated going and i was anxious, but i was glad to be there, and relieved to be doing the work. I go about every 2wks. I’d like to go weekly, but man, that ain’t cheap, so i’ll take what i can get. About 3 days before my next appointment, feelings are bubbling up, percolating. I’m anticipating and fretting and winding up. I put it somewhere in the background, but not too far back. I need to be tuned in to what’s going on, but i keep it far enough away that it won’t keep me from seeing her. The day before can be dicey – my skin is thin and my restraint, low. The drive in is both a buildup of emotional tension and a hopeful sort of intellectual relaxation.
Today is the first day since i resumed therapy that she hasn’t asked me why i think i’m there. Last week i commented on it as i answered her -again- and added that i’d guessed her doing so indicated that i wasn’t getting it. I can’t remember what followed after her acknowledgment that it was so. She asked me if i’d done the homework she gave me last week, and i couldn’t remember what that was.
When i get to her office, the disparity, the ambiguity, the ambivalence, it’s all intensifying. When i see her, i’m standing on the 3m dive tower, and she’s the lifeguard at poolside telling me i can jump. I hold my breath and step off, landing in the rocking chair (is it a rocking chair?) as she closes the door. I’m holding my collective brain-breath as i’m putting my knapsack and my coffee down, my whole body is thrumming, fuzzy, like a heavy bass line played through shitty speakers.
She always asks me how i’m doing and i never know. I say “okay” without conviction, or “meh”, or i shrug, or just say “i’m here”. I now how to look inward and check in with my feelings, and i’m a decent communicator, but i’m suddenly unable to come up with anything that seems satisfactory. Nothing fits, or rather, nothing fits everyone, and i have a lot of Bits N’ Pieces paying attention.
Some of them are only barely there; they’re groggy, drugged, sleepy, and when they turn their attention her way, parts of my body feel the same. Some areas are numb, some are warm and buzzy-fuzzy, but it’s not in a pleasant way. It’s like bees all brushing up against each other, and i don’t like it and i’m afraid.
Others are laser-focused on her, but from a minimum safe distance. They are afraid, and angry too. They are Ripley, ready to nuke her from orbit.
Don’t misunderstand me – it’s just a literary device for comparison, delivered via an injection of humour, which is always appropriate in my world. I am not, nor is any part of me, a physical danger to my therapist.
But i can feel them glowering at her from their hiding spots. When the people who made you rape and beat you, it wrecks you in catastrophic ways. With few exceptions, they are not well-developed or sophisticated. Some are moments in time stuck in my brain, playing over and over. Some are emotions that i could neither bear nor process. Some are a bit more, like flat characters – they aren’t intricate or well fleshed out, and they don’t change or grow. Like the good little girl in the frilly dress that always does as she’s told, or the troubled teenager that hides in their room, listening to dark music and writing darker poetry. No matter who they are, how tangibly they exist, or what affect they have on me, those who hide and glower trust no one outside of my brain. Hell, they barely trust me, and i’ve been working hard at it for over a decade.
She checks in and asks how/what i’m feeling every few minutes. I sit there, combing through all the words, trying to say any of them, say one of them. Keep it simple: sad, mad, bad, good, scared… But the answer is YES and so, which one? I try to say just that, what i’ve just written here, and i can’t. I’m bombarded with opinions/feelings on what words to say, or if i should say any. I stumble and sputter and end up not saying much of anything. This is not like me. I regularly deal with explosions of emotion and/or chatter from my people. Even those who know me well often don’t know when it’s happening.
Before i knew i was a multiple, and long before i’d accepted it, i would have these explosions in my head and they’d cause me to act out. There were times i’d disappear. My mother mostly didn’t notice, but other people did. I got separated from my aunt in a Sears department store once, when a man approached me. I remember running outside and then walking around the neighbourhood for hours. I don’t know how i got home, but i do recall that it was late in the day, and the front room was filled with people and murmuring voices when i returned (was returned?) to Auntie’s house. I was 5 or 6. A year or less later i remember punching the glass of a framed print of my mother’s. Big red flowers with spiderweb cracks and my own fresh paint. I can see myself now, sleepwalking it into my bedroom and hiding it under the bed. She beat me when she found it. Then there was the time i put the kitten in the fridge. I was trying to hide her from a bad man who was coming and i knew he’d hurt my kittens. I can’t remember where i stashed the one, but i found the other in the fridge, mewling and covered in spilt Tang.
Stressor — brain overload — hide
By the time i was 8 or 9, i’d developed this way to cope, and before i hit junior high, i’d stopped breaking stuff and hurting myself.
I still went for long walks, though. Always with the walking. The internal imperative to GO HOME, but it was never the place i lived.
As an adult, even that stopped and was replaced with other things: food, booze, sex.
When i finally, officially met my internal roommates, i hit the road again with a goddamn vengeance.
She’s asking me how i’m feeling, and i don’t fucking know (ALL the feels! NOTHING!) and i can’t fucking say (too many WORDS!!) and i WANT.
She sees and knows my head is exploding.
She draws my attention to my twitching feet, or my bouncing knees, or my arms crossed over parts of my body, or hands balled into fists, or switching tics. (If i can’t/won’t leave physically, you’d best believe i’m going to get out/away from this, regardless.)
She asks me what i’m feeling ( *eyeroll* FUUUUCK!)
Not an emotion – what physical sensations am i currently experiencing?
– in my feet (walk! get away)
– in my arms (cover up! hide)
– in my fists (punch! protect)
– in my head/face (cantgetawayhideprotect SWITCH!)
So she says, Let’s give your body what it’s asking for, and she brings my attention to that part of my body and gives me something physical to do with it: movement of some kind, like stretching, or an object to use, like a pillow or blanket.
Then she asks, How does that part feel now? and i can get out a word or 2 like, “good”, “okay”, “better”.
When i was seeing her regularly before, one of my favourite things was that she almost never spoke to my system, even indirectly. In my long, storied history with mental health professionals, they all started out with having me talk about my childhood, which always led to what i saw as playing with my brain. When one of them would suspect i was a multiple, they would ask for their names and then ask to speak to someone. They looked at me like a cartoon mouse staring at a piece of cheese.
I know now she let me leave therapy, knowing there was more work left to do.
I wonder if she thought i’d be back.
I’ve come back to her, anxious and losing control because there are some voices that i haven’t heard for a while. My system and i all thought they were dead, and now we’re afraid that is to be the fate of them all. They don’t want to die, and i can’t imagine how life would or even could be, without them.
They saved my life, and helped me navigate being alive. Is getting better killing them?
Does being well have to mean being integrated?
She says: I want all your people in there to know that i have no interest in hurting anyone, or making anyone go away. I want them to know that it is impossible for them to die, or otherwise disappear.
She’s talking to them like a mother would talk to the room where she knows her child is hiding. Like, “I wonder where H could be? I hope she comes to the kitchen soon, because i’m making her favourite – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!”
Before, they were watching her, watching how she treated me and watching my reaction. Now, some have moved beyond observation and are actively listening to what she’s saying. Some have had to move to be within earshot.
She asks me how i’m feeling, and i cannot speak.
But i can cry.
The push and the pull has been my whole life. Feeling one way but also it’s opposite. Knowing what is and yet that it is not. Not believing what i know to be true. Trying to keep back the things that would consume me. The encroachment of age and the return to innocence. Walking into the light, towards the black promise of entropy. Living on water and dust.
There is no dark or light side, only the force.
There is neither devil on my shoulder, nor angel – it’s just me.
Anyway, i’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly.
Image shown: The Defiance of Entropy, Andrew Netherwood