The Fifth Month Scholarship

To my readers,

Other than the number “five” added in below in not-so-surreptitious places, everything else is correct. The number of years of recovery and the number of years to get my MFT license are also correct. Ironically, this could have been a fictional story, but it’s not. This was one of the easiest scholarship essays I have written. I’m sure no one else will have a story like mine. The only thing I worry about is whether the essay judges will be concerned about not putting something so “serious” on their website and whether the judges’ views are affected by the stigma of mental illness. To some degree, all of us are affected by the stigma, no matter what side of it we stand on.

 

“May is the fifth month of the year. Write a letter to the number five explaining why five is important. Be serious or be funny. Either way, here’s a high five to you for being original.” (250 words or less)

On the fifteenth of May, five years ago, was the day I packed my car. I packed my car with all of the essentials: five pairs of underwear, five pairs of socks. I put in five shirts and five of my favorite shoes, just for sentiment. I drove to the other side of the state and it took five times two hours to get to my mom’s house.

Five hours was amount of time it took for him to get home to an empty house and a note written in blood. The next day he changed the locks of my former home and five days later I was served with divorce papers.

Five was the number of times I was hospitalized from my suicide attempts, trying to undo all of the hurt and the trauma which had existed during those five years of my life.
Five times ten is the number of years that I wish he would get sent to prison for having raped me repeatedly and abused the innocence of the first five years of my adult life. Five women of the court were present when I gave my testimony and five days later they told me the case couldn’t go forward because I didn’t have enough evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it happened. Five years is how long it will take for me to become a trained marriage and family therapist so that I can help other women just like me.

My Grad School Interview

I did it. I completed my three hour group interview with a graduate school MFT program which I hope to get into. We find out in two weeks if we got accepted. Then we have a month to decide whether to accept the acceptance. The two year program would start in the Fall. I did not make it into the state university. Today’s interview was with a private university. The program is a very good program and intensive. It is also expensive. There is no time to hold any sort of employment because all the student’s time is dedicated to the study of marriage and family therapy. I would be living off of loans and by the end of the two years I will be at least $100,000 in debt. I qualify for a minimal amount of a federal loan due to the FAFSA which I filed. The rest would be private loans. Considering I chose to file for bankruptcy less than two years ago, the interest on those private loans is going to be high. This is going to be a very expensive education, if I decide to go that route.

I am ready to fully commit myself to my future career. I want to do everything and anything it takes to get my MFT license and start practising as a licensed clinician. I am ready for the immense challenge. I am ready to face my inner demons and hone in on my life skills. In this profession, practitioners have to be very good at emotional regulation. I have a lot to learn.

I told my friend tonight that I think I was one of the only people there who had actually suffered mental illness myself. Many of the other interviewees, i.e. the competition, were coming straight out of their undergraduate college studies. They don’t have ten years of post-college life experience like I do. This is an advantage to me. My friend told me that I am surely not the only one who has experienced mental illness; that there are probably several other people who have, but that it’s not talked about because of the stigma associated with mental illness.

We were a total of 21 interviewees. Some flew in from the other side of the country to attend this interview. Some drove for hours to get here. A few, like myself, live in the city. The interviewees were split up into five groups, so basically four people per group. I have to say, there was one male and twenty females in the whole group. Quite a phenomenal statistic considering that 50 years ago the field of psychotherapy was still male-dominated. Everyone was dressed nicely, most in suits like myself. Everyone looked really put together. Most of the women had nice hair cuts, as opposed to my flowing long hair that reaches almost to my waist. It’s okay. We are all different.

For the three hours we had one room that we stayed in, and the interviewers rotated rooms. There was one professor and one current student paired with the professor, who were the interviewers and judges. They ask questions and the four of us answered in turn. The questions were personal and required deep thought and introspection. All of the other interviewees’ answers were really good. I mean, really good.

The first question was an introductory question asking us what about our lives and our past experiences has prepared us for this career path. I talked about how I grew up with a single mother who became a widow at the age of twentysix with twin three-year-olds. How we moved around a lot and between different countries. How we experienced racism when we were living in Germany and in Switzerland. I talked about having a lot of anger with my mother when I was growing up. Another question was, why specifically this university? All of the other participants answered first and along similar lines. That the emphasis on the multicultural perspective is important to them, that they like the biopsychosocial perspective. I didn’t say any of that garbage, meaning, I didn’t want to follow the trend and repeat what everyone else was saying or what we thought we were expected to say. I simply said I admire all of the research that the professors have done and that I would like to participate. The reason for me wanting to attend this program is that it is very intensive and really prepares the students for this profession. Another important reason is because I do not want to move out of this city; I intend to stay here.

One question was presented as follows. In therapy there are many setbacks. Some clients remain stagnant and seem to not progress, even for a period of years. Some decide to quit therapy and they don’t tell their therapist about it, they just never call back for a next appointment. In these cases often the therapist may believed that they have failed in a way. What is one example of a failure in your life and how did you deal with it? I spoke of the demise of my marriage, about how it was not a failure, instead, that as it turns out, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. That I have been in therapy for the last eight years and it took four years of therapy for me to gain enough strength and self worth to leave that abusive situation.

Name a person in your life who is completely different in values from you and how do you reconcile that difference? I talked about my mom and how it felt as if she wasn’t around enough for me when I was a child even though she tried really hard and worked long hours, and cooked us dinner every night from scratch as part of showing us her love. I talked about the fact that she doesn’t share the same love languages that I have, that she wasn’t big on physical touch or words of affirmation. And now, how she in a difficult relationship but refuses to go to therapy because she simply does not believe in it for herself. She has different views on therapy than I do. I reconcile these differences in that I know I cannot change her and that I must accept this. I must accept that she is very different from me and that she needs to make her own decisions and is responsible for her life. There’s nothing I can actively do to make her change, she has to want it.

What is one aspect of yourself that you want to change over the course of your professional career starting now and what are you doing about it? I don’t want to see myself as the victim any longer. For a long time I was held down and told that my abuser was the victim, not I. There was a lot of manipulation. Because of the domestic violence I am in a women’s group right now and it is amazing to see that each of the women have their own story yet we share that we all experienced the same sort of thing. I did not mention that it was sexual abuse. I feel that would have been crossing the line of self disclosure and of my comfort level.

If you were to speak about yourself from the perspective of someone who knows you very well, what would they say about you? I took on the persona of my best friend: she is intelligent and has been through a heck of a lot. She is a strong person. She takes me to my IVF appointments. We have such a close relationship that some people may be uncomfortable with our relationship. For example, when I was getting my eyebrows waxed, I got an eyelash in my eye, and she just reached over and took it out. The person doing the waxing said that we must have a very close relationship, implying that those are personal bubble boundaries which most people do not cross. A nurse after my surgery asked if we are childhood friends, and she answered, “no, we were just neighbours”.

There were some more questions and I revealed some more information about myself. During one of the sessions I did cry, when talking about the domestic violence I had experienced. This was the question about a failure in my life and how I dealt with it. Another time I choked up but the tears luckily didn’t come. While I was answering questions I noticed that I did not often look the interviewers in the eyes, and instead looked away and down. I noticed that other participants did the same thing.

Overall I feel good about how it went, but I was also physically relieved from the mental exhaustion of the intensity of the questions and answers. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt this way and at the same time there were probably others who did not feel that the interview was as intense as I experienced it. I am going to be held in suspense for the next two weeks until I find out the verdict, whether they are going to offer me a position in the program for the next cohort. But I will also be very occupied with therapy, school, and work, that I know the time will pass by quickly.

This is exciting! Something good, something positive in my life. And the best part is knowing that I made it happen. I did this and no one else. I am the one who studied for the GRE for five months. I am the one who healed myself from being suicidal on a daily basis to having it happen merely once a month. I am the one who kept going back every week to therapy no matter how difficult my life seemed at the time. I attracted good people into my life. I am responsible for the fact that I have a strong support system in place filled with friends, close family members (my mom and my brother) and a health team (my therapist and my psychiatrist). I am the one who continues to take my medications twice a day. I, I, I. I did this. I get all of the credit for what my life has become. I am proud of myself.

I am a Survivor

Look what I did today! I sat with my feelings. I allowed myself to experience my anger and my sadness. The feelings were present but I wasn’t feeling them because I wasn’t allowing them to come to the surface. I could only do it in a safe place, in my therapist’s presence. I thought I was just sad but only after he pointed out that he had detected some anger did I realize I was feeling this too.

It wasn’t fair what happened to me. It wasn’t right. What happened was horrible but that doesn’t make me horrible. I am a grown woman and I have hair on my vulva because I am a woman, not a girl. My abuser wanted me to be like a little girl and didn’t allow me to have hair down there. It was one of two options: shave or wax. The waxing was painful and the shaving irritated my skin. And my vagina was constantly hurting, burning on the inside. I had many yeast infections and I had a solution to numb the burning pain which I applied every few hours for days on end. I kept a constant supply of that prescription stuff.

Group therapy is bound to bring up these thoughts and feelings. It is inevitable. Every single woman in that group roundtable has a story, and every single woman experienced horrific sexual abuse. None of them know yet the extent of my story. They don’t know that I was sold to other men, that my vagina was used a lot, that I was treated as an object and a commodity. They don’t know the extent of my mental illness, that I underwent 30 ECT’s because of my major depression and extreme suicidal ideations. They don’t know that because of the cost of the medical bills, the inpatient and outpatient hospitalizations, the ambulance rides and emergency room visits, I chose to file for bankruptcy because the thought of the bills and the calls from collection agencies made me want to kill myself.

Those things are behind me now. I am the owner of my life. I make decisions for me. I choose what to do, and whom to tell my story to. I am the owner of me. I survived. I overcame adversity. I have a new life now, and it is all because of me and what I did and the choices I made which helped me to heal. And God, was it hard.  

A Funeral For My Past

I have a mild sense of apathetic anger. Well, let’s call is frustration. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I don’t feel as if I had enough time to talk during group therapy. I wanted there to be a lot more focus on me, yet as much as I was bursting at the brim to chime in, answer questions first, disclose another detail of my story, I could barely bring myself to talk. When volunteers spoke in turn, I was usually toward the end of the lot of us women answering. I wasn’t the first. I wanted to give others a chance to speak and I didn’t want to take the spotlight away from anyone else. I suppose the anger is with myself. I may be frustrated for not having taken a bolder stance, although I did say one thing that was bold. While the group was discussing in turn about being afraid of men, I added, “I’m afraid of penises.” Several women could relate to that statement and someone replied in an empathic tone, “that’s being precise.” I am no longer afraid of men, but I am afraid of penises. If I don’t see a grown man’s penis for the rest of my life, I would be fine with that. In fact, it is the main reason I am dating women now.

I want to share more of my story with the group, and I would hope that it is a judgement-free zone. So far it has been an atmosphere of being non-judgemental and group members have offered supportive replies to each other. But I don’t want to be associated with my story. I want to be me, and I want to tell my story, but I don’t want to be known as “the woman whose husband made her into a prostitute” or “the woman whose husband pimped her out.” I don’t need that. I don’t identify with that. It’s like with my mental illness. I have mental illness but I am not my mental illness. It doesn’t define me. I define me.

Another bold statement I was able to offer as support to a young woman who shared her story was, “it’s not your fault.” That’s all I said. Another woman piggybacked off of that statement and had a lot to say on that subject. I feel that a lot of the women have a better memory than I do. They had a lot to say about each other, in a supportive way, during this second session as we were reflecting on the first session and how it went. Even though we did have name tags, they seemed to just remember each other’s names for the most part, and they remembered each other’s stories. I, on the other hand, struggled to remember each person’s story of sexual abuse and what they had said about it the previous session. I typically have a very difficult time with remembering names. The same happens at my office. I have been there for over a year and a half and there are many person’s names I cannot remember. I am too embarrassed to ask after all this time, although I sometimes ask other people, “what was that person’s name?”

This memory issue happens to me during therapy too. I am always amazed when my therapist mentions something related to an email I sent to him during the week or when he refers back to a previous session. I wonder to myself, “how does he remember that?” Because I don’t remember! I have had him tell me the same stories over the last years again and again and each time he tells me the story it is as if I am hearing it for the first time again. Is memory an acquired skill? I am always in awe of servers at restaurants who can memorize an entire table’s order, for each individual person, with all of the little details and requests. I just don’t have that sort of capacity in my mind. My mind is busy processing other parts of the day and of life.

We went around popcorn-style answering specific questions such as, “what was one meaningful thing someone said to you last week” and we mentioned that person’s name and spoke directly to them. I was shocked when someone called me out. To be honest, I just didn’t expect it. I didn’t think I mattered to anyone there. Although eager to be a part of the group and to participate, I felt invisible. I felt as if everyone was sharing details of their stories, all but me. Popcorn-style, by the way, is also a new term to me. It means that any person in the circle around the room can answer the question next, it doesn’t have to be answered by the next person in the row. I will have to share this feeling of invisibility with the group during the next session and let them know I appreciated being talked to and about. I didn’t think I mattered to anyone there. After all, it is only the second week. Already, women are beginning to form connections with each other. Some have even exchanged phone numbers. Another woman who told me she also writes in a blog gave me her phone number on a card so that she can share the blog with me, at my request.

I loved the art project of making our name signs. It was a brief exercise, but we were allowed to pick out a marker and the facilitators passed around an assorted crayons box. The crayons were brand new. I chose to write my name in thick black ink and I shaded it with bright pink and coloured in a heart after my name. Mind you, I also selected my favourite colour of paper, which was pink too. I wanted to choose a bright, happy colour. I like green but it just didn’t feel like the right colour for me to express myself within the group. In choosing pink it is as if I am making a statement. This is my paper, my name tag, my creation. This is mine and this is me. You get what you see and nothing less.

You get what you see. This is my body and I am the owner of my body. I choose how I want to appear to other people. I choose whether or not to exercise, and I choose to not go on diets. I choose to wear the clothes that I myself have purchased, along with shoes that I chose. I choose to have long hair down to my waist and to not get it cut more than once a year. I choose to shower only every other day. I choose to go to bed at a time which suits me without having to be woken up in the middle of the night to fulfill my “wifely duty” of being the receptacle of sexual acts done to me. I choose to be asexual and to abstain from sex. I am making the choice to go on dates with women. I choose who I spend time with and when, and what I do on weekends. I have chosen to go back to school. I choose to keep my job. I can spend or save my monies as I please.

All of these choices, these decisions, were not always mine to have. There was a time in my life when I did not get to make any of these decisions, when my ex-abuser and ex-husband (one and the same person) made all of my choices for me and psychologically manipulated me into thinking that this is how it should be, that he decides what is to be done with my body and my vagina. He trained me like you train a young child and I was obedient for too long. There was always a part of me, the part that I denied and suppressed, which knew this was wrong and knew I needed out. I did get out and I’m never going to let that happen to me again. I have learned my lesson the hard way.

I feel as if people discount my past suicides. But I mean really, how do you respond to a person who says, “my coping behaviour during my recovery was that I tried to kill myself for many years.” It’s exactly what I said. We were prompted with finishing the sentence, and I was blatantly honest. I didn’t think twice about saying it. We were in small groups and I kept my statements short. I didn’t complete the “I feel…” sentence. After I was done the next person went. But I felt empty after saying that. I felt as if something was missing. Deep inside of me, I had wanted a few moments of recognition for my struggle. I wanted a moment of silence in respect for my past suicide attempts. In my mind, the way I imagine the moments in the manner that I wanted them to be, it was like a funeral. It was a moment of mourning for the lost me. I lost myself during those suicide attempts. Being suicidal used to be a big part of me. It used to be my entire life. Not a day would go by in 2012 or 2013 that I didn’t think of killing myself. It was always on my mind. But then the spans of suicidal ideation became shorter, and shorter, until last year, when it came about only once a month. At the end of the year I went for a record four-month stretch of no suicidal feelings or intention of carrying through with a plan. I’m back to once a month now. The feelings come and the thoughts overwhelm me and for an intense set of days I am intent on killing myself. However, as my therapist always reminds me, the feelings come and go but I remain.

The World We Live In

To my therapist,
I am supposed to be kind to myself. I don’t feel kind. I am supposed to love myself. I don’t feel love. I am human. I feel immense sadness. Some realizion of reality and terror just struck me and I am in tears. They feel like tears that come with the relief of knowing that the pain is over and I don’t have to feel it any longer except when the wounds will be torn open during group therapy for the next nine weeks.
I began feeling this apathy and dread at a social event earlier today. I spoke to the one person I knew there in order to distract myself. After many silent moments on the phone with a friend just now I hung up and started crying. I have now stopped and my tears are dry. I have no particular interest in reading my text book tonight. I have no particular interest on attending group therapy on Wednesday, the day before I am to see you next. I feel a moment of hatred for myself at the idea of attending this group. It was my idea. I’m supposed to attend because it’s supposed to help. But all of the women have experienced horror and terror and each of their stories weaves an awful story of a reality I do not want to bear nor live in. A reality where men take two year old girls to bed with them, a world in which men take women at knife point into the bushes to rape them with no regard to whether they are daughters and mothers, a world in which men sell their wives bodies to the highest bidder, in which men own human bodies, women’s bodies, and can do with them what they please and without consent. This is a world of evil, without humanity, without consciousness, a world that makes no sense to me.
In an enlightened age where modern technology creates feats of the stuff of miracles, connects one human to another from across the world, children are being sold on Backpage.com and trafficked, from a gutter and from one fancy hotel room to another with the establishments fully aware of the prostitution that goes on and to which they willingly, greedily turn a blind eye all in the name of making profit. There are men who enjoy torturing others, who get a rush from the ultimate violent act of raping a victim. This is the world we live in and most of us try to pretend that mysogeny doesn’t exist, that women have equal rights and are not discriminated against in fields of employment where they earn less than men.
I have to fight that world and to stand up to it and say no, but I cannot do it alone. I am fearful of what will take place in the 90 minutes of my group therapy session in just three days from now. Tomorrow will be a 13 hour day including class. I will get through the day just as I have fought so hard each day to make it through the last five years. In April it will have been exactly five years since the day I left, the day that my ex-husband and ex-abuser changed the locks on the door of my former prison and filed for divorce.
Help me please. Just help me and never leave me.

More Positive Than Not

I want to take an overdose; I don’t want to take an overdose. I have a 60-day supply of pills on hand when I am only supposed to have a 30-day supply in my possession. Over the last six months there have been days on which I have forgotten to take my medications. The pharmacy keeps notifying me that my monthly prescription is ready even though I haven’t finished my current supply. I keep picking them up. Now I have six bottles of pills when I am only supposed to have three. It is a temptation.

It was just three weeks ago that I became intensely suicidal for less than 48 hours and had planned on taking an overdose of pills. My therapist scheduled an emergency therapy session and helped me to realize that killing myself was not the answer to the traumatic and painful memories which had been triggered. They are memories. Nothing bad is happening to me right now.

It would be a good idea to get rid of the extra pill bottles, that way the thought of taking them all at once won’t cross my mind. I am not currently suicidal, but I never know when it will happen again, and when it does, the feelings come unexpectedly, suddenly, and without mercy. My whole mind seems to give in to the idea of suicide and it takes a concerted effort to not carry out my plans. I always need outside help. Last time this happened I contacted several friends, called the suicide hotline for support, and then saw my therapist within an hour of having called the hotline. I took the rest of the day off of work. No one at the office had any idea of my crisis. It is better that way.

This week I have done therapy for four of seven days. I have not studied for my classes. Instead I have been going to bed early, sleeping and resting, feeding myself, and processing my thoughts in writing by sending emails to my therapist and posting blog entries. My need to write comes and goes in waves and it is self-therapy. Writing helps me to process my feelings and thoughts. Reading my written thoughts helps me to gain perspective. Posting them online or sending them via e-mail gives me a way of connecting with others. If my stories resonate with another person, if someone can relate to me, if others feel empathy, then sharing my thoughts through written word is worthwhile.

I did an infant observation for my child development class this morning with the help of a coworker and his children. The infant must be between three and twelve months old, so I am going to have to fudge the birth date since the infant is actually fifteen months old. Developmentally, she is more advanced than a twelve-month-old, although my therapist told me that some infants start walking at the age of nine months. This infant started walking at the age of twelve months. We went to a lake which I have never been to before and I observed the infant and her four-year-old sister throwing bread and crackers into the water for ducks to eat. The ground was wet and muddy because it had rained earlier and there were puddles waiting to be jumped in by the older sister. The observations had to be for a period of five minutes each, ten minutes apart. Both observations have to include concepts and theories from the textbook and because I am behind in my reading, as I have been focusing on my mental health this week and not on school, so I will have to wait to type up the theoretical portion of the infant observation. We have to also describe communication, emotional expressions, motor development and interactions between the parent and the infant. I am no expert in doing any of these observations but my coworker said that by the end of my classes I will be a pro.

“How am I going to manage without you for the next five days?” I asked my therapist toward the end of our session earlier this afternoon. “You’ll find a way,” he replied calmly, evenly. “You always do.” That answer instilled in me the confidence I needed to have the courage to walk away from his office, a part of the routine of therapy which I never like. I love sitting with him during our therapy sessions and I do not like leaving his office. Sometimes I try to prolong our sessions to no avail, because I know that our time is usually limited to only 50 minutes, and that all of our therapy must take place between the beginning and the end of any given 50-minute session. However, therapy continues without him, because I take what he says, his insights, his comments, his encouragement, his motivating statements, and bring them with me wherever I go. He never really leaves me, because he will always be a part of me. And it is I, who walk away from him and leave him at the end of each session. I always return. Every single thing he has taught me has become an integrated part of my life and a part of my personal philosophy and esteem which I live and breathe every single day. There are times in which I forget his teachings, and my negative thoughts take over, but that never lasts too long these days. My life is more positive than not.

Survivor and Overcomer

Greek yogurt with raw honey and fresh cut strawberries – that was me doing something nice for myself, something kind to myself tonight. I just spent the last hour on Twitter reading posts from #rapeisnotokay and #sexualassaultsurvivor. Before that I attended my first group therapy meeting for survivors of sexual assault. The group wasn’t as intimate as I had hoped it would be. Instead of the 6 – 8 women I was expecting to see, there were 12 women and two female facilitators. We went over the group guidelines about confidentiality, respect, and setting boundaries. Then we introduced ourselves. We went around in a circle and I volunteered to go first. I said what I was hoping to get out of the group, which is healing, and that I was terrified of showing up today. I wasn’t the only one who was scared. Other women shared my sentiment.

It was amazing to see how these women, one by one, opened up about their sexual assault and sexual abuse stories, as discussions were held after the introductions. Someone is in trial to lock away her offender. Others have never spoken about it before, this being the first time. When I introduced myself I managed not to cry, but the next person did and then so did two people after that, as we went down the line. I lost it. I cried too. There were tissues readily available on the tables. We all sat in a circle. It was so sad to hear everyone talking about their stories. There are young women and older women. Every story of sexual abuse you can imagine came forth between these 12 women, including me.

I had kind of an emergency therapy session with my individual therapist yesterday in the middle of the day. I took time off of work to go. I was experiencing panic in relation to the therapy group I attended tonight and he was able to reassure me that ultimately, this will be healing, and that other women are surely afraid as well. He reassured me that he will help me, the subtext being that he will not leave my side and that I am not in this alone. He will monitor my mood and my progress throughout the weeks and I will try to pay attention to how I am doing as well. I am seeing him again tomorrow night and I am so indebted and lucky to have an individual therapist that I get to see. Many of these women in the group are on waiting lists to get into individual therapy. I am so goddamn fortunate.

Sad news came into my email inbox last night and I have been feeling disappointed and let down. I received a message that I was not selected for the group interview at the MFT graduate program which I was hoping to attend. “Everything happens for a reason,” a couple people told me in sympathy. “They are missing out on having someone great in their program” another person said. He was sorry for them, not for me. It was good to have another perspective to brood over.

This must just be a bump in the road. I studied for the graduate record exam for about six months. It was very challenging and I invested a lot of money into the prep courses. It looks like I will not be attending a state university. It was the most competitive program to get into and I thought I had a good chance of getting in. In fact, I was confident they would accept me into the program. Instead, the email notification said I can try to apply again next year.

There is a private university which has a 24 month program with year-round admission. One has to pay up front for each class every month and I believe each class is around $2,500. I suppose that is what loans are for. It’s significantly more expensive than the state university’s program, but not the most expensive. Other private universities are offering the same degree at a cost of $50,000 in tuition alone per year. That’s $100,000 for a two-year program. This field that I am going into is not a high-paying profession and if I were to be that much in debt, well, I have no idea when I would be able to pay that off. It looks like I am just going to have to start my MFT program later in the year. Maybe I wasn’t quite ready to start; May is just around the corner. Perhaps that would have been too soon.

I’ve written about having difficulty with getting motivation to shower. Last night I was supposed to shower, but after the bad news of not getting admitted to the program which I had been counting on, I went to sleep abruptly on the couch because I didn’t want to deal with the sadness. This is day number three that I haven’t showered and as much as I would rather not shower tonight, I have to go to work tomorrow and it doesn’t look good (and it’s not normal) to show up to work with greasy hair. Damn it. Damn it all. I’d like to end this blog post on a positive note, but life just isn’t all that sometimes. I just have to focus on what needs to be done in the immediate future: shower and then study, sleep, go to work, attend therapy, write out my feelings in another blog post, study, sleep and do it all over again. Luckily I am seeing my therapist more than once a week these days.

 

Four Words

“I will help you,” he stated simply. He said it clearly and with a calm voice. There was no urgency, no judgement, nothing but truthful intention. It was all I needed to hear. He had said that phrase twice: once at the beginning of our session and once toward the end of the hour. I know I will get through this because he is going to help me. He has a track record of over eight years of consistency in seeing me, week after week no matter the circumstance, and he has always been there for me. I have no reason to doubt him now. I would not want to do this without him.

Less than 24 hours away is the hour I have been dreading all week, panicked, and with preemptive flashbacks of horrible moments in my past. The feelings have been, at times, overwhelming. That is why I chose to see my therapist today. I needed his steadfast guidance and I needed to hear the confident tone in his voice. He believes in me fully.

When I feel overwhelmed, it feels like there is an emergency happening, but it’s all inside of the confines of my mind. I don’t hear voices. I don’t get headaches. But it feels as if my head is pounding and my thoughts are screaming out at me. My body goes into panic mode. My mind reacts as if there is imminent danger present. I don’t notice my heart rate increasing or my breaths becoming quicker and shorter. No, I don’t think that I have any physiological reaction other than wanting to break down crying. No, sobbing, screaming at the skies.

Yesterday, after a night of panicked tears and a morning of flashbacks, I was sitting at my desk in front of the computer. My fingers were furiously typing out an email to my therapist on my phone, which I had positioned below my desk as to not make it obvious. When no one was looking, I allowed myself to sink my head into my hands, my fingers sprawled across the sides of my head as if trying to stop it from exploding. I wrote several emails that day. The word “trauma” and “scared” came up frequently in my writing.

My therapist allows me to email him at any time, and as many times as I want to. It’s important to me, and to my process of healing. I need him, and him alone, to know what is going on in my mind at all times. I usually write to him daily. I used to write novels each day, when I was entrenched in the after-effects of the recent traumas. There was an endless need for me to get out the words I couldn’t manage to say. I needed to tell my story over and over again, until, through the mess of the memories, some of it made sense to me, and the feelings began to fade.

Those feelings are not gone. They simply remain dormant in the background. It has been almost five years since I got out of that relationship. “I got out.” He had never hear me before say it in that way. I got out. I managed to get away. I escaped. None of that “he left me” and me wanting to get back together with my abuser. I hadn’t known much of any other life. Now I have the power to own my actions. I chose to leave, and what a fortunate and life-altering and gut-wrenching thing it was to do. I suffered for many years afterwards.

At first I was in complete denial and for over a year I had still wanted a marriage, but a different kind of marriage. That man, with that evil and ill mind of his, was not capable of providing any other sort of relationship. He needed to act out the trauma again and again that he experienced when he was two years old: the feelings of helplessness, the guilt, the shame of a child who didn’t have the words or mind to understand what had happened to him when his male babysitter made my ex-husband-abuser put his penis into his mouth. A grown man puts his penis into the mouth of a two-year-old boy. How fucked up is that? Yet it happens more than we know, today, in our society. A father is having sex with his young daughter and a neighbor is inserting objects into the little girl’s vagina whom he is babysitting. But instead of being told that it was “our little secret” I was told that it was my fault. I was to blame that he liked little girls. He dressed me up like a little girl, buying the clothes for me, and making me role-play. He got off on that and then blamed me for it.

He taught me how to have sex with a woman when I did everything I could to resist his control. But the manipulation and the guilt tactics and the pleading and the fact that I thought I loved him over a period of many months, with daily repetition of these behaviors, wore me down. I didn’t want to have sex with anyone but him. In fact, I wanted to make love with him. But he was incapable of making love. It was all about him, and the satisfaction of his needs, and the release he got. He had a sick mind. He still does, only he is no longer the perpetrator of abuse and trauma in my life. He will not change unless he seeks therapy and that is not very likely.

I need to shower tonight. Showering used to be such a struggle for me. I wouldn’t shower for days, and my hair got greasy and I would attempt to cover up my body odour with flowery deodorant. Only, there was nowhere to go anyway, and I would stay in bed for 22 hours at a time, getting up seldomly to go to the toilet. I probably spent over two years in this perpetual state of hibernation. Living was too painful for me and I needed to protect myself from the hurtful, dangerous world by staying in my bed with the shades of the window drawn closed.

When I shower I am going to imagine washing off the difficulties, no, the challenges, of the last days. Yesterday, while I was sobbing and wailing inside the confines of the safety of my car in the parking lot of my office building during the middle of the afternoon when I was supposed to be working – I felt dirty. It wasn’t just a thought. It was a feeling. Through the tears I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that my whole being was dirty. Dirty because of what happened to me for over a period of six years. Dirty because my body was sold to over two hundred men. Dirty because of the scant clothing I used to have to wear. Dirty because I was ashamed and horrified with myself at the same time.

I used to scratch and ferociously rub the dirt off of my skin. My dear aunt would tell me that it’s not dirt, but dead skin that is coming off of my body. Why then, is it a darker colour? Little miniscule bits of dead skin coming off of my arms, my chest, my neck, from under my breasts. It was everywhere. I used to spend hours just rubbing my skin. It was calming. It was satisfying when I got a miniscule particle of something under my fingernails. I would flick it to the hard ground and continue rubbing my skin red in order to find more dirt to get off of myself. Even if I showered, it was still there. Nothing could make it go away. The flecks of skin particles would collect on the hardwood floor beside me where I was sitting on the couch and I would have to get a paper towel to clean up the floor. I stopped doing that, for the most part. But sometimes I find myself rubbing the skin around my clavicle. There must be thoughts and feelings which trigger me to do it, but I haven’t figured that out yet. It still feels satisfying, triumphant, to rub my skin. Because it’s my body, and I have control over it, and I control what food goes into my mouth, and who touches me, who has sex with me. I have had sex once in the past five years and I do not regret it. But at the same time, I wasn’t ready for it either and I never saw that person again after that.

Over the next ten weeks during the course of this group therapy I am choosing to attend, a lot of feelings will be brought up. A lot of thoughts and a lot of emotions. But I must always remind myself that “feelings come and go, but I remain.” There is no emergency happening inside of my mind right now.

What Trauma Memories Do To Me

The emotional pain has subsided for now, but I know it will be back. It always comes back. That’s the thing about the ebb and flow of depression and PTSD. It comes and then it goes, and it leaves turmoil in its wake. Only my therapist and two friends know that I stepped out of my office in the middle of the afternoon today to cry, no, wail, in my car for fifteen minutes. I mean, I cried for fifteen and then had to recover for another fifteen so that I could hide the red, splotchy eyes and dry my tears. No one else, not even my family, knows of the pain I am experiencing.

My therapist booked me as soon as possible upon my request. I will be seeing him in about thirteen hours. I am counting. This is all in anticipation of the therapy group I will be starting this week. It hasn’t even begun and memories of things my abuser said and did have flooded my mental space. It is difficult to concentrate at work. The feelings that were brought up were unexpected and out of the blue. I did not want them to take over my day!

What happened to me wasn’t fair. No person deserves to be treated the way I was, to be manipulated, used, abused, raped, talked down to, isolated from social contact all in the means of controlling the subject. He told me that I always played the victim, and that really, he was the victim. It was I who was manipulating him. It was I who was punishing him. Let me ask you this: who wouldn’t want to find some means of punishment for a man who just sold your body to a stranger for financial gain? Even if it was the silent treatment. I was desperate to find some form of expression, because I couldn’t get away. I could not fathom a life without him. I had become a possession of his, and anything he told me to do, I would do.

Until the day I wouldn’t. After he realized he could no longer manipulate me, have me be a “good” wife and a “good” girl by doing everything he told me to do, then he had no use for me. He had planned to divorce me, I imagine, far in advance of whence I knew of his plan. All of a sudden he filed for divorce, and my life came crashing down. I was out of physical danger from him, but everything I had known up until that point was no longer in force, and the damage he had left upon my being was far greater than even I could imagine.

One person knows. And that person is my therapist. He saw me through all of it. The suicide attempts, the self harm, the hospitalizations and the 5150’s, my inability to talk, my continual self punishment because I thought I was inherently a bad person who was deserving of punishment, my fear of people and of trusting and of abandonment. He is the one person who knows it all, and that is how it should be. One person, one human being, can make all the difference in the world in another person’s life.

The pain has subsided and I am able to type without my head banging on the invisible wall of despair. I will see my therapist and we will figure out together if I will be attending the sexual assault survivor’s group therapy course in two days. Ultimately, it’s my choice. I have already told him I am not ready for this; I admitted it just two days earlier to him. Yet, I still want to do it. Is this a form of self-punishment? To be honest, I think it is. I know that there is healing potential in group therapy, sitting side by side other women who have experienced some of what I went through, but I have been tortured this week in preparation for it. Really, it’s not preparation but trepidation. I am unbelievably scared about what this group therapy course might bring up for me: the memories, the feelings. Memories of trauma can be just as scary, in my opinion, more scary, than when the events happened. At least when it was happening, I could dissociate, and in a way, not be present in my mind as to what was happening to my body.

The memories of trauma don’t just go away. They persist over time. But it has been almost five years now since the end of that toxic relationship. It was killing me because I wanted to kill myself. Well, here I am, still alive. I’m not currently suicidal, and that is a good thing. I hope it stays that way and if it doesn’t, I can always go to the hospital. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. There are ways to get through this. One way would be to not attend this group. No, I don’t think I can do it. But I might anyway. Maybe my therapist can help to dispel my ambivalence.

In Preparation for the Life Ahead

It has been a while since I last posted because I have been focused on other things, such as studying for school and working on my new creative art project which involves my three passions: photography, poetry, and painting. Of course, those are endeavours that are outside of the 40 hours a week that I work. My life is so much richer and fuller now. It wasn’t always like this, and not so long ago, as recent as last October, one of my biggest complaints was still that I was unable to get out of bed on the weekends. I would often spend 18 hours or more in bed, yet I managed to get up for work on the weekdays. I didn’t look forward to weekends. My therapist often reminded me that I was making a choice: that I was choosing to stay in bed for almost 24 hours at a time. I was feeling consistently very depressed and it did not feel like a choice.

It’s true: I did spend the last 14 hours in bed and only got up at noon. But right now I am not bothered by it because it did feel like a choice. I went to bed very early at 9:30 and woke up at 7:30 feeling refreshed. But I didn’t want to get up, not really, so I chose to go back to sleep. It was a choice, and had nothing to do with depression.

I am still seeing my therapist two times a week, down from the recent three times a week before he started teaching at the university when the Spring semester began. He teaches in the Education department and works with students who will be spending their careers working with young children. He knows a lot about human development, and how the growing mind works, and what is appropriate for different developmental stages.

I am going to be starting a ten-week group therapy course this week for survivors of sexual assault. It will be at a community center which provides housing for women and their children who have escaped domestic violence situations. I needed to find a group that was not for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, because that is not applicable to me, and most groups that I looked up on the internet were for that subject matter. I wonder if there will be members of the group who experienced ongoing sexual abuse for a number of years, like I did, not just one time.

My therapist told me that because it is a new group, a new cohort of women who have not met before, there are others who are probably also afraid of starting this group. I am feeling scared and I admitted to my therapist yesterday that I don’t feel like I am ready for this. He reminded me, basically, that I am in control and that if I need to step out of the group because it becomes too overwhelming, I can. No one is forcing me to go to this group and if I decide it’s too much I can even drop the group and stop attending.

I have no idea what this group is going to bring up in terms of feelings for me. My hope is that it will be healing, listening to others who have been through what I have been through, reminding me that I am not alone. I know there may be a lot of tears. I realize that painful memories might emerge. I am actually taking time off of work so that I can attend this group, because it starts in the late afternoon before I get off of work.

Currently I am not dating anyone. I have been on multiple dates with four different women, and after some time, I have realized that the special connection which is required for love to form, is not there. Or perhaps it is that I am not attracted enough physically and emotionally to the person, and that there might not be enough intellectual stimulation and room for growth. This one woman who I saw four times over a period of three months, I really liked her. I wanted to hold hands with her and to kiss her. That never happened and the frequency of our meetings was not enough for me. I wanted to see her more often but her schedule did not permit that.

For now I am focusing on my education, my new creative art project which will take place over the next year, my friendships, and therapy. Psychotherapy is the most important component to my life. It provides emotional stability and feeling connected to someone is so vital for me to continue to heal. I love my therapist deeply. There has never been any physical contact between us. I may have shook his hand the first time we met over eight years ago. I often feel like I want to hug him but I know about boundaries in the therapeutic relationship and instead of hugging him I simply tell him when I feel like doing it. Telling him is enough and I know he can appreciate the gesture and my expression of the feelings I have for him.

For a long time I thought of him as a father figure. I know that is counter transference. But I needed it at the time. I needed a protector, someone to take care of me. Since I started paying him a year ago, no longer pro bono as a client, it has helped to establish the boundary and I know that he is not a friend, but my therapist. He is not my father; he is my therapist. The therapeutic bond between a therapist and their patient is, once again, vital to the healing process.

I am preparing for the life that is ahead of me. I feel happiness more often than not, and peacefulness in my heart and in my mind. Occasionally, lately, I feel lonely, but that feeling only stays for a short amount of time, and then it goes. There is nothing that is really missing in my life right now. I have a full life and it will only start to become fuller as time goes on.

I had an episode a few weeks ago whence I got triggered and felt extremely suicidal. It was an emergency. I called the suicide hotline and then took the rest of the day off of work and was able to see my therapist within a period of two hours. I’m sure there was a lot to write about to help me process the event, but I chose to deal with it in other ways. I suffered for a short amount of time, two days, but it was intense. I had a plan to commit suicide and I had the intent to carry through with that plan. I was convinced that it was the right thing to do. The pain that had emerged suddenly was too much to bear and I needed to end my life. Seeing my therapist for an hour that day made me agree to not kill myself, and slowly over the next days that suicidal feeling dissipated until it was gone. It had been about six months since I had last felt suicidal, and those six months were quite the record. Although I had been very depressed, I had not been suicidal. Before that, suicidal thoughts and feelings came up about once a month for me. It was very difficult getting through those times.

I am ready for my future to begin. This is my new life and no one can take it away from me. I am in control of my life. I am an independent woman and I know that I am strong. I provide for myself financially and I am going to put myself through graduate school by taking out loans and then paying them back. I pay my own rent, I buy whatever groceries I choose to buy, I choose what to wear and I choose to be abstinent. I am choosing to attend group therapy starting this week and I choose to continue my healing process. I am in control and I get to be genuinely me now. And I am allowed to love myself, finally. I have waited a long time for this.