A Musing on Whether I Deserve Punishment

I wish I could take a picture of my life as it is now. Snapshot, and I’m done. I could post a photograph of me sitting in my teak wooden chair on my patio with my dog curled up in his bed in front of me and green plants growing in pots, the warm air filling my lungs in the evening light, but that mere description wouldn’t do my life justice. Or, would it? Instead, I am going to write. I am going to write more and I am going to write like I’ve never written before. Because really, it has been a couple months since I last took the pleasure of writing down my thoughts and feelings in a proper blog entry. That is, what I consider a proper blog entry.

A mini crisis just swept over me. I saw my neighbours walk by me with glasses of wine in tow. No, it wasn’t just one person. There were six ladies talking and laughing, each with a glass of wine in their hand. I had an intense craving for wine. This whole episode lasted less than ten minutes but it was an obstacle to surmount, for sure. I talked it through with my roommate. I’m lucky I have her. She said that if she ever gets a craving for something like that she eats a piece of sweet fruit. Luckily I have some perfectly ripe summer peaches in the kitchen and I ate one, dripping over the sink. It did help. It helped.

Sometimes I wonder if I am intentionally thinking about hurting myself. I wanted to drink wine just now, but over the last weeks I have been obsessing about reading some of my old journal entries, emails, and poems which are full of pain, hurt, and suicidal ideation. It would be catastrophic to my current state of equilibrium. I would feel awful and I’m sure I would actively want to kill myself again. That feels awful. It has been two or three months since I last thought about planning a suicide. God, I’m so brainwashed that I always initially think of the word “committing” suicide as if I am “committing” a crime. It’s planning. It’s completion of the suicide. But it is not something that someone commits. People die of suicide. Suicide is not a diagnosis but it is because of a mental health condition, a verifiable illness of the mind and of a chemical imbalance in the brain, that a person would even think of planning a suicide.

I just picked my nose. And I must say, it was incredibly satisfying because I sucessfully extracted some hardened mucous, which I then tossed with with the aide of my forefinger and thumb to the side. It was a good distraction. Anyone who tells me they don’t pick their nose from time to time is lying. As children, we are taught that doing so is not appropriate to do in public. But in private? Hell yes! Plus my dog doesn’t care. He licks his ass and poops in front of me. He doesn’t even care if I’m naked. He accepts me as I am. I want to metaphorically be able to lick my own ass and have someone love me in spite of having been witness to such an act.

It’s half past seven and the sky is getting a little bit darker. The shadows are long and the reflection of the sunlight off of the white buildings is a deep, golden yellow. My roommate has miniature pots with plants in them lined up on the stone of the patio wall in the following order: catnip, basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, spearmint and thyme. She has them labeled and in each pot there is a small bit of green sticking out of the soil. Growing plants is a beautiful thing. It is a lovely past-time. One must be consistent to water the plants on a regular basis just as it is important to shower one’s soul with self-love in regular doses.

I moved into my home and am sitting on my light sage green couch on top of a white blanket with my chihuahua blend dog right next to me. I didn’t feel like eating a real dinner so what I have eaten is a peach, a banana, sweet potato chips, and my new favourite Noosa brand yogurt. I’d say, healthy enough and definitely satisfying to the taste buds.

I suddenly remember a friend of mine from over five years ago. I don’t remember why we parted from our friendship. We had been friends from 2009 – 2012 and when we parted I was at one of the peaks of my journey with mental illness. I must have really not wanted to contact her again, because I deleted all of her contact information, including her address. I know what city she lives in but I cannot send her a letter. I was there the day after her baby was born. I documented her child’s first years through photographs and I made her an album. And now, we have no contact and I have never met her twin daughters.

I think I’m ready to go back to the hard stuff again. Why do I self harm? Why do I want to self harm? My therapist suggested that when things are going really well for me I seem to want to do something to sabotage it, so that things aren’t going so well any longer. “I know you’re doing your job to point out patterns,” I told him in a brisque manner. “That sounded angry but you look sad,” he replied. Yes, he was right. It made me sad to think of this topic. I wasn’t angry, nor was I annoyed. But somehow it came out that way.

I’m not a bad person. I am absolutely in no way a bad person. Then why do I treat myself as if I were bad? As if I need punishment? I seem to want to punish myself. But why? What have I done that has been so wrong? Weren’t those things done to me? I am not innocent but I certainly wasn’t the perpetrator of all the hurt and harm which happened in my life. At least not initially. I was treated so badly for so many years that I came to believe that somehow I deserve to be treated in that way, and that that is the only way to live. I even thought I deserved to die. That the only thing I deserved was to die, and it would have been a release from the pain and the ultimate expression of self-hatred. But just this past Saturday I decided that I love my life.

Things are good right now. Summer school started yesterday. Grad school begins at the end of August. It’s a three-year program. I am in process of applying to volunteer my time as a mentor / tutor to a child in a county-funded program for at-risk youth. I also plan to help out with marketing events for my local psychological association which I just joined. I want to get hooked into the local scene with psychologists and MFT’s. I want to get to know people and I want others to get to know me. Last night I had a long, private conversation with my professor after class and we walked to the garage together where our cars were parked. I believe she enjoyed my enthusiasm for pursuing my future helping career.

I have to close the blinds right now because it has become dark outside and almost an hour has passed since I began writing this entry. My dog is snoring lightly. I think of it more like his version of a cat’s purr.

I took another break. I was still hungry so I ate some homemade black beans with a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. It was good. Then I went pee for the third time in three hours, hand-washed the dishes as I always do, and petted my dog. Here I am again, at my computer and more time has passed. I’m not worried about the time or the impending, looming hour that says it’s time for bed. I could go to bed right now if I wanted to. But I don’t want to go to bed yet.

I just can’t do it. I can’t do it. I am unable to focus on things which are difficult to talk about, think about, write about. All I managed was a few paragraphs today amid some healthy fluff. I can’t talk about why I am triggered at times to think of harming myself. I don’t want to think about it. I’m done. I’m in control. I get to say when enough is enough. I want to process these concepts with the help of my therapist. It’s far too difficult to do on my own. But I did do it. I managed just a little bit on my own. And that is enough. If I can accept the idea that I want to harm myself with loving kindness, then I won’t have to fight it. I can just let it be and acknowledge it and not act on it.

Emotions don’t have to control. They simply inform. The fact that I wanted to drink tonight informs me that I got triggered by seeing others holding wine glasses, which immediately brought me to self-harming thoughts, because alcohol used to be related to self harm. I used to drink when cutting myself and I used to drink when I felt suicidal so that I would have the impaired decision-making to carry through with a plan for suicide, whilst I inevitably always called the suicide hotline.

I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. I can just keep telling myself that I am okay. Then, I will begin to believe it. The reality is that I am indeed okay, but I just wrote about some not okay things, things that are not okay with me and things that I am not okay with. But me, my person, my being, I am okay. I am really okay. Now, with loving kindness, I shall focus my attention onto my napping therapy dog. Because I have the power to choose where my attention goes.

Closing Out the Day

To my therapist,

I do not want to repeat a day like today: it was too perfect. Days like today cannot be repeated. I relished every moment of it. The Italian word is “godere,” and according to the dictionary a form of that word is to reference “gustare spiritualmente” which I will indirectly translate to be “tasting spirituality.” (It actually translates to “tasting spiritually” but I like my translation better.)
I did everything I wanted to do today. Every moment of the entire day was directed entirely by me. And it was just me and Samuel time together, all day long. I slept in, I took my time petting and fondling my dog’s furry little head and body this morning in bed. I ate throughout the day. We went on little walks through the housing complex where there is grass and dirt and other things to sniff. I spent some time with Irvin Yalom through his writings. I drank loads of tea all day long. I spent several hours doing laundry in the afternoon, after leisurely reading my book “for fun!” I didn’t turn on my computer. I vacuumed the corners of my room, which is a rare occurrence. I bathed my dog (he needed it). No one called me on the phone and I rarely spoke unless speaking to my dog. Most of the time that I did spend on my phone was listening to Daniel Siegel talk. The two authors I mentioned are pretty much my favourite authors right now. I’m glad I discovered them (one through you).
All day long I have been writing to you in my mind. I have been composing sentences to you, and thinking about how I would phrase certain things when it came to the end of the day and that it would be time to write to you about my day. I suppose not much else needs to be said.
Thank you for you.

I Can Do It: This Thing Called “Life”

I always have so many things going on in my mind: I could write about it every day if I had time. It’s really difficult waiting five days to see my therapist as I decided to not see him three times this week, only two. I have to practice my coping skills on my own. I can’t have him always there to help regulate my internal state of being. There are things I need to do that I keep putting off, like booking the car rental for when I visit my mom on mother’s day, and calling the collection agency that put a collection item on my credit report unbeknownst to me. I consider these to be unpleasant tasks and I have a mental block in my motivation to do them. The latter is especially cumbersome and complex emotionally, because of the bankruptcy I filed a year and a half ago. Anything to do with my credit report and so forth wears on me emotionally. But as my therapist had told me before, if I don’t do it today, it will still be there tomorrow. Meaning, there is no rush and I will get to it when I can get to it. To not worry. Because eventually, even if it takes me a year to muster up the courage, eventually it will get done.

I wrote the above paragraph in the beginning of the week. I was not having a good week. Monday I was busy straight from 8:00 AM to midnight, and the same thing on Tuesday. By Wednesday I was exhausted. Last night, Thursday, when I saw my therapist, the first thing I did was cry. And cry, I did. I let it all out until there was nothing left. Then, ever so gently, he asked me, “can you talk about it?” He had asked me at the very beginning of the session if I had had a difficult day, since he reads the emails I send him throughout the day. That’s when I started crying. After he asked me to talk about it I simply said, “No, I didn’t have a good day.” He nodded his head in understanding. Then, slowly, we began to talk about it.

He acknowledged and empathized with me about my feelings of being overwhelmed. When I was at the grocery store and the cashier was separating the cold and the not-cold items into separate bags, I said, “I just want to make it home. I don’t care how you put them away.” Another cashier heard this and commented, “sounds like you need a bottle of wine.” As a side note, I don’t like that our culture is so focused on alcohol as a solution to problems and stress. I don’t like it. “You didn’t tell the cashier to ‘hurry up and put it away so I can go home,’” said my therapist. “No, I didn’t want her to feel bad.”

Then, at work, I became inordinately angry at something that would normally have not made me so angry. I hate, absolutely hate, last-minute things. Ten minutes before our monthly strategy meeting was to begin, my boss told me that one of the dollar figures on the report was wrong and that I needed to fix it before the meeting began. I had already printed out 14 packages for each attendee, and at the last minute I needed to reprint one of the pages and replace that page for each packet. It was kind of stressful. I told my therapist that I had an angry face on during the whole meeting and that several people asked me what was wrong because apparently I was spaced out and not really present. “If an angry face was all you did, then that’s pretty good,” my therapist pointed out. I told him I wanted to cry, I was so angry. “But you didn’t.” Right, I didn’t. I wanted to cry but I didn’t.

Additionally, I wanted to call in sick to work and I have wanted to have alcohol for the last few days in a row, but I didn’t do those things. I didn’t do them because I have control over what behaviours I enact based on how I am feeling. This means that what I feel doesn’t have to dictate what I do. Feelings come and go, but I remain. Feelings merely inform me. It is up to me what I choose to do with those feelings.

I can do this life. I can do it. I am doing it. I am living it. I am living my life. I can do this. It is hard. It is really hard. Life is hard. But I can make it to the next moment, and then the next hour and then the next day. I can make it from day to day until that day becomes a week. No matter what life throws at me, I will always have life. Nothing can kill me. Emotions cannot kill me. I may feel very overwhelmed at times but it isn’t the end of my life. I can cope. I can do it: this thing called “Life.”

Appreciation and Back To Who I Used To Be (Minus the PTSD)

It’s the dawn of a new day… no, no, no. It isn’t actually. It’s an hour before sunset and it is my privilege to be sitting outside under a blue sky on campus. I just got out of work and I have a half hour before class, so I figure I can make use of this time and have the luxury of writing a blog entry. I was elegantly dressed at work and I brought my bright pink duffel bag with gym clothes and flip flops to change into. It always feels great to not be in work clothes since I spend over 40 hours a week in them anyway. I wonder if in grad school I’ll feel compelled to dress formally as at work or casual as I am now. I suppose it will depend on what others do in my cohort. But this is undergrad and I totally fit in in gym clothes. I still don’t get the whole torn jeans thing. You buy jeans and other clothing items that look totally mutilated. I don’t get it. Not for me. Not of my generation or stylistic comprehension. But I will reserve judgement.

It’s just cool enough, 71 degrees and in the shade, to be wearing a nice, baggy sweater. I love covering myself up but letting my feet roam free in the air. I don’t like tight clothing unless it is black because then you can’t really see the shape as well. Even if I were super skinny… no, no, no. Yet again, no. I don’t want to be thin. I want to be healthy. I want to be as I am now.

I am so lucky to have been able to afford a new and lightweight computer. I look at myself out on this slab of a concrete bench with a laptop in my lap, typing away, and I think, wow, I am so modern. I have modern technology and my computer is portable. I can use it anywhere. I can connect to WiFi anywhere on campus. It just wasn’t like that when I went to college. I don’t even use a physical notepad any longer because I take all of my notes on a Word document. What ever happened to the buy-it-once computer technology. It’s because Microsoft can make more money off of an annual subscription fee. Plus the software gets updated automatically.

This morning was amazing. This weekend was amazing. It’s all because I have not been feeling depressed. I woke up before my alarm clock. Can you believe it? Me, of all people. Me, the person who used to have three alarms set on my phone with three snooze options per alarm. That’s an alarm ringing every 5 to 10 minutes for 45 minutes long. My first alarm would ring at 7:00 and my last snooze would be at 7:50 in order to make the short drive to start work by 8:30.

I woke up before my alarm because of a nightmare. But in that bad dream I was saying “no” to my abuser. I tried closing my eyes to think of something pleasant, such as imagining sitting in my therapist’s calming waiting room, but the visualization didn’t work. So I got up. I actually got up. I put my feet on the ground and slowly stood up. That’s all it took to get up. I am so amazed. Why does it feel insurmountably difficult to drag myself out of bed every single day, but today, for whatever reason, it was easy? I want more of these days!

I had coffee. I only make myself coffee on weekends when I sleep in and I have nowhere to be in the mornings. I purposefully don’t schedule my weekend mornings because I know just how difficult it is for me to get out of bed. But today, on a weekday, on a Monday, I made myself espresso in my stovetop moka. I even sat outside to drink it. I felt the cool air rushing over my skin while I was still in pajamas.

My patio is filled with a bag of potting soil, a new plant, and new pots. I have big plans for my patio. Two years ago, in 2013 and 2014 when I had my one bedroom apartment which I could afford only at the time, I had a potted garden on my balcony. I had the most beautiful ceramic pots of blue and other colours. I grew sunflowers and morning glories and basil and zucchini and mint and succulents and I still had my sentimental tree that I had grown since it was a baby tree for about eight years. I have since given that tree to my brother and his girlfriend and I’m fine with them having it. I can grow a new tree. Wouldn’t it be cool to grow an avocado tree? It takes years to finally bear fruit. I have only ever gotten a seed to grow two feet tall, but that in itself was an accomplishment. I used to take pictures of my flowers and send them to friends. All of this, I am going to do again. I am going to return to the person I was, the person who had hobbies and who did creative things, and filled her life with joy. It has taken a long time to come back to this place. But I did it. I am doing it.

In Healing From a Violent Passion

I am going to keep living my life. I am going to keep on inspiring others by continuing on with my life no matter what obstacles come in my way. I don’t care if I inspire one or a hundred people. One person can make a difference. If I touch one person, just one person, then my mission, my goal, my heart will be complete. Every day is a battle in it’s own right. Every day I face challenges that have to do with my mental health. It’s just like everyone else in the world! It’s called being human.

My struggle on the grand scale of life may not be monumentous, but it has been for me. In trying to end my life, I have begun my new life. I have formed a new identity and a new way of thinking, feeling, and living. I have something called self-esteem, and it’s not based on my looks and my sexuality like it used to be. In fact, I am celibate, and sex does not enter my life at all. It’s by choice and it’s for a good reason. I want to have a child some day, and I’m planning on going to a sperm bank to make it happen because I never want to have sex with a man again. That might change one day, but this is where it stands now.

Next month it will have been five years since the day I left my abuser. I literally packed my car with everything that would fit in it, mostly clothes, and drove for nine hours straight to the other side of the state to get away from him. I wish that would have been the last time I saw him, but unfortunately I ran into him once soon thereafter. He was mocking me by asking if I had children now, when he saw that I had a child’s car seat in the back of my car because I was helping my friend take care of her child. And yet, I was still unhealthily emotionally tied to him, attached to him. Even though it was I who left, it was not I who had filed for divorce, and I was emotionally not even close to being ready to leave him. It was the physical urge, the sexual abuse, the fear, the act of self-preservation, which had led me into action by packing up my car and leaving.

And so, before he left me that one time, he asked to have one last kiss. And that kiss was deadly because it was tender and gentle. The years of psychological manipulation came to a front and messed with me for months thereafter. I was torn at being in the process of divorce yet still believing I loved him. It was because of the love that I had stayed so long. It was because of that unhealthy bond and extreme level of attachment and forced dependency which made me allow him to abuse me.

I had been vulnerable when he started dating me: I grew up without a male role model or model of how a healthy relationship should be. I was angry with my mother for a life of inconsistency and unhealthy boundaries between mother and child, and having suffered the wrath of her keen temper. I was a teenager and not yet fully mature. And his manipulation started from the get-go, only I did not notice it. I thought we were Romeo and Juliet, forbidden to be together, yet violently in love. The passion was dangerous and that’s what drew me to him. And he said he loved me. He said he loved me so that he could get sex. It started before I wanted it to start and I would have had no way of knowing that his sexual fantasies were so deviant, that he would become addicted to sex to an extreme extent, that I would allow us to each have multiple sexual partners which were forced upon me by mental manipulation and minutely planned and persistently relentless brainwashing tactics.

I am sober now. I am sober from having been addicted to a violent passion which ultimately destroyed the entirety of me: my self-esteem, my self-worth, my view of myself, my mental stability, my connection with my family and healthy friends. He gave my vagina as a commodity to every single one of his friends except for his equally narcissistic gay friend. The only difference between his friends taking me, without moral regard to the fact that they were married and whose partners assumed they were in a monogamous relationship, was that his friends didn’t pay him to do with my body what they pleased. I went along with it and by then I was completely brainwashed. There’s no other way to put it. No sane person would ever let this happen to them unless under extreme circumstances.

Everything about my life was extreme. In fact, he was a daredevil flying fighter jets and often driving 100 miles per hour on a 65 mile-an-hour road limit or even on 35 mile per hour roads. I hated it and he knew that I hated it, but he was too self-centered and too narcissistic to care about how it affected me, because he kept on doing the things which I hated. And although it was obvious that I disliked those things, I mostly kept my mouth shut. I didn’t speak back. No, that’s not true. I was a normal, self-preserving human driven by the instinct for survival. Of course I talked back. Of course I said “no”. I said no in many ways: verbally and physically. I used to push him away and say “no” and “stop it” and “I don’t like it”. I used to clasp my hands over the naked entrance to my vagina to stop him from penetrating me with his violent hands. To no avail. He always won, and he wore me down with daily persistence over the period of years. I was with him because we were attached by the invisible, cultural and moral code of marriage, and I naively believed in the phrase “until death do us part” because my father had died when I was three and a half. I took the fact that we were married very seriously.

He peeled my hands away forcefully from the entrance of my vagina. He forced me to wear scant clothing which barely covered me, so that I would be vulnerable and sexually attractive to him, but mostly to others. He was addicted to watching other men take me. There was no sense of protection and everything about my life was reckless and unsafe. He adamantly denied me the use of condoms. He pimped me out to hundreds of men over the years and it is only to God’s grace that I do not have HIV. I do have HPV but my doctor told me that it is supposed to go away over time. I was shocked when I found out, although I shouldn’t have been surprised. No one wants to hear such news. I understand that HPV can cause cancer. I don’t want to develop cancer. I want to live and I want to become a marriage and family therapist and I want to help other people who have been victims of abuse, terror and neglect. Humans can be the most despicable of beings when they cause harm to others, to children of all people. They cause indelible suffering. But in helping, in becoming a therapist, I can be a part of the healing. My therapist pointed that out to me. Even though humans can be so horrible, there are others who have the power to cause positive change and to elicit healing. I want to not only inspire; I want to heal. I want to have the healing power that my therapist has passed on to me. I want to employ that power for my own personal gain, which is the feeling of pride, of having made a contribution, of feeling good for having helped another person.

I know I don’t have to become a therapist to do those things. I can let a pedestrian cross the road even if there is no crosswalk. I can let a car on the freeway into my lane before me. I can smile at a stranger in the grocery store thereby sharing with them that there is kindness and gentleness in the world. I can be a big sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. I can love another woman’s child by being a dedicated friend and consistent positive presence in their lives. I can listen to a friend when she needs to be listened to. I can sit with silence and share compassion and be non-judgemental. I can make another person laugh. I can make daily human connections. There are so many ways that I can make a difference in the world. I choose to study to become a therapist because I believe from my own personal experience that it is the most effective way to enhance the quality of another person’s life on an emotional and spiritual level. One person can make a difference, and I want to be that person for many people. I care about myself and I love my life and I now have respect for myself. I have standards that I live up to. I want others to love their life as much as I love my own. I cannot force that to happen, but I can show them the way. I can guide them to self-actualization. I can be the enabler of positive change.

Change is difficult. To change one’s thinking takes years of training in therapy. It is challenging. There’s no other way to put it. It has been one of my greatest accomplishments to date. I know now that I can make things in my life happen. I have the confidence to be able to envision what I want, and to cause things in my life to go in that direction. I have the power to make my dreams come true. I have the power to respect myself. As my best friend, who is my sister from another mother, put it: self sacrifice is one of the greatest acts of self love. Knowing that has slowly changed my life.

When I spent five months studying for the GRE, four months into it, when I was really struggling with the maths quantitative portion in particular, she gave me this gift of insight. I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t want to. But the way to show your child your love is to make sacrifices. And she told me to be my own mother, a mother to myself, and to love me by making sacrifices for me. The emotional energy, the strenuous commitment, the time spent studying: that was and is one of the greatest acts of self love because it is getting me towards where I want to be. I will do anything it takes to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. It is a long road of study, practice and training ahead and I am not daunted by the looming challenge of these years upcoming years of struggle because I know they will get me to where I want to be. I am me, I know I can be fully me now, and I have nothing to be ashamed of in wanting to be the best me that I can muster.

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.

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.