Remediation

I haven’t even started my master’s program and I am already looking at Ph.D. programs. A year ago I wasn’t that bold. Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Three years ago I might have laughed and completely dismissed the idea with a statement like, “you’re crazy.” (Keeping in mind that the “c” word is not ideal because it perpetuates stereotypes and false societal perception of mental illness, as well as trivializes the experience of those suffering from mental illness.) A lot has changed in the last few years. I also never would have thought of myself as being a responsible dog owner and the fact that I just passed my two-year anniversary at my job is almost unheard of. Yet, it’s possible and it’s real.

I possess so much more stability that I used to. (Positive self-talk: “Yes! Own it, girl!”) The medications I am on not only “seem” to be working, they are working. I have certainly have had moments of extreme instability earlier this year including several bouts of suicidal ideation. But the frequency of those instances is decreasing and the buffer of my resilience is increasing. Just shy of a year ago I began seeing my therapist twice weekly instead of once, and it has served me well. I wanted and needed the extra support. When grad school begins in a month, I may even, at least sometimes at first, only see him once a week. A month ago I didn’t like the idea of not seeing him twice a week anymore, but I am getting myself used to the idea.

I have also been seeing my psychiatrist for almost a year. It took a long time and was harrowing trying to find a psychiatrist whom I liked, who was nonjudgmental (i.e. didn’t make me cry), less critical, and simply, accepting of me. A lot can be conveyed without words. Since I left my inpatient and outpatient psychiatrists in 2015, I spent a year and a half seeing people I didn’t like seeing. But I was too ill to fight for myself, that is, to expend the sumptuous effort it would have taken to find a new psychiatrist. My outpatient psychiatrist refused to see me unless I paid cash up front, rather than going through my insurance, because one of her bills was included in my bankruptcy. I was angry at her and I felt bad at the same time. I didn’t want to blame myself, but I did.

I have been taking a course called Psychology of Lifespan development. We have our final exam in four days and I haven’t really sat down to study yet. This was not a required course for my graduate program and I am glad I took it. I have learned a lot. I also finally started my new volunteer job a few weeks ago at a large county-funded organization that works with at-risk youth including those who are homeless. As a volunteer I am allowed to attend treatment team meetings. I will also be working with their adoption support services program and after attending my third movie night next week so that they can see how I interact with the children (or “kiddos” as they call them) I will be assigned a child to mentor on a weekly basis. I don’t know what age the child will be but I am figuring that it will be a younger child because in the movie night groups I have been assigned to the group with the youngest of children, starting at age two. My previous volunteer experience in the church nursery also lends toward this age range. The minimum time commitment is a strict six-month rule but I hope to continue with the child for much longer. I will simply need to see how my life and availability plays out. I want to be the best positive role model I can be, accepting, patient, and understanding.

My Fall classes include Introduction to Clinical Practice: Basic Skills, Theories of Psychotherapy, and Psychopathology. I am a proud new owner of the DSM-5, and each course has at least three required books. A few of those books I have purchased on Kindle, but there is something about physically holding a book under a reading light and being able to underline passages with pencil which isn’t the same as reading a book on the computer and highlighting passages with the click of the keypad (or whatever that area on the keyboard is called where I drag my fingers and click, since using a mouse with a laptop is so uncommon these days).

I have begun working on Saturdays to make time up missed at work during the week because of my volunteer job. It wasn’t easy getting approval to miss hours during the week for the volunteer job and then I had to be authorized to work on Saturdays. Once grad school begins I am going to have to tell them that I can no longer work on the weekend because of my school commitments. I also want to work part-time. I received more loan offers than I was expecting to receive, because of my bankruptcy, and I accepted most of them so that I would be able to afford spending more time on my school work and less time at a job. Only, I am afraid they won’t let me reduce my hours by very much. In the long-run, if I had to work 30 hours down from 40 a week, that would mean less student debt. However, I want to work only 20 hours so that my real full-time job can be studying. I feel that I need and want it. I am willing to train another sales assistant of they choose to hire one. The previous assistant resigned not too long ago because she needed full-time work in order to be able to pay her bills. I was sad to see her go because we had become friends. We are still in touch, only, I don’t get to see her any more.

I really do have a good life. I have a blessed life. I am grateful for my resilience at overcoming the most difficult of obstacles. I fought every day for my mental health, even on the days when I couldn’t (or “chose not to” as my therapist would correct me) get out of bed. When I was in bed, I was protecting myself from harm, even if those stimuli of the world outside of my bedroom were merely perceived threats, and I was preserving my well-being. It was mostly for protection so that I wouldn’t have to deal with “the world.”

Today is Saturday and I slept for eight hours the night before. I indulged in a lazy afternoon nap after work which ended up being a three-hour nap. Luckily I woke up while the sun was still out so that I could go for a nice ten-minute walk with my sweet dog, who napped alongside me on the bed (as usual). The weather is hot and I have the air conditioning on. Where I lived in 2015 there was no air conditioning. That was a miserable place to live, so I won’t think about it any more. I don’t have to focus on the bad things that happened to me in the past any longer. I can go into a bad memory, and experience sadness, but then I am able to bring myself out of it. Those dips into bad memories are less frequent and they do happen often in the realm of my therapy hour, which is a safe place to experience those feelings associated with the memories. Yes, I was raped, and that was the least of my worries in my old life. But no one needs to know that. Not any more. I don’t need to keep telling everyone I meet my story. I have managed to only tell two people at work whom I trust about my past, and almost none of my coworkers other than those two know anything about my past, the fact that I was suicidal for many years, that I hadn’t worked for a period of five years due to mental illness. I am okay now and I am resilient as shit and I am a fucking warrior.

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.

Self Reflection and Attachments

I could spend the next twenty minutes studying. I have been wanting to catch up on the reading I missed out on during my intensively-paced introduction to child development course. I read tonight’s chapter about substance abuse while on my patio at home and at the pool laying in the sun over the warm weekend. I wasn’t able to get all of the reading done for tonight, however. I am lacking on one chapter. I am choosing to do something, rather, to ease my mind, because studying takes concentration, and there’s only so much concentration in a day a person can take. I didn’t get as much done at work today as I could have and I don’t mind. No one is looking over my shoulder. There are days where I strive to be my best, and there are days where I just “am”. I give myself a bit of a break. I cannot imagine, however, doing anything but my best when I am a therapist.

I’ve been told that I am preppy, that I have a hard time giving up control, that I like to tell people what to do. What else comes to mind? I know I have high standards for myself. I’m not so sure I like the word “preppy” because it seems to have a negative connotation. I have a month left in my abnormal psychology course and I am getting about 100% in the class thanks to some extra credit points which were offered. My 92% in the 8-week course was kind of abysmal. My 4-week 3-unit intensive course netted me about a 96% which is decent. If I get 98% I’m not satisfied because I think, “I could have done better.” But of course, I have to remind myself that I cannot be perfect. Perfectionist. That’s another one I’ve been called.

These are all new traits that I’ve developed in the last year. I didn’t know I liked to teach and that I enjoy being the “boss”. Maybe those qualities were within me, but they were hidden, undernourished, and dormant for all of my 20s. Age nineteen was the last year I had of freedom before the darkness really started to creep into my life. Now I’m 33 and applying to graduate school. It’s something I have always wanted to do, at least for about half of my life. Five years ago I could not have foreseen myself being in the place where I am today.

Gratitude. Maybe this is a journal of gratitude. Can I list all of the things which are great about my life? I certainly don’t need to remind myself because I am living it every day. But then again, my moods shift and at times they plummet, and the reality is that I do need the reminders. I have a nice home. It is quaint and affordable and I have some nice possessions like my wall mirror, my L-shaped light green couch and my teak wooden lounge chair on the patio. I have my first and my own dining room table. I’ve never had my own dining room table before. Not since my marriage ended.

I have a life. I have a life that is worth living. I have my therapist and a few friends and my immediate family members which comprise the entirety of my social support. Although now I am my mother’s supporter, and it’s as it should be. The roles have shifted and she needs my support now, and I am strong enough to be able to be there for her.

Although I am extremely attached to my couch, the first piece of expensive furniture I bought after my divorce, I would actually give it up in an instant. I would give it up if it meant helping someone I love. I would give it up in an instant if the decision seemed imminent. But, I am not in that position right now. I just have to recognize that my possessions don’t own me. I own them. I gave away all of my nice ceramic painted planter pots when I had to downsize. No problem! I have simply bought new ones. Things, physical things, can be replaced. People and experiences cannot be replaced. I need to keep this in mind. I own so many things which I treasure: my paintings, my tea cups, my piano keyboard which rarely sees the sight of my fingers, some of my shoes even. As much as I enjoy having those things and using them, I need to remind myself that things, physical things, are replaceable. I keep repeating this because things, physical things, are what define my mother. The things she owns own her. She has not dealt with the traumas of her past and she cannot get rid of anything. She hoards and she will be moving out of her three bedroom home which is completely full of possessions, everywhere, on every surface, and they will be put in storage. I am not sure she will ever be able to afford a home big enough again which will fit all of her things. All I can do is be there for her, visit her, talk to her, accept her for who she is. I can pray for her healing, but that has to come with a willingness which is not currently there. Not yet. I can always hope.

Visit With a Psychic Medium

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. I always do a lot of thinking. Yet processing the events of yesterday have required a concerted effort on my part. The events occurred over a period of just over an hour. To be exact, we started at just around 2:00 and when I walked out it was 3:13. The number 13 has been significant in my life for a long time. I think in general, it is an unusual and unique number. It is a prime number and an odd number.

“Everything happens for a reason.” Alejandra kept repeating this phrase during the beginning of our session. I had an appointment scheduled to see my psychotherapist at 2:00 on Saturday. When my friend, who is also my assistant at work, told me about her experience about her “reading” I was really intrigued. I’m really not into this sort of thing. It has interested me but not to the extent to where I have really done anything other than a cursory Internet search on the topic. I have never looked into it before. My upstairs neighbour got some tarot cards a while ago and said he wanted to start learning how to read the cards. He had downloaded an app on his phone to help him. There are so many cards in a pack, and all of them and their meanings have to be committed to memory.

“God said to me, I gave you a gift and you need to use it.” Alejandra was talking about the time when she was homeless and living out of her car on H Street in her neighbourhood, which isn’t in the best area of town. “How did you get food?” I asked. “I went to 7-Eleven on the corner of the street,” she replied.

Thirteen years ago her father had died on a Monday. That same week, her mother died the following Saturday. She was relating to me in that she was in a deep depression. She had gone to a psychiatrist and he prescribed pills to her. Antidepressants, presumably. She said to him, “That’s it?” “Yes, that’s it,” he replied. She walked out with the prescription. No talk therapy. That’s all that was offered to her. She took a pill on the first day and by the time the second day came around, she took one look at the bottle and poured the contents down the toilet and flushed. “I am not going to take pills when have the power to heal myself,” she said to me. “What if there is a chemical imbalance, like I have?” I asked. I had already told her that I take three different kinds of medication daily for depression and that I really, really need them to stay balanced and okay. She told me that I can do it. That slowly, very slowly, I can come off of the medications. It’s called titration but I didn’t tell her that. I knew what she meant. She was very kind to me especially while relaying this information to me.

While she was homeless she was giving readings with her tarot cards to her friends. She didn’t charge them. If they asked her if she wanted payment she sort of just shrugged her shoulders. They would give her five dollars, here and there. “Nobody helped me out when I was homeless,” she told me. No one gave her money. She was down on her knees and praying and that’s when God told her she needed to use her gift. He told her that she needed to always be honest, because the day that she isn’t honest in using her gift, he will take that gift away from her.

She doesn’t do this for the money. I know she is telling the truth. She only charges $50 for a reading, whereas others around town charge $100 or more. My roommate cleansed our home a few weeks ago by burning sage and we both said prayers throughout our home. We cleansed the entrances and our rooms of nightmares and bad dreams, and any bad energies that might have been there. She suggested I do a cleansing with a healer, i.e. a psychic medium. From a quick Google search she sent me a few links and each cleansing was advertised at $150. No way am I going to spend that kind of money when I can spend that on seeing my psychotherapist instead.

So when my assistant started talking to me about her reading, even before knowing the cost, I was very intrigued. Alejandra had told her to not wear black on Fridays because it is bad luck. She didn’t tell me that. She also told my friend that the man she is with is not for her, and that she sees her doing something in the medical field. Funny you mention that, said my friend to this lady, I just signed up for nursing school. There is no way that Alejandra could have known that previously. She told my friend to stay single for a while and to focus on herself. It sounded like such a positive experience that I wanted to have the same thing done to me. I wanted to get my reading done.

When I first arrived at Alejandra’s home, I was very nervous. She lives in a very modest one-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a gated community in a decent but not the best of neighbourhoods. The main room smelled delicious and the air was filled with a type of incense. There was a curio cabinet full of interesting items that were all similar. There were several shelves of what looked like glass bells, with all sorts of designs on them. I asked to use the restroom. She directed me to her bathroom, to which I walked through the bedroom to get to. Her bedroom is modest and small. There was a hair pin under the stopper in the sink and I was tempted to take it out because it looked out of place, until I realized that the pin was keeping the stopper up, so that water could run through it underneath. It had a purpose. There was a digital scale under a cabinet which I tried to briefly use but I couldn’t figure out how to get it to work and I didn’t want too much time to pass, else she might wonder what I was doing in her bathroom. She has a lot of perfumes on display.

There is a small, brown leather couch with three seats in it in the living room. I believe there was a carpet but now I’m not so sure. There was a fold-out card table just barely big enough to put cards on, and a foldout chair on the other side of the card table opposite the couch. I placed my purse and an extra bag I had brought on the floor and sat on the couch immediately. She then asked me to sit in the small chair. My back was to the front door and to my right up against the wall was her altar, which consisted of about five large porcelain glass figurines of different angels. There was a smaller box, very small, with what looked like a dollar bill stuffed into it. I surmise, as an offering to the angels. There were a couple other smaller items on the altar, which was a flat surface on top of a small wooden cabinet, which looked like it also served as a space heater because there was a knob or dial to turn on heat and an electronic furnace on the bottom of it.

She was about to sit down to start our session when she said, “now I have to use the restroom.” Several minutes later she came out of her bedroom very animated and said, “my phone fell in the toilet, I hope it still works.” She got out some Lysol sanitizing wipes and started wiping down her phone. She kept repeating, “I hope it works” and then, “It’s not working, it’s not working.” She used a kitchen towel to wipe down the sanitizing moisture and continued to swipe her phone. The screen was on, and nothing was working. Suddenly she asked me, “you must be very nervous?” I said, “yes.” That’s when she said, “that’s why. Everything happens for a reason.” I was tempted to ask her to clarify what she meant, in that I understood it was because I was nervous that her phone fell into the toilet. I held back and didn’t ask her because I had already understood that. I was also tempted to apologize and say, “I’m sorry” but I held back because I knew it wasn’t my “fault.” It was just something that had happened. She came back to the couch while continuing to make comments about her phone and trying to get it to work.

“Do you mind if I move this?” she asked, referring to my purse. Before I could answer verbally, having already nodded my head in consent, she moved my purse to the couch. “It is bad luck to put your purse on the floor.” Taking that information in, I noted how I literally always have my purse on the floor. When I sleep at night my purse is on my bedroom floor. At work, my purse is on the floor. Now I am going to start placing my purse on my hope chest in my bedroom and locking my purse in a drawer during the daytime at work. I never knew this.

First, she said she needed to cleanse the energy of the previous person off of the cards. She took the incense burner which was to her side and placed it on the card table. Fanning about five to seven cards at a time she waved them over the smoke of the incense until she got through the whole pack. Then she asked me to shuffle the stack in any way, three times. After that I was to separate the stack of cards in three ways, the first pile laying face down horizontally, then the next vertically, then the next horizontally, simply indicating the break in the pile which I had chosen. I didn’t pay much attention to how she dealt out the cards and ordered them; it happened too quickly for me to catch on. While dealing out the cards and looking at them, she read them out loud to me. “You have been hurt very badly in the past,” she said. I didn’t have to tell her that it had been in a relationship; she already knew that. She said that his energy is still with me and that I need to forgive him and to forgive myself. She said the first time he hurt me, it was his fault. The second time… I stopped her. I knew what she was going to say and I told her that. “You’re going to tell me that it was my responsibility.” “Yes, you could have said no,” she said. “I did say no. I said no so many times. He wore me down.” I, of course, didn’t want to take responsibility. But in a kind way, she said that I need to forgive myself, and pray for God to enter his life. “Yes, he said that he was Jesus sometimes,” I told her. “He does not have God in his life.” She said I need to imagine him visually before me and to pray for him and to forgive him.

Later in the session she told me he is not going to live long. That had been after I asked her if my mom will live a long life, which she affirmed with a “yes.” I was allowed to ask her absolutely anything, but by the end of the session she had told me so much about myself and my future, I could barely think of anything else to ask. She told me that I need to forgive the person in my past relationship before he passes away. I told her that he likes to do dangerous things like flying airplanes. He is a pilot. He also likes to drive at extremely fast speeds on any roads, even if they say 15 miles per hour. She repeated that he is not going to live long and that I need to forgive him. I told her that he had gotten remarried last year and that he is probably doing the same thing to the new woman he is with. “That is not your problem now,” she told me.

She told me that I need to get closer to my family. Without me having to tell her, she knew that I am in this city alone and that my family is not around me, for whatever reason. I did not fill in the blank but said, “my friends are my family here.” She told me that me and my brother are my mother’s entire life, that my mom lives for us. She said that my mom loves me and that I mean much more to her than my brother means to her. She told me that I need to go visit her as soon as possible. “What if my mom comes to me? I could buy her a ticket and she can come visit.” “That is fine,” said Alejandra, “as long as you see her soon.” I told her that my mom is moving and that she will be even further away from me. “Just visit her as soon as possible.” “Okay,” I said.

“I see you sitting at your desk all day long. What do you do for work?” she asked. She was right. I am glued to my desk. I explained to her that I work for financial advisors in the field of finance and that I schedule appointments for them, and that I am on the phone all day long with my headset on. She nodded in understanding. Before that she had told me that I am looking to get a better job. She was also right. I told her I am looking to change my career. Before I had even told her that I am going to school, she said that I am fine financially right now, but that I will struggle a bit in the future. She was right, because when I start school, I am planning to take out loans. When she had learned that I am in school, she said, “you are studying something like psychology.” There is no way, no prior indication, which would have let her know that information. “Yes,” I said, “and I am applying to grad school to become a marriage and family therapist.”

She was looking at five cards spread out with one in the middle and four at each corner. She told me that my dreams will come true and that I will be successful in my career. “You want to have children,” she told me. “Yes,” I replied enthusiastically.” She told me that I will have two children. I told her how I am thinking of freezing my eggs this year because after 35 I will be considered advanced maternal age, and that the risk of birth defects including down syndrome increases significantly. I told her that freezing my eggs is expensive. “You can afford it?” she asked me. “Yes, right now I can. Should I do it?” She didn’t answer me but took out her other phone, her personal phone which had not fallen into the toilet, and showed me a photograph of a woman who, at two years older than Alejandra, is 49, and was surrounded in the photograph by three people. Two of those children were older girls, one looked like she is a teenager, the other in her middle to late childhood. There was a third child. This child was a boy and looked about five years old. “He is healthy,” she told me. Meaning that her friend had had him in her early to mid-40s and he turned out fine. “There is nothing wrong with him. He is perfect,” she said. “Your children will be fine.” “So I don’t need to freeze my eggs?” I asked. “It’s up to you,” she replied.

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.

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.

That which sustains me

To my therapist,
You are my healer. Actually you are my helper and I am my healer. Actually love and time and patience and resilience and strength and understanding are my healers. You have done and continue to do so much for me. I’ve also been wanting to thank you for making therapy affordable for me. It really helps. It’s so important that I am paying you now and soon it will have been a year that I started paying you. When you first decided to take me on as pro bono I had no idea. I just kept paying you my copay and assuming you were charging my insurance and it was only much later after my separation that I discovered you were doing this. You mean so much to me that words will never adequately describe the feeling I have for you. It’s attachment. You have taught me about attachments. They are so powerful. So powerful. I remember telling you at one point that I wanted to get rid of all the money my ex-husband was giving me for alimony. I wanted to spend it. I thought it was dirty. Little did I realize then that it would end and I would have to be healed enough to finally get a job to sustain myself. I think that having this job and the challenges I have been through in it have also helped me to grow and heal. And financial independence does a lot. I would be doing very poorly financially had I not received the unexpected extra alimony as income earlier this year.
I can’t believe it’s almost 2017 and that’s the year that I start training for my professional career. Actually I have been training for it all my life. I am ready for this and I am ready to truly and effectively pay forward all of the help and love and effort and dedication you have shown me. I definitely have faith in humanity and I have faith in myself. Nothing will ever stop me from achieving my goals of becoming a professional helper like you. And I happen to know for absolute certain that you will never leave me and that you will always be by my side. You saw me yesterday in the middle of the day even though you hadn’t planned on it originally. We don’t live our lives for each other, I know that we have our own lives. But the time that I spend with you, and all of the time in between, is, well, meaningful beyond belief and healing. Now that I have healed so much, even though there will be more work toward that ahead, now the real learning gets to start, and that’s now the fun part! When I was going through trauma I was numb, then I was in denial, then I was in pain beyond comprehension. And all that while I wanted to kill myself. But now that the fog of depression has lifted and the crippling desire to be dead is gone, now I have space to learn. I can absorb information more readily and what I learn now I am able to recall. You have patiently repeated lessons and phrases and concepts to me endlessly until it was no longer necessary, like the concept that the pain will one day end, and my favourite phrase “not yet”, and my even more favourite phrase that “feelings come and go but I remain”. I’m still actively learning about that last one.
You know, the promise and agreement for me to one day write you a handwritten letter of how I am doing has had some of the biggest impact on me, even though at times I have fought it. When I wanted to die you reminded me of that promise. And you always are able to find angles that I can relate to and that eventually speak to me. Like if I don’t care in the moment about not having had my own children yet, that I haven’t yet experienced being an auntie to my brother’s future child or children, that that got to me earlier this year. If you call my ideas brilliant sometimes, like my idea of going to the jacuzzi instead of writing about my past trauma, then, well, you are brilliant too. I know that you are human which means you aren’t perfect and that one day your physical body will no longer be with me, but you are everything to me. You are my world, or at least for a long time you were the only attachment I had to the world and to staying alive. At times I didn’t even want to stay alive for my mum but I knew that I had to stay alive so that I could see you again, and I lived off of each of our meetings, from one, which sustained me, to the next. There was a time when I was doing so poorly that you were seeing me every day. I don’t actually remember that time but I wrote about it and recently read about what I wrote. There are some things that I have forgotten or that are buried so deeply in my psyche that they are almost unreachable, and that that is a very very good thing.
You sustain me, and you always will. But I know that I will have other things that will sustain me, like my dedication to my future patients, and a child of my own to whose wellbeing I will dedicate every ounce of my being.
With that all said, I want you to know that I love you and I am looking forward to my future and to our future, you and me, and how our relationship will continue to evolve. This isn’t “the letter” that we know I will one day write to you, but I feel that it comes very close to it and that it’s good practice. And I also believe that it will not be just one letter that I write to you, but a series of letters.
I’m very glad that I didn’t die each time that I attempted suicide. And I know that you are very glad that I am alive as well.
Thank you for you, for being you, for dedicating yourself to me, for everything that you have given to me, your time, your emotional being, your efforts, your healing words and constant and consistent presence, for showing me what an authentic connection can be, for letting me become incredibly attached to you, which sustained me, for showing me your love and care through your words, your facial expression, your consistency, your actions, your body language and even the way you sit, for our silence and the necessary space you always give to me.
Grazie and happy new year.
~ Your dedicated patient and fellow human being.

Looking for Peace

There are so many things I could be doing right now. I still have two more essays to write for my grad school applications. I could be writing in my personal journal. I could be writing my thank you cards to people at work who gave me holiday gifts. I am on vacation now. Staying with my Mum. It took nine hours to get here. The Christmas tree is lit and there is holiday spirit.

I have joy in my life yet my heart also lays heavy because I love my Mum so much. Basically I want her to move in with me and I want to take care of her financially so she doesn’t have to worry any longer. She works so hard and doesn’t earn enough and does a job that is far below her level of a Ph.D. just to have an income. Her husband has been unemployed for a year. He doesn’t contribute. He doesn’t do any chores. He doesn’t buy groceries or write checks for paying the bills and he doesn’t cook. She has to do everything for him. I know it would be a huge life-changing decision to make. She has been with him for 15 years. Not all of that time has been pleasant. Actually, I don’t believe most of it has been pleasant and plenty has been far less than pleasant.

I sent out some Christmas cards this year. I sent one to the victim advocate at the district attorney’s office and got a lovely email reply. She is so supportive. She calls me strong and inspiring. We are going to keep in touch. I sent a card to my psychiatrist and my former DBT therapist at the hospital. Occasionally I leave her voicemail messages every few months to give her an update of how I am doing. I remember telling her once that I am going to come back and take her job one day. She said she would love to give her job to me and she sounded sincere. She has a very important role at the hospital and if I were able to reach her level of accomplishment that would be a huge achievement. She wants the best for me.

I saw my psychiatrist last week right before I had gotten triggered of something from the past. I won’t go into it, but it’s basically a bill from the city saying that I owe them monies that I don’t think I should have to pay from three years ago and this bill was not a part of my bankruptcy. It brought up memories from the past and strong emotions. It was completely overwhelming. I felt very angry. In the past when I used to get angry, my mind would just straight to suicide as a solution. I went back to that old coping. I told my psychiatrist that I would rather be dead and that I wish I had died when I tried years ago. He asked me if I had any plans to go forward with a suicide. I said no. He asked me if I will stay safe. I wouldn’t answer him. I was so angry and I didn’t want to be safe. To be honest, it was shocking and scary that my mind jumped straight to suicide, but as my psychotherapist pointed out the next day, this happens with much less frequency than it used to. The last time I felt suicidal I believe was in the summer time. That is a long time ago. After talking with my therapist I decided to leave my psychiatrist a voicemail message letting him know that I will stay safe. We are seeing each other again in less than three weeks. I think he wanted to check in with me sooner because he was concerned, and with good reason. A professional in the business knows to not take it lightly when a patient says that they feel suicidal. Even though I occasionally feel suicidal I don’t think I’ll ever attempt suicide again. I think I have healed enough to the point where I am past having to go that far.

Because I am doing so much better in my life I have been able to do more things on the weekend… by choice! I haven’t had time to stay in bed with my eyes closed and sleeping for 22 hours a day on the weekend. I am doing so much better. Earlier this month I took a roadtrip with a friend to watch my second youngest cousin’s dance performance at her university. She is majoring in dance and minoring in English. I want to be friends with her and we have never really connected as adults. I remember when she was still wearing diapers. Now she’s going to be 21 years old. She wants to be a professional dancer in a dance company but her parents are not so supportive. I was glad to be able to visit with her today. We talked about her school and her plans. She was willing to listen for a while during which I gave her a lesson on investing and starting to save for retirement. I suggested she invest in a cd (certificate of deposit) at her credit union where she banks. I don’t know if she will do it but at least I planted the seed of thought and hopefully it can germinate. And I will certainly remind her. I feel like a big sister to her even though she does have two older siblings, a sister and a brother. I wanted to tell her all about my life and my plans for grad school. But just as a big sister does, just as a therapist does to her patient, I didn’t talk much about myself. We talked mostly about her for two hours and I was glad to do it. Even though I will be in school and studying will be intensive, I am going to try to go to some more of her dance performances next year and the year after that, while she lives within driving distance of me. Because the dance companies that she wants to work with professionally are on the other side of the country and I wouldn’t be able to just go for a short weekend trip.

Now that I am doing better, now that I am no longer in and out of the hospital for suicidal ideations, now that I have been able to hold a steady job for a year and a half after not having worked for five years, I am able to add positivity to other people’s lives. My mum no longer has to worry about me surviving and not killing myself. She knows I am doing well and we have been able to connect with each other and strengthen and repair and heal our relationship this year for the first time in my adult life. It took a long time to get here. She knows that moving in with me is an option, although it would be a huge life change. I don’t want her to have to work. I just want her to live a free life and have space to heal her wounds, her sorrows, her heart aches and her anxieties. She took care of me for the first 18 years of my life and I want and need to give that back to her. She hasn’t been able to save for retirement. I told her not to worry because I will take care of her when she is no longer working. I will take care of her when she is no longer able to take care of herself. Along with becoming a therapist and becoming a mother one day, my calling is to take care of my mum. It is the least I can do for her, and will never make up for the bad years of her life but if she can live a free life in the moment without having to look too much into the past or the future, then maybe, maybe she can experience true happiness. I want her to have peace.

After the hiatus

My life is really good right now. It’s balanced. I am happy. I actually feel happiness these days. Yes, it’s true! It has been a good stretch of consistent happiness too, for the past two months, despite some upsets here and there. But overall, I am content.

I am throwing myself a party tomorrow! The last time I threw myself a party was for my birthday in 2013. I had several friends over to my place and my mom came to town to visit. She’s coming again tomorrow and I’ll be picking her up from the airport. It’s just a two-day trip but it’s enough, and it’s important to me. I want her to meet my friends, the people that I talk to every week. There will be 15 of us in my small apartment. I’ve already done the shopping. It’s an afternoon event, so just snacks will be provided. I have tortilla chips and hummus and brie and goat cheese and crackers and fig jam for the goat cheese, carrots, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, grapes, banana bread. I have too much food and I think it will be lovely. My roommate said it all sounds healthy, but that’s the food that I would normally eat myself anyway. She is going to be making the guacamole from scratch – delicious!

I met someone who speaks Italian online today. He lives in the same city but we haven’t talked about getting together yet. We are just getting to know each other. I have big plans for the future! I may be planning a trip to Italy for next year! I just asked my boss today if I can take three weeks off and she gave the okay. I might want to stay longer but that would not be possible if I want to keep my job. I am very excited about this prospect.

I signed up for two undergraduate classes next year. The first is psychology 101 and it’s during the intersession, meaning a semester’s worth of work is crammed into four weeks. The next is child development 101 in an eight-week course. I want to get those classes out of the way before I travel to Italy, and I figure I should take them since I am going to be studying psychology in grad school. My first application is due next week and all I have left is to edit my personal statement which is a three-page essay.

I will be traveling to see my family for Christmas. I’m doing the eight hour drive to go see them. Hopefully I will stay at my brother’s house depending on his plans. My mom still is thinking of moving soon, but it hasn’t happened yet. Instead of a one-hour plane ride she will be a three-hour plane ride away. Still, it’s pretty close. I just don’t know how often I will see her.

Finding a place for me to exist

My front door is open to the cool evening air. From inside I can hear the rain as if a faucet has been let uncontrollably loose. There is an occasional rumble of thunder. My self-comforting action was to light as many candles as I could throughout my home – about nine – most of them being tealight candles in holders. This is a part of my self-care. This is a part of me establishing myself in the world of what feels right around me. This is me indulging in the pleasurable activity of watching the candlelight flicker within the dark corners of these four walls. I am orchestrating my life.

In the previous two years, I had not indulged in candles. And let me tell you something, I absolutely love candles. I used to buy expensive PartyLite candles because they are the best: they burn all the way down leaving no wax in the container. They become completely liquid while burning. They last longer than standard candles. I have several fancy candle holders from those years of candle collecting. I enjoy candles this much, and yet, for almost two years I did not light a single one. I felt as if my life was temporary. I wasn’t planning on living for very long. There was no point in doing something that I enjoyed because I didn’t see the point in doing anything. I was recovering from having been suicidal for a number of years.

There used to be days when at every minute of every day, I thought about suicide. (Here I try not to say “commit” suicide, because it criminalizes the act in subtle verbal expression, as if it were something the person did wrong, rather than saying the “act of” or “suffered from” or “resorted to” or “died by” suicide, or looking at suicide as a mental illness that most people have no control over, and are therefore not at fault. There is no “fault” when it comes to suicide.) Then there would be hours during which I did not think about suicide. Then a day a week would pass without me being suicidal. Then a few days. This progression happened very slowly. Let me emphasize very slowly.

I recently started tracking my suicidal thoughts. It is the end of October and the last time I thought about seriously killing myself was at the beginning of July. That’s almost four months of suicide-free thinking! That’s really amazing. I haven’t had that kind of a break since 2011. (Let’s do the math: that’s five years). Before July I felt suicidal and was ready to take action on one day in June, exactly a week after talking to the deputy district attorney about my case. Before that it was twice at the end of May. It has slowly gotten better. Since January 2015 I have only been in the hospital once for suicidal ideation, and they let me go after just one night. I went to work that very same day. I was so embarrassed at my actions even though no one at work knew the real reason behind my visit to the Emergency Room. It had been a mental emergency because I was going to jump off a bridge, and instead of doing that, I called the suicide hotline.

Right now I am in my safe space. I am seeing my psychotherapist twice a week for more intensive therapy. I had been wanting to see him twice a week for many months until I finally couldn’t take it any longer and told him I needed more support. I am much happier going twice a week; my life seems more manageable. I have my home, where I feel truly at home. I have a lovely new roommate who has been living with me for a month. She is really an amazing person. I have my hot chamomile tea for the evening, cooling down in my huge Italian ceramic mug that I chose and bought for myself. I am sitting on the gorgeous L-shaped light green couch which I hand-picked a few years ago and by sheer luck, got to keep because there was a spare room in the awful house I was living in last year. Otherwise I would have had to have gotten rid of it. My prized possession. I have several prized possessions that I am proud to call mine. And I have my candles. I have my candles, that I bought, that I lit, that I arranged around my home. It’s mine and I get to enjoy it. I have my safe space, and I have established myself in this world. That is, I found a place for me to exist.