To my therapist,
To my Therapist,
Sometimes all I want to do it to write a blog. You know, just write. For me. I put my heart into it. All of me. My whole being. What I write is the epitome of me, my existence, who I am. Writing defines me. It helps me express my feelings and organize my thoughts. It solidifies the experiences that I have had. It gives me space to reflect. What would I do without writing as a part of my life? I don’t know. Writing has always been a part of my life. I know I kept a journal as a kid but I have no idea where that journal ended up. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of writing. I don’t always go back to read what I have written. I don’t always want to. The act of writing in and of itself helps. I cannot bring myself to throw away the old journals which contain accounts of the horrors I have lived through, because they are a part of me. I know that if I were to read them, as I have done to myself in the past, it would have a negative effect on me. It might not retraumatize me, but it would certainly bring back the nightmares and a flood of tears.
Writing to my therapist by email daily is a part of my therapy. I need to connect with him daily. I need him, someone, to know how I am doing and to be a witness to my experience and of my innermost thoughts. I need him to know when I am not doing well, how that is for me, and I need him to know about the beautiful moments in life which make my life worth living. I want him to know it all. The act of writing it down is therapeutic.
I just had my morning weekend coffee. It’s past 1:00 pm (aka 13,00 hours) and I am sitting on my patio with new and old plants in pots, enjoying the song of birds and indirect sunlight. This is good for me. In less than two hours I have a Skype date with my aunt in Australia which I have been looking forward to for more than a week. We had to reschedule but I am okay with that. My afternoon is her morning and so it will be her Monday morning.
Three and four years ago, I had a garden of my own. I lived in a one bedroom apartment on the second floor and my balcony was filled with beautiful ceramic pots and soil and plants which I had grown from scratch. I didn’t even buy starter plants; I planted my plants from seed. I kept that garden. It was a part of my self-therapy. In tending to those plants, I was nurturing myself. In watching those plants grow, I was watching the act of life itself happen. It was helping to keep me alive. My life the way it is now? I could have never imagined such a life. Because the life I live now is not filled with nightmares and dark spaces and suicidal thoughts. The life I live now is just full of… life.
When I had to move away from that home I had spent two years building, because my alimony was ending and I couldn’t afford it any longer, I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. I got rid of all of my pots, along with other things, and life as I knew it was over. I stopped doing everything creative and sunk into an even deeper depression. I stopped painting with acrylic on canvas. I stopped making homemade paper and candying orange peels to eat. I stopped preparing fresh foods for myself. No salads, only frozen foods. I stopped writing poetry and playing the piano. It was the end of my gardening days as I knew it. I no longer sewed and knitted. I got rid of all of my extra, unused rolls of yarn to Goodwill. I stopped seeing people. The priest I had been friends with had moved away to another state on the other side of the country. I survived the entirety of 2015 by sleeping. On weekends I would stay in bed 22 hours a day. It was a miserable year and although I was not often in the mindset of wanting to end my life, the depression was absolutely crippling. It is a wonder that I was able to hold a job and start my career in finance again starting that August. But I did it because I am fucking amazing and because I am a warrior woman.
In December last year when my Mum came to visit, I had her buy me some plants from a nursery. Keeping those plants alive, albeit barely, brought me to this point. It is now well into Spring and my life is full of life. I still sleep a long time on weekends, sometimes 12 hours as I did last night, but I do things that people who don’t have depression do. I am living my life as best as I can, and I would say I am doing a pretty darn good job at it.
Friday night was revolutionary for me. Why, you ask? Because I was inspired! I was inspired to start my garden! I went on Offer Up, a site that I had just found out the day before from my friend at work. I’ve never bought anything via that site before. And I found a lady, Lily, who has a home business selling pottery. I made sure she was a woman, by asking her, because it was Friday night and dark outside and I didn’t feel comfortable having to deal with a man at that hour, under those circumstances. I drove the 25 minutes to her home. She had me park in her driveway and she was waiting outside for me. As she led me through the wooden gate to her large backyard, I noticed and pointed out how beautiful it was, with well-kempt bushes and flowers and lush grass. There was some lighting coming from the trellis which covered a part of her patio and she used the flashlight feature on her phone to show me the beautiful ceramic planter pots she had in her inventory. There must have easily been 100 pots to choose from, all different styles and sizes, but most in pairs and matching.
I chose three bright blue matching pots and a pot on a pedestal which was beige-coloured with the image of a sun with a face on it painted orange on the sides. I am phenomenally pleased with my selections and they are so much nicer than any pot I could have gotten at a hardware store such as Lowe’s or The Home Depot. I had to go to a pottery store, or in this case, a pottery home-based business. Lily explained to me how she had fallen ill at the end of last year and had to be bed-bound for three months, so she was just now starting up her pottery-selling business over again. She gave me her business card and I am keeping it for the future.
I have a few lettuce seeds planted in one pot. I planted green onions in another. In the third matching blue pot I planted cilantro and Italian parsley. I tried to only plant things that I would actually eat. I used to grow my own zucchini but I have decided for now that I don’t like zucchini. Probably because I am not very big on cooking still these days. Homegrown zucchini is really wonderful though, I must say. I wanted to plant mint but I couldn’t find the seeds for it and I don’t want to buy a starter plant, but I might just do exactly that. In the pedestal pot I planted morning glories. I find them to be really beautiful. I had forgotten that you have to nick the seeds with a knife and leave them to soak in water before planting them. I did that and I was so pleased to see the seedlings already bulging with life the next morning. The miracle of water and life. Water is life.
I have another large pot that I had stored at a friend’s house for the past two years. I finally picked it up last weekend. I bought sunflower seeds. These seeds are actually for growing gigantic sunflowers which will supposedly be a foot in diameter when the bloom is blooming! I wanted to maximize my space, and so I planted most of my seeds, well, all of them, too close together. Closer than was recommended. We’ll have to see how that works out. My little seedlings are already an inch tall and they are just a week old! I had planted them last weekend. They are pushing their way through the surface of the soil and spreading their first little leaves. Unfortunately, I have roly polies. Apparently another name for this bug is a “pill bug” but I have always known it as a “roly poly”. That’s because when it is under threat (I had to look this up) it rolls its little crustacean body up into a ball. My pot, which spent two years in an untended location, is full of these little bugs. I didn’t think anything of it, but when my seedlings were beginning to sprout I noticed the bugs congregating around the baby plants. Apparently they are harmless in gardens because they decompose old plant matter and eat their own poop. But when there is no decomposed matter to eat, they will eat sprouting plants. They won’t eat established plants. Now, several of my baby plants have half-eaten leaves and whenever I see a new roly poly that was previously hidden, I toss it out of the pot onto the grass beyond my patio.
Food is amazing. It nourishes us and keeps us alive just like water does to plants. Plus, water is life too. Water is even more necessary for living creatures than food. We can only go three days without water, but longer without food. I just ate a peanut butter protein bar. It was delicious. Of course, it has a certain amount of sugar in it. It’s like eating peanut butter fudge, as my roommate put it. The bar is called a Perfect Bar and they are sold everywhere but they are cheaper at Costco. Costco was having a sale on them a while back and I bought six twelve-packs of bars which come in three different flavours. There are easily ten or fifteen different flavours of the Perfect Bar but Costco has a limited selection in their twelve-pack: peanut butter, peanut butter cranberry, and almond with sesame seeds on the outside. They are all really good. I discovered them when my former roommate bought them back in September and I have been eating them daily for breakfast for the last six months and I don’t intend to stop any time soon. The bars are packed with superfoods and nutrients and are really good for you.
I have been spending a lot of money. I spend much more than I make every month and if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to get a settlement of a last bit of alimony last year then I would be completely broke with only a thousand dollars left in the bank, which is nothing. Scary little. But I’m doing okay even though I haven’t been saving money. I have been spending it. About a thousand has gone toward travel last year and then another eight hundred to new tires in December. Read: tyres, for those British-spellers. This year I have spent about a thousand on new clothes and shoes over the months. I am working on a new and better wardrobe for work, and looking toward my wardrobe as a therapist in my future career. It’s expensive to build a nice wardrobe. I have also gotten rid of small clothes which no longer fit me, which is a big deal. Now they aren’t taking up space in my closet. It feels really good to have clothes which actually fit me.
I also recently spent five hundred dollars on a laser hair removal package of treatment series. In 2009 I started a series of treatments and it significantly reduced the amount of hair I have on various parts of my body but it isn’t completely gone. It has been on my mind in the last several months to finish those series. I finally got up the courage to do some research on it, and I didn’t look very far. I actually went with the first place I found on Google. They were having a sale and it was meant to be! I have to wait several months before my first appointment because they don’t do Saturdays and the weekday evening spots are the most popular and always taken. I’m good. I can wait. This would have never been possible without the alimony I got last year. I am visiting my Mum for mother’s day weekend and there is no way I could have been able to afford the cheap plane tickets without the extra alimony I got. Money makes so many things possible and opens up opportunities. I feel fortunate to have just enough. Not a lot, but enough to be able to have luxuries in my life. There are many people who don’t have the nice things in their lives that I have and I am truly grateful.
I have been writing now for over an hour and my Skype date with my aunt is imminently around the corner. We always talk for an hour but I want to not be limited by time and I hope to get to have a couple hours with her, so I have to go microwave that sweet potato that I baked the other night so that I can have food in my stomach so that I can remain calm and centered during my conversation with my aunt. All this stuff takes planning. I learned about “HALT” while listening to Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s books. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Those are risk factors for being unable to cope emotionally. In the books it applies to parenting, but I can parent myself and pay attention to those risk factors too. I have to make sure that all of those aspects are taken care of so that I can remain calm and centered. So, I am going to eat something right now. Cheers!
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.
I am kind to myself. I can be nice to myself. I give myself permission to practice self-kindness. I can be gentle with me. I can do this. I am doing this. I will keep doing this. I am strong, kind, generous, faithful, intelligent and beautiful.
I took the day off of work today. It was a mental health recovery day. These last five days have been hard and I just couldn’t see myself going to work today. I kept snoozing the alarm and I knew I just didn’t want to deal with life today. Instead, I slept for about 16 hours. I finally got up in the early afternoon, a couple hours before seeing my psychotherapist. I was originally going to see him after work, but because I took the day off and he had availability, I was able to see him sooner. I saw him yesterday and I am seeing him tomorrow. It’s Spring Break and he’s not teaching this week, therefore, I am taking what I can get. I’ve always dreamed of seeing him every day for several days in a row. I tell him by email all the time that I hate not seeing him and I hate having to wait five days to see him. Well, I can rest easy because I get to see him in less than 24 hours from now.
When I can’t cope, I can’t cope. It’s just a fact. I wasn’t okay. When I get overwhelmed my mind goes straight to suicide and self-harm. It makes sense. I wasn’t able to retaliate when I was being abused because talking back or acting out would only make things worse. So when I couldn’t control things in my external world, I turned to my inner world for a sense of control. In focusing in on myself, in exacting self-harm whether through restricting food, cutting on myself, drinking alcohol, having more sex with strangers, telling myself I wasn’t worthy of love, and in so many other ways, I was able to control aspects of my life. Unfortunately, the control seeped out into other parts of my life and I felt that this was beyond my control. I acted out at work and ruined my professional life by quitting my career job out of desperation. But after leaving the abusive situation I was in, I began to heal myself once the major PTSD symptoms had subsided, which took a couple years.
When I was growing up too, my external world was beyond my control and things were unstable, so I controlled my inner world by fantasizing about running away from home or sleeping out on the porch in the snow to hurt my mum by hurting myself. When I was eight, I remember yelling at her, “I wish I were dead!” at the top of my lungs, because I wanted to hurt her back so badly, and I knew because my father had died, that it would get to her. “No, no,” she had replied with tears in her eyes, and I knew I had gotten to her. It’s as if I had to go to extreme measures in order to receive unconditional love and attention.
Self-harm has always been a part of my life, but with the help of my psychotherapist over the last eight and a half years I am learning to find other ways to express my anger and to not direct it toward myself. Because I don’t deserve that. No one deserves to hate themselves and to hurt themselves. Everyone deserves kindness and compassion. Most of all, from me to myself. I am okay. I will be okay. I am going to be okay. I can do this. I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. Just keep telling myself that and eventually it will be true. But the fact of the matter is, I am actually okay, it’s just that I don’t always feel okay. But I have learned that feelings come and go, and I remain. The emergency in my mind is no longer happening, and the noise and the chaos in my mind has subsided, and what is left is just me, without the state of emergency. It meant the world to me today when, at the end of our therapy session, my therapist said to me, “I’m glad you are feeling better.” “Me too,” I replied. Me too.
Lately, I have been feeling stressed. Most of it is work stress. There is a finite level of the human capacity to tolerate stress, and I was close to that ceiling today. I took time off of work in the middle of the day to see my therapist because I needed to see him three times this week and that was the only time which was going to work. He helped me talk through the concerns which have been giving me anxiety at work in regards to my new assistant. I feel responsible for her progress because I am the one training her. However, I am not her supervisor and I do not have the authority to correct her behavior. I am worried that her motivation might not be as high as I hoped it would be and six weeks into the job I just thought she would get it by now. But I have to give her leeway because the learning curve in this industry is steep and she has no prior experience. I want her to be making more phone calls and taking on more tasks and I’m worried about not being able to trust her with projects to take on her own. She has been consistently late to work and she does not dress appropriately professionally. All of things are going to be looked at and handled by our supervisor now. What was hard was handing over that responsibility to someone else because I thought I could handle it. But my boss said she didn’t want to put me in that position. She’s right.
I just ate a chocolate that is at least three years old. It was Ghirardelli with raspberry filling, only the filling had sunken in on itself. It tasted okay though I was hesitant at first bite. People give me chocolates and I just don’t eat them.
I found a new walking path today. Because of the time change and the fact that it is lighter for longer in the evening, I had decided to go for a walk by my home. My neighborhood is not ideal for walking: there are long roads with only one sidewalk and cars which go by at fast speeds. I went walking along one of those roads. It crosses over a freeway. The bridge over the freeway is not very high, but I imagined myself jumping off the edge into the traffic below. I would probably only break a foot or leg, but the cars going by at 75 miles per hour in the fast lane would surely kill me. Only, if I survived, I might be physically impaired for the rest of my life and it would be very hard to kill myself then. I didn’t think about that at the time.
I thought about that if I survived, and another person died on the scene due to the car accident, then I would be convicted for involuntary manslaughter or some sort of charge and I would have to serve jail time and then it would be very difficult to find employment. If I had a criminal record I would not be permitted to work with children and the idea of my future career change would be out of question. I would be stuck in a minimum wage job because that’s the only type of job which would be willing to employ me and I would be on state healthcare and unable to travel or buy nice foods or do anything that costs money. So, I kept on walking, both times that I crossed the bridge, and I left my fleeting thoughts behind me on the bridge each time. I didn’t take them with me.
I had a nice dinner, leftover sweet potato curry from a restaurant, and it was delicious. Yellow sauce and whole pieces of soft yam and potato and some mushrooms, with rice on the side. I recently bought jasmine tea, which I haven’t had for some time in my pantry, and I am really enjoying sipping on it. I should be studying but I’m not. The cat is on the carpet right in front of where I am sitting and I had to reprimand him a few minutes ago for scratching on my cloth ottoman in the middle of my L-shaped couch. The couch is light green and I really love the color. My paperwork from school and job interviews and college applications have been littering the living room for the past month. I want it out so I can visually see it, and be reminded that, oh yeah, I still have that essay to write, or oh yes, there’s the New Yorker Magazine from the subscription my Mum got me which I never take the time to read. I told her not to renew it last year but I was too late. “They were having a discount,” she claimed.
Every day I catch myself rubbing my skin to get the dirt off of me. Only, it doesn’t consume my hours any longer, it’s just a little skin rubbing here and there. It’s part of the OCD category of symptoms, but doing it soothes me and at the same time it feels productive because I actually get dirt off of me. They come off in miniscule amounts which my therapist and my aunt have told me are dead skin cells. But I don’t believe it even though the rational side of my brain knows that they are right. I am still uncomfortable with the topic of sex and when it comes to my body, I don’t like to think about it. I feel fat even though I’ve weighed the same amount for the past two years, which is the first time in my life ever that my weight hasn’t fluctuated drastically. I used to be very skinny and it was absolutely unhealthy, but at least I didn’t feel fat (even though my ex abuser told me I was). I am supposed to look at myself as beautiful but the best I can muster is “eh, I look decent.”
My therapist doesn’t judge me. He doesn’t like to diagnose me and never tells me that there is something wrong with me. He guides me and makes gentle suggestions or gets me to think about a situation in a new perspective that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. Therapists aren’t supposed to diagnose anyway, unless it’s for an insurance company. Having a diagnosis sucks, although some people find it useful to have a label for their symptoms, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or OCD, to name a few. Five years ago I met the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, and now I no longer do. So it seems to me that it must have been PTSD symptoms instead. Because, how does a personality inherently change? A personality defines a person. Labels don’t define me. And I don’t have BPD. I have major depressive disorder, but it’s something that I have but not something that I am.
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.
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.
Look what I did today! I sat with my feelings. I allowed myself to experience my anger and my sadness. The feelings were present but I wasn’t feeling them because I wasn’t allowing them to come to the surface. I could only do it in a safe place, in my therapist’s presence. I thought I was just sad but only after he pointed out that he had detected some anger did I realize I was feeling this too.
It wasn’t fair what happened to me. It wasn’t right. What happened was horrible but that doesn’t make me horrible. I am a grown woman and I have hair on my vulva because I am a woman, not a girl. My abuser wanted me to be like a little girl and didn’t allow me to have hair down there. It was one of two options: shave or wax. The waxing was painful and the shaving irritated my skin. And my vagina was constantly hurting, burning on the inside. I had many yeast infections and I had a solution to numb the burning pain which I applied every few hours for days on end. I kept a constant supply of that prescription stuff.
Group therapy is bound to bring up these thoughts and feelings. It is inevitable. Every single woman in that group roundtable has a story, and every single woman experienced horrific sexual abuse. None of them know yet the extent of my story. They don’t know that I was sold to other men, that my vagina was used a lot, that I was treated as an object and a commodity. They don’t know the extent of my mental illness, that I underwent 30 ECT’s because of my major depression and extreme suicidal ideations. They don’t know that because of the cost of the medical bills, the inpatient and outpatient hospitalizations, the ambulance rides and emergency room visits, I chose to file for bankruptcy because the thought of the bills and the calls from collection agencies made me want to kill myself.
Those things are behind me now. I am the owner of my life. I make decisions for me. I choose what to do, and whom to tell my story to. I am the owner of me. I survived. I overcame adversity. I have a new life now, and it is all because of me and what I did and the choices I made which helped me to heal. And God, was it hard.
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.