On Writing and Weird Traumas

I realize it’s been over two months now since my last post, so I’m likely going to start again with things that are brief, easy, and impersonal. Before that, though, an explanation…

A bad habit of mine (well, to be fair to myself, more like a coping mechanism) whenever I feel personally attacked because of something I’ve written is to just stop writing. It has nothing to do with perfectionism or literary criticism, everything to do with trauma. I’ve tried to blog several times in the last couple months, and each attempt has ended in a panic attack.

This trigger/coping mechanism started in high school when my parents finally realized that my eating disorder, regardless of whether it was being caused by “vanity” or by actual mental illness, was becoming a legitimate threat to my life. They  decided, for reasons which thoroughly escape me, that the best way to address it was to secretly confiscate a few of my journals and take them to show their pastor. They made notes about the entries, even pencilling some of them directly into the margins. These included things like Bible verses, followup questions, and comments on sins they observed evidenced by what I’d written. I had, at that point, kept a meticulous daily diary for nearly six years: they had a lot of material in their hands.

When they dragged me in for a nearly four hour long, three-against-one meeting with the pastor to confront my sins (namely vanity, anger, pride, and rebellion), they used the information – and quotations – gleaned from my diaries as their arsenal. I finally got my diaries back and vowed as only a sixteen year old can to never write down another word as long as I lived.

I felt utterly violated. I wrote that evening (yes, yes, vow quickly broken, although I did later burn this piece) that I felt like my mind had been raped. It’s an extreme metaphor but one I still feel is apt. It was every bit as violent, intrusive, and degrading, but unlike physical, sexual assault I was unable to dissociate from the attack. Using my own words and private feelings against me cut through my defenses in a way that even years of experience dissociating couldn’t withstand. It felt as though everything I would ever write could without warning come under the same vicious scrutiny, like none of my own thoughts could ever possibly be safe. Worse, my parents’ continued stalking (whether direct or by third-party informant, as they allege) through multiple websites, accounts, and pseudonyms, does nothing but affirm this sense of threat. My options seem to be that I can either write in defiance of this known threat or just not write at all.

And yet… I’m still a writer. One of favorite quotes from the film Frida is by Diego: “What do you care about my opinion? If you’re a real painter, you’ll paint because you can’t live without painting. You’ll paint till you die.” In some ways, writing feels like this weird auto-immune disease that I might run from my entire life but know I can never escape. Doesn’t matter if I’m a good writer or a bad one, impactful or forgettable, published or never finish a book: I’m still a writer.

In the years since the Diary Fiasco, I’ve tried multiple tactics to keep the writing bug in check. Initially I wrote page after page and burned them all. Even recovering from trauma, though, I couldn’t stand to destroy my words. I tried tying a bit of clear fishing line through a spiral bound notebook so I could suspend it behind the drywall of our partially finished basement. I cut a slit in my mattress and stuffed papers deep inside. I hid letters to my girlfriend inside my shoes until I could find an accomplice willing to help me send them (for about nine months, my parents wouldn’t allow me out of the house unsupervised, except at church for brief periods). I learned Tengwar and wrote endless pages in a bastardized, doubly coded form of it I can no longer decipher.

Eventually, I took to the internet. I learned to mask my internet history, clear my cache and cookies. After a while, I uncovered key-logging spyware my dad had installed, hacked it, and cleared that out. Or tried to. I may never know how well I succeeded.

Now, six years out of that environment and fifteen hundred miles away, it’s exhausting to continue trying to hide from them. At some point I gave up trying to hide beneath so many layers of deception and identity because they had made it so clear they would keep chasing. (I have solid reasons to think it’s not just some awkward attempt to reconnect, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing here since they’ll probably read it.)

My other option, if I can’t stop writing entirely, is to keep it private. However, I firmly believe that writing is first and foremost a means of communication. I’m compelled not just to write and let it die quietly on a shelf but to share it with others. When I have been at my deepest points of isolation the writings of others helped me realize what I lived and breathed every day was not the only option. Blogs and memoirs and livejournals showed me what anorexia recovery looks like, that sex could be positive and enjoyable, that people could escape cults and survive the transition out, and even that gay people could live happy, fulfilling lives. I know it’s thoroughly egotistical to believe my writing could ever help someone in that way, but I also remember that it was simple, honest, open writing that helped me. The blogs I read were nothing special. I try to write what I needed to read. For all the problems people have (rightly) observed with the It Gets Better project, I’m still incredibly proud that if I could speak to myself six or eight or ten years ago, I could speak those words with absolute confidence, a promise not an idle reassurance.

And above all, in this whole long process of recovery, from one or another of many traumas and diagnoses, my voice continues to feel like my greatest weapon. In the end, silencing it, no matter what it is I have to say, feels just fucking awful. I spent years being silenced. I refuse to silence myself.

Sometimes I’m going to have to stop writing, retreat and regroup for as long as it takes. It’s quite possible, even likely, that this automatic response will prevent me from ever completing anything of value. But really? What are you gonna do.

I’ll write. People may or may not read. My parents may or may not continue to intrude and take notes. And I’ll keep writing.

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Dear Mom

**Edit 5/27/11**

Please note that some content in this post – and especially in the comments – may be triggering for those with a difficult or non-existent family relationship. Take care of yourself first and foremost. ❤

I feel an introduction is warranted for this post. It’s a letter to my mother, for reasons that may become a bit clearer on reading… Mostly it’s a followup on my thoughts from Mother’s Day.

Initially, I was going to write this in the form of a personal letter, maybe an email. I still have so much affection and compassion for my mom, despite the ways in which she’s hurt me over the years.  No matter how my chosen family extends or the comfort I may find in surrogate parents, no one will be able to co-opt the significance of her historical, defining role in my life. She’ll always be my mom.

From the first, though, since I even decided a followup was important, I felt instinctively that it needed to be public. I wrote it still not sure I would show another soul but then finally figured out what that compulsion to bare all stems from.

When I was kicked out, there wasn’t a guide. Resources for moving on are still very limited: when you hear about us lost children even now, if we talk about our families we typically keep it brief. Either we’ve managed to cobble together a strained peace or we’re still estranged. The process behind either one isn’t discussed. It’s too painful, either for us or our listeners.

Long story short, I wrote this TO my mom (she hasn’t seen it yet, though I’ll tell her where to find it), but I’m writing it FOR you, the lost children who are alone and hurting and unsure how to talk to these people who for so long have been a driving force in your life. I’m still figuring it out, too.

Dear Mom,

Since I wrote that post and started seeing feedback I’ve been trying to think what to say about it. On one level, I think I worded myself exactly as I meant to and my heartbreak was put on the page just as it should have been. You meant to do so much good and you loved us with all of your heart and tears and somehow things still went wrong.

You told me that parenting doesn’t come with a guide, or at least not one that’s helpful… Well, neither does being a kid. You fucked up, I fucked up, and life continued anyway. I’ve come to learn that that’s what life is. And that’s okay.

You have tried so hard for so many years to protect the child I’ve been, to shelter me from the world you see as filled with sin, terror, evil, pain, hardship, emptiness, all those things you felt as a child yourself and carried with you into adulthood. Mom, you carry such heavy, defining scars. I don’t know if they’ve ever been able to heal. It’s understandable that you would want to spare anyone that pain, least of all your own children, and you protected us as best you knew how.

Our relationship was flawed in so many ways, and we hurt each other, often, without meaning to. Sometimes I felt like the very differentness of my existence hurt you.

You wanted nothing but the best for me and were so sure you knew what that looked like – but the mold didn’t fit. The farther I stretch out my tendrils to new spaces and new experiences of being the surer I am that your space, your boundaries of being, will simply never fit. For a while, you kept cutting those tendrils, trying to keep me in line as I spread to the pavement where you were so sure I’d be trampled. But the more you cut, the more resistant I became. I started reaching out roots beneath the sidewalk until one day I popped up feet away from the safety of your garden and you wondered where I’d gone.

I’ve been asked, what do I want from you? An apology? To rebuild our relationship? To pick up the pieces and carry them forward or to cut ties, grieve, and move on?

Mom, I want to keep growing. I want you to accept me for the grown but still growing child that I am and nurture that growth wherever it may go. I want you to want what’s best for me – and to trust me to figure out what that is. I want you to support me and love me for the unique and brilliant, talented and hurt, tender and fierce and determined person that I am.

And what hurts me most of all is that I’m terrified that’s too much to ask.

Because I am your child. And I know you. I know that you’ve found refuge in the church and its strictures, its promises that the suffering you experience in this life will bring you joy on some later plane of existence, and for that I’m glad. Really, I mean it. I know that you have been hurt in this life more than any person deserves, least of all a small child, and I’m sorry. I will never fault you for finding comfort where you can take it.

The problem is, your church teaches that I, my life, desires, thoughts, feelings, choices, reasoning, everything that I am and I stand for, are Wrong. The churches you attend teach there is Right and Wrong and you hold those teachings unflinchingly. And I am Wrong. They’ve gotten you through bad times and for that I’ll thank them, but six years ago they presented you with a false ultimatum: them, or me. For that, I will never, ever forgive them.

What’s worse, you chose them.

You made a choice that is horrific and brutal and has caused me no end of heartache by throwing me to the curb for the sake of your religion. No mother should ever be forced to make that choice in the first place, but you were, and you chose. I don’t feel it’s my place to tell you whether that choice was “right” or “wrong” (terms your beliefs bandy about so freely and decisively) but I will not tell you it was kind. Or just. Or in any way a demonstration of love.

Frankly, I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive you for what you did, and I don’t think I should have to. Bringing back my earlier analogy, when you finally realized I wasn’t in your garden anymore, you said, “Fuck it.” and threw me onto the highway.

You’ve expressed sadness and sorrow for some of your past actions, but in this case I’m not sure if you regret your decision or just that it didn’t somehow snap me out of it. Regardless of that, and regardless of the fact that I don’t forgive your actions, I do accept it. I have moved on, grieved, continue to grieve, suffered, scraped by, and am just beginning at long last to thrive. I don’t apologize to anyone, ever, for who I am or how I live my life.

That’s why I’m not sure a relationship will work. I truly do want one, but I also have to recognize and accept who you are and how you have chosen to define your life. In the past you’ve angrily demanded to know why it’s okay for me to request your acceptance but not for me to do the same to you. While that one could easily start a lengthy discussion of the politics of bigotry and intolerance, I’m not going to pursue it here. The long and the short of it is I do accept it. Unfortunately, that also means I must acknowledge our lives will always exist in polar opposition – and as long as your lifestyle means wholeheartedly embracing bigotry, oppression, and hatred for people like me, I don’t think there’s any way for a close relationship to produce anything but misery.

If you still hate everything that I am but are willing to somehow swallow the bile and pretend the gay away in order to continue talking to me I simply don’t see the point. To me, that says you don’t want to know me as me. You want to either pretend I am who you used to think I was or else imagine I’m who you want me to be. Either way it’s a facade. Exhausting and completely unproductive.

Finally, for a relationship to work I want you to stop hiding and pretending. Just as we weren’t really the Model Family we tried to present when I was young, there are problems and scars and skeletons in the closet still. Talk to me. Don’t tell me “Oh, everything’s great!” through tears and gritted teeth. If something hurts you or frightens you (like your fears I would contract AIDS that were rooted in memories of your highschool friend, who did) tell me honestly so we can figure it out. For one, I assure you I’ll be able to have more compassion if I understand. I may still disagree but at least honesty and openness will help us to communicate with sympathy and understanding.

Tell me about yourself. Ask me about myself. Stop hiding behind synonyms that don’t fool anyone, anyway. (IP addresses speak louder than words.) If that won’t work, then I need you to let me go.

Honestly, I accepted a long time ago that the relationship was over, “the family” hasn’t existed for years. I’ve slowly but surely sought to build my own family, one built on love and support and acceptance. That’s what a family is supposed to be. You don’t always agree, you worry over decisions made that you think are stupid or dangerous, but you love them anyway and you support them in all their uniqueness and mess and dirt and grit and love and humor and pain and oh, so so so much beauty.

You know where to find me.


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Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day brings for me nothing but a profound and curious pain. All the family holidays have this effect to a certain extent, but there’s something about Mother’s Day in particular that doesn’t so much feel like a sucker punch to the gut as it does an ulcer, festering and bleeding, aching, nauseating. It’s constantly there (and not always just on the holiday) reminding me through its dull, hollow throb of what I’ve lost, what so many others get to celebrate today but I can’t even simply possess. On the other hand, any time someone around wishes me a happy Mother’s Day, that’s when it feels like a sucker punch. Right on that miserable ulcer.

This afternoon I went to the park with my wife and our dog. It was gorgeous, the kind of cloudless, mild weather that makes Colorado so famous. The park was filled with families playing frisbee and college kids on the phone with their moms in distant cities, thanking them for all they’ve done. I’d been planning to write something about Mother’s Day, so I sunbathed and wondered what to possibly say, how to begin explaining what this pain means. I tried to distract myself for a while by fucking around on Twitter (I spend way too much of any average day doing this) but it was full of its own Mother’s Day sentiments and didn’t offer much. I read and finally finished a book I’ve been working on. I watched dispassionately as my droid’s battery died, cutting me off from my wordpress app.

And now we’re here. The sun’s setting, my phone’s on the charger. I haven’t called my mom. Last year my dad called and left a voicemail, trying to urge me to call her. “I think it would really mean a lot to your mother,” he said. “She hasn’t seen you in four years.” I wondered what he meant by that. She’s made no effort to come see me, either, nor does she call. We’ve let our lives separate without either of us trying to renew ties.

The dynamic of my relationship with my mother has been the subject of many therapy sessions and will no doubt inspire many more in the future. Between homeschooling and the hyper-religious fundamentalism, my sister and I were raised in pretty much total isolation. It was just us and mom for the biggest part of the day and that was how she wanted it. Her own mother was alcoholic, distant, abusive in her extreme emotional and physical neglect of her kids, and my mom was determined not to make those mistakes.

As much as she truly did love us and was interested in us, I think now that fear was the single biggest motivator to her parenting. She didn’t want us to be harmed by anyone, so she never let us be with other people unless she was in the room the whole time. (Friends our own age were included in this… Sleepovers were completely verboten, even babysitters avoided.) She didn’t trust strangers to teach us the real truth about the world, so she homeschooled us and censored the information we were allowed to receive. She didn’t want us to feel unloved, so she never left us alone.

In everything she did, I think she was genuinely trying to be a good parent, the good parent she’d never had. However, she operated completely without a framework for what that should even look like. All she had to go by were her own bad experiences and her reactive fear that her children might ultimately experience the same.

Every time I think about her I get caught up in this ambivalence. I still love her, in a way. She gave lots of hugs. She cried with me over hurts. She never said she was proud of me for accomplishments (the cult taught that pride of any kind was sinful), but I knew she was in the way she came to cheer every recital and spelling bee. She fostered my love of reading and knowledge by providing me with all the books I wanted – the only thing in my life that was never censored. For all that she was there even when not needed, it also meant she was there when I did need her.

I suppose that made it all the more difficult when I was disowned. Suddenly, that ever-present force couldn’t look me in the eye without anger and shame filling the space between us. My mother tried to deal with the eating disorder, the depression, the self-injury as best she could within her fundamentalist framework, but when they uncovered my homosexuality she took it as a personal betrayal.
At our final family meeting, the one in which they told me I had two weeks to pack my things and get out, my dad said, “By choosing this lifestyle, you are choosing to not be part of our family.” It put the fault and responsibility on me, true, but more importantly that statement communicated the core truth of their pain: betrayal. My mom was silent the whole meeting, crying into shredded kleenex in a grotesque parody of Hollywood coming out scenes. (Actually, if you’ve ever seen V For Vendetta it was alarmingly similar to that one.)

Just over a month later, my mom sent me a card for my nineteenth birthday. The front was some bible verse, inside it said, “When your life falls apart in consequence of your actions, we will always take you back if you’re willing to repent.” Another of the few times we’ve talked since I left, she screamed that I was doomed to get AIDS and die because that’s all that god lets happen to homosexuals.

And yet… Even since our family divorce, she occasionally does kind things. She sent Crystal & I a King Soopers gift card at a time we were really desperate. She’s started texting me photos occasionally: your brother at the park, or some sunflowers that made me think of you. The gestures feel odd and hollow, like she’s trying to tentatively pretend nothing happened instead of rebuilding something whole and caring. It’s hard to tell.

The last time I saw her was nearly five years ago. My grandma, her mother, the one who started so much of this, died of lung cancer. It wasn’t unexpected – her cigarettes were always in one hand when a beer was in the other, which was pretty much always. I flew out for the funeral and they let me stay in my old basement room, still painted the way I’d done it as a teen, but filled with storage and mom’s sewing machine and unfinished projects. I slept in my old bed but woke every night literally screaming in my sleep, reaching shakily for my phone to call Crystal in the middle of the night, halfway across the country, the way five or ten years back I would have called for my mom.

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An Open Letter to SGMS

Dear Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivors:

I’m gay.

Yep. I’m gay, always have been, and not only that my lover and I have been together, in a committed and supportive relationship for almost seven years. We got married in October, 2009, in the city of Boston, Massachusetts.

Oh, before I go on I suppose I should offer some further explanation about who I am and why you should care, or at least pretend to care. On SGMS, I go by the handle of “platypus” now, on the rare occasions I still participate in discussion. I used to go by “prodigal daughter”, and in my earliest days I used my real name, T. M@lament. I’m Larry’s niece, actually, and my family attended CLC from ’94 to, I think, ’08. I stopped attending sometime in ’04, when I was eighteen. Actually, my attendance dropped off slowly from seventeen to eighteen as my depression got worse and CLC seemed determined to exacerbate it rather than offer any form of comfort or beneficial support. By the time I was eighteen I gave up the sham entirely and fully ceased attendance rather than apply for a membership I didn’t want and knew would be denied, anyway. I was too deep in my “sins” of mental illness: depression, anorexia nervosa, cutting myself.

It was also when I was eighteen that my parents, still loyal CLC members, found out about my girlfriend. I never had the luxury of coming out. I was intrusively found out – if the choice had been given, I never would have come out. I knew how it would go. Long story short, two weeks after being outed I was homeless, community-less, family-less. For the record, they do insist that this was all my choice since I “chose” to be gay and therefore “chose the consequences”… But that is definitely a matter of argument, and not one I’m going to tackle here.

I’ve been on SGMS since its very early days. In fact, I found the site about two or three months after its birth on wordpress (I think that was the original host? For some reason I’m blanking) by googling “SGM” and “cult”. Actually, I performed the search on a computer in the patients’ lounge where I was being treated inpatient for my anorexia. It was my sixth hospitalization, the others had been for suicide attempts and medical stabilization from anorexia complications.

When I found SGMS and started reading Kris’s first few posts (there were only seven or eight total, then), I couldn’t even type a comment of my own because I was shaking so hard. When I had to go back in for another session, I looked at my therapist and told her through tears, “I’m not alone any more. And I’m not crazy!”

SGMS became a hugely important part of my recovery as I found validation for all the things I’d experienced but forced to deny from years of gaslighting. I reconnected with people I hadn’t talked to in years, compared stories, realized I wasn’t, in fact, alone. Basically, I enjoyed all the great things that all the survivors get out of that community. It was amazing, and powerful, and I really believe it helped save my life.

The only problem, and it was actually a pretty big one, is that soon after starting to participate in discussions I realized that I’d left SGM, yes, but SGMS was not the safe haven I had initially believed. The people, while overall very welcoming and supportive to other survivors, by and large held to the same Christian, conservative, reformed views they always had. They were absolutely most supportive and sympathetic to survivors who still believed like them.

Often, I witnessed a commenter, hurting and scared and in need of an understanding ear, come on, share their story, and at some point reveal they had left Christianity along with SGM… Instead of the love and support they needed, they would be pushed to the fringes of the group discussion and “reminded of the savior’s love”. Encouraged to come back to the fold, not throw the baby out with the bath water. Really, non-Christians there receive the same allegedly well-intentioned shunning that those who question SGM’s practices are subject to.

Because of this, I didn’t reveal that I’ve left religion entirely and now identify as an atheist. I felt I had important things to add to the discussion and knew that if I outed myself my arguments would be discounted based solely on my differing beliefs. After witnessing constant, not always subtle jabs about ‘effeminacy’ and gender policing and other homophobia I also didn’t reveal my sexuality. I was forced to make the painful, self-betraying decision that I needed the support the group offered more than my dignity.

Now, I’ve come to the conclusion, after three years of participating with a practiced filter and hiding the truth in shame, that I can’t and won’t do it any more. I’ve been trying to think of a single succinct reason why, but an easy answer isn’t presenting itself. There are a number of reasons.

First, I’m speaking out because something the gay community has long known is it’s much easier to hate a faceless threat. If you know someone gay, it’s harder to maintain the lie that all homosexuals are perverts, deviants, a menace to all that is good and wholesome and straight. You’re forced to see us as real, normal, average people who you interact with every day and not just some abstract, monstrous concept who at least have the decency to hide their faces from civilized society.

Some of us are effeminate. Some of us are butch. Some fall in between or just don’t really give a shit how their gender manifests. Some sleep around and some, like me, have been in the same loving relationship since highschool. And yes, some of us (as has come up frequently on SGMS lately) sexually abuse children. But frankly, as far as that one goes? The number of gay people who sexually abuse children is far lower than that of heterosexual men. Statistically speaking, the greatest danger to your kids is your husband, ladies. And anyway, that’s really not my point so I don’t want to dwell on it, but it fucking needed to be said. That lie is probably the single most pernicious, dangerous, and disgusting stereotype ever to have been perpetuated against gays and yes, it makes me absolutely outraged.

The real point here is I want to challenge you. Open your eyes. Get your heads out of your asses and realize that lots of people have been seriously injured by SGM and just because they don’t all still think like you doesn’t mean they are in any less need, or are any less deserving, of support. It also doesn’t mean that they have less a right to participate in your discussions or that their  arguments are less valid or their points less intelligently made.

If you are truly a group for survivors then you should be willing to offer that support to anyone who bears the survivor label. Period. Simple. End of story.

If you don’t want that inclusivity, if you’d rather keep it safe and sanitized for others who still think like you, that’s honestly fine too – but maybe you need to do what you’re always trying to get SGM to do and come clean about it. Be frank about your intentions and your target audience. Don’t act like you’re better than those of us who have left the faith, or are gay, or do drugs, or are holding on to our bitterness and anger, or vote liberal.

Finally, a simple challenge to you. If you are truly concerned for any of us who fall into those aforementioned categories (or any others I didn’t think of) consider this: shunning us, making fun of us, or perpetuating lies about us, is not going to help us see the savior’s love and return to church. You may not want to hear this, but you are the exact same hideous animal as SGM. You’ve just managed to hide it a little better.

I’m not sure if I’ll be around on SGMS much from now on. Especially after the latest round of gay-bashing, I’m feeling nauseous. I wish you guys all the best in your recovery from SGM and thank you for what you have done for me, but I can’t fake it enough to be a part of your hate any more. I hope that you reconsider how you handle some of the issues that come up, because SGMS has truly been such a help to so, so many people, and there are so many others out there! The biggest reason I hope you amend your talk is them: how many people has SGM left for dead who will feel unable to find refuge in your community because they don’t fit?



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Trying Again

After the fiasco with Dr Lisa, I was highly disinclined to continue the search. Quite frankly, that one little intake was incredibly traumatic, frustrating, and belittling. I had taken what I felt to be so much time even finding someone I felt comfortable meeting with for an intake and despite my precautions it went so horribly wrong. More than that, it was hardly my first bad intake. I have, long term, seen five different  therapists so far, and that’s not counting group sessions, psychiatrists, or hospital stays. Actually, it’s even six if you count the pastoral counseling I was subjected to in high school. Short term (one to three sessions) I’ve met with at least eight more. Phone screens and email screens expand that net even father.

Despite that, one thing I’ve at least learned from my time in the mental health system is how to recognize my need for outside help, even when I don’t appreciate or want to acknowledge it. So, after the Dr Lisa thing, I gave myself a few weeks to heal, breathe, focus on self-care, and ready myself to search again. This time I expanded it, reading every single (local) therapist’s profile I found regards of qualifications, technique, age, gender, or stated experience. I still maintained a sense of awareness regarding my specific needs (expertise on trauma, and especially dissociation) but tried not to outright limit myself by what was listed on their profile as an area if expertise. Experience has told me that someone can state their expertise but, in practice, prove their ignorance.

From the several hundred profiles I read, I selected a few people to email an initial feeler. Actually, I made my feeler email pretty darn detailed and a little aggressive… I wanted to weed them out so I wouldn’t be wasting my time with people who knew they couldn’t handle me. It sounds kind of harsh, somewhat egotistical, but historically speaking, a lot of therapists simply can’t deal with me. I’m bringing a lot into the room, from disorders to traumas to the extensive amounts of therapy I’ve already done. This overwhelms the vast majority of mental health professionals, several of whom have outright asked me, “So what exactly is it you’re hoping to get from working with me?”

Of the emails I sent, I received three replies. One told me honestly that she felt ‘my needs go beyond her capabilities’. I thanked her sincerely for her honest response. Seriously, it was refreshing. One didn’t say anything about the long email I had written or the questions I asked but said, “I don’t like to correspond through email. Please call me at 555-etc. so we can set up an intake.” This was a clear no – why provide your email address then refuse to use it? My email, particularly given the tone and content, should have been a clear indication that I wasn’t ready to physically meet with you before knowing more. I mean, I don’t like to come off sounding like a paranoid schizophrenic, but I am pretty  paranoid when it comes to finding, essentially, a new brain surgeon.

The last therapist sent a reply almost as long as my initial query. He thanked me for writing, for my honesty, answered my questions, assured me that my issues didn’t overwhelm him, and recommended we set up a time to talk on the phone – but only if I felt comfortable. He didn’t even suggest an intake yet, let alone push it.

Ultimately, we did talk, for almost an hour on the phone. We also set up an intake. I asked if he wanted me to do anything specific to prepare for our appointment and the only thing he said was to make sure I took it slowly and was cautious not to share too much. This was just an initial meeting, to see if we were comfortable and could work well together, and he wanted to make sure we were careful not to bring too much into the room. He said that he’s seen it happen many times where clients will say too much in the intake add leave feeling dangerously vulnerable and exposed. I get that.

Long story short, I feel great about him. The intake was last week and I really like his style, very trustworthy and affirming without coming off as smarmy. My official first session is this coming Saturday morning, so I’ll be sure to tell you how I feel once we actually get into things. Crystal has nicknamed him Dr Spaceman (a la 30 Rock) for reasons which escape me, seeing as he’s not actually a doctor not does he look anything like Will Forte.

I’ve still got definite misgivings, though. There are the ever present anxieties of going into therapy in the first place: what if it makes things worse, what if I pay through the nose for treatment that does nothing, what if I’m just being a whiny baby who needs to suck it up. I’ve got situation-specific concerns, such as the fact that my dissociative disorder makes it so I have a scant few memories of childhood. What if there’s nothing to discuss? Additionally, I’ve never seen a male therapist before, due to trauma experienced in the cult during “counseling” with Glorious Pastor. And of course there are my Daddy Issues, too.

All the other times I’ve been in therapy have been CBT, DBT, EMDR, or mindfulness. All these therapeutic styles are, essentially, behavior based. I was learning to eat, or deal with panic attacks, or handle dissociation. More went into it, of course, but that’s still what it really boiled down to: learning to control, eliminate, or cope with unwanted behavioral patterns. This time around, my problem is more brain and thoughts, trauma processing. Charts probably aren’t gonna help me as much.

Dr Spaceman’s approach to therapy is eclectic, but primarily rooted in the psychodynamic school of thought. I am deeply mistrustful of this. You see, charts, graphs, behaviors, I can understand. It’s all relatively cut and dried, easy to track and quantifiably measure. When you get to something more traditionally psychodynamic – dare I say Freudian? – it feels more like shocking the frog’s brain to see which part makes the legs kick. In other words: we don’t really know why this works but usually, if we muck about enough, it does.

He also told me he’s a proponent of reparenting, something about which I’m even more mistrustful. I feel like at this point in my life, the last thing I need is more parenting. I’m still trying, very directly, to recover from the first round. If anything, I’ve had too much parenting already. It doesn’t help that what little research I can find about this subject appears to be anecdotal, extremely negative, and outdated by nearly forty years.

But I’m gonna keep it going for now. Misgivings aside, I was truly impressed with his style, therapeutic experience, and answers to all my many questions. He never missed a beat during my interrogation and had thoughtful, insightful things to say and questions to ask me in return. It’s rare that I’m genuinely impressed with someone in any sort of position of authority over me.

And finally, I really did have a good feeling about him. Despite the lack of scientific evidence for the validity of my gut instincts, I’ve still come to trust them.

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Guest Post by Saetia

Recently, our local library system decided to drastically restrict public access. Now, you either have to provide proof of home ownership in the form of a deed or evidence you pay home owner taxes, or your access is drastically limited. This doesn’t really do much to the upper midler class homeowners who make up a relatively small part of this county and who are responsible for this policy change. The people it does affect are the people who already are voiceless in this society.

My wife, Saetia, wrote a beautiful, heartfelt, powerful response to this assault on libraries. It’s happening everywhere, too – ours just happened to take action which is especially pissing people off. Please read, consider, and think what we can do to save libraries before it’s too late to do anything.

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They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain and nourish all the world.

-William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

It is a summer morning in the mid-nineties. I am seven years old. I had a hot dog bun for lunch. I’d toasted it in the oven to try to make it seem more exciting.

My knees are bandaged, partly because I’d fallen off my bike the previous day and partly because kids use bandaids at every opportunity, like accessorizing. The way girls that age want braces or crutches. Same deal.

The library carpet is ugly and familiar, an expanse of that scratchy ubiquitous blue-grey industrial kind. I am folded into a corner and I am absolutely absorbed. A little handful of pilfered candy sits tucked into the pocket of my shorts, like Francie’s bowl of candy so essential to her library ritual in A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.

In defense of libraries, I am obligated here to mention that I came from a busted up home like the rest of us. Yawn. So cliché. I hate talking about my fucked-up childhood. But it’s important to mention that things are kind of shitty right now for that little girl in the shorts with the skinny legs and bandaged knees.

The projects are tough. The night before the police came and searched her closet for bodies. Her mom is in the hospital. Her dad lifts her into the air to make her laugh and teaches her to play cribbage, but his eyes are bleary and alien by three in the afternoon. His roommate beats his dog and gets into brawls while she watches silently, something she will continue to do for the rest of her life.

But the library is cool today, and quiet. There are no clouds in her sky.

The library I went to as a child shut down this year, one of several in the district’s poorest areas that went under after taxpayers decided there were a million more important things to throw the public’s money at. This year, the library where I spent so many hours in middle and high school changed its policy – library access is now heavily restricted for patrons who do not own their own home. Library cards, once a thing that helped children feel empowered –their very own card! For free! –now costs a HUNDRED DOLLARS. (http://arapahoelibraries.org/ald/content/get-a-library-card)

There are “limited” library cards for poor kids in Aurora. I assume they are stamped with the words “You are not good enough to read all you want.”

Libraries must not be luxuries, reserved for those who can afford their services. Libraries were meant as an equalizer. Knowledge is an industry nowadays, where valuable information is apportioned out for heinous fees for those lucky enough to be involved in institutions of higher learning. Is that the problem? That the self-taught and the poor geniuses have access to these free universities, which makes them a significant danger to those who oppress them? That sounds pretty paranoid, but we have to consider it. I think the real reason is that people who obsess over high taxes cut first the things that don’t apply to them or their own privileged offspring.

Shutting down libraries and restricting access on the basis of income has sweeping consequences for children, especially those from low-income and single-parent households. The implications of shutting down libraries are racialized and anti-woman. Of course they are. Any attack on the poor is an attack on women and people of color, and their children.

Children who cannot afford a home computer use libraries to prepare themselves for the increasingly difficult and digitized research projects they will encounter in high school and college. There is a digital divide for poor children, and libraries -which account for the sole source of public internet in 71% of lower-income communities -are essential in closing that. There is an obvious link between literacy and poverty. Libraries pull kids off the streets and out of jails. They give them a place to go and learn and be safe after school.

But there is another implication many people might be missing.

Psychologists going to public libraries to find books on childhood physical or sexual abuse will often find themselves shit out of luck. They will find nothing. Those sections are where the shelves go slack.

It’s not because these books do not exist; they do, and there are quite a few of them.

These books are all checked out by kids. Little girls and boys who are experiencing these abuses find these books, sneak them under shirts or hide them behind larger ones and squirrel them away to corners. They check them out or they hide them or steal them. They are desperate to discover that they are not alone. That is what that little girl with the bandaged knees was reading in the corner, and it helped her realize that she wasn’t alone either.

This is a nationwide trend. That is what libraries do for all of us. They provide us access to a community outside our immediate vicinity. They hold pieces of our identity only accessible through relation with the outside world. They aren’t only about books. They’re about literacy and community programs and the big wide important world of the Internet. They’re about a place to go. But they are definitely about books, too.

Books are buddies for kids that, for whatever reason, don’t have any. Books are bombs. Books are windows to climb through. Books are curiously shaped unidentifiable objects to hold in your hands, turning them around and around while the world spins and you try to make sense of the microcosms they reveal. Books take you apart and realign you in new and exciting ways. And in some cases, books are bricks which you stack around yourself, a psychic Fort Knox which shelters you from a vicious world.

Libraries are important. They are life rafts. They are where the self-taught genius that will save us tomorrow find their tools. They are where those in pain may bury themselves in the safety of alternative worlds. They are where poor, hurting kids walk through the sliding doors and dig up the keys to the treasure house.

~ Saetia

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Saetia can be reached through comments here, or found on Twitter as @relaxmammal.

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Let’s Switch Chairs

The pseudo depressive episode which sent me to the therapist in the first place is full-blown now. I feel stuck and lost and helpless. Thank god I’m still functioning, at least, making it to work on time and doing what I need to in order to make it by.

The grey compresses and suffocates. I’m in one of those episodes where I don’t feel hysterically sad or anxious or triggered for the most part – just numb. I can tell even now that I won’t remember much from this time in my life, because I feel depersonalized for so much of the day. I don’t take in much of my surroundings. They’re too opaque, enshrined in plastic wrap. I see them, but can’t touch or experience or really be affected.

I’ve still got a bill for $120 that needs to be paid to Dr Lisa and I can’t bring myself to write the check for that shoddy session which did so much more harm than good. Don’t get me wrong, I know that therapy initially causes more dissonance and pain before healing can start. I accept that and it’s not the point. The point here is that this was just an intake and even in that short hour Dr Lisa managed to make me as a person feel completely minimized and my concerns totally invalidated.

To any and all future/current therapists out there, never make that “Hyuk hyuk, we should switch chairs!” joke with your clients. Literally all but two of the counselors I’ve ever seen have made that joke and I don’t think any of them have a clue how dangerous it is. Especially in this past intake, I came into it very intentionally open and vulnerable. I wanted to lay it on the table, here’s my history, here’s my concerns, here’s my immediate symptoms/problems/struggles. I revealed things that I have never shared with anyone but my wife and some of my former therapists and I did so completely on purpose – it’s my dime and quite frankly, after so much time already spent on the couch, I don’t see the point in fucking around. I’m paying you to help me by doing a certain job, and since your ability to do that job well relies on my full and honest disclosure, well, I’m gonna be honest. If you can’t handle me and my issues (and historically speaking, many can’t) then I don’t want to waste any more of your time or my money.

However, instead of this honesty working in my favor, I got the chair joke. Therapists, do you have any idea what this does? It tells me, as your client, that you can’t help me. It tells me that either I’ve already done enough work that this shouldn’t still be a big deal, or that it’s not that big a deal in the first place so why the fuck am I whining? Which in turn makes me feel cut down, humiliated, and frustrated that I reached out in the first place. It makes me question why, if I really do already have the tools needed, I still feel overwhelmed and in need of help. It makes me feel like a baby for not handling it on my own. I respond with internalized anger for feeling what I can’t help experiencing. I feel humiliated, mortified by my “weakness”, since I think clearly everyone else must be able to cope better than I can. I internalize the already rampant victim-blaming and start to hate myself for the very things which have made me cry for help.

And then I shut down. I wanted your help to learn how to recognize and feel and process my emotions in a way which was guided and non-threatening. Instead, I was invalidated and now all these strong emotions which my honesty brought to the surface are just assaulting me and I can’t handle them so I shut them out and stop feeling all together. I used to manage this by cutting but now the response is so conditioned I don’t even need that physical stimulus to cause it. And then those emotions fester in a bitter little ball and I sink into an inertia state since those unprocessed emotions require all my energy to continue to suppress and ignore in order to cope. This numbness is all that redirected energy manifested. I don’t have any left to live and feel my life.

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Now what?

Do I try again, at square one, start the search all over again with the very real and statistically probable risk of the same exact outcome?

What other choice do I have?

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