Monday, April 14, 2008

Survival, Awareness & Breaking Free - Part 4

This is the fourth part in a series. If you like, please read parts one, two and three.

So, I started counseling. I admitted that I had been molested. I use the word 'admitted' deliberately. This is how it felt. I was admitting to the thing I had done. I still felt responsible. It was still my fault. But I knew that it had messed me up and I now knew I needed help. This counselor was my life-line. She was not a good counselor, however. To begin, she never told me that is wasn't my fault. The rest I will get into in a minute, but first...

This step of trying to take back control of the train wreck that my life had become filled me with excitement. I wanted to live again. I thought about it. What could I do? My injury prevented me from working most menial jobs. I had had a job at a fast food place the month before and the pain was so intense that I actually would experience visual white-outs. I couldn't handle it. I tried for a week. I was in a band (with my mom - argh!!!), but those gigs did not pay enough to live on. Besides, being in a band with my mom was its own special kind of hell. 

So... what could I do? Ah-ha... Go back to college. I had dropped out when my dad left. I decided that I could get a degree and get a good job and get a life. Yes! 

So I went to the college and got an application. I picked up applications for financial aid. I did all this by myself without consulting or even, at first, telling anyone. Not till the wheels were firmly in motion did I tell anyone what I was up to. I understand, now, why I have always had a tendency to not want people to know what I was trying to do. What they didn't know about they couldn't tear down and devalue - sucking the momentum right out of it. 

I settled on Business Administration with a minor in Business Software Engineering. I loved working with computers. I got all the financial aid I could (something I regret, now - student loans...). I went and opened a savings account. I went and found an apartment 2 blocks from the college. The day I received the key and could begin moving in, I just went and sat in the empty apartment and almost cried. This was MY space. MINE! I could do with it what I liked. I could live freely here. And I had done it all by myself. I was 25 years old. It started well . . .

My mom offered to let me use her furniture - which was in storage. Having none and no money to get same, I gratefully accepted the offer. That first semester was wonderful. Mom came up nearly every week. But she mostly only stayed one night and it was usually on Saturday or Sunday. I had Friday nights completely to myself. The freedom to just be - with no expectations or constraints or fears.

In the middle of this, however, was the maelstrom of the fallout from looking at the molestation. I began to have nightmares. I would sometimes not sleep for 2 or 3 days. The counseling consisted mostly of her listening to me talk - when I would talk. Sometimes I would just sit in her office with my knees up and not say a word the whole session. I barely scratched the surface - just the highlights, if you will, of what actually happened. And no advise - counsel - was given on what to do to deal with the crazy things I was feeling. During this, I discovered that I was actually afraid ... someone I had gone to high school with walked by and saw me in my window. He stopped to say hi. I let him in my apartment and then I started to panic. How do I get him out of here? I was afraid of him and I still don't think it was about him...

I got good grades. I don't know how. As time progressed, I began to talk to my counselor about my dad. The things he had done. How I never felt like I was good enough for him. How a 89.9% in my accounting classes was tantamount to failure. I could have gotten an A. I should have gotten an A. This is where the wheels began to come off with that counselor. You see, I had picked her because I couldn't stand the idea of talking to someone I didn't know. So, the only name I could think of was someone that my dad had gone to college with - studied with. Someone that my dad was friends with - still. (Yes, by the way, my dad is a psychologist. Yay.)

I would like to state here that she should not have taken me as a client. She should have seen me when I called in desperation on that cold January morning . . . and referred me to someone else - set me up with someone else. She did not have the objectivity to constructively counsel me concerning the actions of my father. And she didn't. She defended him. She said that she was sure he didn't mean for me to take it that way. Blah, blah, blah. The counseling ceased to be productive from that point. But I didn't know that. I struggled with what she said about my dad. I internalized it - again. It must be my fault, because he didn't mean it. 

After 2 years of this, I finally told her that I wasn't sure if she was helping. I still felt down and had suicidal thoughts often. She pronounced me 'clinically depressed' and called my doctor and set up an appointment. My doctor put me on the brand new drug, Prozac. Problem solved. Yay.

But wait. During this period, with the nightmares, the suicidal thoughts, the anger at my older relative, my mom began coming up more and more often. Then her car broke down. Right about here, at the end of my first semester, the lawsuit I had filed over my accident was finally settled. The insurance company paid my bills and a had a little left over.

Oh yes. The lawsuit. The insurance company had refused to pay my medical bills from when I broke my back, leaving me in the position of suing or letting the bills financially annihilate me. It took almost 3 years, but the companies involved finally settled. Nothing like having a myriad of pressures coming at you to make life interesting. ;-)

Back to mom's car breaking down. I offered to by a new engine for her car and got some relatives who knew how to put it in. This was what she wanted. Another car was not what she wanted. She liked this one. (She later ragged about it constantly, but that's another tale.) While it was being worked on, I let her stay with me. Fine. Things weren't too bad... I was taking classes in accounting, computer programming (pascal, for those of you who wonder), college algebra, some basic computer courses, honors english, and (just for some fun) drama performance. I was busy with school - homework every night but Friday. 

That first week that mom stayed with me was okay. Then her car was fixed. It was time for her to go back to her parents' house. She didn't want to. She was depressed at the very idea. She laid on my couch for a week and complained that the noise of my calculator was bothering her - did I have to do my homework while she was trying to sleep? This was in my own living room! Toward the end of the third week, I finally - tentatively - suggested that if she was that depressed, maybe she should try to get counseling. It was helping me, after all. Oh, the excuses and conditions that she came up with. First, they would have to be Christian counselors, otherwise they would never understand where she was coming from. 

When I said that I would help her look for one, she got very angry. It got her off the couch though. She was angry, I think, at my suggesting that she needed help. In the middle of this 'discussion,' we went out to eat. Talk about dysfunctional. I was used to prolonged tantrums that spanned a variety of activities - life went on while we fought. In the middle of the restaurant, she pulled her 'catatonic' routine where she would just put on her most pitiable face and stare off into the distance and act like she was unaware of anything around her - like she was just going to fall over and die. Punishment for not letting her move in (she never asked, but I never offered...) and suggesting that she needed help.

But, she did leave that night. Hallelujah! Every encounter like this left me feeling confused and uneasy and deficient, even though her absence was a relief. Actually, that was another  cause for guilt. And I still didn't realize that the underlying problem in my life was this - that she was abusive. No - the word the family used was 'difficult.' She was just difficult... During this time, just as an added bit of excitement, her little brother would break in to my apartment if I wasn't home, and help himself to what ever he found. Man, people have never respected my boundaries.

I managed to finish my first year back in college - with a 3.43 GPA for that year, even. Then my sister called from dad's. She was terribly homesick. Could she come live with me? I couldn't say no. I thought it would work. I missed her - loved her - had always sort of felt responsible for her. It was a long summer in which she spent a lot of time lying on my couch watching TV. She had a couple of jobs, but they didn't last. It was a long summer for me. I got a job - financial aid didn't stretch quite through the summer. The stress was more than I could handle and I quit. Then, my sister decided to move back with dad and go to college free at the one he was working at. Okay. Another year in school. Economics, programming in COBOL, precalculus, management. And I got really sick. The doctor never did figure out what it was. It was a long fall into winter. And mom was coming up and spending 2 to 3 nights a week.

And then my dad came to visit. I had not seen him - had barely spoken to him on the phone - for 5 years. I was uneasy - scared, actually - but hopeful. Maybe he had changed... He hadn't much. He no longer yelled at me. But he decided that the way I had my living room arranged was inefficient and rearranged it. The way I had it, when the couch was folded out into a bed, you could still navigate around the living room. His arranged took care of that little problem. Very efficiently blocked the path through the living room. And I did not know how to stand up and say, "NO!" I left it in that arrangement until I moved out of that apartment. That was quite possibly one of the most awkward weekends I have ever spent.

This is when my counselor put me on Prozac and quit her job (I thought - I later found out she was fired) and moved away. I started Prozac in November.

Then, at the end of that semester, my sister calls again, in tears. She made a mistake. She can't stand living with dad. Can she come home and live with me? She promises to help with the expenses. So, she moves in and ... gets a job and ... quits job and ... sits on the couch, watching TV. This arrangement was supposed to be temporary - she gets job - gets own place. Her living with me violated my lease. She moved in the end of December...

That spring I was happy. I wasn't sick anymore. But there was the loss of freedom. I no longer had the run of my apartment. Then, in April, I couldn't afford the meds anymore, so I went off the Prozac cold turkey. This is NOT something I would recommend! During this time, I had one real friend (how much a friend, you can decide when you hear the rest of this story). When my sister moved in, I spent more and more time over at my friend's house.

Sometime around March, her husband made the most astonishing statement. They knew what was going on in my life. They knew about the counseling and the molestation. He said that he felt that he could help me in my healing if I would let him. He wanted to 'make love to me.' He wanted me to know that not all men were bad. Right. Even now, 18 years later, when I think about this, I feel sick. My immediate response was, "What the hell is wrong with you? No way!" He smiled and said that he would not give up. 

If I had been smart. If I had been stronger. If I had... blah, blah, blah. The fact is, I did not run away. I resisted. I never dreamed I would not be able to resist. Then I went off Prozac cold turkey. Then his wife (my friend?) seemed to be encouraging him in his efforts. He was honest about one thing. He did not give up. Over the course of the next 3 months, he kept at it, telling me all sorts of things that were guaranteed to soften me up. What happened next is probably the single most shameful thing I've ever done. I gave in. I believed him. I wanted to be loved. And my friend was fully aware and present for the whole thing...

Understand that I had never dated - no boyfriends - no husband. This was entirely new to me. This was the first since the molestation. And it was just as bad. This almost annihilated me. I am still ashamed of this. I was weak and I believed the lie - and I did something that went against everything I believed in. The price? The friendship (such as it was) and my integrity and very nearly my sanity. And this one I internalized and dealt with by myself. How else?

Right in the middle of this, my mom got a job in my town and asked if she could move in with us until she had enough to get her own place. Wonderful. Three of us in my 1 bedroom apartment. My momentum and drive to get through school were fading. My sister decided to go back to school, too. So, I talked to the manager of the apartments and got my sister and me moved into a 2 bedroom and let my mom take over the 1 bedroom. The attempt at freedom had failed. It was only a matter of time, now. My boundaries were eroded past the point of salvaging at that time.

My sister's financial aid didn't materialize. My zeal was gone. I ended up dropping out of college again. And we soon found ourselves in dire financial straights. My mom got very sick and had to have surgery. She lost her job. After a few months, we got evicted and my sister moved in with friends. Me? I kind of gave up. My mother and I moved in with her parents - shared a bedroom a bed. I retreated to a place I had been before. I retreated into books - into my computer. The door was closed on the cellar. I thought, again, that all that was dealt with. Two years of counseling, after all... I just stuffed it all again and put on my old mask. Fine, I'm fine... My problem was that I was just lazy, stubborn. It was all my fault. Family talked behind my back - What's wrong with her? Why doesn't she get a job?

At 27 years old, my first attempt at breaking free had failed. With the failure, awareness was shut off, as well. The train had wrecked again. I went back into survival mode. For now.


Meg said...

Just wondering if you have ever read any of Alice Miller's work. She is a great advocate of children from abused backgrounds and believes that much counselling doesn't give people what they need to recover, ie. a truly listening ear, and the right to be angry at their family, in particular their parents. She also has a website,

I am currently reading 'The Body Never Lies'. It has been wonderfully helpful in understanding how the abuse affects you right now, and how you can make headway in understanding what the child within is still saying to you.

Sounds like you have come to terms with much of it already.

Katherine Gunn said...

I've never read of (or heard of) her books.

I have found a good therapist - doesn't think the abuse is the fault of the abused. This portion of my life has only really began to be important to me. I have, as I was trained, always took the full blame for the disaster that happened. I don't want people to think I don't see I made bad choices. But I am just beginning to learn that it is okay to say that my family treated me badly. The hardest part is my little sister. I don't want to be mad at her. But I think I need to...

As to coming to terms with it, it is a daily process. I only really began to see the nature (narcissistic) and depth of the abuse from my mother about 6 months ago.

Thanks for the info. I will check it out.

krl said...

Boy. What a LOT! Thank you for sharing this part of your story, Katherine. Courageous!

I'm not sure if anyone can understand what a pile up of odd and shocking things we (as well-meaning but confused and abused) 'choose' into. My story is different in the details but has the same 'ring' to it. It is too hard to explain what we did in our lives to the average person outside of the context (which they would never 'get').

What saddens me the most is the number of times you tried to 'get your shit together'. I relate to this sooooo much. I have 'started over' so many times I could scream. I gave up so many times too. Not out of laziness...not out of fear..none of that...but because the deck was stacked. The one element I didn't know to factor out was the ABUSER. Oh, I finally figured out how to divorce...or kick a guy out....but it never even crossed my mind to give Nmom the boot! Give her an inch and she'd take a mile. Arrrrggggghhhhhh.

Ahhh. I feel 'better' now having read that I wasn't the only one who 'started over' only to have to quit because it became too much. This is the FIRST time in my life I have started over by having absolutely NC with her from the get go. To me? To even THINK of answering a call from her would be like me having 'only one little glass of wine' (former alcoholic) If I do? I just might not escape her EVER. I might not 'make it back' (out) I value my freedom too much now.

Katherine Gunn said...

Yeah. So few do 'get' it. But there are those that do.

I haven't seen my Nmom for 64 days. We have had a few bizarre conversations on the phone, however. Only the last few times have not left me shaky. I have started letting it go to voice mail, then calling her back. She figured out how to mark her message 'urgent' this last time. Delightful.

Hmm... the one element I didn't know to factor out was the abuser - mom. Yeah.

This was the most difficult one to post so far. A little scary - yeah. ;-) But if I am going to talk about what I am going through now, I need to lay the road map of how I got here. So...

Thanks for your comments. It is good to know someone is hearing - and being encouraged in their path.

vestaoikos said...

I have just one word: Oghh!!! What's wrong with humanity!!!!

Katherine Gunn said...

Good question...