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My therapists name was Mike, and he was kind of a difficult person to get along with. He was very direct, and sometimes incredibly insensitive, but in the end, he got the job done.
“Tell me why you’re here.” He said that first day.
That was the first thing everyone wanted to know; when I was admitted to the hospital, my med. management doctor said the same thing, as soon as I sat down. Every time I was asked that, my chest started to feel a little tight, and my face got a little hot.
“Well,” I started out, “I kind of messed up.” I didn’t kind of mess up, though. I thoroughly messed up. I was Godzilla, and my life was downtown Tokyo. I couldn’t say when it started, couldn’t say when my problems and issues had been born, but I knew that I had nursed them and fed them and it seemed like everyone in my life had stoked them like a fire. “I mean, I’ve taken a pit-stop at every unhealthy copping method there is, Doc.” The first pit-stop was when I was ten and started cutting myself in deep, long lines with the broken glass of pictures that had fallen off my wall when the house shook with violence and yelling. Then there was my bulimia that began when I was twelve and didn’t taper off until I was fifteen, and the alcohol, weed, pills, and sex that came on heavy when I started high school.
“How often did you drink?” He wanted to know.
“Twice a week, maybe.” I drank every single chance I could and I drank until it was gone. I drank at school, I drank at home, I drank first thing in the morning, and I drank myself to sleep when I could. I didn’t care what it was, didn’t care where it came from, either.
“And the marijuana and pills? How often did you partake of those?” He had thick eyebrows and they moved up and down in Morse code when he spoke.
“I smoked a few times a week, took pills more than that.” I had smoked every other day, and I slept it off in class and burped smoke in the hallways and no amount of body spray could cover the thick, desperate smell of it. The pills, though, they were the worst; I took two every morning, at first, three when I wasn’t feeling too hot, and I’d take four or five on afternoons when I wanted to forget that I’d taken two already. By my second to last class I’d be grey in the face and people who knew how much I’d taken would be trying to keep me awake, and eventually I’d crawl to the bathroom and throw up in a toilet without closing the stall door behind me.
He didn’t talk, but his eyebrows were arching up and down, up and down, up and up and then down again. I don’t know Morse code but I’d bet he was doing the math; all those pills over four or five months. “What were you running from?” He looked a little bit sad for me.
“Oh, y’know.” I was running from everything. I was running from all the terrible choices I’d made in only one year, I was running from how much I hated my mom and from how much my dad loved me and all the damage they had done when I was younger. I was running from everyone who’d hit me and sexually abused me and everyone who’d made me feel like I’d deserved whatever they were dishing out. I was running from how fast I’d grown up and how quickly things that had taken years to build could fall to rubble. I was running from all the people who I’d given myself to at less than half-price and all the things I’d done for a cigarette or two.
“You’re so angry.” He furrowed his brow and took a drink of water from an aged mug. “Is it because of your mom? What’s the story there?”
“She’s a horrible person.” She didn’t protect me when I was molested by a man I’d been raised to call Uncle when I was six years old, didn’t noticed when I sticking my fingers down my throat three times a day and was so thin I looked like a skeleton. She let me raise myself, raise my brother and sister, let me take care of her when she had taken one too many pills and didn’t thank me when I made sure the fridge was full for the first time in a year, and didn’t hold me when I cried because a full refrigerator was so crazy beautiful. She cheated on my dad, and had phone sex in the kitchen while I was lying on the couch, hurting after some stupid dental surgery involving a laser and my gums. She held her hand over my brother’s mouth and growled through her teeth and threw tantrums like she was two.
“What about your dad?”
“I barely know him.” I knew the man who was never home and when he was he sat on the computer with a red face and yelled when anyone interrupted him. I knew the man who clenched his fist until his knuckles went white and who swung at me but got the closet door instead, and left a hole I had to look at every time I walked past. The man who tore my brother from a computer chair and threw him to the floor and left his hand print black and blue across his face like he was caressing him for weeks, and who ran away for a year and left us all alone when the going got tough.
“What about the sexual abuse? Can you tell me about that?”
“It’s the way life is, it’s the way the world works.” And it was, for me. It started when I was six in the back of a trailer that smelled like weed and cigars and where college football played on a television while a man with a beard hurt me. It kept on keeping while I was ten and twelve, and when I was fifteen and making poor choices, a boy with big arms trapped me against his chest and shoved his hand under my dress and the music was too loud for me to holler for help and he was just so big and I had become suddenly so small. An elbow that was brittle from bulimia and pills doesn’t do much of anything, and fury doesn’t burn anything but your insides.
“You don’t think you deserved to be treated that way, do you? That isn’t why you had so many partners, is it?”
“You’re the therapist here, you tell me.” I didn’t deserve to be treated that way, says logic. But why would it happen so often if I didn’t? I slept with so many people because it was easier that way. I didn’t have to talk or care or try. It’s what everyone wanted, anyway, that’s all I was good for. When they swore at me or pinched me because I was talking so much, or told me I deserved it, they were just doing what every boyfriend did, weren’t they? It was okay, they said.
“It wasn’t okay.” My therapist said. “That’s not the only thing you’re good for, that isn’t what everyone does or wants. That’s not the way the world is supposed to be.”
I saw Mike the Therapist for four months, while I was in a mandatory Intensive Care program for my drug use and newly diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In that program I learned more things than I can say from Mike, from the rest of the staff, and from the other patients there. By the time I left, everything was different:
“How have the panic attacks been?”
“They’ve been getting better.” When my dad’s knuckles got white and I was back to being small and there were holes in all of the closet doors again, I would crumble into hysterical sobs and beg him to go away, just go away, and make myself small until it passed. These flashbacks were symptoms of my PTSD, and they made the relationship between my dad and I strained. They scared my little brother because he hated to see me so broken and Mike said the best thing to do was meditate and modulate; remember where I am, and make myself stay there.
“And when was the last time you had any pain killers?”
“Three months.” I’d missed the on-demand peacefulness, but three months was a beautiful accomplishment I hadn’t thought I could make.
“How’s your mom doing?”
“She’s standing on her own. I’m proud.” I’d had coffee with her after half a year of silence. She had a job, had her own place, and was married to a man she’d met online. My little sister had stayed with her, while my little brother had come with me, and she was doing a fine job of raising and nurturing her. She had food in the fridge, clothes on her back, and she could buy her own milk. Something she hadn’t been able to do since I can remember.
Things weren’t perfect, but I’d worked hard enough that I was able to graduate the program two weeks before the new school year. I’d learned how to forgive, how to deal, and how to love myself. One of the staff members there, Warren, had told me, “You do the best that you can, and the time that you can do it, with the tools that you have.” I haven’t always had the tools to be happy, haven’t always had the strength to stay the bottle or the pills, haven’t always known I deserved better, but it was the best I could do at the time. And I’m not ashamed of it.