The surgery went well. It took three times longer than expected because they had more material to remove and clean out than originally anticipated, but it’s over now. Pain is mostly under control. All is going alright. I will post a more substantial entry as soon as possible. Thank you all for your prayers.
I liked my shrink. He seemed trustworthy, but I didn’t trust him. I couldn’t trust anybody. In our sessions, I held back. He put me on an antidepressant, which made me feel either flat or saccharine-happy all the time. Like plastic.
Most of my treatment consisted of group or class-type therapies. I felt so out of place in group. I was the youngest member, and my peers were SO much more messed up than me (in my mind, at least). Some came in during the day like me, others stayed at the facility. A twitchy bipolar woman kind of scared me. A big older man in recovery from drug addiction did too. But I liked the others well enough. I still wonder about them from time to time. I felt like God had placed me in that group to help the other people, the really messed up ones. I didn’t make much personal progress in group, didn’t talk about myself very much. But I brought my meager offering of compassion and God’s love. I hope that in some way, I did some good there.
My favorite part of the program was art therapy. I didn’t have to talk about hard things, I just got to express myself freely in a way that made sense to me. Some days we did directed projects with themes or a specific medium, but most of the time we had access to any art supply we could possibly want and could create freely from the heart. I worked some things out in art that I couldn’t express verbally.
My therapist was a pleasant older lady. Through her gentle, knowing questions, her shocking compassion and understanding, she became a maternal figure in my healing. With her I went deeper, but still held back. Inside of me I held deeply disturbing things that no one could know about. I pushed them deep down, a little ball of hurt in a dark corner of my soul. Those things belonged to me, to pull out alone in the dark of night, to consume. I knew my survival hinged on confronting the eating disorder, but I held tightly to anything I deemed unnecessary to getting out and getting back to My Life, whatever that meant. The skilled professionals on my treatment team did manage to pull a few other hurts out of the darkness, but I “graduated” from the program far too soon.
I closed my eyes and started to drift away. But something inside of me, a male voice, not my own like before, said GET UP. My body shook. I pried my eyelids open, but most of my field of vision remained black. There was a small opening in the center, but it was dark and blurry and kept fading in and out. TIME TO GO GET HELP, the voice thundered softly. I tried to sit up, “OH,” my whole body groaned. I managed to stand and feel my way down the hall, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, feeling like I would topple over each time I lifted a foot. It felt like something outside of me propelled me forward, down the hall, supporting me because I had no energy. I still didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to live either. I didn’t want anything; emotions ceased to exist. I barely existed. I was compelled to do as I was told, and I was too tired and weak to resist. So into the stairwell we went, my angel or maybe even the hand of God himself and what was left of me. I should have fallen down the stairs, but I didn’t.
Somehow I stumbled into the lobby. “Hey, you don’t look so good. Is everything OK? …OK? …OK?” I tried to form a coherent thought, and words tumbled out. “Um, yeah, I think… I OD’ed on the painkillers… for my shoulder…” “OK, well let’s get you to the hospital, we’ll get you taken care of.” I don’t remember anything after that, until I was lying on a hospital bed. Nurses were strapping my arms down. “We’re going to put a tube down your throat to pump your stomach, and your body’s natural reaction is to try and pull the tube out. It will feel like you’re choking, but you’re not. It’s OK. We’re going to take care of you. Here’s some numbing spray. Now swallow.” I gagged as the tube went down. As the procedure began, the nurses’ faces changed. I heard a man say “Looooot of pill fragments there…” The room went silent, except for the sound of the various hospital machines, as more and more came up through the tube. It seemed to take a long time. I remember the feeling of my stomach walls touching. And then, I fell into a deep sleep.
In my house, we lived out an emotional script. Sometimes there were limited choices, other times there was only one permissible emotion. If we expressed an inappropriate emotion, sometimes we were simply told not to feel that way, to feel this way instead. Other times we were instructed to express the prescribed emotion, and punished if we failed to comply.
I don’t remember being happy very much as a young child, but I know I was at least sometimes. In middle childhood, happiness rarely happened for me. I often felt confused, sad, frustrated, or angry. If I expressed those feelings at an unacceptable time, even non-verbally, I was ignored, belittled, or corrected. My emotional state defaulted to numbness. As I grew, the numbness grew. Eventually I stopped feeling happy almost entirely. I stopped feeling much of anything most of the time. Since I didn’t feel sad all the time, and people didn’t talk about depression, I had no idea that I had lived with clinical depression for most of my life.
I suffer from a disorder that causes my joints to dislocate extremely easily, sometimes in ridiculous ways. Like dislocating a shoulder while putting on a loose t-shirt. It happened that first semester of college, a few weeks in. I hadn’t even gotten my head to the neck hole, my arm got stuck in the air. When the triage nurse at the ER took my medical history and asked if I had a history of depression, naturally I said no. The ER doctor prescribed me Percocet, which apparently mixes poorly with mood disorders. I experienced massive mood swings while taking it. Lying in bed, I thought Well, I guess it’s time. I did not question what that meant, even though I hadn’t been contemplating suicide or self-harm. I just took every pill in my possession. I have no idea what happened in my brain, just that I had unknowingly been depressed for a long time and that, mixed with Percocet, almost killed me. I got back into bed with a smile on my face, feeling serene, high, sick… and I waited. Then, darkness crept into the edges of my vision and slowly closed in.
A couple of years after Nancy and Ellie came to live with us, we experienced a major tragedy together. Our home burned to the ground, along with most of our possessions.
It happened on a beautiful Fall day: crisp, cool air, just a few white fluffy clouds in the sky, leaves just beginning to change. While working in the kitchen, Mother caught a whiff of that awful stench: melting plastic. She frantically looked around the kitchen, but found nothing. Then we all heard a pop, followed by crackling.
Mother ran into the living room and ushered us all outside. She and Nancy did a headcount once we got to the curb and realized my brother was not with us. Mother ran back inside and found him hiding in the hall closet, clutching his blankie and crying quietly. She scooped him up and ran.
After depositing him safely in “Mommy Nancy’s” arms, she ran back in a second time, and then a third, and a fourth. Over and over, she ran back in. I remember increasingly large puffs of smoke pouring out the front door each time it opened. The neighbors gathered at the end of the driveway with us, watching in shock. Nobody tried to stop her.
After each trip back into the burning building, she ran to the end of the driveway to deposit an armload of things in a growing pile. Mostly photo albums and family movies, but she grabbed other things too: nick knacks, blankets and pillows, whatever she could snatch from the flames’ path. She only stopped when she went to open the door one last time and the flames singed her hair.
My dad came flying into the cul-de-sac around the same time as the fire engines. I remember him hoisting me up into a bear hug and asking Mom if everyone made it out OK. We watched the jets of water shoot into our crumbling house. It seemed like hours before the smoke began to slow. The flames won, rendering our home nothing but piles of black rubble. A neighbor brought blankets out to wrap around the children. She invited us in for cocoa to help us warm up while Mom dealt with the police, firemen, and insurance agent. I think I only took a couple of sips of cocoa. I remember staring into the thick, sand-colored mug in shock. Grown-ups were talking around me, but it sounded distorted, like I was under water.
We spent the night in a cheap motel, then moved into a rental house for several months while our house was rebuilt. I don’t remember much about the rental house except for drab, grey walls, and a window seat overlooking the back yard. It was my favorite spot in the house. Somehow cozy and magical, it made me feel safe, and provided the perfect spot to immerse myself in a good book or day dream. I’ve loved window seats ever since then.
Daddy did not live in the rental house with us. This was one of the separations when we didn’t see him much. The fire took the only home he’d ever known and left him devastated. He lacked healthy coping tools, so he withdrew and sunk deeper into his addiction. As soon as our new house was ready, he came around again. I don’t know if he moved back in, but he was there every night after work, playing, reading stories, tucking in, eating dinner.
Some of our things were salvaged and professionally treated for smoke damage, including my favorite doll. I cried the day Mom brought her to the rental house. I hugged my dolly tight and didn’t let her out of my sight for months.
I developed PTSD after the fire. I had a recurring night terror about it for years where I was trapped in the burning house and couldn’t get out, complete with feeling the heat and smelling the smoke. I haven’t had that particular one in a long time, but I do still get occasional night terrors about fire. I’m still pyrophobic. If someone lights a match or lighter anywhere near me, it’s all I can do not to panic. I DID panic until a few years ago. I would scream and back away in terror, seeing the flame burst out of control before me. This got some weird looks, and I had to explain about the house fire to many friends over the years. None understood. I was never evaluated for PTSD until college.
I grew up a total Daddy’s Girl. He was big and strong and fun and smart, and he gave the best hugs. I wanted to be just like him. He’d rough house with us, but I always felt safe with him. My Daddy would never let anything bad happen to me. I’d watch him and emulate the way he sat, stood, walked, even his posture when we rode an escalator. I would do just about anything to spend time with him.
As I got older, he spent less and less time at home. He and my mom separated sometimes, and he would still come play with us after work, but then would go wherever he was living after we went to bed. As a child I didn’t understand. I knew that I missed him terribly when he was gone. I found out sometime in my teen years that he had struggled with addiction since before I was born. He left to protect us. Sometimes someone from his community of dealers and users would threaten his family, other times the drugs made him paranoid. For years, he kept the drugs from my mom.
My great aunt taught my mama how to go to war in prayer. They prayed that any bed but his marriage bed with my mother would feel like a bag of rocks. A couple of the times when he moved out he asked her if he could take their mattress with him because he couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep anywhere else!
Near the end of my childhood, he stopped coming home to see us every night. This was new, and I hated it. I felt angry and confused. When I asked my mom where he was, she averted her eyes and made excuses. Sometimes we’d go nearly a week without seeing or hearing from him. I needed my Daddy. I began waiting up for him, sometimes falling asleep in odd places. One day, something happened at school and I really needed to talk to my dad about it, but I didn’t know how to reach him. It had been a few days already since he’d come home, so I hoped all day that he would show up that night. He didn’t. I was crushed. So I wrote him a note. I told him what happened at school, and how much I needed him there to talk to me and help me through it. How I missed him. I poured my little heart out into that note, and solemnly gave it to my mom, asking her to give it to him if he ever bothered coming back. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I handed her that pink envelope.
Since the letter was for my Daddy, I never thought that she might open it and read it first. At her desk she sat, weeping over my words, my hurt, late into the night. In the morning she called him and read him my letter, barely holding herself together as she felt my pain meet her own for the hundredth time. Where her tears and begging met with stony resistance, seeing the pain he had caused his daughter was too much. He came home that night and stayed for a couple of days. Then, he gathered us all at his knee and told us that he had to go on a trip. He didn’t know how long he would be gone, but he promised to call every day and send postcards and letters when he could. My sister and I cried and begged him to stay, but he said this was just something that he had to do and that when he came back, he would see us every day. I believed him. I was willing to part with him again for a while if it meant getting to be a real family again.
For my dad’s “trip,” he spent a couple of days detoxing on the couch with the one “clean” person he felt he could trust. The detox nearly killed him before he finally gave in and let his friend take him to the hospital.
I remember visiting him in rehab. I didn’t like it there. It felt like a weird hotel, not a home. It bothered me knowing he had to sleep there. And I didn’t feel like we could be ourselves there. I wanted him to come home. But Daddy was sick, and this was a special hospital where he could get better. When we visited him, he’d read to us or we could play cards or board games with him. I liked that, it felt more normal. As time passed, he seemed different. I remember feeling hesitant and unsure about the changes I saw in him. Some days, he seemed sad and didn’t talk much. He’d be distracted while we played. Other days he was much as he’d always been, just my happy, fun, big strong Dad. But even on those days, something was definitely different.
I remember the day he came home. It felt like a dream, I was so afraid I’d wake up and he’d be back in the hospital. I wanted to never stop hugging him. But he was actually home, and he never left us again. He’d hit rock bottom and found Jesus waiting to pick him up. He started going to church with us, and soon we got baptized as a family at the church that helped my mother pray him out of addiction without even knowing what exactly they were battling.
My dad doesn’t know how to do anything half-way, so when he met Jesus he dove into the relationship head first and immersed himself in the Bible. After a few years, he felt the need for a solid Biblical education, so he went to divinity school and became an ordained minister. Now, he is my “go-to” guy for questions about the Bible and theology. He and my mother are deeply in love and devoted to one another. They’re that sweet older couple you see still holding hands in public, teasing and grinning at each other like a couple of teenagers. They’ve been that way, with surprising consistency, for over a decade. My dad has ministered to countless addicts over the years, some in prison and some on the outside. He’s performed several weddings and been a guest speaker in churches in three different states, telling his story. As a family, we have seen so many prayers answered, so many miracles. I hope to share many of them with you soon.