Friday, August 21, 2009

Turn of the Spiral

First step: flashback

Invoke the usual "I was abused as a child" tale. My mother was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia. Never told the school counselor, whom I saw bi-weekly, what was really happening. Use your imagination.

My Diagnosis: Attachment Disorder.

First turn of the spiral: Pregnancy

Age 19. I loved my child. Received Christian pastoral counseling. No help. I was separated from my husband, pregnant by another man, taken in by an adoption agency and emotionally abused by a "shepherding father" who felt I was a bad influence for his teen daughters. Guess he expected a nice, contrite, never been married, didn't work kind of girl who would be grateful (meaning obedient). Received yet more counseling with different counselor. I fled, keeping my baby.

Second turn of the spiral

Age 20. Divorced from first husband, remarried the day before the baby was born to another young man with no idea of what he was getting into. He said he loved me. I was desperate. Living back home with the schizophrenic mother and codependent father. Two weeks later, moved 150 miles to where my husband lived. My husband never really understood what he had on his hands. I called it alcoholism (wait, don't I need a drunk-a-log for that? But alcoholics are just like me, except I never drank).

Diagnosis: Borderline Personality Disorder

Third turn of the spiral

Age 23. I have no more parenting/mothering skills than my mother had. I live in a town where I know no one. I stay at home with the baby. And with the next one. I convince my husband to join the church of my childhood. My husband works full time, and the romantic idea of a wife and ready made family doesn't match the reality. Received marital counseling. No help.
Husband's diagnosis: Major Depressive Mood Disorder, Chronic.

Forth turn of the spiral

Age 24. Desperation. Received individual counseling. I call child protective services on myself out of fear. I have a infant and a toddler, I am exhausted, depressed, strangling on inner emptiness and still isolated. I hear the anger in my voice. No one should yell at a three-year-old like that. I hit his diapered bottom too many times. I love my children, why is this happening? My husband is at a loss and has no clue. I call child protective services on myself. Child protective services can't see a problem and send me shopping (with what money? I have none) to get me out of the house for a few hours. They determine there's no problem.

Diagnosis: Post Partum Depression; Major Depressive Disorder, Chronic; Borderline Personality Disorder.

Fifth turn of the spiral

Isolated. I don't fit the Tuesday morning Women's Bible Study Group. They are kind, but carefully distant - perhaps judgemental. The minister brought us into the church, and abandoned us after orientation classes (after I had been baptized for the forth time). No friends. No family. Out of desperation, I create MAJOR DRAMA. My husband is self-righteously hurt, and I feel guilty and justified in leaving my children in his reality, I am fleeing because I fear I might harm them, might become an abuser, even as I was abused. I surrender my children because of something I haven't done. They were not abused. I feared only that I might.

Cultural detail: Even today billboards in this state proclaim: Spare the rod and spoil the child. No wonder the church/child protective services didn't really see a problem. Or understand my fear.

Continual turns of the spiral

Married four times, divorced three times, widowed once, one broken engagement

Intermittent counseling, some help

Got my GED and then went on to college and received my degree in Bachelor of Sciences, major: English
Continued on to Graduate School

Segues: Extreme Marital abuse (3rd and 4th husbands)

Turn of the spiral

Discover Goddess centered spirituality.
Break old patterns and old habits...
Receive spiritual counseling. Tremendous help.

Move again.
Age 40: Come Out as Lesbian.

Enter into life partnership/marriage with Cameron - a healthy, stable loving relationship.

Fabulous Therapist...amazing progress. Much healing.

Return to Graduate school for a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.

Meaningful, powerful work as a Substance abuse counselor.

Diagnosis: Borderline Disorder burned out and passed, stabilizing, happy, strong - what diagnostic tools do we have for Mental Healthiness?

Turn of the spiral

Transformation: I know what I'm called to be: Lesbian, Priestess, Therapist


I'm behind on supervision hours, as I was reminded in clinical evaluations yesterday. So Play Therapist Supervisor invited me to sit in her group supervision today. I didn't know until I arrived that the morning session had been devoted to completing the training of several play therapy supervisors and I was the Guinea Pig. She asks if I have a DVD of a play therapy session I have run.

Yes, I have a play therapy DVD. Yes, it's the one I turned in for my summer for class. Yes, I perceived it as the worst one I've ever recorded because I handled limit setting so badly.

Play Therapist Supervisor states it's nowhere as bad as I portray it. I don't believe her. She's just being nice, because she's like that, you know. So I play the DVD, proud that I'm calm while showing it to Play Therapist Supervisor, four licensed play therapists that are finishing certification this week for supervising, two Marriage and Family Therapy Interns, and one Marriage and Family Therapy student. And while I'm trying to tell them what I terrible job I've done, they are shaking their heads and offering amazing and insightful comments about how good it is. My supervisor says that I am one of her best student play therapists.

Then one of them offers a comment. He uses one of my favorite metaphors about time being a three dimensional spiral. As we circle around we reencounter old lessons, challenges ectera, but we encounter them at a new level and learn new things. He suggested maybe that's the process I was in while making the DVD and in how I perceive it. Then Play therapist Supervisor asks me: "Working from the framework as self-as-a-therapist, what old button does this video hit?"

In one blinding, clarifying moment I know why I have backed away from doing play therapy for the last three months. Because for one moment, for 1/10 of a second, I sounded like my mother as I struggled to lay down a boundary with a beautiful developmentally delayed three-year-old child. Before I got his name past my lips, I had heard my tone of voice and shifted. But all I remembered was that tone and the slump of his shoulders as I broke his trust with my "mom" voice. It had broken my heart. And although I caught it immediately, the limit then set appropriately, and reparation made, I carried that wound away with me. I clutched it to my heart, hidden and filled with pain. No true damage was done, yet my inner guilt from the past rose up to swallow me.

And in front of all those people, I looked at my supervisor, tears in my eyes, was handed a Kleenex, took a deep breath, asked for a moment, and told my story as briefly as possible. And I recognized that the past was blocking me with old pain and guilt. That I am actually good at child play therapy. That my peers think well of me and praise me. And that room full of therapists heard me, assured me, and offered this spiral of growth and healing.


  1. I want to make sure you understand that I am not nor ever would belittle what you have gone through or accomplished.

    That being said, anyone who hasn't had an idyllic childhood seems to have that fear...the fear of becoming that which they most feared and perhaps despised as a child. And when we do for a moment catch them in the mirror out of the corner of our eye we run. The fear too great. The results too painful.

    I hesitate to ask, but am driven to at this late hour... Do you think that you abandoned your children out of the blinding fear that you would become the person you saw as your mother/ Was she in the corner of your eye in the mirror? And did you see that again in your play therapy? It sounds like that is what you are saying.

    But... while effected by those experiences you have the foresight to see what is happening, to change, to twist the path away from what was and onto what will be. You are not your mother. No matter what you are Dreamweaver..... much in the same way that the person beside you on this path is Cameron, and I am Alissia. We are more than the sum of our experiences. And if we can see that we can move away from the cycle and live our life well and happy.

    You are a successful person. You may not have tons of money, but you are successful. You have seen the path of light and dark. Of past, present, and future. You have figured out in that flash of insight that you are good at what you do, and that you are creating your own path.

    Be safe and well.