In July 2015, I found myself at a new clinic with a new therapist. My new therapist (we’ll call her R) was middle-aged, soft-spoken, willowy, and elegant.
In my first session, I spent most of the time sobbing. I was so broken. I told R, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ As in not on this Earth. I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. At that point, it was taking everything in me to not kill myself. The only reason I hadn’t killed myself was because I didn’t want to hurt my family. But by this time, even that wasn’t good enough.
R said, in a gentle voice. ‘You’re thinking this because you feel like you have no worth.’
I had known about self-esteem. I thought self-esteem pertained only to how you felt about your looks. Since I had spent my entire life thinking I was a deformed monster, I always had zero healthy self-esteem.
I had never known of self-worth. She told me I had value as a person. That despite anything I may think, I still had worth and value as a human being. It was a concept so foreign to me that it wouldn’t sink in at first.
R was incredibly perceptive. She would cock her head and peer into your eyes. And she’d just know. She would hold my gaze. At first, I felt so uncomfortable—mainly because I never liked having someone look directly into my face —but she made it easy to want to look back. R would pick out the words and phrases I’d use and then ask me what I really meant.
R would point out the underlying message of what I would say. The message that screamed: “I am not enough!” I never thought I was pretty enough, thin enough, talented enough, educated enough, lovable enough. How could I be enough if I couldn’t even save my own mother? My mom had looked to me to console her, give her advice, to take care of her, to help her but it never worked. It was never enough. I had failed as a daughter.
Mom told me the story over and over of how when pregnant with me, dad lost his job and they were poorer they’d been in awhile. She was deeply depressed not knowing how they could possibly raise one more child? They had enjoyed a little more when my second oldest sister was starting out in life.
The message I received was this: I added so much strain. I was a nuisance. I was extra hardship. I made it harder on everyone else.
I felt unwanted even before mom would vehemently say the actual words to me as a teenager.
R was unlike any other therapist I had had. She would give me different exercises to do. Life questions to mull over. She told me she knew I was an old soul. So I liked her mental exercises.
She wanted me to write down what my strengths were , what I was good at, and most importantly, why do I matter? I couldn’t answer that last question right away. In fact, I struggled over that question for weeks.
I had believed for so long that I was nothing, that I could never be good enough at anything, let alone just be good.
But I asked others and they’d give me a long list. Of course, I didn’t believe them then. What did they know? They didn’t really know me. But I believe them now.
Little by little I started talking about my childhood and adolescence. I talked about my dad some but I had already touched on that the first time I was in therapy at 20, written him a letter, and like I said in the previous post, he’s remorseful and has apologized.
So, I talked of my mother. At first, guilt consumed me. I felt like a terrible person. But the more I talked, the more I remembered, the more I let myself remember.
I poured out my soul. I became more and more confident with my story because I had someone tell me, ‘Kristin, that wasn’t normal. That wasn’t healthy. That wasn’t loving. That was abuse. That was wrong.’
I knew these things were wrong subconsciously, but I was always too afraid to speak out. To bring things to light and have someone outside my family say that how I was parented was unacceptable. I was freed little by little.
This time around in therapy, I made it a point to pass on medication. Medication is helpful when treating mental illness. Some people can’t function without it. And for some, it aids in transitional periods. But for me, I didn’t want it. I’d had too many bad experiences already.
I was only ready to get to me. The core. Strip away all the debris and baggage and damage. I was ready to clean house and renovate the hell out of it.
One of the first things R taught me was boundaries. Boundaries? Another term foreign to me. We weren’t allowed boundaries in my family. I didn’t even know one could have boundaries. I was unaware that a person has the right to not allow others to invade their privacy or demand all their time and sanity. It was strange to me.
She recommended Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. That book was the beginning. It rocked me to my core. I walked around for 31 years and I had no idea. I learned about enmeshment. I learned that I never learned healthy ones but harbored unhealthy ones. By the end of the book, I was sobbing. It opened up a whole new world for me.
In the book, it advised grieving for what you never got and what you never will. To quit searching for it, because you’ll never find it.
So, that’s what I had been searching for all this time and didn’t know it. An intrusion on all of my boundaries—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Not long after Boundaries, I read The Mom Factor, another book by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
I was progressed more and more in therapy. Starting to believe in myself and slowly recognizing that maybe, just maybe, I had something to offer the world.
But I’ll admit that the second half of 2015, I was quite a train wreck. I stayed out late, I drank too much, I tried dating. I took a lot of things very personally. I was very hard on myself for every little mistake. I felt stupid for even trying.
So, in early October, R introduced me to shame. I looked it up and did some research.
I knew of guilt. Bone crushing guilt. Little did I know that the majority of times I had felt guilty, it was actually shame. One of the first articles I stumbled on was Shame: The Quintessential Emotion by Holly Vanscoy. The following passage started to nudge something deep within me open, something that I am still examining and learning about.
“Early in life, individuals develop an internalized view of themselves as adequate or inadequate within the world,” she said. “Children who are continually criticized, severely punished, neglected, abandoned, or in other ways abused or mistreated get the message that they do not ‘fit’ in the world — that they are inadequate, inferior or unworthy.”
I have written poetry and diary entries over and over about how I felt like I was mistakenly placed into this world. That this human shaped hole was meant for someone else because I felt like I had never fit. My eyes were opened once again.
Unfortunately, R left the clinic shortly after and my last session with her was October 12th. She told me, with tears in her eyes, how proud she was of me and of how far I’d come. She was genuinely proud of me for me, as a human being. Of course, I cried. Someone proud of me? Not because of my job, or what I did for them, or how much money I could make, but just of who I was? I’d never had that and it meant the world to me.
I continued with a new therapist, K. She is sweet and understanding. I’ve delved in more about my marriage and divorce. And not surprisingly, everything in that relationship correlates to my relationship with my parents.
Back in 2013, a therapist had recommended a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy workbook. It’s a workbook of how to manage stress, intense emotions, reactions, and curb the need for self-destructive behavior. This is practiced and learned mainly through meditation and mindfulness. I had barely made it past chapter one for two years. But in February, K urged me to pick it back up again.
I used Lent to start , stay consistent, and to uncover more messy layers. I read Toxic Parents by Susan Forward, Codependent No More by Melody Beattie, Healing the Child Within by Charles L. Whitfield, and I’m currently reading Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw.
I’m committed to continuing my therapy, healing, and to recovery. For the first time in my life, I feel like an actual adult and I’m reparenting all the hurt, younger parts of myself: the unloved frightened child. The rejected awkward teenager. The wounded rage-filled 20 something. I talk to all these parts of myself when they bubble up and need to be heard.
31 years of abuse, trauma, thought patterns, and toxic self-destructive behaviors do not disappear in a few months (like I had originally thought and hoped for). But with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and all the wonderful books I’ve read, and the therapy I’ve received, I’ve been able to get to the heart of everything that plagued me for the entirety of my life.
I wouldn’t say that I’m “cured”. There’s been plenty of epiphanies and lessons, but learning is a life-long process. My recovery is on-going. I will be in recovery for a long time and keep learning beyond that. And I’m more than ok with this.
I have spent the last 9 months untangling and extracting myself from who and what I thought I was. I’m rewiring my brain so I can unlearn bad habits and destructive behaviors and learn the healthy ones. I’m getting to know myself. I learning to love myself, love others, and how to interact inside different kinds of relationships. I am choosing who I want to be. I can be whoever I want to be especially the girl, the woman, the human being who had been there all along. Rooting for me, cheering me on, hoping that’d I’d find her eventually. I am so glad that I have. She’s better than what I could have ever hoped for.
Check out Part I and Part II if you haven’t already!