(From End to End—Relient K)
Today I am graduating. Today I am free. No, not of learning and books and schools, well okay, yes of those things, but more importantly, free of the gag that has been placed over my mouth and bound my fingers and tongue from sharing my story. No longer must I live drowning in an ocean of isolation, unable to scream for help. I signed early in fourth year that I wouldn’t speak about the abuse that I had endured at my school nor would I tell anyone that I couldn’t discuss the fall-out from the situation. I later learned in law class that the contract was not valid because I didn’t have the capacity to contract as it was presented to me as sign this or go home and throw away the past three years of time and tuition from your life…but I knew that legally binding or not, my life would become even more a living hell than it already was if I was found in violation of the “contract.”
Today I am graduating. Today I know my rights and will not allow anyone to abuse me or force me to give up my personhood again. I can and will fight for my rights. I will not be silent about the pain of abuse. I am still learning how to let people get close to me again. It still feels safer to just shut everyone out so they can’t hurt me, but I can and will learn how to live safely in community.
Today I am graduating. It is freeing, yet it is a little scary. The pain I have walked through for so long doesn’t evaporate overnight, yet, does anyone care about the ocean salt I will be washing out of my hair and clothes for a long time in order to heal? For years the salt has been rubbing into my wounds, and that doesn’t end overnight. The tide has gone out again, but in its wake has been left years of damage that can’t be mended overnight.
Today I am graduating. I can talk, but can I really? The story wasn’t linear at the beginning, and now, nearly three years from the forced silence, unwinding the tightly twisted story seems nearly impossible. I want to share, but I don’t know where to start, what direction to go, how to share an experience so extended yet so acutely deeply painful.
Today I am graduating. Today I can tell you the biggest hard thing I have overcome—and it is not OCD. So…long story short…I was abused by a counselor at my school. In retrospect, I should never have gotten more involved with this person than was strictly necessary. It was quite clear that she was not ethical nor caring quite early on. For example, first semester of second year she told my counselor that I had been listening in on another counselor’s sessions and needed to be talked to and punished for it. There is absolutely no way that I could have done that, never mind the fact that I had no reason to do so. The counselor in question was only in the office until 11. I was in class until 10:50, then went directly to the cafeteria where I received my hamburger plain, banana, and vanilla milk at approximately 11 each day, then to my dorm room to eat. Anyone who knows me knows that there is no way I would ever skip class, so I definitely wouldn’t have skipped it to listen in. Next issue: even if I had wanted to listen, I definitely wouldn’t have heard anything. Finally, why in the world would I even want to listen? I can’t think of a single situation that would lead me to want to listen in. My counselor was, understandably, not happy with me. After hearing my perspective the next week, she admitted that ABCD had told her to talk to me about it and she trusted me that it wasn’t true, but the accusation hurt me and caused a division between my counselor and myself that week. Also, ABCD violated my confidentiality prior to my getting overly involved with her. Funny how she told my friend that “SOME people have thought that I was sharing about them, but that is not true, and I would never do that.” Umm, nice story, but you left me COPIED IN when you violated my confidentiality some of the times, so clearly I didn’t just THINK you were sharing, I KNEW. Also, in my record which I have a legal right via HIPAA laws to see for free once per year and for a fee after that though you tried to keep me from it, you documented some violations of confidentiality, so umm, yeah no. I am not picking up what you are putting down; I’m not buying that you would never do that. Aside from strange stories and complete and utter lack of confidentiality, I was also torn down emotionally, and made to question my experience of what had occurred. It is unfortunate that I have good memory, because it hurt that much more when her version of events continued to change. Respect was also an issue. When you are talking to me, you shouldn’t be texting your BFFs, for example. I understand we live in a busy world and have a high tolerance for other people being distracted, but sometimes enough is enough and she was past that line by leaps and bounds constantly. Additionally, timeliness is next to godliness. I am patient and will let you waste my time and not show my annoyance when I am standing right there and five minutes after we were supposed to start you engage in a lengthy conversation with someone else, but how dare you have the gall to ask me where your client is when you were supposed to see her two hours ago and were too busy chatting it up with a friend? Keeping track of your clients is not my responsibility. There are many things I am happy to do, but client management and tracking is not one of them and it is inappropriate to suggest that it is. I shouldn’t even know who your clients are, much less where they are.
Today I am graduating. Today I am finally free to talk about the pain that has permeated my life over the past few years. Today I can tell you as much as you want to know or I want you to know about the person who caused so much pain in my life that I truly wanted to die for the first time in my life. It is too painful and vulnerable to recount more stories right here, but the one I feel most comfortable sharing an abbreviated form of is the summer story. May 13th I received an email telling me how she really thought things were going really well between us. June 20th I left around 4am and drove across the country and that afternoon I went to see my file. When my time limit was up we briefly discussed phone meetings and meetings in the fall. On June 21st I went to immunization training and then directly from there to church. On June 22nd I left around probably 4:30 am to drive back home. At home I got a new phone that I was NOT happy about and declared that I was not touching it. June 23rd I was sitting on my bed trying to figure out how to explain to someone who I knew would ridicule me about it that I couldn’t make the phone meeting that day because I had no phone since I wasn’t touching new phone and old phone had no service when I got an email that she couldn’t answer the phone. Okay, problem solved. No suspicion yet, because chances are she is cutting the meeting to talk to one of her friends and at least she is telling me this time instead of just not answering. Well, a few hours later I get another email from her that we are done. This is different from all the other times she said we were done, because this time she doesn’t ban me from talking to anyone else. I ask why. She refuses to answer the question. Still upset about the new phone, she has added to the fire and I am now caught in a storm of so many negative emotion words. Confused. Betrayed. Hurt. Sad. There is a tiny sparkle of hope, but like a tiny flashlight beam in a dark stormy night, the hope is hard to see through the torrential downpour of negativity. I act out. I feel really bad about it and start trying to call to apologize. I finally get through and start to get the words out on July 10th. She cuts me off saying “this is why we can’t work together” and slams the phone down. I try again. No answer. I write an apology email. My campusweb and pils and password retriever stop working. I call IT and am told that the person I need to talk to is on lunch and will be back soon. I cancel my plans to bike ride opting instead to babysit my phone, so I don’t miss the call. Hours later no response. I start calling again. And again. And again. I leave messages. I call again. Finally I receive a call but not from IT. I am sort of in shock (not literally…I didn’t actually need ICU admission). I leave my laptop open and go to Bible study where I vent to my friends who are really caring despite the negativity I brought with me. I go home and am SO frustrated that my computer ran low on batteries and went to the password page which means it is now unusable. By morning the shock is wearing off and I am spiraling deep deep deep down. The little beam of hope has gone dark. I desperately wish to not be alive, and am afraid to tell anyone.
Today I am graduating. Today I can tell you that the abuse never ended. First it was stalking and trying to pit my friends against me. I sit down outside to talk to a friend, she shows up and stares. I go to the bathroom, she suddenly needs it too. I go get a spoon she walks past to fill her (already full) water bottle. I sit down at a table in the nearly empty cafeteria, she sits at the table right next to mine. I go to the parking garage, she follows me. She intercepts, reads, and shares faxes from my counselors. I don’t feel safe, yet she brings in her husband to accuse me of stalking her…yeah, me who has done everything in my power to hide from her. I step up the avoidance even more. She gets even more intrusive, standing right next to me to wait in line for a microwave when there is no line at the microwaves closer to her workstation and further from me. She claims she won’t even be at the event my club is hosting and then switches places with the speaker so that she is speaking at the event, not to mention intentionally moves her stuff after I sit down in the room so that she is sitting way too close to me.
Today I am graduating. Today I can finally explain as fully as I’d like without fear of repercussions the deep fear I have developed of people in the mental health field. See there was ABCD, and then as part of the terms of staying in school I had to waste a metric buttload of dollars and time with a bunch of other people, and I guess the reason these people had openings was because of how lousy they were. Let’s see…psychia #1: Diagnosed me within five minutes based on the title of my blog. Never mind the paperwork I filled out indicating that I had no current symptoms of the disorders he was diagnosing. I tried to question the one that was furthest out of line, and his justification was that I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt…umm, true, but 1) they were nice shorts and it was August, and 2) I don’t know of anyone who dresses up to go to an appointment, and the rest of the waiting room was filled with people dressed like me. No interest in listening to me, insistent that I was lying that I was not a special ed kid. I was not lying; I was an honors kid, most definitely not a special ed kid. I cried tears of angry frustration following that appointment. On to psychia #2: This guy is so weird. He spent almost the entire session talking to himself about whether or not he would write a letter to school—nevermind that I had made the appointment on the grounds that the only reason I was there was for a letter to be written. I don’t get a chance to say much as the vast majority of the appointment is him talking to himself. It was all I could do to not tell him to shut his trap and listen to me. He also tried to ask for more money than was originally agreed upon. Luckily I brought an exact amount of cash so he backed off. His retarded letter essentially said he couldn’t find anything wrong with me but would be thrilled to get paid a ridiculous amount of money weekly to keep looking! On to psycho #1: She is a lot older than her picture on the website, but she is really nice and during the meeting I actually like her as much as one can like someone whom she has just met and has just barely earned any trust or respect points. Life is going to be okay until she calls and leaves a message that she changed her mind and instead of writing that she recommends at most monthly meetings like we had previously agreed upon that she is going to write at least every other week. I cry tears of angry disillusioned sadness as I drive to the wonderful counseling center at which I volunteer, willing the tears to stop before anyone sees. These experiences prove to me that hurtful experiences are not an isolated incident with this one person, but are the norm. Meeting a new counselor is terrifying until they win my trust.
Today I am graduating. Today the light is finally the end of the tunnel and not a train coming at me with nowhere to run.* Abuse is a Trauma that hurts. Isolation hurts. Silence hurts. We were made for community. It is not good for girl to be alone, yet I lived since that stupid contract in silent isolation. At first it was wait a couple weeks. Then it was wait until next semester. Then next year. I learned to almost stop hoping because hope just meant more soul-crushing when I had to keep holding on in isolation. Inevitably, every time there was a teeny tiny sliver of light and I considered hope again, the hope ran away before I could shove it away and I was painfully crushed again. I never thought being numb was a good thing, but I learned that I’d really prefer if I could be totally numb and not have to care about anything. Getting rid of the highs felt worth it in exchange for getting rid of the lows as well. Oh…the contract and the agreement it replaced that were signed by someone whose name was not on the Word doc…yeah…so personal we got a form letter and filled in your name and our names…nothing says you matter like a form letter…why bother putting your name on it if you obviously didn’t write it? Why can’t we just tell the truth?
Today I am graduating. Today I no longer have to hear at least monthly about the wonderful “services” of my abuser. Like seriously people! Some of the people advocating those services are people who know how abusive she is yet continue to advocate people being in contact with her. That is so not cool. It is a forgivable offense if you don’t know, but if you do, it just makes me angry.
Today I am graduating. I have gradually healed over time, but the scabs have been picked off so many times that they have never truly gotten the chance to fully heal. Now I can really talk and write and process and heal, separated from the daily reminders like thorns tearing at my skin.
Today I am graduating. Today I am thankful to be done not just with academics, but with school. The cycle will stop revolving. No longer am I caught in the spiral of ABCD and Co. making school miserable which causes my academics to slip which stresses me out which makes me more emotionally vulnerable which makes the intrusions more painful which makes academics slip further…I should put a picture of my life cycle spiral here…
Today I am graduating. Today I can shed the stitches binding my lips closed. I can take off the chains holding me down. I can stop living in daily fear of what may be around the corner.
Today I am graduating. Today I am free.
(written in March 2016 in anticipation of my May 2017 graduation). Names and one paragraph removed later because retrospective me realized the need to be respectful. I also want to sincerely thank all the people who have gently created safe places for me. Y’all mostly know who you are and I am so grateful.
*Okay, not totally true anymore. The light went out in March. I am still grieving that loss, but I’m working really hard on changing the lightbulb.