These last few weeks have taken me on quite the wild ride; to change metaphors, I've been feeling a bit like Gregory Peck in Spellbound, an amazing Hitchcock psychological thriller where the revelations about the truth of the hero's experience come faster and more furiously as the movie progresses.
As those of you who followed "The Story of Princess S" will have learned, I had a difficult childhood. My mother died when I was 13, my father remarried almost immediately, and my stepmother basically to wipe my mother's memory off the face of the planet. I was never allowed to mourn her. Later on, I was disowned, twice, and except for my paternal grandparents, also disowned by my father, their son, had no contact at all with my family of origin for most of my adult life. In my early 30's, my first round of therapy (precipitated by my inability to lose weight) allowed me to start mourning my mother and recovering my ability to express my feelings rather than stuffing them down. My second round of therapy, in my 40's, enabled me to break through the thick wall of denial about how much losing my whole family had hurt me. Two years ago, my work at Green Mountain enabled me to know and express my anger at my father for his abominable betrayal of me.
And yet, I still wasn't able to lose weight.
When I reconnected with my sister last year, she told me about a book that had helped her deal with some of the same issues, Toxic Parents by Susan Forward (thanks, Princess A!). I read it at the time, and was interested to discover that while all of it felt relevant, the part of the book that resonated most strongly was the section on incest. While I didn't have that particular nightmare to deal with, I think that in some ways the utter betrayal of the parent-child bond of being discarded finally and forever is in some ways closest to the betrayal that sexual abuse represents. In any event, Dr. Forward's primary therapeutic technique for those who have experienced incest is a series of letters, to the offending parent, the non-offending parent and one's little self, followed by telling one's story as a fairy tale (hence my previous three posts). I knew when I read that that I had to write a letter to young Sherry, and I knew that it had to be about reassuring myself that none of what happened was my fault, but I couldn't do it. I knew the words but couldn't access the feelings.
Fast forward to four weeks ago, and the beginning of the cinematic period of my recovery.
It began the morning I got the results of a glucose tolerance test suggesting that I am seriously pre-diabetic. Though this wasn't exactly news, I started to freak out, which is not something I generally do. The next day, I told my wonderful, healing therapist about this, and when she said some reassuring things, I said, "I know all that. My adult self knows it, but I feel like there's a little girl inside me lying on the floor kicking and screaming, terrified." She responded by asking me what I would say to that little girl, and I was, for once in my life, totally dumbstruck. This was odd, because, as she reminded me, if it were any other child in the universe, I would have been right there hugging and comforting her. I knew then that I had to write that letter.
Unfortunately, I still didn't know what to say. I knew even more clearly than a year before that none of what had happened was really my fault and that I had only done what I needed to do in order to survive, but I was feeling so much to blame, I was totally paralyzed. Then I realized that I had to start by writing a letter to my sister. When I had visited her just before this episode began, she had told me about her recent struggles to deal with her own anger and pain, and I think that hearing all of that, most of which I had not known about as it was happening, Somehow, I felt I needed to apologize to her for not protecting her, not knowing what she was going through -- essentially, for not being her parent. I know this was irrational, but I needed to say it, so I wrote the letter.
And that precipitated a week of getting in touch with my anger at our stepmother, to whom I wrote my second letter. I also screamed out loud and pounded the wall of the shower with my fist, neither of was something I had ever done before. In some ways, that was the most terrifying experience of all; I had no idea that I was so scared of getting angry.
At that point, I started to write the fairy tale, which I think was a very wise choice, as it enabled me to understand, viscerally, the extent of what had been done to me and how I had had so few options available to survive. Another therapy session precipitated the climactic revelation; my wise healer asked me to consider what the food was doing for me beyond allowing me to stuff down feelings. And in that instant I knew that it was keeping my mother alive within me, and that I needed to let her go in order to be healthy. That was truly a Hitchcock moment.
Of course, in the movies, they never show you what the hapless hero has to do to recover from the moment of revelation. Fortunately, in addition to my healer I also have my wife, who is a very wise woman who knows me very well. She suggested two things: that I write about my memories of my mother, and that I put up her picture. The picture I posted on Facebook, which turned out to be a wonderful gift to myself (and will be the subject of an upcoming post). The letter proved to be the catalyst for a profound catharsis; in writing it, I was again 13 years old and just learning that my mother had died. It enabled me to mourn her from the depths of my soul and, I think, finally to begin to heal from that loss.
I would like to share that letter here as my next post.
A hui hou.