In late 2004, I bought one of the most influencal books of my life: The Courage to Heal, by Laura Davis and Ellen Bass. For the first few months that I owned the book, I didn’t read any of the pages inside. I read the cover. I read the back. I slept with it under my pillow, replacing my Bible for the first time in years.
The Courage to Heal was recommended to me by one of the process group leaders. She told me it was the absolute worst book she’d ever read in her life, and the book she recommended most often to people. My aunt Janet was with us, and on the way home, we stopped at Barnes and Noble, where she bought me my first copy.
For about nine months, my aunt nutured me and brought me back to life. It’s something that I’ll never be able to properly thank her for…she saved my life.
Janet Miller is an over-achiever. She believes in working hard, and getting results. I was living in her house, and as I’d known since childhood, there would be rules at Aunt Janet’s house. I had to get better, and that included a multitude of things. Namely, no cutting. Knives were out of my aunt’s kitchen for months. I had to go to therapy. Instead of being in school, I would focus on healing. My job was getting better. I would read, go to therapy, take nature walks or whatever. I would meditate or pray or punch pillows. Whatever it took, whatever I needed to do, here was the time, space, and resources to accomplish it. Go.
Between leaving the physc ward and getting to the parking lot, I was enrolled in an outpatient day program. I’d be in therapy five days a week, eight hours a day. Seven if you factored out the lunch hour. My aunt pointed out whereabouts she thought the bus line dropped folks as we pulled onto PCH.
The day program was far more functional, entertaining, and at times, educational than the groups upstairs, in the ward. Everyone who was down here had “done time upstairs,” but lengths of time, and how long they’d been downstairs varied greatly.
When I entered the room on my first day, I sized up my situation and decided it was to be treated like school. It was more like the independant study school I’d attended after dropping out frehsman year of high school, but still, school. I felt confident in school. When I could remember attending classes.
After school I’d learn something with Aunt Janet. She taught me how to read the labels on food at the grocery store, and how to comparitve shop against non-brand-names and bulk sizes. She taught me to make tacos with celery instead of lettuce. She showed me the original Star Wars movies.
Therapy homework was the brain child of my aunt and myself, in order for me to gain maximum healing speed. I got The Courage to Heal Workbook, and my mother bought me The Survivor’s Guide to Sex. If I’d been sexually harmed, and it sure as fuck seemed so, I was not going to let some dead man run my sex life now. Even if I didn’t have a sex life to speak of.
I spoke to my mother after my wounds closed. I spoke to my siblings shortly thereafter. Life had changed a lot, for all of us, in a short six-month period. Both my brother and sister had dropped out of high school. My brother was doing, and maybe selling, drugs out of their new condo. Allison and I weren’t friends anymore. Aunt Janet and my grandparents refused to go visit them.
Seeing my mother, my brother and sister, it seemed wrong. I shouldn’t even be here. Why couldn’t I do the one thing I had meant to do and killed myself? I was broken, and had failed at the one thing I’d planned to do for them. I told myself that they were angry with me, that they were disappointed in me, they saw all the ways I’d failed them. I didn’t want to see them. I tried to avoid them. I didn’t want to see anyone in California.
The one person I wanted to see was a man named Preston. I know the stories of how he and I met, and our first dates, but I can’t recall the events taking place. I can’t recall most of Fall 2004. We’d been dating when I left, and Facebook did have pictures of him with my roommates and friends. The first independant memory I have of Preston is him calling me.
Preston called me every day. Sometimes more than once a day. He sent me care packages in the mail. He showed me something called Gmail, which was aviable by invitaion-only. We were able to chat, like old school AOL, for hours. All of our conversations were recorded, and stored automatically. Being able to check your sources and be correct mattered.
He told me that I was strong, an idea I disbelieved and desperately wanted to be true. He told me that God wasn’t real. He expressed fury, openly, towards my father. He remembered me, even as my other friends from my short college stay forgot me. He was the first person who I heard tell me that I was a child, and there is no way a child could have prevented what happened to me. Other people had told me that. I was in therapy about fourty hours a week. But they first time I actually heard the words in context with myself was over the phone with Preston, standing in my aunt’s kitchen.
I loved him more than I had ever loved another person outside of my family.
The day program was designed for people to learn life skills to manage healthy, sane lives out in the “real world”. The information cycled over and over, with the exception of medication class. There was always another drug we could learn about. The bulk of the material was new for about four weeks. People stayed for months, despite this glaring error in circulam. I got good at the classes. About two or three months in, one of the facilitaotrs kindly asked me to not chime in with every answer. After about four months in, I was no longer gleaning anything from anything, not even process group. My issues had grown too specific for general group, so I was told to wait for one-on-one.
My one-on-one therapist was covered by my insurance. She worked near my grandparents house. I can’t remember her name. I do remember that she was going through a messy divorce. I remindered her of her daughter, who just needed to get back into dentistry. She also thought that Mel Gibson was not the villian that the media seemed insistant on making him out to be.
To counter my shakes and the withdrawl, my mother taught me to crochet. I had started many projects over the years as a child, but I’ve never finished any of the throws, scarfs, or hats that I had begun. This time I worked in a rainbow of colors, and did a new stitch Mom showed me. I would read a paragraph from my book, lock my bedroom door, lean against it, willing myself not to find sisors, not to break open my bathroom razor, and recite to myself how many days it had been. I would stitch and think about God’s rainbow to Noah, and his promise never to flood the world again. I pleaded with God to not flood my mind again. Let me know where I am, let me know what happens to me, let me know the truth.
Ditching the day program was easier than I had thought it was going to be. I had a million places the bus would escort me to instead, and all of them minutes from the ocean. My aunt noticed me easing up on studies, and strongly suggested a part-time job. I started working as a hostess at Polly’s Pies. This particular francise of Polly’s Pies was next to Lesiure World, the country’s largest retirement community. I enjoyed work, entertained thoughts of becoming a waitress, and even bumped into a kid I knew from sixth grade. Mostly, I saw things that were not there. I was always bleeding. I would look down at the section chart, and see blood seeping through my uniform. I’d see Jim walking into the lobby. I hear my name called, and would appear in rooms only to find that I was mistaken; no one had called me. I would wash my hands over and over, trying to wash the blood from under my fingernails, only to find that it hadn’t been there in the first place. I didn’t have any gauge on reality.
Just before the spring, my aunt had a friend move in. Suzanne was dating a married man and her parents had stopped paying her bills. She was in her fourties and wore clothes exclusivery from Forever 21. Her average wine intake grew from two economy bottles of Yellowtail to three during the couple months I still lived there. We did not get along.
I wanted to go back to school. I had stopped even getting on the bus to go to the day program, because I’d run out of things to see in Laguna Beach. I missed my boyfriend. I was remembering all the reasons why I wanted to be away from my family. It was time to try again. In the summer of 2005, I went back to college and back to living in the dorms.