(unedited) Where does one even begin when trying to fathom 20 years together? That is exactly half my life. HALF!!! I have thought a lot about this since our session yesterday. I wasn’t thinking about this anniversary then. Now it is all I have thought about today. My mind has drifted back over the years flitting here and there and trying to process all that time.
Much has vanished from my memory and there is a lot of hazy spots yet some memories are so seared there no medicine or electricity can erase them. When I was 20 and languishing hatefully amongst many other miserable rage filled adolescents my life was going nowhere. I was hopeless and apathetic. Those dismal hallways and locked doors had become my life. The psychiatrist I continually butted heads with had given up on me. I had few options. a halfway house, a residential treatment center- a life that to me was worthless. I didn’t think much if anything of myself. that morning we were going though our usual routine of bantering amongst ourselves and staring at the staff huddled working in their fish bowl that we knew as the nurse’s station. flanked in shatter proof windows they watched us and we watched them. It was sport and it was all we could come up with in our stir crazy bored anxious lives. What else did we have to look at? What more was there? On that morning we were waking up and returning from showers. The staccato rap of foot steps followed the closing of the unit door. Not a true slam but a solid kiss of wood to metal frame that trumpeted any arrival. These foot steps were different. We all knew who was in the hall by the sound. when you are locked up and have nothing it becomes a way of life. Your senses find new things to focus on. We knew our staff by the sounds of their footfalls. A head or two peaked out and took in this small frame striding confidently down the hall toward the nurses. hmmm. def not a nurse. No, nurses don’t walk onto units like that. Admin? maybe. doctor? hmmm. those of us that were within close proximity all looked at one another trying to figure it out. One of the lifers (well not really, but sure prob felt that way since they had been there almost a year) told us it was our unit chief. I looked again as she rounded the corner and disappeared into the fish bowl. Hmm. I wasn’t sure what to think. I wasn’t all that fond of my doctor and of the hospital so I was just itching to turn my hate on someone new. It didn’t take long. the unit was in a bit of turmoil. as it often was. With that many young, angry, ill individuals your were sure to get some rough times. It was one of them. While the staff tried hard to regain some order a community meeting was called. ugh. For those of us who had been there a while we knew this wasn’t going to go well. More often than not it was for the staff to tell us how awful we were behaving and we had to knock it off. We hated it and did not want to be told what to do or how to behave. I mean seriously. most of us were there because we could not or would not control ourselves. On that day a young girl, not long with us was struggling. I can’t remember exactly why. Too long ago. what I vividly remember is that I had this compulsion to protect her. She was the under dog and she was about to get it. She could not behave. Her life was 100% out of control and coming to terms with being locked on a unit with a bunch of crazy strangers was not going well for her. I understood that. I was in her shoes months before. So there I stood, glaring at this small powerhouse of a woman I knew nothing about. I knew she was the boss and for that she was at fault. It didn’t matter that she had not been there for the previous months. It mattered little to me. All I knew was she was the enemy and this little teenager was at stake. and so I flexed my angry muscles as I had so many times before. She did not flinch and she did not budge. That same anger had intimidated many, but I had met my match that day. I didn’t know it in that moment but I had just found the only one strong enough to save my life.
In the weeks that followed she became the one that stood up for me when my discharge was looking unlikely. It seemed she realized I could languish forever in those halls if I didn’t get the chance to survive outside of them. It was not easy. In silence we sat for countless sessions. Endless diary cards were filled out. She knew enough to repeat the all to frequent refrain “do I need to walk you back down that hall to 7 South?” and each time I would shake my head as words sat like concrete setting on my tongue. I had no words you see. I had no language. I was completely and utterly unable to describe what it was that was in my head and my heart. I could write and so I wrote for her. The worst of it never did leave my lips, not in those early years. It arrived to her in the form of writing. I poured my heart there since I could not unset that concrete. I did not trust myself and I did not trust her. I swore I would open my mouth and that what would be unleashed would be unbearable for both of us. the thought alone terrified me and so I sat in silence. Often the emotions so strong they literally took the air from my lungs and still I uttered nothing. I gave nothing away. So we did DBT. Each night I’d go home and stare at that stupid xerox copy with the faces drawn on it. Happy, Sad, Angry. etc. I’d look at the drawings and try to tease out what was going on in me. I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. It was too great, too massive and far too tangled to comprehend. The DBT gave me something to focus on. something more tangible than What are You Feeling? That was beyond me then.
In the early hours of the morning I clung to a payphone beside the street as if my life itself depended on it. I had been assaulted and in my terrified and traumatized mind I reached out. I could have gone to family. I didn’t. Something had shifted in those months. She had demonstrated to me that she wasn’t going to run. I could depend on her and in that moment I did. I trembled holding that phone and thinking it was a mistake. It was too late at night. What was I thinking. The operator at the hospital was obnoxious and snide. I thought about hanging up. Who calls their doctor in the middle of the night, get your shit together. I could have hung up. Instead I found some words, “a man just tried to rape me”. Oh, okay. The operator who moments before had been so nasty suddenly softened. It made it worse. If the phone cord had been longer I’d have curled myself into a ball on that filthy wet floor. Instead I used it to hold myself up. When that phone rang I knew I had to find the words. I had to tell her what happened to me. To this day that will probably be one of the most difficult moments of my life. you see I am not one to talk it out, and mull it over. No. I silently sit with it. I do not want to explain my fear. My terror. I do not want to expose myself like that. I had no choice. I made that call. There was no option to shut down and become silent. As she has over all these years she became the strength I did not have in that moment. In the darkness and the fear her voice tethered me. As I struggled over the months of PTSD and then a trial she stayed beside me. She never pushed and never pried. what I shared that night was not often brought up again. In the chill of her office I lost myself only to come back with her waiting patiently in concerned quiet. Looking around I realized her black blazer was draped over my shoulders. In those days I was a mess. That night fucked with my head far more than I can ever explain. The trial only compounded that. Each day as I summoned the nerve to deal with it I knew she’d be there. On the day I testified I remember little of the actual questioning but I remember the soul nourishing relief at seeing her red volvo come into view. I don’t know that I could have managed that day had she not come to sit in that court room. Most doctors would not do that. She did.
As I nervously awaited surgery she again presented that calm strong reassurance while pressing a little elephant opium weight in my hand. She could not be there but she wanted me to have that touchstone. I knew she would be there when I returned to sessions. There were countless times when she stood up for me. She weathered the barrage of hate and criticism from my family while shielding me from most of it. I knew it was there. I never knew the degree till years later. As the years passed and the time went on there became I time when I thought all was well. I thought I was fine. Our session grew father apart. Months would pass. Meds were minimal. I had myself believing I would not need her. Life changed. A huge move and enormous stress took me out at the knees. I struggled. I didn’t want to admit where I was at and where I knew I was going. That old demon of depression had returned with renewed purpose. Once again I found myself on the end of a phone. I didn’t want to make that call. I can so clearly and vividly picture the moment I stood on the deck. cordless phone in hand. Once again her voice drawing some resolve from within me. I returned to her and we once again started the journey of recovery. Sadly this one was not simple. Often I sat on her couch as she made the calls to my family and the hospital. It was a combination of utter resignation, exhaustion and yes, relief. Someone would care for me when I had given up on myself. I could no longer be trusted and no longer cared to be here. She would quietly look over and lock her eyes on mine before they once again settled on the rug. I never once lied. I could not in those moments. I felt as if she was holding my soul in her hand. I could only truthfully say I was no longer able to keep myself alive. It hurt more than words can describe. It is probably one of the most vulnerable and exposed experiences for me. But not because I am being violated or injured. It is because the pain and exhaustion has reached its apex and there is only surrender left. I chose in those moments to surrender to her. To the care and ultimately to survival. It was a choice each time. I could have lied, though often she knew well before I did where I was headed. I could have stayed silent and walked away talking my life with me.
There came a night I regret more than anything because I made that choice and I harmed her. This warrior that stood beside me through battles and triumphs. The one that tethered me when all was coming apart. It hurts as I write these words as if it was just yesterday. I chose to walk away. I could have reached out to her. I did not. there are many questions as to why and I do not know that I can answer them. I can only say that my suffering had finally eclipsed my reality. My sense and decision making was so skewed. If I could go back, and I wish I could, it would all be different. But ultimately I hurt her. I hurt our relationship and challenged mightily that trust we had spent years building. I walked out into that windswept snowy night fully understanding and wanting it to be my last night. In a calm distant place I grasped it would be the end of us. I could no longer suffer and I had lost sight of all she had taught me. As I tried to tie that knot there was only desire, nothing pulled me back. I wish I could say I thought of her and her words of kindness and wisdom. I did not. And for that I am ashamed and sorry. In those final minutes I was gone. The Beth I know was no longer in control. In my rush to end my life I had forgotten all that mattered most. I can say it was just the depression. But that would be letting myself off far too easy. Virgil, I am sorry beyond measure. You had offered me so much hope and strength. Why I lost it and chose to kill myself is beyond comprehension and scares me to this day. I do not know that I could apologize enough for that night and for what I did to both you and Beatrice. I know years have passed and we have all moved on but I know that it also forever changed each of us. It was never the same after that. I do not know how you found the courage to keep working with me knowing that the phone might ring one morning and instead of news that I was alive and in a hospital it would instead bring the worst of news. I don’t know how you do that. The fear I have of myself alone only gives me an inkling. I can never express how grateful I am that you did not give up hope and that you stood beside me after that night. We have brushed against it again and still you stay. I waiver and hold fast to my belief I will not live. You still stay. In my darkest hours I cry and write manifestos. You still stay. Some might call that crazy. I guess there is that but beyond crazy, it is brave. What you and Beatrice do is brave. to look a disease ravaged mind and soul in the eye and take on that battle is fierce. There may not be bullets and bombs but there is terror and stress none the same. In each of those sessions that I bared the darkest corners and abject horrors to you there is only quiet accepting. There is an ability to absorb the worst of it and still hold the course. The storm that rages is slowly contained and the ship brought back on course. All those heart stopping moments become chapters in the 20 year saga. I chose that word carefully because I think it suits it well. Sure it is dramatic, but can we honestly say this journey has not been?
As I wrap up this rambling post I can only say I know the last year has been tough. I have seen you as human and I have seen your mistakes. I have questioned our relationship and I have questioned you. That may well have been more harmful than any night in the snow might be. For that I am sorry. How can I allow myself to sway so quickly and lose sight of all these years in the blink of an eye? I guess I can only say there is more work to be done. I am easily unmoored and I understand that now more than ever. I ask only that you accept my apologies and that we can move forward into the future, 2015 and beyond. I will continue to work toward changing me and discovering how I became who I am. I have many more miles to walk and much more still to grow. For that I am thankful. Without you I would still be that emotionally stunted mute angry girl that knew only rage. You showed and offered me so very much. Virgil, I hope we continue on and that our journey winds on as there is much territory yet to cover. It may be in a different form now but you are as much a part of it as you have always been. In kindness and love I offer my gratitude and thanks. thank you Virgil. Here’s to 2015 and beyond. Love, Beth