My Story of Healing

A Cumulative Reflection

December 2021

When I’ve loved, I’ve filled with shame. Shame in my sheer incompetence to be loved. I’d given myself… and damn I was great at it! But it didn’t matter so long as I couldn’t be loved back.

Was it them that I couldn’t trust? He was there… he tried… But I failed to accept his love. I put up a wall and called it his. His unwillingness to show me a grand gesture. His “obvious” aversion to tell me he adored me, and that I was his one-and-only. I needed to feel special within myself but expected his psychic powers to kick in. I needed him to reflect the intensity that I felt for him!! Yet, I called them his faults… His wall!

I haven’t been to the edge in so long I’d forgotten what my wall looked like. “I don’t remember these here? They must be his!” So I pound my fist against the cold stone of “his” heart but found that it only hurt my chest. “Why won’t you love me?!!” I would yell in silence. “Why am I not good enough for you?” I would sob with stoicism. If I held it in, I could hold on to the comfort of my shame. I would pretend it was some other reason or fall to my knees in desperation to at least taste his love.

I’d find myself alone beside a massive rock fortress. Immense hopelessness with a hint of relief because now that I’m by myself, I can hang my head and rest my forearms against years of dark, worn slabs of all I’ve taken for “granite”. “Oh how I’ve messed it all up this time. Just breathe… Just Breathe…” Process. Recover. Seemingly move forward.

I want to change but now I’ve got no more chances to make it right. There are no more opportunities available to practice letting love in…

“Take my hand… You’ll never find another quite like it” (Danzig, Sistinas). Those words echo in my mind like “coyoats” in the canyon. Perhaps if I could see why they would love me then I could accept that I can be loved. At least it’s worth a shot, right? Let’s see… When he first fell in love with me who was I? I was…. Quick witted and could make this tough boy laugh or try to impress me at the expense of a broken bench. I was the kind of rad chic getting caught alone at the shop for my first tattoo. He was the guy who stayed to hold my hand. I had already loved him then. There was an intensity, magnetism. We could stare at each other from across the room as a form of flirtation because we didn’t need physical contact to meet each others’ soul. I couldn’t get enough of him. He was my drug.

Oh but he wasn’t my first. Love is my kryptonite. There were many I lusted after… no… I loved each and every one of them. It’s the curse of pulling out the best of others. I see through the tough exterior and fall in humanitarian love with the person that I know they can eventually show the rest of the world. As an empath, I have to be careful not to be responsible for exposing that but to simply be a safe space for them to emerge. The possibilities and love were my drugs manifested as men.

I saw their hearts and I got hooked. So here’s to all those that I have loved. To the boy I kissed the same night I had my first Old Milwaukee. To the summer crush or two… To the midnight crusader who kept me company during my late night work break. To the Santa Cruisers in search of a pleasant tasting joint. I loved all of them. I did not sleep with any of them. But I loved them as we love all in this world.

To the lover with the “big appetite.” To the man who saw me as weak and took advantage of my lonely heart… who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I can respect that I learned a great deal about what love is not. To the blast from the past who felt like home… I wished he called but some sweet memories are best left alone. To he who had an eye for beauty. Love doesn’t have to be romantic. It can be the freedom of two creative souls giving each other the permission of full expression. To the stranger who had a smidge less courage than me because in the whole bar I was the first one out on the dance floor. To all my guy friends… I loved you like brothers.

“I’d have to be crazy, plum out of my mind, to fall out of love with you” (Willie Nelson, I’d Have to be Crazy). Ah, but you did… because I put you through the washer. Crashing highs and lows: “Why am I not good enough for you?” “Why don’t you love me?” Ah, but you did… love me. You called home about me. You gave me candle-lit rose petal baths and wrote poetry with me under the stars. Yet I still couldn’t see it… I still internally begged for proof. He was everything to me, which must have been suffocating. At first glance, I didn’t see you, but once I did, I was blinded by my adoration of you… or maybe the idea of who you were to me. My wall… keeping you out.

My wall made of love. The darkest parts of love: The fear of losing him. In a moment he could be gone. If my first memory taught me anything… Show love without reservation because in the next moment, he could be gone. But don’t be vulnerable to love, because in the next moment, you might be alone.

[“Dad, I learned my lesson… I accepted you with all your moods and torment and sacrifice and pride for us… I accepted you and cherished all our moments together up until the very end. I love you still, Your Honeydewdew.”]

More and more spill into my memory. To the hated lost boy who never tried to kiss me even when he knew: We were both small fish wanting to disappear into a bigger pond. To the best friend who just needed to prove that what he thought he wanted and the love of his life were two very different people. To another great friend who vowed to be my lifer who would’ve promised anything to keep watching me dance in the rain.

It was my free spirit that had attracted them to show conviction to keep me in their lives. Was my emotional unpredictability too high of a price for others? Perhaps it was safe for friends to be near me because they knew I would keep them at arms length or they liked the challenge. Are there any more?

Yes, but I’d only like to mention one… Here’s to the man who showed me the love that I could finally see. I showed you my worst but “forgave you” every time! (My wall… not yours). I loved you because you first loved me (sounds Divine). When others would have gone, you always stuck around. You truly understood my soul, but maybe not my hidden heart. Waves would crash but you knew to “Just hold on!” (John Mayer, Emoji of a Wave). But it’s confusing to wonder: Was he 100% dedicated to our friendship or half in and half out because of love? He was intimately there yet chasing after her or her or her. I pushed him away from the beginning…

That damned wall… Protecting against the intensity, the pain, the fear of loss. Standing against the wall, confounded by the shame of who I am and guilt of what I could have done differently. Where does it come from? The fear of loss comes from tragedy but the shame? Hyperautonomy is the subsequent experience of making it on my own. Could it simply be the Taoist principle that too much of one manifests its opposite? Shame leads to inferiority. Was it me at all or was it the daily abuse from the one I hoped would see me and want me around? Was it the effects of the trauma on him that he just took out on me to force me to feel his pain so he could bury it? Because he dumped his pain and loss on me and that wasn’t fair! I was the most vulnerable and accessible to shame… As a mini-empathic, I didn’t know how to make that energetic boundary yet. I’ve chased after men as I’ve chased after brotherly love…. Those men who are apathetic, cold, closed-off… I thought that if they can love me… could it be possible for him?

I’ve always allowed myself to take on others’ pain… To hold on to it until they’re ready to move past it. How do I disconnect without putting up a higher wall? Boundaries are not walls. The trick in differentiating the two is if you can see the other person. You can still see their heart with boundaries but not with walls. My shame in that I am not good enough to be loved and inability to accept love can be changed. Perhaps I should practice acceptance on small scales to get used to the new feeling. That might be a start but when we don’t know the root and get to the stuck-point, it is the perfect time to use our gift of freely giving. But this time, what we are giving is our imperfections, our insecurities, our faults.

“Lord I don’t know why I am this way. But I do know that it is my old nature. Lord take my shame so that I can accept others’ love. I give this to you so that I don’t bear the weight alone… That you may carry it and me through to the other side to meet Our Father.” You might say, “Oh, that is a terrible gift!” Yet, truly, that is the most precious gift I could give. He doesn’t want gifts of money, actions, or things. He wants the gift of my vulnerability which entails submission to His love and acceptance of His love. I don’t come to Him as perfection. I gift myself and He makes me worthy!!

The only way to solve the problem of not being able to accept the love of earthly men is to first accept the Divine Love. Hold that… And the wall turns to boundaries where we can see, love, and receive from others.


June 2020

It seems to be a fitting time in my life to dissect this term: Jealousy. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been taught that jealousy is bad. We should do away with jealousy in our minds because it destroys relationships. However, I have come to learn that the mindset of it being evil is an American concept, but other cultures use jealousy in a more positive fashion. It plays the role of increasing eroticism between the couple. In the past, I have made a point to extinguish those feelings, thinking I was being “a bigger person,” “a stronger, healthier person,” but I fear it only sent the message that I don’t care. Jealousy though, should not be confused with the emotion of anger. Yes, we can have a jealous rage and the act of betrayal often angers us, but as it was brought to my attention by Esther Perel, MA, MFT, it is more socially acceptable to be angry about the person lying than it is for me to be jealous that he chose someone else over me! Let me say it again… he chose someone else over me! Let it sink in. Here I think that I am pretty darn awesome, a great catch, if someone took the time to find that out. He knew every part of me- inside and out. He told me things that you only tell your best friend and lover… yet, I was never good enough for him. Of course I was jealous of the other women he dated! But it was more acceptable for me to admit out loud that I was angry that he lied about them or to me! I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t fathom how he could pass up such an amazing woman! No, that would make me seem too egotistical, which I am not. Jealousy has served no purpose except to create torment within me…. not him… at all…. only me. So, yes, my duty for self-preservation is to extinguish it… and him… from my life. God bless him and his new love. Truly. Now… my journey is far from over. I know that God is not going to leave me hanging. I deserve to be loved… Say it louder: I DESERVE TO BE LOVED!!! I WILL find a man whom I adore and who will adore me… and WE can use that natural state of jealousy, not to hurt each other, but to build the erotic energy between us…. as is meant to happen with jealousy. 🙂 

Relationship Patterns

May 2020

After a vision in the red hot embers showing a peacock, Native in headdress, and the king under the great Big Dipper… and the subsequent analysis of what it all means, I realized more about my relationship patterns. My schema includes the sense that I am alone… still… in the middle of the woods… yet trying to connect with my father.

My relationships have been patterned after his Native American and German roots. I have been energetically magnetized to men who always wanted another woman (like my father did to my mom). Most were explicitly flaunting their connections with others, except one… But still, I always assumed he too wanted someone else… That I would never be enough… Despite his attempts to show he adored me (rose petals in the bath, poems and love notes, dedicating songs, attentiveness and wanting to be with me and near me most of the time)… I ruined us by not believing him. All of my serious relationships were always outside the realm of trust and true intimacy because of my patterns and their role acting the part. 

But the question now is… How do I stop it? How do I break this cycle of unhealthy relationships and move closer to connecting with my true twin flame who will share a mission of love? Is the realization enough and now I can monitor who I allow in my life or is there something else I must do to prepare for meeting and experiencing union with him? I have made peace with the past and those whom I have loved: Periodically, I have friendly conversations with each one of them and there are no hard feelings.

But now what?

Let’s Talk About Joy

May 2020

I was watching a trauma training presented by Janina Fisher and one of her clients spoke about Joy. She couldn’t express it outwardly. It resonated with me, as I too feel that way. I started thinking about when that started or when my Fight part learned to protect my self from emotional harm. It led me to the parts of my life when I was tormented by my brother. Besides running from people, I also learned to run from Joy. You see, when I was young, I found joy in friendships, nature, in my curiosity and initiative. However, my brother made sure I didn’t feel it for long. He not only tormented me, he tormented my best friend- because it stole my happiness. When I loved a pet or an animal, he tortured it and took it away so I couldn’t enjoy it. He burned the kittens paws on the hot metal of the car in summer. He smashed a rock on our annual visitor Mr. Toad. He swung cats by their tails or football punted them out into the field. I would scream and beg but to no avail. His joy was seeing my pain. So I learned to hide true joy. My Fight part says I must pretend like I don’t care when inside I am jumping with glee. I can say the words of happiness but my Attach part says that it isn’t safe to connect them with authentic emotions because they will be snatched away. Even now, when I am out of the thick of it, I create conflict with him. Every accomplishment or joy of his, I view as an indirect attack to steal my accomplishments and joy. The body holds on to the abuse even past the point of relief. But as Janina would say, “No one told my parts that it was over!”

My parts continue to live the pain in new friendships and relationships. For example, I have known several guys who are quite lovely and caring- when they are around. However, they have a terrible habit of not following through with what they say (i.e., tentative plans). At first, it really hurt because I feel unwanted and unloved: All the relationship books and videos even confirm my “unimportance” in their worlds. Usually, I become clingy and obsess about why they aren’t calling back. Other times, when I really care, I run by deleting them from my life because I think “they don’t care. Leave now so you don’t get hurt!” Other times, I have been really excited to be with someone. On the inside, I leap with joy, feel giddy and ecstatically hopeful, but then my joy was robbed before I could reconcile my parts to express it. It was robbed by words, actions, or good ol’ Mr. Houdini. My Fight and Attach parts held a meeting and unanimously decided that it was safer to numb my joy than to feel it and have it torn away.

I’ve realized that my higher self needed these experiences so that I could work through the issues- to see that I have the power to control my feelings and emotional expressions, and that no one else has the power to steal my joy. I call the intentional placement of oneself in negative situations, “Emotional masochism.” I allowed it to happen so that I could work through it. I also know that they are good men who make bad choices because of their own parts trying to protect themselves from perceived dangers! Hell, I have “run” so many times that it is impossible for them to love me. So you see, I am not completely innocent: We each play a role in this drama. But each time, I work through these bits and communicate with my parts. “We tell the story of healing to the parts of our selves who never got the memo” -Janina Fisher.

Fight part: Trust me to protect myself from joy-snatchers. I have joy within that no one can take! I have God’s love and Christ in me.

Attach part: You have now lived through your greatest fear- attaching to someone and being disappointed. But you have lived through it! You have learned what unconditional love means. You have been able to give it. But darlin’ you have permission to receive it! If you love someone- don’t expect anything in return. If they cannot reciprocate, you have enough love from above to fill them up. Love through the pain to reach the glory on the other side! That is where true joy resides.

I’m a Runner

May 2020

Knowledge has its clever disguise as self-awareness. Taste of the bitter fruit and ye shall die. Recently, I have been pathologizing all of my unique qualities: I do not practice out-of-body insight, I am simply experiencing dissociation due to a childhood trauma. I am not a free-spirited gypsy, I am a runner.

The men in my family are runners: I never thought I was a runner. It turns out… I run too, but in a different way. They run around town on endless errands- their need to run still lies beneath the surface of their consciousness. Mine is much more… sick. I always thought, “I face my problems. I’m not afraid.” I would tell myself, “I am a free spirit. These constructs of time and commitment hold me back.” Yet, all this time, I have run. I refuse to go to church because it means I would have to commit to going every week. In my marriage, one foot was always out the door. When times get rough at work, I look for a new job. When I fear the guy isn’t interested, I go surfing on this emotional wave until it knocks him down and drowns him. It’s my way of running before he can leave first. When I feel uneasy or subconsciously afraid of the life I must face, I plan to move- across country if need-be. I don’t face people, I leave them. I close the door on them rather than talk to them about my experience or feelings. I portray an open, evolved woman, but deep down, I am terrified of being vulnerable because I learned early on that “if they see you cry, they’ll spit in your face some more.” “You have to be tough for yourself because no one is there to be tough for you.”

The feelings are back: Where can I move? The gypsy excuse for not facing my fears. I have a comfortable life with great neighbors and friends for the kids, why would I be so quick to leave? What am I running from? My mom is leaving- moving to another state for another life. I’ve left a countless number of times, so why would it matter now? With this move, she takes “home.” I was able to be a gypsy because I always knew there was home waiting for me when I’d return. The house will be there, but the home will be gone. So I feel as though there is nothing left for me here- despite my full life. I want to run and say, “Oh yes, this is just part of the game. One more move for the notches.” I run because I’m afraid to face the emptiness.

I don’t want to be a runner so I shall practice wu-wei: Action through non-action. I shall breathe deeply. Pray. Feel the spirit in the house rather than the emptiness. Fill my emptiness with the spirit. And wait. Wait for it to pass. This too shall pass.

I’m Not Ready

January 2020

I’m not ready to feel… nothing at all. To act in ways that are rote. I’m not ready to be… passionless. To live in complacency just so I’m not alone. I’m not ready to let go… of my dreams. They keep me grounded and sane.

I am ready to leave behind those things and people who no longer serve me… who no longer believe that forgiveness and love are powerful!

I’m not ready… Yet I am fully ready!

The Trauma and Internal Therapy

December 2019

I don’t know how I had gotten there. One minute I was begging my mom to let me go with her down the steep hill toward the farmhouse in the distance. In the next moment, I was crouched amidst the soaked orange and brown leaves watching the tractor crush my dad and hearing him wail and pray. “Can you tell me a little bit more about why you were out there?”

It was March of 1985. Our family had little money for the gas needed to heat our home in the lingering cold of an Ohio winter; therefore, we borrowed my uncle’s truck to chop and haul firewood back to our house. My mom, dad, brother and I drove out to a patch of trees near a church friends’ house. My older brother and sister were in school, but my older- but younger of the two- brother was only six years old. “So, you were a Family with Young Children. Where were your parents working at the time?” My mom was a stay-at-home mom but took odd jobs to make ends meet. She cleaned houses for several people. This one couple- our landlady’s son- was rigid and awful. If she ever made a mistake, they refused to pay her. For example, I tried to help one time by putting the bath rugs in the dryer. I didn’t know to ensure it was on “air” versus “heat.” The lining melted and the rugs were destroyed. They refused to pay her that day. I felt horrible. My mom also taught Sunday school at the Methodist church and cleaned the SDA Elementary School. My dad, well, Amelia, maybe you know since you are the oldest. What did dad do for work before the accident?

Amelia: He didn’t work. The Wardson’s had given him permission to cut wood to sell and try and make a little money. That day, they were collecting the second load of wood that they bartered with the dentist to pay for all of our teeth cleaning. “Do you know why your dad wasn’t working at the time?” Yes. We had lived in California and my dad couldn’t find work.

Me: More like wouldn’t. “What do you mean by that?” Mom said that she would set up jobs for him through church members but then he just wouldn’t go. He wouldn’t tell her though, just like his 12 years of college and was still considered a Freshman! She’d find out through other people. I don’t know how she stayed with him after that. But anyway, he “couldn’t” find work.

Amelia: They decided to go to Minnesota where our grandparents (i.e., maternal) lived. She found him a job at the nursing home. “You said, ‘she found him a job,’ did he ever attempt to find one on his own?” Yeah, he tried I guess. But I don’t think she trusted that he would stick with it because of all the secrecy and lies. They had plans to sell the 8-foot trailer where we lived and had been saving money to move. They were going to send Nora ahead with Grandma because she was only a few months old and they didn’t want her to travel that long in the van. However, she got an ear infection, so they sent me instead. I remember they had bought me these pink corduroy pants! Anyway, somehow dad blew through all the money and the buyer for the trailer backed out so they couldn’t move. That’s why I had to stay so much longer with Grandma and Grandpa. “You don’t seem happy about that. What are your thoughts and feelings around having to stay with your grandparents?” It was terrible! They were so mean to me- abusive. Mom said it was always her biggest regret that she didn’t somehow get me right away. Before going with them, I was loving and wanted to hug my parents all the time. Then, after, I never hugged them again. I was no longer affectionate.

Me: I’m so sorry, Amelia.

Amelia: Why are you sorry? You had nothing to do with it…

Me: Yeah, but because of the ear infection, I didn’t go. I was supposed to be the one with them. Once again, I skate off easy while you take the brunt of things. I am sorry for that. “That is a good awareness, but what do you mean by you ‘skate off easy,’ but she ‘takes the brunt’?” Well, I just mean that being the baby of the family, I didn’t have so many strict rules. I got away with more without so many consequences. Amelia was the oldest and so all the religious rules (e.g., no Friday night hangouts or school events, types of music) and responsibility went to her. I feel like she had to “take one for the team” because she was the oldest and it ruined her life! Well, not ruined because she learned from it, but it had a huge negative impact on her life.

Amelia: Thanks, but it is what it is. I don’t let single events like that, or the accident shape my identity. Anyway, mom prayed and just claimed that through hell or high water, she was leaving to get me on a specific date! She had no money yet to do it, but she had the faith.

Me: That’s right! That’s the story where she prayed and at the same time, Aunt Jeanine sold the shot gun! It was her prized possession, but she was in her funk (i.e., she had schizophrenia) and was going to use it against herself. She said that God stopped her and told her to sell it and send the money to her sister. There were no phones at the time and they hadn’t spoken in months. The day before mom was supposed to leave, she got the envelope in the mail with the exact amount of cash she needed!  I love that story! “Why do you love that story?” Because it just shows the power of faith in her life. Her faith carried her to do the impossible! I mean, she had absolutely no money, but she knew that God would get her where she needed to go. Those stories have helped me in my own journey of faith- I glean from her and know that He will carry me too when I need Him. “That is beautiful. Your mother’s faith is amazing! So what happened when she got to MN?”

Amelia: Well, the job at the nursing home was no longer available so dad still couldn’t work. Then when Grandpa’s blood pressure began to boil with Connor’s behaviors, mom said it was time to go. We left for Ohio. Dad had found a teaching job in Coshocton, but they found that the church did not have children’s services, so they didn’t live in that area. So we lived with our other Grandma (i.e., paternal) for a little bit but it was a 4-hour drive for my dad. Her house was tiny, and I think Uncle Jeb was already living there too. Our Uncle Tom let us use his camper that fit on the top of a truck bed. It was small but we lived in there for months at the state park near dad’s work. When it started to get cold and wet, they decided that they needed a place to stay. The next closest town that had our church in it was Mount Vernon. The only house we could afford and that was available for three kids was Upland Terrace. Dad would still have the commute, but it was only two hours away. “Nora, in one of our last sessions, you spoke about having a similar experience to this regarding living as campers, do you feel like maybe there is a connection between the two?”

Me: Ha! Well, in my situation, it wasn’t because we didn’t have the money, it was because he didn’t want to spend the money on a place to live. We left PA in June and camped until it got too cold (i.e., in WA) and wet in mid-September. It was okay, kind of an adventure for me and the kids; however, it was miserable to be in the van or tent all day when it rained when he got to be in a heated building while he worked all day. I finally put my foot down and said we needed a place- if I hadn’t, he would’ve had us camping indefinitely! I think my mom and I are similar in that we wanted to support our men as they took leadership of the family. Yet, we both had to assert ourselves when “enough was enough.”

Amelia: Dad lost that job because the program was cut. When the levy didn’t pass, the last in was the first cut. But I don’t really believe that was the whole story. Dad said that he wrote a program for the state with this woman, but she took the entire credit and he was pissed. He always thought they were out to get him!  I think he ran his mouth, “I am Bruce Trager….” and so when the program was cancelled, his behavior led to his unemployment. I have been at the HR level of businesses enough to know that if you are an exemplary employee and your job is cut, they will find you another placement so they can keep you. He burned bridges and it cost him. Then it was mid- to end- of the year so no one was hiring teachers. Plus, he was “too good” for any work at places like McDonalds. “It sounds as though he had a temper related to entitlement. Nora, would you like to speak on that a little bit?”

Me: Yeah, yeah. I get where you’re going with that. Hello, my name is Nora Masterman and I have a temper related to entitlement. I do! I guess I got that from him. I get moody and have burned bridges at work because I have felt wronged or have felt like I was in-the-right. I made rash decisions in the heat of the moment that could have turned out worse than they did. If I would have taken a day to calm down before sending that email about how my student was bullied by those teachers, I may not have accidently sent it to the entire SpEd department of the 4th largest school district in the state of WA! Thankfully, I had already made the decision to move back to CA and it was my last day…. The longest last day in history mind you, once I realized my mistake… The principal would not even look at me during the sign out process. If I hadn’t already decided to leave, I don’t think I would have had a job after that: No one likes a renegade as an employee! “What are some ways you could prevent ‘mistakes’ like that in the future?” Well, definitely take time to breath before making decisions. I should have talked with the teachers, but I was just too mad at how they had been all year. But… it would’ve been the professional thing to do. I felt entitled that I was in the right, no matter what! It may be a good idea to list the pros and cons or the subjective vs. objective information before making decisions too: It’s a good way to find my center and balanced point when I feel wronged by others. “Those are some excellent ideas. So, Amelia, you were telling us about his unemployment after that teaching job…”

Amelia: Yes, so now we are up to the point of why they needed to collect firewood. We had none for ourselves, but we also needed it to earn money because once again, dad had no job. It was a Friday. I remember because we had church the next day and I was in the Junior’s class. I was about a month away from turning 12.

Me: That means I was almost 4. Carlos, you were what… 6? Connor would have been 9.

Carlos: I thought I was in 2nd or 3rd grade but I don’t know. Maybe 6.

Me: You were there with us, so you were either homeschooled or not in school yet. “I think it’s a good time to bring up the elephant in the room: I appreciate that you two have joined Nora today in helping to heal, but why didn’t Connor come to the session today?”

Carlos: He’s working, and he has his kid, so he doesn’t get a chance. “You work too, and you are here. Amelia works and has kids and she flew down for this…” True.

Me: It’s because it isn’t about him, so he doesn’t care. That’s the way he is… That’s the way it has always been.

Amelia: He was sheltered from the whole thing. He wasn’t at the scene and he was disconnected from the changes afterward.

Me: I lived a block from him for almost 2 years and not once did he initiate time with me. It was always me asking him. He never went up to see my parents unless he needed something from them. Every holiday, he was hours late! He’s a narcissist who only cares about himself! “Didn’t you say you lived with him for a while?” Yes, before I lived a block away. I thought we were close. We had a standing date to watch the Bachelor together. It was awesome to connect with him, but it was also convenient for him too. He never had to try to hang with me. Then when my ex and him became best friends and hid it from me, I was so infuriated that he would lie to me that it severed our relationship… It has never been the same. “Do you want it to be the same? Do you want to be close to him again?” [Pause]. Honestly, I have had so much heartache chasing after his affections that now I am just apathetic. I have come to a point where I don’t care. I really don’t want a relationship with him because he is not the type of person I want to be around anymore. I have a family-of-choice: Amelia and Carlos- thank you for being here today- my mom, and some close friends. I mean, sometimes I get heated still because- well- after several sessions, I am realizing that it is my pattern to attach to men who in some way or another are unavailable (i.e., physically or emotionally). I always feel like I am drowning in a dark sea because the more I try to grasp at the life preserver (i.e. the man), the more waves I create that cause it to float farther away. “If you are not reaching for the life preserver, then how will you survive?” [Pause]. My Twin Flame journey has taught me that if I just let go of “panic mode” and just breathe, I can just lie back and let my breath create buoyancy where I can float. Look up to the sky- God- and pray as I float. He will steer my course and I will drift to safety. Yeah… just let go… There is peace in that. “What an excellent analogy and awareness! I am glad you have strategies to help you find peace with those relationship patterns.”

“So, you were almost 12, 6, and almost 4… If we look at it through a developmental lens (Erikson, 1950) we can see the possible perspective of each child through this experience. Granted, these stages are not static, and it is possible to revisit them to find balance along the spectrum in each stage. It can give us insight into how it shaped your identities. Amelia, you were in the Identity Formation vs. Role Confusion stage where puberty takes hold and you begin to question everything you once knew about yourself as you shape the identity of who you are as an individual and as a member of society. You begin to solidify your loyalties and beliefs (i.e., Devotion and Fidelity). Carlos, you and Connor would have been in the stage of Industry vs. Inferiority where recognition of what you do becomes important. Yet the two of you may have experienced this stage in very distinct ways. You’re searching for “your way” of doing things that will bring recognition and praise (i.e., Method and Competence). Nora, you were at the stage of identifying yourself as a separate person from your mother and your first experiences of executing your actions using free-will. It is the first phase in becoming a parent and holder of traditions. You begin to look to yourself for care as an individual, to form the boundaries of responsibility and restrictions, and define your role in play or in the family. When you were not able to gain the attention that you needed after fulfilling what you thought was “your role” then you may have become anxious or jealous. This stage is called Initiative vs. Guilt and helps you establish Direction and Purpose. I would like for you each to think about your stage as you tell me about the events that happened next. Please continue.”

Me: I’ll go. Well, this is the way I remember it. Amelia and Connor were at school. Mom, Dad, Carlos and I took Uncle Jeb’s truck out to get the wood. The wooded area was up on a hill, you had to drive through a field to get to it. I think I just played for a while in the woods as everyone else chopped and put the wood into the bed of the truck. Then once it was done, we all piled in the truck and tried to drive away, but the truck was stuck. I remember hearing the tires spin and when we got out, I watched the mud fly out from behind the truck as Dad tried to use the roll-back-and-forth technique to get it unstuck. He finally took Carlos to the nearby farmhouse and after what seemed like forever, came back riding a big tractor. Carlos was driving! He wanted to continue sitting on Dad’s lap while he pulled the truck out but Mom and Dad insisted that he get off. It was so loud… They had to yell to hear each other. The chain was hooked to the truck and Dad used the tractor to pull it. Then suddenly, the tractor flipped over onto Dad.

Carlos: The chain broke.

Me: I heard Mom and Carlos arguing about something…I think it was that she needed to go for help, but he wanted to go with her. She needed us to stay…

Carlos: She told me to run down to the Wardson’s to get help, but I didn’t want to go. I was timid and scared. I ran down there, but no one was home. I thought to run to the Nursing Home but then mom showed up. We ran to find a phone to call for help then went back up the hill.

Amelia: No, Mom always told it this way: You were told to stay with Nora, but you didn’t want to. You kept grabbing at her and insisting you go but she needed to run fast and you would slow her down. She asked you to stay but you didn’t listen. She put Nora down in the middle of the field far past the edge of the woods- far away from the tractor because she was afraid it would blow up. She saw the blood spilling from his mouth and the steering wheel crushing his chest and thought he would be dead before she got back, but she still had to try… try to get help!

Me: Later she told me that he couldn’t breath because of the steering wheel, but then… somehow… he felt the tractor lift up just enough to be able to breathe until help arrived. She said that he felt a peace come over him. But when mom left to get help, I remember looking down the hill. I could see the farmhouse. But I blank on how I got back to the spot where I watched Dad.

Amelia: They said you didn’t listen either and were wandering. She put you so far away from it all! How could you have gotten back there?

Me: I don’t remember wandering. But somehow I did go back. I was alone- mom had gone. Carlos had gone. I remember sitting in a little dip surrounded by orange and brown leaves. There was a tree to my left, and I was… oh… about 20-30 feet away from the tractor. I knew I was physically alone but thinking back, there had to be angels because I felt… safe. In my memory, I am looking down on myself as I watch and listen. “That is called dissociation, specifically depersonalization, it can happen during and after a traumatic event. I remember you mentioning those sort of occurrences during other sessions too.” Dad wailed in pain- with prayers between- begging God not to take his life. I must have been in shock or not realized what was happening because I just stared and listened with curiosity. It was as if time stood still within this bubble of a memory. I don’t know why but for some reason, I associate singing Bible songs like the Old Rugged Cross with this point in the memory… Anyway, it must have started to get dark and quiet. He stopped screaming and a wave of peace filled the area. I finally heard the sirens and saw the glow of the lights coming up the road.

Carlos: That’s about the time mom and I got back- as the ambulance was arriving. I remember they used a Jeep and hoist to pull the tractor off him. Then they gave us blankets to keep warm sitting in a Ram truck. I remember seeing the logo on the front.

Me: It’s funny how logos stand out… Wasn’t Uncle Jeb’s truck a Ford? I think this whole event made me way too independent. I was left to witness this and then never to discuss it with anyone again. I had to process the trauma and develop my identity all on my own. You can see that today in my inability to let others help me: Vulnerability has been a weakness. “It’s a big step for you to allow your siblings to help you with sorting through this trauma. I commend you for being vulnerable with everyone today. How do you two feel it affected you [motions first to Carlos]?”

Carlos: I don’t know. I just think it was scary and Dad wasn’t the same after that.

Me: You don’t think it shaped who you are at all?

Amelia: I think Carlos, that you are still searching for what to do with your life. I mean, it seems you had that confusion about what you were to do during the accident- to go or stay- and it seems you are still confused about your direction in life.

Me: That’s what I was thinking. I feel like you are still lost in a way.

Amelia: After that you always followed other people. You followed Connor up the tree and then you were the one to fall and break your leg. You are the one that gets involved in these unhealthy relationships with dominant women… and then you get hurt. All of us have made mistakes and poor choices, but it seems you are the one that seems to get the biggest consequences (e.g., DUIs).

Me: You’re right, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Perhaps it is because he hadn’t really formed an identity like all of us- he’s more of the follower and tried to fit into the groups rather than be firm in who he was- so he never had that to cling to when faced with those decisions. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do, and that uncertainty stuck with him…. “I’ve heard your sisters speak on your behalf. What are your thoughts on what they have expressed about you?”

Carlos: I don’t know. I guess they’re right. Even now, I’m just trying to figure out who I am. At times, I don’t feel competent in who I really am. I don’t feel like anything I do gets praise and recognition, like you said earlier about the developmental stages. I can see how I’m still working through that. [Another session could explore these ideas for Carlos]. “Amelia, how did the accident affect you?”

Amelia: You know, the accident didn’t really affect me because I wasn’t there. It wasn’t that day that was traumatic for me… It was that I had to grow up overnight. Everything about my life changed after that… that was the real trauma. “How so, what do you mean by that?” Well, we had expected mom to pick us up as usual from the SDA Elementary. We got out at 2:30 on Fridays to prepare for Sabbath. But after a while of playing along that gravel path by the tall trees next to the gym door, an older couple from church came to pick Connor and I up. I asked them where my mom was, but they wouldn’t give me any information. They took us home and stayed with us. I don’t remember eating dinner, but I don’t remember being hungry either. I got all the kids ready for bed then also went to sleep. The next morning, the older couple was still there so I asked again about my parents. They said, “Your dad had an accident and we don’t know if he is okay or even alive.” Then they dropped us off at church.

Me: [gasp]. That’s it!?! “Your dad might be dead” then just left you there?

Amelia: Yep. I kept waiting and watching out the window for the blue van. Mom would always park off to that side and not in front of the church because she was embarrassed at how messy the van was. But Mom never came so I began to cry. My friends kept teasing me for crying and I remember, it was the first time I ever stood up to them. When my friend called me a “Cry baby,” I looked at her straight in the eyes and said, “Quit being such a bitch! You don’t even know. My dad might not even be alive… and no one will tell me anything!!” Eventually mom must have come to get us and take us home. Dad was still in the hospital. We weren’t allowed to see him for about a week and a half. When we finally went… I don’t know that you went Nora…

Me: Yes, I did. I remember going to the hospital.

Amelia: He stunk bad! I didn’t know then, but I know now that he smelled like death and rotting, putrid flesh. He had a full head of white hair- I never knew him to look like that before then. We were all scared of him. Our whole lives changed. “You mentioned that you had to grow up overnight. What did that mean for you?”

Amelia: As an adult, I am the bossy one. I always have the plan and have to be in charge. I remember Nora saying once, “She’s not like my sister, she’s more like a mother.” Part of that was because I had to… I became the mother and a worker with all that responsibility put on my shoulders at age 12!! Mom couldn’t find a job with two kids at home and we couldn’t afford for anyone to watch you. That’s when she got that job with Steve mowing grass. She had to leave at 5:30 in the morning in the spring and summer to mow grass and in the winter to shovel snow before the businesses opened. I got you up and ready for the day and packed lunches so that by the time she arrived home, we could all just jump in the van and go. When dad finally came home from the hospital, I became the nursing assistant when she was home and the nurse when she wasn’t. It was my job to sponge bathe dad’s arms and face, to fix food and feed him, give him pain medication, and force him to drink OJ with Aloe Vera gel mixed in while he called me cuss words and tried to throw it at me. When she was home, she would yell for me to come force his arm into a bucket of ice while she held his other arm down so he wouldn’t hit me. I remember him constantly screaming in pain: I would sit on the floor in front of the hospital bed (i.e., that had been brought home) and strangely would watch shows on the TV about death (e.g., Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventures). “Do you remember how long you had to do this for him?” I’m not exactly sure, but after a while, it got to the point that he was so angry and abusive… He had so many surgeries and was in so much pain that he had become addicted to pain medication… that he was taken to Upland Hall drug rehab at Ohio State. We didn’t want to go near him. But mom made us say goodbye to him. He was in there for about two or three weeks. “This must have been somewhat of a relief for you to get a break from your job as the nurse for him…” Yes. But, it was also a time when Nora couldn’t sleep with mom and didn’t want to sleep in the boys’ room, so our mom made me share a room with her. I really resented it because my bedroom had been the only place to get away from being the mother to the kids. I would hunker down between my bed and the wall or on top of my mess in the closet to sneak listening to country music on a little crank radio. It was my only place to get away!

Me: I didn’t realize growing up, how selfish I must have been because it was “always about me.” I mean, how could I at the age of 4 know the importance of that space for you. But I still feel bad about it. [Another session could cover the stressors put on Amelia]. “How else did the accident change the family?”

Amelia: Well, we had no food, no income plus so many medical bills piling up. I would help my mom clean the SDA school so we could continue to go there. Before the accident, we could fake it to fit in at the church. After the accident, it was obvious- right in their faces- that we didn’t belong. Think about it, this was the SDA Conference capital of the state so there were many affluent members who looked down at us. We were ostracized! We thought it was a community based on faith, but it wasn’t… It was dependent on your SES. We were “in the church” but not truly accepted in that body of believers.

Me: I think what was more important than our exclusion from the church was that we all had this ambiguous loss (Jackson, 2018) of our father! We’ve talked before about how Connor’s anger and violence may have been because he no longer had a dad in the typical sense. They didn’t have a dad to teach them or play ball with them. After the accident, he wasn’t around. Besides knowing he was around at Bryant’s house because he smashed the TV with a hammer, I don’t remember him around…

Amelia: Yeah, but you have to realize… It wasn’t the accident that caused that… The accident didn’t “take him away.” He was never around to begin with! He never attempted to play ball with the boys or play anything with us… ever! Sometimes when I was young, he’d have me untie these macramé things and count the strings. I got so excited about that time with him, but really, it was a way to brush me aside while he sat there and watched TV. The boys weren’t upset with him in high school… because he wasn’t there all along! They were annoyed at the switch from him not being there to always being around. They weren’t used to him talking to the coach or being at every practice and game. They didn’t like it!

Me: I guess they were finally at an age where they enjoyed something that he liked. So he showed up. I used to get so mad at him because he would promise to be there for my choir or drama performances. But at each performance, I would look up to an empty seat next to mom and my heart would break.

Amelia: At least he said he’d go to yours, he’d flat out tell me “No, I’m not going.”

Me: That sucks. I’m sorry. “I seem to be noticing a trend, do you as well? Nora and Amelia, you have had such different experiences and it seems that Nora, you seem to apologize each time. Do you feel like you are responsibility for her negative experiences?[1]

Me: Not…directly. But it does seem to be a pattern: I was involved in or did something, she had a negative experience… So, in a way, I do feel indirectly responsible. I had the ear infection, I couldn’t sleep in another room, I needed to be cared for… And I know, we are always told, “It’s never the child’s fault” because I had no control of the situation nor an awareness even of the circumstances. I know that it’s not my fault. But the blame must go somewhere right? “Does it?” I don’t know. If I take the blame, others don’t get hurt. It’s a way to justify and remedy the guilt I feel when I get off unscathed when bad things happen. I seek emotional pain because I feel like I deserve it as penance for not having consequences in other areas [Clinician hands me the tissue box as this is the first time I’ve shown emotion behind my words]. I’m sorry. Oh God, just a second. Pull yourself together, Nora! “You don’t have to… Tell me more about taking on the blame. What does that feel like?[2]” [Pause]. It’s funny. There is so much from the external that I feel but I often can’t truly connect with my own feelings. Objectively, yes… I can tell you what I feel in a matter-of-fact sort of way, but it can be difficult at times to actually feel it by way of letting it out- especially around other people. On the inside though, it feels like an overwhelming sense of guilt as though I have failed that person… Sometimes I am conscious of how heavy I am, bogged down. It all lives in my lower abdominal region, where no one can touch me! I found that out a long time ago during my massage days. “Did you know that the sacral chakra has to do with relationships and guilt (Leigh, n.d.)?” No, I hadn’t realized. I just know that it is the place where the root of my issues resides. When I had it worked on once, I had to stop because I started bawling. I couldn’t allow myself to be vulnerable enough to work through it. “How does taking on that guilt serve you?” If I take on that guilt, then I will no longer hurt the person. It will make it better for them if they are not the one to blame for the bad thing happening. When I found out that I was conceived after my dad’s affair, I felt like I was the fix-it kid. I needed to take the responsibility for making it better. I blamed myself for my parents’ relationship to make my mom hurt less. Perhaps if I would’ve done my job, their relationship would have been better. “What was your job?” You know, they were working on their marriage when I was conceived… My existence should have been enough to rekindle the love and dedication.

Amelia: That sounds ridiculous! Do you really think you would have fixed it?

Me: I know it sounds ridiculous. But that was the way I could justify it… in my own head… as to why he never wanted to be around. It doesn’t make sense because he and I had a good relationship- I was a Daddy’s girl when he was there- until I was in junior high when he didn’t show up to my important events but was at every single practice for the boys. “How did your relationship change after that?” I disowned him for a while… He said I was “acting like a bitch” and I said, “I’m done with you.” He tried to come to my softball games, but I told him to leave so he parked on the other side of the field. “Why tell him to leave when you wanted him to come to your events?” I thought it was shitty for him to attend a sporting event, but disregard things I really cared about like choir or a play. I didn’t think he deserved to be there. “I would like for you to tell me more about how taking the blame or the accumulation of guilt has shaped who you are today.” Who I am today? [Stops to think]. I think now that when I take the blame, it proves my worth. I don’t feel good enough in relationships- at least not good enough for anyone to stick around. It’s weird… I know I’m amazing and have a lot to offer, but I never feel like anyone else will see that or choose me because of it. I end up craving male attention and clinging to relationships where the man is clearly unavailable or disinterested. I “perfected” certain sexual activities because I thought maybe then men would stay, but they still don’t and sex is often emotionless for me… I don’t easily connect… But I keep searching for that connection. In junior high and high school, it was extremely difficult because I never felt anyone really wanted to be my friend. I had a lot of negative self-talk to justify it. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I have found a group of friends that I truly believe accept and love me. “What made your relationship with your dad more positive in the end?” Gosh, it took a long time… We had some other issues when I was a teenager, but when we moved to CA, I think the whole family became close again. We had holidays together with extended family. He was around. That’s what made the difference, I think. He helped us when we needed him. We got to know him as a dad… finally. My parents both had good teaching jobs, so we weren’t struggling anymore. Now that didn’t come over night!!! My mom worked her ass off to get to that point. It seemed like many of the social factors were not affecting us in the same way and so he wasn’t as stressed. He could be around us if he wasn’t stressed. “How do you think the whole experience of the accident and aftermath affected your connection with your siblings?”

Me: We’ve all lived with this trauma and the devastation it was for our family. Our church wasn’t supportive. We didn’t qualify for any government programs. I think we can all agree that Mom carried the family and her immense amount of faith in God carried her. It connected us, well most of us.

Carlos: I thought it was interesting that Nora and I were the ones at the accident and then also the ones there when he died.

Me: Yeah, they say you can’t really know someone until you’ve experienced life with them. We’ll always have that bond. “Indeed.” I know that I have a strong distrust for other people. I think they are going to just disappear- I guess like my dad did. Growing up, I never thought my friends really cared for me- I thought they were all faking their affections for some unknown gain. So in relationships with friends or even lovers, I try to hold on to the connection out of fear of losing them. It has been a real turn-off for my lovers. “How did it manifest to do that?” I’d say because I could be somewhat of an extremist with my emotions. Most men don’t care for “the waves” as I call them. The littlest thing can set off a set that destroys the relationship. It’s not that I would openly get angry… never! Rather, I would shut down and declare that they do not care for me at all and assume they were done so I would be done. I don’t trust men to choose me. I always think they are looking for someone better and will jump at the opportunity to be with anyone else but me. I am anti-competitive in love and work and everything I do, so much that I fail to try if I see that others have already done it. I think that’s why I prefer autonomy and just being on my own. “Sounds like a self-fulfilling prophesy. What are some other things that cause these waves?” I become so enraged when people who I think I am close to lie by omission! It’s a pattern since I was young- It keeps happening! I don’t understand how they can in one breath say they care for me then hold the truth inside! To me, that is not love. “Have you ever thought that perhaps with the waves, you haven’t allowed them or made it accessible for them to tell you the truth?” Well, I suppose they may have been scared to come clean in fear of my emotional instability. But then that makes me think that I am the one who cannot be trusted! “Perhaps… Can you elaborate on that?” If others don’t feel comfortable in sharing their authentic selves with me because of how I might react, then in a sense they don’t trust me. “You are still blaming them. You are making it their fault in a way… What is your responsibility in this matter?” I see what you mean. I must work on being trustworthy in my emotions. “How do you think you might do that?” Not overshare? When I want to “throw a mood,” I should take some deep breaths instead. Wait a day or two before responding to information that makes me feel inferior or unimportant. “Well, it sounds like you’ve created your own homework for the week. In great timing too because our session time is coming to a close.”

“Amelia. Carlos. Thank you so much for coming to the session with Nora today. It is wonderful that she has such a strong support network to help her heal. Thank you.”

Hypothetical Clinical Response

The client was concerned about possible undiagnosed PTSD or newly coined PTSI (i.e., injury replaced disorder). The accident was indeed a traumatic event for the two children who witnessed it; however, the subsequent events related to extreme poverty, ambiguous loss of parents, and uncertainty of safety and security created a situation where she experienced the effects of Complex PTSD (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, n.d.): Dissociation manifested as depersonalization (e.g., often on the ceiling, out of body, looking down on herself), attachment and trust issues in relationships, physical health (i.e., previous smoker, overly sensitive to sensory input, empathic, risky behaviors that led to breaking her arm twice), dysregulated emotional responses (e.g., depression, obsessive about emotions), negative and risky behaviors (e.g., drug use, sexual promiscuity, extreme in “telling anything and everything,” no filter), and self-concept (i.e., low self-worth, shame, guilt). As the clinician, I would assist her in redefining her narrative so that she understands that the accident, her parents’ relationship, nor all the “bad things” that happened were not her fault. Our dialogue would facilitate her positive and non-risky choice-making behaviors. I would help her identify ways that she has or could clear herself of the guilt; mainly, compassion toward others and building resiliency. We would devise a regime for mindfulness so that she maintains a body-mind connection throughout her day. She has a vibrant and healthy life beyond the trauma that occurred in her first memory- As the clinician, I would hold space for her to heal so that she can live that life.

[1] Transference (Holland, 2019)

[2] Affective Counseling Theory (Affective Counseling Theory: Definition & Key Principles, 2016)

[3] Erik Erikson’s outcome for Initiative vs. Guilt: Seeking Purpose


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