It’s almost autumn again, and I’m nearing the end of my sessions with my therapist. I remember the first time I went to her back in February, when the roads were still slick and the skin on my knuckles were cracking from the dry Midwest winter. At the end of that first session, I carefully asked her how many more sessions she thought I would need to be “better.” “Usually with other patients, we start with six sessions then see how it goes,” she replied, already penciling in our next appointment. My eyes widened in surprise. Six sessions? That’s such a long time. But it is only now — nearly 20 sessions after that initial estimate — that I feel like I’ve reached a place where I have temporarily outrun my demons.
I don’t know how I got that far down into that ditch, initially; there was never really a starting point for it all. It was probably somewhere between the guilt-inducing nature of the Movement, her yelling at me over the phone on that crisp San Francisco morning, and feeling like there was never “enough”/ enough time, energy, or space for each other in the Movement. By the time I realized that something needed to change, I had already crumbled underneath it all.
I remember how I used to have a panic attack every two weeks, like clockwork. I remember when I always immediately apologized for everything – to ease over her anger, even when I didn’t really think it was my fault. I remember how I broke down crying in front of 40-some tenants at a meeting that I was helping to run, how my mind went blank and I bawled on the street curb for nearly an hour, ignoring all the concerned stares from passerby. I remember how numb I felt when I noticed how respectful and kind she was to others, how it was so different from when she was alone with me, and how I always felt myself shrinking around her. I remember sitting in my grandmother’s place and wondering how someone could love me so much for the simple reason that I existed.
I remember when I would wake up in the middle of the night from a flashback nightmare and a pounding heart that would not believe me when I told it that it was not real. I remember when I realized that it had been quite a long time since I had felt safe and that I didn’t remember what that felt like anymore. I remember blinking back coldly when a friend claimed that they “couldn’t possibly imagine her doing something like that” and the moment when I had begun to doubt my own truth.
I remember the war that I waged with everything inside of me and everyone around me. I remember the surge of fear, shame, and violent denial I felt when the therapist told me that it had been emotional abuse. I remember when my response to everyone and everything was, “What’s the point?” I remember myself choking on the righteousness of radical people around me. I remember when I felt something snap inside me during an argument with my mother, and I screamed alone in my room and pounded my head against the wall until a blissful pain choked out all the other thoughts.
And those days sitting at a red light on Zachary Avenue / holding my breath and pondering how I could disappear myself so completely from this earth — that it would be as if I had never even existed.
“From the Other Side” is a series of posts dealing with burn-out, healing, trauma, and a critique of current movement practices. It stems from trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.