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I Demand Freedom: A Dream in 3 Parts

Part 1: The Dream

A complicated house. People everywhere, an open bar that I’m desperately trying to avoid, chaos, nudity. I just want to be alone. I am lost. (I have variations of this dream frequently. I’m always trying to get to my room so I can be alone. I’m lost, always lost. The dream ends every time before I ever achieve my goal.) I make it to the top floor of the house. It’s a single room, large and round, littered with junk and trash. There is a jacuzzi tub that’s on, but not being used. And T is there. The ex-boyfriend. The meth addict. The rapist. My rapist. I am terrified. I am frozen. I am angry–until I see that he is holding a hairbrush. (I always used to tell him that I wanted to brush his hair. He has beautiful hair. It’s down to his waist, curly, and blond at the ends. It’s always in his face, and he runs his hands through it constantly, but to no avail. It was messy and wild, just like him, just like “us.” It would have been beautiful if he’d let me brush it with a bristle brush and give it body and volume. My hair is too short to brush, so I have no idea where my old bristle brush is. I haven’t used it since I was in high school. I never did get to brush his hair.) So in the dream, I soften. I love him in the dream. We are together again, we are at peace, we are a couple, we are in love. I take the brush from him and begin to brush his hair. I cannot see his face. I cannot make eye contact. His hair comes out in chunks in my hands.

Interlude:

In the days after the rape, I was achy. I carried myself around like a shattered doll, afraid to go anywhere, afraid to stop functioning. My life was already falling apart. Failing classes, missing work, and the emptiness in my heart after breaking up with my ex-girlfriend. (God, she was happy. What was I? Surely not broken beyond belief. Surely…)

At the AA clubhouse, I alluded to the crime that had been committed against my body. I cried on the porch a lot. “Nick” told me I should pray for my rapist, and I bristled. He said I would feel better. I told him that was bullshit. Maybe I just wasn’t willing to “go to any lengths.” Maybe I wasn’t ready.

Part 2: The Dream (con’t)

[Nick seems like he must stand about eight feet high. He has a voice like Morgan Freeman, and dreadlocks that are probably longer than I am tall. He always describes himself as, “A grateful alcoholic,” He has an “attitude of gratitude.” 

He doesn’t understand.]

As I brush T’s hair in my dream, the hairbrush seems to weigh a hundred pounds. I persevere. His hair continues to fall out in my hands, and it obscures his face. As I try to sweep it out of his eyes, he darkens; his hair thickens in my hands, and I am face to face with Nick. He is eye-level with me in the dream, his massive height gone, leaving him all hound dog eyes and somber face. I bring a single dreadlock around from his back and arrange it so that it rests on his chest. No words are exchanged, but some of the knots in my stomach come undone and are as smooth and straight as the dreadlock that rests in my hand.

Part 3: Mi Sheberach (A Prayer for Healing)

“May the source of strength–”
Please, God, give me strength to go on. Give me strength to say this prayer. Please, God, soften my heart. Take away this anger. Please, God, make me less prickly. I ask You to make me the soft hair of my dream, not the spiky brush itself. Help me to walk in love.

“Who blessed the ones before us–”
Dear God, thank You for my family. Please bless my father and mother. Thank You for my brother and his hidden kindnesses. For as much as they get under my skin, I need them there in my veins, raging through the body and keeping me tethered.

“Help us find the courage–”
Please, God, give me strength to pray this prayer. For, I don’t want to say it. I am afraid. I am selfish. I am small. I am imperfect. I am Yours. Is it okay to acknowledge these thoughts? Did some man break me all that time ago? Did You create me to be broken–or to be pushed to the breaking point and to rise as surely as the fertile moon? (Someday, my belly will be as swollen as the moon hanging low in the night sky. Someday, my body will wax and wane with a greater purpose. Someday, someday, someday…) God, grant me the serenity to accept this thing I wish I could change, to make peace with the crime scene that is the body You left in my care. Have I failed in some way, or have You failed me? I am sorry, God. I am so, so sorry.

“To make our lives a blessing–”
God, please let it be Your will that T may recover from his addiction. Please mend his body, his mind, and his soul. Please grant him a r’fuach shleimach, a complete healing. Please let him find peace.

“And let us say: Amen.”

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In Defense of Journaling

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I used this as a self-portrait for my photography class.

I can’t remember what inspired me to start journaling, but I’m grateful for whatever did. I’ve kept a journal for the past seven years, and I’ve filled twelve notebooks of varying size with writing and art. When I first started, a lot of what I wrote was boring and superficial. I detailed conversations I had with my friends and teachers, and the highs and lows of middle school drama. After about a year, I had established a rhythm and felt comfortable enough with my pen and paper to start writing about what I was feeling, not what I was doing.

As my anorexia and depression manifested, my journal became a barrage of negativity. I cataloged every disordered, self-loathing thought. My parents and therapist encouraged me to stop writing down these thoughts, but I wouldn’t. I have entire volumes of put-downs and self-hate.ashamed collage At the time, it was detrimental to my recovery to put so much time and energy into negativity, but I had nowhere else to let the anger and depression I was feeling run free. I felt like I would explode if I didn’t voice it or write it down. Eventually, I put those feelings into poems. I was proud of my writing, and showed them to my English teacher. If I had had a different English teacher, one who didn’t care about encouraging her students to do out-of-class writing, or didn’t have the time to read papers she wasn’t grading, I may not have been as prolific a poet as I was. But, I was lucky, and my teacher did care. She told me to keep writing, and she listened to what I couldn’t say out loud or in prose. She genuinely cared about me, and fueled my passion for writing. Objectively, the poems were terrible and I would never reread them, let alone submit them for publication, but they were a stepping stone for me as a writer and as a person.

As I ventured into recovery, I started using my journal as a tool. I made gratitude lists, a tremendously helpful tool for anyone dealing with depression. I used it to track my moods and behaviors. Eventually, I started writing about things besides my mental illnesses.

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“Gay art, gay heart.”

Sometimes, there were things I couldn’t express in poetry or prose. I’ve never been too good at drawing, so I started making collages. Often, they were about things I was scared to talk about, but having a tangible result of that fear was relieving and empowering. Instead of hiding from my fears, I turned them into art.

Today, I carry my journal everywhere with me. Just knowing that it’s in my bag with the rest of my school supplies is comforting. My journal is my safe place where I am never judged, criticized, or ridiculed. No thought is too insignificant or embarrassing to write down. I will probably never share the majority of my hundreds of handwritten pages with anyone, but that’s not the point. I feel a huge sense of relief when I write a nagging thought down in my journal. Once it’s on the page, I’m one step closer to taming it. I have complete control in my journal. A notebook will never interrupt you. It will never try to one-up you and say it’s worse off than you are. It will never say you shouldn’t feel the way you do, and it will never offer unwelcome advice. lost0012

I’m proud of my twelve-year-old self for picking up that first notebook that became my journal. I may not always make the best decisions, but starting a journal is one thing I’ll never regret.

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Where Have You Been?

I haven’t posted here in a while, and honestly that’s because there have been other things on my mind besides recovery. That’s not exactly how things should be here in treatment. The team has been pushing me to open up more and “go deeper,” but I’m not exactly sure what it is that I need to be sharing.

Meanwhile, a lot has happened in the past few weeks since I last wrote.

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Every Saturday, the Creek takes us on an outing. A few weeks ago, we went to Painted By You, a pottery studio, and I painted this funky little mug. I keep it at the apartment and drink my morning (decaf) coffee out of it.

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Since I’m eating regular meals and drinking water, I have more energy and more creativity! I’m back to drawing comics and writing more short stories. This is a character from a comic I’m working on about a potato and a flower who fall in love.

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One day, it warmed up enough for me to wear my jelly shoes and new dress! About a month ago, I went shopping at Urban Outfitters with some friends from the Creek, and I feel a lot more confident in my new clothes. Weight gain is a really hard part of recovery, but getting clothes that fit my healthy body helps me accept it.

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I also got a pair of combat boots that I’m obsessed with. I just really like taking pictures of my feet, okay??

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It’s been a real struggle to follow my meal plan when I’m on my own for dinners, breakfasts, and evening snacks at the apartment, but when I do it, I do it well! This is French toast and turkey bacon I made one morning I woke up early and had extra time.

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I devised a recipe for avocado rice, and it’s my new favorite dish!

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I dyed my hair blue, but it’s faded to a gross green color. My dad just got elected as a circuit judge and has an investiture in January, and I assured my parents I would dye it back to brown before that.

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We went back to Painted By You last weekend, and I painted this little cow.

We got three new clients this week, so that’s been exciting and challenging. I’ve been here so long that the techs ask me to help with meal preparation and fill the new clients in on the meal guidelines. I’m looking forward to getting to know the new people, but I miss the women who were here when I first came in.

I’ll actually be home soon! It’s just temporary, but I’m going home on a pass so I can celebrate Hanukkah with my family. I’m really excited to see my parents and brother, as well as the rest of my family, and Colette, my neighbor. I’m hoping that being home will give me the chance to put recovery into practice and see where else I still need work.

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October 9: Another Day in Treatment

One of my favorite groups here is “Creative Arts,” which is basically art therapy. It’s led by Marissa, a wonderful, kind therapist who always comes up with inventive ideas for activities. Yesterday she did not disappoint.

When she said we were making hate projects, I admit I was a little confused. Treatment is about learning to love yourself, not wallowing in the self-loathing that got you there in the first place. We were given magazines, glue, and construction paper and told to make collages representing everything our eating disorders, which are personified as Ed (or in my case, the Warden) tell us about ourselves. I tried to tap into what the Warden tells me, but much to my surprise, it was hard to identify exactly what he says to me on a daily basis. In the past, I would say that this is because those negative messages are so deeply ingrained in me that I mistake them for fact, but today, I am happy to report that the Warden’s voice is growing distant and hard to hear. I made a collage of the beach and wrote, “The world is an ocean and I am an oil spill.” By this I meant that I feel worthless and small compared to a world of seemingly happy, functional people. I meant that I feel defective.

After we finished our collages, Marissa brought us outside and had us do something pretty surprising. She instructed us to rip up our collages. The group was hesitant, and we went one by one. As each person tore off something negative from the collage, she said something positive to reframe the negative thought. When it was my turn, I ripped my collage tentatively and was slow to come up with affirmations or reframes. Marissa asked me what feelings I associated with being an oil spill. I said I felt worthless, stupid, unimportant, and unlovable. As I shredded my collage, I found myself saying, “I matter. I’m important. People care about me. People do love me. My parents love me and God loves me. I am allowed to love myself. It’s not selfish. I am intelligent. I am a talented writer. I matter.”

After I was finished, my negative thoughts, which I had so carefully constructed, were laying beside me in a little pile. It was pretty exciting to see that I have the power to destroy negativity and unwanted thoughts. I don’t have to listen to the Warden when he tells me I’m worthless and unable to recover. Instead, I will listen to the genuine Katherine who believes in herself and knows she’s worth recovery.