Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Okay, so Memorial Day itself doesn't actually make me angry. Quite the opposite in fact as I deeply believe our veterans need and deserve their day of honor and remembrance.

My problem is personal because I just so happen to have an Iraq war veteran as an ex-husband. Naturally, this colors my views. My ex and I had been together for six years before we got married. The reason he joined the Air Force Reserve at all was because 1) He had absolutely zero direction in his life and was working as a cook in a nursing home for like, the fourth time having left there on three other occasions vowing never to return. 2) His best friend was in the Air Force Reserves and loved it. 3) I pushed him to do it because he seriously had zero direction in life and sucked at everything. 4) Last but not least: 9/11 happened. Suddenly, the Air Force wasn't just a way to figure out how to be a grown-up, it was cool and important and let's face it, pretty fucking sexy. Oh like you don't like a man in uniform? Puh-leeze.

Anyway, we were married in July of 2004. During the first year of being married he continued his training, and nothing much happened. In October of 2007 we bought a house. He moved up in rank and security clearance and was offered a tour. In Alaska. We were thrilled thinking he'd dodged a bullet. However, being alone for five months in a new house was not exactly easy. I was working full-time and about to enter private practice part-time having passed my license exam. The home we'd purchased was a 200-year old farmhouse way out in the country. Very cool house, tons of property, way out in the middle of nowhere. But my friends and family, especially my sister, were amazing and spent tons of time with me doing all kinds of crazy projects to get the house in better shape. My uncle became the world's bravest pool man and actually opened the swamp in my backyard posing as an above ground pool. It was so bad I actually spent an hour scooping out the tadpoles that had taken up residence and bringing them to an actual pond down the road because I felt to guilty about killing them with chemicals.

Oh, and did I mention he had the world's worst credit so the entire mortgage was in my name only? This will matter later. He did, however, super pinky promise swear that no matter what happened between us he would never, ever walk away and leave me financially because it was such a big risk for me to take and that would be so wrong and blah blah blah....

Anyway, fast forward to 2008. We get the call we knew was coming and learned he would be leaving for Iraq just after the holidays for a three-month tour. His unit was medical so he would be on an actual USAF Base the entire time he was there. What we didn't know at the time was that base was actually largely comprised of a former home/palace that belonged to Saddam Hussein where his son had tortured the 2003 Iraqui Olympic soccer team when they failed to win and murdered several people including the head of his father's security, his father's food taster, and a security guard. (He served about 3 months in prison for that one, it's good to be baby king.)

At any rate, those three months were brutal. We had grown significantly apart in our relationship as a result of his constantly being gone (One weekend a month, two weeks a year my ass...) and my working like a maniac to build my private practice and get out of the clinic I'd been working in. By this time, my friends and family were used to my being alone out there in the woods and I worked so much and kept myself so busy, I didn't have a lot of time to reflect. Nonetheless, hearing Gatling guns crackling off in the background when speaking to my husband was surreal. Hearing his stories about having to unload the injured and KIA (killed in action) from the choppers was horrible.

Ex came home in June. The other times he'd returned home from tours had been hard but this was awful. He had PTSD and refused to seek help. He spent thousands of dollars - basically every penny he'd made - on random projects. He bought himself a piece of crap VW that was essentially a death trap. He spent every penny we had on toys and impulses and oh yes, by the way, he was unemployed when he returned except for his one weekend a month and occasional landscaping work for his dad's company. Because he'd quit the job he'd had before leaving instead of having them hold it for him.

At the end of summer, he finally agreed to seek help. But refused to see anyone in person and would only speak to a USAF counselor. Unfortunately all their services are phone based. At least, that's what he told me but I suspect that's bullshit. Anyway, he started talking to a "therapist" over the phone. Bit by bit I noticed how random the phone calls seemed and how long they could be - hours and hours. I asked him about it but he was extremely defensive. I guess because it's hard to lie about therapy to a therapist. Yeah, he sucked at it.

Just before Christmas we were done. He announced he was going to move out. I told him hell fucking no you're not doing this before the holidays. We agreed to live in the house but separately. Please believe me when I say, I was not overly heartbroken by the demise of our relationship. I was long over being in love with him and really only cared about him as a person. He moved out after New Years and went to live at his moms. Upon his move out he was quick to admit he and his "therapist" were in love.

Again, seriously, I didn't have it in me to process or care at that point. I felt relief that we had finally pulled the trigger. However, the financial stuff was still all in my name. Two days after the divorce was final, he moved to Arizona to be with his therapist girl friend. Six months later she was knocked up and they were getting hitched. Now to be clear, I did meet my current husband a month after ex had finally moved out. Just to be honest.

In weird and disgusting behavior news: I found out about eight months ago his father told everyone who asked about what happened, or even people who didn't ask, that his son the war hero had left me because I had sex with all his friends while he was overseas. That I refused to stop having sex with his friends so he'd had no choice but to leave me. So help me God if I ever see that man again... And btw - my ex had no friends. Seriously. He. Sucked. At. Life.

To make things extra awesome, I couldn't afford the house on my own. We had an uncontested divorce and I had trusted he would be good for his promise of helping me financially. I should probably have realized that wasn't going to happen when he continued to be an unemployed mooch. Sadly, I didn't. And two days after things were official, he was in Arizona. Unreachable. I was stuck with a house I couldn't afford or take care of. We were behind on the mortgage because of his manic spending sprees. So yep, I lost the house and had to file Bankruptcy. I never heard from him again. Until he tried to file "Innocent Spouse" with the IRS to get out of paying taxes we owed. I happily responded to that inquiry and the IRS told him to suck it. But guess who paid the taxes off in full? Yup. Even two years after the divorce this douche was still mooching off me and getting away with being an irresponsible asshole.

So with all the Memorial Day hoopla, it's hard sometimes to feel particularly grateful or proud. Being an ex-spouse to a veteran means nothing to anyone. But the truth is, we are the ones who were there for the shit and anyone who comes after us is getting a different person than whoever it was when we were together. I know a few other exes with stories similar to mine and it is really unbelievable to me how expendable we are considered. Never mind that we were the ones getting those phone calls, attending briefings, sending care packages and letters, hearing guns go off in the background, keeping up with other family members and spouses from the unit, answering questions from well-meaning family members, friends, and coworkers, and generally holding it down on the home front. Were my hardships the same as his? Of course not. But I feel like especially on this special weekend of the year, the idea that being a veteran automatically makes someone a good person. Never mind how they behave in the civilian world. I have a hard time with that and with the idea that none of my sacrifices matter. That I am a selfish bitch for even thinking that way. That because I am not shiny and new and I know the truth about him and his family my contributions count for nothing and I really should just go hide under a rock forever.

All I ask is when you thank a veteran - and you should at every opportunity you get, their service and dedication to your and my freedoms deserves a thank you and so much more - try and remember that he is a person. And people are innately flawed. He (or she) is not a perfect hero and more likely than not, they have a family - current or former - who served silently alongside him.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Here's the thing - I suck at keeping quiet. I suck at sugar coating. This is why I'm not a lawyer but perhaps I should be. I have definitely considered going to law school purely so I can bully people and fight on an even battlefield.
I didn't go to graduate school and amass school loans that may outlive me to be a wall flower. I didn't intern at a therapeutic residential treatment center for a year and a half - unpaid - to sit in a room with the door shut and hide myself away.
I care too much and it is a problem. My husband tells me to leave work at the office and when I'm home, just don't think about it. I get it but I also know, that's not me. When I was first starting out all I could talk about, think about, dream about were the kids I worked with. Before decided on becoming a therapist I considered being a special ed teacher. After a year spent as a paraprofessional in my towns alternative middle/high school while teaching night school and tutoring kids who'd been expelled, I spent four years at CCMC School which is only a school in the loosest of terms. It's largely a catch-all for kids who are simply incapable of being in the mainstream because they are too dangerous. I left there after getting punched in the face by an 11-year-old boy who outweighed me by about twenty pounds. And the real reason I left was because I pressed charges and the bitch troll principal had the audacity to tell me that doing so could "destroy him as a person." How you say that to someone whose eye is blackened and partially swollen shut is beyond me. I walked out that day and never went back.
I quickly learned that teaching was not for me. I was always way more interested in how the kids were doing emotionally and what was going on at home than in attempting to teach them math or reading. Because kids who are that sick, that traumatized, and that unsupported at home do not have any interest in academics. We were told that getting these kids to a fourth grade reading level was the goal and it was about a 50-50 shot that we'd be successful.
At the residential I had the opportunity to see kids in their "home" environment. Even though every single kid there wanted nothing more than to go to their real home, even if their parents were abusive crack heads or in jail. That's where I learned that kids love their parents no matter what. I had a teen whose parents raised him in various crack houses and prostituted him for drug money from when he was a toddler up until someone finally noticed and got him out of there. By that time, he was nine years old. He was sold for sex from the ages of approximately two years old until the age of nine. And guess what he wanted more than anything in the world?
When I met Brandon*, he was 15. Tall, dark black with hooded eyes and an intimidating demeanor he had been through the system for years and was at the residential as a condition of his parole. The minute he'd been old enough to count he began selling crack, cocaine, heroin, you name it. He constantly got into fights with other kids and was not particularly popular. However, once he got comfortable with me and let down his guard his favorite thing to do was to sit on a couch together and have me read him books. Any books. But preferably books with a meaning to them like The Giving Tree or even Calvin and Hobbs.
Kids like him, experiences like that, they changed me on a cellular level. I was not the same person leaving that place as I was going in. I thought I'd seen things before that but as it turned out, I had only scratched the surface.
So on a day like today, when my dear client, Betty, tells me things are looking worse and worse for her, and that the lawyers say I have to keep away in order to protect my credibility, all I can think about is those kids. That boy was just one of the approximately 30 kids I worked with during my time in residential. He is just the beginning of what I saw and experienced.
It's a bitter pill to swallow. But it's the only one I've got.

*Name has been changed

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


It's not that I'm necessarily angry at one thing per se. In fact, as I write this I'm feeling calm and comfy here in my recliner. However, I keep noticing that things from my sessions creep in no matter how much I wish them not to. I can't seem to watch a television show or see a news clip without it somehow relating to my work. The term that is used to describe this sensation is Compassion Fatigue. This doesn't mean I'm losing my compassion, it just means that over time, I'm being eroded away bit by bit because of the intensity of my practice. I am the therapist who will take the ugly cases. I will go to court when necessary to stand by my clients and help advocate for them. I will take the stand and answer questions hurled at me like accusatory stones without batting an eye. I will battle with ignorant and poorly trained DCF workers (CPS to those of you from outside of CT). I will hear your six-year old when he describes in painstaking detail the sexual abuse perpetuated against him. I will go to the DCF office with you when your children are being taken from you because your scumbag ex-husband has lied about you for the sole purpose of hurting you. And he's winning. I will hear your stories of childhood abuse - physical, sexual, emotional, neglectful. I will use all the skills in my toolbox to help lessen your pain even if you are the abuser or cheater or addict because that is my job and my calling.

The real fatigue for me comes from feeling powerless. I am powerless to make situations better for my clients. I cannot fix things that are external and operate independently. I often say to my clients, "If I had a magic wand I would gladly wave it to fix this mess." Alas, I lack even the most basic of magical skills. I suspect my Hogwarts acceptance letter was lost in the mail.

Feeling powerless wears me down, as I'm sure it does to others. My job is not, unfortunately, to right wrongs or dole out punishments to abusers, liars, manipulators, or even straight up criminals. My job is to bear witness to the struggle for peace, acceptance, and healing. The best part of my job is the healing. Helping people grow despite their pain, take risks despite crippling fear, and emerge victorious one small step at a time is what keeps me in that chair. But there is a price to be paid for such satisfaction. In some cases it takes years before movement occurs. Watching people suffer for years over something they or I have no control over is heartbreaking. And infuriating. I often find myself wishing I were born into the Mafia so I could just order hits on the bad guys and make everything awful go away.

And what makes it even harder is society's interpretation of therapists in general. We are perceived to be the most fucked up, the most traumatized, the biggest messes. And some of us are. More, however, have indeed been through the wringer but we've come out smarter, kinder, more developed and insightful than we ever could have been if life had been easy.

So take a moment and breathe. Feel the weight lift off your shoulders for a minute, an hour, a day, whatever you are able. And thank your therapist for being there and bearing witness, for surviving whatever he or she went through to get to the other side, but most of all, just for listening.