Thursday, September 8, 2011

My first counseling session in freedom

I am so happy that today I attended my first counseling session in freedom.  It was an amazingly wonderful experience on so many levels.  First of all, I am a different and more liberated person in only the two months since I finally left my abusers.  I feel much freer to speak up on issues that matter to me whether in my personal life or in my past history or  in life at the transition house or in the global, particularly Arab, political freedom struggle.  I feel like the management and the staff at this house have given me a sense of validating my experience that I never had before in my whole life.  To know people actually believe me when I tell them the emotional abuse was real and serious is an amazing change from a society where my pain was dismissed at best and mocked or belittled at worst.

And as I recounted to Mr. Rafael Anrrich, a counselor at CHI in Cutler Bay, Florida, about how many awful experiences I previously had in the counseling profession, Mr. Anrrich, MSW, expressed his personal sense of horror at the cruel behavior of his colleagues toward me.  I told him of my terror when my first counselor said the abuse wasn’t real because it was ‘only’ emotional and not physical or sexual.  This counselor said that in any case there was no victim and no aggressor but rather my father and I were locked in a mutual combat between two equal parties known as ‘family conflict.’   Mr. Anrrich was horrified at the behavior of this counselor and I was so glad to hear him validating my experience in counseling.

I told him how my second counselor was a well-intentioned Israeli Jewish woman who helped me in some ways but was limited in other ways because she was a cognitive behaviorist who did not understand me.  This counselor helped me understand two crucial points.  One was that my mother was part of the problem and not part of the solution and that my mother was colluding with my father against me and was not his co-victim alongside me.  The other point was that I had unintentionally learned and imitated my father’s emotionally abusive behavior because I was copying what I saw.  I used to act out in office jobs by crying and screaming and sometimes speaking in verbally abusive ways to my bosses and colleagues, and I really didn’t understand that this behavior was inappropriate.   I had to learn to take responsibility for my own actions and not to treat others abusively, including my family of origin. 

The problem was this counselor meant well but unintentionally misled me to believe that I could work in an office.  She didn’t understand and I didn’t yet accept that my Asperger’s constitutes such a severe social skills deficit that it renders me completely unable to function in an office setting where the key skill is the ability to read social cues.  And so she led me to take yet another office job after finishing my masters degree in taxation in 2007 which ended after just 10 disastrous weeks.  And the other problem is that given her training as a cognitive behavioral therapist, she lacked the capacity to help me process the traumatic childhood memories that were the underlying cause of my inappropriate acting out in a work setting.  However, the two years I spent with this counselor in 2006 and 2007 in graduate school were more positive than negative.

My third counselor was a greedy bitch who abandoned me when my father stopped paying her $200 per hour weekly counseling fee because she challenged his abusive treatment of me.  She and her psychiatrist colleague worked together against me and hurt me very deeply.  And to top it off, she called me on the phone one time and subjected me to perhaps the most terrifying episode of verbal abuse in my entire life.  She took her knowledge about me and her PhD and her 30 years of experience as a clinical psychologist and used it against me in an incredibly lethal way, hurling the four most toxic and damaging accusations she could think of against me in one overwhelming barrage of verbal cruelty.  She reduced me to hysterical tears and when I hung up the phone to shield myself from additional abuse, she called me back to continue terrorizing me.  To top it off, she then demanded an apology from me on several occasions for her atrocious behavior.  I recognized that she was an abuser because her behavior was a classic repetition of what my severely emotionally abusive father did to me my whole life: terrorizing me in a deliberate, calculated fashion and then demanding an apology from me. I never spoke to her again after this horrendous and nightmarish episode, and I was extremely frightened to return to counseling for several months after this experience.  Her behavior managed to make my dad look like an angel.   Even now, thinking back to this episode toward the end of 2010, I cringe whenever I remember what she did to me.  I saw her for two years from late 2008 to late 2010. 

My fourth counselor was a nice and empathetic Christian woman, and I paid whatever I could afford for the sessions, which was great.  I saw her from roughly March, 2011, to June, 2011.  The problem was that after seeing me in counseling for 3 months in weekly sessions, all of a sudden she announced that she was going to the Northeast for six months because she was a snowbird.  Thus, as soon as she established a trust between us, she broke that trust and left me feeling abandoned all over again.  To her credit, she did arrange for another counselor whom I also liked to see me while she was gone.  But leaving me in the lurch like this left me feeling frightened and vulnerable all over again.     

So I had one relatively good experience in counseling, two terrifying experiences, and one experience that left me feeling abandoned and confused.  Mr. Rafael Anrrich was horrified and appalled by the behavior of his colleagues in the counseling / helping professions who had left me more frightened and vulnerable than before.  He was grateful that I had given the counseling profession yet another chance by finding the courage to come see him in light of my many negative experiences with people in this field.  I told him that I had done so because in spite of the problems I experienced with counselors, I had found that five and a half years of counseling had given me enough self-confidence to find the courage to leave my abusers for good two months ago. 

He validated my experience on so many levels.  First of all, instead of writing that I had depression and anxiety due to ‘family conflict’ like my first counselor, he wrote on the paper that I had PTSD because I suffered emotional abuse from both my parents.  So he actually believed me and took what I had to say seriously.  And he took the idea of emotional abuse seriously – not belittling it or minimizing it or denying it or acting like it was my fault or I provoked it or it wasn’t important.

And I know that he really understands me.  Because I have told the story of how my first Russian history professor was glorifying Stalin by practically celebrating the murder of his millions of victims and treating those deaths like an irrelevant statistics to so many different people.  I publicly challenged my professor, and he retaliated against me by giving me a B in his course when I knew the subject as well as him even though I didn’t speak Russian yet at that point.

Almost everyone I spoke to blamed me for what happened to me.  No one understood how this powerless and traumatized this experience made me feel.  Even my mentor in Russian studies said it was my fault for publicly confronting my professor, and my mother blamed me most of all.  My third counselor practically mocked me when I told her about this experience, taking the side of this abusive professor and authority figure against me and making me feel very frightened and agitated.    But Mr. Anrrich got it immediately, and he said,”Oh.  This professor was glorifying Stalin.”  I said,exactly. I felt this huge weight off my shoulders that someone finally understood that this professor was wrong to glorify Stalin.  I have carried this wound in my soul for 17 years since it happened to me in my freshman year of college, and now I can finally begin to heal from a nightmare which has severely derailed me for many years.

I told him about how I had run away from my parents and maternal grandmother, and he said,”Oh.  You’re done with them, aren’t you?” I said yes.  I was amazed and glad that he figured this out immediately without me even having to explain it to him.  I told him I have consistently followed a no-contact policy with my whole family of origin since I left my abusers in late June over two months ago, and it has been the best thing I have ever done for myself.

I told him how I refer to my dad’s mother because she was such a profoundly and completely evil person that I consider her behavior to be beyond the pale of redemption and forgiveness.  He said that basically I was cutting her out of my family because I felt she did not deserve the honor of membership in even my abusive family of origin.  I said that was right because unlike my dad, who is basically an abusive and cruel person but who does have some good qualities, his mother was so completely evil that she had no good qualities. 

We talked about the importance of the relationship between a child and its opposite sex parent.  He drew a parallel between the way that my dad’s mother terrorized my dad and the way he terrorized me.  My dad was severely traumatized as the abused son in the mother-son relationship, and he in turn severely traumatized me as the abused daughter in the father-daughter relationship.  He said that we learn a lot about our roles, identities, and worth as a human being from our relationship with our opposite-sex parent, and I know that my dad’s lessons have been overwhelmingly devastating to me.  I had never thought of this idea before.

He said that the reason I remained with my abusers for so long was that I found some core of goodness within them despite their incredibly cruel treatment of me. I responded that this wasn’t true before I never felt there was a real core of goodness in my relationship with either of my parents, especially my father.  But I said that I remained with my parents for so many years after college because as awful as the abusive home environment was, I found the office world far more brutal and terrifying than even my dad’s abuse.  I was blind-sided by the horrendous experiences of emotional torture and cruelty that I suffered in the office setting because I did not know that I lack the only skill that matters in an office environment: the ability to read social cues.  I also found the abuse at home to be much more comprehensible than the abuse and cruelty in the office setting because given my inability to read social cues, I had no way to understand why I was being assaulted or how to properly respond to it.  He said that even though my parents house was more like the lesser of two evils than any kind of positive good, still the fact that it was the lesser of two evils to me was significant enough to keep me there for many years.    

And he said that many women conflate abuse with love to the point that they actually think a man who does not hit them or abuse them does not love them.  He said this phenomenon is particularly common in Latin America, where women expect men to hit them to a large degree. I said that I read about this phenomenon in rural parts of Africa.  I told him the story of a brave African man in Burundi who had been severely physically abused by his father and forced to watch his father brutally beat his mother every single day of his life.  This man responded to his traumatic and severely abusive childhood by becoming a male advocate for women’s rights and equality and working with men to change their attitudes toward and treatment of women.  And he found that when he dated girls and refused to hit or verbally abuse them, the girls rejected him because they thought he was not acting like a ‘real man’ and did not love them.  The girls tried to force him into their distorted concept of the male gender box and could not understand why he did not hit them as they expected him to do. 

I noted that in contrast, my mother and maternal grandmother do think a man has the right to verbally abuse a woman.  But they do not go so far as to conflate abuse with love because they do not believe that a man expresses love to his partner by verbally abusing her.  They also do not believe that a man who refuses to verbally abuse or hit his wife does not love her. 

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