The pressure pushes into every part of me, a million pounds from every which way I turn. I’m not built for this. Nobody is built for this.
As I drive up to my therapist, Lauren's office, I am eight years old again and sitting in front of Mrs. Sampson, wondering why I am not good enough for Dad’s love, wondering if I’m good enough at all.
Shame takes over and screams for me to run, but over the next year, I see Lauren regularly.
We talk about obvious things: my missing home and the ocean, my fighting with Jeff, Dad, my adolescent depression that is back with a vengeance, Dad some more.
The more I talk, the more I trust her, the more I peel back and show her real bits of me that I don’t even know yet.
The conversation keeps going back to Dad.
Almost 40 years into my life and the thought of him still makes me feel like I’m trying to breathe underwater.
Every time I gasp for air, I’m filled with a tightness that will eventually become so toxic, I’ll die.
The pressure pushes into every part of me, a million pounds from every which way I turn.
I’m not built for this. Nobody is built for this.
“It’s important to understand,” Lauren says, “that childhood trauma is often overlooked if it’s not what we’re taught to perceive as abuse. If as a child you felt unworthy, if you were overlooked repeatedly by a parent, that is a form of neglect that is traumatic for a child’s development. If trauma isn’t processed or healed, it conditions the brain to feel shame even when there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
I’ve been drowning alone for so long it seems impossible to me that other people have gone through this enough for her to know anything about it.
That she can speak to it in a way that I hear her.
With every word, my breath becomes deeper and I start to rise to the top.
What if it’s not his fault either?
What if we are just two humans trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense, and we can’t reach each other to figure out our world together?
“From what you’ve told me, you carry a lot of guilt because you perceive your father to be unhappy with you; it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not...
This is in line with your struggles with perfectionism, you losing yourself in, then sabotaging your relationships, and your self-destructive use of alcohol...
You seem as if you’re constantly trying to erase yourself because deep down inside you feel unworthy, like you’re not good enough.
Do you think that’s fair to do to yourself?”
It’s the sort of clarity that you can’t see coming.
You know when you’re having a really vivid nightmare and you can’t wake up, then someone or something in the real world pulls you out of it?
I feel like that, and this is just the beginning.
Soon my weekly sessions with Lauren are my favorite thing to do even when I don’t feel like going.
Most of the time when I feel like that, I end up doing my best work.
Every week, I become prouder of myself for making the long ascent out of the hole.
I’m running again nearly every day.
It’s been nine months since I’ve had a drink, and my relationships with Jeff and the kids are at an all-time high.
Communication with Dad is better.
I call him to ask if he'll walk me down the aisle when I marry Jeff, and it’s the only other time in my life that he’s happy with me like he was when I graduated boot camp.
Everything is better.
The funny thing about personal growth though, is that, like Lil’ Wayne says, “the top gets higher the more that [you] climb”.
All of my work with Lauren must’ve knocked something loose.
Flashes of the assault disturb me. I shove them right back into the box. They start to cast their shadow over longer parts of my days and nights.
I drink at my wedding.
My daily runs stop.
Flashes of them using my body become so incessant that I finally tell Lauren that I think I may have been "taken advantage of in the Navy".
Right after I tell her, I stop seeing her.
The decision to stop seeing her doesn’t feel like much of a decision at all in the same way that I don’t intend to drink the entire bottle of wine even when I leave it open on the counter.
Instead of digging any further into my own psyche, I devote myself to teaching High-Performance Brain Training to fellow veterans at University of Texas at Dallas’s Brain Performance Institute at the Center for BrainHealth.
They’re struggling with the same challenges I have, similar cycles of depression, repression, and substance abuse that lead to dozens of veterans across the country using the emergency exit and completing suicide every day.
Teaching the veterans who come to me the same tactics I use to tame my brain not only helps them, it helps me.
When I talk with them, I feel less alone.
In stark contrast to the innovative thinking that I teach others, my life becomes status quo.
I ignore my wise, confident voice telling me to go back to Lauren and face my dragons.
I drink to forget the images, but that only makes it worse.
I see them at the foot of the bed more and more.
I see what they’re doing to me.
I remember an idea that I had with Lauren: Every now and then, I need to visit Mom and my stepdad, Mike, and the ocean near their home in Florida where the harmony is more accessible to me.
I make this a regular practice, and it works to reinvigorate my spirit, to help me feel like that little girl in the garden again, until it doesn’t.
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