The Scarlet S on my White Coat



From January 2015:

His name is Rohit Agrawal and he’s the Secretary of the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine. I didn’t remember his name all these years but I looked him up recently. He’s one of the people who punished me for stopping a sociopathic child rapist. He’s one of the physicians who punished me for stopping a sociopathic child rapist.

Today, it’s his job to handle cases of physicians in Pennsylvania who have had ethical breeches. I’d call it ironic or ridiculous if it weren’t so disturbing and very serious.

In August 2008 he came to my medical school campus, the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, and gave the student body a talk about sex and how it could get you in trouble as a physician. That may sound like an odd thing to you, a state physician licensing official coming to muggy Erie Pennsylvania to give a lecture on keeping your knees together to a group of student doctors. But this was no ordinary August day.

You see, two days earlier one of the medical students at my school had been arrested by the FBI for possession and transport of child pornography and obscenity. They had come to his door the morning of a big exam and come into his house with guns drawn and arrested him.

They’d seized his computers and found that he’d been looking at violent graphic pictures of little girls just an hour earlier. Little girls bound and gagged by duct tape with their legs over their shoulders.

When this physician came to speak to us, this leader, this pillar of physician ethics, I assumed he would talk about that child rapist. He started talking to us about a fellow medical student. He didn’t give the student’s name but I assumed it must be this student.

I was naive.

He said this student was sexually immoral. He said this student wasn’t fit to be a physician. He said this student really ought to leave med school now before she got into more debt. Because she wasn’t fit to be a physician. Because she never would be a physician. Let her be a warning to you. Don’t be sexually immoral like her.

I don’t remember the exact moment I realized he was talking about me and not Jeremy, the child rapist. I don’t remember what exact phrase he used that made me realize it. I do remember how it felt. I remember my stomach dropping and my heart racing and the tears welling up in my eyes. I remember the fear and humiliation and anger and confusion and despair. I remember that well.

I didn’t remember his name afterwards. I was so filled with shame after going through my several months long ordeal of rape, torture and humiliation at the hands of Jeremy, that I just wanted to try to forget all of it. Including what Dr. Agrawal did to me.

And so I forgot his name. Because I could. And any crumb of it I could forget was a relief I welcomed.

I couldn’t forget his words, though. Or the shame and betrayal I felt because of them. I couldn’t forget his face.

Years passed. I needed to finish medical school. I had children to raise. I met my new husband and married him. Eric and I spent our first Valentines Day together as a couple in federal court at Jeremy’s trial.

After med school there was residency to tackle. Our sweet baby came along.

The PTSD was with me through all of this. On top of me. Like Jeremy had been. Choking me. Like Jeremy had.

I finally gathered the courage to look up Rohit Agrawal’s name on November 15, 2014. Six years and 3 months after his talk. Six years and 3 months after his assault. That scarlet S he’d pinned to my white coat.

There he was. Still on the state medical board. The secretary now, actually. He’s an emergency medicine physician according to the Google. He’s trained to collect rape kits when victims come into the emergency room then.

I wrote his name down. I typed into a memo on my phone. I did not memorize it. I had to copy and paste it tonight for this piece.

A physician charged with leading the physicians of this state actively participated in publicly punishing a student doctor who’d stopped a child rapist student doctor at the risk of losing her life. He very actively, explicitly, and personally sent a message to hundreds of future physicians that if they chose to do the same they would be punished too.

That. Is. Dangerous.

It is immoral, unethical, and unacceptable.

His name is Dr. Rohit Agrawal and he punished me for stopping a child predator.

Of Angels and Devils



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From January 2015:

Dr. Steven Gelfand died on January 18th after a brief battle with cancer. He was 66 years old. He was also amazing.

I’m going to tell you about him. And just from reading about it, you’ll be better off for having known what little I can tell you here.

I met Dr. Gelfand July of 2009. He was the attending of my very first clinical rotation as a medical student. The first two years of med school are spent in the classroom and the last two years are spent on rotation. You get to leave the classroom and spend time actually doing medicine.

I’d had PTSD for about a year at this point. My perpetrator, a fellow medical student, had been arrested in August 2008. My trauma officially ended with his arrest I suppose, and then came the PTSD.

After he was arrested, my medical school became upset with me. You see, the FBI released my name (even though they didn’t need to) and implied a lot of things about my personal life, sex life, and mental health in the affidavit they used to arrest the sociopathic child molestor I’d turned in. Some of what they wrote about me was accurate and some of it wasn’t. Two things made very clear by this affidavit were:
1. He was a dangerous sadistic pedophile
2. I had risked my life and the lives of my children to turn him in.

I’d like to think a medical school, an institution charged with shaping the physicians we place our trust in and rely on for our lives and health, would be appreciative of a future doctor risking her life and the lives of her children to stop a fellow future doctor who is a sadistic pedophile from hurting any more women or children. But that’s not how it went.

Quite the opposite.

My school chose to punish me instead. They placed me on probation for having morals below the standards of the community (in reference to the affidavit’s inference that I had engaged in consensual, kinky sex with the perpetrator before The Ordeal began). More than this, they waged psychological warfare on me. They brought in a speaker from the state board of medicine (and an alum of the school) who spoke in front of the entire student body about me, saying I really should leave med school now because I wasn’t fit to be a doctor. Warning them not to be like me. A sexually immoral person. The head of my school told me I would never be a doctor. She said no doctor would take someone like me on for clinical rotations and that even if I somehow managed to become a doctor, I would never have patients because I was so disgusting, they wouldn’t want me touching them.

Such cruel words coming from the head of your medical school, coming to you in an acute post-traumatic state, has such an impact. I didn’t even realize at the time how much I believed her.

I was able to get a lawyer and, after a legal battle, get her off my back (but not before suffering the utter humiliation of being forced to apologize for my behavior to the faculty of my school.) But she had gotten inside of my post-traumatic soul and planted herself there.

Fast forward a year to my first day of clinical rotations. The day she said would never come.

The PTSD had obliterated my self-confidence. Deep inside I was afraid she was right, that I wasn’t going to make it and I should have cut my losses when I had the chance.

I know there is a God because it cannot be chance that I wound up on Dr. Gelfand’s doorstep. By the end of my first day with him he’d shared with me that he had no respect for the head of my school. In fact, he told me, he’d once told her to go f*** herself. He was a Jewish, cursing, bold as all hell, certified angel.

He told me she had once punished a medical student he had rotating with him after he gave the student time off to spend with her mother who was dying of cancer. He responded by sharing his feelings as above.

I ended up telling him what had happened to me. The brave deed I’d done and the evil she’d paid me with. He told me I’d done a courageous thing, the right thing. And he told me not to tell any other doctors like I’d just told him. It could ruin my medical career.

Over the next two years, he became my two special needs sons’ neuropsychiatrist. He was, by far, the best doctor they’ve ever had. He became a mentor for me too. He told me I was going to be a great doctor. And part of me actually believed him somehow.

He was a tough attending. He let you know every single detail you got wrong. But he also let you know when you got something right. And when he did, it really meant something.

He went into medicine for the right reason. He cared about his patients and worked for and advocated for them fiercely. He was good and he knew it, and he earned it.

Dr. Gelfand was right that I shouldn’t tell the other doctors I would be rotating with what she’d done to me. It wasn’t the time for it. She still had the power to end my career. I wasn’t emotionally ready to speak publicly about it yet either.

But I have been healed of my PTSD after seven long years. I am getting ready to graduate from a wonderful, supportive residency. And I’ve never been one to keep quiet.

It was Martin Luther King day on Monday so we talked to our kids about the civil rights movement. We talked about the turning points like Rosa Parks and how those were just moments that sparked off a movement that ha been building for a long time. My son asked me why those particular events set things in motion and I told him no one could say for sure.

The passing of this amazing man has changed things for me. Something has been brewing within me that would inevitably, eventually come out. I didn’t know when.

The silence ends now.

Jeremy Noyes raped me, tortured me, threatened to kill me and my babies. My medical school punished me for risking all of that to do what is right as a physician and as a person. He is now serving 45 years in federal prison. What my school did was wrong and dangerous. They sent a clear message to that school full of future doctors that turning in a child predator could cost you your career. It was unethical, immoral, and unacceptable.

Your seven years is up, LECOM. Let’s talk.

13 years


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I am sitting here reading immunology. Cytokine storm, interleukin-1, natural killer cells. I am doing the thing I have been doing for almost 13 years now. I am trying to fix my babies.

Autism and PANS and Lyme and on and on. Their immune systems have betrayed them. They are attacking their own brains. I must stop the marauding hordes. I must. I’m their mother, after all.

I decided to become a doctor almost 13 years ago. Soldier Boy was a few months old. He’d already had more medical tests and seen more specialists than most of us will see our whole lives. Diagnosis after diagnosis. The idiot doctors couldn’t see he was perfect.

He was perfect. He is perfect. But, he’s not. His body betrays him.

I decided to become a doctor for a lot of reasons. Some noble and some not so much. One of the reasons I became a doctor was because I wanted to fix my son. I wanted to save my perfect baby from the many sicknesses he’d been born with.

I had his little brother while I was studying to apply to medical school. He was different. He was not sick. No tests, no specialists. He never even got a cold or had a fever. Ever.

Then, when he was 3 1/2 he stopped eating and began threatening to kill us and… you can read about it here. He got PANS.

Doctors have been no help. I am now finally a doctor all these years later. Almost 13. And now it is my job to figure things out, to help them, to fix them, to save them.

And so I am sitting up, exhausted, reading through immunology slides trying to understand the autoimmune nature of autism. Trying to understand the things I can do for Lyme triggered PANS that has been going on for eight years.

Innate immune system, cellular immunity, microglial activation, …

As I sit looking at the diagrams of these various immune processes, they are familiar to me. You learn so much in medical school they say it’s like drinking from a fire hydrant. You retain the things you use in whatever specialty you wind up in. But I am finding now the things you haven’t thought of in 10 years come back quickly when you need them.

Ten years ago I sat studying Immunology in my living room in Erie. Its a very clear memory. Sitting in the large overstuffed brown arm chair next to the end table with the touch lamp. The same end table I’d placed our Little People manger scene on at Christmas time. We lost baby Jesus and I replaced him with a Matchbox car because… because little boys. The chair was in front of the big bay window where my boys would climb up excitedly when the garbage truck came by.

I remember so clearly sitting there reading my Immunology book the night before the exam. I was behind on studying and I was excited it was clicking. I think I will do well on this test, I thought.

I was behind on my studying because of The Ordeal. Because of Jeremy. I failed the exam the next day.

Amazingly, the unit after that, Neuroanatomy, I rocked. It was considered the hardest course of first year. I was being actively traumatized by a sociopathic sadist, and I somehow managed to kick some ass. I’d gone from scared to pissed off at that point. I’d decided I was going to find a way to turn him in no matter what. Once I got to that place in my head, focusing on studying wasn’t a problem. I’m very good at compartmentalizing my mind when it’s required

But Immunology, I failed. And so I had to remediate it that summer. Immunology and Pharmacology. He did too. I saw him there. It was in those two weeks of remediation that I turned him in. I passed the remediation exam. And then went and turned him in. I was busy.

For so many years this trauma has been at the center of the story I tell of myself. Not so much to other people but to myself. For years it made me believe I was worthless. And then I entered recovery and I became defined as a survivor. Each step closer to becoming an attending physician was marked with a “screw you Sylvia” (Sylvia being the head of my med school who slut shamed me and tried to kick me out) and a “you’re in jail, Jeremy but look at me”.

I had come to accept this. But now, it isn’t true anymore. It isn’t the biggest part of my story.

Being a doctor was always about my boys. And now it is again. They’re the reason I fought to stay in med school when Sylvia was trying to force me out, heaping degradation on me. They’re the reason I stayed up til 2 in the morning studying organic chem long before I ever met Jeremy Noyes. They’re the reason I have started my own practice now. The thing I have been dreaming of for almost 13 years.

In some respects, it is easier to have rape and torture at the center of your story than to have your sick babies there. What mother wouldn’t rather endure suffering herself than to see her babies suffer? But we are not put on Earth to choose the easy path.

I named this blog I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead when I was in residency working 90 hour weeks, 36 hour shifts. But the truth is, for doctors, the sleepless nights and exhaustion pretty much end when graduation day comes and attending life begins. For autism moms, there is no graduation. There is no finish line. We really will wait our whole lives for a sound sleep.

I went into medical school to become a different kind of doctor than the ones my son had. Condescending, close minded, clueless. I went undercover. Deep cover. And I unavoidably lost my way. Drank the Kool-Aid because there really is no other way to make it out alive.

But I’m on the other side now and I remember who I was. I am an autism mom who became a doctor. I am an autism mom. I am an autism mom who knows immunology and pharmacology and neuroanatomy. I am an autism mom who gave her soul and body and mind and heart for her medical degree. And I have it. And *that* is the story of me. Jeremy and Sylvia were mere diversions.

I am going to help my children and my patients. I am going to speak out and challenge all they do that is wrong. I am going to sleep very little. Because that’s what autism moms do.

Good night. I have some reading to do. 

the smell of collard greens and sickness: 38 today


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Today was the kind of day you question this whole having-5-kids thing. It’s my birthday and I’ve spent it tending 3 sick kids and taking another one to the psychiatrist. We’re talking wall to wall puke and diarrhea. Kids whining and crying. Wailing and gnashing of teeth. And always, always, the cry from all directions: Mom!

That said, 38 is a good birthday. The sun is shining. My husband surprised me with some beautiful flowers (even more a surprise because I ran into him at the store as he was buying them-he thought it ruined the whole thing but I found it more of a unique thrill). Granted, the 16 month old knocked the flowers and the 2 quarts of water they were in on the floor, but still. Clean up efforts of the spill were difficult secondary to every single rag in the house being in the wash, dirty or currently used as a puke reservoir. But still.

I spent my 28th birthday in the midst of my five month long trauma. So, Hell. I spent my 28th birthday in Hell. The great thing about trauma is that it makes puke and diarrhea look pretty damn good.

I took my sick babies for a walk in the double stroller today around our neighborhood on the river. I ate Thai food and vegan cheese cake with a very nice raspberry sauce, made by my hubs. I drank some wine and even convinced my teetolaller hubs to join me. My kids all made me cards (ten minutes before the party once forced to by the hubs) that were very sweet. My hubs spent the day, when not reducing raspberry sauce or walking our daughter to the dollar store for more pink balloons, working on the medical practice we are opening. The best present ever.

And  I got one other very important gift: time to write this.  Luxury living at its finest. I do not know how I could have made it to 38 without writing. It was my escape as an outcast Aspergery tween, was my voice against oppression in high school and beyond, won me scholarships and fellowships that made me feel like maybe I really did belong in academia, inspired lyrics that gave me the drive and the confidence to sing in a punk band in front of hundreds of people despite being completely terrified, got me published in a legit medical journal at a time when I struggled with feeling like I was a *real* doctor. Most importantly, writing got me through the weeks and months directly after Jeremy was arrested. Through the second trauma of my medical school shaming me and trying to ruin my career. And it preserved my memories. A true privilege few trauma survivors have.

This blog helped me recover from my PTSD. It helps me still. The core of PTSD is shame. The only way to battle shame is to speak your truth. More specifically, to have someone hear your truth. And not walk away. It is a small little blog with a small group of followers, and I am grateful for each and every one of you. You are a precious gift to me on this my 38th birthday.

It surprises me how I begin to write these entries with a problem and think to myself “Why are you dwelling on this problem with no solution? Cut the pity party.” And I start to write and by the time I am done, I have found an unexpected solution or a new way of looking at it, or have found a path to accepting it as it is. It makes me wonder if anyone can recover from PTSD without creating something. Trauma is the opposite of creation. It is destruction. It is the Fall in the Garden, the closing of the gate. What is it that Eve suffered for the Fall? Pain in childbirth. Pain in creation. But she did not lose the ability to create new life.

There is a certain pain to my writing now that wasn’t there when I was younger. Before my trauma. Before I had my first little boy and was told he was sick at 6 days old (and on the 7th day God rested. I cried the deepest cry I ever have while God rested. He and I are still hashing that one out). Before. But there is still this gift of the ability to create, as God does. And there is a healing in it. And a connection. Maybe not to God so much, but to other people, other survivors–not just of trauma, but all the sad things we live– to time, tradition, cyclical history. And a connection of ideas, of the points of my life, of the people who’ve passed in and out of it. Maybe, just maybe, if I keep writing, it will all make sense. The connections will be drawn, the pattern will show itself. There will be an answer.

I made a big batch of smoky vegan collard greens today for lunch. I made a lovely kale strawberry smoothie for breakfast. I took my medication. I exercised. The day was still utter chaos. I was still pretty damn grumpy for most of it. But I still ate my greens. I did not resolve my ongoing spiritual struggle over the nature of God (he can’t be all loving and  all powerful, so he mustn’t be all powerful so… where the hell does that leave us?)  But I still ate my greens. I was a highly imperfect mother and wife. But I still ate my greens. I was lonely for a lot of reasons. But I still ate my greens.

And so, the house came to smell of sickness and collard greens on this my 38th birthday. But it was 74 and breezy and so we opened the windows and doors and aired the place out. Took the baby out in the yard barefoot. Walked down to the public dock and watched the water. Hung pink streamers and balloons and had a little party. Watched a cheezy terrorist movie starring Morgan Freeman with my husband with the volume down and made up our own dialogue (lip reading did reveal Mr. Freeman called one of the characters “son” as I predicted he would). Spilled some wine on the couch and laughed about it.

We aired the place out because, as I realized shortly before my 29th birthday, I am not in prison. I am alive and I am free. This is not a cell without windows. The sun is not kept from us. And I am not alone. I am eating my greens and cleaning up the messes as they come. The stuff of life. 38 years alive. Booyah.

happy valentine’s day


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Those of us who’ve lived trauma have our anniversaries. There are no greeting cards or flowers as a general rule, but you never fail to remember it, year after year. There’s not a daft husband among us, covering his calendar in sticky notes to try not to forget to get his someone special that something special.

The peculiar thing about a trauma anniversary is that you share it with someone horrible. You’re the two people in the world who hold it an anniversary. Thinking of each other but hopefully not sending chocolates or poems. My 11 year old would say that doing so would be “cringy.”

Jeremy’s trial started the week of Valentine’s day 2011. The Ordeal with him began around the same time in 2008. So, it’s our special time of year. Me and Jeremy.

The thought had occurred to me a few months ago that the only two people in the world who think of my trauma everyday. Who will think of it everyday for the rest of our lives. The only two people are me and Jeremy.

I double checked with my husband on this one. He doesn’t think of it everyday. Probably most days but not everyday.

It took some getting used to, this idea that I will most likely continue to think of him and of It everyday for the rest of my life. Me at 87 still thinking of it everyday. Maybe I’m wrong. But that’s not likely.

It’s not that I think of him for very long. Something reminds me of It and the thought flits through my mind and it’s gone. It doesn’t linger. I don’t ruminate on it. It doesn’t ruin my day or activate my sympathetic nervous system. No fight or flight. No pupil dilation or rapid heartbeat or paresthesia. Not anymore.

Valentine’s Day this year for me was filled with sweets from my beloved and my four year old daughter squealing with joy over the Shopkins pens her Secret Admirer got her (hint: it’s me. I’m the Secret Admirer). The rad tech at work made a coconut cake. I got the joy of making my husband smile with the surprise I got him. I also looked up articles on the trial and re-read the chapter in my book on it, lost in the quotes of what was actually said on the stand. Remembering. I’m okay with that. I don’t find it cringy. Maybe you do. Eh.

PTSD is a result of fighting these things. It is allowing the cringiness of sharing Valentine’s Day with your trauma memories to keep you locked in it. How do we find a way to be so brave as to face a thousand little things like that? To let go of how we know things should be, of how we thought they would be.

It’s the same thing I went through with accepting my son’s special needs. It’s the same thing so many of us go through in so many ways throughout life. The only difference with trauma is that it’s a whole fucking lot harder. Terrifying actually.

I saw on the news today that Milo Yiannopoulos gave an interview saying pedophilia (that is, child rape) is okay as long as the kid is 13 or so. And now his career’s hit a slight blip. And I thought of Jeremy and his love of Foucault and his love of Ron Paul. Of Trump’s friend Jeffrey Epstein and the man who protected him and of Trump himself.

Jeremy wasn’t a freak. He was just a working class predator who got caught and couldn’t afford an expensive lawyer, whose parents didn’t have connections. Child predators are literaly running our damn country. And no one really cares.

I wish I could send a Valentine to all the little girls out there suffering under predators like Jeremy (and our President). I wish they could know how wonderfully made they are, how strong they are to go on surviving and how much I admire and love them for that. How wrong it is we leave them there because talking about the epidemic of child rape is cringy. I wish they were opening Shopkins pens and squealing instead of drifting off in their minds to another place as they are hurt.

I share my Valentine’s Day with them too. And it may not be okay, but it is what it is.


MDMA in the valley of the shadow of death

Trauma is a spiritual event. Trauma, at its core, is the feeling you have been abandoned. By everyone you know and by God himself. Some religious thinkers say Hell is not a fiery inferno or a place of torture, but simply the absence of God. So, maybe trauma is as close to Hell as we’ll ever come on Earth.
The one truly effective treatment science has come up with for PTSD is a spiritual one. The psychedelic drug MDMA (the active component in the drug known as ecstasy) is administered before therapy sessions. The reason the medicine works is that it reinstates in the patient the sense of connectedness. To humanity, to the world, and, if they believe in such, to God himself.
Religion seeks to answer the question of why we suffer. Some say there is meaning in suffering, that God is allowing us to suffer in his divine wisdom we often can’t begin to understand. Maybe to refine us as he does gold, as the evangelicals like to say. Maybe because we’re sinners. Or our ancestors are sinners. Or because someone kind of dared him into it (i.e. book of Job).
My favorite thinkers in this area are recent Jewish scholars who must reconcile this questions in light of the Holocaust. I cannot help but feel the most depth and authenticity comes from those who have seen the suffering and evil the world is capable of, who have lived it. I’ve also always found in Jewish tradition the highest concentration of spiritually, intellectually alive, grounded and wise clergy. I’m Catholic but I studied in the Jewish community and hold certain views more consistent with theirs.
Rabbi Harold Kushner (who wrote Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?) posits that there is no meaning to suffering itself but we can choose to give it meaning afterwards. There is no great divine plan that includes babies dying and little girls raped and tsunamis ripping off arms. There is no meaning in any of that. And God is not the one who does it. He would stop it if he could. But, in Kushner’s view, he is not all powerful. An all loving and all powerful God could never allow such suffering.
When my first son was born and the doctors told us he was sick, I went through a long darkness. I could not understand how God would allow babies to suffer and die (my son didn’t die but infants with his conditions did die up until 50 years ago when doctors figured out the treatment to manage it). I turned to Judaism because I recalled when I’d studied the idea that the word Israel means to wrestle with God.
It’s based off the biblical story of Jacob who wrestles with God through the night and in the morning his name is changed to Israel. The idea is that we can question God and the things he does, but we can never turn our backs on him. We can be angry but we cannot deny him.
I wrestled with God over my baby being sick. Over not knowing what he would be able to do as he got older, what he’d be able to see. I wondered if I’d done something to cause it, spiritually. Was I being punished? But I couldn’t reconcile the idea of a God who would punish an innocent baby for its mother’s sins.
In time I found peace. I developed an idea similar to Kushner’s. God was all loving and he did what he could, but he was limited. He’d chosen to limit himself for reasons I couldn’t completely understand.
I decided to become a doctor. My son’s doctors were very frustrating and I thought there should be at least one doctor in the world who got it. I knew he would need me to make a decent living since he’d have special needs. And I wanted to make him proud, wanted to get my act together and be the kind of mom he deserved. It was time to grow up. More than anything, I wanted something good to come of his medical problems. I wanted something so sad to inspire something good.
His suffering (and, let’s be honest, mine) was meaningless in its existence but I brought what meaning to it I could.
He was three when I started medical school, against all odds (no one thought I would get it. Everyone thought I was crazy to try). He was three and a half when I met Jeremy Noyes. He was four when my medical school tried to kick me out for reporting my rapist. He was four when I fought like hell and won the right to stay.
He was seven when I graduated medical school. He was eleven when I finished my training and became what he called “a real professional doctor.”
I sometimes wonder if I would have fought to stay in medical school as hard as I did if it hadn’t been for him and his suffering. If I would have stayed in school and fought as hard as I did to get a residency and finish it. There was a primal drive there to protect my boys, to finish for them so I could provide.
But there was something more too.
Something spiritual.
Becoming a doctor was the good that was to come from his suffering. If they’d managed to force me out of my medical career, not only would it have allowed Jeremy to have kept me from my calling and my livelihood, it would have done much more than that. It would have taken from me the peace I’d made with God over his being sick. It would have taken the meaning that allowed me to go on, walking in the world with that particular hole in my heart.
And so, I wonder, did one trauma help to save me from another?
I cannot help but think that those of us that have been to Hell on earth must know a thing or two the rest of you don’t. We buy up those corny books about people who say they’ve been to heaven in a near-death experience. Learn from them about love and peace. But, what of those of us who’ve been to hell? (What is trauma if not a near-death experience?) We bring with us a lesson not of mickey mouse cotton candy unicorn sappy love. We don’t return with messages that everything will be all right. We bring something deeper. A message that everything most definitely will not be all right, but if we are there for one another and step out bravely into what love really is, we will go on. And find meaning in anything that comes our way.

Merry Christmas to you, Jeremy, in jail!: A very PTSD Christmas Eve


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I love Christmas. I’m a Christmas nut. Perhaps the result of growing up on a Christmas tree farm. I love the music and the movies and the pine cones on the mantle and the gingerbread cookies my four year old insisted using the cowboy hat cookie cutter for. Christmas Eve is a very special day for me. But it’s also one of the 365 days a year I have at least a passing thought about my trauma. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

One of my favorite Christmas movies is “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart (who is from my hometown, by the way. I used to volunteer at the world famous Jimmy Stewart museum) as George Bailey. There’s a scene in the movie where greedy villain Potter gleefully shouts “Merry Christmas to you, in jail!” at George. (I’m not going into the context here but I’d encourage you to watch it if you’re curious)

So, I have a Christmas Eve tradition that those of you who haven’t known trauma might find a little… odd. Creepy maybe. Depressing perhaps. I like to shout,

Merry Christmas to you, Jeremy, in jail!

Jeremy’s the one who did trauma to me(read about it here if you like). I’m an anomaly in that my rapist actually went to prison. Not many do. It’s a merrier Christmas this year and the next 40 of them for the little girls he was planning to traumatize. So, I don’t see this tradition as odd or creepy or depressing at all.

Christmas is a season of hope. What was the birth of Jesus if not the creation of a whole new hope for us all? Hope that there is something more than this fallen world. And hope, I’ve learned through my PTSD, is the stuff of life. Without it, we’re not dead, but not really alive either (read about it here if you like). My hope was resored when I recovered from PTSD. I like to think sharing my recovery on here could give other survivors in the purgatory of PTSD have some hope too.

I’m a big believer in speaking your truth, in the toxicity of silence. The time I spent singing/screaming in a riot grrl band were some of my most empowered. Maybe it’s the autism in me, but screaming is liberating for me. When the problems of life seem unsolvable, I scream and it helps. For so many years I was told be quiet about what Jeremy did to me. I was told it would ruin my career. I was told it was my fault, that I was a slut and I mustn’t advertise this. I have seen the damage this did to me and so, I don’t just speak my truth in this season of hope. I scream it.

Joy to the world, you fucker.  Joy to you, little girls. There is hope.

some of us are better prepared than others

After writing a post titled Joy is a Choice, I am now here to write about the fact I am depressed today. Not I’m-falling-into-the-abyss depressed, just glum I guess you could say. I was doing super well the past few days so I guess a bit of a crash was inevitable. Right? Maybe not but I’m going with it.

Christmas is a time to rejoice and I’ve been getting on my husband’s nerves telling him it over and over. He’s been a little glum himself and that’s probably not the best thing to say to some who’s bummed out. It’s probably a little really annoying as all hell. But it’s hard not to say it to someone being grinchy.

I am here writing this because I want to be honest and not just put my best foot forward, to try to make it seem I’ve triumphed over my struggles and am just 100% serene and dandy (no one is. no matter what their Facebook feed says). I am here writing this because life is a process and even though I am depressed, I know I am moving forward.

I know because I was able to say to myself, “this won’t last forever. you won’t always feel this way.” I tend to get so into how I’m feeling in the moment, I am convinced I will always feel that way. I also challenged some black and white thinking I tend to fall into. And even though I absolutely believed the string of horrible thoughts repeating over and over in my brain (in this instance, the recurring theme that I am a terrible mother who has ruined her children. what an awful thing to say to someone, even if it’s myself), I did remind myself that I know intellectually I am not seeing clearly. I am depressed and we have distorted thinking when we are depressed. And then I tried to come up with a counter-argument.

I kept seeing patients and doing some things for home in between. And I think the most important thing is, I went and chatted with my coworkers. Not about how I was feeling, but about the fact it is December 22nd and my husband and I are desperately scrambling to get a Christmas tree (he has since texted me he found one. thumbs up to my awesome hubs who did this with a baby and preschooler in tow no less). We talked about the coincidence the xray tech and I are both from families that grow Christmas trees, about how the nurse feels about his wife being pregnant and they educated me on fiberoptic Christmas trees (bizarre in my opinion and too much like those weird pink Christmas trees in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”).

I started to feel better and decided to make myself eat breakfast. I didn’t feel like it but I reminded myself not eating was not good for the depression. Reminded myself I am a fighter and will not just go into this willingly. Reminded myself even if I’m a terrible mother, I am at least one who refuses to stop trying to be better.

I have to celebrate the small victories, the day to day. I used to wonder how therapy could possibly help a sadness as deep as mine, one which seemed to come purely from the chemicals in my head. One that surely could only be fixed with the right pill. There is no dramatic moment when therapy kicks in and you’re cured. There is a slow process, though, of doing the work. Of facing your demons, yes, but also of learning all these little skills you never learned growing up. Each time I use one, each time I don’t go gently into that abyss, I have to remind myself of how far I have come even if I am not cured. Even if I am a still a little more melancholy (alternating with a little more wound up) than most. And this too I learned in therapy.

This will probably be a somewhat glum Christmas for us since we don’t have family or friends but it will be joyful too. We will laugh, watch our 4 year old squeal with delight when she unwraps her Frozen bike, feel triumphant if we get our 15 year old to smile with the silly games I’ve planned for Christmas day, pop the bottle of champagne I’ve been saving at Christmas dinner because Christ is born and there’s nothing better to celebrate.

Life is hard. We all really do have our cross to bear. Some of us were better prepared for it than others. I am sad when I think I may not be preparing my kids for it. I don’t need them to have an easy life. They’ve already been through enough to have cancelled that possibility. But I want to prepare them to persevere and to find joy amidst it all. And so, I must persevere because it’s never too late.

A new year began in the Catholic church a few weeks ago with the beginning of Advent. Christ is about to be born as he is every year. The rhythm of the year continues. He will be born again in another year no matter how this one goes. It is never too late.

2016 was-boop!-a little-boop!- stressful boop boop!


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2016 was a helluva whaddayagonnado kinda year. Bernie rose and then had the election stolen from him by corporate Democrats. Trump won, ushering in an age of all out fascism. Brock Turner got a slap on the wrist for rape. Various police got absolutely nothing for murdering people of color. Aleppo. Standing rock protestors getting limbs ripped off for peacefully protesting. Global warming it is now unavoidably obvious is going to kill us all off pretty soon.

On a more personal front (hey, stick with me here. this post will take a positive turn soon. I swear), my autistic legally blind son got horribly bullied in our school district. My other son’s anxiety reached an all time high and his tics escalated to a whole new dimension. My marriage disintegrated, culminating in separation. I had a post-pregnancy hormonally induced mental health episode. My cousin died from mental health problems. A dear kind friend died from overdose. I found out some other beautiful friends from high school are on heroin (and therefore, will die soon enough. opiates are what they are). I broke off with my family. Is that enough, people? You want more? Oh yeah, our four year old still isn’t potty trained…

But here’s the thing:

Millions of people voted for, donated to, fought for a Jewish democratic socialist who demanded universal health care, maternity leave,  a $15 minimum wage and a kinder approach to Palestine. If you’d told me in 2015 that would happen, I’d have told you that you were nuts. And even though Bernie didn’t win, he’s still out there fighting like hell. And people listen.

For the first time ever, we actually talked about rape and the disgustingly low conviction rates and sentence lengths, as a nation. Some people even said “rape”. Do you realize how huge that is? (Most of the headlines still used euphemistic bullshit and called it “sex” but, hey, it’s movement).

Indigenous activists and their allies won. Won. The people who have endured the most, who have had the most stolen from them, who have suffered the most violence, in this nation won.  Did you expect that? I didn’t. They worked and sacrificed and prayed and endured and… won.

Pennsylvania (my home state) legalized medical marijuana despite the ill informed Pennsylvania medical society opposing it. I did not expect this. It’s huge.

My legally blind son with autism started at a new school (not in our district) where he is thriving. He went to an amazing therapeutic summer camp. He’s made more progress at his new school than he’s made in the past few years combined.

My son with anxiety got a great psychiatrist and got comfortable at his school and is doing a ton better. (and he doesn’t make his “boop” tic unless things are really stressful now. Boop!)

My most recent episode combined with other events from this year caused me to truly shift the way I approach my mental health. I’m now committed to doing every single little thing I need to do to keep myself healthy. No matter what. I’m working through issues I thought were un-workable. I’m feeling more optimistic than I have since I was five. About myself, my kids, my marriage.

I worked through my lack of enthusiasm for Catholicism and have started a whole new kind of Catholicism in our home. I’m reconnecting with the mystical.

My son sang beautifully in his school musical. I had one of the happiest days of my life taking my daughter to the Nutcracker. My son with autism can now get his head wet in the pool without melting down (after 8 weeks of twice daily swim classes at his awesome therapeutic summer camp). My baby turned one and still has the chubbiest most delectable thighs you’ve ever seen. He calls me Mama and loves the water like a fish.

I prescribed suboxone to a lot of patients who hopefully will not die from opiates as a result. I started at a new urgent care where I actually have time to talk to my patients. I had a paper on intimate partner violence published in American Family Physician and got invited to speak at some medical education events.

I’m not going to sugar coat things. I’ve got nothing to say to you about Trump or this country’s refusal to face the racist police violence plaguing us. Global warming’s not looking good either. But, as Howard Zinn said, pessimism is illogical. Amazing things you didn’t see coming happen all the time. Look how many in 2016 alone? And, as my old pastor used to say, God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.

Happy holidays, everyone. Here’s to finding out what 2017 holds for us.

joy is a choice


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I have been on a diet for a few months now. I’ve lost 30 pounds. Losing steadily week by week. And then a few weeks ago I began to struggle. I stepped on the scale fo r my weekly weigh-in the day after Thanksgiving and had only lost 0.8 pounds. I was upset. I was pissed. This was not acceptable.

I decided I was going to show my diet who was boss. So, I began a fast. I wasn’t not eating at all, I reasoned. And really, Advent is a time you’re supposed to fast anyway, I reasoned. I was, of course, full of shit. I ate very very little for a week and, not surprisingly, when I stepped on that scale a week later I had lost 8 pounds. Eight pounds! In a week! Woo hoo! I’ll be at fighting weight in a few weeks!

I imagine you can guess what comes next.

I continued my oh-so-religious-not-unhealthy-at-all “fast” a few more days and then I crashed. As happens. I ate a whole lotta junk. So, I told myself, well, I’ll just go back to the weight watchers. 30 points a day. fruits and veggies are 0 points. I’ll just go back to that and then I won’t regain the 8 pounds. Still dreaming of the holy grail of being at Goal Weight.  I reasoned that since I don’t have any clothes that fit me right now and since I can’t justify buying any new clothes until I am at my end weight, why it only made sense that I really *needed* to lost 3-5 pounds a week instead of that BS “1-2 pounds a week for healthy weight loss” they were always selling.

I imagine you can guess what comes next.

I didn’t stick to my 30 points. I bargained with myself further: okay, self, if you must eat more than the allotted 30 points a day, then at least *record* everything eaten. At least stay on track *that* much.

I imagine you can guess what comes next.

It’s been two weeks of my Angel making various bargains with my Devil. And the Devil laughing as she inhales candied nuts and dairy free egg nog.

I raised the white flag last night and decided to sit down and journal it out and see what’s going on. There are a lot of factors at play: my hormones are out of whack because I’m weaning my son, it’s THE HOLIDAYS and yummy comfort food is EVERYWHERE, being on a diet for 12 weeks is really hard and gets a little old after a while, I worked six days straight right as this downfall was starting (I work 12 hour urgent care shifts so this is no small thing. Honestly, working more than 3 in a row is pretty awful), and I’m pretty damned stressed since this is my first Christmas without my family. Also, my son with autism starts getting a little… shall we say, difficult this time of year because routines are getting out of whack with the holidays. Also, we’ve all been sick with colds (#UrgentCareLife).

But it isn’t just that I’ve been eating a bit more than I should or saying Yes to more cookies passed my way than I’d planned. I’ve returned to an old pattern of eating I’ve had since I was ten. (See this entry for more on that). So, I journaled away.

It’s this feeling that I have this hunger in me that will never be filled. Like I could consume the whole universe and I would still not be satisfied. It would still not be enough. I try and try to fill it. It’s exhausting. It’s a big black hole that won’t go away.

Because it is not something that can be filled with food. It’s trite but it’s true.

It is a hunger so wide and so deep. An ocean. No land in sight. And I am alone on a little boat. You can scream all you want but no one will hear.

It is something that must be filled with love and joy and speaking your truth and having someone hear and knowing you’re resilient and having faith it’s going to be okay. all of it. Filled with my son’s drawings and my daughter’s songs and my other son finally learning addition and my baby saying Uh oh! Filled with God and his saints and Hebrew prayers and oplatka and incense and chanting. Filled with the rhythm of the year and laughing when you really want to cry and doing what’s right even when it’s hard. Because life brings pain but we decide how much we suffer. And joy is a choice.

I am blessed with four beautiful children. I am blessed to be a physician. I am blessed to have been called to Catholicism. I am blessed to live in a warm home and drive a safe car and to be able to buy my children the things they need and some of the things they want. I am blessed to have grit. I am blessed because I am not alone. And it is not an endless ocean. Just puddles we’re jumping through. And in between, we laugh.


pretending to grill in the garden of eden


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I have lost some weight recently. A goodly amount, I think it’s fair to say. Only ten more pounds to go. I weighed 150 pounds nine years ago when my trauma began and by 2013 I was 224 pounds. I ate for a lot of reasons. I’ll tell you about it some time.

Today I am thinking about a picture of me grilling. Well, pretending to grill. It was 2007 and I had left my first husband and was just starting medical school. I was young. So damned young. 28 to be precise. I just knew my soul mate awaited me out there. And I would of course find him on the internet. A single mom going to med school doesn’t have time to go out, so she would of course take advantage of online dating. But, I needed a profile picture. This was before the advent of selfies and not too many of us had a gaggle of carefully angled, flattering pictures of ourselves lying around in our smart phones. I didn’t even have a smart phone. So I asked my mother to take a picture of me.

I wanted to look natural so I said, take a picture of me in the kitchen cooking spaghetti. (Because everyone has a picture of them in full make up smiling as they cook spaghetti. So natural. And maybe I could use it if I ever decided to sell my own brand of jarred spaghetti sauce. Kill two birds with one stone. Bam) Unfortunately, the lighting in the kitchen was bad so we went out on the back patio of my little ranch house in Erie. Unsure of how to keep up the natural theme, I went for the grill. Here, I said, take a picture of me pretending to grill.

And so here I am today, looking at a picture of me with my hair perfectly done, pink lip gloss shining, smiling with my mouth and my eyes (so it wouldn’t look fake. Even though it was). Holding a large grilling spatula in my hand, the cold grill lid opened. No sign of my special needs toddlers to be seen. None of the dark circles I’d soon earn staying up late studying. The flat stare of depression that had occupied my face most of my life, the fear of the abuse I’d lived under, the wide eyes of my mania, absent. I’m beaming with hope in that picture. An endless stream of possibility before me. Faith that I will have a wonderful life. (I did work in the Jimmy Stewart Museum in high school, after all).

I do have a good life now. Nine years later. I have been blessed and I have fought for it. I certainly do not have the life I imagined then, when I was young. How many of us do? I have walked through my darkness these years and come out on the other side.

I am now almost to the weight I am in that picture. And as I have dropped each pound, run each mile, I have thought, this is a victory over my trauma. I have reclaimed my mental health and now I am reclaiming my physical. He can’t take this from me. I am leaving behind my trauma pound by pound. I am escaping a body that is not really mine. Getting back to being myself after so long.

But now I am close to the weight in the picture, to wearing the clothes I wore then, all of which I have saved in anticipation of this day. And I look in the mirror and I have not returned to looking like myself at all. I am not the girl at the grill.

My stomach has gone from that of a 28 year old whose had 2 kids to that of a 37 year old whose had 4 and gained and lost a lot of weight. My face has crow’s feet and laugh lines it didn’t then. And my eyes don’t smile the same. They’ve seen too much to smile so damned naïve. They smile not with happiness, but with the joy that comes from knowing sadness.

I’ll be honest with you, I wish my body looked like it did back then. I’d love to be a good feminist and not feel that way. I know I shouldn’t subconsciously convey such attitudes to my sweet daughter. But, life’s a process, okay? And I wish I was a little firmer, a little perkier. Less stretch marks. Less lines. But I don’t wish my eyes were perkier. I don’t wish these past nine years had been different. Don’t wish I could return to being naïve.

I’ve never believed in regret. It’s never made sense to my logical autistic brain. If you can’t do something over, why would you possibly sit around thinking about what might have been? It is what it is, I often say. Life is what it is.

I have no regrets about choosing the medical school I did. About pursuing the awful man I did. About turning him in as I did. Never have, never will. But I have been continuing to labor under the false idea we get after trauma. The idea that keeps us from moving on, that locks us into PTSD if we believe it enough. The idea that we can make this trauma not matter. That it can become a minor footnote in our life story. That we can go back to being who we were before. Before. Before *it*. You know, that event that doesn’t matter anymore. Even though it’s the yardstick we now measure every accomplishment by. Constantly claiming victory. Telling yourself, living well is the best revenge. Tallying up everything you have that your perpetrators never will. Telling yourself, I’m not like those whiny survivors who blame all their problems on their trauma. I’m different. I have overcome.

The truth is, your life was divided the day the trauma began. There was before the trauma and after. And it drives you mad. You just want that damned line erased. You want your life whole again. A beautiful continuous flowing story arc. With twists and turns and dips and peaks, but unbroken. But that fucking chasm, fault, break, schism, crack, gully, canyon, whatever you call it, it’s still there. Won’t budge. It’s not something you can remove. Because it’s not something. It’s the absence of something. You can try and try to fill it, but it’s still there. Go ahead, dump in food, pills, booze, drugs, sex, work, reckless driving, overspending, self injury, reality television, starvation, obsessive relationships, obsessive religion, hours of staring blankly at walls… It’s still there. Fill it til it overflows. It’s still there.  It. Will. Always. Be. There.

The Garden of Eden will not be restored. The fallen world remains.

And that’s okay. Well, it’s not *really* okay. It’s trauma. And trauma’s hell. But… it is what it is. It doesn’t have to be okay. It just is. And you have to learn to accept that it is. Over. And over. And over. You build up a life on the other side of it. You peer down into it and thank God you haven’t fallen into it. That you’re here. Looking back at it as you run, mile by mile.

I swallowed a vitamin yesterday. A really big vitamin. I’ve always been good at swallowing pills. So are my kids. Family skill. (baggy esophagus maybe? we’re not the most coordinated family so it’s certainly not that we have an especially athletic swallowing mechanism). The thing is, Jeremy raped me a lot of ways but the scariest one was the oral rape. Because I thought I would die. He would suffocate me and count to ten slowly and I thought he might just hold me there long enough to kill me and I’d never see my babies again. I felt so utterly powerless. I was so utterly powerless. He would tell me he was training the gag mechanism out of me.

It didn’t work and ever since then, I have had trouble swallowing certain things like big pills. Vitamins in particular I guess since he had me on a vitamin regimen of sorts. It wasn’t something I ever wanted to deal with. I  just took gummy vitamins. But yesterday my husband said, these are really good vitamins, maybe you could try and see. And so I did. I put this rather large vitamin and my probiotic capsule and my two medications in my mouth and took a big gulp of water and threw my head back. And they all went down. Down the hatch.

I felt so victorious. I thought, I wish I could tell someone. I was so happy that he’d now taken one less thing from me. I thought about telling people, though, and how I would need to explain that whole oral-rape-until-you-suffocate thing. And then I remembered the whole orally-raped-until-I-suffocated thing. And I felt so powerless. So utterly powerless. There in my living room, my babies’ toys strewn on the floor, the fireplace I love, the pictures of our wedding and our first communion at the Easter vigil and… I felt so terrified and so sad and… I thought to myself, a really awful thing happened to me. A freaky, awful thing. A thing no one deserves. That happened. It happened to me. And it can’t be undone.

The moment passed quickly. In a matter of seconds it was done and I was back to my life. To my beautiful fireplace and crazy bubalink babies and my devoted husband and I stumbling through Catholicism. And now I was doing all that with the benefit of a wonderful multivitamin.

You tell yourself, you need to stop running *from* the trauma and start running *towards* the good things. And the truth is, I do have runs where I think about the healthy habits I’m giving my kids and going on hikes with my husband, maybe learning tennis or kickboxing. How good it feels to be lighter on my feet, to get around easier, to know I’m probably going to dodge the bullet of diabetes type 2 and keep the arthritis at bay as long as I can. But sometimes I think of how far I’ve come. Sometimes I think of him, of her (the head of my medical school),  of the sickness in their hearts that makes them do the things they do. Of the happiness they tried to deny me.

They did, in a way. They took from me the naïve happiness I had then. They put a fault in my life. Made it into a before and after. But I have made a home on the other side. I am not hanging off the edge. I am not in the darkness of it. My happiness has given way to joy and wisdom and a greater love than I could have known. The fault is there to stay. And that’s okay. Well, it’s not okay. But it is. It is what it is. And after all, it really is a wonderful life.

The World is Coming to an End


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My husband is a filmmaker and he made our wedding video. I am blessed like that. He edited it, picked out the music and even hired an animator to make an animated version of the highlights of our relationship. Impressively, he did this while broke and during a really painful separation I had instigated. #MaritalSaint.

We watch it from time to time and we had been meaning to sit and watch it again for the past few months now. Our daughter Lena loves weddings and kept asking when we would watch it. We finally carved out some time to watch it last week. As Lena sat oohing and ahhing over my pretty dress and the “beauuuutyful flowas,” I found myself crying. Which was odd. You see, I am not a crier. I mainly cry when

  1. flooded with pregnancy hormones
  2. when extremely exhausted or
  3. when extremely depressed and heading into a panic attack. When it feels I am falling into the blackness and my world is coming to an end.

I cried several times during the video despite not wanting to do so in front of my sweet, very empathetic Lena. Unlike my boys, she notices any time I am sad or angry. Sometimes she notices before I do. #HighFunctioningAutism. And unlike the boys, I can never lie my way out of it.

I cried as we watched my father give me away and when my nieces walked down the aisle as little flower girls. My wedding was really the last time I saw my sisters and my nieces. I have since then physically seen them a few times, but it was a hollow, awkward exercise. It only served to remind me of what I’d lost.

I watched my two nieces in their pretty little dresses walking down the aisle. The older one was 6 1/2 and the younger one 4 1/2. Smiling and sweet. At the reception the younger one danced with abandon and ran around, often times chased by her father trying to get her to do something. She was quick and evaded capture often. As I watched them, I realized they will forever be caught in this age in my mind. They will never age. Forever sweet, spunky little girls.

I saw them for the first time since the wedding (the first time in 5 years, in 60 months, in 1,825 days) this past summer. 11 1/2 and 9 1/2. They were hard to recognize. They looked so much like their mother now. They looked so grown up. They did not talk to me or my boys.

My boys, especially the Axe, had been asking to see them for five years. He never gave up. He couldn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed. I didn’t understand either and couldn’t figure out how to explain it. I told him, my sister is mad at me and doesn’t want to see us. He asked why she was mad and I said, I don’t know. Because I don’t.

Now, they were strangers.

My sister gave her older daughter my name as her middle name. Because I had helped her through her very long, very difficult, downright heroic labor. It meant a lot to me. An overwhelming lot. I wonder now what she tells her when she asks where her name came from, as I often asked my mother when I was a little girl.

I cried because I will always miss them. Because they will forever be little girls in my mind even as they grow. And that is a very sad thing, to never grow up.

I cried too to see my parents. My father giving me away.

“Who gives this woman to be married?”

” I do.”

But they didn’t really give me away. They couldn’t bring themselves to let me go. They couldn’t stand the thought of letting me grow up. I was forever a little girl to them. *Their* little girl. They could let no one take me away. It did not occur to them I was choosing to go away, that no one was taking me. In their mind, I was theirs and now he was taking me to be his. After all, a little girl is not able to make such decisions.

If they’d let me go, I would have. I really did want to marry my husband and have a home of my own. Every time I’d left my home as an adult I always came back. I went away to college but then transferred to the local school and lived with them. Then I met my first husband and moved away with him and got married. But then I divorced him and again lived with them for four years during medical school. Then I met my forever husband and moved away again. If they’d let me go, I would have stayed with him. But they couldn’t and I didn’t. I left him twice. I left him in a sudden, jarring, couldn’t see it coming way. Twice. And each time returned to them. The first time I physically moved back in with them. The second time, only emotionally so.

And a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife. No mention of the wife in that one.

My husband would say to me I was too attached to my family and our marriage wasn’t going to work until I grew up and left the nest and learned to put my kids and marriage first. I kept insisting I had and offered up various bits of evidence to support the patently untrue assertion. He was never convinced.

They had made clear while we were dating they didn’t like him. My sisters broke off with me after the wedding. My parents remained and put up a show of liking him. When I left the first time, it was ay my family’s urging and we sat discussing their true feelings about him. When he and I attempted to reconcile shortly after the separation I kept it a secret as I knew they’d be upset. I was right. When they found out from reading text messages on my phone, my mother kicked me out. Me and my three kids. Me with nowhere to go. I remember calling my oldest sister crying uncontrollably, panicking, terrified. Terrified because I had nowhere to go but mostly because when this side of my mother came out, I felt that black hole feeling. That I was being sucked into the abyss. The world was ending.

Our mothers are the source of life. They are supposed to be the safe womb we can always return to in times of distress. Mine was not. It was in times of distress she was most likely to turn from a seemingly sweet cookie baking, nurturing mom to an ugliness words cannot describe. A cold hate would flow from her and destroy me. My world spinning around me, closing in on me, suffocating me into non-existence.  I would go from being a sacrificial devoted mother in her eyes to a crazy, unfit mother who put men before her children. She would threaten to give my ex-husband money to get a lawyer and take my kids away. Crazy. Unfit mother. Woman who puts men before her children. These were the things I feared most. These were the demons that haunted me. Was she right? Is that who I truly was? That doubt, that possibility, was an endless source of shame deep within me.

You never really knew when she would turn. I grew up in a minefield. Trying so hard not to set her off. And always failing.

I remember going back to my bedroom, the room I had slept in all my life, that I had returned to once again, and calling my husband. Speaking in hushed tones and sobs about my mother kicking me out. He couldn’t understand what I was saying. I was terrified for my mother to hear me so I spoke quietly and ended the call quickly. He had no idea what had happened.

My mother soon summoned me to the living room with an offer. She would not kick me and my babies out on condition that:

  1. I send my two boys to live with their father as she did not have the energy for them. My daughter could remain and she would watch her while I completed residency and
  2. I was to cut off contact with my husband. Any time we met for visitation with our daughter, I was to be chaperoned by my father. They didn’t want my manipulative evil husband sucking me back in. After all, I was just a little girl and easily tricked.

I agreed, so scared. I cut off all contact with my husband without even explaining why. They soon rescinded the demand I send my boys to live with their father, but not the second. We met for visitation with my father awkwardly standing with us. My husband brought me gifts, sweet gifts. A CD he’d made me. Sweet, thoughtful gifts and cards. My family rolled their eyes and laughed. How could he think gifts would make up for what a horrible person he was?

In time, I began communicating with my husband again and we decided again to reconcile. This time, I knew I couldn’t let them find out as we prepared, finding a house to live in and meeting as often as we could (he was living 3 1/2 hours away). My parents rarely left the house, but in August there was a family reunion they would be at for a few hours. In those few short hours we packed up my belongings, disassembled my boy’s bunkbeds and moved all of it out to the new house, an hour away, where I was completing residency. I left them a note saying goodbye.

Their little girl had once again been stolen.

In time, I unpacked the dysfunction of my family in therapy. I began slowly to set boundaries and view my family and my childhood for what it was. I realized there was no emotional intimacy. I realized I had been raised to trust no one but the family. I realized how afraid I had been all these years of my mother disowning me, as she had other people in her life. I realized my mother and I were enmeshed and yet not close at all. Not in the ways that matter.

I left my husband again this past summer just as suddenly, just as secretly, just as heartbreakingly. We reconciled again. And my parents said they were fine with it, but began to punish me in subtle unspoken ways. But still I kept them in my life.

The breaking point came a few months later with the dog incident I have explained in previous posts. I found after I broke with them, my marriage was suddenly so much better. My opinion of my husband so much better, my love for him unconditional. I was not expecting this. I came to see all the subtle ways they had undermined our marriage while, on the surface, appearing to be supporting it. How incredibly cruel. To me and to my kids. Crazy. An unfit mother. Projection.

I no longer have my family in my life and so I cried as I watched my father giving me away in my pretty white dress. They say in Catholicism that we are not waiting for the world to end when Christ comes. The world ends many times in our lives. When we get divorced, get a bad diagnosis, lose a loved on. It ended for me when I found out my son was sick at 6 days old, when a guy I’d been in love with broke my heart, when my medical school tried to ruin my career for turning in a child molester. The world ends but a new one begins. It prepares us for death, they say. For it is in dying that we are born again.

My world has come to an end once again as it has before. But this time I can see clearly the new world that has been created in its place. My children growing up healthier and happier than I, my marriage finally solid, my body and mind stronger than they’ve ever been, my connection to God growing.

They couldn’t give me away and so now I have left of my own will. I am not a little girl. I have grown up.