I’m here. Buffalo Gal is good to let me write again, with a few stipulations: That I am careful with my secrets concerning my sisters; that I’m as honest as I can make myself be; that when she thunders at me to stop, by Heaven or Hell I stop. I can’t argue with those rules. Why would I, since I’m the stipulator and the stipulatee? Anyway, I’m back for a bit and I intend to push through a few more walls right now, straight from the heart of my sanctuary and into the light of forgiveness and growth. Hiding inside my head has become too hard, even for Buffalo Gal, the space too small for our growing reality. I want to be free of me, to lay my little girl self to rest and let Delicate Little Thang grow stronger. I can do this.
I’m a cute little girl
With a cute little figure,
But stay away boys
‘Til I get a little bigger!
It was a lie, but it made them laugh, so they asked me to recite it for them over and over again. My relatives thought I was precocious and cute in a bouncy ringletted, fat-wristed kind of a way, with my flair for the dramatic evident even then. I couldn’t have been much older than 4 when I became the temporary r0lly-polly star of family gatherings. The grown-ups would all clap and cheer for my chubby little self to step up, shake my booty provocatively and wag my finger at them as I quoted the stupid little poem. I hated it, but I loved them, so I complied every time. I recall the feeling of my burning cheeks, tears just behind my eyelids. I learned to play the part of the fool early, and from then on it was easy to climb into the sanctuary of my mind and hide. The skill was already established when I needed to hurry into my head away from blue lights, red cars, goblins, and Blood Oranges. What I didn’t understand then…what I still struggle with dozens of years later… are issues with rules about leaving the secured and well fortified sanctuary of my brain to find a world of real truth and beauty beyond self-confinement. The multiple safety locks are much harder to open from the inside.
Okay, it’s getting weird in here now, so let’s move on.
Let me briefly return to the time I discovered that the sanctuary in my head even had a door that opened. I traveled a very difficult road to get myself into Sheryl’s office for help…almost an accident, really, but once I was there I was hooked as if I had wandered into an opium den. It didn’t take long for me to realize I could lay many of my burdens safely at her feet, that she would willingly help me sort through the darkness and pain that had become my whole identity. She was an amazing woman and therapist, kind and patient with my stumblings and childishness.
It was awkward to talk with Sheryl in the beginning. I felt like a fraud. I didn’t trust myself to find a truth I could share that wouldn’t make her recoil, so half-truths came spewing out of me, filling the room like a fog rolling in. My clumsy attempts at letting her in were just awful, filled with lies and hair twisting and way to much animation and loudness. I could tell, when I grew brave enough to make brief eye contact with her, that she wasn’t buying any of it. Genuinely wanting to be real with her, I told her about throwing the vacuum over my head and the panic it had created in me, but I blamed it on unhappiness and boredom and not feeling well and my husband and my kids and everything except for what it really was. I truly didn’t know what IT was exactly at that point. All I had was a handful of disjointed images in my memory that refused to come together. It was nearly impossible for me to talk about them with any kind of cohesiveness or clarity. I didn’t have the tools I needed to make the picture come together.
I couldn’t see it, but she most definitely did. Sheryl allowed me several sessions of ramblings and trying to come to myself and then things changed, brought to a head by another unexpected event. The day before one of our scheduled sessions I happened upon a PBS documentary about false memory syndrome. I had never heard of such a thing. Suddenly all kinds of alarm bells were going off in my head. Everything the program addressed seemed to be exactly applicable to me. I had experienced oddities as a child, such as goblins, nose bleeds, and throwing up strange items. One night I became violently sick and vomited up a dangly black and white earring. I was just as surprised to see it as my mom was! She took me to the Dr. the next morning to see if the other one was there. It wasn’t. I still have no explanation for that little bit of strangeness, but the feeling of shock at seeing it come from my body still has a haunting effect on me.
I suffered with nose bleed after nose bleed as a child, and visited the Dr. several times for them. I hated those visits because they often ended with a burning, invasive cauterization. I have an early memory of being with my family at a special event, watching Native Americans dance on a huge stage in some kind of a big room, not a theater, but more like a gymnasium. Folding chairs were set up in row upon row and when the lights went down it didn’t dim all the way to dark. Thinking back to it now, it might have been an afternoon or an early evening event. Sometime during the flurry of color and thunder of drums coming from the stage, I found myself alone at the back of the audience, blood running freely down my face and onto the front of me. I wiped furiously at it, but had no tissue and so made the matter far worse. I must have looked like a violent nightmare.
I felt hands on my shoulders, and found I was being led away from the noise and into a restroom. A beautiful, olive-skinned older woman, dressed in full Indian regalia, took control of the situation. She washed the blood away with a dozen damp paper towels while squeezing the bridge of my nose. She had me lay on the cold tiles of the restroom, and then she unwound her beautiful, deep-blue velvet sash from around her waist, soaked it in cold water, folded it, and placed it under the back of my neck. She clucked soothing at me and told me to lay still. I did as she asked, frightened, but also relieved and thankful for her. She seemed to know exactly what to do, even though her methods were unfamiliar to me. My memory from here is fuzzy at best; the bleeding stopped and I somehow found my way back to my family. I don’t remember if they scolded me or if they thanked the woman, but the clarity of her countenance above me, her gentle yet insistent hands in complete control, still comforts me and brings me peace in times of stress.
The documentary seemed to be a check-off list for what my life had been. I felt unsure and anxious, but I determined then and there that no matter what, I’d force myself to tell Sheryl about it the next day, and I did. She immediately acknowledged my description of what False Memory Syndrome was and validated my belief that I was inveigled in that very thing; later, when I began to doubt myself, she told me she had already suspected this might be something to look at with me. We talked at length. I was more open with her than I had been, and toward the end of our time that day she told me she believed I had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child. She was confident and knowledgeable, and I felt the heaviness slipping away from me; the sanctuary-turned-prison of my own thoughts began to crumble around me and healing could finally begin. It took three long years to work all of the puzzle pieces together, but eventually the picture started to form itself. The closer I came to seeing its ugly, evil face the quicker it came into focus. The picture wasn’t pretty in the beginning, but it pointed to a place of lightness and peace.
I am filled with gratitude for Sheryl and her support along the way. It wasn’t always straightforward and easy going during the discovery process, but we got there. I found strength in myself I had no idea existed within my skin, and it would have remained hidden in my head had she not been willing to come looking for me, seeing me through the bones and cobwebs of a darkness that had sanctified me and kept me well away from myself.
Today’s word is sanctuary: