Good Bye Dr. D
For the longest time I was desperate to see you and be seen by you; to hear the sound of your voice; to be in your presence. I was desperate to feel known. For me, there was no safer place on the planet or in time than with you.
A month from this Friday will mark the passing of six years since we were together. Six years. It has taken almost six years for me to be able to detox enough to write to you without flashbacks and pain overwhelming me into a state of silent disassociation. And even though I know in all likelihood you will never receive this letter, never read these words, I feel uneasy as I write them.
For months after you left, my whole being screamed, “You’re doing damage.” The pain was visceral, the sound, unfailing and deafening. Though the words, “you broke my heart,” or “stole years from my life,” are true, they feel trite, pat, and offensively cliché. So I won’t be telling you those words. I will tell you that you took advantage of your position and of my love and trust. You abused me body and soul. Having humiliated and degraded me, you ran away. You called me to say that you’d be back soon and asked me to be patient and wait for your return. I was patient. I waited. You never came back. And while it felt obscene beyond words, life continued.
Without warning or explanation I found myself exiled from what had become the only place where I had felt I existed. As certain as I was that I could trust you not to leave me, I was also certain I would die if you were no longer there. Now, almost six years later, I realize I was wrong on both counts.
Like an injured animal caught in a net, I had lived in a constant state of panic, terrified that I would never be found and terrified that I would be. Most days, I took comfort in believing that no being could survive in such a state and that I would surely soon die. During that time, the only foothold I found, my only reason for staying alive was to care for the lawsuit I was pursuing against you. It was all I had left of you and, as such, was precious. The lawsuit’s survival was dependent on my being alive. Caring for it was all that justified my continued existence.
Well Dr D, I didn’t die, though I imagine there were times when you hoped I would or wished I had. Currently I am about 90 percent indifferent to any feelings you may have regarding me or anything else. I find neither pleasure in your joy nor despair in your sorrow. My only concern regarding you is that you not do to anyone else what you did to me.
I demand from myself that I not alter my life in any way in an attempt either to seek you or avoid you or any thing, place or person associated with you. Now I neither hope for nor resent any good or evil that may befall you. All I had wanted from you, of you, or of us simply, though not easily, is no more. Sometimes I want to say, “You foolish, foolish, man,” or “You foolish, arrogant man.” I loved you so.
There is an intimate way in which you will always know me, a way in which no one else ever can or will, and there is a way in which I will always know you. I was there. It happened. I’m alive. Should our paths cross, I imagine it might cause me severe distress. But, I know something today that I did not know six years ago: I know I will live longer than the pain. I’ll survive, and very often I’ll be grateful and celebrate that I did.
Goodbye Dr. D.
Garcin: Will night never come?
Garcin: You will always see me?
John Paul Sartre, No Exit
Existentialist John Paul Sartre, in his 1944 play, No Exit, describes three characters who, having been brought to a hotel room after death, quickly come to despise one another. Beyond the room is a void. The characters, despite their option to leave to go into the void, find they cannot. They recognize that each validates the other’s existence and thereby are they, themselves, validated.
Having been systematically isolated and dehumanized by our abusers, we, too, often find ourselves believing that what lies beyond the abusive relationship is a void and that it is only within the confines of the abusive relationship that we can be validated. With the normal rules of communicating, of relating, and of intimacy having been manipulated and distorted by our abusers, many of us fear abandonment and isolation. We become anxious when we are alone and ultimately realize, to our horror, that we are traumatically bonded to our abusers.
Even after we have escaped from our abusers, many of us still experience a powerful pull back because of the intensity of the abusive relationship and the internalization of the distorted reality. As Susan Penfold writes, “Victims have been persuaded that…’you have found yourself through love of me.’”*
Our compelling need to stay connected can take many forms, some surprising. Some of us, for example, may repeatedly drive past our abuser’s homes, call their answering machines, or search for them on the web. But we may also doggedly pursue their associates, employers, and professional organizations, demanding justice from those who would prefer our silence. Such confrontations all too often lead us to further isolation: Our friends grow weary, and our therapists or other professional supporters become impatient with our seeming inability to move on.
So far, this does not seem like a “message of hope.” But, there is hope. In the words of one anonymous survivor six years after leaving her abuser, “I know I will live longer than the pain. I’ll survive, and very often I’ll be grateful and celebrate that I did.”
Unlike Sartre’s characters, what lies beyond for us is not a void. As we heal, we unravel the distortions that have weakened and confused us, and we move on to form healthy, loving, and validating relationships. With time and work, we come to understand who our abusers really are and grieve for what we had believed was reality. Finally, we forgive ourselves for having clung to the beautiful myth.
*Why Did You Keep Going for So Long? Issues for Survivors of Long-Term Sexually Abusive ‘Helping’ Relationships. J. Sex Ed & Therapy, 24:4, 1999
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