You may wonder why, in “Breaking Free,” I made just one brief reference to trauma symptoms related to abuse.  While the symptoms of Complex PTSD have been part of my life until recently, I did not discuss them in the essay because the thrust of the essay is to show why and how I was able to move from being a victim to being a survivor.  I feel that discussing Complex PTSD in the same essay would be a distraction and would not be helpful to those who may want to focus on my description of how I stopped the violence in my home and survived to shape my  life and make it what I wanted it to be.  

This morning, as I thought about this essay and about Complex PTSD and its symptoms, I realized that for most of my seventy-seven years, I have lived two parallel lives–my “outer” life that has been visible to everyone and my “inner” life that has contained my struggle to prevent the C-PTSD symptoms from rendering me nonfunctional.  Does this sound familiar?  For the most part, I have been able to keep the two lives from interfering with each other, but I understand now how much energy that has taken and how spending the energy on that has caused me to miss out on some aspects of life that bring joy to many people. 

For example, socializing has always been difficult for me because social interactions often have triggered my Complex PTSD responses.  In one instance of this, I was enjoying my cup of coffee after the church service one Sunday in the mid-1990s when the husband of a good friend came up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder.  Before I could think, I automatically tried to deck the man and spewed a string of curse words that would make a sailor turn pale.  The shocked parishioners had no idea why I did that, nor did I.  I ran from the church and was so mortified that I never went back.  I missed attending church and singing in the choir, but I didn’t miss the experience enough to return.  My shame was more than I could bear, and I felt like the lepers I had read about in Sunday School when I was a little girl–a person to avoid at all times.  

Now that I have alleviated my symptoms, however, and have learned how to understand and manage myself when I am in a triggering situation, I have the inner energy to find more joy in life.  I have written over one hundred posts for this blog, many of which are on the topic of the process I went through to heal my PTSD to the point where I have been able to stop therapy.  if you are interested in this topic, please read my earlier posts.  Best wishes! 


 Like perhaps some of you reading this or listening to my story, I was abused as a child and abused as a wife. I separated from my husband of twenty years in 1981, finalized my divorce in 1983, and for the past thirty-some years I have been trying to make sense of the first forty-two years of my life. In addition to making sense of my past, I have been telling my story so that others who are also struggling to make sense of their own abusive pasts may find information and insights that will help them do so. In this essay, I focus on the one aspect of my story which I believe may be most helpful to the reader or listener, the process by which I left behind the role of victim and took upon myself the role of survivor.

Part I: “Just the way life was”

For many of us in my generation, our mothers taught us whatever social skills we possessed. Our mothers also, perhaps unwittingly, carefully taught us their own attitudes and views regarding relationships, gender roles, and acceptable social interactions. Unfortunately, to my mother, the victimization of females, be they children or adults, was “just the way life was.”  

When I look back into my early childhood, I remember the hushed, euphemism-filled discussions as my mother and her bridge-playing friends ate their eggless wartime chocolate cake, drank their brew of chicory and coffee from Spode cups, and tried to keep me from understanding what they were saying. Granted, I didn’t understand specifically what they were talking about at the time, but what they didn’t know was that the tape recorder in my head was busy recording and filing memories of their conversations for future reference.

As a very young child, listening during the card games and the breaks for refreshment, I didn’t remember words so much as I remembered the atmosphere, the shadowed and dark tones of women’s voices as they uttered words such as “divorcee” and “adultery.” Even though I didn’t know what the words themselves meant, I knew that any woman who was a divorcee or an adulteress was a bad, bad woman. I don’t recall overhearing anything negative about the male role in relationships, maybe because the bridge club women accepted the prevailing social truth of their time and socio-economic class: women had no power, and wives could only accept their situations and do their best to deal with whatever men dished out. Men fought in the war, men brought home the paycheck, and women depended on men for their existence. No, the bridge club ladies didn’t solve any social problems, but their conversations over dessert certainly helped shape my own attitudes, including a belief that women were powerless and men could do whatever they wanted to women and get away with it.

As I was growing up, I regarded my mother as a more independent thinker than many of her peers. She had worn slacks rather than dresses most of her life and had begun to smoke while still in her teens, during the 1920s. She was also an atheist. When I was a girl, I saw her as having broken from the societal chains of her time. Indeed, she made clear to me that I need not feel limited by my gender in my choice of career or course of study when I was a college student. As a teenager, I remember considering myself lucky that I had a mother who appeared more liberated than the mothers of some of my friends. After all, she didn’t expect me to be a home economics teacher or a nun when I grew up.  

The image I had of my mother took a shocking 180-degree turn, however, the day in 1981 when I told her I had reported my husband for sexually abusing our daughter. In response to my words, she said, “Well, she must have seduced him.” I suddenly realized, then, that a part of my mother was rooted in the era in which some people saw women as being completely responsible for their own victimization. Later, after I had a chance to reflect and remember, other bits of evidence to support this came to me. Her response in the early 1950s to the local newspaper’s story of a young woman’s rape was, “I’m sure she asked for it.” In telling me a brief story about being “felt up” when she was a girl, she ended by saying, “That was what men did. I should have known better.”  

To my mother, then, men were off the hook for their sexual misbehavior, and females, including my mother and including young girls, were totally to blame for any sexual abuses they suffered at the hands of males. Blame the victim! For not being smart enough to have avoided the situation? For having been born female? For what? She died in 1995, and I never asked her those questions. 

I knew then, after talking to my mother in 1981, why she had never taught me how not to be a victim. Being female and being a victim were synonymous in her mind, and she never progressed in her thinking beyond that concept. She couldn’t have taught me to be any different from herself in that respect because she didn’t know how to be different, and even if she had the knowledge, the subject of sexual abuse was typically off-limits between mothers and daughters in the 1940s and 1950s. The existence of domestic violence or abuse of any sort was a social best-kept secret, one which no public agency, including the police department in my home town, was willing to discuss.  

Part II: My heart speaks the truth 

Looking back, I recognize the horrendous neglect and abuse I endured as a child and later as a wife, and yet, because I was not taught to recognize abuse for what it was, I did not see myself as a victim. This, despite my having been sexually violated by the neighbor woman and her grown son when I was four years old. I never told my mother about this because I knew she would blame me and spank me. As a result, I lived with the secret for almost forty years, suffering all the time from the symptoms arising from unhealed psychological trauma.  

I was not actively sexually abused In my childhood home; however, abuse presented itself in many other forms. The physical abuse, the neglect, the put-downs, and the yelling were just “the way life was” for children in my household who were unfortunate enough to have been born female. Later, when I was a wife and mother, the name-calling, yelling, and sexual battering my husband dished out to me were simply a continuation of “the way life was.” Only when I walked in on my husband in the act of molesting our daughter that April day in 1981 was I finally shocked into seeing that “the way life was” was a lie and recognizing the roles of my parents and my husband and society in general in perpetuating that lie.  

At that moment in April of 1981, when I witnessed my daughter being victimized, I acknowledged and accepted what I had learned in Sunday School in the 1940s and had known in my heart all my life: Nobody, male or female, deserves to be cast in the role of victim. Even I did not deserve to be victimized. I credit my Sunday School teachers for teaching this to me by example and by intentional instruction. My Sunday School teachers were always kind to me, never yelled at me, never hurt me, and were always glad to see me. They hugged me, gave me cookies, and smiled at me. They loved me, and I loved them. They taught me that God loved me no matter what. In my child mind I figured that even if my parents didn’t love me, at least God and my Sunday School teachers did, and if they loved me, then there must be something about me worth loving.  

Yes, just as a beautiful flower may grow unnoticed beneath the topsoil until it suddenly comes to full bloom and makes its presence known, so did that lesson I learned in Sunday School so long ago suddenly make itself known and guide me in the direction I knew I needed to go. 

Part II: With God’s guidance . . .  

The evening of Thursday, April 9th, 1981, had begun very much as most Thursday evenings in our home had begun. After my husband, our young teenage daughter, and I had eaten dinner, I cleared the table and then put some clothes into the washer. My husband did some chores outside and then came in to check on our daughter’s homework. At some point, he and our daughter went into the tv room, sat on our sagging old couch, and began watching a program. I continued to work in the kitchen and do laundry.  

Later, I loaded clothes from the dryer into a basket and decided to join the rest of my family to watch television. As I stepped over the threshold of the family room, however, I froze. Although the light in the room was off, the flickering of the tv screen caught the terror in my daughter’s eyes and the guilt on my husband’s face as they abruptly sat up. At that moment, I felt as if all my bodily functions stopped and I was suspended in time, frozen. My instincts told me to stay out of that room, and I backed into the hall. I was not sure what was happening, but I knew that evil was there in that room, and I needed to get out and away. 

Stunned, I walked into the dimly lit kitchen, sat at the table, and automatically began folding clothes. Later, my daughter trudged silently up the stairs to her room, and my husband went outside to work in the barn. I followed my daughter and helped her get ready for bed. I said nothing about the incident to either of them at the time because I needed some time to figure out what I had seen and how I would deal with the situation. I knew, however, that from that point on, I would not leave my daughter alone at any time with her father.  Before I took any action based on what I had witnessed in the family room, though, I needed to talk to my daughter without my husband being present. 

The next day, Friday, I had no opportunity to talk to my daughter by herself because my husband came home early, before she came home from school, and did not let either of us out of his sight. On Saturday morning, however, he decided after breakfast to dig post holes in our pasture. He tried to get our daughter to go with him, but I insisted that she had chores to do in the house, and he didn’t force the issue.  

After my husband had headed for the field and I was convinced he would be gone a while, I sat with my daughter at our kitchen table and questioned her as gently as I could without revealing the chaos and anxiety wracking my psyche. 

“What is your daddy doing to you?” I asked her, hoping she would tell me something other than the truth. I knew what I had seen, but I was hoping with all my heart that I had drawn the wrong conclusions. 

At first, my daughter would not look me in the eyes and would not answer my question. To reassure her, I took her hands in mine and told her what I had seen. Then she talked to me.  

“Daddy told me that if I told you, you would be jealous and wouldn’t love me anymore,” she sobbed. 

“Did you believe him?” I asked. 

“Yes,” she replied quietly, eyes downcast. 

“Well, I’m not jealous, and I do love you. Do you believe that?” I responded, holding her in my arms. 

“Yes, I believe that now, but Daddy made me believe everything he told me. He said he was doing those things to me because he cared about me and wanted to help me learn about men,” she replied, a note of doubt in her voice. Looking back, I remember wondering how my husband could possibly have come up with such an innocent and innocuous seeming justification for an act of pure evil. Years later, I learned that these very same words were often used by child molesters in their attempts to gain their victims’ trust.  

“After we got back from Germany—that’s when he started,” she volunteered. We had returned to our small town in Washington State from our two-year residence in West Berlin, Germany, in August of 1978. Our daughter was eleven years old then and beginning to show signs of entering puberty.  

“Was I at home when he did those things to you?” I couldn’t recall any times when my husband had behaved in any way that made me even the slightest bit suspicious when he was alone with our daughter. But, then, the idea that any father would sexually victimize his own child had never entered my head. Incest was simply a topic that was beyond my ken, and even later, after I had reported my husband, I still had difficulty believing the reality of incest in my own home.  

On Sunday, my daughter and I went to church for the Palm Sunday service, and then after I had prepared a big dinner, I took her to a movie in the afternoon. Then, when we got home, my daughter and I ate, and she went to bed. I stayed up to make sure that my husband stayed away from her room, and I made sure he was sound asleep before I went to bed on the couch in the tv room. 

On Monday, after my husband had gone to work and my daughter had gone to school, I called a social worker and told her what had happened. She wanted to report the incident immediately, but I told her I wanted to confront my husband when he came home from work that evening and report him myself. She told me that if I did not call her by ten on Tuesday morning, she would report him. I agreed and assured her that I would protect my daughter.

My husband came home around eight that Monday evening of April 13th. I was not certain how I would handle the situation. What would I say? What would I do? Would he become violent and grab one of his guns and shoot us? There was that possibility. He had a pistol and two rifles in his closet in our bedroom, and he was an experienced hunter and marksman. Did I have the courage to confront him?  

All these thoughts raced through my mind like electricity through a hot wire, and along with the thoughts erupted an anger the intensity of which I did not know I was capable. All I could think of was the fact that this man, this selfish, selfish man, took advantage of a little girl who needed him to be a dad and not a lover. As the anger and the adrenalin coursed through my body, I struggled to control my rage, knowing that the only quality that separated me from murderers behind bars was my self control. And then, as my husband came through the back door, I felt an amazing peace settle over me as if somebody had draped a soft, warm shawl over my shoulders and had lightly laid a hand on my hair. “Perhaps this is the ‘peace that passeth understanding’ I had learned about in church, God’s peace,” I remember thinking.   

At that moment and in that room, I sensed God’s presence and I thought I heard somebody weeping softly. I knew then that I could do nothing less than confront my husband and report him to the police. As I walked from the front room into the kitchen to meet my husband, I was calm and my voice was strong. I quietly took my husband’s hand and invited him to come into the living room and sit on the couch with me. 

After we had sat down, I looked him in the eye and gently said, “I know what you have been doing to our daughter.” At those words, he began to sob. He repeated over and over, “Don’t turn me in. I don’t want to go to jail. Let me stay here.” I told him that staying in our home would not be possible because I knew the abuse had gone on for several years and I could not trust him to suddenly stop the abuse. He pleaded with me, asking me if he could stay on the condition that I shadow him all the time to make sure he did not abuse our daughter again. I told him that neither she nor I would live under those conditions and that I was going to report his behavior to the police immediately.  

When he realized that I was serious about calling the police, he played on my sympathy, saying that he had a compulsion and his behavior was beyond his control. Did I really want to turn him in when he had a sickness and couldn’t help what he did? I told him that what he wanted made no difference to me; I had to protect our daughter from further harm. Later, when he was taking his bath, I called the police.

The police officer who took my call did not seem to feel that the situation I described was an emergency, and he told me that in the morning an officer would come to our home and arrest my husband. My daughter, her father, and I would be sleeping under the same roof one more night. The thought of spending another night with my husband terrified me and also disgusted me, but I had nowhere to go with my daughter to spend the night—not enough money of my own to rent a motel room and no family nearby. There also was no room at what was left of the under-funded county women’s shelter.  

By this time it was nine at night, so I had no choice but to keep watch through the night once more. I checked on my daughter upstairs and told her to stay in her room and I would protect her. Then I waited with her until I knew my husband was asleep before I settled into my makeshift bed on the television room couch. 

Shortly after my daughter left for school on Tuesday morning, April 14th, a police car arrived, and two officers came into our home, cuffed my husband, and took him to the station. He was gone for a short time and then returned home to pack some of his clothes and a few other belongings. He said nothing, and I didn’t ask him any questions. I was relieved to see him leave. 

When my daughter returned from school, I told her that she and I would be living together in our house and that she no longer needed to worry about her father making advances toward her. She was relieved at that news, but she also blamed herself for her father’s leaving our home. To make matters more complicated, she was angry at me, also, because I had called the police and had turned him in. She knew that what her father had done was wrong, but at the same time, she blamed herself and me for the breakup of our family. I knew then that not only did my husband need mental health help but that my daughter and I needed help, also. My daughter was thirteen, and I suspected that she and I had some rough years ahead of us! 


The next day, Wednesday, April 15th, my daughter and I were called to the police station so that she could give her account of what had happened.

At three o’clock we were ushered into what I can only surmise was an interrogation room, a starkly bare room containing four straight-back wooden chairs, a small wooden table, and a shaded light bulb that hung down from the ceiling. I remember wondering at the time if we were going to be treated like suspects. I soon knew the answer to my question. 

My daughter was interviewed twice that afternoon, each time by a uniformed male police detective. Prior to the first interview, the detective apologized for his defective tape recorder, and during his interview he used the failure of the recorder as justification for repeating certain questions. I realized later that his recorder probably was not truly defective, but in asking my daughter to repeat her replies, he was trying to see if she gave consistent answers. This was his way of determining whether or not she was telling the truth. The questions themselves were direct—“What did your daddy do to you? How many times per week did he do this? Did you like it?”—and often she could only sob in response. Her crying frustrated the detectives and caused them to put pressure on her to be more cooperative. Finally, after more than an hour of being interrogated, the police told us we could go home and that a detective would visit us soon to have her sign a written copy of her interview.  

As we left the police station, I wondered to myself why I had not been interviewed. After all, I had witnessed the abuse, and I had reported my husband’s behavior. Why had nobody talked to me and asked for specific information regarding what I had seen? I could only assume that for some reason my testimony was deemed irrelevant. Strange, I thought. Strange, also, that my husband had been interviewed on Tuesday but my daughter, the victim, had not been interviewed until the next day, Wednesday.

Easter Sunday came and went. As I walked to work on Easter Monday, I reflected on the fact that unlike many women who find themselves suddenly single parents, I was fortunate because I had a job. My job was not full time, but at least I had a stable financial base—or so I thought. I had no reason to believe otherwise. Shortly after I arrived at work that day, however, I realized that my financial stability was not as secure as I had thought: My boss let me know that he was retiring and closing his office.   He was sorry that I would be left without employment, but since he had been paying into the unemployment fund, he knew I would qualify for unemployment benefits. He also told me he would give me two months’ pay as severance pay. To give him credit, he was generous and he truly was sorry I would be out of work. As I left the office that day, however, I felt as if somebody had pulled the plug in a giant bathtub and I was being swept down the drain and into the sewer. 

The days of that week ground slowly by, and my daughter and I waited for the police to come by with the statement for her to sign. She became increasingly nervous and irritable because ever since she had been interviewed by the police, she was afraid of law enforcement officers. At first, I couldn’t understand why the police were taking so long to bring her the statement, but I discovered later that the police were watching our house at night to see if I was letting my husband into the bedroom through the window. In other words, they had not brought the paper to my daughter because they first wanted to make sure I was not in collusion with my husband. This did not make sense to me. If I had been in collusion with my husband, then why would I have turned him in? Surely, if he and I had been in collusion and I had reported him, he would have retaliated by reporting me. No, nothing about our situation made much sense to my daughter or to me. She and I simply wanted to put the whole criminal case behind us and get on with our lives.

Finally, on the Friday after Easter a police car drove up to our house, and an officer brought us the papers. My daughter and I read them, and she signed them. Now, surely, our lives could take an upward swing, and we could establish a rhythm for our lives and move on. 

Part III: A Gift from God

Despite having my moments of pessimism, I am, basically, an optimist. This trait possibly has saved my life, for even at the darkest times I have, like Pollyanna, managed to find a ray of light, hope, to help me avoid dropping into the pits of depression. I also am firm in my religious faith, and suicide has never been an option I have seriously considered because I believe I have no right to take my own life. My life is a God-given gift, and it is up to me to use my gift responsibly for the benefit of others and myself. That is my belief.  

Thus, in 1981, keeping this belief in mind and no longer being subject to the opinions or demands of any earthly “significant other,” I did what I wanted and needed to do–pulled on my “big girl panties” and decided to face the future. In the process of facing the future, I began to truly appreciate my God-given gift of life with all its possibilities and opportunities. But first, before I could do anything about my future, put my gift to work, and find those opportunities, I needed a reason to get up in the morning and a plan to keep me functional.  

Of course, I was now a single parent, solely responsible for helping my daughter deal with the aftermath of her father’s behavior and also for guiding her through her teenage years. I needed to get up in the morning and function effectively for her sake. However, I also was responsible for taking care of myself because after my daughter was on her own and the child support and unemployment checks stopped, I would need to prepare myself for a career, one that I truly enjoyed and that would, I hoped, provide a small pension in addition to my Social Security retirement check. This, I knew, was a tall order, but I knew it was a goal I could accomplish if I planned carefully.  

So one day in May, I sat down at my kitchen table with paper and pencil and made my plan. First, my daughter and I had enough money coming in to provide the basics of a roof over our heads and money to cover the utility bills. Food and clothing? Those two items were more problematic, but between my garden and the food bank, we had food to eat. And thanks to my daughter’s Godmother, my daughter had a few nice articles of clothing. We bought other clothing at the thrift store. My husband was required by the court to pay for our therapy, so we did not have to worry about that. The fact that he had pled guilty to molesting our daughter and was on probation also meant that I was assured of getting the child support and my small maintenance check on time each month. Thus, materially, we were in pretty good shape. I, however, needed to come up with a plan for my days now that I was unemployed, and I needed to look ahead and decide upon a career direction.  

Looking back, now, I can see once again the hand of God in my life, for I decided to volunteer at the Salvation Army and at Green Hill. Both these volunteer jobs helped give me references for the position I applied for at Centralia Community College a few years later. The Salvation Army was happy to have my help in their food bank, and I worked there two days per week. I enjoyed the work. Bagging powdered milk and flour were messy jobs, but they were simple. Those jobs and the others I did at the Salvation Army were low-stress, and as I worked, I could think about my future. The staff members were friendly and seemed to enjoy my company, and I liked being with them. Even though I received no pay for my work, I made friends, gained satisfaction from completing my simple tasks, and felt good because I knew that what I was doing was helping people survive hard times. In addition, my daughter and I were in effect adopted by the Salvation Army captain and his family. This new friendship took away some of the isolation and the pain I felt from being shunned by my own mother and by my husband’s family. 

My other major volunteer project, tutoring a teenager who was spending time in a juvenile offender facility, kept me busy on two of the days when I was not working at the Salvation Army. In the process of trying to help the young man with his reading, I discovered that he was severely dyslexic and was reading sentences backward. I did my best to help him, but because I had no training in the area of special education and helping people with learning disabilities, I could not do much for him. However, in telling his counselor about my discovery, I may have helped him more than I was aware at the time. At least, I hoped that was the case.

With looking for work, volunteering, raising my daughter, attending therapy sessions, and attending church on Sundays, I was busy every day and had good reason to get out of bed each morning. I believe that what helped me avoid depression and, possibly, bypass an inherited family tendency toward alcoholism was the structure I had put in place to give me reasons for getting out of bed and to force me to try new activities and interact with people I would not have otherwise met.  

Finally, in 1983, my search for employment paid off. I saw a notice in the local paper stating that the community college was hiring people to work part time in the learning center. The work involved one-on-one contact with students who were earning their GEDs and their high school completion certificates. Since I had a variety of teaching experiences behind me, including working with adults who wanted to learn English, I thought I might have a chance, so I applied. I went through the interview process and was hired. Granted, the job was not full time, but that did not matter to me. Any money coming in was welcome, and I wanted the experience the work would give me. Perhaps later I could get more hours, I told myself. In the meantime, I had a job that I knew I would enjoy. One step at a time. 

About the same time I began working at the college, my daughter was beginning to see possibilities for her own life. After school, she helped the neighbor by cleaning out the horse stalls in her stable. In exchange, the neighbor taught her how to ride. That summer my daughter worked in a federal teen employment program and earned the money to buy herself a horse, which the neighbor boarded for her. From then on, my daughter was occupied after school and on weekends caring for her horse and mucking out stalls of all the horses in the stable. She also met other girls her age who had horses and formed new friendships, some of which she still has today, some thirty years later.   

Having a horse to care for and ride gave my daughter a sense of purpose, something she desperately had needed since our family structure had changed so dramatically. As a result, I believe, of tending her horse and working for the neighbor, she began the process of reclaiming her life and finding a direction for herself.  

And then one spring Sunday in 1985, I knelt at the communion rail at St. John’s Episcopal Church and asked God’s blessing on a decision I had made: My work at the Centralia College Phoenix Center was so satisfying and made me feel so happy that I decided to attend graduate school to prepare myself for a career in teaching remedial writing to adults who were, as I was, trying to find a new direction for their lives. As I left the communion rail, I felt in my heart that God had blessed my decision.  

When I returned home that day, I told my daughter about my decision and let her know that I would not leave her until she and I agreed that she was ready and able to live her life without my guidance. She was excited at the prospect of living on her own, and together we planned that I would sell the house, we would move into separate apartments, and then we would live apart for a year before I left for school. During that year, I would be available to help her adapt to life on her own and to the responsibilities of maintaining her own household. As long as she stayed in school, the child support check would pay for her rent and utilities. I could help her with groceries and clothing. Without having a house to maintain, I would be free for that year to save some money and would have the time to do the paperwork required for admission into graduate school.  

Thus, by 1986 my daughter and I each had a sense of direction, and we knew we had a bit of time to get used to this new direction. I sold the house and put what little profit I made into covering move-in expenses for my daughter and me. By fall of 1987, I began my graduate program at WSU, and my daughter began working full time and earning her high school certificate at the community college.  

By 1991, I had earned two graduate degrees and was working full time at Walla Walla Community College. I enjoyed my work, earned enough money to maintain myself and help my daughter, and I had a retirement fund. In 2003 I was old enough to draw my Social Security and draw a small annuity check from my teacher’s pension each month to supplement my Social Security, so I retired, eager to discover what other tasks God had in mind for me.  

Part V: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6 KJV) 

For His Sake… I am but one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. What I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do. Lord, what will you have me do?

A couple of days ago, as I was thinking about how I would conclude this essay, the words of this prayer I learned in the 1940s drifted back to me. Actually, the prayer is the motto of the Junior Daughters of the King, an Episcopal order for girls which I belonged to from the time I was about seven years old until I started high school and thoughts of other matters claimed my attention. Upon remembering this prayer, I understood, at least in part, why I have never given up on life and why I have maintained a spirit of hope even in my darkest hours: I have always known in my heart that God put me here for a purpose and that I had lessons to learn and lessons to share with others. How could I fulfill my purpose if I gave up on life?  

And now that I am coming to the natural end of my life, I also understand why I have written this essay and others: They are my way of sharing what I have learned in this life, my gift to the pool of human wisdom, and my way of fulfilling my purpose.  

Stopping the domestic violence in my home did not ensure that my daughter and I have lived “happily ever after.” We haven’t. We have both experienced many bumps in the road between 1981 and the present. However, after breaking free from the violence in our home and gaining the confidence to direct our own lives, we have been able to live relatively free from the fear that paralyzes and enslaves those who are cast in the role of victim and who are too scared to act and think for themselves—too frightened to even know their purposes much less fulfill them. 

Toward the goal of freeing those who are fettered by the chains of domestic violence, I offer this prayer:


A Prayer for Victims and Survivors Of Abuse and Domestic Violence 

Oh Lord, You hold a special place in Your heart for little children; please hear this prayer. We ask that You grant us the strength, courage, and powers of discernment necessary to protect and cherish any Little Ones we encounter who are in need of our help. We ask, too, that you grant us the insight to know how to give comfort and help to those who are no longer children but whose hearts and souls suffer the pain of childhood abuse each day they live.

For all the innocent little children who are at this moment being victimized—

May God’s hands hold your souls, shield them from evil, and keep them pure;

May God’s beauty and strength flow into your bodies and take away your pain and your shame;

May God’s peace form a blanket around your minds and shield you from the horror, chaos, and confusion that accompany exploitation and violation of innocence.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

For all the people who as innocent children were victimized and who now struggle to reclaim their souls, their bodies, and their minds—

May God’s firm hands stop you from harming yourselves or others; May God’s eyes give you vision to see your true and innocent selves; May God’s ears enable you to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit; May God’s feet move you gently and steadily on His Path.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For all those who are presently being violated and exploited and who are living in fear for their lives and the lives of their children—

May God’s gift of clear vision help you see through the fog of denial and deceit; May God’s gift of courage enable you to stop the process of evil before it consumes you and those whom you love; May God’s gift of discernment allow you to recognize the forces of good; May God’s gift of tears help you mourn that which is worthy of being mourned; May God’s gift of love enable you to know that you are beloved, unblemished, and cherished children of God, forgiven and blessed inheritors of His kingdom. 

Oh, God, please hear our prayers for victims and survivors of sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We ask that you help these people find bright new lives that are free from the tarnish of abuse. We ask, also, that in times of weakness and trial, you send your angels to comfort them and give them strength.

We ask this in the name of Your beloved Son, Jesus, and in the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Theotokos, the ever-loving Mother of the motherless.









Dear Readers,

I thought you might like an update along about now on how my life is going two years after stopping active therapy sessions.  In short, although I could possibly have stopped therapy two or three years after I began in about 2009, I’m SO glad I went for the “whole guacamole” and stayed with therapy until I was truly ready to leave!  

First, for those of you who have not followed my blog from the beginning, I’ll give you a bit of background.  Like many of you who were abused as children and then transitioned into an abusive relationship after finishing school, I spent the first forty-two years of my life living with the symptoms of PTSD–the flashbacks, the space-outs, the derealization and depersonalization, the nightmares, and all the rest of the miserable physical and psychic sensations.  Because my abuse spanned so many years, I developed what is termed “Complex PTSD.”  Simply put, I had all the symptoms of PTSD and then some!  

I had to fight my symptoms just to live an ordinary and unremarkable life, and  my goal as a child and during my 20-year marriage was to keep a low profile and not be identified as being any different from anyone else.  I knew I had a problem, but I also knew that the smartest thing I could do was make sure nobody figured that out.  If you have ever seen the film “The Snake Pit,” you undoubtedly understand why I was afraid to tell anyone what was happening inside my head.  The world of psychiatric “cures” prior to the 1980s was a world I wanted to avoid.  Finally, however, in 1981, the stress of living in a domestic situation filled with abuses pushed me to the point where I knew I had to find help, and I did that.  My first therapist knew nothing about Complex PTSD, but she somehow intuited how best to help me.  

We worked together for about four years before she retired.  During that time, I caught my former husband in the act of molesting our daughter, reported him to the police, and got a divorce.  Thus, I left behind the role of victim and went ahead with my life as a survivor.  My therapist had faith in my ability to shape a new life for myself, a life I chose, wanted, and enjoyed.  Nobody previously had shown me that kind of support, and I thrived!  I found work at the local community college, earned two graduate degrees, and taught writing in a community college for thirteen years.  When I retired in 2003, I felt as if I had accomplished what I had wanted to accomplish in my life, and I was happy.  Since retiring, I have been poor in financial resources but rich in rewarding experiences, the most important of these rewarding experiences being that of healing my Complex PTSD to the point where I seldom experience symptoms and am able to enjoy my life–warts and all!  

I mentioned in the first paragraph that I could have stopped therapy after two years, and that is true because in two years’ time I managed to reduce my PTSD symptoms to the point where I was able to leave my apartment without fear of having a flashback or experiencing other major symptoms.  However, I felt that my symptoms, were merely in remission because I had not actually dealt with their roots.  I wanted to do the work needed to heal whatever caused the symptoms, and I did not want to find myself returning to therapy in a few years because I had not done the work I needed to do in the first place.  So I continued in therapy for a total of five years, and I’m glad I did!  

The year now is 2016;  I have not been in active therapy for about two years, and I’m fine.  I have ups and downs like everyone else, but I can handle my life.  Once in a while I overreact to situations that other people seem to take in stride, but I know what’s going on; I know that I’m overreacting and can forgive myself for that and just continue on.  My head is relatively clear, and I no longer have horrendous flashbacks and the other symptoms that formerly clouded my thinking.  

I like my life now.  In 2013, I relocated from a major city to a small town in rural Washington State where I had lived during the 1970s and 1980s, and I’m enjoying the more laidback lifestyle.  I do a lot of volunteer work now, and I push for causes that are dear to me such as supporting public transportation in an area where most folks have several cars per household and don’t understand why anyone would possibly need a bus.  I also help in a classroom at the local community college, the school where I found my inspiration to start my teaching career so long ago.  I administer the senior commodities program here at my housing complex.  And then, for fun, I sing in a church choir!  Finally, in my free time, I write letters to the editor when moved to do so, write essays, and attend relevant and interesting public events.  

If I were still battling PTSD symptoms, I probably would not be doing any of these activities because the day-to-day struggle with symptoms takes so much energy and leaves little room in the mind for other thoughts.  I’m glad I decided to continue in therapy after my PTSD symptoms faded because I seem to be able to deal with the ups and downs of life just fine now, at least as well as anyone else.  That’s good enough for me!  I wish the same for you! 





Icon of Christ, written in 2013

A note before you read:  Now that I am no longer actively involved in therapy and no longer experience the misery of PTSD symptoms, I have the energy and time to write about other aspects of my life.  I have met one of my goals of therapy, to be free to enjoy the last few years of my life.  As Braveheart shouted, “Freedom!”  Amazing and wonderful!  Jean

Throughout the seventy-six years of my life on earth, I have been aware, as I have danced my dance of life, that I have not been dancing solo.  From the time the first notes sent my feet moving to the beat of my life, the Holy Spirit has been my faithful and attentive partner in this joyful, exciting, and sometimes excruciatingly painful dance.  “But how could you know this?” you might ask.  All I can say is, “I’ve known.”  If I hadn’t known, I probably would not be here today, reading this essay to you.

The fact is that I was not supposed to have begun this dance.  My parents were young schoolteachers in Longview, Washington, in the days when teachers could lose their jobs if they were married.  They certainly were not allowed to start families!  Thus, I arrived into the world and began my dance unbidden. As I skipped and bounced to the music of my life those first years, I knew I was unwelcome, but that didn’t matter because I knew I wasn’t alone.  I sensed the presence of an other, a companion, a partner who was with me and would remain with me so long as I continued to dance.  And this partner was glad I had been born!

At times during my childhood, the tempo of my dance slowed, sometimes almost stopping, but my partner and I always found reason to keep dancing. Entering Sunday school at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Longview was one of those reasons.  Although my parents were atheists and made no effort to nurture my spiritual development, they allowed family friends to take me to Sunday school. My Sunday school teachers welcomed me, and I looked forward to coloring pictures of Jesus with little children on his lap, talking to my friends, and singing “Jesus Loves Me.” I believed that Jesus truly did love me, and I happily imagined myself sitting on his lap like the children in the pictures.

When I was four, my parents allowed their friends to have me baptized, and then when I was thirteen, I was confirmed by Bishop Stephen Bayne.  The tempo of my dance accelerated to reflect the joy I felt at taking on the responsibility for the Christian aspect of my spiritual development, but I was still unable to name my dance partner. In Sunday school and during church services, I had heard a lot about God and Jesus but not much about the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost, later renamed the Holy Spirit, was there, however, my faithful dance partner.  Again, I sensed the Spirit’s presence and was comforted even though I did not know my comforter’s name.

In addition to pondering the matter of my dance companion’s identity, I pondered other matters such as the meaning of the expression “in God’s time,” the concept of Eternity, and, most puzzling of all, the matter of saints, both upper-case saints such as St. Paul and St. Winifred, and lower-case saints such as the lower-case saints mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed that I recited most Sundays and mentioned also in that quaint song written by Lesbia Scott that I sang each All Saints’ Day, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”  Each time I sang that song about the lower-case saints, I became more determined to lead the sort of life that would allow me to “be one, too.”  I wasn’t certain as to what I had to do to become one of those lower-case saints found in such ordinary places as shops or “at tea,” but I knew in my heart that trying to be a “good person” would be a starting point.  I was not sure, though, exactly what I had to do to be a “good person,” but I hoped that one day even that question would be answered.

Since my parents refused to discuss religion, I was left to ponder the questions on my own—or so I thought. I did not know that my dance partner was also my Counselor and would, by and by, give me clarity of insight so that I could answer my own questions just as that same Counselor led me to crucial insights as I danced through my life. And then on a Sunday in 2007, at a time in my life when I had long since abandoned my search for answers to the questions of my childhood, the Holy Spirit answered these questions in a manner and at a time completely unexpected.

In 2007 I was living in Sherwood, Oregon. There was no Episcopal congregation in Sherwood, so since St. Francis Roman Catholic Church was an easy walk from my apartment, I attended that church.  Mass at St. Francis was much as it was in the Episcopal churches I’d attended, and I had no problem following the liturgy. I felt somewhat out of my element, though, simply because I was not allowed to participate in Holy Communion.  Thus, after a few months of faithful attendance, I became fed up with this situation, and I talked to the priest about becoming a Catholic.  I told him I wanted to participate fully in the Mass, and I realized I could do that only if I became a Roman Catholic. The priest, being a Jesuit and somewhat liberal in his theology, read my spiritual autobiography and set a date to admit me to the Church.  Thus it was that I became a Roman Catholic and settled into the Roman Catholic way of worship.

Usually, I attended Mass on Sunday morning rather than on Saturday night, and I always tried to find a seat where I could see the sunshine, whatever sunshine there was.  St. Francis church had a new, rounded sanctuary with a high ceiling in which skylights had been installed.  Whatever sunshine was available beamed down through these skylights, and each Sunday I was drawn to a seat under the center skylight.

Often, during the homily or sermon, I let my mind wander and travel in whatever direction it chose.  As I sat that Sunday morning, mind drifting into a quiet place of no thought, I became aware that the sun’s light, which had at first appeared to me as one soft beam, had separated into three beams of intense gold.  Caught up in these three shafts of gold floated an infinite number of tiny, moving, shining particles. Dust specks? Certainly. But dust specks of a vibrancy and glow I had never before beheld.

At first, I did not know what to make of this vision.  I had sat in this same place many times, but I had never before seen the soft shaft of light separate into three intense beams nor had I seen the shining specks moving, vibrant, suspended in the light.  And then I understood—these three intense shafts of golden light and the infinite number of tiny, glowing specks were all parts of a message to me from God, conveyed to me by my companion, Counselor and dance partner, the Holy Spirit.  The message and the answer had taken a while to reach me, but I knew then that God’s time and human time are not the same.

As I beheld those golden beams, I became aware that I beheld Eternity.  At that moment, I clearly sensed and understood the nature of God’s time or, as some might say, the nature of the Universe’s time.  In this time, the past, the present, and the future are one.  Our time may move from minute to minute, hour to hour, marching from life to death, but in the Universe as with God, time is different, and we mortals cannot devise instruments capable of measuring this different time. Furthermore, I understood that all those glowing, moving little particles were the souls who had gone before me, the souls of those in the present, and the souls of those who will exist in the future—all saints of God. And then I understood that if I but let myself be guided by my precious Counselor, “there’s not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.” (verse two, “Saints of God.”)

Lesbia Scott had gotten it right, and now I understood.  I understood, too, that those three sunbeams of gold had brought me a precious gift, a message of comfort, a sign that I need not be afraid of death or of failure or of human frailty, a sign that my wonderful Comforter, Counselor, and dance companion was with me still and would remain until I no longer danced my life’s dance.

As I walked home after Mass that day, I reflected upon the third verse of Lesbia Scott’s song, especially upon the words “. . . for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one, too.”

“How lucky and how loved I am!” I said to myself.

They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still;

 The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,

in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;

for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too. 

(“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” verse three, by Lesbia Scott, 1898-1986.)


Throughout my adult life, I have lived with the vague, uncomfortable sense that I was not a complete woman, whatever that may mean.  I had an affair before I was married, performed in the bedroom as I was supposed to, and looked like a woman.  I enjoyed being a mother and insisted on breastfeeding my baby when breastfeeding was not in vogue (1960s).  So what was missing??  I had no idea!  All I knew was that I had a nagging sense that something was missing, especially when I was in the company of other women and when I attended social events and watched how other women behaved around men, the flirting and the smiles and all the other normal female-male interactions.   But try as I might, I could not identify the source of my discomfort and feeling of being incomplete–that is, until sweet little Blossom arrived at the arena about a year ago.  

To set the stage, Blossom enters the arena unexpectedly and chooses to begin her life there by bunking with Constanza, an ego state that I have not yet mentioned in my posts.  Who is Constanza??  Constanza is that part of my personality who is flamboyant and on the verge of being out of control, who lusts after the hot, muscular bodies of athletes and movie stars.  She is the part who most women must, no matter how elderly they are, rein in by saying, “Whoa, Babe, don’t let anyone know about this thought!  Naughty, naughty!  Keep a lid on!”  

Constanza, in other words, is the person within me whose presence I would never reveal to a priest if I were to go to Confession.  Especially my Constanza, for she exists at the arena in the form of a huge, black, nasty-tempered, part-Appaloosa  mare with white spots on her withers and who paints the large lips at the end of her muzzle with cherry-red lipstick and who applies extensions to her eyelashes and gobs them with layers of black, sticky mascara.  Constanza is the part within me who believes she is God’s gift to males and is entitled to throw horrendous tantrums to get her way.  Constanza, in other words, is that part of me who, like a jack-in-the-box, must always remain hidden under the lid of “acceptability and appropriate behavior” but who more often than not is pressing and pushing the lid, trying to pop up to see what’s going on and what kind of havoc she can wreak. 


Yes, I’ve known my Constanza for a long time, and I’ve grown to love her despite her volatile temper and her flamboyant nature.  Since she has arrived at the arena, Constanza has become much more civilized, though.  Cowboy has tamed her, and the other parts, particularly First Protector, have loved and accepted her, and now she has the primary responsibility for meal and snack preparation.  She has a flair, especially, for preparing exotic treats for some of the more exotic creatures. Gemini, the wise old land turtle, is especially fond of Constanza’s deep fried beetles and succulently seasoned cabbage worms.  Constanza has won the appreciation of all who inhabit the arena, and she is at home there.  However, if each individual part were asked whether Constanza can be trusted one hundred percent to behave herself, I suspect that many parts would politely change the subject.  So that’s Constanza, the part chosen by little Blossom as a roommate.  Ironic, huh?  We’ll see. Please note:  Most of this dialogue excerpt is in maroon to mark it as being part of my dialogue.  However, I have used black text to denote the section in which Blossom explains why Jeanie, my little girl self, sent her away and told her never to return.  Some of you who have been victims of child sexual abuse may be able to relate to Blossom’s words here.   

*  *  * 

February 5, 2014 

While we are attending to the discussion between J.P. and Cowboy, there is another drama presenting itself in the area of the kitchen, to be specific, in the area we know as Constanza’s stall.  Constanza has been napping to get her rest before she is called upon to organize the kitchen forces for dinner preparation and before she must prepare the delicacies for J.P.’s reception.  She suddenly becomes aware through the fog of sleep that she is not alone in her stall, that she has company of the most unusual sort.  As her eyes begin to focus, she is aware that she is being watched by a being she doesn’t know at all and who does not belong in her stall or anywhere near it!  

This being is clad in a short-sleeved knit peasant-style top the soft shade of pink we often see in the tulips that herald the spring, and it is embroidered at the neckline with tiny blossoms in white and tints of pink.  Her skirt is a softly-flared denim the color of forget-me-nots.  It reaches modestly to four inches below her knees.  On her slender legs she wears smooth beige tights, and her sandals are dark brown leather with a design of tiny blossoms punched into the straps.  Her clothing, thus, is simple but feminine, comfortable but attractive.  

But what of her face and her hair?  She has an altogether pleasant face, round with features that one cannot describe as beautiful, exactly, but they are not unattractive.  Her lips are average and a natural shade of rose.  Her nose is not too large but is well-shaped and suits her face.  But her eyes, her eyes reveal her heritage, for they can be a bright blue, as blue as the bluebells of Scotland, and yet they can be as gray-blue as the stormy North Sea from whence her Viking ancestors arose.  Her hair?  In her younger years, her hair fell lightly into waves of soft brown, but now the waves of brown are, like the foamy sea, wisps and curls of soft white.  Age has had its way with this newcomer, but despite that, she remains comely and vital.  Now that we have studied her, let us once again witness the activity in Constanza’s stall so that we might gain some understanding of this new arrival’s personality. 

Constanza:  blinking, trying to focus her eyes, wondering if she is still asleep.  . .  Who are you??  What are you doing here??  In my stall, yet!  I don’t even know you!  Are you dangerous?? 

Blossom:  No, Constanza.  I am no danger to you.  I am no danger to anyone here, in fact.  I have come home, and home is where I am.  Well, maybe not specifically right here in your horse stall, for I’m not a horse.  I’m a woman, a sexual being.  

Constanza:  So what are you doing in my stall, watching me sleep??  You make me nervous.  I can’t figure out whether I’m asleep and dreaming about you or awake and actually talking to you.  If I’m talking to you, I shouldn’t be.  Or should I be?  Can you help me? 

Blossom:  Well, I’m not sure how to answer that question, Constanza.  

Constanza:  How do you know my name?  I haven’t introduced myself, and neither has anyone else.  So how do you know? 

Blossom:  I was guided here by Light, and Light told me that the best place for me to begin my homecoming was in your stall.  Light said that if there was part here who would understand me and have empathy for me, it would be you, Constanza.  So that is why I arrived in your stall.  I just more or less found myself here.  I hope you don’t mind too much.  

Constanza:  So what did Light tell you about me?  Did she say good things about me? 

Blossom:  Of course she did, Constanza!  Light is proud of you.  You do great work here, and you have had the courage to make changes in your behavior.  I’d say you should be proud of yourself!  

Constanza:  bats her long eyelids and smiles a toothy smile . . .  Well, Blossom, those words make happy.  I always wonder if I’m appreciated for my sterling qualities.  So what brings you—as they say—to this neck of the woods?  And where did you get your name?  Your name strikes me as being more fitting for one of my cousins, a lady of the bovine persuasion.  Oh, don’t be insulted!  My cousin is a wonderful producer and a great lady.  She and I spent many a moment together in adjacent isolation stalls before I arrived here at the arena.  You could do a lot worse than having a name like hers.  

Blossom:  What, actually, was your cousin’s name, Constanza? 

Constanza:  Well, if you really want to know, it was Appleblossom.  And her sisters were Peachblossom, Pearblossom, and Quinceblossom.  Quinceblossom we called Quincy for short.  Her name fit her.  She was dried up and sour.  Quince blossoms are a beautiful intense pink, but the fruit is inedible—horrible!  And that was the way Quincy was—sour and horrible!  But you don’t strike me as being sour, and somehow I doubt that you are horrible—at least, you have not shown me your horrible side thus far. 

Blossom:  laughs gaily .  .  .  No, if I were horrible, I doubt that Light would have sent me here.  As it were, she didn’t hesitate, so I guess I must be okay.  

Constanza:  Well, why has it taken you so long to find your way to us here at the arena?  

Blossom:  According to Light, I’ve been the farthest away and the most thoroughly hidden.  She was sure I existed somewhere, but she simply did not know where.  Luckily for me, she kept searching.  However, she did mention when she found  me that she was on the verge of giving up the hunt.  She didn’t, though, so here I am.  Right here in your stall with you, Constanza.  

Constanza:  Yes, that’s for sure!  But who are you, Blossom?  I mean, each of us here is a part of Jean, working for her welfare.  But who are you?  What part of Jean are you? 

Blossom:  As near as I can figure, little Jeanie went through some bad experiences, and she banished me to a place as far from her as she could find so she didn’t have to be reminded of those terrible experiences.  And those experiences all had to do with the fact that she was a little girl and had the body of a little girl.  She was female, in other words, and horrible, awful people took advantage of that fact.  She was a little girl who had a little girl’s sexuality, a natural sexuality, the kind she was born with.  And she liked being a little girl and dancing and singing and feeling the raindrops on her outstretched hands and catching snowflakes on her tongue and watching to see if the fairies really did dance around their rings in the grass at night.  

But when those horrible, awful people took advantage of her femaleness and hurt her, she decided she didn’t want to be female anymore.  She didn’t want people doing those things to her, so she made me leave.  She said she never, ever wanted to see me again.  So I left and went as far away from her as I could.  I understood why she didn’t want me around to remind her of horrible events, so I departed and headed for places where I knew Jeanie would never stumble across me.  Problem was, when I disappeared, Jeanie was never able to remember me and to understand me.  So the little tyke grew up to think she was neither male nor female—well, she didn’t know WHO she was!  She knew the other little girls, her schoolmates and playmates, were little girls and were growing into becoming big girls, but she didn’t believe that was happening to her.  She was very, very confused!  You see, I had been her sexual identity, and she couldn’t find me. 

But when Jeanie grew up and became Aurora, that poor, sad creature who sheds brittle bits as she wanders, somehow horrible, awful people recognized me in her, and once again, I—in the body of Aurora–was used by somebody intent on satisfying his own needs at Aurora’s expense.  Oh, if only I had gone unrecognized!  Aurora would have been spared so much misery!  I was devastated when I knew that harm had come to Aurora because of me!  Of course, Aurora did the same thing Jeanie had done—she told me in no uncertain terms that I had to leave and never come back.  She had a lot of very harsh words for me, blaming me for her woes.  

But I knew better.  I knew that what had happened was not my fault.  So I did not go as far away as Jeanie and Aurora had wanted.  In other words, I disobeyed their orders.  Now that I am here, I am somehow going to need to earn their acceptance.  Sighs  The only thing I have going for me is Light’s approval.  Light has let me know that whether Jeanie and Aurora will admit it or not, they need me—Jean needs me!  So I have a hard task ahead of me.  I must gain the respect and trust of all the parts here, including yours, Constanza, and I must find myself a comfortable place among you.  

Constanza:  But that doesn’t explain why you wound up in my stall!  

Blossom:  Well, and I don’t want you to take this wrong, Constanza, but I believe Light figured that you and I have some common traits, being female as one, and being more or less what I might describe as “unconventional” being another.  What do you think?  Do you think maybe I could bunk here with you until I earn a bed elsewhere in the arena?  I don’t have any belongings to take up space, and I’m not nearly as big as you, so I wouldn’t need much room.  I could even be useful, in fact.  What do you say? 

Constanza:  intrigued at the prospect of a little novelty in her otherwise regimented and somewhat boring life .  .  .  I suppose that would work, Blossom.  That is, if you will help me supervise the little girls when they serve at mealtimes and serve special refreshments—such as those we are serving tonight when J.P. comes.  Would you do it? 

Blossom:  Of course!  That would help me meet the others and begin my effort to find my way here at the arena.  But what would we tell people tonight when they see me?  Only Jeanie and Aurora would recognize me, and I have no idea as to what their reaction would be!  Or maybe they wouldn’t react.  They may be too ashamed to react.  What can we do to save Jeanie and Aurora from grief? 

Constanza:  Hmmmm . . .  I need to ponder this a bit.  I think we need to slow down.  Tonight may not be the best night to spring you upon everyone. Say, did you ever hear of the Trojan Horse?  Maybe I could enlist Cowboy’s help and build you a Trojan Horse, a way for you to not look like yourself and yet you could be there at the meeting tonight and listen in.  Big things are planned for tonight, a major shift in the power structure here at the arena.  Hmmmm . . .  Yes, I believe a Trojan Horse might be just the ticket.  After all, if the others see you for the part you truly are tonight, that might be a bit over the top for most parts.  What do you think of that plan? 

Blossom:  Do you really believe Cowboy will go along with your plan? 

Constanza:  If I know Cowboy, she won’t want anything to muck up her plans for tonight, and so she would probably be happy to build you a Trojan Horse.  And she could build you a large enough horse so that it could serve as a cozy little home for you.  We can park it right here in my stall at night, and if anyone asks about it, I can just say that I was so lonesome Cowboy built me a wooden companion.  And if I play my cards right, I bet I can talk Cowboy into painting the horse to look just like me!  What do you say to that??  Wow!  I believe I’m really getting into this!  A wooden Constanza!  I would really, really like that!  After all, with my looks, I believe I deserve to be duplicated.  Don’t you?  After all, how many mares have my lips and my eyelashes?  How many mares can flirt like I can?  How many mares . . .   

Blossom:  interrupts Constanza’s litany of her own assets .  .  .  Oh, yes, Constanza, I believe Cowboy will not only agree to build my Trojan Horse but will, with the help of all those strapping but not very bright Formerly Little Needy Ones, get it built toute de suite, as the French say.  Shall we ask Cowboy?  

Constanza:  My, my, I think maybe it would be best if you left this to me, Blossom.  I must approach Cowboy in a certain way to broach this to her.  Just leave this to me, okay? 

Blossom:  If you say so, Constanza.  But where should I go while you are discussing this with Cowboy?  

Constanza:  Well, I’d say my stall is a pretty good place to lay low.  Nobody stops by for fear that Cowboy will put them to work mucking out my stall.  So why not just hunker down under one of my old blankets over there by the hay bales and the muck bucket?  I know it doesn’t smell too great, but all the more reason to use it as a hiding place.  Would that work for you? 

Blossom:  I think I could tolerate that for a short time.  Oh, I just hope Cowboy agrees to build that horse!  

Constanza:  Leave it to me, Blossom.  So I’ll get you settled in over by the hay bale, and then I’ll take myself off to the stables to find Cowboy.  In the meantime, you can catch a few winks.  Constanza and Blossom head for the blanket by the hay bale, Blossom settles in for a needed nap, and Constanza leaves to find Cowboy.  .  .  . 


This excerpt marks the end of my Ego State Therapy dialogue thus far.  With the coming of sweet, little Blossom to the arena, I understand that I am, indeed, a complete woman just like all the women I have watched and wondered about.  My innate femininity and sexuality has been inside me all this time, but Blossom, my sexual innocence, had been waiting for the right time to make her presence known.  Now I recognize her and love her for the innocent creature she is.  My innocence was taken from me when I was a child and unable to protect myself–or I thought she was taken from me.  Furthermore, I actively blamed that sweet creature for my pain and shunned her.  No longer!  She is now a beloved and cherished ego state who dwells in peace in my arena.  She has chosen to continue living in Constanza’s stall despite its environmental flaws, and sweet little Blossom has become a friend to all and a beloved companion to Jeanie and Aurora.

*  *  * 

Lest you think that my ego state dialogue is finished, I can assure you that it is not finished.  I no longer write my dialogue, but when I am feeling disorganized or sad or distressed, I return to my pals at the arena, and we work together to resolve whatever matters are bothering me.  My dialogue continues in my mind.  This, then, is my way of doing Ego State Therapy.  Other people may do it differently.  But this form has worked for me to alleviate my PTSD symptoms and to help me get my life back. 

“When you feel that you have reached the end and that you cannot go one step further, when life seems to be drained of all purpose: What a wonderful opportunity o start all over again, to turn over a new page.”    Eileen Caddy, Scottish writer.





Dear Reader, 

Before I begin this next installment in my description of my journey through Ego State Therapy, I want to give you this web address:   I don’t know why I have not found it before this, but now I have found it, and that’s what counts.  If you read this article, you will understand how and why I have benefitted from Ego State Therapy.  Just as the woman in the case study, I managed to dramatically reduce my PTSD symptoms after working for two years with my ego states.  Also, like the woman in the case study, I was able to locate the unconditionally loving ego state within me and enlist that ego state’s help in reducing the conflicts among my other ego states and bringing about peace.  I did my work on my own while in a light trance state and wrote about the process in dialogue form.  The ego state I refer to in the title of this post is the part of me that enabled me to do this work!  

In the previous installment, I described my introduction to Cowboy, one of the first ego states I met.  Slowly, some of my other ego states drifted to the arena in Jasper Canyon, and I became acquainted with them.  Upon settling into the arena, each ego state had to interact with the other ego states in some way, and in the process of doing this, the role of each ego state was clearly defined–usually!  There was one ego state, however, that arrived at the arena in one form and, given loving care, gradually morphed into a different form.  

Poor old Nothingness was truly “nothing” when Cowboy and a few of my other ego states encountered him/her–for simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the masculine singular pronoun from this point on.  Nothingness’ story begins the day Cowboy and First Protector, the nanny who tended the very young ego states lodged in a nursery off the arena’s kitchen, ventured out to give the little ones some fresh air and sunshine.  The little ones, being little, had their choice of riding in the big red wagon Cowboy pulled or walking along the trail on the banks of Jasper Creek.  As they walked, they chattered and sang and skipped and hopped–all under the watchful eye of First Protector, of course.  Cowboy and the wagon led the procession, Cowboy being vigilant, making sure that no danger approached the little party.  

Suddenly, the procession and all the chatter stopped, for there, lying completely across the trail ahead of Cowboy, was a huge gelatinous blob.  I can’t say that the blob was formless, but it was as close to being formless as it could be.  I also can’t say that it was colorless, but being a nondescript grayish shade, it was as close to being colorless as it could be.  Although Cowboy’s first inclination was to kick the mass and shove it to the side of the trail, she hesitated to do that.  In the first place, she realized that the mass was possibly immovable due to its lack of form and its size.  In the second place, Cowboy, ever curious, noticed while peering closely at the mass that beneath its translucent covering there flickered tiny pink lights.  A sign of life?  Yes, decided Cowboy, perhaps a sign of life.  So what to do??  

After putting their heads together, Cowboy, First Protector, and all the little ones decided that the only thing to do was to somehow transport the blob to the arena.  As First Protector contended, “This blob is here for a reason, and the only reason I can see is that he was trying to reach the arena and just couldn’t quite make it.  It’s up to us to help him.”  Having said that, she and Cowboy, with the help of all the little ones, managed to pull the side rails from the wagon, gently ease the gelatinous mass onto them, and slide the blob onto the wagon floor so he could be safely transported to the arena.  

Once the mass reached the arena, he was housed in a special stall where he could be cared for tenderly.  After careful examination of his outer membrane, the parts at the arena realized that the poor creature was so dried out that he needed constant moisture available to him if he was to survive.  Cowboy, always quick to invent devices to serve special purposes, designed a misting system to keep the blob’s membrane continuously hydrated, and some of the other parts formulated a special ointment that they gently rubbed over the entire membrane of this newcomer.  Also, so the new arrival would feel at home, one of the parts decided upon a name, Nothingness, for the creature–with the thought that if this mass changed and grew and became a Something, then the name would be changed.  

Thanks to tender, regular care, the appreciation of all his new friends, and the safety of his new home, Nothingness lived and changed.  Each day he grew a little pinker and a bit more inclined to define his shape.  Slowly Nothingness became a Something.  And one day the folks at the arena saw him for what he truly had become–a handsome and wise old land turtle, filled with the wisdom of ages and able to impart his knowledge of life to all ego states. 


If you have puzzled over the title of this installment, I don’t blame you.  Initially, the wise old land turtle, after revealing his amazing powers of imagination and intuition, was renamed Gemini, the Twins, because within him appeared to reside two entities, one capable of great imaginative powers and the other capable of great intuitive powers.  Eventually, though, these seemingly semi-separate entities appeared to join and become almost one single entity.  They never completely integrated, however, so Gemini still carries within him my powers of imagination and intuition, not completely separate, on the one hand, but not completely one and the same, on the other hand.  He doesn’t seem to mind, nor do I.  

So what does this story mean, really?  And how is it related to my healing?  First off, I have retold the story of Gemini here in narrative prose.  In my Ego State Therapy writing, I told the story in dialogue or conversation format, revealing the interactions among the various ego states.  Unfortunately, I can’t find my original dialogue work on my present computer.  Luckily, my therapist has the printed text, so it isn’t lost.  

My healing has occurred as I have written the dialogue because in interacting with one another in the dialogue, my ego states have ironed out their differences and have learned to accept one another and live in harmony.  At times, when conflicts among ego states were not resolved by the ego states themselves, Light, the channel of the Universe’s unconditional love, offered her assistance.  Eventually, all my ego states were working together to bring peace to my psyche.  Now, when I begin to feel psychic discomfort or distress, I go back to the arena, the place where my ego states dwell, and we once again work together to resolve whatever issue is causing discord.  If you have read the article I cited at the beginning of this post and then read this post, you may have been able to get a glimpse into how this therapy modality works.  It’s not easy to demonstrate the inner workings of the human psyche, but I have tried here to do that.  

Next Post:  Conclusion–Sweet Little Blossom Comes Home



First of all, my initial visit with my new therapist on that April day in 2010 gave me hope because she gave me a tentative diagnosis of Complex PTSD and told me that I had a choice of treatment modalities.  She presented me with my choices, and I chose Ego State Therapy with the idea of preparing for EMDR.  Ego State Therapy appealed to me because I’d known all my life that I had a lot of parts of me inside my head, and from the time I was a child, my parts had conversed with one another.  I remembered how as a little girl I had taught myself to solve problems by setting my parts up to talk together in order to find a solution to what bothered me.  Ego State Therapy sounded like what I had been doing since I was a child, so I felt comfortable in choosing it over the other modalities she described.  My therapist let me know that preparing for EMDR work might take me a while but that the preparation was essential if EMDR were to be helpful.  For the first time, then, I had a definitive diagnosis and knew what I needed to do to help myself heal.  I had a direction and was eager to begin the work.    

From the reading I have done on Ego State Therapy, I have learned that traditionally, ego state work is done in a therapist’s office with the therapist available to help the client identify ego states and facilitate a useful and beneficial interaction between client and ego states.  In fact, several articles have described the therapist as facilitating a family therapy session with the family members being the client’s ego states rather than being individual human members of the client’s family.  Most of the time, from what I have read and from what my therapist has told me, the client is asked to imagine herself sitting a large conference table and inviting her ego states to come to the table and introduce themselves so that she and they could meet one another and begin what might become a beneficial interaction and relationship.  

I didn’t understand at the time my therapist introduced the modality to me and told me about the conference table why I objected so strongly to the traditional setting, why I couldn’t have simply done my Ego State Therapy the way I was “supposed” to have done it.  The day in April when my therapist mentioned the conference table concept, I told her there was no way meetings around a conference table would work for me.  I would have no part of that!  Boring, boring, boring!  Nope!  I was not doing that!  She appeared shocked or puzzled as I left her office that day after my outburst, and I was shocked at myself.  Normally, I didn’t do outbursts.  Normally, I did as I was told.  Later, though, I realized that I associated conference tables with the meetings I had been forced to attend when I taught in the community college.  They were boring and often a waste of my time.  I resented being forced to attend them when I could have been grading papers or planning lessons.  Yes,  I knew that I had hated going to meetings, but I had not realized how intensely I hated meetings until my outburst in my therapist’s office.  Aha! 

By the time I caught my bus to go home that day, I had thought about my situation and realized that if I were not willing to sit at a conference table and interact with my ego states, then it was up to me to find another way to accomplish the same thing.  How did I want to do this?  I understood the basic principle–I needed to design a way that suited me to accomplish the same thing I was asked to accomplish around a conference table.  Coming up with my own substitute for the conference table would be risky, I knew.  Maybe my therapist would insist I follow the usual procedure, insist to the point of refusing to work with me if I didn’t cooperate.  There was that possibility.  Oh, well, if that happened, I supposed I’d have to find another therapist.  But I was 70 years old, old enough, surely, to be allowed to do this in my own way.  Thus, I began to construct my own setting for my therapy. 

First off, at home I decided I needed to think of a setting for my therapy.  Where would I like to have my ego states gather?  Since a lot of good memories centered around the location where I had done archaeology work back in the late 1950s, I chose Jasper Canyon as my locale.  Because I loved to watch dressage events, I decided to place an indoor dressage arena into this canyon.  The super-deluxe indoor arena would have apartments for all my ego states, and when they needed to meet, they could meet in the show area.  The space was flexible and would allow for small group meetings, large group meetings, and for meetings of all the parts together.  This decided, I was ready to greet my ego states.  

Who would arrive first?  I waited a few days, but nobody arrived.  What to do?  And then I remembered my brief course of art therapy in 2002 and how that therapy had allowed me access to memories and information that seemed inaccessible through deliberate thought.  So I got out my trusty oil pastels and my huge pad of newsprint, let myself go into a light trance state, and began to draw.  I’m no artist, for sure!, but by drawing, I allowed myself to meet my first group of ego states.  

Cowboy arrived first.  Here is a picture of her: 



Cowboy is the part of me that flies into action when action is called for.  She gets her energy from all the anger I have kept inside myself throughout my life.  Cowboy is not a delicate, sensitive creature, but she gets the job done–whatever that job might be.  Cowboy and I have been old friends from my childhood, and we respect one another.  She is direct in her speech and manner, and she is not terribly respectful of the unwritten rules governing social interactions.  In other words, Cowboy probably rubs a lot of people the wrong way.  But she is honest and hardworking, and she fights for the underdog.  Luckily, some of my other ego states/parts know how to work with Cowboy so that she does not completely run roughshod over the rules governing social interactions!  Cowboy has been part of me since I was a child.  I believe she was born when I first knew that my parents would punish me if I showed anger or if I contradicted them.  I endured quite a few hard spankings when I was a little girl before Cowboy took over the reins and protected me from the effects of my parents’  physical abuse.  

Along with Cowboy came her counterpart and companion, Internal Therapist.  Where Cowboy initially acted without considering the effects of her actions upon others, Internal Therapist’s job was to help Cowboy become aware of possible consequences and the effects of her behavior on others and to use that information to temper her behavior.  This, at any rate, was their relationship in the beginning, when I first met these ego states.  Later, Cowboy and Internal Therapist appeared to integrate to a certain point, and Cowboy actually took over Internal Therapist’s role herself, retaining the qualities of blunt speech and the ability to fly into action when needed.  Today I am no longer aware of Internal Therapist as being separate from Cowboy, and I cherish Cowboy’s presence in my psyche.  I know that when I am in a difficult situation, I can put on my chaps, my boots, and my spurs, and Cowboy and I can tame the wildest bucking bronco.  That’s my Cowboy!  

Shortly after meeting my first ego states, I became aware of shadowy, menacing figures slithering and creeping along the perimeters of the arena’s huge main show ring.  I recognized these figures as being a threat to my well being, and I wanted to simply annihilate them, get rid of them.  When I told this to my therapist, she gave me the one and only rule I was to follow:  Do NOT kill or get rid of the shadow figures because they may have played a protector role at some time.  Instead, preserve them and see what happens.  See how they evolve.  Over the months, I had grown to respect my therapist and to believe that she had my best interests in mind, so I agreed to follow this rule–not, however, without objecting to it, of course.  I kept my word to her, and as time passed and more ego states found their ways to the arena, these shadowy figures slowly changed.  Eventually, they became staunch protectors of my spirit.  When I look back and think of what might have happened if I had tried to kill them off simply because I was afraid of them, I shudder.  During my journey through Ego State Therapy, I kept the one rule my therapist gave me in mind.  Doing this led me to accept and be willing to acknowledge the value of each and every ego state who arrived at the arena.  By accepting and valuing each of my ego states, I have grown in my ability to accept and value my whole self.  I no longer feel worthless.  That’s progress! 

Next:  Part III, I meet an amazing set of twins who isn’t really a twin. 
























Each week, at least, I check my Google blog’s stat page, and in the process, I check the list of words or phrases that have brought people to my blog.  Today I found that somebody had reached my blog by typing “Ego-State Therapy–I don’t understand it” into a search engine, and because this particular therapeutic modality has been so essential to my healing, I decided to write a post on the topic.  If you type “Ego-State Therapy” into the search engine on my Google blog, you will find that I have written about the therapy in many of my posts, but I have never described my journey through the process from start to “finish.”  I put “finish” in quotes because I’ll never be completely finished with Ego-State Therapy.  I learned in therapy how to use this modality to achieve inner peace and freedom from my PTSD symptoms, and I will continue to do this work with my ego states as long as I live.  My C-PTSD will never be completely “cured,” but I will continue to heal for the rest of my life so long as I use the skills and techniques I learned in therapy.  

Listed below are three articles on the topic of Ego-State Therapy that might help you understand the basics.  If you read them before you read the description of my own process, you can see the theory and how the modality works.  My own process differs in some ways from the traditional process, but the principles of my process remain in line with those of the traditional process.  My process has led to healing, and that’s what is important to me!  (A brief, to-the-point definition of Ego-State Therapy)  (A site with lots of helpful articles about Ego-State Therapy.)  (A page with links to helpful articles on Ego-State Therapy.)

Finally, I have found Ego-State Therapy to be an excellent preparation for EMDR.  The insights I received during Ego-State Therapy amplified and enhanced the insights that came from my EMDR sessions.  I think of that saying “The whole is composed of more than the sum of its parts.”  Ego-State Therapy + EMDR= Healing!  And healing is, indeed, much more than merely “the sum.”  

My Own Trip Through Ego-State Therapy:  Background Material

For seventy years I had suffered the misery of Complex PTSD symptoms–the nightmares, the anxiety, the dissociative episodes, the derealization and depersonalization, the flashbacks–all the miserable symptoms that made my life so difficult and caused me at times to wish I were dead.  By the time I was five years old, I felt as if there was a full-blown war taking place inside my head, and the war stopped only when I was asleep, at least my conscious awareness of the war stopped.  At that young age, I didn’t know that nightmares and horrible dreams could reflect the activity of the unconscious mind.  By the time I was six, I experienced my “Alice in Wonderland” days, the times when the ordinary appeared weirdly different from usual and when I felt myself to be living in a world where I seemed to be the only person who knew I existed.  Like Alice, I often felt myself to be so tiny that I was afraid I would disappear completely.  

As a young child, I knew my life was a struggle, but I assumed that everyone struggled as I did.  I didn’t know this for a fact because I said nothing to anyone about the abuse I had endured, and I said nothing about what was happening in my mind.  I said nothing because the important adults in my life were also my abusers.  One and the same!  I kept myself to myself, observed the acceptable social behaviors of other children, and did what I needed to do to fit in.  

I credit my Sunday School teachers and other welcoming and accepting adults at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church for giving me the nurturing environment I needed to stay afloat and not give up on life.  Looking back, and I am reluctant to admit this, it wasn’t faith in God or Jesus or the Holy Ghost that kept me going so much as it was the kind and loving attention I received.  But, then, I was a child, and God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost were abstract concepts that did not mean as much to me as being treated with kindness and respect meant.  My parents were nonbelievers and seldom stepped foot into my church, and for that I was grateful.  In church, I was happy coloring pictures of Jesus holding little children on his lap, singing songs about how Jesus loved me, putting pennies into my mite box for poor people, and learning about martyrs and saints and how I could be a saint, too, if I said  my prayers and obeyed the Ten Commandments.  In church, I learned how to see myself as being a valued child of God, and I learned what might now be classed as “old-fashioned” values and how to be a good person, something that my parents did not teach me.  What I learned as a child at my church sustained me and gave me the desire and courage to survive.

As an older child and a young adult, I struggled to cut through the chaos and noises in my head that threatened to block my thinking, and I managed to force myself to ignore the anxiety that threatened to rend the fabric of my inner stability.  Somehow, I kept myself together through the flashbacks and functioned well enough to meet the expectations of my parents and the other people in my environment and graduated from college.  And then I got married.  Then came twenty years of repetition of the abuses I had endured as a child.  Only when I had reached a point where I was no longer able to reassemble the fragments of my mind by myself–I called the days when I felt impossibly fragmented my “Humpty Dumpty” days–did I get help.  After six months of therapy, I slowly realized that I was not the cause of every bad thing that happened in the world–and in my home.  My eyes opened, and I caught my husband in the act of molesting our daughter.  I reported him to the police, and then I knew I was free to help my daughter recover her life and also free to make my own life whatever I wanted it to be.  Thus began my journey toward healing.

Looking back, I believe the most important piece of advice I could give to anyone with a background of abuse similar to mine is this:  LOOK AT THE ENDING OF YOUR ABUSIVE MARRIAGE/RELATIONSHIP AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHAPE YOUR LIFE INTO WHAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DREAMED IT COULD BE!!  That’s what I did.  I asked myself, “If I could have any life I wanted, what would that life look like?”  I answered that question. And then I set out to make my dream a reality.  And I succeeded.  I have no regrets.  

I made that decision in 1981, shortly after turning my husband in for child sexual abuse and filing for divorce, and then I planned my course.  I knew I needed to include therapy in my life’s plan because I had experienced so much benefit from working with my first therapist.  From 1983, when my therapist retired, until 2010, I tried to find the help I needed to bring about peace in my psyche.  I saw no fewer than 15 therapists before I found the person I saw from 2010 until recently.  One person along the way gave me an accurate partial diagnosis of PTSD–C-PTSD was pretty much an unknown at the time–but then he relocated to another part of the state before he was able to help me.  Otherwise, I saw a lot of well-intended therapists and a few who, it turned out, were not so well-intended, but I survived and continued seeking a definitive diagnosis and appropriate help.  Without an accurate diagnosis, how, I reasoned, would I find appropriate help?  Good question!  However, in April of 2010, after following up on a referral by a well-known Portland, Oregon, psychiatrist, I found the right person and had my first appointment with her.  Thus began my trek toward significant healing and peace.

Next time:  My ego states begin introducing themselves to me, and we commence our work together. 




I.  The First Christmas I Can Remember


  The first Christmas I can remember clearly is the Christmas I heard Santa laugh and received my heart’s desire, the curly-haired Red Cross doll that beckoned to me from the display window of the Empire Drug Store.  The year was 1943 or 1944, and I was either four or five years old.  The War was still raging in Europe, and I was living with my parents in a two-bedroom rented bungalow on Fir Street in Longview, Washington. 

For many people in Longview, maintaining a household was a challenge during the War.  Goods and money were in short supply.  We used ration stamps when we paid at the grocery store, and we paid sales tax with tax tokens, little grey-green cardboard disks that had holes in their centers.  My father was a teacher, considered a necessary occupation at the time, and he also had bad feet and bad eyes, so he was not drafted into the military.  Thus, my family was better off than the families that lost their breadwinners to the military, but not by much; a teacher at the time did not take home much income.  With this in mind, I know now that expecting Santa to bring a Red Cross doll from the Empire Drug was a long shot. 

At the time, however, all I knew was that if Santa was true to his word and image, he had better have that doll in my arms by Christmas!   And every time my mother and I walked to town and passed the Empire Drug, I made sure that my mother knew I wanted that doll.  Each time I mentioned the doll, my mother told me that I would not get it, that Santa couldn’t afford to bring me an expensive doll like that because he had so many other children to supply with Christmas gifts.  Her explanation made sense to me, but it did not stop me from wanting the doll.  To complicate matters, I learned a few days before Christmas that we would not be home on Christmas Eve because we were going to another town to spend Christmas with friends.  Despite my mother’s reassurances that Santa would find me anywhere, I spent those days before the Big Day worrying and complaining, two activities that did not add to the holiday spirit of those around me, I’m sure.

Christmas Eve found us in the tiny, cigarette-smoke-filled bed-sitter of family friends.  All the adults were jovial, enjoying the bottles of cheer and their Camels, Luckies, and Pall Malls as they played their poker and bridge games, sat on each other’s laps, ate candies and cake, and listened to Bing sing “Adeste Fideles” and “Christmas in Killarney.”  At some point, I went to sleep on the living room carpet. 

I was awakened at midnight in time to hear the bells of Christmas bursting forth from the Philco.  Then I was hustled into my pajamas, somebody made me a bed on two kitchen chairs pushed together in a closet, somebody else safety-pinned a stocking to my pillow, and I was told to go to sleep.  By that time, however, I was wide-eyed and sleep was impossible.  Suddenly, as I feigned sleep, I heard a “Ho!  Ho!  Ho!  Has Jeanie been a good girl??”  Somebody replied in the affirmative, and then, as I lay there ever so still, a bundle was placed on the floor by my makeshift bed.  When I thought it was safe, I felt the bundle, felt the hair and the hat, and I knew Santa had found me and had fulfilled my dream.

I wish I could say I cherished that expensive doll, kept her in mint condition, and still had her to this day.  Alas, my childish curiosity got the best of me—and of her—and in my attempt to figure out how she opened and closed her eyes, I mutilated her beyond repair.  If only I’d had access to the Internet, that fount of all knowledge, I could have satisfied my curiosity without sacrificing the doll, but at the time computers were merely a gleam in the eye of their inventor, and nobody then probably even dreamed of traveling on the cyber highway.  So that Red Cross doll, which I named Mary Ann, met her end in the garbage can, and a disgruntled Santa never again made the mistake of bringing me a doll.




2.  The Family Christmas Tree


In addition to that memorable Christmas, there were others, of course, perhaps less memorable, when I was a child.  I may not be able to remember all those other Christmases in detail, but I can remember some Christmas generalities.  For example, my parents always had a real tree, and my mother made most of the ornaments until my brother and I were old enough to add our  clumsily-produced ornaments we made in school.  The first step in the process of decorating our tree was to anchor it in its stand.  That was my father’s job, and normally he accompanied his work with a lot of cursing and words I was not supposed to repeat.  In fact, sometimes my brother and I were sent on an errand while my father, a Lucky dangling from his lips—somehow he had mastered the art of cussing without letting his cigarette drop–put up the tree. 

After the tree was up and stable and watered, my brother and I made a multi-colored chain for it by cutting strips of colored paper and slathering on thick, mint-flavored white library paste to glue the links.  When the chain was about ten feet long, we did the best we could to drape it gracefully around the tree.  After the chain came the lights, not the tiny, twinkling lights of today but the old-fashioned larger multicolored lights—at least my family used those lights.  During the ‘50s, other families bought the Noma Bubblelights or the little twinkling lights, but my family continued to use the older lights because, as my mother claimed, they did the best job of making the tinsel glow. 

With the tree up, watered, garlanded, and lit, we took the next step, putting on the ornaments.  My mother was very picky about where the ornaments, the multicolored glass balls, especially, were to go.  She directed my brother and me, and we hung the balls.  After the balls, came the other ornaments, the school-made ornaments and the few spun-glass angel ornaments that my mother had saved from her own childhood trees.  To wrap up our tree-decorating, my mother carefully placed one or two strands of tinsel on the tip of each branch.  She would not let my brother or me do this because she said we were not careful enough; when we did this, the branches looked “clotted” with tinsel, in her opinion.  She was probably right because our tree each year was a piece of art, and the neighbors who came by with cookies and fudge always admired our tree and said they wished theirs were as beautiful.



3.  The Hadleys’ Tree


Looking back through time, I do believe that having the most beautiful or tastefully decorated tree on the block was extremely important to my mother, just as important to her as having a good figure and out-dressing the neighbor women must have been.  This competitive spirit was especially noticeable after the War, in the mid-1950s.  My parents owned the first television set on the block and the first Volkswagen sedan.  There was, however, one Christmas during which my mother’s tree was not the center of attention.  It may have been the most tasteful or the most symmetrically decorated, but it was not the most noticeable or the most talked-about tree in the neighborhood.  The tree that won those honors belonged to our next-door neighbors at the time, the Hadleys.

Herb and Dee Hadley moved into the home previously occupied by the Heuer family, a huge Irish-Catholic family who celebrated Christmas and New Years and every other special occasion by going to Mass and by consuming enormous quantities of food and alcohol.  To this day, when I hear the Old Groaner singing “Adeste Fideles” or “Ave Maria,” I am back in the Heuer’s steamy living room, overwhelmed by the number of bodies, the noise, the food and drink, and the mound of presents piled under their tree.  And there in the midst of all is tiny, prim-looking Jen Heuer, silver hair in a bun, directing traffic and shouting orders.  I remember that as I sit now in my little apartment, cats for company, and enjoy the silence.  To me, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, witnessing the Heuer family at Christmas was an experience I was not about to forget. 

Along with each holiday spectacle at the Heuer house came “the girls,” two of Jen’s granddaughters, Chauncy and Sue.  They were just about my age, and their presence was a definite “plus” in my holiday life.  First of all, both girls had black hair, pale pasty skin, and were covered by skin eruptions that they attributed to allergies.  In my household, nobody in the world had “allergies,” so this condition made Chauncy and Sue even more fascinating to me.  Also, the girls, both students at St. Rose’s Roman Catholic School, had a vast store of smutty stories, probably stories they overheard their uncles tell when they were in their cups.  As they said, when Mass became dull, they whispered these stories as a diversion.  Hail Mary had to take a back pew. The story-telling also gave them fodder for confession when they couldn’t think of anything else to confess.  However interesting the Heuer family may have been, though, I have digressed and strayed from the Hadley family and their tree.

When the Hadleys moved into the Heuer home early in the 1950s, then, Herb Hadley was a young man on the way up in the insurance business in Longview.  He was outgoing and jovial, two qualities that helped him climb the ladder, I’m sure.  His wife, Dee, had been a home economics major in college, and she gave him the support he needed in his career climb and cared for their children.  Herb had a competitive nature, and that quality served him well at work.  However, he also had to be the first on our block to try new ideas and to buy new products.  During the Christmas season of 1953, his competitive thrust hit a wall, however, because his Christmas tree became the joke of the neighborhood.

Before the mid fifties, people had green Christmas trees that were alive.  Oh, a very few people sprayed white snow on their trees, and they called that process “flocking,” but white trees were rare.  However, during the mid 1950s the stores were flooded with novelties—Noma Bubblelights, those cylindrical candle-shaped lights that contained a liquid that bubbled when they were turned on, plastic ornaments to replace the more fragile glass ornaments, animated ornaments, AND  Christmas trees that were flocked in exotic colors. 

Herb was not one to stick with the old tried-and-true; no, he was one who loved to try new things and to be first on the block with whatever took his fancy. So when he visited the feed store where the family normally bought their tree and discovered that the store was offering flocked trees in a dizzying array of colors, he decided to over-ride Dee’s order to buy a white flocked tree and instead be the first on the block to have a gold-flocked tree.  Feeling somewhat uneasy about his decision, however, he decided to surprise Dee and the kids.  His family’s squeals of delight at his surprise for them, would, he reasoned, justify his deviation from orders. 

The day of delivery arrived, and as Dee let the men from the feed store into the house, she was appalled.  She asked them if they were certain they had brought the right tree, and they were entirely certain.  And then, after the men had erected the tree and it stood in front of the big window in her dining room, she wept.  For there in all its glory, standing tall for everyone in the neighborhood to see, was a urine-yellow Norwegian spruce that looked as if monstrous male dogs had lifted their legs over every limb and needle. 

After she wept, she called my mother and me and told us to come as quickly as we could.  I can remember staring stunned at the tree, not knowing just what to say under the circumstances.  My mother, always practical, suggested that the best and simplest solution to the problem would be to gob as much decoration onto the tree as possible to hide the nasty color, and she offered to help by donating some of our ornaments.  By the time we left, Dee was laughing, but when Herb came home from work and expressed his amazement and disgust, she was crying again.  The kids, however, thought the tree was fine, and they took my mother’s advice and decked it so full of ornaments and tinsel that most of the limbs were hidden.

  By the time they got the presents heaped around the base, nobody could see much of the tree at all.  The story got around, however, and Dee had to tolerate the folks who stared at her dining room window, covering their mouths to hide their grins.  As far as I know, that was the last year Herb tried an innovation at Christmas time.  

4.  My Little Brother’s Mystery Gift 

Now that I think of it, this account of childhood Christmases would not be complete without the story of my brother Birck’s fourth Christmas, Christmas 1949.  Now, my little brother was an amazing child, with hand-eye coordination beyond his years.  And this particular Christmas he put this quality to good use.

As usual, our tree was an example of my mother’s artistic endeavors and was the envy of all the neighbors.  Birck was just four years old, and I was ten, going on eleven.  To us, the artistic quality of the tree was not nearly as important as the gaily-wrapped loot under the tree.  When the tree was first up and the presents had been placed under it, Birck and I began our work.  We separated the presents into piles, one pile for each family member, and we made sure of the location of our respective stacks.  Each day we inventoried our gifts to see if any had been added or if any were missing.  Birck and I always had more gifts than our parents, and we saw nothing wrong with that.  After all, kids were supposed to get more presents than their folks.  By the time Christmas Day finally rolled around, we had poked and prodded our gifts and had identified most of them. 

On this particular Christmas, however, there were several gifts that Birck could not identify.  I wasn’t any help.  One package, in particular, was about a foot long and half a foot wide and very heavy.  When we shook it, it didn’t rattle; the contents, instead, clunked!  I was as mystified as Birck by this bundle, but neither of us dared tear even a little piece of the wrapping.  If we had been caught doing that, our gifts would have been locked up until Christmas morning.  This mystery gift was, of course, the gift that Birck would open before any of the others.  No wonder—it was about the only present that was still a surprise! 

Christmas Eve came that year, finally, and late in the afternoon my mother, Birck, and I attended the candlelight service at St. Stephen’s Episcopal.  My mother normally did not set foot in any church, but she thought Birck should experience a few moments of Christianity once a year.  The portly old priest got through the service, and then he disappeared briefly, reappearing in a Santa suit.  He gave each of us a brown lunch sack containing a couple of huge oranges, some Brazil nuts, and a candy cane, and then we lit our candles, sang “Silent Night” in the candlelight, and walked home in the dark to our Christmas Eve dinner. 

Now, lest you imagine a huge Christmas Eve feast with prime rib, all sorts of vegetables, and pies, let me describe our customary meal.  First, because my mother was not one to dash around from activity to activity and spend time over a hot stove while trying to keep to a schedule, our dinner on Christmas Eve was extremely simple—lumpy cream of pea soup from a Campbell’s can,  singed toasted cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks, and fruitcake slices.  By the time we had walked home, usually in the rain, from the church service, we didn’t care that others may have been sitting down to roast beef and pie; we just wanted to get warm and fill our stomachs. 

Dinner over, we were allowed to open one gift each, and my mother selected the gifts we could open.   The present she gave Birck was not  the mystery gift, and no matter how Birck begged, she would not allow him to open that gift.  I can’t remember which gift he opened that night.  The gift she allowed me to open was from her two old maid artist friends in New York, Ruthie Dunbar and Mildred Stumer.  I groaned when I saw it because I thought I knew what it was.  And I was right:  two pink marzipan pigs surrounded by colorful marzipan flowers.  They always sent us marzipan pigs, and I didn’t even like marzipan! 

After that non-event, Birck and I were hustled off to bed early so Santa could have some wiggle-room.  Birck and I shared a room, so it took us a while to settle down.  I turned on my radio and put the headphones near my pillow so I could hear Christmas music, and then I fell asleep. 

On Christmas morning I awoke to curses and exclamations coming from my parents’ room.  The cause of their wrath was the banging and pounding coming from the stairs to the basement at five in the morning.  I followed them to the stairs.  There was Birck, clothed in his home-sewn white flannel nightgown, totally absorbed in his work of using the hammer from his brand new Christmas tool kit to nail tiny bits of kindling onto the steps of the basement stairs.  When I consider the task now, I am amazed at Birck’s ability to nail the tiniest bits of wood to a step without splitting the kindling.  At the time, however, my parents were definitely not amused or amazed.

I can’t remember exactly how they resolved the situation because I was eager to open my presents and didn’t pay much attention.  After all, it was Christmas morning!  And yes, the hammer Birck used on the basement steps was just one component of the mystery gift, a Handy Andy tool set for little carpenters, complete with apron. The kit also contained a saw, a small saw, but even at that, a saw that was still capable of marring the legs on our living room furniture.  The hammer and saw disappeared during the morning, but in the excitement of opening the other presents,  Birck didn’t miss them until the afternoon.  When he did miss them, my parents tried their best to locate them, they claimed, but the tools did not resurface until Birck was older and more inclined to follow the rules for their use. 

I can’t remember what Santa brought me that Christmas.  I don’t think that was the year I received the Morse Code key, but whatever I got must not have been too memorable.  I do remember Birck and the tool kit for little carpenters.  My parents did not give that to him.  I am sure that the person who did give it to him was on my parents’ hit list for the next few Christmases.  After opening our gifts that day, our house settled into its usual post-present quiet, and mid-afternoon we had our big Christmas feast of rump roast cooked until it was leathery and dry, grey peas, lumpy mashed potatoes, gelatinous gravy with scorched bits of meat floating on top, vibrant green Jello salad with carrots suspended in it, and mincemeat pie with ice cream on top.  After dinner, my parents napped, and Birck and I played with our toys and tried to stay awake.  Christmas night was an early night for all.


Christmas now is so different from the Christmases of my childhood, and sometimes I forget that modern kids want video games and I Pods and not electric trains and Shirley Temple dolls.  But the core of Christmas, the reason for Christmas, has remained the same for over two thousand years.  I need to hold onto that thought and let it guide me on my journey as the Star guided the Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem.  Merry Christmas!  And many more!




Christmas 2014:  The following essay is off topic for this blog; it has nothing to do with Complex PTSD, really.  However, I enjoyed writing it and want to share it with you “just for fun.”  We all need some fun in our lives!  Enjoy!  Wishing you all the best for the season and healing in the New Year. 


 Some Christmases are more memorable than others. I remember some Christmases because they were outstandingly good, and I remember others because they were outstandingly bad.  Wait a minute—a bad Christmas?  How can such a joyful day be bad?  Let me tell you—a bad Christmas is not hard to come by.  Christmas of 1983 is a case in point.  That was one bad Christmas!  Or was it? 

By Christmas of 1983, I had officially been divorced for three months, and I was busy adapting to my new legal status, that of a divorced, suddenly-single mother.  I was raising a daughter and was struggling to get my feet on the ground after having spent twenty years in a difficult marriage.  At the beginning of the divorce process, my husband and I had owned two homes, one with a mortgage and one that we owned outright and were using as a rental.  I was allowed to choose which of our homes I wanted, so I chose the home in town with the mortgage.   

Thus, I became sole owner of the home on L Street in Centralia, Washington.  Once the divorce papers were finalized, I sold the rolling pasture land that fronted on the Skookumchuck River to my neighbor and paid off the mortgage.  Because I had lost my job in 1981 and was supporting my daughter and me on unemployment checks, child support,  and the generosity of the Salvation Army food bank where I worked as a volunteer, I needed to reduce my monthly outgo. My neighbor wanted the pasture for her horses, and I needed relief from the mortgage payments.  The sale, then, was a good deal for both my neighbor and me. 

After selling my pasture, I investigated the possibility of taking out a home improvement loan through the Farmers’ Home Administration because my house, built early in the 1900s, needed a lot of work.   I applied for the loan and was accepted into the program.  Since it was a government loan for low-income home owners in rural areas, I could afford the monthly payments.  My home had been built at a time when many homes in the area were built using post and pier construction and were not built upon concrete foundations.  Thus, the first task of the contractor was to put a concrete foundation under my house.  In the early part of December, then, my neighbor, a licensed contractor named Fred, started on the foundation.  

This process was slow because Fred had to jack the house up in order to do his work beneath it, and the house had to be high enough to accommodate the foundation work he did around the perimeter.  When he jacked the house up, he exposed its underbelly to the elements, so he had to close up the crawl space at the end of each workday by placing sheets of plywood along the lower margins of the outside walls.  The plywood kept out the cold and the wind and also most of the nocturnal creatures that came up from the nearby gully each evening.  There was, however, one evening when Fred forgot to protect the underside of my house, the evening of December 23rd.   

On December 23rd, we had a terrific cold snap, unusual for the Chehalis River valley.  That night the temperature dipped to about ten above zero, and as I slept, the cold air entered the unprotected crawl space.  I awoke to a big surprise—water had frozen in all the rusty old pipes beneath the house, no water came from any taps, and we could not flush the toilet.  My son was home from college at the time, so he and his sister drove to my ex in-laws’ home south of Chehalis to spend the holiday.  I knew they would be welcome there even if I was not.  

I was left by myself, then, to feed our pets, tend the frozen pipes, and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a house with no running water and no drainage—not the usual Merry Christmas situation.  In the process of overcoming life’s adversities, however,  I had learned to favor the glass- half-full approach to life,  and I determined to have as merry a Christmas as possible under the circumstances.  After all, I had two wonderful children, a roof over my head, sufficient groceries, and it was Christmas!  I considered myself fortunate. 

Thanks to the folks at the Salvation Army, I had a small Christmas tree and one of the Salvation Army’s Christmas food baskets.  My tree was about four feet tall and scrawny, but it had lights on it and lots of home-made decorations.  Under the lowest limbs were three presents, one from my ex mother-in-law, one from my son, and one from the Salvation Army.  So not only did I have a tree, but I had some presents and the makings of a nice Christmas dinner, complete with a roasting hen, fresh vegetables, a few oranges and apples, some instant stuffing mix, various canned goods, and some candy.   As I surveyed my tree with its presents and thought about the special dinner I would cook on Christmas Day, I felt happy with what I had.  Some folks in Lewis County had a lot less than I did.  

The afternoon of December 24th arrived with no letup in the cold.  I planned to sing in the choir at St. John’s Episcopal Church for the Christmas Eve service, and I needed to be at the church by about 8:30 that night.  I fixed myself some dinner, put on my dress, pantyhose, and shoes, and donned my long raincoat.  By around eight in the evening I was on my way, hoping to make it to the church in time for the pre-service choir warmup before the late-night service.  The church was about twelve blocks from my home, but the night was clear, so the prospect of the walk didn’t bother me. 

I was about halfway to the church, walking past the Rock Street Apartments, when it happened—I felt something around my waist shift dramatically, and my pantyhose suddenly slithered down my hips, past my thighs, and to my knees, hobbling me as surely as if I were Farmer Jones’ favorite mare.  I managed to remain upright despite suddenly being rendered immobile, and I was able to put my hands into my raincoat pockets, hunch down, and pull my pantyhose up high enough so I could walk.   

I repeated this procedure the rest of the way, and when I reached the church, I slipped into the restroom unnoticed, reefed mightily on the errant hose, and prayed they would stay put.  Yet to come were the choir procession, the service, and the recessional, but I was not too worried, for the ugly old ankle-length black robes we wore would, I knew, hide whatever might happen.  One way or another, I would get through the service. 

All went well during the service, and when it was over, I took off the hose and started for home.  I did, however, make one change in my route.  I decided to reward myself for a job well done by stopping at the convenience store on Tower Avenue and treating myself to some chicken and jo-jos, food I had heard about but had never tried.  I wasn’t sure the store would be open late on Christmas Eve, but I decided to at least check to see.  It was open!  Never before had the aroma of deep-fried chicken and fried potatoes been so welcome!  A heavy-lidded young man with red hair wrapped my chicken and Jo-jos, I paid for them, and I left, wishing him a Merry Christmas but knowing that he was probably finding Christmas Eve at the Stop-N-Go a lot more boring than merry.  I reached home before eleven-thirty, and after changing into my nightclothes, I turned on the television to Seattle station KING so I could watch the Christmas Eve service broadcast from St. Mark’s Cathedral and enjoy my greasy treat.  

And then the improbable happened:  Exactly on the stroke of midnight, just as the choir at St. Mark’s began processing toward the altar for Holy Communion, I heard a loud “whoosh” come from somewhere under the house.  I ventured cautiously outside to investigate and discovered that we had had a sudden Chinook which had warmed the air, even the air under the house, and had caused a mighty thaw that had cracked the ancient pipes and released a flood of water.  I ran back into the house and grabbed my huge pipewrench and  prybar, and then I ran back outside, pried  the concrete cover from the water main by the street, and turned the bolt that shut off the water.  Since there was nothing more I could do about the plumbing situation, I trudged back into the house, watched the rest of the service from St. Marks, finished my chicken and jo-jos, and went to bed. 

On Christmas morning I awoke to a cold, dark, rainy day.  Determined to have my coffee on that special morning, I put on my boots, grabbed a relatively clean plastic bucket from the utility porch, and traipsed through the soggy grass to the faucet at Fred’s horse barn.  I filled the bucket and returned home to make coffee .  As I drank my coffee and ate the sweet rolls I found in my Salvation Army box, I forgot the mess under my house and the fact that I couldn’t flush the toilet or get a shower and simply enjoyed the peace and quiet of Christmas.   

Later, I roasted the Salvation Army chicken and enjoyed Christmas dinner in front of the television as I watched the old version of “Miracle on 34th Street,” the one starring young Natalie Wood, my favorite.  I indulged myself and slept on the couch that night so I could watch movies until I fell asleep, something I normally did not do.  Sometime that night, one of the cats, back from a hunting trip, left me a still-squeaking mouse on the kitchen floor.  I awoke long enough to gently deposit the mouse on the grass outside the carport, and then I went back to sleep.   

The plumbing situation got a temporary fix the day after Christmas, my kids came home, and life resumed its familiar pace and rhythm once more.  A few days later, when I looked back on  my Christmas, I realized that it had not been so awful.  After all, I had been able to sing in the choir and eat jo-jos on Christmas Eve.  I had also enjoyed my well-lit Christmas tree, had watched the sentimental old holiday movies I loved, and had eaten a great Christmas dinner.  The plumbing disaster and being hobbled by my pantyhose seemed like minor irritants, mere flickers of bad luck in the total scheme of things.  No, that Christmas of 1983 hadn’t been so bad after all!