I had never met the doctor before, and her manner was strickingly brusque. She was terse and to the point and didn't sugar coat her diagnosis, but gave it to us straight; our beloved pet was going to die. My daughter left the examination room to find a tissue to wipe her tears. The vet looked at me straight and unapologetically, then informed me that she doesn't lie to kids. "You parents can hide the truth all you want," she said. "But I like to tell it as it is. That way there are no surprises."
She then revealed to me she had been brought up in a house of secrets. Her father was an alcoholic and her most vivid memory of him was when he took the family dogs out to the backyard and shot them because they barked too much. I told her I understood, and I did. But for me, it was my stepfather, and he didn't murder dogs, he murdered kittens. We shared our stories of abuse and neglect and it felt good to be able to speak the truth.
I'm not sure why she chose to open up to me the way she did. I was a stranger to her, one that lives in LA, where people make a tremendous effort out of hiding who they truly are. Maybe she sensed I wouldn't judge her, or maybe she recognized the remnants of pain in my eyes, a pain she was able to identify with. As I was leaving the office, she touched my arm and said, "I thought I was the only one." I assured her that she wasn't and for a moment, we both felt a little less lonely, a little less like a freak.
Yesterday I was having lunch with some friends after a dance class. We started talking about the decadance of the 80s. I regaled them with stories of my life in New York. This transitioned into the story of the night I almost died. I overdosed on cocaine and somehow dragged my half dead body onto a train that took me home to Pennsylvania. I left everything I owned in New York and simply disappeared. I was sent to a rehab in Virginia where I slept on a cot in a small room with three other girls. The view from our window was of a cemetary; a constant reminder of where I would have ended up if I wasn't there.
I was there for thirty days, part of which included Thanksgiving. Our days were filled with meetings and therapy sessions and every once in a while, we were allowed to watch a movie. Other than that, no electronics, no phone calls, no contact with the outside world, not even a newspaper. The most difficult of the program for me wasn't getting clean or a lack of stimulation or communication. It was letting people get close and hug me. Daily hugging was part of the therapy and I hated it. I didn't want anyone to touch me.
I haven't told anyone this story for a very long time. It's been twenty five years since it happened, so maybe, now it's time. I haven't forgotten that sad, angry girl who had unsuccessfully tried to take her life. I admire her for being strong enough to deal with the blows life had given her. I forgive her, just as I forgive my stepfather.
One of the people at the lunch table pointed out that everyone has a story, and it's true. I now realize part of the inspiration for my starting this blog was not only to discuss women's health, but to tell my story bit by bit, hoping it might encourage others to do the same. And you know what? It's not as scary as I thought it was going to be. In fact, it's incredibly healing.
Later yesterday afternoon, I approached one of the people who were at the lunch table and apologized for being so forthcoming. He laughed and said, "It's all right. We actually like you even better now." And then, he told me a story of his own. That's how it works, I suppose.
In the spiritual community, there's a saying that we are all connected, we are all one. This past weekend, I was able to experience this connection with others. I was able to put some of the secrets of the past behind me and talk about them openly. I was able to comfort that young girl who was in so much pain all those years ago and honor her by finally tell part of her story. I have no doubt there will be more to come.
And by the way; Sammy our pet rat has made a miraculous recovery and is doing just fine.