September 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
Amidst the clutter on my dining room table sit two hard copies of my dissertation. They are printed and cerlox-bound with transparent covers. These are my copies of the dissertation that I submitted last Friday to the department of graduate and post-doctoral studies. These are my personal copies, one to keep for the defence, the other to lend out to interested friends who actually have the patience to read it.
I expected, after seven years of labor, to feel proud of this accomplishment. Instead, to my dismay, I feel shame. I feel so embarrassed that it took me so long. That I continued working in an abusive relationship even as I watched others leave my toxic ex-supervisor. That I protected ex-supervisor from the critical comments of others even as I was being subjected to ex-supervisor’s manipulations. In fact, I can see now, that my protective comments were part of the whole web of emotional, psychological and mental abuse perpetrated by ex-supervisor.
I have announced to family and friends that I have achieved this milestone and they are reasonably happy for me. They await the invitation to attend a celebratory party with me, to participate in the glory of getting to the end of my graduate program. They would be dismayed to hear how I actually feel. That I want to cry, that I almost lost my marriage, that I almost lost my house, that I came so close to declaring bankruptcy, that I feel depressed, that I have been having panic attacks.
Here is the ironic twist to this horrible tale. The day before I submitted my dissertation for external examination preparatory to booking my defence I visited my department. There was a delay getting the printed copies from the copy shop but I could still pick up the paperwork that needed to be submitted with it. I checked in with my graduate secretary, my department manager, the department head, my new supervisor, and my new committee member. It was very nice to see them and know that they all have my back, that they all want me to get through.
I expressed my concern that my ex-supervisor, who is now barred from any communication with me or my committee members or even the graduate department regarding my case, would be allowed to attend my defence. I was worried that ex-supervisor’s presence in the audience would cause me emotional and mental distress that would impinge on my defence performance. My new supervisor did not think this would be a problem because the defence itself would be tightly programmed and there wouldn’t be an opportunity for any disruption from my ex-supervisor. My new supervisor could not grasp how upsetting it would be to have ex-supervisor in the room.
However, new supervisor had been told, unofficially, by the committee member who had replaced ex-supervisor, that ex-supervisor would not be allowed to attend. I next visited my new committee member and he assured me that ex-supervisor would not be allowed to attend the defence and that I don’t have to worry on that account any further. This was deeply reassuring, and I felt a mass of anxiety evaporate. I could now focus solely on my defence and not worry about whether I would have to contend with disruption from ex-supervisor.
In the aftermath of these momentous occasions, I am left observing my own reactions to changing conditions. I observe how concerned I was that ex-supervisor would attend my defence. I observe the shame I feel as I contemplate the documents on my dining room table. I observe the depression I am coping with in the aftermath of the relief that I am actually going to get out of this graduate program (with a degree). With these observations I deduce the depth of damage I sustained under the abusive tutelage of my ex-supervisor. I infer the magnitude of injury to my health and well-being. I realize I must take steps to recover from the injustice, the threat, and the unrelenting obstruction (in the form of belittling, invalidating, stonewalling, obfuscating, threatening behaviours) received from my ex-supervisor. I realize I must recover from my sincere efforts, in the continuing face of irrefutable evidence that ex-supervisor would never let me graduate, to try to win approval, to appease ex-supervisor’s criticism.
Today is Sunday, and I am going to clean my house, walk my dog, kiss my husband, and prepare for the week ahead. I am also going to work on developing my own program of recovery, so that I can make sense of what I have endured, ascribe meaning to the significance of these copies of the dissertation sitting on my table, and rightfully feel proud that I endured and I prevailed.
May 3, 2015 § Leave a comment
It is nineteen years since I came into recovery. In January, 1996 I turned 40. By the end of the day I was plastered, laying on my back in my front yard on the dirty snow, unable to get up. The next day I asked myself, “If I die tomorrow will I be content with how I lived today?” The answer was no.
On April 20, 1996 I smoked my last joint. I was a habitual pot user, smoking regularly at 5 pm everyday. It was all I looked forward to and everything I regretted afterward. After I stopped using I went into a catastrophic emotional tailspin. I remember at one point I was sitting on the roof of a friend’s house sobbing uncontrollably.
On May 26, 1996 I boarded a bus to go to a drug rehab centre. I had to be pried out of my familiar surroundings with a crowbar. Even though my situation was extremely unhealthy and destructive, I couldn’t imagine living any other way.
After the first week in drug rehab I realized I could not go back to my marriage and home. I would never stay clean from drugs and alcohol if I went back. Two weeks later my stay at the centre ended and I was on my own, beginning the process of building my new life. I was forty years old. I had a maxed out credit card and I was living on social assistance.
When I arrived in the city I had less than a hundred dollars left on my credit card and a ten dollar bill in my pocket.
Since then I have graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine art, graduated with a masters’ degree in technology studies education, married, bought a house, put a new basement under the house, entered a carpentry apprentice program, and worked to complete a doctoral degree in curriculum and pedagogy.
I am now 59 years old. I have begun tearing down the walls on our century old house. My home is a chaotic mess of piles of dirty dishes, renovation dust, and misplaced furniture.
The front porch has been covered with a tarp for three months. A giant beam sits in the front hall awaiting installation.
I have two client’s houses to caulk and paint.
Jethro, my reactive rescue dog, sleeps on the couch nearby. My husband sleeps upstairs. My son stayed out with his friends last night, he is here for the summer working for our contractor and helping us on this house.
The sun is coming up each day further and further northward on the eastern horizon. This morning the rays of sun light up the full green leaves of spring past the roof of the meditation centre. The linden tree outside my dining room window is in full bloom.
Today I plan on getting the kitchen cleaned up so we can use it again. I think my other task should be getting the mountain of dirty laundry into the washing machine and getting the mountain of clean laundry put away.
Also my neighbour, who is teaching me to garden, has told me to water the new plantings. So I must get out to do that.
Everyday of my life these days is a busy day. I work hard, and the fruits of my labours show in my surroundings. I have people who love me and care about me, and who are also not using drugs or alcohol to make life bearable. Life is tough, it has always been so. Today I will manage life on life’s terms because I have found a new way to live. If I die tomorrow I will be content with how I lived today.
Time to put the coffee on.