The Legacy and Labor of Psychological Abuse #highered #alanon #recovery #addiction

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.

The comps

October 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

I give myself permission to write my way into some semblance of coherence as I tackle this next phase of my program. It helps to think that I am communicating with someone, even if it is only my other selves, all waiting, wondering who is going to be called on next to step up and perform. I can’t believe how well the session went yesterday. Those three categories that emerged through the process: subjectivities, methodologies, questions. So perfectly capture my moment, where I am, what I am looking at, what I am researching, what I am teaching. I feel bad for the student who feels so lost. I must respond to his email, even as I resent his lostness, and suspect it as a ruse to cover over his own disengagement from his program, or from my class. But it is perfect. Because what he is feeling so perfectly encapsulates where many of us are right now. Just give me something concrete, something sure, something familiar that I can hang onto. But that certainty eludes us. Everywhere we look we are confronted with complexity, ambiguity and contradictions. Was it always this way? Can we only see it now because we are able to see it?

In the middle

October 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

I’m in my middle age, it is the middle of the term, I am in the middle of my PhD, it is the middle year of the research, the middle of the course I am teaching, the middle of the course I am attending, here I am in the middle of a muddle and I’ve got to take steps to sort my way through for fear of losing any semblance of dignity. This haphazard stitching of selves together, all these different people I show up and become, the outfits I wear, the transportation I use, the language I use, my countenance and comportment, all need to be carefully arranged with each instance of communication. None of this would be happening without communication. It’s all about the communication.

I have started a blog before

October 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

Many times. They seem to emerge from a specific need to make sense of my experience and then, sometime later, fall by the wayside as that sphere of concern resolves itself and a new, more urgent pre-occupation takes precedence. That is why I am here today. My second year of PhD studies is unravelling around me, I find myself spread thin, extending to the breaking point, barely able to wind myself back in to collect my thoughts and make sense of the whole, rather than get consumed by the details. Let’s face it. I have never been in this situation before. I have never had to step up to the plate, over and over again. With others relying on me, investing in me, trusting me, calling on me to show up and make sense. Even then, although what I am saying or doing is making sense to me, barely, all those poor souls who are listening to me, they also are struggling to make sense of it all. It is a massive game of catch-up, the knowledge I gather today is the knowledge I will teach tomorrow.

Sorting out relationships

October 9, 2008 § 1 Comment

This has to be one of the most confusing aspects of my experience this term. I dread the bell of my email application, signalling another relationship that needs attention. Is it one of my students (who seem lost, confused, and unable to read a syllabus)? Is it one of our research participants (who seem overwhelmed, out of touch, and irritated by me)? Is it one of my classmates (who have yet another article to read to prepare for next class)? Is it my advisor (wondering why I re-wrote the article that had been accepted for publication with minor revisions)? I’m at the point now where any communication signals a spurt of adrenaline into my already burned out system (or was that the double espresso I had this morning)? How would I get through this without my coffee? I AM EXHAUSTED!!! There I said it. I don’t know how to manage the competing demands for my attention: edit the article, visit three research sites, meet 4 new people, re-connect with research participants, what to wear, how to spend the next hour before I have to leave, remember it takes 1/2 an hour to get out the door, so really it’s only 1/2 an hour. What about that student who wrote asking for a meeting? What to do about that? How can I have a student who is afraid of failing the class? It is a pass/fail! How hard is that? I must be a bad teacher. Oh, but I shouldn’t say that about myself. My language use does affect my attitude and my perception of myself (Thank you Walton and Banaji 2001). Teaching and learning with digital technology. What a joke! What is multi-media? What is a module? Can I have step by step instructions? I don’t know what I have to do to pass this course. My teacher doesn’t want me to use any digital technology that is going to stay after I leave my practicum. Honestly. It really is a mash up of issues, anxieties, identities, and cultures. How did I end up in the middle of it?

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