Traumatic Therapy

Lynn Price Gondolf*

I'm Lynn.  My purpose here is to describe where I came from, what happened in therapy, and how I got out of it.  I'll start out telling you how glad I am all of you are here.  You parents yourselves are the greatest resources you have.  I've seen my parents.  I've seen the parents of the women that I was in therapy with sit with these accusations for two or three years.  They try to sell their home, they hire detectives, they have no contact with their daughters, and they are never able to defend their innocence.  I've seen them worry and hope that this will go away and she'll come back someday.  I'll be real honest, I don't know if that's the right approach, I haven't seen any benefits come from it.

I was in therapy with two therapists after I sought treatment for an eating disorder in 1986.  I had a book called The Monster Within (Paperback (1985))(Paperback (1998)).  Some of you may have heard of that book.  You can probably get it at Christian bookstores.  It was about a woman who had bulimia, went to this hospital, met these two wonderful therapists and got well.  I'd had an eating disorder since I was nine.  I've been so thin I was paralyzed from anorexia and I've weighed 320, so I've been in the whole spectrum and now I'm somewhere in between those two.  And I don't know that even in recovery that issue will ever be one I'm okay with.

But I can tell you that just because I've had weight problems or an eating disorder does not mean I'm an incest victim.  I want to stress this because I hear that a lot today — that if you have an eating disorder, you have probably been sexually abused.

My parents are good hard-working people.  They're honest.  They never in any way meant to harm me.  I didn't come with an owner's manual and they really didn't know what to do with me sometimes.  They're both younger children in their families and both are probably somewhat passive.

I'm the older child, and I am fiercely independent.  My dad would tell you I'm as stubborn as a fence post.  I wouldn't say it was that bad, but I am bull-headed.  When I believe something, I really stay on it.  Sometimes my parents did not know how to handle me.  I got married at a young age so I've never been really meshed with my parents.  I've never needed much from them in a lot of ways.

However, the therapists interpreted this to mean that my parents were not there for me, or didn't love me, or that they neglected me.  That's not true.  It was simply that I did not depend on them a lot.  That's just not my personality or wasn't at that time.  Now, later on, after I got into therapy, I became a dependent person.  It is almost shameful to me sometimes to admit how dependent I was on these therapists.

When I entered therapy for my eating disorder we began to talk about the family dynamics.  I told the therapist that, yes, I'd had some sexual abuse — that's the first thing he asked — by an uncle and that was well known in my family.  My uncle is really sick.  My family has known about it for years.  It was not anything that I ever forgot.  It was not any repressed memories.

But the therapist thought I wasn't showing enough emotion about the abuse by my uncle.  However, I had all the feelings and pain of it but I had to live.  I had to do day-to-day things.  So, I didn't sit around and cry about it all the time.  I think I dealt with it as well as anyone can.  My family knew about most of it — it was no secret.

But once I got into therapy, the doctors said well, if your parents knew about the abuse they must have participated in it.  And it wasn't just in the sense of they knew and let it happen.  (My parents didn't know what happened at the actual time — they found out later.)  Then they said things such as, since you feel uncomfortable hugging your father, your father must have sexually abused you.

I was raised in a home that is sexually conservative.  My brother does not run around in his underwear in front of my two sisters and me.  My dad does not talk or make any sexual remarks in front of his daughters.  He does not believe that's proper.  In my home, I knew there were certain things you didn't do.  I wouldn't kiss a boy in front of my dad and I sound old fashioned but that's just the way it was.  It wasn't because there was any incest that went on.  It wasn't because I was sleeping with my dad or because he was doing anything bad.  It's just that we were very conscious about appropriate sexual behavior and what my parents had led us to believe was appropriate and that there were certain things that were not.  So if you had asked me if I felt uncomfortable hugging my dad, I would have said, "Yeah, maybe, just like I do other people."

I don't think there's anything my parents could have done differently that the therapists couldn't have interpreted as evidence that abuse happened.  Once they're on that agenda, then anything you do can be twisted around to prove abuse.  For example, the fact that I didn't like my mother washing my hair when I was eight or nine was seen as an indicator that my mother had done more than wash my hair in the bathtub.  The fact that my parents moved a lot was also seen as a sign of abuse.  The therapists believed this meant that my parents were afraid that people would find out about the abuse.  The real truth is my parents never had enough money to pay the rent so they would get kicked out and move from house to house.  That's the real truth.  But the fact that I wouldn't reveal the specifics was seen as a sign of my denial.

Eventually, after hearing all these interpretations, I began to believe that possibly my parents had been involved in something like this and even began to have almost visualizations of the incidents.  I had been in the hospital only once.  I had come in just with bulimia and some bleeding ulcers.  And I did have serious eating disorders, no doubt about that.  But I was also on eight different types of medications, psychiatric drugs that I'd never been on before.

I was given a series of psychiatric diagnoses including schizoid affective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, neurotic depressive disorder, PTSD chronic, clinical depression, dissociative disorder, and finally multiple personality disorder.  I worked my way up to just about all of them at some point.  It looked like I was pretty sick.  When you're paying these people a hundred dollars an hour and they're doing these MMPIs and different tests that reveal so much about you that you don't even know, and then they tell you you've got schizoid affective disorder, you begin to believe them.

Another thing, too, is there is mental illness in my family.  My father's side of the family, including he himself and his siblings, have been institutionalized at one time or another.  With that type of history when you go to a psychiatrist, it's seen as genetic.  You are told that you're probably going to be in and out of psychiatric hospitals the rest of your life.  Well, that didn't sound real promising.  It wasn't what I'd dreamed of when I moved to Dallas to work for EDS.

Based on the fact that the therapist told me I'd suffered this traumatic sexual abuse, and I had from my uncle, that my father and his family had mental illness, that the MMPIs and different tests had showed this, I began to believe what he was saying.  They therefore decided that we'd have a conjoint session with my parents.  Now, here are two simple people from Oklahoma who are very honest, loving, and caring people but who, as far as on an educational and professional level, are kind of below the average.  My dad worked in the oil fields.  He didn't know anything about these big city psychiatrists, was scared about his daughter, and was concerned about what was going on with her but had no idea of the ambush he was walking into.

The therapist and I role-played what I would say and I wrote up a list of things that they should have done differently, could have differently, and my feelings associated with them.  My parents were not told what this joint session was going to be about.  They were concerned about their daughter and when they were invited down they decided to come to help me.  They drove three hours in a beat-up pickup that I wouldn't drive for two miles.

Now I look back and if I didn't understand what went on during that period, I'd feel very ashamed because they went through a lot.  They came to the hospital.  The therapist sat between me and my dad and my mom sat apart and we were in a little room.  The therapist began by telling my parents that I'm real ill and that I'm probably going to kill myself, which was a big shock to my dad and mom because they thought I had an eating disorder.  They didn't know that much about it.  They sure didn't know a schizoid affective disorder and all this other stuff he was dumping on them.

So, my parents just sat there and didn't say anything.  They were real quiet and were listening to this professional give them his opinion about their daughter.  He told them I had had a serious eating disorder for years and he described my medical problems that are related to it.  Then he stated that it's essential to my survival that they listen to the things I'm about to say — he told them more or less that if you don't listen, your daughter's going to die.

My parents hadn't said anything and they sat there and listened.  As we went down the list I had made with the therapist, my dad didn't deny anything.  He didn't deny that sometimes he had gotten too angry.  He had maybe spanked me improperly or said something wrong.  One time he had called me a bitch.  I remembered that, I didn't forget that.  No repressed memory there.  And I said that to my dad.

My dad felt very sorry and that's what he said.  His eyes were kind of watery.  I wouldn't look at him because I just couldn't do that.  But my mother was just blubbering.  She was a basket case over all this.  When we discussed my uncle, my dad said that they didn't know what had gone on, which I already knew.  I knew my parents would not intentionally let someone harm me in that way.  But my dad said, well, maybe we should have known better than to let you stay there.  And that's the mistake my parents made.

That is the only real mistake my parents made that I can truly say that I hold them accountable for — they entrusted my care to someone who wasn't trustworthy.  But they didn't sexually abuse me.  The rest of the mistakes were just normal parental mistakes.

We got ready to leave and my dad was shell-shocked.  He hardly said anything and his eyes were watery.  My mom was still crying.

One of the questions we asked my dad is whether I was conceived before my parents were married.  I'd always wondered if my dad even really thought I was his kid.  So, I asked my dad this question and before I'd let him answer, I got up and left the room.  I left partially because I didn't want to hear the answer.  But also because my dad didn't jump up and immediately say something, I thought he was affirming that he wasn't my father or that he didn't want to be.  Now I know that he was in shock after hearing everything with which he was confronted in this session.

I then left my parents in that little room and I didn't see my father again for two years.  My therapist left the room.  There was no closure for my parents.  They didn't get to hear anything else.  They were just left there to bawl.  My parents went outside and my brothers and sisters came into another little room.  They heard from my therapist how bad my parents were and how unless I had their support, I was liable to kill myself.  I still believe that that was emotional blackmail for my brothers and sisters.  They were not allowed to tell me, "Lynn, we don't believe these accusations."

I didn't make the accusations directly to my dad.  I wouldn't dare tell my dad that.  Now I don't think I believed it enough at that time to tell him because I told him about my uncle.  I didn't have any problems with that.

The therapist told my brothers and sisters that Lynn remembers that your dad did this and this and your mom did this, this, and so forth.  So, my brothers and sisters over the next two years would say, "Well, Lynn, Dad didn't do anything like that to us.  You really think he did that?"  But that's as far as my sisters would go.  "He didn't do that with us.  You really still believe that?"

I made five suicide attempts in 1987, and in one I was comatose.  The therapists twisted and distorted everything I thought I knew about my family and childhood.  They told me that everything I knew for 20, 30, 40 years was wrong.  These people that I loved, that I trusted, the values they had instilled in me as a child, were all garbage.  I was taught that my family was really a bunch of satanic cult people who kill and eat babies and human flesh.

Such an experience was devastating.  It put me in a very serious medical place where I hadn't been before.  I'd never tried to kill myself until I started therapy.  And by that time I didn't have my parents.  On a limited basis I had my brothers and sisters but I didn't trust them because I didn't know whether they were telling my parents we know you didn't do it.

The therapists told me that I needed to make this group of sick, dependent women my new family.  I loved those women and still today I love every one of them.  I hope they all get better.  But we were not a group that needed to depend on each other.  You've got a bunch of women trying to kill themselves.  Who's trustworthy, who's dependable?

By this time I was seriously depressed so I missed work.  I didn't communicate with people on the outside because what would I say to them?  All the people in the group talked about was incest and cutting and eating and depression and medicine and what's their latest flashback.  Normal people on the outside don't have flashbacks.

Therefore there was this group of sick women.  We went to therapy, worked enough to pay for therapy, and called each other to talk about our flashbacks.  That's how my life went for a while.  I became real sick.

You lose a lot of years doing this and I was fortunate in that I was able to come out of it and go on to build the life I have today.  One of the women in my group always wanted to have a family.  She's been in group now for six years and she's getting past childbearing years and she can never have a normal relationship while she's in this group because all you've got is this sick bunch of dependent women.  That was real sad — because someone else wants to stop all the awful child abusers out there, you take away years of our lives.

I watched one young woman, a wonderful person, die because of the group therapy.  In group we regularly talked about explicit sexual abuse in an 8 x 10 room while screaming, yelling details, and beating on bats.  You hear this for an hour and a half every day and sometimes an hour at night, and you get to where you really don't know what went on in your life.  We also talked specifically about what we did to harm ourselves.  I used a very dangerous substance that induces vomiting and I had to talk about my use of this — how much, when, very specifically.  I had to talk about this in detail in front of this group of sick, dependent women.  One went home and tried what she had heard Lynn describe and died.

There were two different outpatient groups which met regularly.  There was a great amount of gossip.  Everybody knew what went on, not only in their group but in the other group.  A major portion of therapy was the exchanging of flashbacks.  If one of the women had a great big revealing flashback, such as her parents ate another child of hers, someone would get that information to me.

There was never intended to be any confidentiality.  The other women even knew what I was saying in my individual sessions.  My therapist would write it in the chart and afterwards the staff would read the chart entries out loud.  The patients could stand near the nurse's desk and hear what all the staff thought about whatever was written.

I do not believe that group therapy is appropriate for someone who has not had individual therapy and who is not strong and individualistic.  Group therapy doesn't work for a person who is suggestible or is early in therapy.  Such a person may not have any sexual abuse issues.  But if she is placed in an incest-oriented group, it is contagious.  If that's all they hear every day of the week, if that's what they're paying their hundred dollars an hour for, if they're given a book like Courage to Heal (Paperback)(Audio Cassette) or The Monster Within, they will come to believe that they are incest victims also.  The suggestibility of the women was seen by the flashbacks they reported.  If one woman had a flashback of snakes and cannibalism in the woods, a few days later, someone else had a similar flashback.

We regularly had occupational therapy where everyone does all kinds of artsy-craftsy cutesy stuff that I don't have any ability to do.  The reason I didn't finger paint when I was a kid was not because my parents deprived me of it and didn't let me express myself.  I don't like it is why I don't do it.  If they'd given me a computer, I'd express myself as a child but I'm not going to do it with some paint and squeeze it all over my fingers and smear it on paper.

Well, the therapists decided that I needed to do those kind of exercises in occupational therapy in order to get well.  They then interpreted what I did.  If I used red that meant I was angry.  If I was given a choice between red, blue, or green, I'd probably choose red.  This didn't mean anything about abuse.  It just meant that out of three colors I liked red better.  But they always found some underlying meaning to it, such as I was drawing the blood that my father made me drink after he cut me with a knife.  I drew a house.  All I can draw is stick houses.  That meant that my home wasn't stable because I didn't put a bottom on it and draw rooms and stuff.  Well, I can't do that.  I'm not an architect.  That's all my drawing meant.  I just drew the best little house I could.  It didn't have any symbolic meaning.

Throwing clay was another thing I was encouraged to do.  If I didn't throw the clay like I was really angry, it meant that I wasn't getting in touch with my feelings and I'd be put in seclusion where I could get in touch with my feelings.  The simple fact was that I was living here, eating three meals a day, and there wasn't a whole lot wrong and I wasn't feeling tremendous anger every day.  It didn't mean that I was in denial of abuse by my parents.

On one occasion the therapist hadn't been able to get the "anger" out of me that he believed I should have about my parents and the awful things they'd done.  He then decided to taunt me with the stuff my uncle had done, which was real.  He talked about details of the abuse, saying, "Well, what did you think when your uncle did this?  What did you think when he did that?"  And it was really gross stuff.  This was supposed to help me to get my rage out and my anger.  I don't think I threw the clay any harder.  I think I just looked at him and cried.  I had never had anybody to tell those accounts back to me of what someone had done.

Another thing — and I'll never understand the therapeutic benefit of this — I had to do in occupational therapy was draw my own tombstone and put my epitaph on it.  Now, what therapeutic benefit is that supposed to have?  I have no idea why a suicidal person is supposed to get that close to acceptance of her own death.

Everything was interpreted as supporting the abuse.  When my parents sent a birthday card, it was interpreted as a suicidal message.  The question I asked my father during the session was answered indirectly when he sent me letter a couple of days later.  He signed the letter, "Love, your father."  So, he did answer.  But to the therapists that was a direct message to get me to kill myself.

Part of the treatment was something called trance writing.  The therapists claimed that trance writing was different from hypnosis but I've yet to understand the difference except probably trance writing is just even more dangerous because the garbage I wrote was sure nowhere near truth.  I can't remember what it was.  It was just real gory.

Another thing they used was called "body memories."  They believed that certain physical sensations reflected abuse that couldn't be remembered.  That is, although there were no conscious memories, the body remembered.  They told me that because I had some numbness in my hand, that this was from holding my father's penis.

The reason I had numbness in my hand is the day before I wasn't taking anything, all of a sudden I'm taking 900 milligrams Lithium, I'm also taking a bunch of Xanex a bunch of Mellaril.  This made my fingers numb.  My feeling of discomfort with my fingers because they were numb did not mean I wanted to cut my hand off because I'd touched my dad's penis.  But that is what I was told it meant.

We believed we were being treated by one of the greatest therapists alive.  He could heal eating disorders and by that time I'd had mine for 18 years and I didn't have a whole lot longer to have this eating disorder.  By that time I had serious physical problems so I didn't have a whole lot longer to cure my eating disorder.  I believed that he could heal me and that if trance writing would enable me to get to that one thing that's down there in my gut, that magical one experience, I'm going to be well.  They convinced me that if they found this mystical, magical thing then I would be okay and be a healthy, normal functioning person.  But that wasn't what happened.

Day in and day out I listened to screaming and shouting and to graphic details about abuse and I then had to draw them since that's what the staff wanted to see and that's the only way I could stay out of seclusion, I finally started to say what they wanted to hear.  The sad thing is I started to believe it, almost.

After a while I said what my therapist wanted to hear if I wanted any attention from him.  And at that point I wanted attention from this man.  He was about the only person I had left in my life.  He told me if it was okay to do this, if it was okay to do that.  Was it okay to go grocery shopping this day?  Was it okay to go see my parents or to call a long lost aunt?  Was it okay to go to church?  Any event had to be cleared through him.  I had to discuss it with him to see if it was in my best interest and then if it was judged to be okay, I could do it.  If not, I just called the people back and told them that my therapist said I shouldn't do this.

I began to believe the abuse by my parents was true.  This was totally different than the situation with my uncle.  When I said it about my father, the voice wasn't strong but there was a little voice inside there always doubted.  But there was a lot of tears with it, too, and even today when I recall what I said or believed about what my dad might have done, it still hurts.

I got sicker.  Finally, I ran out of insurance.  Aetna had agreed to pay about $250,000 by that time.  EDS had paid about $100,000. EDS, Ross Perot, was a little tougher on those insurance restrictions and the therapists really hated that.  But Aetna had agreed to pay this amount.  So the doctor told me to get a policy that would pay.  I told him that the insurance policy had a two years exclusion for preexisting conditions, and therefore we would not be able to get anything back from the hospital for two years.  He said that we would use a different diagnosis so it wouldn't look like a preexisting condition.  We tried that but Aetna had real hard time understanding how suddenly this 27-year-old woman has schizoid affective disorder, major depressive disorder and so forth but she'd never been hospitalized before.  But suddenly she develops these.  So, after I was there four months, Aetna decided they would not pay the claim.

Well, to say the therapist got mad is to say the least.  He was pretty pissed off about that.  He came into my room one day and said, "What are you going to do?  You don't have any insurance, you don't have a job and you can't see me anymore."  By then I didn't have any insurance.  He kept yelling at me, "What are you going to do?"

I sat there and, at first, didn't say anything — I didn't know what I was going to do.  He kept on and finally I said, "Well, I guess I'll just go home and rot."  Now, rot in that sense meant go home and not do anything because he just told me I don't have anything to do.  I don't have therapy.  That's the only thing I've been doing for a year.

The next day some deputies arrived because I had said that I was going to go home and rot.  The therapist deemed that to be suicidal.  They got an order for protective custody and, in front of my friends in the hospital, I was handcuffed and taken away as a criminal.

Now, I don't know if you all know where that is but notorious people have been there like Henry Lucas, the serial murderer.  I've never been in jail for anything.  From there I was taken to Mental Diagnostic Center (MDC) which is what Dallas County uses to evaluate people that are believed to be mentally ill.  This was not a place for someone who has any type of abuse issues.  This shows that the therapist was not concerned with my welfare or he wouldn't have stuck me in that environment.  Most of the people were untreated schizophrenics who did not observe others' boundaries.

I was on a lot of strong and addictive medications, including Xanex, Mellaril, Lithium, two different things for ulcers, Ristorel to help me sleep, and Darvocet to help me when I had headaches after all this therapy.  But when I was taken to MDC, they did not give me my medication for over 10 hours.  I began to have severe withdrawal symptoms.  They threatened me that if I didn't quit crying and get control of myself, I was going to end up getting sent to Terrel, the state hospital.

I was very scared of that place.  My dad's family had spent time in a state institution and my therapist had used Terrill as a threat if I didn't do what he said.  And now he'd gone ahead and placed me in a position where I might actually be sent to Terrill.  I was scared.  That's probably the only time I've ever called and begged anybody but I begged him to get me out of there, I'd do whatever he wanted, just get me out.  But he wouldn't do it.  He said that I needed to be in Terrill for 10 years.

That was in 1987.  I'd still be there and I wouldn't have my son and my husband today.  I'd probably really be a nut case.  I saw a psychiatrist there who looked at my chart and asked me, "Well, what are you doing here?"  I answered, "I don't know."  And he said, "Well, you won't be here long."  This was Friday and I was released on Monday and I never had to go to court.  The psychiatrist did not feel that it was proper that I was there, and didn't know why such an order had been obtained so I was released.

I was released with a couple of black trash sacks that had been mine when I was in the hospital, which had all my belongings from the hospital.  I had no friends because they had told the other group members for their own good not to talk to me or I would harm them.  I don't really remember how I got an apartment that day but somehow I did and I began to try to put my life back together.

I didn't do a real good job of it for a while.  I didn't have my medication.  I called the psychiatrist who had given me all that and he said, "Well, I'm sorry to hear that."  I said well, you've got me on all this.  I need to get off of this or something, because I'm beginning to shake, I couldn't talk hardly, different things such as that.  And he said go to Parkland.

Parkland is the county hospital.  If I went there having seizures from psychiatric drugs, they would send me back to MDC to be evaluated again and therefore send me to Terrill.  So I knew I couldn't go to Parkland.  Finally I said, "No, I won't do that."  And he said, "Well, you will if you get sick enough."

I called Jerry, a therapist I had known before.  He didn't get into all this recovered memories of abuse stuff.  He was a behavioral cognitive therapist.  I told him the awful shape I was in and he was angry because he hadn't seen me in a year and when he had last seen me I was a normal functioning human being.  He knew about the incest with my uncle.  He told me that he had a friend who was a doctor and they'd get me the medication I needed immediately and then work on getting me off of it.

Jerry also encouraged me to believe that I could recover from what had happened.  At that time it felt like I had destroyed my family.  I'd said all these things about them and if they weren't true, then I was really sicko.  I was some kind of sexually perverted person for even thinking these things about my father.  If they were true and I was as mentally ill as the doctor said, then I'm some mentally ill pervert.  Either way, I didn't believe I had a lot of hope.

I didn't have my therapy friends and by that time I had cut off my normal friends.  How am I going to go back to them a year later and say, hi, guys, here I am.  I didn't have my job at EDS which I obtained after I had gotten a four year degree in two years.  I felt like I had just blown my life.

But I've found out that I'm a survivor.  I got the apartment that day and I talked to Jerry who helped me get some medication and who assured me that insurance or not he'd stand by me.  He'd see me and we'd get through this.

I saw him probably three days a week for that first week or two.  I cried about this other therapist and all that went on.  And Jerry would just sit there and listen.  He was angry over what had been done but he didn't get real involved with it but let me express my feelings and worked with me on getting on with my life.

In desperation, I had begged my previous therapist to continue where we had left off about a week or so afterwards.  He said only if I'd agree to go to Terrill and stay for two years and work real hard.  And work means you have to say all the right things, play all the right games and, talk about the details of the abuse.  But I thought I'd told everything so I didn't know really what I was going to do.  I couldn't stand to go to Terrill so I didn't see this therapist again.

Therefore, when you hear that I got out of this, it was by divine intervention, not by my own.  It was not because I said I'm tired of this sick stuff, I want to go home.  For me, what ironically almost took my life is the very thing that gave me my life back.

Finally, after two years, it was time to get off all this medication.  For one thing it was eating me up financially.  Several people had said I was addicted to it and by this time it's almost chic to be an alcoholic addict.  So, I went to a drug rehab program.

At first I didn't like the plan they had for me.  They didn't want to hear much about the abuse and I didn't really understand that.  That was all we had talked about in the other environment.  But they weren't interested.  Instead, they stressed, "What are you going to do about now?  You can't drink today, you can't take pills.  You have to do the normal things you used to do.  So what, you're depressed today.  Everybody has days they feel lousy.  You still must go to work, you must eat, you still must take a bath, you still must comb your hair, you still must do these things."

I'd not had therapy like that before.  In my incest victimization therapy, I'd been taught that I didn't have to do any of that.  If I felt bad, I'd stay home.  I'd stay in bed all day.  I'd read a yucky book.  I'd bawl, I'd take an extra Xanex.  I didn't have to be responsible.  If I'd had kids I wouldn't have to take care of them because I'm an incest victim.  Because all of these awful things happened to me I didn't have to live by the same rules the rest of you all do.

But this place didn't go along with that.  They thought I was just like anybody else.  It was good for me.  I had to relearn how to live.  This was difficult to do since I'd got real used to that sick way of life that I was taught.  I'd become used to whatever you say can be turned into whatever they want.  I'd become used to flashbacks and gory details of sexual abuse, to people saying oh, you're an incest victim.  We feel so sorry for you.  It must have been horrible.

I got better.  It took a while, though.  I'm in a 12-step recovery program today.  I believe that it probably has truly saved my life.  It definitely taught me how to live again.  Just because I'm an alcoholic or just because I'm an incest victim, I don't have any less responsibility than anyone else.  By the time I got to where I was back to the type of emotional health, really emotional health, was probably by mid-1989.  About a year later I began dating the man I'm now married to.  He understands what went on and sometimes gets extremely angry when he hears it what happened to me.

I reconciled with my parents at a family gathering.  I told my sister I'd come and she told me that my parents would also be there.  My dad has never asked me for an apology.  He's never told me that we've got to talk about it.  He's never said, "How could you accuse me of something like that?"  My mom's never said anything to me about it accountable and I'm very grateful for that.  I'm very grateful they didn't say, "Well, after accusing us of something so horrible, how dare you set foot in our place."

I wish that my parents had been more insistent with my therapist that it didn't happen.  I wish that my dad had made a call, wrote a letter or something and proclaimed his innocence.  It might have kept the doctors from saying, see, they did it.  That's why they turned tails and run.  Because that's what the doctors told me.  You know, they did it.  They won't even face you.

It wasn't that.  It's just my parents really didn't know how to handle such accusations and they didn't have anyone that they could go to and talk about them.  Today, I can tell you I have a better relationship with my parents probably than I've ever had.  Also, looking back, this wouldn't have changed any of the therapists' minds.

What allowed me to realize that the "memories" of abuse by my parents were not true was time away from that therapy group.  I do not believe that this could have happened if I had remained in the group.  I did believe the group and the therapists were going too far when they decided that I was a multiple personality disorder, but I wouldn't have been ready to just leave on my own.  I know that I never would have realized those things were false while I was still in the group.

The truth did not come to me immediately after leaving the group.  It happened gradually as I was putting my life back together.  One important factor was that the memories of the incest by my uncle were very different from the ones of my parents uncovered in therapy.  I had real incest with my uncle.  I knew that.  The memories were always there, they never went away although I wasn't thinking about it all of the time.  I never doubted these memories.  But the memories I developed about my father were different.

As I was restored to some health and emotional well-being, I was able to get a sense of what memories were based on actual experiences and which were not.  It became obvious to me after a while that now my dad never did it.  Yes, I felt uncomfortable when he hugged me and I may have felt embarrassed if I walked in the bathroom door on him.  That doesn't mean that he incested me.  The fact that I walked in one time while my parents were making love and I was embarrassed and ashamed and turned around and walked away doesn't mean my dad did that to me.  It meant that I knew you were not supposed to see that.  That's why I felt that way.  It wasn't because I thought my mom was taking my lover like my therapist said.  This type of realization became increasingly clear as time passed.

When I look back at that period of my life it is as if I were this therapist's little child and he said turn right, I'd turn right.  If he said turn left, I'd turn left.  Have a flashback, I'd have a flashback.  That period of my life is confusing.  I remember it, I remember being there, I remember what happened, all that kind of stuff.  But I have a real sense of just numbness and kind of ugliness, kind of like a non-existence.  Just my being there but not being there and I think that's because I wasn't myself.  I didn't make decisions for myself.  I didn't act for myself.

But although I lost four years of my life I'm grateful.  I'm a lot more fortunate than some.  I got a chance to go on with my life.

In Dallas, there's five of us from that same group who have since recanted all of the accusations we made.  You heard about one woman who confronted her mother and was able to retract those remarks before her mother died.  Most have been able to heal their family relationships.  One left because the therapist thought he had healed her but she later told her mother she knew her mother did not do all she said.  One woman's husband took charge and removed her from the therapy program.  After that time she began to get better than she's been in years.  Another woman had been in group for seven or eight years and finally just realized that it was getting sick and crazy.  By this time the group was talking about people hanging on meat hooks in trees and stuff during the cult activities.  She was able to break away for a while and could then see that this was nuts.  But such realizations occur only after getting away.

* Adapted from a talk given to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation meeting on April 25, 1992, Benton Harbor, Michigan.  Lynn Price Gondolf can be contacted through Issues in Child Abuse Accusations.  [Back]

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