Closing the Chapter
“If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will give you a new hello.”
Since the end of 2017 is fast approaching and writing has not really been a priority because basic mental and physical survival grabbed that #1 spot this year. Our little family complete with two little boys that are a beautifully and hysterical mixture of zombie fighter, American Ninja Warrior, chicken nuggets, boogers, poop, sweat, nerf guns, goat head stickers and a nice dose of generalized “Little boy GROSS” seem to be the perfect description for our two little Albuquerque charges. And it’s because of these two little boys and the love that Mel and I still have for each other that our family is currently closing the chapter here.
Mel and I, for several years now have been looking for a way or a reason to leave Albuquerque. There are several reasons but mainly because you just seem to know when it’s time to move on. In June 2009 shortly after completing graduate school at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS we set out fleeing our conservative homeland with the goal of one day being parents. We had no jobs and really no direction but we wanted to leave and leave we did. But not without big dreams for life in the southwest. I had one personal dream of working as a drug/alcohol therapist with the Native American population which would come to fruition. We didn’t know what life had to offer but we were ready to face anything or so we thought. And for the next 8 years our life would be about a lot of struggle.
Life was about to teach us some incredibly difficult and painful lessons about facing adversity, our expectations of the word “friendship,” the devastating lasting effects of abuse, the painful sting of death of friends, family and yes both Copeland and Marshall’s twins, a representation of the sad shape of the country’s mental health system, the awareness of how uneducated the legal system is about mental illness, the understanding of how damaging bad therapy can be and the eventual realization that there are still some damn good therapists out there who are truly doing what they love are passionate about for the right reasons. And the true meaning of the words “SACRIFICE” and “LOVE.”
We both landed jobs with a temp agency within the billion dollar company Fidelity Investments. Mel would eventually be offered a job as a Fidelity employee which would include fertility benefits that would make our dreams of being parents possible. With both of us being adopted, neither of us wanted to adopt but I had no desire to carry. Mel would be “chomping at the bits” to step into that role. Having finally divorced a very mentally and sexually abusive 14 year relationship I seemed to just be “unsettled” but tried not to pay it too much attention. So, I jumped into a doctoral program to help fulfill whatever need it was that I was looking to fill.
I would fall absolutely head over heels working with the homeless. Coming from small town where the drug problem and crime is more of a nuisance rather than a way of life, we were about to be in for a big shock. Watching the FOX reality show COPS could easily be achieved by sitting on our front porch and just watching the action. With a large transient population and our first residence being directly off historic Route 66 in downtown Albuquerque being touched by the crime was inevitable. I would soon realize, however, that the costs of addiction in every facet I would encounter was at a ground zero status. This level of addiction would simultaneously be challenging and heartbreaking. The homeless population I would work with included members of the 200+ gangs in the city, skin heads, murders, rapists, drug dealers and anyone seeking free county funded medical detox. I would develop a deep down love for working with these men and women who had their own individual needs but underneath their natural edginess and attitude there was a beating heart in their chest. Very quickly a mutual respect was developed and we looked forward to seeing each other daily.
Soon my ever increasing mental health troubles couldn’t be discounted as stress. It would eventually become such a big problem that it would turn into a search for answers which continues today. A few years later all of the strange and at times increasingly debilitating symptoms and a myriad of diagnoses several professionals would concur on the diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder. I could accept just about any diagnosis but this one. I just didn’t see how it was possible. Mel and I both looked at each other like I had just given birth to a baby giraffe. I can safely say that we were both in denial about this one.
I thought if I just tried really hard that there was no need for this stigmatizing label. What I learned a few years later is that no matter how much I attempt to be a normal person with normal problems, I just wasn’t. I can’t even begin to convey to you the long term effects that abuse has had on my being able to function as an adult. As with most things humor can be found if you look hard enough. But some of the effects on both the individual and the family can be devastating.
My active working career with my brand new degree would be short lived. This disorder has left me unable to work since our oldest son, Marshall, was born 6 years ago. Nevertheless both of our little preemie boys and their love for us as their parents can make it possible to “white knuckle” situations longer than you ever imagine. Many hospital visits, treatment programs and literally blood, sweat and tears later I went to an inpatient trauma program in Denton, TX desperate for help and terrified. Mel and I began realizing that there are many professionals in that area that actually specialize in treating this disorder. Complicating this new found information was my intense fear of professionals or anyone in position of authority. I would meet one at the inpatient program that apparently has the patience of Job and could see right past my spewing venomous rage directly into the pain and hurt.
The loss of our beloved Sarah Pardue in 2015 to cancer has truly left me feeling completely alone and floundering with no direction. She was my YODA and a voice of reason that I would actually listen to. Her loss brought me to my knees and feeling like someone had figuratively broken my back. Every since I’ve been in a downward spiral that leaves both me and Mel in awe that I’m here to write about it.
The challenge then became how do we get me access to these services from Albuquerque where we seemed to be forever bound. About 6 months later our answers would be revealed. One thing kept gnawing at me….Why did those people at that treatment center care? I was so loud and flamboyant about who wasn’t going to make me do shit. I was on a locked until which is a huge trigger for me since part of my trauma is from being or feeling trapped. So, I’m usually just a pain in the ass for that type of staff. They didn’t tuck tail and run which made me do a double take.
So for the next couple of months it would be having Mel drive me and the kids to Dallas for a session and then turning around and making the 10 hour trip back to Albuquerque. The compassion and expertise we finally found was something that we would come to realize that would be a necessity for my ultimate survival. That would mean leaving our trusted therapist of 8 years here, in Albuquerque, who had been the only evidence of consistency we would experience here. Another inpatient stay in Denton, TX with completely different circumstances and the results were disastrous. I could do nothing but cry.
My soul and heart ached and longed for the wise words of Sarah. “What the hell do I do now?!!!” I kept saying. I couldn’t imagine what she would say because it was in this moment that I needed to hear her talk and that wasn’t an option. At some point among the tears I remember very clearly Sarah saying, “Dana there will be times when you have no idea what to do next in life and I won’t be around.” Panicked I would ask, “Well mom what the hell do I do then?!!!” She looked at me and said with that comforting smile….”The next right thing whatever that is.” I would always ask her, “Well, what the hell is that going to be?” and she would say “to let life show you what to do next.” I had no idea how profound that conversation we would have at different times would be for me.
It would soon be suggested that I look into a new and upcoming treatment facility called Healing Springs Ranch in Tioga, TX. I have to laugh because even now I think what the hell is in Tioga, TX? Once you see how really small of a town they are tipping the scales at 886 for a population. And I’m pretty sure that more than once I communicated with some of the local residents by saying, “MOOOOOOOO!!!!” But deep in the heart of a big ass pasture there is a magical place that has healing vibes complete with fishing, kayaking, paddle boats, golf, swimming and other activities while surrounded by wildlife that doesn’t seem to fear humans in any capacity. I mean those little animals don’t even fear Chef Corey who can make a mean dish out of damn near anything. More than once I felt guilty for eating those plates that were like portraits.
Having been in the nation’s mental health system for the majority of my adult life treatment centers don’t typically exude compassion with many staff much less those in charge. Healing Springs Ranch is no ordinary place. From the minute you darken the doors compassion and passion seems to ooze out of every pore that makes up that place. Hey, you know for me the term “Open Campus” vs. “Locked Unit” took me very little time to make the decision to go directly back to treatment. They also said that individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder were also treated there. Boundaries were made very clear and I began to thrive. I hungered and longed for boundaries but wanted the freedom from being a typical psychiatric patient. It proved to me very quickly that compassion, boundaries and freedom from being “trapped” can do a lot for someone who struggles living life through trauma colored lenses. Sometimes all you need to treat a sudden case of anxiety is a beautiful walk and a smart-ass comment from Charlie the Squirrel. Or the sight of that one special therapist coming to work that stops her car on the path that goes by the cows just to say, “Good Morning cows! Today I will not eat hamburger.”
And now that she’s gone life showed us answers just like she said. And now under the heading of SACRIFICE and LOVE, Mel and I have decided that the best thing for our family, after years of looking for a sign of hope, that I will move to Texas to do this work individually. They will move back to Mississippi for the support that they need while I make this part of the journey with someone who will be one of the most powerful coaches of my life surrounded by a chosen family of trauma survivors. As we close the chapter on Albuquerque and 2017, with tears in my eyes I’m cautiously optimistic and yet terrified in the same breath. Life is very scary for this adult teenager. I’m heading back east knowing confidently one thing…..that I’ve always been coachable. That I’m doing the next right thing and I’m positive that Sarah would give her stamp of approval on this decision. My statement in life is this….”There’s no way that I can fail now.”