By A. Hosack, K. Hecht & P. Berman,
I tried to be a slave to Larry- doing everything he wanted to escape the loneliness. I don’t feel lonely when I am with the Carsons- am I acting like a slave again?
Claire found it very hard to start writing down her memories of Larry. But, after that day in the woods when she finally got started, she had been able to write down one memory a day; her notebook now had ten pages of memories in it. She just wasn’t sure she ever wanted to share these with anyone- even Dr. Berman. It had surprised her but writing about Larry had made her own behavior clearer. She realized that to keep him close, and escape feeling lonely, she had done everything he asked; even when she really didn’t want to, even when he had just beaten her black and blue. Even these beatings had felt better than that deep pit of isolation she felt when he was gone.
Claire had begun to fear she was acting the same way with the Carsons. She had made the type of breakfast they wanted this morning. They had told her when it was time to get ready for her appointment. They had told her they would play in the park with Davy until her appointment was over. Was she being a slave to the Carsons like she had been to Larry?
“Claire, are you ready?” Dr. Berman was looking at her and smiling from her office doorway. Claire had been staring at her notebook. She jumped up when she heard Dr. Berman’s voice and tried to smile as she walked into the office. They were both sitting down now, and Dr. Berman was looking at her with a question on her face.
She is waiting for me. I should be saying something.
Claire was clutching her notebook. She didn’t want to hand it to Dr. Berman. It was too deeply personal. What should she say? She realized she was stressing herself out with negative thoughts. She knew better that to let herself keep doing this. She took three slow big breaths and slowed her mind down. Then she looked at Dr. Berman and said, “writing down my memories with Larry has been hard. (1-minute pause) but… I realized that I had this big open pit of loneliness in me that filled up when I was with him.
“Can you tell me about this pit Claire?”
“My dad always used to beat me in the basement of our house. It was always cold and dim. It didn’t have much of anything in it except hooks for dad’s tools and the belts he liked to use when he (two-minute pause) when he was angry about something. He would lock me in there for hours sometimes, if the beating didn’t seem enough to him. (one-minute pause) I first remembered feeling all alone, when I was down there. The walls were so thick. I couldn’t hear what was happening in the rest of the house or outside. I was just alone and hurting,” Claire looked down at her notebook and put it down on the floor. Then, she kicked it under her chair as if somehow this would put the pain further away from herself.
“And now your dad can’t do that to you anymore. (one-minute pause) You are safe from his physical attacks but?” Dr. Berman whispered.
“I don’t know why but, but I hear my mom’s voice in my head all the time, (one-minute pause) but I don’t hear my dad’s voice. I just sometimes have a daydream or nightmare about his beatings (one-minute pause) but…that feeling of being in a dark place cut off from everyone, I always still feel that if I am alone,” Claire looked at Dr. Berman and said softly, “I am afraid I am clinging to the Carsons, like I did to Larry just to not be alone in that cold dark place.”
“You are comparing how you acted with Larry to how you are acting with the Carsons?” Dr. Berman said softly.
“Yes,” Claire said emphatically, “I did everything Larry said so that he wouldn’t leave me. Now, I am doing everything the Carsons say,” Claire said, wiping tears from her face.
“You don’t want to be a slave anymore (Claire nodded). Why don’t you tell me what you did yesterday and let me know what you did just because someone told you to do it,” Dr. Berman suggested.
Claire began reflecting on what had happened yesterday. It had been a busy day. She had to be at work by 8:00 and set up the dental office for the day. “Well, Davy woke me up at 6:30,” Claire smiled, “he has become the family wake-up service. He wanted his own alarm clock for his birthday. At night, he likes to set up the alarm with me right before he gets into bed. The clock wakes him up and then he bounces around the house waking us all up and saying he is starving for breakfast.”
“Davy wanted to wake you up, so you got him a clock. Did you buy him the clock just because he told you too?”
Claire frowned in thought, “Not exactly. He had been waking up early when he could hear the birds singing outside his window. This was shorting me an hour sleep so I had started showing him my clock and how he could tell if it was really time to wake me up,” Claire said.
“Whose idea was that,” Dr. Berman asked.
“It was my idea,” Claire said dismissively, “when his birthday was coming up, he said since he would be a bigger boy soon could he have his own clock to tell time. I took him to the store just to look at all the clocks; I told him he was getting one birthday present from me so he should be sure that what he wanted was really a clock. The moment he saw this clock shaped like a dog- his mind was made up; it is the silliest thing. The clock was fifteen dollars, but it would fit within my budget. Davy was cute but annoying,” Claire said, “We saw the clock about two weeks before his birthday. Every single morning,” Claire sighed, “I had to take out the calendar and count with him how many days were left before I would go buy his clock,” Claire laughed softly.
“Davy wanted to wake you up, but it wasn’t his idea or the Carsons’ idea to go the store and look at clocks? (Claire shook her head no) Did the Carsons tell you not to buy the clock until his birthday?”
“No,” Claire said, “these were my ideas, but it was the Carsons who taught me how to shop on a budget, carefully checking prices and then deciding when I could afford to buy something, I wanted but didn’t need.”
“You learned about shopping from them. (Claire nodded) But they didn’t tell you what to buy, they showed you how to be a smart shopper. (Claire nodded) At least in figuring out how to get Davy not to wake you up early, looking at clocks and trying to teach him how to be a smart shopper, all these steps were your ideas?”
“Yes, but the Carsons taught me how to do these things,” Claire said.
“Is there a difference between doing what you are told- like you did with Larry and learning how to make decisions from the Carsons?” Dr. Berman asked.
Claire had a very traumatic childhood where she wasn’t taught healthy ways to develop relationships with others, how to recognize and regulate her emotions and many other things- all things she needed to know to not continue living a violent lifestyle. Dr. Peg Steep wrote an article for woman who had not felt loved by their mothers. She provides some guidelines for helping women like Claire, recognize if they have begun to heal and become the people they want to be. To read about these steps go to: