“Why do you say you have no one?” Stare.
“What makes you feel no one understands?” Stare.
“Can you make a box in your mind and fit the stories inside?” Stare.
Blank. I stared. Thoughts echoed inside but I didn’t dare say them out-loud.
The nurse, the psychiatrist, and the group facilitator asked me these questions. The strong anti-depressants weren’t working. My first attempt to swallow two pills ended minutes later with them in a pile of barf on the bathroom floor. The nurse peered over my shoulder, gagging at the site of my puke and handed me a mop and a towel. I cleaned up my own mess.
The psychiatric unit gave me my own room: no clocks, white walls, a chair, no sharp objects, a bed, and sheet. I was cold. And, now my brain fuzzed out from their attempt to medicate the screaming trauma. It had been a hell of a week that landed me here. Visits with my therapist who didn’t understand, telling me my memories, stories and body feelings would pass. I had a pretty bad problem I couldn’t admit to anyone – the memories, body stories and sensations weren’t going away. They were all getting worse. I can’t remember thinking much besides “I want out.” I do remember thinking, “Don’t tell anyone, Danielle. They’ll send you to the hospital. Everyone there is crazy. You’ll lose your kids, Danielle.”
Five years ago (plus a few days) I wandered out of the hospital psychiatric unit on a Sunday. Seahawks were going to play. Thanksgiving was about here. Christmas around the corner. Jesus. (No, I am not swearing. I’m reminding myself of Jesus. The incarnate Jesus.)
I remember buying a 1000 piece puzzle of Noah’s Arc from Costco the next day, spilling the shaded blue pieces on our dining room table, sifting through for the edges. Didn’t the psychiatrist tell me that puzzles would order my thoughts, contain the memories? I think so.
He said, “You can never go back. If you do, you will not recover. You will lose your family, your life.”
I set my Bible next to the puzzle, wondering if there was an arc that would hold me and my family from the impending flood. Days later, after my therapist handed me a yellow sticky note with 4 names of potential next therapists, I just stared. She’d made the call to get me into the hospital, and days before Thanksgiving, sat me down and told me to look for a new therapist. I really needed help, and I would be best served elsewhere.
The sticky note translated, “Jesus was never real. His love never existed. There was never any hope.”
She offered me a hug, shuffled me out of the door to the world post psychiatric hospital and therapist-less. I drove straight to the bar, drank a beer, and sorted through my contacts, finding no one to tell my horrible truth. No one would or could help me. Shame lapped at my feet. Where is the arc? Didn’t Jesus come to save me? I prayed.
He asked, “Why do you say you have no one?”
She asked, “What makes you feel no one understands?”
They asked, “Can you make a box in your mind and fit the stories inside?”
That woman’s face, five years ago, the shame – she was sandwiched between isolation and unmet desire for healing. Her shame hollowed out pain, the kind anti-depressants don’t understand – her isolation, the kind alcohol can’t touch – her stories, the kind no box is built for.
Last week I heard my counseling professor talk about the incarnation of Jesus in the stories of our lives – and, I’ve asked myself since, “Can I be incarnate with that woman? If Jesus becomes flesh, can I be flesh with her?” I hear God whisper to me as he is in the habit of doing, “You see, look closely, see my Son, in the flesh, incarnate with the woman in the bar, alone, despairing. Jesus is next to her, despairing, lonely, with her.”
I believe the whispers now, having tested their message against my faith, community, and experience. I trust he speaks to me.
Jesus answers the man, “She has no one. She is lonely for good reason.”
Jesus answers the woman, “Others don’t understand. Not yet. She doesn’t trust anyone, either. Why should she?”
Jesus tells them both, “I didn’t create her to fit her stories in boxes, to make her crazy, or punish her by silencing truth.”
Hope does that. It is meat, bones – the flesh of our lives. Jesus’ birth, the incarnate Savior is an act of defiance – not defiance of feelings or denial of truth – but defying the human realities as having the ultimate word over my life, future and family.
Jesus meets shame, in an upside down view of life that doesn’t require me to live in fantasy.
Jesus stands at the bar, too. The world’s weariness juxtaposed against the thrill of hope.
The incarnation opens doors to imagine healing, redemption, the resurrection of my wounds now and the resurrection to come.
I pray for Jesus to be near enough that I can feel his breathing – hoping he can see this woman, five years later, with a fierce grip on hope. Come Lord Jesus, Come. Breath near me.
Mary prophesied and sang:
“For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.”
Mother of four and wife of one awesome Mexican, Danielle Castillejo is a 2nd year student at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, studying to get her MA in Counseling and Psychology. She works and volunteers part time in an organization in Seattle that advocates for the agency and freedom of commercial sex workers. A survivor of abuse herself she continues to fight for sanity and love every day.
Danielle, this writing is filled with heart stopping glory. Thank you for your raw honesty. May His voice be breath close, indeed. Christine
Thank you for your words, for seeing.
Lean in, Danielle. His breath is as close as the side of your face. When you feel it pass your face, you will smell His fragrance. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I look forward to reading your post in five years.
Hi, Bess. Thank you. I often lean in when I’m feeling good and bad. I hadn’t thought of what I’ll be writing in five years…
Danielle, among many other things, your article brought me a deep sense of relief that I
am not alone in my despair with “professional” counselors. Five years ago I was given the “go to rehab or die” treatment by loving relatives, so I entered a program highly recommended by my Christian counselor. When I later read through my rehab record, I was stunned to learn that my “spiritual advisor” believed my faith in Jesus was a deluded myth, not unlike your sticky note, “Jesus was never real. His love never existed. There was never any hope.” I’ve no doubt her remarks placed the essence of my being into a compartmentalized box over which they thought they (not God) had control.
Please continue to speak up as boldly and honestly as you’ve done here. Many blessings to you –
Thank you for this. I needed it this morning in my battle with shame and the avalanche of trauma that was unleashed in just a few seconds. It was a balm to my heart to feel less “other” in such a low moment.
Danielle, how therapists, psychiatrists, and nurses alike treated you makes me so angry. It is incredibly beautiful to me that you hung on–were true to yourself, that you didn’t box your memories up, and found your way to the Seattle School where memories are honored well. I admire that perseverance, and hurt for why you have learned to persevere so well. You are a survivor, in the truest sense of the word.
Most of all, thank you for your vulnerability. I too, am alone with my story. People so often don’t really want to know. It was balm to my heart to read of another brave soul pushing on towards healing.