During my time at Phoenix House, I had a psychologist that I had session with once a week. Her name was Anna. She carried herself in a way that I admired. She was in her 50s, always had a smile on her face, but not in a way that seemed disingenuous, had a warm presence and a calm, soothing voice, but a raucous laugh that made me laugh just hearing it. The hour or so that I spent with her every week felt like such a reprieve from the misery of my day-to-day life in the program. She was not like the rest of the staff. She never yelled, belittled or called me or any of the other teen girls names; never loudly accused us in front of the entire group of trying to seduce and corrupt the boys because our chair was, in their view, a little too close to theirs during group or in the classroom or if your shirt came up a little in the back while you were covered in dirt digging posts for new fencing. Anna taught me how to drive a stick shift because my mother had given me a 1979 diesel VW rabbit when I reached the phase of the program when I was 18 and allowed to start working a part time job outside and down the mountain. I had never driven a five- speed before. When she could get staff permission, Anna would take me out into the hundreds of acres surrounding the facility and she never even snapped at me or betrayed any type of annoyance that over and over, I kept stalling and sometimes flooding this car. She would take me by the country store for a Peach Snapple before taking me back to the facility.
I trusted Anna, more than I had trusted anyone my whole life at this point and she never pressed too hard for my deepest, darkest secrets, but she did guide conversations in a way that inspired me to disclose them. I shared with Anna something I had never told anyone, ever, which was that stepdad #2, who my mother was married to from the time I was 5 until I was 14, and who had brutally physically and emotionally abused me my entire childhood, had also sexually abused me on a couple of occasions that I could remember. She knew that for more than one reason, I did not want to tell my mother, ever, even though they had been divorced for a couple of years at this point. I also didn’t want to share this deeply personal information with my peers in the program.

The first betrayal of this trust was during what they call in these programs a “marathon”, which is almost like a regressive therapy which is meant to deep dive into your past and hit at those deep, dark issues that you’ve confided in peer or staff, including, apparently, your psychiatrist. This took place maybe twice a year, if that, and past participants are sworn to secrecy…and it’s well-kept. There are usually only a fraction of the residents in any given marathon session. I’m guessing we had maybe 15 out of 42+ of our population, most in a similar stage in our stay there. We walked into the school house after being blindfolded on the way there and led by staff and prior residents who were still in the “live-out” stage who came back up the mountain to assist with the process. The windows in the school were covered so you couldn’t tell what time of day it was or how long you were there. We had one of the guilt sessions I previously described and a giant encounter group which felt like lasted all night. At some point in my stay, they staged a “fun poll” about songs that really have meaning to you and why. I had shared the song that reminded me of my stepdad, one that reminded me of my relationship with my mother, and one that reminded of my high school boyfriend before I got into drugs who killed himself. They started to play the first song and led me to the floor while everyone watched, onto a mat, on my back, with the blindfold back on and staff and “live-outs” started yelling at me, putting hands on me, holding me down because I wanted OUT impersonating my stepdad based on things I had shared with Anna and when they started to talk about the sexual abuse, I’ll never forget the feeling of horror that it was the one thing that I shared that was so deeply private that it took many months for us to get to. They perceived my break down crying as some type of “breakthrough”, but all I felt was further violated. They then yelled about my mother and my ex-boyfriend as I laid on the floor, but by then, all I could think about was how there was literally no safe place in the world.

The second betrayal of trust was when, in one of the occasional “family” sessions, my mother was waiting for me in Anna’s office, as was common, and as Anna explained to me that she had been filling my mother in about the sexual abuse that I reported to her and that I needed to talk to my mother about it. The only thing I could do was beg my mother not to tell anyone else, not her friends…and not my stepdad. I was finally free of him and I didn’t care if I never saw him again, I just wanted to heal. She agreed to this. But again, I felt that familiar horror that there was nothing sacred and no safe place.
After I completed my stay IN the facility and was in the one-year “live-out” phase of living independently. But still reporting to them weekly, etc, my stepdad, whom I hadn’t heard from in a few years at this point, invited me to dinner for my 19th birthday in 1994 and I reluctantly agreed. I didn’t know back then that “no” is a complete sentence and that I had permission to decline an invitation. So I met him at Anthony’s Fish Grotto near the San Diego Bay and we exchanged stiff pleasantries, sat, and I just looked at the hushpuppies sitting on the table, meant, I’m sure to accompany pre-dinner conversation. We order our food and after it arrives, Scott gets serious and I can’t look away from his focused-as-possible, beer- buzzed stare and says “Listen, your mom told me what you told her about something you think I did to you. I know that sometimes these doctors can put ideas in your head about this type of thing, but you and I both know that it didn’t happen.” All I could do was slowly and slightly nod in acknowledgement that he was speaking, but I couldn’t even respond to what he was saying except muttering “riiight” while continuing to hold his gaze. I didn’t eat another bite and at the first opportunity I thanked him for dinner and I left. I cried in my car before driving away from him forever.

When I asked my mother why she told him about this after she promised she wouldn’t, her response was “He’s still trying to fuck me over on the house”, which they agreed when they divorced he would continue to live in long enough to fix it up and sell it, splitting the proceeds. He still lives there to this day.

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