“Sarah’s Adventure In The Magical Land Of Rehab” – A Personal Account Of Seeking Proper Treatment After The Damage Of Mercy
This post is from Sarah’s Collage – A blog written by a former Mercy Ministries resident
“Sarah’s adventure in the magical land of rehab”
I am feeling stable, excited and a tad trepedatious after spending four weeks in what is apparently Australia’s leading treatment centre – a self-proclamation which appeared to be supported by those I met who had “been around” in the rehab sense.
Naturally, I had some fears about what this place would potentially have in common with the last facility I was in, being Mercy Ministries. Obviously, there would be limited contact with the outside world, and staff supervision when allowed off the hospital grounds. Even though I can understand why such rules would exist, I was fearful in anticipation of the nostalgia it could potentially create for me. I have seen the very same rules used to control and isolate vulnerable people.
Some of the major differences put me at ease. For example, this place really did have in-house staff that were fully qualified to run a treatment facility. Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Therapists, Counsellors, Registered Nurses and a General Practitioner. Groovy stuff!
Another fear I had was that there would be no real or fair way for a client’s complaint to be heard and acted upon by staff without fear of punishment or discharge from the facility, which is why I interrogated the intake lady over the phone before proceeding with my admission.
Upon arrival, I was handed a folder which contained the facility Hand Book. This document detailed all options available to me in relation to reporting grievances, and noted details of Independent Visitors who inspected the facility on a monthly basis – one of whom I met within the first few days of my stay.
Within my first few hours of admission, I was asked by perhaps three or four people what issues brought me there, and by one bloke what medication I was on. (Is this a hospital culture thing?) Soon enough, I discovered in my first community meeting (held daily) that I was required to name my “claim(s)” between my name and my feelings. Like a title if you will. (Perhaps this was the 12 step influence?) I got use to it pretty quickly and kept it evasive and boring. “Mood disorders, trauma and self harm”.
This concept was certainly a polar opposite of Mercy culture. Here, I was encouraged to reach out and get support from the community as well as the staff. Sometimes, this would involve me sharing my problems with them. Or aspects of my story. In group therapy, it got pretty raw. I was required to do a “trauma egg”… in short, a somewhat chronological history of traumas I had experienced in my life – things I have rarely (if at all) disclosed to my closest long time friends.
At Mercy, we were not to discuss with each other why we were there, what our issues were or other details of our past. Not even in the context of group therapy, which proved very difficult. If we were found to have disclosed such information to other residents, we risked punishment and possibly being put on probation. And for a year after graduating, I was required to sign a Contract which required me, among other things, not to tell my story for at least the next 12 months.
So at first, this aspect of the culture is something i found quite confronting. I am not use to going from zero to 100 on the intimacy scale with someone who hasn’t even asked me for my name. I guess what is considered “normal boundaries” is a different thing in the context of a therapeutic environment.
So I think I learned positive things from both of those polar opposites. At Mercy, I learned how to contain and not be predominantly identified by my issues with every man and his dog. At this place, I learned to not be ashamed of my past and my “stuff”, and to allow others to get to know that dimension of me.
This whole concept challenged my whole “I’m just a private person” defence. It forced me to realise that for better or worse, my past is part of who I am. When I go out of my way to withhold it from people I love and want to be closer to, I am keeping them at arms length. I am keeping them from knowing a profound dimension of who I am. It signifies what I have overcome, why I have certain passions and empathies, and for better or worse, what has played a huge part in shaping who I am now.
So between the two extremes, an application in the real world is to let my friends in by sharing that part of me in perspective of the rest of who I am. This means that I will have a bit of catching up to do!
Sharing levels in community meetings was also another way to “be known” to others.
To fill you in….
Person A: “When you [name observation of behaviour], I believed about myself that [insert belief] and I felt [insert feeling]”
Person B: “I hear you”.
The idea of it is to encourage a clean form of communication which is free of judgments/blaming/accusation, and rightful ownership of one’s own thoughts and feelings.
On top of the daily community meetings, a staff and community meeting was held once per week. This allowed an opportunity for clients and staff to share levels with each other.
This was also another polar opposite of my Mercy experience, as this kind of insolence would have had a girl branded something ghastly, hauled into the program office for a good “spanking” and disciplined with a written report on submission to authority.
What I found very interesting is that when I shared levels, it seemed to have a direct correlation to my level of self esteem. Regardless of how the other person responded to it, even if it meant social suicide, the fact that I spoke up to share my feelings around behaviours or events was a big victory for me. It was an honouring and acceptance of who I am. So I felt my level of self esteem rise, and in a real way that was independent of the regard others may have thought or felt towards me for being emotionally honest. It empowered me to break away from the unhealthy dynamic that depended on others to determine my self worth.
And right about now, my husband would say, “Dignity comes from the latin word dignus which means worth”.
I realised that another way I hold people at arms length is by not being honest about their impact on me, or avoiding doing or saying what I think will impact on them based on assumption. This has been a huge source of social anxiety for me, particularly post-Mercy. I realised some time ago that I had a deep belief that I am just the scummiest friend in the world. If I perceived that I was anything less than perfect in their eyes, due to real or imagined evidence, then I couldn’t see why they would want anything further to do with me now that I was obviously on their blacklist never to be fully redeemed. It seems I can relate to the Borderline black-and-white mentality, but in reverse.
I have also found this same issue has also arisen in the context of my work environments. If I don’t keep communication open about my needs or struggles, or inform colleagues about the impact of their decisions on me, then I am not putting value on myself. If I am not valuing myself enough to share with them their impact on me, then I feel my self esteem shrink and become more dependent on other people.
No doubt I will continue to face the same challenges in my relationships, and I know that those challenges are not unique to me. I really want to embrace this new tool I have learned because I know it will build me up from within and empower me to have a self-esteem that is independent of others, and in turn will contribute to helping me becoming a more functional adult.
There is something that was said a lot in this place, it was somewhat of a mantra:
“TRUST THE PROCESS”
This one pricked up my Mercy antennas big time.
I think I understand the gist of it. Keep an open mind, give it a go, you don’t have to understand how it’s going to work for it to work.
But when I hear that statement, I can’t help but hear the potential for it to be used abusively. Trust what? Trust people? Have blind trust? Totally abandon my God-given ability to reason? What does this process encompass? Trust it even if I think it’s wrong?
Pretty early on in my stay, things took a very unsettling turn. I witnessed an event that was like a scene right out of the Mercy program office.
As the event involves another person, I do not feel I am at liberty to disclose the details of what happened to them. But I will say is that what I observed triggered my memories of witnessing and experiencing verbal/emotional/psychologically abuse by program staff members.
I worked up the courage to approach the appropriate staff member, only to be dismissed. This was very hard to take, and it triggered the feelings of invalidation, confusion and disempowerment that I experienced at Mercy.
This happened another two times, and by then I was re-experiencing the feelings associated with most traumatic memories at Mercy.
I had tried confiding in a couple of night therapists, but I guess they were trying to take the impartial stance with “well I wasn’t there so I can’t agree or disagree with you, therefore why don’t you try talking to so-and-so about it again?”
Having had some healing from my Mercy experience and having found my voice again, I simply could not let this go. I believed that if I did, then I was still a victim of them and that this same situation could too easily replicate itself in my life. I felt like part of me would die if I surrendered to “trust the process” in this context.
After the third dismissal, I cried in my room that night and a Nurse came in to give me some support. I told her about the situation and I felt really encouraged by what she said to me. It got a bit strange when she went into a spiritual mode on me and told me I didn’t know God, but I would much rather that than what I had experienced so far.
I also got some support from a couple of members of the community which was of real value to me. It was so good to get this out of my head and to not feel so alone.
So I finally worked up the courage to give this another go. This time, I made it a formal written complaint. By then, I had another week and a half to go, and I still have not heard back about it. But being the cynical person I have become, I had the foresight to make a copy of my written complaint which I put in the Independent Visitors letterbox just before I left to ensure that it is followed up appropriately.
Although I was less than impressed with the way this issue was handled by staff, it certainly made a difference that I was not at risk of punishment for opening up to a couple of the inmates, and also that upon admission I was given the avenues and contacts for grievances, which I was able to refer to when this matter arose.
Another “Mercy antennas” situation occurred maybe three times that I remember. It was the “this is the only way, the rest is rubbish” attitude. Between the lines, this says “this method is perfect, so if you don’t get fixed then you are defective” or “only the methods we use or promote will help you”.
On those occasions, I heard certain methods promoted as superior above other methods which were deemed inferior. Inferior methods such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which has been extremely effective for me, or taking certain types of medication which have saved my life.
I don’t believe that anyone is qualified to claim that they have the one perfect answer to all of life’s problems except for God himself. So I tried to maintain an attitude of “this place is not God, but there is still a lot I can still take from what they are saying”.
Overall, I found the models they used to be very sound, and recall having seen them in other therapeutic environments.
The models they referred to were the Pia Mellody models of the Wounded Child, Adapted Adult Child and Functional Adult, the various roles that family members take on in families as well as where there is an addict or codependent dynamic in the family. They also referred a lot to the 12 steps, and subsequently to the role of spirituality in recovery. (I will write another piece on this aspect in the near future).
The treatment and psycho education incorporated DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy), acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness, 12 step meetings and 12 step literature, some Gestalt methods, and sharing levels (ie, learning to express and hear emotional honesty). All formal therapy was done in the context of group therapy, but therapists were also rostered on after hours to offer professional support as such need arose.
As about 99% of my therapy has been one-on-one in the past, I found that there was a different dynamic in group therapy. With others present, there was a mutual trust as people became more emotionally honest. When I shared in that context, I felt more support, more validation, more vulnerability and more able to connect with the emotional impact of certain life events that I would normally spin off in a clinically manner for a Psychiatrist.
During my third week of treatment, I did a Gestalt exercise which at first I was a little skeptical about. It was called a shame reduction process using “chair work” as they call it. I had to pretend a certain person was in the chair opposite me, and I had to confront them about things they did to me. I was surprised to have had a very emotional and profound experience during that exercise which has caused a shift within me, and that change is still tangible to me. (I will share more about this in another article some time soon).
Family week was also another aspect of treatment. I was skeptical and afraid of the idea at first, but as I heard previously skeptical people rave about how well it went for them and how amazed they were, I eventually worked up the courage to give it a go.
I did it with my dad. We had to share levels with each other about the impact we had had on each other. It didn’t go down so well at the beginning of the week and I found it extremely hard, but by the end of the week, my dad had learned at least a couple of things and was more open to what it was all about.
So although it didn’t go perfectly, I know that we have a better platform for communication now. I really do feel like something has changed for the better. The dynamics of our relationship are better, and any improvement in our relationship is priceless to me.
In terms of my overall progress…
I didn’t know what in particular to expect from this time. I didn’t have a particular “after picture” in mind, but I just knew that what I would get out of this time would be significant. I thought that if I expected what I wanted, well that would be different from what I needed. What I wanted was emotional invincibility. I wanted to feel less pain, less sensitive, less like an emotional rollercoaster. What I gained was acceptance and commitment. I learned to sit with my feelings, the feelings in my body and the emotions, and not analyse or pass judgment or get caught up in the story around them. Just to accept that yes, okay, I am having a feeling. It’s not stupid, it’s not not stupid, it’s just there and I’m choosing to be present with it. So as I learned to be present in my body and my emotions, they haven’t disappeared, but somehow I am starting to find my emotional affliction somewhat bearable. I am learning to accept who I am in that space.Another achievement is that I was able to cut down my medication by a third of my dosage with the supervision and guidance of staff. Although I’m still mentally ill, I am coping and am gaining some level of stability from the mindfulness tools which I have been putting into practice every day.
This is also a step towards a bigger goal I have, which is being able to eventually come off medication for a time so that I may begin considering starting a family. Unfortunately, my medication is not “foetus friendly”. So making a step in this direction is something I am very excited about, because for a time, I had doubts that I would be able to come off my medication at all.
As I have embraced the levelling process, I have grown in confidence and have been able to be more emotionally honest in my relationships. I had a fear that I would chicken out and get up to my old avoidant tricks again, but so far so good. It also feels a bit easier than I anticipated because of the practice I had at this place.
My experiences there were rarely pleasant, but it was effective and worth all of the very real sacrifices I made to be there.