Category Archives: Part 2 Untethered, Uncharted, Unchurched

Part 2 Untethered, Uncharted, Unchurched

Army P Sound

I find a beautiful old house between Fort Lewis and Seattle that has been converted into apartments. There is a panoramic view of the Puget Sound. I’m in one of two second story, two-room units with a large kitchen and French doors leading to a small deck.

Not by any conscious decision on my part, my heavy drinking and sexual promiscuity begin to wane. New people fill my life, and I have oodles of fun. I date officers, defying military regulations.

External appearances would indicate that all is hunky-dory, right? I review my late-life, iffy developmental chart, and discover that it’s still blurry. Forcing myself to concentrate and focus, I see that it’s all screwed up. I’ve gone from Pocatello student-status, to alien Army status. Now I’m in Fort Lewis masquerading as a professional adult when the painful truth is I’m hovering between late teen and mature adult. My outward actions may portray a grown-up, but my gut telegraphs otherwise. Frequently, I’m still the restless adolescent wondering: Who am I?

Mother’s voice, What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you be like everyone else? Who would that be, I ponder?  This nebulous identity stymies me, threatens to pull me back down the rabbit hole, so I decide to drag out my familiar rose-tinted glasses, scrub the lens’ and march forward. This pleases Big D: Those glasses fit her to a ‘T.’

Each summer when my daughters come to visit, I am reminded I’m still a mother—but what kind?  By now, my daughters are ages fifteen, eleven and nine. My interest in their lives, and my parenting, is put under a different microscope.  However, the consequences of my leaving and my self-imposed flagellation have rendered punishing effects on all of us.

I don’t let Denial dominate my life like it did, but it still has a strong presence and comes around regularly, serving as a veil—sometimes a pink veil when I’m wearing the rosy glasses. We’re doing just fine, thank you very much. I march on. I make plans.

Portland State has accepted me into their MSW program and in the summer of 1977, I move to Portland.

The excitement about moving to Portland is overshadowed by leaving Bill, the officer I fell in love with, behind.  My out-of-sync developmental chart continues to misfire. I am significantly younger than Bill in age and relationships, but the Big D fans the spark of “true love” into a full-blown, heart-shaped fire. I pined for months, pretending Bill would jump on his white horse and gallop all the way to Portland. He didn’t. I took this breakup like most teens—I moped, I drank, I boo-hooed.  One day after a particularly long wailing jag, I went into the bathroom to splash my face with cold water and caught sight of my mug in the mirror. Big droopy, puppy eyes stared back at me. I recoiled, knocked Big D off my shoulder and announced: Okay, that’s it.

Time to move on.

Stay tuned for next episode: Moving on – Back in school




I’m pretty sure I’m in need of a new recipe. Denial acted like Novocain, numbing me. Similarly, someone suffering the death of a loved one goes into a grieving phase. Some think the first year is the worst, trying to put the pieces of a shattered life back together. This is not always the case. The second year tends to be even worse than the first because the person has come out of shock and now discovers the need to face the real world without the loved one. The first year can provide a buffer, but eventually the person must still face the fact that there is no bringing the loved one back.

I start my climb away from Denial as I slowly, carefully work at fitting the pieces of my life back together. This part of my journey spans fourteen years. As I do the meshing, I often find myself humming the tune to Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park,” then I mouth the words:

Spring was never waiting for us girl/It ran one step ahead …

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark/All the sweet, green icing flowing down

Someone left the cake out in the rain/And I don’t think that I can take it

‘cause it took so long to bake it/And I’ll never have that recipe again

Oh, no!

I know the song was inspired by the end of a love affair. For me the lyrics come to mind as one part of my life ends and I’m left standing in the rain, melting in the dark. I don’t think I can take it and fear I may never be able to bake a new me without that recipe.

Oh, no!

Fierce Grace, indeed. I had been cut loose from a cocoon of my own making, but rudderless when it came to steering the craft for my uncharted journey. The resources so necessary for my metamorphosis came slowly. . .   On cue.  As needed. The time for a new recipe draws near.

What I now know as truth:

  • When we lose our map, our real knowledge of the path begins.       –Mark Depo, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, 2012

Stay tuned. Next episode: U. S. Army

Loosened from my family, severed from the life I had known for over thirty years, I feel liberated and lost at the same time. The freedom is exhilarating, but I am completely rudderless. Denial set in. I ask myself, how does one start over to relearn a life?

How to begin?

Having no developmental chart, I skip the crawling and toddler stages and wobble upright, perhaps a wee bit off-center, but standing.

As the clinician I am today, I know there is a purpose served for the crutch I use, the defense mechanism called Denial (with a Big D). Defense mechanisms such as denial are needed to help traumatized people cope as they move toward healing. But, as a neophyte on an uncharted journey, I blindly grab hold of any lifeline that might help me survive the tsunami of The Leaving Event. Oblivious to much of what is happening to me, I blunder through the early stages of my “new” life.

With the aid of my assistant, Denial, I detach, yank the plug from the socket of my family life. Perhaps I should have gone through the crawling stage, but without a chart …

Many therapists and countless teachers can talk knowledgably about denial. I’ve become an expert in both theory and practice. Since I have made it an avocation for years, I’ll describe how it worked for me. I often liken it to pretending—the kind of pretend when my cousin Hope and I played dress-up. Childhood pretending is normal and healthy. Denial, if adopted long-term, is not.

As an adult, now in my mid-thirties, I took it one step further and on many occasions pretended that my life was moving on just fine when it wasn’t. The clinical diagnosis in adulthood is pathological denial: a persistent refusal to see things as they are—a blocking out of reality. This is done out of desperation, as a way to cling to what remains of a fragile life. I think of burn patients whose doctors put them into an induced coma until they heal, the pain being so great they could not otherwise survive. Denial served as my coma.

What I now know is:

  • The Universe did its best to watch over the girls and me as I put one unsteady foot in front of the other.

Stay tuned. Next episode: A New Recipe

My final decision to leave my husband and children would tumble me down into a vast unknown—deep into a rabbit hole that rivaled Alice’s, thus untethered.

To this day, The Leaving Event is both real and surreal. Yes, it happened, I left my children. The surreal side is that I cannot comprehend how a mother could leave her children—how could I have done such a thing?

Now that I’m finally gaining insight into the answers to some of those questions, I’m learning to stop punishing myself for believing for so long I was a bad person.

One question I never asked myself, but probably should have, is what the other side of leaving might have looked like. At some level, I knew what I was leaving behind: the worst, and the best, aspects of our marriage and our children; but I didn’t have a clue about what awaited. I never considered that I’d be left without any afterward plan. As it turned out, I escaped the confines of an unhappy marriage and ended up, for a very long time, in bondage to guilt.

With or without a plan, though, the punishing consequences that followed could not be evaded. I now realize there is no preparation for such an event—no “how-to” book in the library or a bookstore that tells you how to leave your husband and young children.

What exists for me today:

  • Still, on the rare occasions that I hear about a mother abandoning her children, judgment rushes in. How could a mother do that?
  • Our society has come to accept the many freedom steps taken by women in the ‘70s, ’80, and ‘90s. However a woman leaving her children is rarely understood or forgiven.

. . . there is no sin but a mistake, and no punishment but an inevitable consequence. . . the Law of cause and effect must be eternally operative –Ernest Holmes

Stay tuned. Next episode:  “Denial”