I was awoken in the middle of the night by my older sister standing over my bed, “wake up, Eric. Wake up!” Sobbing with a look of terror on her face, what she was about to tell me would rattle me for decades.
I’ll have to rewind a bit to give my reader a better sense of the story. My parents divorced when I was 3 years old. My mother would marry again when I was in my early 20’s, but not before 5 live-in boyfriends, some posing as father figures, others making no such pretenses. I was raised in a broken home by a fiercely independent single mother, an older sister, and a chronic rotation of father-like figures throughout childhood and adolescence. I had a fairly messed up vision of “family,” and an even more messed up vision of “father.”
In a way, I had taken the role of father in our home (at least in my own mind) so when my mother had invited a psychiatrist over for an in-home session I was not a little on edge. He was an odd looking, slender built, nervous man with Einstein-like frizzed out hair. My intuition told me something was wrong with this whole situation, and after my mother explained that he was going to conduct a hypnosis session with her in the livingroom I pleaded with her to send him away. It was late, my sister and I were about to go to bed. “What if he hurts you, what if he hurts us?” I asked with genuine fright; I was no stranger to seeing my mother abused by men and I didn’t trust this frizz-haired weirdo. “Nothing will happen,” she reassured me, “he’s a doctor and besides all my friends know he is here tonight, he wouldn’t dare.”
I went to sleep worried, but trusted my mother’s confidence. “She’s an adult, she’s got this” I figured as I drifted off to sleep. The next thing I remember was,
“Wake up, Eric. Wake up!”
“What? What’s wrong, why are you crying.”
“Eric, mom is being raped.”
My poor sister. Ten years old at the time she was nowhere near prepared for what she had just seen. The psychiatrist had drugged our mother with a pill that was at the time a breakthrough advance in sedative medicine, new on the market, something only doctors could get their hands on (today everyone knows it as the date rape drug). He had led my mother upstairs to her room and happened to leave the door open a crack. For whatever reason my sister woke up in the middle of the night and saw them through the door.
I didn’t believe her at first but still followed her up the stairs. It was my turn to lay eyes on a scene that would burn itself on my conscious for decades, frozen in time, a constant reminder of evil in pure form.
Shocked, confused, fearful, my sister and I rushed back downstairs unsure what to do. Before too long my mother came down. I remember us huddled together in the bathroom just outside my bedroom, my sister and I trying to convince our still drugged mother that she had just been raped. “No, no,” she said in delirium, “he’s a good guy.” “Mom, he raped you!” my sister attempted to shout under her breath as if to not alert the psychiatrist still upstairs. We both sensed the potential danger we were in with a strange man in the house who had just proven himself capable of assaulting the vulnerable and innocent. A short time later the psychiatrist came bouncing down the stairs to make his getaway, still in process of throwing his sports coat on, probably aware of the fact that we had caught him in the act and were trying to snap our mother out of her funk. I’m sure he had run this experiment many times on other victims and knew exactly how much time he had before the drug wore off. If he could get out in time my mother would be clueless and it would be our word against his.
But he had nothing to worry about. We never pursued him. Actually, it was a situation that never came up again in conversation in our home. Not because we were prude but because the incident was so devastating that (speaking for myself) I wasn’t sure if my mother could handle any discussion about it. And it was in a day and age far different from the current ‘Me Too’ ethos. My role in the family was to protect my mother at all costs from emotional breakdown, which I felt was an ever-present threat. I let it ruminate for nearly 20 years until I told my wife, then girlfriend, about the whole incident on the steps of a church in downtown Tulsa. I balled like a baby uncontrollably. My poor wife. I’m glad we eventually married or I would have deeply regretted telling her.
Since that day on the church steps I have dealt with the ordeal, and many others, both spiritually and in therapy to the point that I can speak of it freely without adverse emotional reaction. I learned that traumatic experiences like these are best dealt with head on, that is, with one’s conscious self willingly confronting one’s unconscious self – that formattable unconscious realm, the place where dragons dwell. Running from dragons only makes one dragon’s prey. Head on, face-to-face, combat was the only way for me to defeat these soulish predators.
My history involved complex chronic trauma which made for a cauldron of anxiety and depression. The upside is that it also caused me to become very interested in the meaning of life very early in childhood.
Since before the age of 8 I was asking questions of life that, looking back now as a 42 year old, were quite profound – questions that I would continue asking for the next 3 decades. My interest first led me as an adolescent to investigate the major claims of religion and science. After several years of deep involvement in the pursuit, I ended up basically agnostic until one fateful night while visiting a wild charismatic church with a friend. Though the trappings of the church – fog machines, people jumping around, raising their hands, shouting – caused me to fold my arms and wait patiently for the circus to end, there was a point in the preaching when the pure and simple gospel of Christ smacked me between soul and spirit in a personally undeniable way. From that moment I was changed forever.
My next 20 years were animated by a desire to become a minister. I was so deeply touched and transformed by the gospel that I felt the need to bring it to as many people as possible. I eventually enrolled in a bachelors program in Pastoral Ministry at Oral Roberts University. This led to multiple mission trips around the world: from Amsterdam to Cape Town, and from Juarez to New York. Traveling instilled the desire to learn foreign languages and I eventually tried my hand at Spanish, French, German, Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew – and no, I don’t speak any of them fluently. I found this out the hard way during a trip to France when I fancied myself moderately fluent. Nope. And the French are wonderful at pointing out how terrible you speak their language.
My pursuit of becoming a minister hit a major psychological road block during my masters program in theology at ORU. My sister-in-law had attempted suicide and I found myself alone with her at her bedside in a hospital psychiatric ward. I remember wanting so badly to have the right words, maybe just a magical phrase, that would help her recover and inspire her to want to live life to the fullest.
I was blank. I mean, I could have given a mini dissertation on the doctrine of the Trinity or invited her into a riveting discussion of eschatology, I was great at that, but I felt wholly inadequate to help her in a real way during the most trying time of her life. After years of missions work and formal education I still lacked practical counseling skill to help others who hurt. I went home that night knowing life had big changes in store. I went there expecting to inspire her and she unknowingly set me on course to a new destiny.
Around the same time I had become a convert to the Holy Orthodox Church and was already on a new path spiritually. Orthodoxy had, among other things, imprinted on me how serious the call to counselling others truly is. Being a true counselor requires one to be a partaker of the healing one claims to give to others – “Physician, heal thyself,” and such. In Orthodox terms this is nothing short of a spiritual life reminiscent of the saints and ascetics throughout history who battled the passions and vices common to all for a life of humility and faith unfamiliar to most.
Regardless of my being nowhere near such a standard, I once again entered the university and completed a second masters in Counseling Psychology, a lengthy internship, and several years of professional counseling in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Eight years since beginning my journey with Orthodoxy and training in professional psychotherapy I am far from arriving, but, as the preacher says, “at least I’ve left.”
Today I own and operate a psychotherapy practice in south Tulsa. My history of struggle with anxiety, depression and trauma has inspired me to devote my life to the exploration and alleviation of this ‘trinity’ of pathology. Having lived through the struggle and not only survived but thrive in my relational and emotional life, and, in addition, now having the clinical skills and spiritual disposition necessary to truly be of help others, I feel that I am living my heart’s desires to the fullest.
And you better believe that I wish I could reverse the clock and once again sit at the bedside of my sister-in-law knowing what I know now. Sadly, she recently passed. Life is a gift and it is only by way of delusion through the multifarious busyness of daily life that we ever see it as anything less. All it takes is a near accident on the freeway, a panic attack, a period of depression, or, God forbid, the loss of a loved one to immediately snatch us from our daydreaming and place us face-to-face with the reality of our own existence. But even these experiences when taken as a spiritual medicine of awareness can serve to reveal the beauty and immeasurable meaningfulness of life.
I hope this brief article helps my reader know me as a person and as a clinician a little better. As my journey through this wonderful maze of life continues I will share bits and pieces of my personal and clinical experiences as they happen via this blog, videos, and other writings. Hope to hear from you along the way.
Thanks for reading!
2 thoughts on “My Journey to Becoming a Therapist”
Great news Eric! Thank you for opening up and sharing. All the best to you at your new practice.
God bless you Eric, your family, and your work.