This is not a Dream | For my Readers
Seminary Land, 1990s. My faculty colleagues and I have been summoned to a meeting with the chair of the seminary board.
Recently we sent him a letter about a decision that will affect all of us. He didn’t appreciate our letter. Nor was he happy that we insisted on being given a voice in the process.
I’m uneasy. I sit near the door, away from the seat reserved for the chair of the board. His seat is at the far end of the large board-room table. Portraits of past seminary presidents hang on the walls. Ironically, this room used to be the bar in a luxury hotel.
My colleagues and I sit around this table for faculty meetings and special lunches. Usually we enjoy lively conversation and laughter. No one is laughing today.
The chairman enters and sits at the head of the table. He thanks us for coming. Then he speaks his mind. His words are harsh and patronizing.
- You’ve deeply disappointed me. I’m angry and upset. I didn’t have to let you make any comments about this decision.
As he continues his scolding, his voice rises and his face flushes. My colleagues and I are silent.
I look down at my lap, frozen and on the verge of tears. It’s hard to breathe. My heart is racing. I don’t know it then, but I’m having an anxiety attack.
- I feel 8 years old. I’m sitting at the family dinner table. My father is in his seat of honor as head of the house. He says I’ve deeply disappointed him. In front of everyone he tells me I’ve let him down. I should have known better than to behave like this. I’m a stubborn, rebellious little girl and he’s going to punish me.
The chair of the board continues. He tells us we’ve acted like children. A few courageous faculty members speak on our behalf. This is not a substantive conversation between adults.
The chairman’s anger keeps spilling out onto the table.
- I want to cry. I feel helpless, angry and scared. This man has the power to make or break me as a professor.
The meeting ends and I leave immediately.
- I feel humiliated and beaten. Not with a cane or wooden spoon, but with a tongue-lashing.
Now it’s November, 2015. Last month I began reading (and highly recommend) The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
It’s about how healing from trauma happens in persons with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Trauma from child neglect, sexual or domestic abuse and war rewires the brain, mind and body. It blurs the line between then and now.
Healing means my brain, mind and body are back in sync. The past is the past. The present is the present. What happened still happened, yet most of the time it doesn’t derail me.
In order to heal from PTSD, I needed to find words that described both the horror of what happened then, and most important, the horror of how that affected me on the inside.
I’ve been finding those words for several years. I’ve written them in my journal and shared them with trustworthy people. For nearly two years I’ve adapted them for this blog and found new ways (poetry, for example) to express the horror of it.
Today I’m at peace with Dad. Usually I’m able to remain in the present—even in a board room with an angry chair of the board scolding me. He isn’t my father, and I’m not his girl child. I can get up and leave or talk back—and live with the consequences.
Better, I can blog and share my experience with you!
I can’t thank you enough for reading, commenting, prodding, and sharing your experiences. You’ve contributed to the peace I now have. You’ve also given me more joy, encouragement and laughs than you’ll ever know!
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 November 2015
Image from http://www.amazon.com