Finding common threads of growing from adversity in fairy tales, creation stories and scripture left me assuming the blown-down houses, hysterical rulers and predatory demons were somehow part of the plan. Everywhere I went looking for answers revealed hardships were part and parcel to having a heartbeat and if we persevered a gift, lesson or ability would reveal itself. I liked reading in closets, where it was safe, treating stories like life-class; Tragic beginning. Check. Child on a solo, uncharted mission. Check. Talking forest creature to ensure my safety through the haunted forest to a happy ending…Since Bigfoot never showed up, I became a therapist.
I practiced for nearly 10 years in community mental health and hospitals which is one of the reasons I initially chose to write anonymously. I’ve since moved into an administrative position after learning about The Sanctuary Model of trauma-informed care nine years ago while working on a psych unit. Destroying Sanctuary validated every painful frustration I’d witnessed for clients and staff the first seven years of my career. The system was broken so I thought I’d try to help fix it. I mentioned Sanctuary in an interview, calling it a blueprint for world peace.
I’d remained on the fence about full transparency with my story for a long time. The lack of clarity associated with people in the helping profession having and talking about their own experiences remained murky at best. Partly because it’s rare. Some have been harshly criticized, ridiculed and laughed out of the profession. Others have been stripped of integrity, labeled unstable, selfish or accused of having poor boundaries. Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT, talked about her hesitation in speaking publicly about her mental health issues in an interview with the New York Times in 2011. She waited for years to essentially come out as human.
Anna Freud suggested many join the profession to retain an illusion of power, using the title of ‘expert’ to distance ourselves from any lingering or unattended personal wounds. The letters after our name and certifications we earn act as a kind of shield. I’ve never seen myself as an expert. I became a therapist by default; being a parentified child gave me an over-functioning edge. Thank god for sublimation and codependent recovery. Fear of getting fired for being poor was my greatest barrier to freedom, not maintaining some title. I ran from myself for years. Surrender and opportunity collided and I spilled my guts to a journalist in 2018. Surreal, humbling, liberating thing having a total stranger call and ask you to tell them your life story. Learning to be with and embrace reality, however ugly or beautiful it might be, continues to offer the peace, freedom and substance I’d previously looked for in all the wrong places.
I’m not 100% perfectly healed. Who is? I don’t think we get perfect here. Instead, life offers us opportunities to practice patience, forgiveness, persistence, compassion, listening, taking the high road, eating enough fiber, drinking water and other hard, grown-up stuff. What I notice about western culture is we have no formal system for learning how to do life, deal with each other, deal with our own thoughts, feelings and needs. I know how to take care of my teeth without being a dentist, but depression and oppression get treated like hot potatoes. What do I do with this? Ooo! Oww! Ahh! It’s all your fault! Drop it! If someone gets sick we show up with a casserole and a get well card. Tell someone you have P.T.S.D or were sexually abused for a decade; crickets.
Someone told me I’m too self-protective. Trust and timing are an intuitive process. Early in my career I wrote an anonymous advocacy piece. When a colleague was told I’d written it, they laughed. She’s not that smart. Trauma has a way of stealing our voice and masking our identity in a fog of apologies. When you’re constantly censoring yourself for fear that what you might say will be too much for people to handle or will get you thrown out into the street (cause it did once) you don’t make any sense. You stare at the floor whispering movie quotes to a carpet instead of washing your face and doing a Tedtalk about what a strong woman you are. #strongwoman #bebrave
I was afraid of troubling people or embarrassing myself; as if I’d been the one who abused me. Hiding gives power away to shame. Keeping secrets is like feeding an impenetrable fence of electric anxiety, behind which we remain a prisoner. Codependence, ego or moral crisis? Probably all of the above. The final piece about hiding was how much the hypocrisy was bothering me. Part of our work as helpers and humans is learning from each other how to compassionately own all the parts of our experiences; that’s how we grow. The truth is ultimately safer, lighter and more reliable.
I’m Christian-ish. Don’t run away. I won’t try to save you. I actually love people and have studied all kinds of beliefs, noticing the majority of faith practices connect us to a moral compass and source of unconditional love. Each creation story is dressed up in different languages, customs, rituals, songs, foods and clothes. Since I’m not omnipotent I can’t say which prophet is the real Slim Shady of the universe. Maybe there’s more than one right answer. All those holy wars; seems silly to fight about love but it’s the epic eternal battle. Prophets are life guides who love us. My source of unconditional love is something I value deeply but I also respect all the other sources of spiritual teaching. Without getting into the weeds just know I don’t use Jesus as a weapon. I love him and the way he loved people. That’s all.
The boring facts are I was literally born in Providence Rhode Island. Though my name suggests otherwise, my family lived in a housing project in Woonsocket the first 6 years of my life. Dynomite! Google it. Dynamites are a delicious Woonsocket tradition. We moved into a partially condemned apartment building to get out and things just kept getting better from there, meaning life has offered many colorful lessons. Thirteen years of those lessons took place on Martha’s Vineyard, though it’s generally not associated with children of a lesser god. Rich people need their houses cleaned, kids watched, lawns mowed and trash picked up. My family was happy to oblige and the view didn’t suck. Society tries to polarize us as all good or all bad. Real life recipies are made up of everything; sweet, salty, fancy and sometimes old boxes of Jello collecting dust behind the food coloring in the empty baking cabinet.
I don’t think God intends for us to suffer; but it seems like life is some kind of spiritual classroom disguised as a dysfunctional global family. My brother likes to joke that somewhere some people really are sitting at a picnic table by a lake with boats, eating noodle salad.
I’m a white woman who grew up and through real, often invalidated American poverty, complex trauma, an ongoing waltz with anorexia, anxiety, PTSD and body image dysmorphia. I like the F word, Nat Shermans, kale juice and refuse to own a tv. Aside from being darkly introspective and socially awkward, I use humor to cope and refuse to take myself too seriously unless confronted by a pan of frosted brownies. I’m happily married to a man who’s obsessed with bikes and social justice and has turned our dining room into a headquarters garage. We’re permanently, radically, intentionally, politically and peacefully child-free. This is my blog which helped me write my first book. Stay tuned… -e
This site and its contents are the thoughts, experiences and opinions of Elizabeth Bouvier-Fitzgerald and in no way represent the thoughts, experiences or opinions of any of her employers.
If you’re in need of professional help you are sincerely encouraged to seek it.
Please note some names have been changed, some words will occasionally be misspelled, some metaphors will crumble into run-on sentences that make zero sense, all photos and artwork are my own unless otherwise stated and I don’t brush my teeth before bed.
Born in Providence and the contents of this site are protected under copyright through the Library of Congress. I paid $55. I have an official paper and everything.