I’m sitting in a group therapy session for people with complex PTSD and other problems caused by childhood trauma, telling the group about the chain of events that led to my becoming the family blacksheep. Tears trickle down my cheeks as I relate how victimized I felt by my family. The two people on either side of me reach out to touch my shoulders. I feel the beginning of connection, of a sense of belonging and community I never had at home, or anyplace at all. I feel safe in this place. I feel like my secrets will never go beyond the confines of this room. Outside, the world may be dangerous and unfriendly, swarming with treacherous and cold-hearted people who wish me ill, but inside these walls, I feel welcomed and loved.
Suddenly the door opens. It’s my niece, who I’ve met exactly three times in my life. I haven’t seen her since she was a little girl. She’s armed with an album of photos of her latest vacation and the big party the extended family threw for her on the birth of her latest child. I wasn’t invited to this party. She walks over to me and starts shoving the the pictures in my face, making me look. I politely shuffle through the stack, then hand them back to her. I feel violated and envious. “Do you like them?” she demands. She won’t leave until I say I do. Apparently satisfied, she leaves.
Then someone I barely know from an old job walks in the room. He tells me his business has really started taking off and he’s raking in so much money he is having a custom vacation home built right on the beach. He shows me pictures of the house-in-progress he and his gorgeous new wife are building. “Oh, yes, and we just found out she’s pregnant–with twins!” he crows. Finally, he leaves. I turn toward the group, ready to apologize for the rude intrusion.
But I never have a chance, because then my daughter’s BFF from her middle school days bursts through the door, crying and cussing because her babydaddy is back on drugs and hasn’t payed child support in over a year. My polite but sympathetic nods constitute a “Like” and satisfied with that, she leaves. My boundaries feel like they’re under siege by this point. I turn back toward the group, but am interrupted again.
Some stranger walks in and shoves a piece of paper at me. I look down at it, It’s a test called “Which Celebrity Pet Do You Look The Most Like?” Annoyed, I crumple it up and toss it on the floor.
A guy I’ve never seen before but who calls me “Friend” invites me to play a game. He starts tossing game cards at me, which contain pictures of things like barrels of apples, litters of piglets, bushels of wheat, and clucking hens.
Stop, please! I want this room to be my sanctuary again. I feel inhibited and self conscious now, because at any moment some random person from my past, a random relative, someone from an old job, or an old classmate might invade the room again, crashing over my boundaries. No place is safe.
I have one more visitor. My mother enters the room, fixes me with a penetrating stare, and tells me she heard everything I said about her in this room before all the interruptions started. I feel like the floor just dropped out from under me, leaving me stranded in mid-air. I stare at my mother. Her eyes are opaque and unreadable, but her small, knowing smirk tells me everything I need to know.