Warning: the following article contains mention of major depression, suicide, self harm, abuse, sexual assault.
The power of sharing our journey through story telling is extraordinary, and Everymind are really looking forward to sharing stories from the incredibly strong people in our community. These are stories of grit, resilience and hope.
This week we have been allowed an insight into the experiences of Dr Kathleen Pfaff, who is now a dream therapist. She tells her story of how she recovered from abuse, addictions, and self-sabotage by learning to interpret her own dreams and nightmares.
TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE THROUGH DREAMS
I always felt different from the rest of the world around me. I didn’t seem to fit in with my family or with peers of my own age. I didn’t think like them, I didn’t act like them and I didn’t dress like them and I certainly didn’t like their music! I became the obvious outcast and a perfect target for ridicule and bullying. But why was I so different from them? Why was I a target for abuse? Did I wear a sign on my back that said, “kick me, abuse me, treat me like crap?” Years later I would learn the truth.
My nightmares began as early as age 3. I can still clearly see the monster that haunted me in my sleep. The nightmares continued until my early teens, more monsters, more intensity and more debilitating. I’d wake up often with a wet bed of urine, too terrified to leave my room until the sun came up.
When you grow up in an abusive atmosphere, an alcoholic Father, a rage-a-holic Mother, verbally abusive brothers, sexually abusive caregivers and dysfunctional relationships, you have to learn to adjust. I knew from experience that confronting the person or the problem to another had its consequences. You are either slapped and accused of lying or told that these incidents are all in my head. (They were in my head alright). I became very passive in choosing not to make waves or voice an opinion because that just makes people mad!
I found many ways to cope, learning how to survive. I learned early on how to disassociate from the situation, (numb out by leaving your body), but it caused other problems later in school when I’d lose concentration and my grades would fail. I found other ways to cope by using humor (tears behind the class clown), eating my way to obesity, (thinking that, if I make myself unattractive it would keep my victimizers at bay) …NOT. Didn’t help my self-esteem either.
By the time I was fifteen I was a heavy drinker and was working full-time as a bartender. They didn’t check ID’s then, and I could pass for an easy eighteen. I met my first husband, Kenny, at the bar, he was 21 at the time. I quickly got pregnant because I missed the Birds and Bees speech from my parents. However, I saw it as a way out of the crazy life I was living. Kenny married me as was expected by our parents at the time. I was finally free.
I was born and raised in Florida and I hated it. Kenny was from New Hampshire and that is where we headed after our wedding. Kenny couldn’t keep a job, he kept getting fired for stealing, and I was too sick to work. I lost the baby at three months and three months later we were divorced.
Kenny often told me I talked in my sleep and sometimes I’d wake up screaming (waking the baby nephew in the room with us). We lived with his Mom for a very short time and then moved in with his sister and her family. They threw us out and I had to move back to Florida. YUCK.
I learned at an early age that the adults that should keep us safe are sometimes the monsters we dream about…but I wouldn’t learn about that until bad things became worse. Night terrors continued but I just brushed them off. What was I going to do now?
My search for the meaning of life began at the age of sixteen when drugs and alcohol became a way of life for me to cope with the years of abuse and the nightmarish memories of my past. I became a high school drop-out and run-a-way from home, looking for love in all the wrong places. I had been consumed body, soul, and spirit by overexposure to alcohol, drugs and sexual experimentation by the time I was age 17. My quest for love, attention and nurturing was not met by these extreme acts of self-destruction. I was lost in a vast ocean with no land in sight. I had no parental support or guidance, I was living in my $100.00 rusty old car with none of the basic necessities to live on. I lacked security, an environment for growth, or a hope for a pleasant future. I was ashamed of my lifestyle and too proud to ask for help.
Suicide became my most desired option, as an escape from this hellacious lifestyle that had consumed my existence because of the poor choices I made. My companions in my death quest were the very things that once brought me a miserable type of short-lived joy. These companions would also be the culprits that would aid me in my relief from emotional pain.
I consumed the litre of alcohol in an attempt to ease into the beginning stage of my mission. The sleeping pills were my second step – a safeguard or an additional cushion for the last leg of the ride. When I felt numb enough from the alcohol and pills I had the courage to use the razor blade to cut my wrist from end to end.
As I lay down on the floor to await my demise I begin to hallucinate. My life passes before me like home movies. “Who the heck would want to film this junk?” I conversed with myself for a while wondering what was taking so long. “Die already!”
At one point I must have fallen asleep because I had a dream…so I thought. I was in a ghost-like spirit form looking down at my body. There was this bright light surrounding me and I felt such peace and serenity. The next thing I noticed is a gray cloud hovering over my body on the floor. I’m watching this happen, only I’m not in my body! Then a Blue cloud glides into the gray cloud and they merge. There appears to be an intense struggle between the two clouds. I’m still watching, wondering, feeling no pain – I’m at peace.
The gray cloud evidently loses the fight as it leaves in a swift manner while the blue cloud remains.
I have no idea how much time has passed before I wake up, back in my body. I was feeling despair and angry that I wasn’t dead and that I didn’t complete my mission successfully. “I can’t even kill myself. What a loser!”
I crawled my way to the bathroom, sick to my stomach.
For a young girl of seventeen, this was too much for me to comprehend so I put it behind me and didn’t think about it anymore, mostly because I had a splitting headache. I was sick for about two weeks, vomiting, sweating, fevers and cold chills. My body hurt and I was very lethargic. I really wished I had died!
Weeks of Suffering
After the two weeks of physical suffering and recuperation, I had enough stamina to venture out in search of a job. Remarkably I was hired by two Christian women in a hair salon as a Receptionist/Jr hairstylist. I was excited that they were giving me a job since I was only partially educated and inexperienced. It must have been written all over my face that I was a lost soul. They shared the love and grace of God with me in a way that I had never experienced. I was hungry for more and delighted about this new knowledge.
After years of personal counseling and 12 step groups. I volunteered at church and saw the needs of our youth. I would have visions of their lives, of their struggling with addictions and/or abuse. It was during this time I was inspired to go back to school to become a counselor. I had the gift and the experiences but now I needed the tools to help me to help others.
I completed my GED and started my Psychology training at a community college. I also attended a tech college for Cosmetology. I did so well in my classes that the minister and leaders of the church offered me a scholarship if I completed my Psychology studies at a seminary and agreeing to work for the church after Graduation. It took more than 14 years to finish college and receive my Doctorate degree because of setbacks, getting married, having and raising my two children and attending other colleges for additional training which my primary college did not offer.
Today, I am living proof that we have an opportunity to make a change. As I worked on myself to transform an addict into an asset for society, other doors of opportunity were opened. I was given a new life, one that I had only dreamt about but never thought it would happen. I am truly transformed and the old addicted, lost and abused Kathy has been left behind in my past. It no longer controls my life. I’ve been given a second chance to live again and this time I am making the best of it by making better choices.
The medicines taken for my major depression have to change as I build allergies, or other symptoms. I feel it is important for anyone to know that trying to find the right meds for every individual is a normal process. Symptoms and causes vary as well as side effects, so it’s important to have good communication with your doctor.
The desire to help others who are walking in my old shoes is as strong within me today as it was 31 years ago. My love for God strengthens me through the rough times and encourages me through the good times. Life doesn’t get any easier – I’m just better equipped this time around.
THANK YOU DR KATHLEEN
We hope that Kathleen’s journey has left you with the same hope and optimism that it imprinted on the rest of the Everymind team. If you are interested in sharing your story with the community, please do drop us a line – [email protected]
If reading this story has brought up issues that you have struggled with, please seek help immediately. Good help is available and you can access support using the below services.