“I’m going to have to take your razor,” the nurse in the psychiatric ward said as she was going through my personal toiletry bag. Hearing the bewilderment in my voice as I said, “OK,” she quickly added, “It’s for your safety.”
It dawned on me that they thought I was suicidal. Was I? I didn’t think so. I just felt numb, indecisive, and very sad. She left and then popped back in to say, “The first group session is in thirty minutes in room 510.” This all seemed so unbelievable. This happened in the movies, not to anyone I knew and certainly not to me! I sat on the bed and wondered how it had come to this! Why did our marriage counselor have me committed here?
When it was time, I left to find room 510.
Now I have always been the great pretender. I never let people see my true feelings, making sure I appeared happy and altogether and, of course, I put on my “please other people” at any cost personality and greeted everyone I saw as if I was one of the staff. One staff member did meetme in the hall and very harshly asked, “What are you so happy about Gabrielson?” “Take that smile off your face!” I had never been spoken to like that before and I couldn’t believe that they would treat me so unkind. Fighting back the tears, I entered the room with all eyes on me–the newbie. I was intimidated to no end and I found myself frozen. There was no way I could talk about why I was there. In fact, I was not sure why I was there. The facilitator explained that it was to everyone’s benefit that we explain what we were dealing with. What was I supposed to say? I’m sad? I’m depressed? One of your staff members just hurt my feelings and I want to go home? She also said that it might take time for me to open up, but that I could do it when I was ready.
So knowing I was safe at least for this session, I begin to listen to everyone else. I realized these people had some seriously complicated personality disorders. The woman across from me thought she was the mother of Jesus. A few chairs to my right, a man actually thought he was Jesus. In my sick state of mind I remember thinking, Why don’t they hang around together since they seemed to think they were related?
There was a woman that suffered from agoraphobia, several recovering drug addicts, anda Vietnam veteran who wouldn’t let himself sleep because of nightmares and flashbacks. What in the world was I doing here? I had a husband who loved me unconditionally, two wonderful sons, and a loving family. What was wrong with me? I was silent throughout the entire session. I wanted to go home but I was still so depressed. I didn’t know how to fix it and I knew I was there until the counselor would release me; so I had to endure this hour by hour, day by day.
When we weren’t in a one-on-one meeting with our therapist or group therapy sessions, we were pretty much on our own in the commons area visiting with each other. A lot of that week was a blur, but there are a few things I will never forget. One of the recovering drug addicts was a young woman probably in her early twenties. She smoked constantly. (This was before smoking was outlawed inside public places.) She had her eye on me all the time. She seemed to sit as close to me as she could. It was kind of eerie, so I nicknamed her Shadow.
Another was an 80 year-old woman admitted during the night. I heard her moaning and crying for two full days and nights. I kept asking why someone wasn’t taking care of that poor woman. No one would tell me anything and I was beginning to think this was one of those horror movies and maybe we would all eventually be tortured like this woman.
But then she sobered up and came to join us in group therapy one day. She had been in and out of treatment centers for years and couldn’t stay sober. She admitted to licking the cork of the bottle in the taxi on the way to the hospital.
She was so frail. I always helped her with her meal tray because I was the self-appointed assistant, helping everyone with everything. I would change the TV station for some, bring coffee to others, ask if any of them needed a lap blanket…ridiculous! But I had to keep myself very busy, keeping my mind off of my own problems. Then one day as I had helped everyone with their lunches, making sure everyone had what they needed, I sat down at the only open spot next to my little Shadow. Her cigarette hung from the corner of her mouth and smoke circled around the two of us until I could hardly breathe. She got even closer to me and said, “Tell me the truth; you’re a spy aren’t you? You aren’t in here for anything, are you?” I don’t know what ever possessed me but I looked to the left and then to the right and then I got even closer. Choking through the smoke I said, “Yes, but you can’t tell anyone!” She threw her head back and slapped her knee and said very loudly, “I knew it!” Then she got close again, winked and said, “Don’t worry, it will be our secret!”
Well, the day finally came and I knew I had to break my silence during group therapy.
(Arlene continues her story Friday in part 2. Please come back to read the rest of the story of God’s grace and invite love.)
Arlene Gabrielson is a wife, mother, grandmother, a blogger, and a speaker. Her personal past rebellion and sin caused so much pain to her family, and almost destroyed their marriage. But God’s amazing forgiveness and grace overwhelmed their lives with healing, restoration, and sincere desire to “not waste their pain”. She and her husband Dave facilitate The Art of Marriage Seminars for churches, and home groups. She is also an eMentor for Family Life Ministries. The complete marriage success story and contact information can be found at her website at www.arlenegabrielson.com.