Where was I on this date six years ago? No matter how many times I have tried to blur out the dates of March 27th – March 30th in my mind, the little tiny reminders build and build until the tears trickle down my cheeks. On this day, six long years ago, I woke up in the admission department of Springbrook Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Brooksville, Florida. It was just three years prior that I began my internship there and was hired as a case manager and eventually a therapist. But on this day, there I was, dressed in an ugly hospital gown as an “un-patient.” My favorite staff psychiatrist, Dr. Wasan, refused to admit me to the unit to save me from the embarrassment of being seen by my former co-workers. Under the Baker Act, however, he had to observe me for 72 hours to ensure I was not a threat to myself or others.

I was living with a “friend” at the time. Ugh. How do I make this nightmarishly long story short? Bullet points. Let’s try that.

**please be kind to yourself as you read**

Maria and I met in grad school, and we quickly became study buddies, friends, even confidantes.
I was working two jobs, going to school, and completing my internship.
My ex-husband became more and more emotionally absent; I found 3700 text messages between him and a female co-worker. I gave him an ultimatum. His response was, “Let the chips fall where they may.”
God spoke to me clearly and showed me why I needed to go to Florida.
I went because God said
Maria spent three long years grooming me to be her much younger mistress while refusing to leave her millionaire wife. My best friend sent me articles describing similar behavior. I refused to believe this was happening to me.

When Maria wasn’t grooming me, love-bombing me with gifts and tokens of security, she berated me and told me what a horrible mother I was. She diagnosed my oldest daughter as having Borderline Personality Disorder and told me, Zoe, at eight years old, was too old to be sleeping in my bed while her 13-year-old son still slept in hers. She told me many times, “It is not like you’re the next best thing since sliced bread.”

I drank my pain away until one night, I jumped in my car to escape her pursuit of me and managed to hit a guidewire which was hiding under some brush shredding my front passenger tire and rim, thus bringing the telephone pole down on top of my car. That was July 3rd, 2014. Thank goodness the girls were in Pennsylvania for the summer.

DUI charges, restitution, counseling, AA meetings – I had to do it all, and of course, I couldn’t leave the state. Of course, I couldn’t find a job. Who would hire someone with a recent DUI and a suspended license? I stayed with my “friend” and earned my keep by taking care of her 84-year-old father, who had Dementia. I cleaned their 3700 square foot home from top to bottom – dusted, vacuumed, and mopped, plus cleaned TWO garden-style bathrooms every Friday. I mowed their 10 acres of fire-ant-hill-covered yard. I bathed their animals and cleaned their smelly infected ears. I cooked dinner on many occasions. I tended to plants, killed snakes, and even helped their cat birth kittens. At this time, I still loved Florida, but I missed my kids. I kept telling myself if I can just get past all of the legal stuff, maybe I could get a job, and maybe things would turn around. My lawyer had my charges lessened, and I entered my plea on February 11th, 2015. I still had to complete my counseling and probation through March and into April. I was so close to freedom.

March 27th, 2015 was a Friday. The day started off sad as the family had made the painful decision to euthanize Nana, the 14-year-old white Standard Poodle of the home, whose health was declining. Maria pulled her out of the crate and walked her toward the garage. The two remaining dogs left behind in their cages let out a whine as if they knew that was their last goodbye.

Because I still did not have a license, Maria’s aged parents took me to my doctor’s appointment in town. Afterward, we would return to the home. Maria’s mother planned to take a trip to see her brother near Miami; her father would remain with me for the weekend. We were happy that her mother could get this break from being the primary caregiver for her husband. I tried to help, but she did so much more.

I was in the kitchen feeding dad his soup and sandwich while mom filled her suitcases in the bedroom. Suddenly, mother walked into the room holding her lower abdomen and said, “Danielle, I don’t feel good.” Her face looked pale, and she became tearful with fear. I also sensed her disappointment in having to cancel her trip.

She chose to lie down in her bed as I called 911 and began taking her blood pressure. I placed a phone call to Maria in a whirlwind and texted every family member I could remember. I got prayer chains going while I continued to talk calmly to dad. Emergency responders wheeled beds and oxygen masks into the bedroom. I coaxed dad back to the kitchen to try to encourage him to eat. I attempted to calm his fears and let him know that he shouldn’t cry and get himself upset. He would need to have a full belly if he wanted to go to the hospital because it might be a little while until we would eat again. Like a slowly acquiescing child, he finally ate. I was able to bring him to the hospital to meet the rest of the family.

A perforated bowel was the diagnosis; surgery was necessary. It wasn’t long before dad was getting antsy and driving mom crazy while she was just trying to keep herself calm and collected.

“Let me take him home and get dinner started,” I suggested to everyone. “Mom needs her rest.”

Maria looked up and mouthed the words, “Thank you.” She then added, “I’ll be about 30 minutes behind you.”

I got dad home and settled in front of his evening meal. I had created a beautiful salad earlier in the day, so I quickly filled the salad bowls and topped them with our favorite mix of dressings: balsamic vinaigrette and ranch.

Maria had taught me so much about cooking and grilling through the years. Even when I was still living in Pennsylvania, we talked on the phone, texted or messaged recipes, tips, ideas, counseling moments, mom struggles, relationship struggles, but primarily Statistics class struggles. That course almost killed us if it had not been for having each other and another great classmate, Heather. Sorry, I digress. Because I knew she wasn’t too far behind me, I took out a small beef roast that I had marinating and rolled it on the grill to seer the outside and lock in the juices, just as she had taught me. By the time she came through the door, dinner was plated and accompanied by two full-bodied glasses of Merlot.

“I don’t know what I would do without you. Look how much you… care. You show us all how much you love us… How much you saved the day… you came through for everyone. I love you so much.”

You might have knocked me over with a feather when I heard these words, but I don’t know. Maybe I thought this was the turning point. This was the moment she would realize that perhaps I’m some poor chick from Pennsylvania, but I have value, and I’m a good person, and I am the next best thing since sliced bread, darn it! I wanted her to see that so many of the people she surrounded herself with were emotionally absent or emotional vampires. Still, here I was – emotionally present and giving of myself out of my love for others, primarily because of Christ’s love for me. We love because He first loved us.

We sat down at the kitchen counter side by side (how very Floridian). She picked up her phone to scroll through whatever App was open. I took the cue that this was appropriate to unwind, so I, too, picked up my phone to scroll through my notifications. Suddenly, Maria reached across my plate, snatched my phone out of my hands, and immediately jumped up to play keep-away. Startled, her feeble father wheeled his chair around and came to his unsteady stance. It was too late. I was already triggered. I may have pushed or shoved. I remember swinging my hippie sack purse towards her head and remembering later that there were books in it. Wince. She climbed on my back with one arm around my throat and punched me in the temple. I ran to the bedroom. For some reason, the gun cabinet was hanging wide open. I grabbed a handgun – it looked like a starter pistol – it may have been. I held it to my head, so when Maria came through that door after me, I could show her how serious I was that I needed her to keep her distance.

As she burst through the door, the words “oh, shit” fell from her mouth. “Now I have to call the police and have your ass Baker-Acted.” Please, no. Anything but that. I dropped the gun and tried to run. Somehow I ripped a muscle in my left calf muscle. I had nowhere to go. I even tried to jump into her parents’ van and circle around, but where was I going to go? Should I add Grand Theft Auto to this evening’s events? I walked into the kitchen, hung up the keys, and told the responding officer, “Here I am.”

Somewhere in this insane chain of events, I reached out to my best friend Christy, who lived an hour away near Orlando, and she appeared like an angel in the driveway. It was too late. Maria had told the officer I was the aggressor. She told him I beat her up. She told him all the things she had done to help me, but I just kept screwing it up.

The officer had no choice but to take me to a Baker Act-receiving facility. I asked for medical attention, but the officer ignored me. I tried to tell him how she started everything – how she strangled me and punched me in the temple. I told the officer she was the aggressor, but my words fell on deaf ears.

My sense of direction sharpened as the night’s stars brightened the darkness. The Floridian sky is fascinating. “You’re not taking me to Springbrook Hospital, are you? Please, Officer, I used to work there! Please, Officer, I was just starting to get my life back together. Please don’t take me to Springbrook!”

Have you ever sat in one room for 72 hours with nothing but a stack of magazines and an occasional tray of food placed in front of you? Sheets wet because the nurse was kind enough to give you a long-ago melted bag of ice for your ripped calf muscle, which causes you to writhe in agony every time you turn the wrong way. I hope you never do.

On March 30th, 2015, the date of my discharge came. The police instructed the hospital staff to release me into their custody. Once my 72 hours of observation were over, they would charge me for Battery, a violation of my probation. I overheard the hospital staff repeatedly say to one another, “I cannot find a warrant for her arrest, so we are not discharging her LEO.” My Best Friend swooped back in from Orlando and got me away from Brooksville once and for all.

I moved back to Pennsylvania on April 23rd, 2015. From the moment I returned to Pennsylvania, my blessings have far outweighed any trials or curses I have encountered. I feel like I do a really good job making sure I feel centered, grounded, and at peace.

For those of you who don’t know, Maria took her own life in November of 2019. I wondered if she did it near my birthday to send a message to me. I received a missed phone call from Vero Beach while I was in a session on November 19th. I found out after her death she had opened her own practice in Vero. I hope the caller planned to offer me a car warranty renewal on the 2012 Chevy Malibu that I never owned. I have done a lot of work to let these questions go. Her death was not about me. That call was either the car warranty guy or those replacement windows I will never pay for on the house I rent. This is not my stuff to hold.

Can you imagine my dismay finding myself frozen in the empty bicycle section of Walmart, white knuckles gripping the cart, tears streaming down my face because my wife asked me a question? She very tenderly said, “What is wrong, honey? You are just not yourself!”

She was right! I’m on edge! My shoulders are up to my ears! I keep snapping! And why? I had no idea why I felt like this until I looked at those numbers on the calendar. It was then I went into a dissociative fugue. For a moment, it felt like a tunnel. Then it felt like a stroke as the pain felt like it was cramping my brain, making speech difficult. Tears fell as I remembered the whiplash I experienced from hero to zero. The 72 hours of absolute humiliation and re-traumatization while lying in that cell-like room that followed were nearly intolerable.

As a trauma-informed therapist, I have worked with many children who have “trauma anniversaries,” “time of year,” or “anniversary triggers.” I have never before experienced such an intense, physiological response to past events in correlation to the time of year as I experienced in these past three days.

I let the words flow from my mouth in as close to a whisper as I could muster. I needed to confide in Jen when I thought I would pop, but I didn’t want the whole store to hear my mental breakdown. “6 years ago today, I woke up in a psychiatric facility. I held a gun to my head so Maria would keep her distance. They wouldn’t admit me, but they couldn’t release me. I can’t stop wondering why we hurt ourselves in these moments.”

Even my 6 – 12-year-old clients hit themselves rather than tell mom or dad how much they feel hurt. More recently, I had a client turn a knife on himself. Thankfully, he only threatened. Still, others self-sabotage all day long. Self-injurious behavior intensifies with age. I want so badly to know why so many of us point the gun at ourselves. I’m not talking about suicide. I am talking about our tendency to become self-destructive when someone else deserves to hurt as much as we do, or at least hear – and dare I say, validate – how much they have hurt us. Are we so afraid that we will lose these abusive, gas-lighting, manipulative cretins once and for all that we would instead turn our anger and hatred inward? How much more do we think we can take?

YOU ARE WORTH MORE!

YOU ARE THE NEXT BEST THING TO SLICED BREAD!

YOU DESERVE MORE!

YOU DESERVE BETTER!

WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO START SEEING YOURSELF AS GOD SEES YOU?!?

Friends, my original blog was called “The Naked Turtle” because I wanted to stop hiding in my shell of fear. God brings us through our trials so that we turn and give Him the Glory! But! The devil doesn’t want us to give God the Glory because that would advance His Kingdom, so he puts a gag order of shame on our lives. As I have intimated to you before, becoming naked before you has been a journey. I have spent three days in tears over writing this post because the story is no longer about me. It’s about you. Maybe your story mirrors mine. Perhaps you wonder why you are constantly internalizing your misdirected anger. Maybe you have made choices in your life because you thought the path would lead one way, but you ended up in some dark and spooky places and even lost your way. I am willing to spill my guts and bear my soul with the same fear of judgment, abandonment, and rejection that has always been there, in the hope that my story may be your life-saving manual.

Philippians 1:3,

Danielle

 

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