TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses sexually illicit behavior.
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Excerpt from “GETTING HELP DAY 22 (8–5–21) ‘Because Horton Was Right’” posted on Medium.com 8/5/2021

Prologue: In July 2021 I checked myself into a partial hospitalization at a mental health facility to treat trauma and CPTSD (which I’d soon learn was from parental narcissistic abuse). For over 30 days I followed daily routines, learning about self-care, coping skills, and attending group processing sessions. On my second day, shocking repressed memories emerged, and began causing flashbacks of sexual abuse from my fathe,r which I’d hidden from myself for almost 40 years (he’s now a registered sex offender due to child porn distribution). My last week in the facility a new patient arrived, and I found myself in strangely familiar territory.

When my daughter was little she’d watch the animated movie “Horton Hears a Who” on a daily basis. Just as in the Dr. Seuss book, Horton observes something that no one else observes. He is cast out, called crazy, but he is so sure…and then he’s not.

Today I discovered something disturbing. I came in late again and did the usual hours of sleep, mood, goals info. One of my goals for today was to relax. For the past few days another patient has been getting under my skin. They try to take over the room and run things they have no business running. They suck up the attention, cry crocodile tears, and basically remind me of my father with their bullshit stories and “I know everything, listen to my expertise” even though they don’t know what they’re talking about. Very “Leave it to Beaver” scripted type things like “when life gets you down, buck up!”

I’ve been looking at these interactions as a parting gift. My final challenge of getting along with difficult people. I kept saying to myself “You’re projecting. You’re triggered by this person because they remind you of your dad but they’re not your dad.” Basically blaming myself for having negative feelings towards this individual, possibly unjustly.

ASSERTIVENESS

We move into a lesson on assertiveness. Assertiveness is… I am completely distracted by this patient and mad at myself for it. Horton, don’t obsess over the clover. There may be a speck on it, but focus on what’s in front of you. Focus on your world.

“We react to what we think people mean,” shares the instructor. She is a favorite of everyone. Warm and inviting, fun loving. The patient successfully derails the conversation with his own “words of wisdom” for about 10 minutes and even she can’t seem to get the room back.

Jamie, why is this bothering you so much? You think you’re Horton, but maybe you’re the kangaroo. Bothered by something you think you understand but don’t. Why is your leg tapping so fiercely? He’ll stop talking eventually. This has nothing to do with you, this man is not your father, don’t project. Why are you shaking? Shaking is fear. What are you afraid of?

Let’s review what’s happened so far with this patient. Keep in mind Jamie, this is just your point of view:

  • On his first day, he said he was working on not lying so much.
  • On the morning of his 3rd day, he announced that he wanted to share during process group (which was 2 hours later) “It’s very important that I share, people give me the space to do so. I have earth shattering information,” blah blah blah. My translation: No one else raise your hand before me today to process. What I have to say is the most important. CONTROLLING. TRIGGER.
  • What he shared took almost 45 minutes, mostly hemming and hawing about how important the info was, how dramatic it was, lots of trying to force tears from himself and force tears from others. I also had something to process that day but we ran out of time. Normally I don’t mind but I was detecting a large amount of bullshit and felt my time had been wasted. BULLSHIT. LISTENING TO SOMETHING AGAINST MY WILL. WASTING MY TIME. TRIGGER
  • The patient has an answer and a long explanation (I would categorize it as mansplaining) for almost everything. The counselors have mostly picked up on this and worked to steer the topic away from his control. CONTROL. TRIGGER
  • Yesterday when I sat in an empty seat by him, he flung himself over the area and said “No! I’m saving this for (young woman still in her teens).” This was confusing. She’s not even in our group until later. I moved but I didn’t like it (IS THIS IT? AM I BEING PETTY ABOUT A SEAT? AM I UPSET THAT I DIDN’T ADVOCATE? SOMETHING ABOUT THIS IS OFF. CONTROL TRIGGER, YES but something else)
  • Yesterday in Process Group, he retold his story from the other day. Since there were people who hadn’t been there before, he said he would catch them up. He started from the beginning with the the same dramatic pauses, same rehearsed thing until thankfully the therapist stopped him and told him to condense so other people could go (phew!). He then said he found out his estranged father was dying and he was afraid he would die on his birthday. (I SHARED THIS SAME STORY ON HIS FIRST DAY. MAYBE WE HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON, OR MAYBE HE JUST LIFTED MY STORY. I have had stories lifted and told in front of me multiple times by narcissists. It is equal parts confusing and infuriating. It also makes me question myself in a head spin. IF THIS IS NARCISSISTIC BEHAVIOR, THE NEXT STEP IS FOR HIM TO START WHISPERING BEHIND MY BACK TELLING PEOPLE I’M ANGRY AT HIM, THEN INSTIGATING ME IN SOME WAY THAT I YELL AT HIM AND HE SAYS “SEE?.” MAYBE THAT’S WHAT THE “SAVING THE SEAT” WAS TODAY, BUT I DIDN’T ENGAGE. IT MIGHT ALSO BE WHY HE LIFTED THIS STORY, IF IT HAS BEEN LIFTED.)

Jamie, you already made a plan to not engage. Stick with the plan. You only have today and tomorrow and then you never have to worry about dealing with this person again. This session is almost over and the therapist in PROCESS GROUP knows how to handle him. Just play with the clover, Horton and don’t pretend that you hear something that isn’t there.

PROCESS GROUP

Ugh. Our normal therapist is out. Running the session today is TFG (this fucking guy). This is the same person we’ve had before who enters saying he is subbing for someone else. Tells us why he is important, makes a joke, explains the joke and I have zero confidence in him being able to reign in the other person.

That’s when it hits me. I look across the room and the young woman is sitting in the seat that the patient eagerly encouraged her to. He has lowered his normally loud, projecting voice to almost a whisper, so she has to lean towards him to hear what he says. I see it! HE’S A PREDATOR!

At this point I reach a state of hyper vigilance. I notice every subtle thing he is doing. Another young woman comes in with a crowd of other people. He greets only her, staring at her until he catches her eye and says “Hi (insert name)” while holding the stare until she finally looks away. The woman he is staring at previously shared that her estranged father was also dying. I think he lifted that story to connect with her.

The patient starts talking, sharing more dramatic details about his father and the situation. Very much like details of a soap opera, but not of real life. I start to give him feedback (Jamie you said you wouldn’t engage) and then he puts his hand up to stop me talking and starts conducting who can talk, pointing to people “I saw this person’s hand, then this person.” This is what the therapist usually does, not the patient. Surprise, surprise TFG doesn’t do a thing.

Jamie stop talking. Just play sudoku. Ignore Harold Hill and his trouble in River City.

9’s, 4’s,7’s- He’s still talking?! Someone take away this guy’s microphone! Jamie, this is a gift, you are practicing dealing with triggering people. Play with your Clover and ignore the voice.

The young woman shares something touching and breaks down. The patient gestures to someone to throw him a box of tissues. Instead, they hand the box to the woman. He takes the box from her and hands her tissue by tissue. PREDATOR ALERT!

I feel like I should try to put myself between the predator and the two young women. I know that’s not the answer but I feel like I need to protect them in some way. There’s a speck on the clover and it talks! I must save it!

LUNCH

I rush to my car and text James and my sister that I am being triggered by this guy. I’ve realized he’s a predator but maybe I’m wrong and just projecting, but I’m thinking of going to the nurses’ station just to get it out.

I go to lunch before I get their replies and try to talk myself down. Jamie, “don’t be blown by every wind.” You’re overreacting. Clearly this is a triggering personality, just steer clear.

I go back to my car after lunch and expect to hear back that I should just ignore it, but James agrees that I should talk to someone about it. Now I’m really scared. What if I am making everything up? What if this person isn’t a predator or full of shit? Well, if nothing else, I am shaking and I need help.

I go to the nurses’ station on full alert. I start by trying to be diplomatic about it but as they ask me more specific questions I start shaking and crying and reveal what I’ve observed, which I refer to (to myself) as the ‘How to be a predator grooming checklist.” As I’m describing, I flash back to soccer and softball when I observed my father do this to others or when the other coach did this to me and others. Large gatherings in which men did this, parties where my Dad did this to my friends. It’s an enormous flashback but also things I have seen in the past week, and in the past hour:

  • Make an excuse to touch someone or their belongings. Dropping something they have to hand you, bump something that makes them drop their possession which you hand them.
  • Notice me Take the longest route possible to exit a room, trying to be noticed by the person
  • Talk softly so they have to lean close to you
  • Control something they need (tissues from the tissue box)
  • Control the room, behave as if you’re in charge aka someone to be trusted, revered
  • Position yourself in a way that the other person is backed up against something so you can slide by them putting your body in contact with theirs. Then “forget something” so you have to slide the same way again.
  • Make eye contact that you won’t break. Greet the person by saying their name. Only greet that person and not others around them. Make them look away first, then approach them later to ask “what’s wrong?”
  • Slowly move something closer to you so that they have to lean over you or they need you to hand it to them (*this was the tissue box later in the day. He kept subtly sliding it closer to him when she wasn’t looking.)
  • Approach the person aggressively with open arms for a “hug” (we are not supposed to make physical contact here. He said “There’s got to be exceptions” and went in for a hug with one of the women saying “I’m so sorry you’re going through that.”) These are the unexpected kinds of hugs that happen before you know it. They usually linger.
  • Position yourself near the target, but appear to be ignoring them. If target engages with you, pretend you can’t hear them so they have to lean closer to you OR continue to ignore them and then come up to them later and say “Sorry, were you trying to talk to me earlier? I was thinking about something tragic, I could use a hug” and then go in aggressively for a hug
  • Compare the person to someone else with a joke sometimes a compliment, sometimes a slight insult and “just kidding”.

There are so many other subtle things that I’d noticed, but by this time I’m almost hyperventilating. One of my ears gets clogged. The nurses remind me that I am safe and that those women will be safe. They tell me that my fight or flight is engaged which is why my ear is doing that.

“It’s just so unfair! Predators aren’t caught until they do something, and what they do is so subtle and so damaging. They can do something that can cause trauma to someone for the rest of their life! It happens in seconds! AND HE WON‘T SHUT UP!”

They talk to me until I’m calmer and suggest I take some time before returning to the group. I walk a few laps around the parking lot thinking I’ve projected onto this person, that I was looking for things, that I’ve caused an unnecessary disturbance. There is no voice on that speck on that clover. Just ignore him Jamie. Just ignore.

DEFENSE MECHANISMS…How appropriate.

I return to the grey and white room and talk with the person who has similar trauma to what I have. It’s just chatting about music, but it calms me down. I trust this person. The class starts and I’m focused on learning. I notice the predator has moved the table he shares with the woman so that she is mostly on the edge. She has to lean towards him to write.

FLASHBACK (inappropriate physical contact)

Jamie, you’ve reported. This is not your problem to fix.

FLASHBACK (Dad cornering a friend)

Jamie, there are many reasons why he may have moved that table.

Back to defense mechanisms. The more I learn, the more I realize how sick my dad is. It’s still hard for me to accept that because everything was so intentional and him being “sick” feels like an excuse for bad behavior. It feels like it takes the own-ness off of him. But here in black and white are his defense mechanisms. And mine.

Trying to stay present but these memories are so loud.

My dad never really hugged me as a preteen/teen unless it was for show in public, but he would hug my friends and kiss them on the mouth. I hated it. When I was old enough to drive and go out alone with my friends, my dad would drive around looking for my car and then come to where I was with my friends (often a restaurant). I would protest but he wouldn’t listen. He would offer to pay for everyone’s meal and then slide into the booth with my friends, tell stories at my expense and use the tactics listed above, especially controlling the conversation. Then when I got home he would give me the silent treatment for being disrespectful to him (I knew this was the reason because he would tell my Mom to tell me). People thought “he wants to spend time with you” but I knew he wanted to spend time with my friends. Gross.

My dad coached soccer and softball. “What a wonderful father, he wants to spend time with you.” Then why is he coaching teams of girls that neither my sister or I are on? Why does he find an excuse to physically adjust their batting, pitching or catching stance, or “tuck the tags into their shirts?” Why is he angry with me or ignore me at every practice unless I am having a fun, engaging conversation with a group of girls that he can insert himself in the middle of, then ultimately try to take over?

The other coach was less subtle. He would brazenly touch girls. It was basically known that he was a creep with wandering hands. The same creep that assaulted me at the Thanksgiving table under the pretense of a backwards hug.

Now I’m equally sure of two things

  • This patient is a predator
  • I am completely projecting the situation and it isn’t real

It is so confusing. Write it out Jamie, just write, don’t engage.

REFLECTIONS

Listening and Problem solving. Group work NO! There are people on that speck! They need our help! The counselor positions herself in the predator (or innocent person?) group. PHEW! Someone else from the facility comes in and just sits. Hmmm…

We are given scenarios in which we are to come up with a passive response, aggressive response, and assertive response.

“Your boss sends everyone home but asks you to work late again. You have plans”

Passive: I’m supposed to do something tonight, do you really need me?

Aggressive: No! You always ask me but you never ask anyone else.

Assertive: I understand that I have been able to work late in the past, but tonight I have plans and can’t stay.

THERAPIST/DISCHARGE GOALS

My assigned therapist comes and pulls me away before I participate in Active Listening. I audibly say “Oh Thank God!” I’ll look over these sheets later:

I’m trying to focus on filling out my discharge form but all I can think about is my speck- I mean- possibly misrepresented situation. Then my therapist says:

“I’m so glad you reported. That person has been reported previously but nobody could see what you saw. We positioned somebody in the room to watch him and they observed what you observed. We have removed the women from the situation. You were right.”

Whenever I have these moments of being so sure and then trying to talk myself out of what I know is true, I think of this scene where Whoville is revealed and it’s all very dramatic. Dick Van Dyke narrates “BECAUSE HORTON WAS RIGHT!”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kC5GMkYi10Y

THE AFTERMATH

I call James when I get to my car and tell him what happened. He is proud. I call my sister next and break down crying. Everything that I had observed over the past few days proved that what I had observed as a child, teen, etc. was actually grooming and predatory behavior. I just always thought it was icky and uncomfortable. It was targeted.

The realization that I had this long list of knowledge of grooming behaviors was overwhelming. It’s still overwhelming as I write this. I was having flashbacks of events that actually happened while observing those things actually happening to people at the same time.

Observing something that others don’t see can be very isolating. It’s like a superpower that you wish you knew nothing about. It feels heavy in its responsibility. You’re so certain and yet it feels unbelievable that no one else knows. To be believed is relieving and horrifying all at once because today I watched someone being victimized and it was real.

Take away the panic of fight or flight and:

  • I perceived a threat and my body warned me
  • The threat was real
  • I reported the truth
  • I was believed
  • The threat was eliminated

Now if I can just get those bullet points closer together in my timeline, it will save a lot of stress.

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