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1969 PSYCHIATRIC NURSES TRAINING AT HOWARD STATE HOSPITAL IN CRANSTON, RHODE ISLAND

HOWARD STATE HOSPITAL IN CRANSTON, RHODE ISLAND

Our 3rd 3 month rotation is at Howard State Hospital.

On a hill that rolls gradually up from the Pawtuxet River across Pontiac Avenue stands the Howard Reservation, a campus like setting that includes Victorian stone structures, numerous early twentieth century Colonial Revival brick buildings, and assorted new facilities. Its story is part of the social history of all of Rhode Island, not just Cranston. The development of Howard was Rhode Island’s first attempt to provide social services statewide through publicly supported and publicly administered institutions. As such, the Howard reservation signaled both a significant change in the role of the state and a major alteration in the treatment of the poor, the mentally ill, and the criminal.

Here is what, we student nurses experienced in 1969. Still in our junior year we leave our campus and move to what we call Howard State Hospital for our Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing experience, where we lived on the premises for 3 months. The first night is creepy and scary. The patients that have ground privileges come around the building making weird sounds to frighten us. One of the students prize herself as a psychic, who can read us, through something that belonged to us, like jewelry, creating more anxiety around the unknown.

Sounds echo in the dorms, down the halls, and my laugh carried far. Before I know it I am called back to RIHSN to the Nursing School Director and told “You needed to keep it down”. I approached the topic of the Howard’s DON’s abuse of the patients and am told “You are not to get involved, not to report it or make a commotion about it, or you will be kicked out of nursing school”.

We investigate our surroundings, going into the basement; we come across cement tubs where they use to put the patients in ice baths and keep them in with canvas tops over the bathtubs. There are huge chains attached to large circular metal rings all up and down the walls, the energy of the place is one of water torture and inhumane practices, very dark and dungy.

The DON of Howard is our instructor and she is mean spirited. In our first class, she has one of the girls; sit in a chair in front of the class, then proceeded to unbutton her uniform almost to her waist before she stops, while the student sits quietly crying. The instructor yells at her for not stopping her. We all sat shocked and in disbelief at the treatment of our peer. Mimi and I would hitch-hike to the city and once we were picked up by the Police, who told us that our instructor had been arrested for stealing, that she was a kleptomaniac, warned us to watch out for her, and then they took us where we were going. Sometimes we go out in Norma’s old Studebaker car.

It is anxiety producing entering the locked ward we are assigned to. There is three levels of care here: 1) the patients with mild symptoms who are on open wards and can come and go to work, 2) our patients with severe mental illness, who are on locked units and are never let out and 3) the criminally insane who are violent and where students aren’t allowed. We walked down a long pathway with a wooden railing separating it from the sleeping quarters on the right that had rows of single beds in a long large dorm room.  On the left side is a large open area which is the bathroom. At the end we come to 2 doors the left door leads to the nurses’ station and the main door leads to the Day room, it is a cold and uninviting space. The large day room is equipped with chairs along the 4 walls, tables and chairs in the center, and a couple of rocking chairs. The nurses’ station is enclosed, with windows looking into the dayroom and a small hole that medications are passed through to the patient, there is staff around making sure the meds are swallowed; using fingers to probe in mouths looking for pills, with those who have a history of cheeking them.

In the morning they are herded into the bathrooms made out of white tile with many drain holes for the water to pass into the sewers, white porcelain toilets and sinks and no place to hide or have any privacy. The staff is constantly yelling out what task to do, the patients act like robots: putting their pointing finger out while we place a strip of toothpaste on it and then they brushed their teeth with their finger. Without any clothes on they are forced to huddle together while taking cold showers with bars of soap, then they are allowed to dress, it is all so very humiliating my heart breaks for these poor souls.

Most of the patients have been here for many years, some have had lobotomies because of unmanageable behavior, they all appear chronically ill. They are not let outdoor and all meals are served in the dayroom with only a spoon for a utensil for no object is allowed that can be used as a weapon.

When it come to hair cut day there is a chair placed in the center of the room, while everyone else sits against the four walls watching, as everyone gets a bowl cut, if they did not go along with it they were sat on by the big charge nurse, straight out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

The patients learned to love us for we are kind, considerate and interested in learning their story. Our last day on the unit, the staff are all lined up in the day room and the small mute woman patient goes up to the head nurse grabbed her by both nipples and twisted her down to the ground. Silently, I was cheering for the patient who had the courage to do such a thing, knowing full well that the consequences will be severe.

Psychiatric Nursing as a specialty is over 100 years old and has its roots in the Mental Health Reform Movement of the 19th Century which reorganized mental health asylums into hospital settings. Throughout the progress of this specialty, one skill that has created the foundation of psychiatric nursing is the one-to-one therapeutic relationship. It has been influenced by emergent psychotherapies and counseling skills has become an essential component in nursing education.

Hildegard Peplau developed the theoretical base for mental health nursing when she and others created the National League for Nursing in 1952 and suggested that all schools of nursing have a basic theory and practice course in psychiatric nursing. She firmly believed that the psychiatric nurse’s greatest tool was use of the self in the therapeutic relationship.

Psychiatric and mental health nursing concepts are present to us in all practice settings because the development of a one-to-one relationship is important in the creation of the patient’s trust in the caregiver. Assessment skills and communication are essential and taught in all areas of our nursing training in order to gather the information needed to make an accurate nursing diagnosis and subsequently treat the patient holistically.

We received experience and education in psychiatric nursing to provide care to an increasingly complex and seriously ill patient population through our ability to form one-to-one therapeutic relationships with the patients despite the environment we found ourselves in. Throughout history, psychiatric nurses lead the nursing profession in treating the after effects of war, disasters and the rising number of mentally ill individuals in society.

The therapeutic relationship is an abstract concept that can be defined as a planned and goal-directed communication process between a nurse and a patient for the purpose of providing care. We may counsel their patients but have not gone to counseling training. However, individual one-to-one work utilizing counseling skills is intrinsic to mental health nursing. Throughout our training we are developing observational skills, learning supportive approaches and sharing our education with patients. We are learning a non-judgmental attitude, we perceived inability to help our psychiatric patients, we feared  mental illness and when studying our Abnormal Psychology book we identified with many symptoms, we had poor role models at the State Hospital and had a lack of support in clinical settings which were all deterrents to our development.

The history of Psychiatric practice in the first part of the 20th Century did not place much stake in particular diagnostic categories. The first official manual of the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-I, 1952) reflected the views of dynamic psychiatrists. Specific diagnostic entities had a limited role in the DSM-I and its successor, the DSM-II in 1968. These manuals conceived of symptoms as reflections of broad underlying dynamic conditions or as reactions to difficult life problems. Dynamic explanations posited that symptoms were symbolic manifestations that only became meaningful through exploring the personal history of each individual. It made little effort to provide elaborate classification schemes, because overt symptoms did not reveal disease entities but disguised underlying conflicts that could not be expressed directly. For example Schizophrenia is thought to be caused by the mother.

Karl Menninger, a leading dynamic psychiatrist, viewed all mental disorders “as reducible to one basic psychosocial process: the failure of the suffering individual to adapt to his or her environment…Adaptive failure can range from minor (neurotic) to major (psychotic) severity”. Rather than treating the systems of mental disorder, he urged psychiatrist to explain how the individual’s failure to adapt came about and it’s meaning to the patient thus almost everyone has some degree of mental illness at some point in their life. The focus of dynamic psychiatry broadened from the treatment of neuroses to more generalized maladaptive patterns of behavior, character and personal problems. Mental health patients came to be people who were dissatisfied with their relationships, careers, and their lives in general. Psychiatry had been transformed from a discipline that was concerned with insanity to one concerned with normality. This focus made the profession vulnerable to criticism that it was too subjective, medically unscientific, and overly ambitious in terms of its ability to explain and cure mental illness.

The following is taken from “1970 RI Historical Preservation Report for Cranston, Rhode Island”.

In summary for the first 150 years of American history, poverty, crime, and insanity were regarded as natural components of human society; the local approach to providing social services reflected the seventeenth and eighteenth century view of the town as the basic social organization. With the coming of the American Revolution and the nineteenth century, a new philosophy evolved. It held that deviance and poverty were not inevitable but simply the result of a poor environment. The solution was believed to be isolation of the poor, the mentally ill, and the criminal in an environment that eliminated the tensions and chaos engendering deviant behavior.

Poor farms and asylums sprang up around the country. In Providence, the Dexter Asylum opened in 1828 to care for the sick and feeble, and in the 1847, Butler Hospital was opened-one of the most progressive institutions for the treatment of the mentally ill in the nation. In 1839, Cranston’s Town Council voted to purchase the Rebecca Jencks estate in what is today Wayland Park at the foot of the present Meschanticut Valley Parkway, and use it as a poor farm.

Although by 1850 fifteen of Rhode Island’s thirty-one towns had established town asylums or poor farms, their operation did not reflect the kind of progressive thinking that was embodied at Dexter and Butler. The situation of the poor and the insane poor was not only scandalous, as revealed in Thomas Hazard’s 1851 “Report on the poor and Insane in Rhode Island”, which graphically delineated the miserable living conditions of most of the state’s poor, it also reflected a continuation of the local approach to social problems. Following Hazard’s report, the legislature abolished the chains and dark rooms that had characterized the treatment of the insane in many towns.

In 1866 a state Board of Charities and Corrections was established similar to that in Massachusetts, to “devise a better system of caring for the unfortunate unlawful classes of the state”. The act provided for the establishment of a state workhouse, a house of corrections, a state asylum for the incurable insane, and a state almshouse. The board moved to consolidate facilities by establishing a “state Farm” that would simultaneously raise standards for the indigent and relieve the localities of their responsibilities. Two adjacent Cranston farms were acquired the old Stukeley Westcott farm and the William A. Howard farm further west.

Plans for a state farm reflected the adoption by the state of Rhode Island of some of the current thinking affecting social services. The selection of a pastoral site far from the city is indicative of the prevailing philosophy that many of the nineteenth-century replaced assignment of the destitute to local families. Almshouses would care for the “worthy” or hard-core poor, the permanently disabled, and others who clearly could not care for themselves. The able-bodied or “unworthy” poor who sought public aid would be institutionalized in workhouses where their behavior could be controlled and where, away from the temptations of society, they would develop new habits of industry to prepare themselves for more productive lives and less dependency.

The creation of a state asylum for the insane signaled a significant change in public policy towards the mentally ill. Unlike the earlier optimistic era in the 1840s when Butler Hospital opened, the newer prevailing philosophy assumed that many of the insane were incurable, and therefore there was little justification for providing expensive hospitals for them. Thus in planning the State Asylum, therapy was the last of the goals listed. The Asylum would offer “every facility for economical, comfortable, and perhaps even to a degree, curative care…”

In 1885, to relieve the cities and towns from the burden of supporting their insane poor, the General Assembly adopted a resolution that the State Asylum for the Insane should serve as a receiving hospital for all types of mental disorder, acute as well as chronic, thereby merging the two. By giving over the Asylum to the “undesirable” elements, the poor, the incurable, and the foreign-born, the upper and middle classes thus restricted their own ability to use it. Therapy was second to custody.

The Board’s explanation for the rise in mental illness, agreed with the views of Dr. Edward Mann, Medical Supervisor of New York City’s Ward’s Island, who was quoted in the annual report for 1877:

“Next to hereditary pre-disposition, which is the first and predisposing cause of insanity, comes the great mental activity and strain upon the nervous system that appertains to the present age and state of civilization. This feverish haste and unrest, which characterize us as a people, and the want of proper recreation and sleep, tend to a rapid decay of the nervous system and to insanity as a necessary consequence.”

In 1888 funds for a new almshouse for the insane was obtained. The older wooden structure was replaced with the installation of a large central administration building with office and residential facilities for the staff and public eating and worship spaces for the inmates who were segregated in men and women wings flanking the central structure and a cottage for the children. It opened in 1890 the three and half story stone building stands as a series of long buildings running north-south and interrupted regularly by octagonal stair towers. Its handsome stone work and the red-brick trim and its site behind copper beach trees on a bluff overlooking Pontiac Avenue make the center Building one of the most visually striking structures in Rhode Island.

The major improvement of the decade before the turn of the century was the appointment of Howard’s first full-time superintendent, which signaled the introduction of professional training, therapy oriented administrators at the State Farm. The new orientation manifested itself in the building plan for the Hospital for the Insane created in 1900, based on the contemporary practice of constructing hospitals for the insane on the cottage or ward plan, “thereby establishing small communities in separate buildings that are more easily taken care of and administered,” the plan was the first at Howard to establish a campus like quadrangle arrangement of buildings in place of one large self-contained structure. A new key part of the new plan was a communal dining room constructed in 1903 with the room measuring 195 feet by 104 feet, which could seat 1,400 people.

In 1912, the reception Hospital (A Building) was opened, intended to permit appropriate diagnosis and classification of patients as they entered the institution. In 1916 psychiatric social workers were assigned to the state hospital. The training School for Nurses was opened in conjunction with the reception building. B Ward was completed in 1916 and C ward in 1918 completing the plan for “simple and dignified” buildings and “plain red brick walls with pitched roofs, without any attempt at ornamentation”. Standing just west of Howard Avenue and opposite the old House of Correction, the quadrangle signaled the beginning of a new mode of construction at Howard-red brick buildings in a simple Colonial Revival style grouped around a quadrangle and containing dormitories, single rooms, and porches as well as treatment facilities.

In 1918 a new building was constructed for the criminally insane and additional dormitories. The old twelve foot high solid fence which shut off patients from the outside world was replaced by a lower lattice one with view of the surrounding countryside. This change alone symbolized the change in attitude which was articulated in 1929 Annual Report:

“The commission tried to save dollars, but it would rather save a man or a woman. It wants to see plants in Cranston, Providence, and Exeter a credit to Rhode Island, standing like so many Temples of Reform, Education, and Philanthropy. But it is even more desirable that its work should be represented in reconstructed Living Temples in the morals, minds and bodies of those who have been ministered to by these public administrators. For it is better to minister than administer.”

These efforts at reform in treatment of the insane were paralleled by a new attitude towards the infirmed with attention focused on the medical, not the social, disabilities of the inmates. Rehab work program was started in 1928. Patients could live with families and work in the community. Most of the patients worked the 225 acres of state farmland, harvesting far in excess of the needs of the reservation. As late as 1941, 750,000 quarts of milk, 400,000 eggs and 14,000 tons of beef were being produced on the farm.

There is a long History of overcrowded and in 1933 the State Hospital, with accommodations for 1,550, housed 2,235 and was labeled the most overcrowded mental hospital in the northeast. In the years 1935-1938 twenty-five buildings were erected for the State Hospital for Mental Disease. The appearance of Howard was dramatically altered by this construction which went up so fast the Providence Journal declared a “new skyline rises at Howard.”

Built in a uniform, red brick, Georgian Revival style, the structures comprising the State Hospital and State Infirmary are grouped in campus fashion on either side of Howard Avenue. Taken in total, the building incorporated a uniformity of style, scale, material, and sitting that is striking. Historically they represent the coming together of national policy and local initiative. Architecturally, they present one of the most lucid statements of the Georgian Revival in Rhode Island. Despite the improvements by 1947 conditions once again deteriorated due to overcrowding. In 1959 an expert from Boston declared the conditions were shameful and yet “relatively good” compared with mental hospitals in the country, due to the inability to raise capital funds to match federal programs. In 1954 there was an active public-relations effort, including pamphlets detailing the overcrowding, articles in the Journal, and radio spots resulted in passage of a bond issue. In 1962 the General Hospital and the State Hospital for Mental Diseases merged to become the Rhode Island Medical Center. The former became the Center General Hospital and the latter the Institute of Mental Health. In so doing, Rhode Island was the first state to create therapy units for its mentally ill. In 1967, the Medical Center was divided. The Center General Hospital was designated to serve as an infirmary for the prison and the Institute of Mental Health.

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1964-1967 PLEASANT STREET

 

We move to Pleasant Street parallel to the Blackstone River. My Aunt, Uncle, and cousins live 2 houses down from us, on the first floor of a white triple decker with black shutters and a large yard with a swing set. I spend a lot of time hanging out there. I idolize my aunt and bask in her motherly skills helping her bath my baby cousin in a galvanized steel tub on the kitchen table. My uncle is a hard worker and when home is always sleeping in his chair even when my aunt’s high pitched voice is yelling at the girls. My mother has that same tone of voice frequently, its normal background sounds that I am use to and comfortable with, I find myself using my own high screechy voice when I baby sit or fight with my sisters.

 

My uncle belongs to the Portuguese Social Club and he rents it for my sweet 16th birthday party, it’s a big hall for the small group that show up. Being introverted and new to the neighborhood, I have a few close friends and do not run with the popular crowd. My poor self esteem and anxiety does a number on my head with lots of negative thoughts; during the process of getting ready, during the activity and long after the celebration is over. I get extremely anxious at social gathering with my peers; I do not remember ever being comfortable in a crowd of kids; making all kinds of judgments about myself, being concerned about what others think about me, and always wanting to please them.

 

We live in a very small three bedroom, two story white Cape Cod styled cottage, 600 x 450, set way back from the street, a chain linked fence surrounds the property, a concrete pad for parking, with a humongous front yard and right down the middle is a concrete walkway. The grass requires mowing every week, using the hand mower I run while pushing it the large distance it must go, back and forth at least 6 times on each side. I love the smell of freshly mowed grass. The back yard has just enough room to walk and space for the metal garbage cans. The snow always pile up there, as it falls from the roof, so ma make taffy, throwing it on the snow and we pull it with all our might till it is done.

 

Since I am 16 years old my mother sends me to driving school, saying “I wouldn’t be able to teach you”. It seems like forever, I have been waiting for the day I would get my drivers’ license. The first time I take the new 1964 yellow Impala out I drive Downtown. I find my-self freaking out, the driver in front of me stops suddenly, I react by swerving up onto the sidewalk to avoid hitting the car, heading straight for a shop window with the owner holding her hands up to stop me, I put my foot on the gas rather than the break, and get stopped by the large light pole, protecting all from injury, which the city bills my family for. The right fender is completely demolished but drivable. I am extremely scared to go home, fearful of the consequences, which are nonexistent. I do not understand the rational that adults live by, I find it confusing.

 

Opening the front screen door, then the wooden door, which has just enough room to swing half way, and stand at the base of the stairs directly in front of me. Going to the left is a small room, which is the entry way for all the traffic to pass through, which has a chair and end tables, two windows let in the setting sun and the cool breezes. I can see straight into the alcove that is the living room where the TV and a sofa sit with windows facing west and north.  I turn left into the kitchen /dining area which the largest room leading to all the areas in the back part of the house: pantry, bathroom, a bedroom used as the kids’ room and the stairs to the cellar.

 

The dining room contains a large kitchen table with six chairs in the middle; the refrigerator is up against the left wall, the four burner gas stove is up against the right wall. Off the north side is a small pantry with a double sink and long counter space, there are cabinets above and below for dishes and storage with a small window, there is only room for one adult to move around in. There is a steel cabinet for food storage in the main room that divides the pantry from the tiny bathroom. The back door has a window on each side, to let in the rising sun at breakfast time, which usually is cereal that I put together my-self, we are all expected to do our own meal and ask for help if needed. Messes are not tolerated and I am a clean freak as a result.

 

Ma is a great baker: latticed covered cherry pie, lemon meringue that comes to an amazing peak, cakes to die for with luscious frosting, holiday fruit and nut breads, and her special cherries jubilee in a chafing dish with the blue flames she would ignite for all to see. She has many Damascus table clothes so there is always one on the table. She is sensitive about her cooking, once my sister complained about the meal and my mom picked the beautiful cloth up by the corners, dishes, food and all, carrying it out back and dumping it in the garbage; that was the last time anyone said anything negative about the food.

 

She has me making the dinners during the week which consisted of meat, potatoes and a vegetable that is bland and basic. We eat dinner in silence, now that the shadow is living with us, and it’s very common to be wacked with a utensil if you reached across the table or speak. Supper is now a very anxiety producing experience for me and I have started to develop severe stomach aches after meals. I would be in the pantry leaning over in pain while she says “You just don’t want to do the dishes”. My sister and I alternate between washing and drying, when we were together in the pantry we would get into arguments. When I was drying and find some crude I would put the item back in the water to be washed again. This has resulted in mother separating us, so now the washer is alone and when finished leaves, and then the dryer go in and does that chore, cutting down on our fighting.

 

The bathroom is the only place I can have complete privacy with a hook and latch on the door. I love my weekly soaking on Saturdays in the porcelain tub with the strong fancy feet; there is a matching toilet and sink, with a northern window to let in light and air. There is a mirror I look into when brushing my teeth and doing my hair. The first time I shave my legs I cut myself all the way up my shin and it sure does sting when I do it.

 

There is another room on the south side, which is the kids’ room for all the toys, and ends up as the junk or storage area, its purpose always changing; it has an east and south facing windows. This is where our dog Lady has her puppies, she becomes very mean and protective, and so she is given away. I often wonder who was abusing her.

 

The house is spotless; my mother is the task master and has given us all assigned chores to do, saying “Why do you think I had all girls… to do housework!” Once a week He goes around with white gloves trying to find dirt. We hold our breath because if dirt is found we can’t go out. Once he found dust high up on the door jams so we are punished by having to clean all over again and not let out. I develop a frenzied approach to cleaning, constantly going over again and again areas that are already clean, trying to think like Him and not miss anything, but it never seems to be right, there is always something wrong.

 

Going down the open staircase to the dark dank basement is creepy and being the size of all the rooms on the first floor without dividers it’s the largest room in the house. In the southeast corner are the washer, dryer, and an ironing board always set up and ready to use, with clotheslines all over the place. The older girls each have a day to do our own laundry in addition to washing and drying other items we are responsible for. There are 2 old couches in the southwest corner where we can hang out, when friends come over, lots of necking has gone on in that area, which has the most lighting. In the northwest corner is a cement structure that is the only remnants left of the Still that once produced 200% white lighting. This is also where the metal shut carries the coal down into the basement leaving black dust in the air.

 

Back to the front entrance and to the right of the stairwell is my mother’s room, which is the only area she cleans, since she works hard and is always exhausted and lying in bed. Standing in the doorway, for her room is off limits, the bulky solid maple bedroom set crowds the space. There is a short long dresser straight ahead, with a large mirror reflecting my image back to me. There is light coming in from the west window and looking out the south facing window is our neighbor’s yard. There is a tall dresser on the left wall with just enough space to get to the heavy double bed with its rounded carved polls for the head board, against the east wall. When she is not around we go through her drawers looking for nylons without wholes or runs in them. Once I found annulment papers showing that she had been married before my father, causing me to wonder if he was my real father, since I was born a little over 9 months after they were married, maybe I was conceived on their honeymoon.

 

 

At the top of the skinny stairs leading to the 2nd floor is a room on each side; again the top floor has a pitched roof. The left room on the north side has the twin beds in addition to a trundle bed that is stored under one of the twins, where the youngest ones sleep. The room on the right is where us older ones sleep together in a full size bed, I am always crowded out and near the edge because my sister likes to sleep across the bed. My sister and I fight a lot and the only things we have in common are working at the shoe lace factory and music. I run the noisy machines that cut the braid and tip the shoe laces, while she packages them. She tells me “That guy who brings the spools is a homo”, naive me asks “what’s that?” learning about homosexuality. We pool our money and join a music club, buying albums: Doors, Dave Clark 5, and the Monkeys.

 

 

The shadow’s behavior continued and progresses to trying to touch, which startles me awake from a sound sleep. I learned to condition my-self; to awake with the sound of heavy breathing and the pungent smell of booze. I use to sleep on my back, now I sleep in the fetal position, using protective and defensive behaviors. so those big groping hands do not make contact with my body. He leaves the room, my mother has heard him either going up the stairs or creeping around the room, she calls to him, and he leaves. I have not slept well for a long time; it started when my father was in a wheel chair when my mother ingrained in me that if there was a fire we’d have to get him out, and it has continued as a way to protect myself, not feeling safe enough to go into a deep sleep. Fear is my major mode of being in this house.

1963/1964 GRADUATE FROM THE 9th GRADE

 

I graduate from the 9th grade at St. Edwards’ Junior High School at the age of 15 in 1964. St. Edward was established in 1904 and is located at 58 Hancock St., Pawtucket, R.I. This is where I was stable for 4 years: attend the same school, living in the same neighborhood, maintaining the same friendships and exploring the same city which has created a sense of continuity in my life. Now things around me seem to be falling apart and going downhill: the church, my country and the world; it is starting to no longer be a safe place for me and I experience it through my body, mind and spirit.

 

I am on the Junior Variety basketball team, we finish 2nd in the state losing to the giant black girls from Providence, one girl just bear hugged me to stop me from moving even though she knew she would foul out. One time we took a short cut across the railroad tracks, all of a sudden I felt a vibration on the metal quickly followed by the roar of the train, I could not see it, I froze as the whistle blew, luckily one of my team members pulled me off, we are plastered up against the brick wall, just as I feel the force of the wind from the locomotive press me like mortar into the brick, holding my breath, heart pounding, vision blurring, it finally passes.

 

My friend Anna and I were reading very risque paperbacks, I just got to read the first page of Lolita before it disappeared from my desk, we found many missing after lunch always thinking the boys were stealing them from us. On the last day of school the nun took us aside into the cloakroom and said “I had confiscated all those unfit books you two have been reading”. Anna responded with “It was you that was stealing our books! Can we have them back, please?” Sister resounded with a firm “NO”. We spend many hours locked in Anna‘s bedroom, which has 2 doors that had flimsy hook and eye latches held on by screws, her brother would pound on the door demanding “Let me in! I am going to tell dad! What are you doing in there?” Her family is very strict and controlling Italians causing her to rebel. We wear white lipstick, black eyeliner, using an eyelash curler, teasing our hair, lots of black clothes, we are called mondos. My friends in school asked me why I hang around such a wild girl; no one can understand because they have healthier, supportive families while we have abuse issues in common that connected us like nothing else can.

 

I am the last of my female friends to get my menses; I am envious at first except when the day finally arrives. I run home and go into the bathroom; mother is on the other side of the door asking, “Are you OK?” I answer “yes”. I was in there for some time and when I come out she hands me a pamphlet about “What every Girl Should Know”. She asks me, “Do you know what a cherry is?” “Yes” surprised by that question. “Do you have any questions?”, “No” is my response because I have spent a great deal of time at the library reading medical books about girls and boys bodies maturing. I was anxious and scared seeing the blood but my friends have shared their experiences which were somewhat comforting and preparatory. On Sunday, on my way to church I faint on the street, I feel my body swoon to the ground, I can’t speak, and darkness descended down on me. I come around to my sister calling my name. She begs me to go to church anyway because it is her way of getting out, not going to church and doing what she wants, I complied with her wishes. At church I pray hard for help.

 

I spend a lot of time in the beautiful Old Pawtucket Library going up and down the aisles reading whatever calls out to me. On the first floor in a back room is an ornate book stand holding the largest dictionary I have ever set eyes on, I spend lots of time in this spot as I lovingly turn its pages with great care and respect looking up whatever word is on my mind. I love to climb up the circular winding staircase holding tightly to the iron banister to the top floor, I pause half way up and look out the fancy dome windows to the wondrous sky outside, before proceeding to the second floor. This area is like an open loft overlooking the lower floor, the iron banister goes the whole length and the one time I stood against it the librarian yelled “Please do not hang out along the banister or run in the library”. There are rows upon rows of highly polished, floor to ceiling, wood bookcases protecting the millions of books on the shelves, I usually grab a book and sit on the floor reading, this is my sanctuary.

 

My sister and I continue our Saturdays at the movies, the ticket guy has put a stop to me getting in for 25 cents saying “You can’t still be 12 years old for all these years, and putting your hair in braids does not work anymore.” It is at the Leroy Theater that I start meeting boys and get my first kiss. We continued to walk all around Pawtucket, having fun shopping in the Downtown area, going to the factories to buy trinkets, fabric, thread and sewing supplies. In the summers we spent our days at the swimming pool where everyone hung out trying to stay cool and watching the smoke stacks billowing out all the garbage being burned, you can even smell it’s stench .

 

I go to the Hamlet bowling alley with my girlfriends to meet boys, we always make sure we are in a lane close to some cute boys, so that we can flirt and be noticed. I am really bad at bowling and my balls always seem to gravitate into the gutter, I am lucky if I get a score of 90, usually in the 70s. This is where I and 3 of my friends try cigarettes in the girls’ bathroom. We smoke the whole pack in a short period of time; I feel dizzy, queasy, coughing and chocking, which is a blessing for I never want to smoke again.

 

For many years I am very involved with the Catholic Church. It had its positive influence; for it gives me strength through difficult times and spiritual tools for coping. I am involved with the Catholic Junior Council at St. Mary’s Church where I go to learn square dancing and join others my age in group activities. I accidentally came upon the brothers involved in sexual activity in the basement of the church. The brothers push an unwilling girl into a small closet with another brother, while they are laughing at the situation. I was lucky it never happens to me, it affects me in many ways, I am fearful because they have threatened me if I tell. I am experiencing great confusion around sexual issues due to this and the sexual abuse. No place is safe not even the church.

 

It seems that in the United States many are still divided on issues of equality. In Alabama Governor Wallace’s “Segregation Forever” speech is given at his inauguration. President Kennedy proposes the Civil Rights Bill. The March for Jobs and Freedom, or more commonly known as the March on Washington, attracts over 200,000 people to Washington, D.C. With the people concentrated around the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. gives his I Have a Dream speech. I am fascinated by this cultural issue which I watch on TV, listen on the radio and even find a written copy to read, it’s so inspiring. I am saddened when Four Black girls are murdered attending Sunday school in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. A target because it was where there was regular civil rights meetings. As a result Riots erupt in Birmingham, and two more black youths are killed in the violence. I identify with those who are being suppressed, somehow it’s comforting knowing I am not the only, and feeling guilty because my situation is not as bad as theirs.

 

In the world around me it seems the major powers are jockeying for top positions. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. sign a treaty banning any atmospheric nuclear tests and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty takes effect. The worst thing that happens is that President Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas by Lee Harvey Oswald and we are sent home from school early. I am in a state of shock and disbelief that such a great man is no longer with us that his family has to endure such brutality, I am glued to the television, and my grief is overwhelming. All hope is lost for peace. Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as President on Air Force One then he escalates American’s military involvement in the Vietnam War. Hatred seems to be the going theme.

 

I find refuge in music and the words found in the songs, I memories. In Rhode Island the Newport Folk Festival is going strong with popular folk singers Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger singing about what is going on, sharing thoughts and feelings about the way the world can be. The Beatles release “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which becomes a huge hit and a success in America. In a widely anticipated and publicized event, The Beatles arrive in America in February 1964, spearheading the British Invasion. Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and other Harvard alumni LSD researchers move to the Hitchcock’s estate in Millbrook, New York to continue their research into psychedelics. I search for understanding and a way out of the conflict.

 

I feel unsafe; in my home, surroundings, environment, church, my country and my world. My fears and anxieties are compounded and everywhere I go I am on the defense looking for the danger always lurking in the shadows putting me in a hyper-vigilant state; anxious and fearful, heart racing, poor concentration, fuzzy vision, weakness and shakiness. There is no place or no one to turn to, I am on my own. What am I to do? What do you do? What do you suggest?

1961/1962 BECOMING A TEENAGER

1962 St. Edward’s Junior High School

I go from 6th grade to the 7th at St. Edward’s Junior High School and turn 13. In the 7th grade, we no longer stay in one room for all our classes; we change rooms for every period. I have many friendships now and spend most of my free time with Anna listening to the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and Ricky Nelson. We have abuse issues in our home  life  while our outside world feels dangerous and unsafe, having this in common bringing us closer than anything else could. I feel safe with her and can tell her anything, she is a great example of how to stand up for yourself.

My youngest sister is born with poker straight blonde hair and when I rub her head it stands up from the static electricity. It seems like I am always babysitting, if it’s not my sisters it is my cousins. When I go to My Aunt Louise’s her boys are hard to handle, I leave them in the bedroom because I get so mad, I am irate, luckily I have control because one of the boys was not so luck with another babysitter who abused him. When I go to my Aunt Lucille’s the girls do not listen to me, they hide in the closet, telling me I am no fun.

My mother sends me to Singer’s for sewing lessons saying “you will always be little and need to know how to sew, you will be glad you learned”. My first project is a 3 piece light green linen suit; jacket, vest and skirt, it came out great and I will wear it for Easter. My meme died recently from Cancer, she was an excellent seamstress and made us great dresses and coats when we were young. My mother is also a great sewer making dresses and coats for us especially for Easter and we always have hats, shoes and purses to match. We are poor but mother always manages to provide for us. It is wonderful coming from a long line of seamstress it has contributed to having a sense of style an ability to make whatever I put my mind to and a great sense of accomplishment.

In my own country the political environment is changing. President Kennedy initiated a 17 billion dollar nuclear missile program, advising Americans to build fallout shelters, increasing aid to Indonesia, invading Cuba at the Bay of Pigs which was a failed mission, so we start underground nuclear testing all of which creates a lot of fear and anxiety in many Americans. When Kennedy announces the creation of the Peace Corps I feel hope for humanity which gets me dreaming about living in far off places helping people in other cultures with feelings of peace and cooperation rather than war and hatred. What are your experiences and feelings around love and hatred?

In the south things are heating up. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) has begun sending student volunteers on bus trips to test the implementation of new laws prohibiting segregation in interstate travel facilities. One of the first two groups of “freedom riders,” encountered its first problem two weeks later, when a mob in Alabama sets the riders’ bus on fire. The programs continued and by the end of the summer 1,000 volunteers, black and white, have participated. The Freedom Riders force integration of Interstate and Travel facilities in the South. I identify with those who are suppressed and controlled and revel in their successes. Freedom what does that mean to me, and you my reader?

In the world around me Yuri Gagarin of the USSR is the first man in space which seems to irk my American patriots. In East Germany border guards begin construction of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall physically separated Communist East Germany and Democratic West Germany. It seems that fear, anxiety, and separation are going on all over mother earth creating an uneasy feeling from within contributing to my feelings of insecurity and not safe or secure. Have you ever experienced that?

As 1962 rolls around I finish the 7th and go into 8th grade still at St. Edward’s and turn 14. The country continues to experience much conflict. The Supreme Court, in the case of Engel v. Viatle, rules against prayer in public schools focusing on the separation of church and state. I am thankful to go to Catholic School where I can pray openly and that my classmates have the same religion. John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the earth, it is like there is a competition for ownership of space; it seems there is a wild race to be the first. The Cuban Missile Crisis happens: The Soviets establish missile bases in Cuba; Kennedy orders a naval blockade to divert any missiles from arriving in Cuba, pointing to an escalating conflict in my world; the powers that be always seem to want to be in control and have the upper hand, being the top dog. Then there is Timothy Leary who found the International Foundation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) to promote LSD research as well as publish The Psychedelic Review. Internal Freedom is an interesting concept, reinforcing the importance of keeping things to myself that upset others while having a right to think the way I do. Do you have internal freedom or is there some internal voice telling you to think a certain way?

I turn to Music to open my mind, giving me alternative ways of seeing things, putting me into a different space. I really get into the British pop group the Beatles who attain their first number one on the British charts with Love Me Do. I learn all their songs by heart for they are simple, and positive. I find Folk singer Bob Dylan’s words on his first album expressing my inner turmoil, helping me reflect on what I want to believe in. I love dancing to the songs of The Four Seasons who have release three straight number one hits in a row.

Many things are changing and breaking down in my culture, reflecting what is going on internally for me; seeking freedom, peace and harmony through whatever means are available, as time marches on.

1960 THE SHADOW

We move again creating a lot of anxiety from within, those butterflies in the stomach, a jittery vibration throughout my body, my mind get fussy making it hard to read, constantly having to reread paragraphs over and over again before it makes any sense to me, interfering with my optimum functioning. I have to get use to another neighborhood, school, church and making new friends.

We now live on Lawn Avenue still in Pawtucket, R.I., on the other side of the railroad tracts, parallel to Mineral Spring Avenue. Right on the other side of our back yard is the pizza place where the kids hang out, dancing to the blasting jukebox music. I save many Dentin wrappers to go the Chuck Berry’s concert. Our neighbors who live down stairs are the McCarthy’s and the Mathews’. A few blocks west and south live my mother’s friend Monic, who is my Aunt Sis’s sister (who is married to my Uncle Bert). Next door are the Chin’s who own a Chinese restaurant downtown; my sister teases Frankie calling him Frankie Avalon, I become close friends with his cousin Ginny, and many years later I run into Frankie and we laugh about a Chinese boy being connected to a famous white boy singer.

We live in another triple decker on the 3rd floor, which is covered with fake looking dark colored bricks possible tar paper. I climb the back staircase to enter the flat. As I walk in there is a large dining room with windows facing west, letting in the setting sun in the evenings. This is the central area from which all others rooms are connected, the bedrooms are on the east side so the rising sun beams us awake; Barbara and I shared a room at the south end while mother’s is at the north end and in the middle room is Tina and Joanne. The kitchen is very small, connected by a door to the bathroom which is in the northeast corner of the structure, with another door leading to my mother’s room. The living room takes up the south end with windows on 3 sides, there is a door leading to the patio and the front staircase which we rarely used, mostly it is for storage. The banisters are worn carved wood where many hands had already hung on while going up and down.

I am in the 6th grade and attending Saint Edwards School. I walk east on Lawn then turned left going north on Lonsdale Avenue, then turned left going west on Baldwin Street then right going north to Hancock Street. At first I struggle with making friends because everyone has been here since the first grade and are a tight nit group of kids, besides I wear these popular cat’s eye style glasses which I get teased about so I stop wearing them. The nuns are very strict and mean without compassion or caring for our welfare, they are more concerned with rules and orderly conduct. They have a tendency to pick on the boys grabbing them by their ears and pulling them down the aisles when they are the least bit disruptive. I excel in most of my studies, especially math, while my weakest subject is English. My mother’s original language is French Canadian and she did not finish high school, so our sentence structure is a little off kilter.

I turn 12 years old and am developing new friendships. Barbara and I go to the Leroy Theater on Saturdays; mom drops us off, paying 25 cents to get in, seeing all of Elvis’ movies. Barbara is 10 and has made friends with the kids down stairs who are her age. Tina will turn 6 after Christmas, and is always on her tricycle wanting to follow me around so I pay her a quarter to leave me alone and not tell on me. Joanne is a cute little baby with curly dark hair spending many hours in her playpen.

This is when the horror begins; my mother’s boyfriend is starting to pay attention to me, I am uncomfortable and freaked out. I wake in the middle of the night from the sound of heavy breathing, the stench of alcohol invading the air and there is a dark shadow in the corner of the room. I become very still and quiet, frozen in panic. I decide to tell my mom about the night visits. She is at the stove preparing dinner, I approach her and tell her what is going on- her response is “well, he hasn’t touched you, so nothing is happening”. I can’t believe that she is not coming to my rescue, I am speechless and angry. I am also afraid of her so I usually do the right thing so I do not get into trouble. I decide that I have to look after myself and I will never bring it up with her again. She does intervene after that, some nights she calls out to him, while he stands over us, and he leaves. I no longer feel safe or secure and I am suppressing my feelings deep inside of me. Mother feels safe and secure with this man around the house. He had come into our life taking her away from us leaving me vulnerable and frightened.

American culture is changing all around me: at Harvard University, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert begin experimenting with psychedelic drugs while the Food and Drug Administration approves the first birth control pill for sale. More permissive attitude is developing in our country.

The American government is turning to the left. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act. John F. Kennedy: a staunch anti-communist, pushed for social reforms such as civil rights for African Americans and healthcare for the elderly and poor, narrowly wins the Presidential election over Vice-President Richard Nixon, he is the first Catholic  President, pledging to land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. Lyndon Baines Johnson is elected Vice-President.

In music Elvis Presley gets out of the army and resumes his musical career by recording “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
Motown Records is created: with it’s first top 10 hit “Shop Around” by the miracles and peaks at number2 on the Billboard Hot 100 which is their first million-selling record. Folk Singer and activist Joan Baez releases her debut album on Vanguard records in December.

I love reading about nurses. Sue Barton is the central character in a series of seven novels for adolescent girls written between 1936 and 1952. The series follows Sue Barton through her nurse’s training and her work life. In Sue Barton: Student Nurse, Sue begins training as a student nurse. She meets her friends Kit and Connie in this book and also her husband-to-be, Dr Bill Barry. Sue manages to have a number of adventures as she trains, including falling down a laundry shaft and saving a feverish patient from jumping out of a window while recovering from appendix surgery. In Sue Barton: Senior Nurse, Sue finishes her training, which includes psychiatric nursing and obstetrics. She also becomes engaged to Bill at the end of this book. Sue Barton: Visiting Nurse follows Sue and her friend Kit as they venture to New York City to join the Settlement Nurses. Connie gets married in this book and Bill pressures Sue to marry him. Sue refuses, wanting a chance to repay the training she received from the Settlement Houses. At one point, Sue helps an elderly patient fulfill her dream of travel by using the money for her wedding clothes. Sue Barton: Rural Nurse follows Sue as she ultimately leaves the Visiting Nurses and returns home, only to find that a tragic accident has left Bill with the care of a disabled brother. He cannot marry Sue until things are settled. Sue sets herself up as a visiting rural nurse in the town of Springfield, New Hampshire and winds up in the middle of a typhoid outbreak. Sue finally marries Bill at the start of Sue Barton: Superintendent Nurse and then works as the head of the nursing school at the new hospital in Springfield. However, her marriage to Bill is not plain sailing and Sue questions her ability to provide a proper nursing training for her students. In Sue Barton: Neighborhood Nurse Sue suffers regrets about leaving her nursing career while she cares for her three children, each of whom has particular needs. She also helps a young teenager, Cal, to be more sociable and Cal’s mother, the artist Mona Stuart, to be kinder. Sue realizes that her role in her family and the wider neighborhood is also important. In Sue Barton: Staff Nurse (the final installment in the series), Sue returns to work to support her four children while her husband is in a sanatorium suffering from TB. He eventually recovers and the family is reunited once more, with the implication that Sue will return to her position as wife and mother.

I also read the Cherry Ames series stars a job-hopping, mystery-solving nurse. Cherry (short for Charity) hails from Hilton, Illinois was steered into nursing by Dr. Joseph Fortune, an old family friend. Cherry’s training at the Spencer Hospital School of Nursing is chronicled in the first two books. There, she meets the classmates who become lifelong friends. With the third book in the series Army Nurse, Cherry joins the Army Nurse Corps, and, after the war, she moves to Greenwich Village. Whenever Cherry isn’t working with the Visiting Nurse Service, Dr. Joe sends her on assignments in various parts of the country. Unlike Sue Barton, Cherry remains single throughout her career with an occasional boyfriend here and there. Cherry’s early adventures are set during World War II. In these early adventures, Cherry solves problems and captures criminals when men in authority have failed to do so, “demonstrating that women can succeed in the public, working world.”

As you can see there are many things in my environment such as current events on television, music, and books that influence me; creating visions and dreams for my future, while giving me a peek of a larger world view. What has contributed to your development?

These postings are being written in the present time. I have never written about this time period before so it doesn’t appear as polished to me as previous ones that is my perfectionist part of me speaking. I have verbally shared these painful memories; I have spent lots of time in these past experiences, feeling like I was in a deep dark bottomless pit that I could not get out of. I was stuck in this time, constantly wallowing in my grief, disbelief and anger about the loss followed by the abuse I had experienced.

I find myself procrastinating about posting it due to concern how I am coming across, how it will be interpreted resulting how others will see me. Since starting to write about it in context with what others things were happening helps me see myself differently, putting things in perspective.

I am anxious about sharing this for I know it will bring a lot of memories back that I have blocked causing pain and suffering and at the same time knowing I need to push through and share it in story form in order to move on.  I am fearful of the consequences of putting this down in written form for I will never be able to remove it from my history; it becomes a permanent record of my abuse. I pray that it does not contribute to future losses of family, like so many others have experienced when they have shared their stories of abuse. Spirit is pushing me to record it in order to see it in a new light, to not be attached to it, to no longer be concerned about how others see me, to let go and move on, to be an example of healing. As I write this emotions flood my being in all its aspects and I listen to the inner voice encouraging me on saying “It’s Time”, “It’s Now or Never”.

1958 A DAY IN CONVENT LIFE FROM A CHILD’S VIEWPOINT

Before writing I researched the internet for information to assist me with my memory. I found:

Notre Dame de Lourdes parish was created in July, 1874 and named after the 1858 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, France. The first pastor was from Montreal. Notre Dame de Lourdes is a Roman Catholic parish in Fall River, Massachusetts. The parish was established to serve the growing French-Canadian population located in the city’s Flint Village section. Since its founding, the parish has occupied three different church buildings; a wooden structure (1874–1893), a spectacular granite church (1906–1982) which is the one we went to for Sunday mass, and the current modern church since 1986. The parish complex over time has also consisted of other multiple buildings, including St. Joseph’s Orphanage, The Jesus Marie Convent, a school, the church rectory, the Brothers’ residence, and the former Msgr. Prevost High School. The parish also includes Notre Dame Cemetery, located in the city’s south end. I would love to hear any stories or information about this place.

 

 

Convent of Jesus Marie

 

 

When the New Year arrived my mother sent my sister and I to Jesus and Marie Catholic Convent on 138 St. Joseph’s street in Fall River near the seven hills. Not only have we lost our father but now our mother is sending us away. She is keeping my baby sister who is a loving soul that can provide her some comfort at this time. We will be here for the rest of the school year. I do not remember her visiting us. The memories of this time are clouded with feelings of loss, abandonment, and loneliness. To this day driving on those seven hills feels like my stomach is rising up at the same time my body is coming out of my seat, it happens to be a trigger, a reminder.

 

She was following her mother’s example: my mother and her sisters were placed in Mount Saint Francis Orphanage in Woonsocket, RI when their father died then later to St. Joseph’s Orphanage, and taken out when they got to working age. What is interesting is that St. Joseph’s is across the street from Jesus Marie Convent. All three places were focused on keeping the French culture alive with Nuns from Quebec, where my mother and my ancestors are from. This is an example of mother/daughter influences, a mother the soul chose, in order to learn lessons on planet earth; to evolve our human consciousness as part of a human family. An attitude of non-judgment and acceptance can be developed and can lead to “The Truth”, letting go of the desire to change it, will lead to the practice of living in the present moment, otherwise known as “Mindfulness”. Like the Beatles song “Let It Be”!

 

The Convent houses the nuns in addition to a boarding school for girls. The 4 story brick structure is situated in a northeast/southwest direction, there is a tower with a steeple on top, next door is a small schoolhouse. As I enter the foyer, right in the center of the building, I am overwhelmed by the immense wooden interior, for many trees have given up their life, and they have been honored with beautiful craftsmanship everywhere on walls, ceilings and floors. Right before me is a gorgeous staircase with fancy carved banisters and large landings, leading all the way up to the roof of the spire. Inside alcoves are religious figures and paintings; now the Lady in Blue is all around me. The only sound heard is feet moving on the stairs and echoing throughout the building empty of voices. Spirituality, at this point, is about developing a stronger relationship with the Lady of Lourdes who is the protector of children and she remains with me still.

 

My living quarters at Jesus and Marie Convent are furnished with a single bed, a small wooden writing-table with one little draw for writing supplies, a small wooden 4 drawer dresser for my belonging, and a stiff wooden chain. These things are all contained within a cubicle that is slightly larger than the bed, made of plywood on 3 sides; one side has a rod with a curtain for the limited privacy that I seek, that is only drawn when changing. I keep it very neat and clean for the Sisters always have us active; it’s not hard work because it’s always spotless.

 

My cubicle is one of many; there are up to 400 girls living here. I sleep on the 4th floor which contains many rows of cubicles that get lost in this humongous room with the high vaulted ceiling, beautiful shiny and slippery hardwood walls and floors, with the scent of lemon oil taking over any other smell that may try to invade this space.

 

There are doors at the far end leading to 2 other rooms. On the left side is the larger of the two where the younger girls sleep, including my sister. It is a large dormitory area and smack dab in the middle is a raised platform where a large bed is surrounded by a metal frame with white curtains drawn back, exposing the Nun’s domain. There is a small empty space around the central ruling place of power. There are many rows of cribs in a square formation around the major throne area where the toddlers sleep. On the outermost parameter is a multitude of twin beds going around the room and out to the 4 walls.

 

To the right is the sick room where the ill are isolated from the healthy girls, in this room age does not matter. I am lucky I am physically healthy so I don’t have to have that experience. My sister gets sick frequently and at night I can hear how mean they treat her and my heart breaks for her. I try to visit but I can only stand in the doorway. The fear of germs is heavy in the air with the smell of disinfectant creating an unseen barrier that is stifling. I am saddened by our separation; we had shared everything up until this time, always together, till now. I need her as much as she needs me.  By Experiencing a desire to care for another and to lessen the suffering continues to push caregiver goals that will lead to nursing and awareness of humanities need to break out of the chains that bind.

 

I’ve now lost connection with my sister and it contributes to my loneliness and isolation. I am going inside myself, seeking safety and comfort. I have a small transistor radio that keeps me company; listening to music when alone, outside under the trees, playing on the swings. This is the beginning of using music for healing. I gravitate to swings wherever I find them; for that feeling of freedom while reaching for the sky creates a breeze that surrounds me with hope. My relationship with the trees becomes stronger and anchors me to the earth. Going inside and being with myself has made me OK with the process that is required for meditation and contemplation. These things have become major coping mechanisms that are important part of my daily self-care approaches.

 

In the morning I wake up to the sound of bells being shaken by the sisters; hand bells with wooden handle, a brass bowl with a clapper, breaking the silence, telling me what move on. Starting with a pray at my bedside, washing up, putting on the school uniform, straightening up, making the bed with hospital corners, putting everything away, making sure nothing is left out, even the shoes have to be hidden under the bed all neat and tidy. There is a lot to be said for using prayer to start the day and having some structure in daily activities, which I still maintain today.

 

The frantic ringing of the bells informs us that it is time to leave. Once everyone is in line we head down the stairs to the chapel for mass and prays we rarely sit on those hardwood pews, mostly we are on our knees. One embarrassing time, in a quiet moment of pray, flabbergasted that I could not hold back the released of gas, it reverberates through God’s house and later there will be a joke made about it. Laughter is so important for healing, to lighten up and see the funny side of things. Being a serious person and having developed the skill to laugh at my-self brings balance to my being.

 

After mass we file out onto the landing before proceeding down the stairs to the dining area and kitchen. We girls do all the cleaning, preparing, cooking and serving of the meals under the supervision of the nuns. The hardest is stirring the large pot of Oatmeal on the stove burner, with a large wooden spoon, and for us short ones it requires a stool to stand on. The tasks are rotated so we all get experience at all aspect of kitchen life. I anticipate the clanging of the bells that announce the end of the kitchen work. I enjoy preparing healthy meals for myself and others which is something I have done since 4 yrs old. When overwhelmed this gets to be a difficult task and them I am grateful for those who feed me whether it’s a restaurant or my husband.

 

We put on our coats and walk next door to the school-house, breathing in the fresh air feeling energized and connect to life. Our morning classes are in French which is new to me because my mother only spoke it with the adults. I feel anxious and inadequate, not understanding a single word spoken and English is forbidden. I am relieved as I hear the school bell clamors for lunch time. A small meal is prepared by the school, it’s a blessing that it is done for us, and we eat in silence. There is a brief recess before returning to class. In the afternoon all the subjects are taught in English and I can get lost in mathematics and am proficient in the subjects taught helping my self-esteem. The dismissal bell tells us it’s over and to get our coats for our walk back to the boarding school. Reading, writing, education and learning provide great resources for my development and evolution and plan to continue till my dying days.

 

Back in the kitchen and cafeteria we prepare the dinner meal, serve it then clean up the mess. Exhaustion takes over and when the bells ring in the evening I am blessed with free quiet time. Sometimes I write at the small desk sitting upright reminding me of mother saying “Straighten Up” while I get my thoughts and feelings down on paper. Journaling is another tool; years of diaries help me have perspective on my life, for I have found my memory appears to change over time creating a story which is different but also valid.

 

The bells gentle inform us that it is time to prepare for bed, washing up, putting on nightgowns that are infused with the energy and feel of home, hanging the uniform over the chair, and bending in pray before getting under the covers. “Light Out” echoes as I am left with my thought and feelings, tumbling down, surrounding me in darkness, unable to see what is. Night time symbolizes the dark night of the soul, having to go through the process to get to the other side as the light of spirit leads the way.

 

Readers, do you identify with any part of my story, whether it’s an experience, a feeling or a response you have developed on your own path? What is your story of suffering, of turning pain into lessons for your own self-development, integrating self-care in your life? Have you written it down or fearful to do so? What is your story calling you to do, what is your heart asking you to do? Your story has to do with your purpose, mission and meaning in life, where is your intuition, your inner voice leading you? We can collaborating by getting our stories out there and contribute to a new way being, join me.

MY FIRST DECADE OF LIFE

June is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness month so I am sharing this story about my traumatic experiences that happened in the first 10 years of my life. Also it’s father’s day and I am floods with good and bad memories and how they have contributed to my healing and transformation journey that my soul chose for this lifetime. The good helps deal with the bad. Being a seeker pushes me forward.

 

My parents lived in Columbus, Ohio at the time of my birth. It was in the last 6 months of mother’s life when we shared ourselves deeply, for the first time in 40 years, the first time in our relationship and our last time together. I am very grateful I had the courage to be completely open about myself, even telling her my deepest and darkest secrets. The stories my mother tells about my early life contributes to my understanding of who I am.

 

She shared how during the birthing process “when my labor would get painful they would medicate me and the contractions would stop. Eventually after 3 episodes of this pattern, I asked for natural childbirth and not to be medicated”. When I was in my 30s I tried group Re-birthing and experienced being frozen and unable to move, this happened 3 times, it was extremely uncomfortable and I saw how true to my birth it really was. Wow, what a confirmation. Freezing is one of my coping responses, which I have worked hard to overcome, and deal with. In intensely stressful situations I have learned to use mindfulness, awareness and breathing in order to rise above my neurological responses and create new healthy pathways in my brain.

 

Mother told me “I was breast-feeding you and you were always crying. I felt you were starving so I told the doctor who disagreed and told me just to continue. I did not believe the doctor so I put you on formula and the crying decreased”. I have had digestive problems from the get go. I love milk and during childhood after meals I would be bent over in pain, which I believed was just a normal thing, later learning I am lactose intolerant. Back then you never heard about this. In my 20s, while in nursing school, I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I was instructed that they did not know much about it so I would need to learn what foods my body did not tolerate. This was very helpful suggestion-rather than taking an addictive substance named Phenobarbital, which is a barbiturate used for seizures, which they wanted to prescribe. I have always used holistic approaches to self-care.

 

“You would sit quietly in your crib for hours on end. By 9 months of age you were potty trained, you didn’t like being dirty, and when you got a spot on a dress you would cry and insisted on changing. You threw away the bottle and would insist on drinking out of a cup.” Recently I realized that I was trashing that formula and the high fructose corn syrup that was added to my water, listening to my body. IBS has been my companion into my 60s when healing occurred after consulting with a Naturopath, who treatment the Candida in my intestines and with a whole foods diet. I am a sugar freak which has caused many distressing symptoms, and getting off all those addictive foods has taken away my stomach pain. YEA! Being introverted and enjoying meditation/quiet moments is my major self-care technique my life raft. When in my 20s I took to the wilderness and learned to love the feel and smell of the earth, being alone with Mother Nature, basking in her nurturing qualities was healing by connecting with the universal life force.

 

When I was a year old my mother lost my baby brother who was born a “blue baby” my mother had RH negative blood factor, my father and the baby had RH positive, which resulted in my mother’s body experiencing the baby as a foreign body and he died the day of his birth. These babies were blue because of their circulatory problem of having poor blood flow, and not getting enough oxygen. This was due to poor fetal development because the mother’s immune system attacks the fetus, as if it is something foreign the body needs to get rid of. My parents really wanted that baby boy and they were emotional distraught over the loss of their dream. I feel as though I was always aware of emotions in others and myself, ever since childhood, which proves to be one of the driving force leading me down my path to healing.

 

1951 was a difficult year for my parents. My mother had a miscarriage when RH negative reared its ugly head again. This created a hospital bill, “We were in over their heads”. This resulted in my father having to work 2 jobs so Dad and I had less time together. “You would cry when he would leave and we had decided to tell you ‘He is doing it to get you a bike’. This conversation happened over a Weegie Board experiment that wrote out “It is not your fault”. I was in my early 20s, learning to be a psychiatric nurse who loved group therapy. This information she shared lead to understanding where my feelings of guilt were coming from, the underlying cause of my poor balance and aversion to riding a bike, for I have many great memories of my daddy teaching me to ride. Creating my prosperity consciousness has been difficult due to the influence of these early experiences; money has been a major issue in my life that I work on like an onion: peeling back layers after layers of fears and limitations.

 

While in the terrible 2s, I tested the limits placed on me. I remember disobeying my father. He told me “Stay on the top of the stairs, do not to go down the stairs to the sidewalk”, while he was working on his car. Well I have a rebellious nature so I slowly and quietly went down each step on my butt till I got to the street amazed by my success. All of a sudden he was scolding me, carrying me back up the stairs, telling me “stay put”- that was not the last time I ever disobeyed him. I so wanted to be with him, enjoying our times together, happy just being near him, feeling secure and loved. I learn to create that sense of safety and security within thru living in my car while visiting some of the wildest places in the US.

 

My life was transformed in 1950 when my sister Barbara was born, I was 22 months old.  Barbara has always been a leader with great courage to try new things, something I have always admired. She taught me to get out of my crib, following her on many adventures that I would never have done on my own. I have great memories and wonderful pictures of us in our matching dresses that our Meme made for us. We loved to dance, do the can-can and play together, especially in the park with our mom & dad. We are sisters & friends. It was a wonderful time and I remember it well. To this day I honor my Meme and my ancestors for giving me those seamstress genes. I am ever so grateful for my first sister Barbara, I am forever learning a lot about relationship, communication and acceptance. Thank you little sister.

 

 

My second Trauma was at the age of 4, back in 1952, being a care-giver became a strong force, when my father got polio. I can remember that day when night fell, I was awake and praying when a woman appeared to me, I knew it was a vision; it was comforting and scary all at once. I did not know how to handle it; I did not tell anyone about it, I just told her to go away because I was scared. A few weeks later I woke up believing that I was paralyzed and saw my first psychiatrist. I felt responsible for my father’s illness because he was working a lot to get me a bike. I thought that he got polio because people got polio when they overwork. Later I would learn that he did not get the vaccine, while Barbara, Mom and I got it. Thus the responsibility for his illness really lied with him & karma. Deal with my angry at him and the healing of my abandonment wound was a difficult process due to the fact that I idealized him.

 

My father was in the hospital in an iron lung for a year and we rarely got to see him. I have a memory of that Christmas, when we visited him in the hospital, and how big the iron lung towered over us, how different he looked for he was just a head jutting out of a massive contraption. We now knew he was still with us. All we saw was his reflection in the mirror above his head. He was looking up and into the mirror, which looked down at us. I remember the joy I felt seeing that he had a picture of Barbara & I, which was taped to the cold metal cylinder, and I knew he loved us still. That old torn photo is now in digital form on my computer, we look very happy and without a care in the world. There is a lot to be said about being surrounded by love when there is a trauma; it’s easier to heal when you are surrounded by unconditional love. This I learned from a Chinese Psychiatrist who shared about his PTSD experiences. He was a young teen, escaping the Vietnam War with his family, fleeing on a crowded ship, people getting sick and dying, creating horrendous living conditions: that was countered by their tight family ties and support of each other.

 

When I was 5 years old my father was back home with us. Our life was very different because he was a quadriplegic in a wheel chair, he live in the living room, unable to get upstairs to the bedrooms. Barbara, Mom & I cared for him. We had home care because father was getting therapy on the parallel bars which were a permanent fixture in the living room. I loved being with my father and wanted to help so the care-giver in me blossomed. Back then in 1953 my mother had to go to work to support us. This was the beginning of my dream of becoming a nurse, which has proved to be my life saver.

 

1954 was a joyful loving year, I was 6 yrs old and my sister Tina was born, my mother and father shared a great love and mother always called her “My love child”. The next 3 yrs were wonderful and filled with love; dad and I would care for Tina together, on the tray he had attached on the arms of his wheel chair. What a special time it was learning to care for a new soul from a man, such an unusual experience during those times. Babies bring new life and energy to a difficult situation making life worth living for all involved. I was awed by my father’s ability to accomplish his goals with a positive attitude, using him as my role model for developing coping mechanisms that were helpful and life affirming.

 

At the age of 7 yrs I experienced my third trauma that had lasting ramifications for me in the years to come. Barbara & I were playing; she was riding a bike while I was running along beside her. We were going down a grassy small hill when I fell hitting my chin on the curb of the sidewalk, taking a bite out of the cement. This was very traumatic Jaw Injury, breaking my 2 front teeth and having the dentist say they can be fixed when I am 18 years old, creating self-esteem issues for many years. When I was in my 40s a dentist took a circular x-ray and pointed out that I had chipped a piece of bone in my chin and dislocated my jaw sometime in my childhood. Talk about symbolism and my difficulty with communications and expressing myself with others. Later when I started to do energy work, I drew a stick figure of myself with a dark line across my neck, showing how I felt; my energy was cut off between my body and mind pushing me to seek healing and understanding. Living in my head, no longer grounded in my body and leading me to body/mind approaches for healing.

 

At the age of 9 my father died which was my fourth trauma and was the most difficult to deal with. The LADY IN BLUE appeared to me again, the night of father death, my rational mind took over and she disappeared; due to fear, not having any spiritual guidance in these matters, and creating a symbol for healing. I know now she was the Virgin Mary. At that time I prayed to her and especially loved the story of the children of Fatima, and when I received my confirmation I took the name of Bernadette for it was my mother’s mother’s name. The seeker within me starts pushing me down my spiritual path. That’s a story for another time. Having shared my traumas with you helps me feel a part of the bigger picture for I know you have experienced your own and together we can light the way to healing.