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Therapy is like an Onion

Athena Perez
by 

June 30, 2015

Yes, those first couple of months in Minnesota were rocky. My past had caught up with me and I knew that I needed to do something about it but where to start?

Begrudgingly, I had to admit to myself that I needed therapy. Counseling, whatever you called it. I needed someone to talk too that wasn’t part of my own family. It’s not that a few of us didn’t go through the exact same thing, but our experiences were different and it affected us differently. Therefore, recovery would not be the same.  Food, for example, was never used against my older brother, but it was with me.

I remember those first few sessions. I was skeptical, beyond words. I sat there twiddling my thumbs waiting for her to “heal me” like she was going to stand up, open the heavens, and pour down happiness.  Therapy didn’t quite work like that but what did I know?

My therapist, we’ll call her “Ann,”  had a style using peel back methods. Your life is a like an onion and with every layer (year), your core gets deeper and deeper; covered by layers and layers I call experiences. We had to work on one layer at a time – pulling it back, getting it out and talking about it till it didn’t hurt anymore. It’s not what I would consider a fun experience but looking back it was necessary.

My first layer was the move to Minnesota. It was almost traumatic because it brought a loneliness and isolation factor that I hadn’t calculated before I left Texas.  Meeting people when I got here was very difficult. Some of that was because I came in the dead of winter, and it’s not like neighbors are hanging outside. Minnesotans tend to hibernate in the winter.

The second layer was father and stepmom.  Layers don’t necessarily work like a timeline where events are in a perfect order; it just happened to be the next issue that surfaced.  Little did I know I still had unresolved issues with never being able to address stepmom for what she did.  My father was just as responsible, but most of the memories were of her hitting me. I didn’t remember my father well at all. However, I did live with the knowledge he disowned me, and he was very much alive.  

I made the decision to change my last name during this time. I thought that by getting rid of that past, that it would help in healing. It would free me from that stigma of “that” side of the family. I didn’t want to belong to that family anymore.  In the fall of 2011 it was done, court sealed and everything. I took my stepdad’s last name; the man I had called dad since I was eleven.  He was the only dad I had and the only family I was ever a part of; to me it made perfect sense.

As fate would have it, I learned of my father going into the hospital later that fall and the diagnosis wasn’t good. He had heart problems, and they gave him a couple of years to live. I knew it was now or never. I didn’t know how long he was going to be on earth, and I wanted to make sure I had the last word. My next course of action would be to send my father a letter like no other I had written in my life.  I wanted him to know I was throwing HIM away. I realize I did some of it out of anger, but it was something I needed to do.  The letter was harsh and bitter. I told him about the all the experiences I had shared with my dad and everything he taught me. I shared with him how much my dad meant to me, and I also got the chance to call him out on everything I saw as truth. He was never a father to me. He was selfish, and he perpetuated lies; to his family, to his church and everyone around him.  I also shared the fact I had changed my name. It was almost my way of giving it back to him. I wanted him to remember that I would not be willing to carry his legacy forward.

He had been remarried to a third wife for many years by this point. I didn’t know where they lived, but she did have a Facebook account. I copied and pasted that letter and hit send; knowing full it was going to have an excellent audience.

I got some flack for that letter but here’s how I saw it.  Washington State law allowed me to press charges for child abuse even up to that year of 2011. I considered it. In my opinion, my father was lucky. It was either he suffer through a letter or………………………….. he’d be on his way to jail.  

I thought I had been merciful.

Now I just needed to forgive both of them. That would take several years, but I felt like I was on my way to feeling peace. The name change and the letter didn’t solve everything, but I sure did feel a tremendous weight gone off my shoulders that I didn’t have to carry anymore. I struggled with that word…. “forgiveness”. I wasn’t exactly “open” to the idea. 

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Love,

Athena

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I’m Athena Perez, a Christ-loving dog mom and CrossFitter who has lost over 200 pounds on a long journey of self-discovery. I’m obsessed with sharing everything I’ve learned to help you too!  

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