Years ago, out on the workshop circuit, when I’d talk to therapists about many of us being some version of a “wounded healer,” I’d describe my own role as a parentified child and my futile efforts to counsel my mentally ill mom and somewhat clueless, disengaged dad. Many of us were the children who’d taken care of family members as a way of staying out of the line of fire and feeling good about ourselves. At some point in my presentation, I’d observe that for some of us, our childhood coping strategies made us highly effective therapists. Jokingly, I’d conclude, “And who knows, maybe if I ever really do get well, I’ll retire.”
Little did I know that this throwaway line would become my life’s koan.
Looking back, I realize even more fully that long before I became a codependent caregiver in my family, I’d split off from myself. I’d become dissociated.
When I was seven, my 11-year-old brother, Jon, was lord and master of our family’s horse barn. His favorite game was strapping me into a wooden “electric chair” he’d attached with wires, and then threatening to throw the switch on the wall. My younger brother, Jim, was usually too scared to play, so I was the designated death-row prisoner, sentenced to the chair over and over again. I was frightened but didn’t protest, because it was never a good idea…