CW: Sexual Assault, Victim Blaming, Suicide, Drug Use
The Untreatables | Non-Fiction |
You thought that I’d be sad without ya, I love harder
— Destiny’s Child, Survivor
We were in a therapeutic group by the famed Marsha Linehan’s team, and we were all going to be cured of being rape victims soon. We had to pay three hundred dollars a week, and we had to do some weekly emotional homework, one-on-one therapy, and group therapy. This was a place recommended by the entire world as the center of it all for victims of sexual assault. It was the special place they sent borderlines. The therapy was called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
Michelle from group therapy and I shared a first name. One day, Michelle screamed in Marsha Linehan’s clinic that she had a gun. All of the group went silent as she yelled. She accused her therapist of calling her “one of the untreatables”. For half an hour, she screamed. She knew the statistics about her history. Two hospitalizations and a pistol at home made her a suicide risk of epic proportions. I knew this because she screamed it. She might as well have said, “Someone help me now!” No one helped her.
No one called the police. One week later, she was gone. Michelle shot herself in the head. Michelle didn’t “make it”. I left freaking out after hearing my therapist say, “Michelle killed herself.” It was terrifying mirroring to hear my name in that context, especially the same week I was googling guns for my own death. I had picked out a pink gun. A small one and I had figured out how to shoot myself in a way that would make sure not to leave me in a coma. Instead, that day, I texted a friend: “She left. She cried. She screamed. She died.”
I told my friend that it was the patriarchy’s fault. Also, drugs. The other girls in group therapy said it was drugs. They said that repeating the same thing over and over was a symptom of drugs. I did not believe them, but I wanted to believe it wasn’t my fate, too. I wanted to point at her and say, “Not like me. This won’t kill me.” I knew it could be me, so I quit therapy and refused to be med compliant. I went for a long run that night and I closed all the tabs about suicide. Michelle had jolted me into a new resolve. I did not want my friends and family to hear that sentence: “Michelle killed herself.”
“How?” They would ask, as I had asked.
“She had a pistol and, um, she shot herself in the head,” someone trained to tell these stories would say. I did not want to be that story anymore.
I went to my research. I googled Marsha Linehan, the leading expert of DBT and our therapeutic group. She was on YouTube talking about how pedophiles should not disclose their acts because of societal stigma. She compared this shame to being a closeted gay person. She spoke forcefully saying, “Keep your mouth SHUT.” I sat there with my mouth open, rage boiling inside me. I was not a pedophile. I was not a perpetrator of violence. I was not a rapist. I was a rape victim. One who had been raped repeatedly by a man who had been raped as a child. She was giving me therapy meant for perpetrators, not victims. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy rested on the premise that short-term relief could assuage long-term suffering. It was Band-Aid on a heart attack. It didn’t do what it needed to do, which was to help people process the fact that society has no place for women like us. I had been diagnosed with “borderline tendencies,” because I had changed careers. I couldn’t be a therapist after my rapes, no longer able to listen to so many stories of pain. I didn’t know what to be, so I tried many venues before settling on what had always been my gift–teaching English. The diagnosis at the time stated that “being raped multiple times” was a symptom of being borderline. I wondered how the actions of someone else made me sick.
Linehan operated her clinics on a “whatever seemed to work” paradigm of treatment, basically the spaghetti-on-the-wall method of psychology. I assumed she was of the mindset that most offenders were victims, which was true. My rapist was a victim. It was just that most victims were not offenders, which was less acknowledged. I was not a rapist.
Aside from being raped, I did not fit many of the criteria for borderline personality disorder. Some of these criteria included changing one’s sexuality or gender. BPD did not exist in my opinion. Systemic oppression within the psychological canon existed. Freud often said, You agree, therefore I am right. You disagree, therefore you are in denial, so I am right. Freud was like the psychological version of Florida Man. He was very often a lawless swamp of largely ignored horrors.
The nurse in the hospital holding pills over me said threateningly, “You seem like a girl who’s just too smart for her own good.” She said I was never going to leave there if I didn’t comply. I balked.
I told her, “Don’t give me those ones. They don’t work.” They were for schizophrenia, and they didn’t work.
My roommate was young and blonde and stick-thin because she threw up her food every night. She was a heroin addict, and I conceded when she asked me to hold her one night. She was only nineteen. Her father had raped her when she was fourteen.
One day, she started to sing in a beautiful voice, a soprano, belting out an anthem down the halls after lunch. She sang Destiny’s Child, “Say my name/Say my name . . .”
I cut in with the alto and some dance moves, “When no one is around you, say baby I love you if you ain’t playin games . . .”
We sang together, “Say my name . . .” And the elderly patient, who had no hair and a bleeding scalp, who walked around the hospital like the reaper himself, who was tall and gangly like a cheesy Halloween skeleton, who never spoke, started to bounce up and down. We were a defunct pop band. My roommate was our soloist.
The asylum wrote in my notes that Beyoncé didn’t need intensive care. She needed to “go to Michelle.” They said I would be a really great therapist.
It seemed like the world wanted me to be sick more than it wanted my rapist to be powerful. People wanted to believe I was treatable because my rapist was not. Psychology wouldn’t admit that it had no idea what to do with a guy like Mitch, so it started in on me. “Risk-taking behavior” they called it. So, you went out drinking with your workplace to celebrate Stacey’s birthday, because you had to keep your job, were drugged by your boyfriend-coworker and raped in front of your other coworker? There was a witness? A nineteen-year-old saw you curled in a pile of blood and held you all night long as you cried? And he didn’t go to jail?
At least now you know that if you just stay inside, never work with men, and avoid alcohol that you, too, can be cured of being borderline. If you are raped again, you are clearly still borderline, and Marsha Linehan has expensive therapy for that.
A young psychiatrist told me in the last mental hospital I went to, six years after the rape happened, long after I had lost track of my roommate Beyoncé, “I’m of the camp that doesn’t think that borderline is a real disease.” I relaxed. There was an emerging rift in the medical community about borderlines, mostly led by feminists.
No one who worked for the University of Washington, where Linehan ran her psychology legacy, said anything that made rape seem like it wasn’t my fault, or even that it was real. To them, I was a borderline. I was going to be raped over and over again, because of my actions. I was going to invent rape because I was deluded. A massive percentage (like 40-90) of borderlines attempted suicide. Not because they were being abused in therapy, no, but because they were borderlines. I said no to that over and over again and even when no one would listen. I went in screaming once, “NOTHING IS WRONG WITH ME!”
The therapist hit a gong and said, “No judgements!”
I replied, “Look! That’s a table. He’s a rapist. We all make judgements all day long. You cannot function without making judgments.”
I tried to kill myself many times after all this therapy, but never before it. These ways our society “helped” victims seemed even more violent than the court case, or the rapes themselves.
When I tried to commit suicide the first time, the police showed up to my house when I couldn’t stand with handcuffs. I was taken away in handcuffs and then I passed out from the schizophrenia meds I had taken. I was given schizophrenia meds because no one believed I had been raped by a famous poet. It was easier pre-MeToo not to believe in a woman. To make her sick instead was to make society well. So, I almost died in handcuffs for being a rape victim.
I shut this same hospital down from the inside. There was a whole investigation after I called ADA. There were abuses going on there. Personally, they were feeding me gluten and telling me to “just eat the cake and see if you get sick.” Other than that, they were holding people with insurance without cause.
One man told me, “You don’t have insurance, so don’t worry too much. You won’t be here long.” I wrote about ten complaints one night and just threw them under the doors of the supervisors. I called ADA, kept all the evidence, and they went to work. Two-thirds of the asylum was let go in a week.
Eventually, I got my shit together as the medical community started to get its shit together, as #MeToo came out, as people started talking back in every field.
Years and several more mental asylums later, I was told I did not have BPD by the head of a psychiatric board. His reasoning: “You never could have had this many successful relationships with men if you were borderline.” How did the actions of men define my identity again? In psychology, men defined me.
He diagnosed me with complex trauma and psychotic depression. I was medicated properly in twenty minutes of questioning and stable in about two weeks. Life became a victory over violence as I did not end up hospitalized ever again.
“Keep your mouth shut,” I remembered Linehan saying angrily. She followed up her command with, “I have not rejected you.” But hadn’t she? On an even deeper level? Rejected us all?
I did not want to dedicate my life to the asylum like Marsha Linehan did. She grew up in an asylum, studied psychology, and went back to work there. I thought, How could she think she can tell us all how to be human or prescribe wellness in this unscientific way?
But if I could have been a therapist, I would have told our Destiny’s Child in hell never to shut their mouths. I would have told them that their rapists were the broken ones and that Freud was a bastard who was afraid of perpetrators. I would have told them they were not crazy, and that Marsha Linehan only knew about people from what she read in textbooks made by men. I would have told them all about it. I would have told them to raise their powerful, gorgeous, and innocent voices to sing.
Michelle Renee Hoppe holds a BA in English from BYU, where she edited two literary publications and ran a nonprofit. Her work can be found in South 85 Journal, Leading Edge, and HoneySuckle Magazine, among others. She is the founder of Capable Magazine, which tells literary stories of disability and illness. She lecturers in the translation department of a university in Saudi Arabia and tends to wild kittens.