So, in my sociology classes, we talk a lot about power and we define it as this: getting your way despite resistance. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? YOUR way DESPITE resistance. Like when my son was a little guy and I’d tell him to clean his room. He’d say NO or hem-haw (is this really a word?) around, and that’s when I’d say, “O, do it NOW.” And, he’d do it. My way…not his. I had all the power (muahahaha)!
I don’t think I ever abused my power with O, although he might beg to differ. Unfortunately, so many in power do abuse it. I’m going to talk about something I never have before, when power was used against me in a way that damaged a piece of me.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was a bit chubby. Puberty, fast food at lunch, lots of pop…and a few people made fun of me for this. I wanted to fit in, so I started to diet. Harmless, right? Except, as we now know, eating disorders are often comorbid with bipolar and it wasn’t long until I wasn’t controlling the diet, the diet was controlling me. At the same time, I started exercising incessantly: running up to 8 miles or so a day, doing aerobics (very popular in the 80’s…thank you Richard Simmons), walking home from school at the fastest pace I could, taking PE seriously for once in my life, and before I knew it, I had lost all the weight I was hiding under my bib overalls, and then some. I went from about 130 (I’m 5’4″) to about 105 pounds in a couple of months. The lowest I got was around 97, and that’s when mom noticed something was wrong. She would try to get me to eat at home, but believed the stories I told her about how much I was eating at school and my friends house. This went on for some time, and by my Jr. year, I was seriously starting to cycle through periods of depression and mania as well. Ma knew I needed help,so I started seeing Dr. G.
During the first few appointments, I wouldn’t even talk. I didn’t want his help because I knew that meant him making me eat, and since anorexia had taken hold, I sure as hell didn’t want that. His office was nice and cozy…a bit dim. He filled my silences with stories, advice, and something else: the promise that his office was my safe place…where I could share anything and everything and he would be OK with that. With me. That ‘unconditional regard’ if you will.
So, as I started seeing him less as an enemy, and more of an ally, I started to open up. Little by little I let him into my life. At the same time, my boyfriend of 2 years broke up with me (who could blame him since I was such a hot mess) and I was so overwhelmed by my emotions, I ran my car into a tree. I was trying to kill myself.
When I was able to get to my grandparents and tell them what I did, they called my mom who called Dr. G. He wanted to see me ASAP, even though it was nighttime, and I quickly went to his office. I was able to pour out all of what was inside, and he talked to me for hours. He saved my life. And he didn’t just save my life in terms of wanting to die, he also saved me from the worst of anorexia. He became the most important person in my life, bar none.
During the end of my Jr. year, mom’s insurance ran out and it would no longer pay for psychological care, and mom couldn’t afford the price on her own. I was devastated. I truly had no idea how I would be able to function without Dr. G. At what was to be our last appointment, I tearfully told him of my predicament. He thought for a second, patted my leg, and told me not to worry about it, we’d figure something out.
WOW! This guru…my savior…my friend…my ‘love’ in so many ways…wanted to keep seeing me! I was important enough that he would make that happen! My world suddenly brightened.
When I went back the next week, Dr. G. started rubbing my legs as I sat by him…started hugging me…started touching my shoulders. Part of me was scared. I was 17 and very unsure how to handle what was happening by this 56 year old man. But, he was the doc…the head of a Behavioral Sciences department at a well respected university…the one who knew everything. So, I didn’t say a word and allowed him to continue.
By our 3rd ‘unpaid’ appointment, the touching started to include my breasts and my bottom, with a lot of kissing too. Omg. Was this man falling in love with me? ME? Skinny, mentally ill, homely on the cusp of ugly, bullied, acne riddled me?
Finally one evening (all of my appointments were now at night since I ‘wasn’t paying’), he told me he had needs and he just knew, because of how wonderful I am, that I could fulfill them. That way, he said, we’d both be helping each other, like a team. And, like he also pointed out, he was still helping me. He was right about this; when he wasn’t pawing at me, his advice and acceptance still held true. So, that was the first night he had sex with me. It was horrible. There I was, on his 20 year old carpet with no one in the building, crying the entire time because I was so confused. To deal with that confusion, I started to delude myself into thinking he was in love with me. That we would be married someday (after he divorced his wife) and would live happily ever after in our perfect little house.
Deep down I knew how wrong this was. I felt so dirty…so ‘shamed’ in a way. After he’d have sex with me every week, he’d immediately clean up in his private bathroom (connected to his office) but wouldn’t allow me too. It was ‘just for him.’ Our talks became less and less, and the sex became more and more. Not just in terms of occurrances, but in terms of what he expected from me too. This dynamic lasted for 2 entire years, until I met Hubby 1. Once this happened, I stopped seeing Dr. G all together.
Long story short, after Hubby and I got married after a couple years of dating, we got divorced 4 years later. I knew I was very much to blame since I had a LOT of baggage from Dr. G that Hubby just couldn’t handle. When we were in the process of the divorce, I went to see a counselor. We started talking about why I was there, and when I told him about this sexual relationship, he stopped me and said: “I know who it was. It was Dr. G.” I was gobsmacked. How would he know that? “Look,” he said, “I’ve had around 7 women in here over the last few years with the same story.” What? NO! That couldn’t be! I was stunned.
I told my mom the whole story, as well as a couple of other people who encouraged me to take him to court since this was not only a case of sexual abuse, but it was highly unethical for a psychologist to do with a patient! I went back and talked to that counselor and he said this: “Who would believe you? You were a teenager and now you’re a divorced woman with a documented mental illness (anorexia) and he’s a doctor and well respected man.” ‘Nuff said. (This counselor was an asshole too.)
He was right. I couldn’t go up against him. None of his victims could. And I knew he understood that. With the power he had had over us, we were easy prey. And, with the help and attention he had given us, there was a feeling of culpability, at least with me, since I believed he loved me in some way. I never wanted the sexual relationship. It disgusted me every time it happened. It made me feel used and dirty, but I owed him. Or so I believed at that time.
Dr. G died a year after my son was born. It brought me closure knowing he couldn’t hurt anyone else, but I still think about him every once in a while. Having such sexual power used against me at a ripe age when I’m trying to figure out sexual relationships anyway was so damaging…so confusing. I’m wary of power now. It’s hard for me to trust those above me. It’s hard for me to sometimes understand that not everyone in power is going to use it against me. Hurt me with it.
On the other hand, he reinforced in me to be a pleaser. Someone to just acquiesce to what’s being asked of me, because in some way I must owe it to them. I must deserve it. I think that’s why I’m always so quick to take the blame when someone hurts me. Why I’m so quick to apologize. So quick to feel bad. Saying “I’m sorry” is almost a mantra to me.
Looking back, I now understand that Dr. G was more sick than I have ever been. He was a sociopath. A user. A narcissist. He did what he did because he could. He used his power as a predatory trap. He knew how to bait that trap, and he knew how to kill his prey once they were caught. I was very easy prey.
Power is a heady thing. It can be used for so much good, and it can be used to destroy. Isn’t it scary that one thing can have such different consequences depending upon who holds it in their hands? And isn’t it sad that this one man used it in both ways. This man, who more anyone, should have known better.