Meg was a transfer from ER in San Francisco General; she had an acute mental health diagnosis and was in poor physical health, primarily due to hepatitis C. Most of her background information came from a well known psychiatrist in San Francisco, who specialized in addiction and associated family issues.
Meg was pleasant and warm with a great sense of humor about life and herself. She didn’t seem like the kind of person who is overly serious about life. She was open and appeared honest to a fault. She radiated the energy of someone about to go on a great adventure.
Meg’s story was difficult to develop because she said there was so much of it she didn’t know how to tell. It wasn’t that she wasn’t willing to share; it was because she did not feel able to be accurate. She described how she had a series of psychic changes some weeks after she arrived at The Sanctuary, which to her recollection was like trying to remember some other person’s life and she still had some confusion over what her life was like previously. She said she had been living in some foggy world and finally woke up and enjoyed some clarity. Trying to remember the past was like attempting to recreate a fragmented dream.
She offered to give me releases to any sources I wanted. We discussed her motivation for the interview and she said it was an attempt to understand her life better. Consequently, putting her story together was a piecemeal project that took several months centered on when I had the time and the sources.
Her former husband, children, parents, and domestic help were all contacted. Her police records, hospitalization, employment and other records were used. After I had developed her history, she would then discuss her perception of how she saw her past in more depth.
Meg grew up near New York City with a nanny, a mother who was a social worker, and a father who was a cardiologist. Her mother had at least one drink every night. She also used medication for anxiety, but she dependably acted like a lady. Meg was an only child and had limited involvement with her parents due to their work and some obligatory social engagements. She liked her nanny, Griselda, a Russian immigrant. She mainly had everything she wanted and her childhood was easier than most. However, it left her somewhat naïve. She had heard her grandparents on her father’s side both had a problem with booze, but didn’t know them well. She had no information about her grandparents on her mother’s side.
In grade school, she seemed the nearly perfect child, getting good grades and excelling in athletics. She never had any household chores and tended to be critical of the domestic help. She didn’t like having her things moved and was appalled when things were not tidy by her definition. In general, she seemed a happy child and relatively low maintenance. The hired help soon learned to leave her room alone unless they had express permission.
In high school things began to change and she became more serious and moody. She often hung with many of the in-crowd, but would sometimes drop one of them for what seemed like an obscure reason. She always had to be the leader of her group or all hell broke loose.
Although, her girl friends were all from the upper social echelon, her boyfriends were not. She dated the bad boys and went through a lot of them. Once she was with a boy who had an accident was charged with a DUI. Meg was with him and received minor injuries. Most of her boy friend’s had problems with the law and/or any other authority figure. Her dating was absolute chaos. She would set down all these rules for the renegades and when they didn’t follow them she raged. She would dump them and then get back with them, so the relationships were always dramatic and changed from hour to hour. The word was she would sleep with them and then cut them off when they didn’t comply with her will.
Her parents said they were terrified she would get hurt or get in trouble; however, she seemed oblivious to their concerns. They did say she always did well in school and had some very pleasant girl friends. They claimed, try as they might they never felt close to her and felt they were treated like hired help. They were very positive about their contact with her in the last six months and said she is now sounding like the daughter they always knew she could be because for once she sounds happy. The last time they remember her being happy was in grade school.
When she went to college things again changed; she was somewhat sour on dating, seldom had a date, and rarely had a steady boy friend. She tried living with a roommate, but could not tolerate it, so she lived alone. She had two girl friends she regularly spent time with. One of their main activities was running. They ran daily. All three took great pride in their disciplined diets and they never had an extra ounce of fat on them. She was periodically involved in politics and was very vocal and very passionate about her view points. One chronic problem was she often was out of money. It wasn’t that her parents didn’t give her enough money because she would get all she requested. It just never lasted and often she was financially embarrassed.
Although, she had always enjoyed and utilized the very best our culture had to offer in material goods, she was a harsh critic of the system. She was always very negative about the system, if asked she really knew very little bit about alternatives. She complained about American cars, the military, big business, and in general thought America did nearly everything wrong. In attitude, she was the social worker’s social worker. One of her professors who remembered President Johnson’s administration said one of the old sayings from that time would apply to her, “If God is dead it doesn’t matter because there is fifty thousand social workers ready to take his place.”
During college Meg discovered gambling and when time permitted she would go on a gambling run. She could spent two or three thousand easily on a weekend. Her two girl friends usually went with her and they spent money like there was no tomorrow. Although, her parents worried about her they always replenished her ailing bank account and credit cards.
She completed a master’s degree in business from one of the finest colleges in the state. She had a few bumps with reality in college when peers and instructors gave her feedback where having a certain arrogance had been mentioned. She was really tired of hearing she should learn to be a better judge of character and to be less of a control freak. She was regularly accused of being a drama queen and this infuriated her. She was angry a quite often and seemed to have a grim presence about her most of the time. She thought it was crap from people who really were not capable of seeing what she saw. Of course then she voiced her perceptions less frequently and quietly felt superior.
She met James at college and after graduation they were married with serious pomp and circumstance. He seemed safe and passive enough not to inhibit her way of life. James was from upstate New York and had grown-up with an alcoholic mother and a doting father. Fortunately, James showed no signs of alcoholism. James was intelligent, hard working, and some said a little boring. James soon landed a lucrative job in Houston with a company that manufactured machine tools for the oil industry and aircraft manufacturers. James seemed like a boring antidote to her previous boyfriends.
Soon they were off to Texas and in the suburbs they found a home in an upscale area which was suitable. Meg found a job at an insurance company where the primary job was processing claims. Within five years they had two children, a boy and a girl. They also acquired a nanny named Carmen.
Meg progressed at work and soon became a manager of one of three departments. The position was both good and bad. She liked being in charge, but Bill Jones was the general manager over all three departments and always had the last word; he frequently overruled her. She said he dressed like a combination of old time IBM executive crossed with a KGB agent and worked in a Spartan looking office, she said it was everything I despised.
She thought Bill was too much to play exactly by the rules and didn’t take enough of a personal interest in the employees. He had terminated three employees because they had reoccurring personal problems. One of them was a single woman with three children who often came late and had been out over her allotted sick leave without a physicians note. What did he expect of a woman in her position, the man had no conscience.
Fortunately for Meg, Bill was offered a position in a Fortune Five Hundred Company in Austin and he took it. Finally, Meg was in charge as general manger and she could get some things straightened out. She went into a flurry of activity changing procedures and listening to employee grievances. She was there at seven in the morning and often until seven at night. She even put pictures on the wall and generally gave the distinct feeling it was more of a comfortable home atmosphere rather than a cold business office. She encouraged the employees to decorate their office also; she was uncomfortable with those Spartan office settings.
James complained of her absence and how she was always tired. They had a few minor arguments, but she really didn’t have the time or energy for that. James seemed unbearably boring to her, so work was a readily available alternative. When she had the office in order then she would have more time for the family.
One day, about three in the afternoon she saw Debbie crying and she asked her what the problem was. Debbie said her eight-year-old girl would be home alone today because her babysitter had an emergency. Meg said, well you just leave and I will complete your data entry. This put Meg behind and it would be a late night.
The next day Fred, Debbie’s manager came into Meg’s office and said why did you let Debbie go home early yesterday? She was angry, who was he to question her? She tried to keep herself in check. Fred continued, Debbie has way overused her sick time and is always behind in her work. He also said her daughter doesn’t even live with her, her mother raises the child. Debbie was in treatment last year for cocaine addiction and has missed her last two drug screens. Meg couldn’t contain herself any more; she told Fred if he didn’t improve his job performance she would write him up. Fred said do whatever you need to do because I am looking for another position. Nobody could get the work load handled with this motley crew. He continued, you have fired or transferred every good employee you can, and those you so desperately want to keep are all losers. Meg regained her composure and realized there was no use discussing the issue with an idiot.
That was one of numerous similar incidents. She had such a hard time with her department managers, she even considered trying abolish the positions and save herself some effort of getting things done in spite of them.
By the fourth month, Meg was bone tired and rarely slept well. She was not getting the production she expected, if only she could get good managers. She managed
to get Fred transferred to an office in another city. He came in her office and thanked her. He said now you have things exactly the way you want them and I am happy for you. She was gracious with him and wished him well.
She thought he may have seen the error of his ways, but it is too late now. She replaced Fred with Roy Smith who had compassion with people similar to hers, but may have lacked some management skills.
Meg started to look much older than her actual age of thirty four. She wasn’t sleeping and had to force herself to eat, she did manage to keep an exercise routine. James no longer complained about her absence, now he spent a lot of time at his golf club or with the children and seemed content. He and Carmen got along well and liked to play games with the children and even took them to the Catholic Church together. Though Carmen was young and attractive she didn’t think there was any romance going on–they are just good friends and companions.
Six months into the job it hit the fan, her regional manager came to see her. He was just a clone of that damned Bill who had preceded her. He told her since there had been a serious drop in performance and numerous complaints they were auditing the personnel files and rates of processing claims on individual employees. This was an outrage, these idiots had no idea about how to treat people. For the first time in six months she took off early and asked Debbie if she wanted to go with her. She felt she was closer to Debbie than anyone else.
They left at 3 p.m. and went to a local bar and got toilet hugging drunk together; which was rare for Meg. She didn’t even get home that night, she and Debbie stayed at a hotel and Meg paid the tab. The next day, she looked and felt like the wrath of God. At least Debbie didn’t use cocaine last night and she didn’t think there was any mention of her being an alcoholic. She bought some new clothes at a store near the hotel.
Her regional manager’s name was Benny. A week later she had to meet with him and two of the assholes who did the audit. She was told they were working at half the rate of claims processing that they had under Bill and they had let good employees go for reasons that were not to be found in the personnel files, which could open them up for lawsuits. On the other hand, they were not following up on company policy for chemical dependency and several employees had successfully avoided their mandatory drug screens, plus she had interceded for them. He gave an example of a Debbie Halgreen, who had finally been screened last week and found to have a 0.10 blood alcohol level.
The next day Benny met with her alone and with a developed plan to get up to speed; he had a three month goal and a six month goal. He was very definite on this and would not deviate on any point. She was infuriated. When she went home that day James was there and she started to unload to him and he flat out told her he didn’t want to hear it. Angry as hell and not knowing where to go she went to the local bar.
She wasn’t interested in drinking and had something to eat, soon one of the local guys sat down with her and they talked for hours. He had been a victim of a wife who didn’t ever listen to him and then a divorce that bankrupted him ensued. He was accused of being an alcoholic and she thought this must have been a mistake because he certainly drank like a gentleman. He listened attentively to her story about the recent bashing she took from nearly everyone on the job. It felt good to have someone who understood. She didn’t drink–that one lesson was enough; now her bladder was so full of ice tea she was ready to burst. He took her work number and she took Al’s number.
Meg started shopping for a therapist and she finally found one up to her standards. Most therapists seemed too critical and adversarial. Although she felt better after a session it only lasted a few hours. She primarily focused on her job and how she was misunderstood and undermined by corporate, so she vented endlessly.
At work it was going from bad to devastating. Word had spread that she was not popular with the corporation. She overheard people calling her dragon bitch and she didn’t miss the really vicious sarcasm either. Some gossip had come from regional office that part of the work would be diverted to Austin. If that happened there would be demotions, early retirement and possible layoffs. She thought she had an ally in Debbie; however Debbie didn’t see it that way. When she tried to talk confidentially to Debbie, Debbie told her you bitch, you got me drunk and then had me screened and now I am likely to be fired, get the hell away from me.
Meg went to her office to assess her situation. She decided these ungrateful bastards only understand threats and violence. She went on a crusade for a week giving everyone hell without any favoritism. It was like a war on the job. She didn’t want to work another day, it was her worst nightmare.
One time when she finished her day something just snapped, she knew she wasn’t ever going back and there was no hope. Her job was hopeless, her family didn’t care and she had no friends. What struck her was it all started with Bill, he was the one that caused her all the trouble.
She got in her Porsche and checked the trunk for her nine millimeter pistol; she had taken a course on using firearms and as with other educational pursuits passed with honors. She had a full clip and that was all she needed to do what had to be done. She headed the Porsche for Austin; Bill would finally pay for what he did to her.
When she got to Austin it was after dark, she wasn’t sure where Bill lived and he wouldn’t be at work now. She knew the suburb he lived in and she also knew what kind of van and car he drove. She drove around and thought a few times she had found him but it never worked out. She started feeling dizzy and thought she needed something to eat, so she went to a diner and ordered a hamburger. She still didn’t feel better. She planned on going to her car and couldn’t seem to find it, and then she became even more confused, the world was spinning.
The police found her early the next morning laying on the grass and muttering something like kill Bill. The one cop told the other one, I think it has something to do with a movie. They looked through her purse and found identification, several hundred in cash and a fistful of credit cards. They also found a nine millimeter pistol loaded, but not fired, in fact the one cop said he doubted if it had ever been fired.
The police deposited her in the local ER and by noon they had sent her to the local psych ward. Her husband was contacted and he went to see her after he contacted her employer. She was in no frame of mind to talk to anyone. He was able to have it arranged, so when her condition improved enough she could be transferred to Houston to another psych ward. They didn’t give him any diagnosis or prognosis; they simply didn’t have enough information at this point.
After ten days in the Houston hospital they told James that she was suffering from a psychotic depression with paranoid features. The psychiatrist estimated she could be released to outpatient care in about another two weeks. She was able to talk to James and he brought Carmen and the children a few times. She had little to say to any of them, part of it was terrible embarrassment, and she felt like she had very little connection with these people. She was not angry with them, she just really lacked interest when she thought of their dull little lives.
One week after being released from inpatient treatment she disappeared. No one knew where to find her and she secretly wondered if they wanted to find her. Her employment had notified them she could return to work when she was cleared by a physician, however, not in a management position.
Meg showed up, finally, in San Francisco. Her reasoning was to get away from those rednecks in Texas and go where people have some compassion for others. She actually did miss the comfort of her home and the family, but embarrassment burned way too hot to go back. It was tough to get settled again. First things first ,she went and signed up for a financial manager. She had stocks at the insurance company and money in a fund at her old job, besides that she had her own personal checking account. She could live off her credit cards until things got sorted out.
She rented an apartment in San Francisco and then looked for a job. She found a job at a savings and loan with a good wage and low pressure for her. She thought she would like the political climate better than in Texas, these people had compassion.
She met a man who interested her at a local bar. She didn’t drink, but she liked the atmosphere. Peter was divorced two times and was a moderately successful attorney. He seemed like a regular drinker, but that didn’t concern her because he was obviously high functioning. After a couple of months she was troubled by the relationship because it was so intense; they were close and then a blow-up would come. It sure was an adrenaline rush and very different than being with James. Sometimes, when they had things planned for the weekend he got involved in his drinking and did nothing else–this really pissed her off. She considered giving up on him.
She contacted James a few times who asked her what she wanted; to come back, get a divorce or what? She usually said I don’t care, whatever you want, but I am not coming back right now. She regularly talked to the children who were two and four at this time; however, she didn’t think she could face going back.
Peter was a constant irritation, but she couldn’t seem to leave him alone. One time she actually thought of killing him when he was on a three day bender. And, then she fell into another severe depression. She didn’t have to go to inpatient treatment, but did regularly see a psychiatrist and was put on medication.
After she had seen the psychiatrist for over two months, he told her, what you really need to do is to go to Al-anon, you have the worst case of codependency I have ever seen. She was outraged and stomped out of there and called Peter. Peter said the guys a quack, join me at the bar and we will get something to eat. She went and he was somewhat loaded. She did continue to see the psychiatrist one time a week.
Peter was having a hard time with his business and she helped him by letting him move in with her. Then the real hell began, he was often threatening and almost always drunk or just coming off a bender. There wasn’t anywhere to go when they had a fight, so often they were just quietly angry with each other.
Peter’s second wife had not been divorced as he had stated, she died violently in their garage by strangulation. She found out at her work from someone who knew about the case; Peter was still a suspect. One night when he was drunk and they were fighting, he said, listen bitch how would like to end up like Brittany. That was enough for her, he had to go, but that wasn’t easy. Even after getting a restraining order he would show-up and break the door down.
Her boss from work, Terry, seemed interested in her and they went out a few times. He stayed overnight and Peter showed-up, Terry ushered him out of there quickly and solved that problem. Terry seemed like a nice guy and there definitely was chemistry between them. He didn’t seem to drink much at all and could nurse one drink all evening. He always was efficient at work and said he had never been married. Maybe she had found the right guy.
Things went well for a few months and then she started feeling sick a lot. She went to see a physician and found out she had hepatitis C. She talked to Terry about it, he said he would get checked. He told her about two weeks later he didn’t have it.
One Saturday there was a knock on the door and a detective walked in and asked if he could search the place. Her first question was what for? He said cocaine. After she agreed they found a bag of rock in the trunk of her car.
She was horrified and asked if they were going to arrest her. The detective said not if she would work with them, they wanted Terry, but most of all they wanted a man by the name of Salazar and his crew. She wondered who the hell Salazar was. They gave her a description of Salazar and included that he had 666 tattooed on his right arm. She couldn’t see any other way out, so she agreed.
That was when she started attending Al-anon and realized there was a lot of women and a few men who were just like her. For the first time in years she actually felt better.
Two weeks later Terry was murdered in the hallway just as he was trying to enter the apartment. She hid behind some boxes in the closet and heard them break in and ransack the house. Possibly, the only thing that saved her was the police sirens getting close. Afterwards, she went to ER and asked for Valium to calm her down, she was starting to feel that ridiculous depression rear its head. In ER she relayed her story to an understanding nurse who she said go to The Sanctuary and follow their directions. For once in her life she did what she was told.
After the whole thing got sorted out in San Francisco, Meg found out Terry had known he had hepatitis C for at least a few years, he also was a cocaine addict, and a small time dealer.
Meg was at The Sanctuary only a few days when she was sure she had some ideas for improvements around there, she attempted to give some of the residents some pointers on how to improve themselves. One of the female residents said, I am surprised that someone hasn’t killed you and I have a little advice for you too, on Wednesday night there is an Al anon group held here be there.
At The Sanctuary
In those early weeks I tried to complain about my parents, but found no audience, those who listened at all said it sounded like my parents were pretty damn decent, so what the hell was I complaining about? They said my criticism of others was very detailed, however, when it came to my own behavior I tended to be vague and general.
I chain smoked and really wanted to cut down or quit and couldn’t seem to do that.
Meg’s admission to The Sanctuary was more ambiguous than most. She had a very hard time for about the first month and she and others were beginning to wonder if she could even adapt to the new way of life.
She stayed only because she couldn’t think of any place else to go to that she could tolerate. She had a hard edge to her, was very depressed and was extremely critical of the place the staff and other residents. She often commented she felt like they were trying to destroy who she was and sometimes said it felt like they were trying to kill her, although ,she admitted no one ever physically harmed her. There was absolutely no one at The Sanctuary who would take any crap from her. She had never, ever encountered that before, in the past she could always surround herself with those who would at least passively agree with her.
Things finally changed when a series of grief workshops were offered at The Sanctuary.
In the past, when I attended Al-anon I had felt better and had a realization of how unrealistic my attitudes and behavior were, but it didn’t quite stick. I knew what I needed to do to feel better, however, for short periods of time, but it faded and I would be back to the old bitterness and feeling like a victim. About the same time I read some books by Anne Wilson-Schaef that helped give me a new way of looking at the world of business, politics and relationships.
When I filled out a chart with losses at the grief workshop I had over fifty examples and the next day I found even more. This terrified me and yet none of the losses were horrific, however, it was the sum total and the feeling that none of them had ever healed, which impressed me. The feelings of losses from twenty years ago were as fresh as if they happened yesterday. It was after sticking with this workshop, I finally felt free. I started realizing I had had wonderful parents and a great family, but the emotional barriers between me and them were just too great. If my parents had a failing it may have been they were too stoic about their own losses, they had done what they had been taught and tried their best. They also excelled at keeping me from facing reality; I was able to create my own little world without contradiction.
Some weeks after the workshop, Meg called her parents, her now ex-husband, and her children to express her regret of her past crappy behavior. They all seemed wary, but actually responded quite warmly to her new found attitude. She was invited to visit each of them; she declined with a request for a rain check.
Meg’s Insight into Her History
Meg said looking back she was a spoiled child with very few, if any boundaries.
I was privileged with money and social standing. I remember feeling superior to my family and the domestic help at a very early age.
When I went to high school I remember feeling anger frequently and sometimes even rage. The only thing that gave me any relief was risky behavior with boys and activity with intense drama. Even exercise had to be extremely demanding or it felt like wasted time. Taking a bath had to be hurried or I was uncomfortable. I had no patience with most people, with one exception, and that was the losers. Even with the losers I was very selective, if they wanted to cooperate in improving their life I dropped them like a hot rock. I specialized in those that were losers and resisted with every cell in their body any positive change. I often said something is missing. I realize now I had tried to make them even more dependent than they already were.
Although, I have an excellent formal education that less than 1% of the population has, when it comes to relationships and social skills I had nearly none. I had no idea where I stopped and other people started, and often immersed myself deeply in other people’s business without their request or consent. I really pissed a lot of people off and had no idea why. I thought I worked myself half to death helping other people and then ended up being punished for my efforts. My favorite sign became “No good deed will go unpunished.”
I now believe part of it was due to a certain type of neglect from the grown-ups around me. I’ll give some examples; first at about age 13 my dog was killed by being run over by a car. I was devastated. Everyone rallied around me and told me not to feel bad, they would get me a new puppy and so they did. I now realize I never really liked the damn dog who replaced Eddy. At age 16 I lost a boy friend I really liked, he just left me cold, with no warning.
Everyone sympathized with me and helped me avoid thinking about the boy friend. They told me don’t worry, there will be lots of other boys, and friends fixed me up with new dates. My parents took me on an expensive trip. I don’t know if I was ever was told no and when I disrespected my parents I was never even verbally challenged.
After that one boy friend at age 16 I don’t remember ever having a relationship with a man that really mattered much to me. Unless the relationship was chaotic, it seemed painfully dull to me.
Somewhere about the time I started college I became obsessed with the plight of the poor, minorities, and you name a cause, and I was ready to support it. Any group that looked like a victim to me. The government, business, and my own parents didn’t give anywhere near enough to these causes. I was an authority on what should be done with other people’s money and time. I, however, was never that generous with my own money and I’ll be damned if I was ever going to work in a soup kitchen, but “they” should.
I won’t go on because you have enough information about me to finish the pathetic picture out. I do want to mention I am not blaming my parents because they did everything in their power to help me and had some limitations themselves. I also don’t mean to imply I am wallowing in guilt and remorse because I am not. I possibly could have done better and I regret some things, but I refuse to blame myself for what I didn’t know and social skills I wasn’t taught.
I do want to talk about how change happened. I believe when I left my job and ended up in a psych ward it was the start of change for me. I made some really dumb decisions after, but at least I started looking for change in my own way. At first, I sought out therapists who would support all my old self-defeating behavior and believe me they are not hard to find.
When I went to that psychiatrist in the City (she meant San Francisco) I started to doubt my own judgment and he annoyed, and infuriated me. When I discussed all the chaos in my present relationships, he said that is my defense system and the more internal turmoil you have the more external drama you need to avoid any responsibility. He added, you think anyone who doesn’t have all that drama going on leads a boring life; and I suspect many of those around may believe your constant turmoil becomes pathetic and boring. I could have slapped him, but I just said, you asshole.
Eventually, Al-anon made sense to me and I started to see where it could be helpful. The problem was I could understand it and it helped me feel better for a few days and then the old behavior came back. So, I was on somewhat of an up and down emotional ride.
When I came to The Sanctuary, I thought these people are jerks, almost anything I would say they contradicted me. That is not easy for someone who was rarely ever contradicted before. They wouldn’t listen to any of my sad stories and they wouldn’t even participate in a good fight. I stayed and forced myself to keep on keeping on, and I did feel better physically. I saw the psychologist and he was helpful, but often annoying.
Gradually, I worked through the list of losses with their help and soon an enormous weight was lifted. Other residents would say, you don’t seemed pissed off much now, and I thought, damn, they are right. It didn’t resolve everything in my life, but it definitely turned things around for me.
I started to realize these people are really my friends and they did everything in their power to help me, even though, I treated them miserably. After some weeks I called people I knew; family and people from my old job, and they would comment that I didn’t sound like the same person. Of course, at first they were all wary. I like it here and am not ready to think about going anywhere else, except for short visits. If there was any key to change for me, it was that the people at The Sanctuary would not support my delusions.