Since 2012, TMI Project has offered two 10-week storytelling workshops a year in collaboration with the Mental Health Association of Ulster County (MHA). The mission of the program is to destigmatize mental illness through true storytelling. Earlier this year, Theresa Haney, a Red Hook-based creative arts therapist, participated in one of these workshops. What follows is her monologue. To see a video of Theresa performing her story or to learn more about TMI Project, visit Tmiproject.org. A warning: this story includes references to sexual abuse, suicide, and drug abuse. If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.
- Theresa Haney
I am the fifth and youngest child born to an Irish Catholic/French Canadian family in Wisconsin. Life is always chaotic.
My brother Mike is 4 years my senior and an altar boy. My three older sisters have their own rooms, but Mike and I share one until I am 10. He's my best friend and I adore him. During the day, he acts like he doesn't know me in front of his friends and taunts and teases me. But at night he is sweet to me, telling me about the new games he learned at recess or what junior high is like.
We have bunk beds and he drapes his blankets from the top to make a fort for hiding. Behind those blankets we have a world to ourselves where the unthinkable occurs. I desperately want to be loved because love is a commodity in our home, dished out sparingly. I figure this is what all brothers and sisters do.
I'm 10 years old, and I'm riding my blue stingray bike to the pool in my red-and-white one-piece bathing suit. I'm still a happy, boisterous kid. As I pass by the home of my brother's friend, Carl, he comes out and says, "Wanna see my pet monkey?" I am suspicious at first, but the prospect of seeing a real, live monkey is too enticing.
He takes me to his room where his monkey is in a cage. I start to walk toward it — I have never seen one outside of a zoo before — but Carl grabs me and throws me on his bed and tears off my bathing suit. At 10 years old I didn't know what sex or rape is, just that it is familiar and frenzied.
Afterward, I hear a noise coming from the closet. I run to open it, but Carl bars the door. "Get out of here!" he shouts. But I know who is in the closet. It's my brother, Mike. He watched the whole thing. It was his idea.
I ride to the pool, jump in and stay there until I have to get out. The water holds me like a hug. I am terrified and shaken with the reality of this betrayal.
Life gets harder after that. I never tell anybody what happened, but Carl does. The girls say I'm a "slut." Other boys start asking, "How's Carl?" And pressure me for sex. Many times I relent.
At 11, I discover that drugs and alcohol numb the pain. The drugs are what save me.
One day when I am 15 and my brother is 19, I find a suicide note that he has written and torn up in the bathroom wastebasket. I tell the school guidance counselor, but he says he can't help because Mike has already dropped out of school. A few weeks later, he kills himself. I am the one who finds him.
After Mike's death, we move to Ohio. I leave the girl I was back in Wisconsin, but I take the drugs and alcohol with me. They are part of the bubble I create to protect me from those memories.
I go on to college. I study dance and art, move to New York City and perform off-, off-, off-Broadway. It's in graduate school that I find my calling as a creative arts therapist. I start a successful practice, and for the last 26 years, I have been happily married to my beautiful bride.
But in 2016, when Trump is elected, I stop walking country roads alone and start locking the doors for the first time. I close my private practice because the triggers are too much. There aren't enough martinis or pot in the world to hold back the terror. The bubble I have created is slowly losing air. It's as if I can feel the Earth tremble, like when elephants know to run for higher ground from an impending tsunami.
On September 27, 2018, the tsunami is here.
Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor, testifies about Brett Kavanaugh in front of the United States Senate. So many details match my own: It was summer; she had been swimming; she was wearing a one-piece bathing suit.
The monkey in the cage, my one-piece bathing suit, my brother, watching. The frenzy, the terror. The day everything changed forever.
My soul is vanishing. I need help.
A friend refers me to a therapist who practices CRM or Comprehensive Resource Model, a neurobiologically based trauma treatment that allows individuals to safely re-experience intolerable moments and heal through guided resources and ancient spiritual practices.
Discovering CRM is like finding a hope chest filled with a dowry of divine intelligence. The day I revisit my brother's suicide is the 42nd anniversary of his death. I sit on my therapist's couch breathing and listening to music on headphones until I can feel my body relax. He guides me to envision power animals to support me — I choose my mountain lion and an elephant. I'm asked to locate energy points in my body to form a sacred grid and anchor it with an eye position, like a Wonder Woman shield to make me feel omnipotent for the battle ahead.
When I am ready, my therapist invites me to return to that ominous day in my mind's eye and walk up to the house where our two dogs, Candy and Bucky, are standing outside. I know something is wrong.
The house is filled with noxious fumes, and I choke. My eyes water. In my mind, I run to my brother who is lying in the doorway to the attached garage, with the car running. His eyes are like glass. Terror fills my body. I shake him, plead with him to wake up.
I cry out, but my therapist is there, assuring me it's just neurons firing.
"Theresa, you have already survived this trauma. You are strong. You can do this."
He encourages me to go back to the memory. I open the windows for air. Nuns, police, and ambulance workers scurry around me, "Please, you've got to save him!" I plead. But they can't save him. I can't save him. He is dead.
I feel a release and my body begins to calm. I stay there for a while, allowing the neurons to clear away this memory—the shame, grief, and guilt that have been locked away inside, driving my life all these years. I realize I can stop chasing his love.
Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, wrote, "When inward tenderness finds the secret hurt, pain itself will crack the rock and, ah! Let the soul emerge."
I continue to recover from the traumas, addictions, and the truth of my life, but I am certain that self-love and compassion are helping me search for my true Self, the Self that was before this story began.