This is My Story
I don’t know when I started calling that time in my life, “The
Beautiful Years.” Those years are bookended by such sadness and
despair they almost appear to be a part of someone else’s life. But
they are mine; they are a part of me, and I hope to someday reclaim even
a small part of the joy that existed therein.
I was three when my mother packed her five little girls into a taxi with
only clothes enough to keep us warm, in the wee morning hours of that
cold Illinois January. Three years, and five days old. The night before
the police had come once again. I can still remember one of the officers
coming upstairs to make sure my sisters and I were okay. It’s strange,
but I don’t remember any fear, either of the violent fight that
brought them to our house, or of the dark figure blocking the light to
my hiding place, reaching out strange hands to gather me up and put me
back into bed. I had learned―even then―to stop fearing, go somewhere
else, and let one of TheOthers live the reality of what was. I also
don’t remember the cold of that night, as it flooded our house through
the window broken by my father in his drunken rage. That it was cold, I
know. That we had to leave, I accept.
Leaving didn’t end the pain of those years. My father’s whiskey had
ruled our lives, but in escaping, we would have to live by rules just as
unforgiving of our children’s hearts. My mother’s family home, where
we fled that January in 1960, proved to be a sad and lonely place. My
sisters and I were no longer allowed to see our mother. My grandmother
and aunt became an iron wall between her and us. She became the
protected one, in my child’s mind, the dying one. But not by
happenstance did I think that, as we were told, again and again, we were
killing her. I never understood how I was killing her, and certainly not
how to stop killing her. I simply accepted that to be me was to put my
mother in great, great danger. I was told I had “bad blood” and must
fight against it, against what was from my father within me. I learned,
at a deep level, that I was bad.
Certainly, there were innocent, playful moments in those early years. We
were five creative, resourceful little girls and we learned to make our
own world. I inwardly smile when I think of some of those lovely things
… playing in the summer rain, my shiny red tricycle with streamers
flying out behind, the wonder of the newly fallen snow and making snow
angels to my heart’s content. I remember my grandmother burning leaves
in the alley and the way the fire crackled and filled the air with
autumn deliciousness. Oh, the fireflies … how I remember the fireflies
on warm summer evenings, and the many hours of play on long summer
days―the way children left to themselves can play―in the lovely
embracing green of our big yard and garden. We were children, and we
But I loved my mother, too. The grief of losing her was unbearable and
never left me unless I simply became another me. I learned to become
My grandmother’s house, a large white Victorian with a welcoming
wrap-around porch, was nestled on a street where the old elm trees
reached graceful branches to make a canopy of shade during the warm
summer months. My sisters and I were given the big front room upstairs,
with a bay window looking out into all the green of summer, the vibrant
autumn colors that slowly turned the trees into flaming works of art,
and then the magical morning when we awoke to the first glimpse of the
newly fallen snow that blanketed the world in crystal white.
I loved that room, but the five of us shared that one room, with my
older sister sleeping on a chaise brought in from the garden and placed
in the closet. My cousin, a girl a year older than my oldest sister, had
a room to herself with twin beds. The room was full of books and toys
that we were not allowed to touch. We had left everything behind.
The summer I was five, my mother and I shared a bed. I was told by my
aunt, that if I touched my mother or spoke to her, I would be spanked. I
was a good little girl and kept still and quiet. My mother was a good
little girl also, and never acknowledged I was there. It seems strange
to me now, that it didn’t seem strange to me then. But children accept
the way things are and simply do the best they can.
The best I could do was to somehow separate myself from a painful and
So, Maggie was created from deep within me, and became my “other”
mommy. She was neither loving nor kind, but she was capable; she was ten
after all, and ten was very grown up. Maggie wore shoes that were too
big for her and lovely bold hats. She loved hats. I liked Maggie―she
was my secret and she made me feel safe. She kept order within, she kept
everybody orderly and calm. There were others within, and we all relied
on Maggie. When Beth cried for her mommy, Maggie was there. When Gracie
Rose felt guilty, Maggie told her she was all right. When Amy felt lost,
Maggie found her and held her. When It tried to speak, Maggie whacked
her hard, and It left. That was a good thing. Without my understanding
how or why, they, The Others, became my secret world and my family.
The years passed, and when I was eight years old, my sisters and I moved
into a house with just my mother. New house, new life, new rules. My
home became a place without order, without authority, without peace. It
was the “Law of the Jungle.” Whoever could yell the loudest, or hit
the hardest, would win. We all lost.
My mother was seldom there. She was a teacher and after school went to
my grandmother’s to be fed dinner and relax. If I dared to call and
ask if she was going to bring something home for us to eat, my
grandmother would remind me once again, “you great big girls are
killing your mother!” There was a crack in the armor, I think, and we
started not to believe her anymore.
We began to get angry. Angry became a way of being in that house. For
me, fear became a way of being. I hid within myself, as I always had,
but I also found safe places within our house … the space beneath the
stairs, the space between my bed and the wall. I would retreat when the
violence started. But I couldn’t always escape, and as the violence
trapped me, I continued to escape into my inner family, and into Meagan.
Twelve-year-old Meagan became my savior. I didn’t know her by name
then; I didn’t know any of them by name until much later. Meagan took
the anger and violence into herself and left me free to breathe. Years
later, when a friend saw glimpses of Meagan, and tricked me into going
through an exorcism, Meagan took that, too. I survived the unsurvivable
because of Meagan, and if I could, I would love her for it. But one
cannot love the unlovable.
But, I must get to the Beautiful Years. There’s a clear and crystal
moment when they began―when my dear husband and I welcomed a new baby
into the circle of our love. Cradling my little boy for the first time,
I was overwhelmed to realize I was someone’s Mommy. I was someone’s
Mommy! I could never, ever make the darkness of my growing-up years go
away. But I knew just as surely, that this precious baby’s childhood
was in my hands. His “someday” memories were mine to make. In that
moment, I set aside the sadness and the fear … I set aside Maggie,
Meagan, Gracie Rose, Amy, Beth, and It. I determined to build the life I
had longed for during all those dark and lonely growing-up years. The
steely determination of my soul was to give this child the life I never
experienced, and to fill my heart to the brim with being the mother I
There followed three baby girls, precious all, and my home and heart
were full of love, laughter, and joy. The dark, lonely years became but
a distant memory, and in time not even that. They were only a shadow
void of meaning and form in some forgotten corner of my consciousness.
We built the house of our dreams on ten acres of forested land―nestled
among vineyards, Christmas tree farms, and apple orchards. Those
beautiful years, lived within our large welcoming home, are filled with
happy memories: reading to my children in front of a roaring fire in our
cozy living room as the snow draped the forest in white, summer picnics
in sheltered groves, the happy voices of children playing in the shady
creek meandering in and out of the trees around our house.
Like many families, we filled our lives with sports, art, and music.
There were ballet lessons and horseback riding, birthday parties and
sleepovers. Our children became each other’s best friends, and my
heart continued to heal. Our home became the favorite gathering spot for
my children’s friends, and we embraced our full-to-overflowing life.
I accepted my mother, and welcomed her, and she became someone good
enough in my children’s lives. Whether she actually loved them, I
don’t know. But I certainly told them she did, and during those
innocent years, they believed me. I reached out and healed broken
relationships with my sisters and relatives. We grew into a loving,
My life flooded with light. I loved my husband, my home, my friends, my
job, and my babies―my darling, darling babies. I loved being a mommy!
I loved loving! Life was full of blessing upon blessing, and I became
me, really me, for the first time. I left the voices of my childhood
far, far behind. Dare I say … I loved me, finally!
The night before my world crumbled, I remember as if it is a beautiful
picture in a museum, saying to my husband, as I folded back the covers
of our bed, “I am the most blessed woman alive.” I meant it. By the
next night, I believed it to be a lie. I believed even the Beautiful
Years to be a lie. I was shattered, unable to breathe again.
My precious seventeen-year-old daughter told us that she had been
repeatedly raped by an adult man in our family when she was eight years
old. She told us she was raped in the cemetery next to my mother’s
house. She told us she had been dead inside for all the years since. She
told us she was full of darkness and fear. She told us … and I
listened … and the shadow crept out of the corner.
I wanted, more than anything, to be who I needed to be in the midst of
such deep, deep agony. I couldn’t undo what had happened, but I could
be the mother my daughter needed, the person they all needed, as I
watched my family slowly collapse around me. I tried, but no matter how
strong I believed I could be, I couldn’t stop those whispers from my
childhood. Those whispers soon became angry, accusing shouts,
“You’re bad! You’re to blame. You brought all the evilness onto
your family, it’s you! How did you think you could ever escape being
the bad, bad person you are, you fool? You’re killing your family!”
I could not escape. The shadow gained meaning and form.
So, I sought help. For the first time in my life, I reached outside
myself and sought help. I started seeing a therapist. I didn’t know
what to expect; I only knew I couldn’t survive, and my family
couldn’t survive, if I didn’t do something. The day I walked into
Julia’s office, I finally found the mother I had prayed for all those
dark and lonely years. I found deep compassion and gentle understanding.
Her office became my refuge. She became my shelter.
Part Two: August ~ January
Five years later ~ Open letter to TELL
I know now I’ve been emotionally and verbally abused by my therapist
of five years. The problem is, I love her dearly and find it almost
debilitating to leave her. I did, finally, stand up to something abusive
she said and left the session, but I’m in such pain and don't know if
I can find the strength not to go back. The day I walked out, she
called, and while she started out loving and concerned, when I stood my
ground she again became abusive. Someone was in the car with me, and the
phone was on speaker so my friend heard everything. It’s a relief
someone finally knows the truth, but at the same time, I wanted to
protect my therapist from anyone ever knowing. I hurt so much I think it
may kill me. Ana
Dear Ana, thank you for having the guts to contact us here at TELL. The
agony you’re feeling is all too familiar to those of us who have been
abused by our therapists. When I began to realize how horribly I had
been abused by my therapist, whom I also felt I had loved dearly, I too
felt the agony would kill me. This agony was worse than anything I’ve
ever felt in my life. Though it may feel impossible to keep from going
back, I hope with the support of your friends and what support we at
TELL can offer, you’ll be able to hold your own and continue to stand
your ground. Many of us took ages to leave the abusive therapy, going
back even when we knew we were being abused. I feel fortunate I had
support, so eventually my agony began to lessen.
Thank you for contacting us here at TELL and know you’re not alone.
Please continue to write. Please stay alive. I, for one, am relieved I
managed to become more than my agony eventually. My Best, Laurie
Laurie, do you know why you were abused?
Excerpted from "Mending the Shattered Mirror: A Journey of Recovery from Abuse in Therapy" by Analie Shepherd. Copyright © 2016 by Analie Shepherd. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.