The Last of Human Freedoms: Part One

I have thought and prayed carefully for four years on how or if I would ever share my marital fallout. There have been bits here and there, pennies of thoughts and pounds of discretion as I grapple with what it means to be authentic and navigate legal battles that serve to stifle my voice on matters of import. I am also mindful of how misunderstood hidden abuse is and have wondered about my role in offering a cautionary tale regarding the public and social institution of marriage, versus… the repugnance I feel about being a poster child for Catholic Divorce Tales Gone Wrong. I never asked for this and I never wanted this for my family. 

So, what I am sharing now is done with grief, and sooner than I had planned on sharing it, even though there are many details I am holding back for the sake of all involved. What you are about to read is a fraction of what has been endured in the last four years. I am uncertain that this world would even have to capacity to understand all that has happened, were I to tell it. But that’s not at issue here. With this, I have just a small platform to honor my truth by giving it voice. What comes after that is almost none of my business. Some will like it. Some will not. Some will shame me. Some will praise me. I pray to be indifferent to it all. This is for my kids.

Know this: ultimately, I want the father of my children to be healthy and holy and happy; I pray for him regularly and forgive him the damage he has done to me and to our family. Whatever circumstances—psychological, social or spiritual— that have happened in his life to contribute to his treatment of me, I lament for him. I am not better than him and I am a sinner in my own right. He is a soul that I care very much about as he will always be the father of my beautiful, extraordinary children. But I will not be doing him nor my family any favors by hiding reality in shrouded vagaries, so in some hard-to-explain way— I will and pray that this serves as a painful wakeup call to take seriously the path to honesty, self-awareness, and healing. Jesus, let this be a medicinal injection of truth! Additionally, I ache to know that someday my children might read this. But my hope is that I can hold space for their pain and heal with them, even while partially pulling aside the veil that hides the wounds in my heart… which bleed onto them. I wish for them truth, and love and faith in honesty.

The need to write my story now has become imminent because I have been made aware of a new, pressing threat of others writing it for me, which will be explained in the final part of this.

Part One of Three


It was early spring when I had a dream out of nowhere. Six months pregnant with my last child, sleep was a fitful thing already, but I shared this dream tentatively with my husband. “You decided to cheat on me with _________.” He was taken aback as much as I was considering that there was nothing to lend credibility to this dream at all. At the time. A month later, I noticed a connection between him and her. Others noticed it too. He’d light up when she came around and their conversation was so light, fun and easy. I felt jealous. Strange. And really, really stupid. 

When they began texting more, I expressed my discomfort. He tried to avoid texting around me to not trigger this discomfort. This led to evasiveness. Awkward conversations. Me feeling even stupider for being bothered by it. We were growing distant. What was my problem? Why was I so insecure? 

When I went into labor with our son in May, I texted him and he came home from work. I didn’t want him there since we were emotionally out of tune but felt bad advocating for myself. In less than three hours, from start to finish, our 7th baby was born at home in the most awkward home-birthing position I’d ever been in… on all fours, with my slightly estranged husband pinned underneath me.

The baby was baptized shortly thereafter and the woman came to our house for the baptism reception. He forgot to tell me that he invited her. I tried to act normal and be accommodating as she held my son and was very pleasant.  Before the end of the month, I had consulted with my closest friend, out of state—too humiliated to bring it up to my local friends— and she advised me to ask him to stop all of the texting and have a professional-only relationship with her. I wrote up a template message for him to send. He agreed and sent it. The next day, he was extremely upset and nervous for how awkward things were at work. How she’d taken it, seeming so aghast at any hint of impropriety. We talked a lot. It sounded like I was clearly just insecure. She rationalized and normalized their friendship in such a way that I felt really, really stupid for feeling uncomfortable with it. And my husband seemed to feel foolish about asking for boundaries. We had never encountered anything like this before and neither of us knew how to handle it

This began Operation-Get-Ellie-Comfortable-with-Our-Friendship. It involved an unspeakable amount of alcohol. (To this day, please never offer me Tanqueray Gin or Fireball Whiskey. Triggers.)  And I tried. I spent time at her house. I tried to get to know her. I tried to like her. She was really fun and charismatic and a great conversationalist. No wonder he liked her! And I felt so stupid for not wanting her around my husband. We spent the entire summer going back and forth on identifying boundaries and trying to back off of the texting and then easing up on restrictions because I didn’t like for him to be upset at me because of the loss of his friend or awkwardness there. I shoveled more and more piles of stupidity and inadequacy upon myself as he spent more and more time at work with her or running errands for her and less and less time at home. I felt neglected and shamed myself for these feelings. Self-loathing. Every time I brought it up, it was met with exasperation and frustration that I couldn’t seem to accept that they were just friends. What was wrong with me?!  She was well aware of my emotional floundering on the friendship. One day I’d tell her that I wanted to support their friendship and the next I’d tell her it was too difficult. She kept feigning surprise that I even questioned their friendship at all. I was growing increasingly “unstable”… a charge he’d later use against me in court.  At one point, he was discussing dopamine rushes with getting her texts and feeling love-like feelings for her, but then he quickly backpedaled and it was that she was just like his sister and I simply wasn’t able to understand.  By August, he told me we would have to agree to disagree on this and he was willing to endure my discomfort to maintain this friendship. God, hear my cries of despair and find me in Your bleeding heart! The isolation I felt was deep as he and she both thanked me for not opening up to my local friends about my concerns.  I felt like I was honoring my husband. Protecting him. Noble. Everything else must have been made up in my head…

During this phase, I believe he at least tried to do the right thing to a certain degree. Maybe he couldn’t help his disordered feelings. At one point, it was proposed in deep frustration that “Fine, I’ll quit my job and we’ll move to Vancouver!”  I begged him to please put that out of his mind. The thought of leaving the life we had so carefully crafted was unthinkable. To take our children out of their wonderful church community and move away was just not an option. Maybe this remains my greatest contribution to the fallout. Maybe I should have agreed and insisted on a move away from the other woman… but I couldn’t believe that it would actually lead to an END of my marriage so a move seemed to be a really disproportionate response. Still, I was not perfect here. There are no maps on how to navigate a marriage fallout of this kind. At any rate, the idea never gained any traction and we continued our struggle. I wanted to believe this was something we could handle appropriately.

By the end of August, he’d turned to ice on me. Rejecting bids for attention or physical connection. We tried to go on a getaway but I kept bringing her up and he’d lash out at me that “No one cares about her the way that I do!” A priest advised him to stop seeing her but he equivocated that the priest didn’t understand. In a profound moment of terrifying vulnerability on our getaway, I asked him to please choose me and discontinue contact with her. He said I was in “too biased of a position” to advise him properly on this matter. The words rattled around in my shell-shocked brain: Too biased. Ellie, you are wrong to make requests of your husbandHe sought spiritual counsel with another priest… who agreed but never followed through on meeting with him. (Father, Forgive that man…) During September, I tried to be extra attentive to him. Bringing him cookies and iced tea at work, he said I was smothering him. When I tried to give him space and distance, he said I was ignoring him. I was paranoid of making a wrong step and didn’t know what to do.

We went to a marriage counselor for 2.5 sessions that year. Session one was all about my discomfort with the other woman. The therapist advised my husband to have a professional-only relationship with her until we could fix our marriage. He was unhappy about this. We didn’t return until after I had written to the other woman, asking her to please stay away from my husband and my children in anything other than a professional capacity. She agreed, at least in word. He was exhausted from the restrictions I kept wanting to put on him and her. I was paranoid she wouldn’t heed my requests. Why was I so obsessed? What was wrong with me?Ultimately, she never did respect my request. And they continued on. In the final session, he disclosed that he was indeed willing to continue a ‘friendship’ with her regardless of my feelings on it. I asked the therapist if there was a point to continuing sessions if we had different goals for our marriage. She said no. We left. It was my fault that counseling didn’t work. 

One day, A local friend came over and confided in me something unrelated that included a reference to this other woman. She noted my extreme discomfort in the conversation. Despite saying nothing, my agitation was evident with shaking hands and squirming in my chair and avoidant eye contact. She probed me gently. And I confessed my discomfort. My friend was stunned. I was horrified that the words had spilled out of my mouth and shamed myself for this ‘betrayal’ to my husband.

I immediately apologized to my him for not keeping it all a secret and begged forgiveness. I asked if I could consult with our priest about it. He refused to bring “his boss” into it. He also didn’t want me speaking to the counselor I had previously seen, as she went to our parish and knew us well. I apologized to the other woman (!) for sharing what I did with this local friend. And she held my hand and stroked it, leaning in and told me firmly that I was being manipulated by that person. I was so confused. Or maybe I had just been poured too many drinks. Either way, I couldn’t breathe… What was wrong with me?!

 I asked my husband in October what he wanted. He said he didn’t know. By the beginning of November, I told him I needed to know if he was committed to this marriage or not. He said he needed time to respond, so he stayed gone until the wee hours of the morning… sleeping in his office. I didn’t eat for 2 days. I walked around in a daze, waiting for his response. I couldn’t sleep. I was horrified. Unstable. I kept prodding him for answers. Maybe I’m being too pushy. Maybe he needed more time. I choked my way through November, never knowing what was going to happen. Forcing myself to eat because I had a nursing baby. Trying to focus on the kids’ homeschooling but failing miserably. We enrolled a couple children in school because I was decreasing in effectiveness. All my fault. After he began sleeping in the kids’ room, I told him that can’t be the new normal. He said it was. I lashed out “Well why don’t you just divorce me then!” And he kind of laughed and said there was a process to this. I said again…  a month after I asked him the first time and a month of dire limbo and sleepless nights and cold sweats of terror… “Are you committed to me and this marriage?”  He looked at me and said “No.” Then he sent a message saying that he was done being “manipulated” by me. Jesus, mercy.

I was stunned. My world was spinning. Shock. Utter shock. Am I alive? Is this real? The next day, after consulting a good friend, I told him that I refused to cohabitate with a man who wouldn’t agree to act like a husband. I asked him to move out. I offered him ideas of where to go. I told him that I loved him and hoped that with space, he would realize that this marriage was worth fighting for and I’d be ready when he was. I still have a copy of this letter. I sent this on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. He was livid. And refused to move out. He set up a room in our basement and I agreed that this would be ok for the time being. I had no way of knowing the hell that would follow upon this arrangement… and I begged God to save my marriage.

The year ended with me being told that my marriage vows had been a mistake and that I didn’t truly understand what love is… among with many other unspeakable things.


January and February  were a blur. I couldn’t figure out what was happening or what to do. I would vacillate between feeling like I could just have a white martyrdom via a contempt-filled husband for the rest of my life or wondering if I should take the kids and go live with my parents and hope he’d recommit to the marriage. He rightfully insisted that I was unstable. (Later I would learn that human beings aren’t particularly “stable” in deeply abnormal circumstances. But I had a long way to go on my understanding yet.) My in-laws had stopped talking to me. I asked to have a conversation with them about what was going on but they wouldn’t speak with me. I was blocked from all social media accounts and messages went unanswered. To this day, I still grieve the fact that I lost much more than a husband in this divorce. I lost an entire family.

I begged him to go to Retrovaille with me. A friend sent money for us to do so and I had babysitters lined up. No. I begged him to go back to counseling. No. It was over. I had ruined the marriage with my “instability”, he said. We came up with an informal parenting plan whereby we’d each be in charge of the children on particular days. During his days with the kids, I tried to stay in my room or in the attic. I had moved some furniture and boxes around, plugged in a lamp and claimed it as my own personal space. I painted in large letters on the wall “Courage, dear heart…” and soaked a lot of paper in ink, paint, and tears. Drawings. Paintings. Writings. And writings. And writings. My little garret was a slice of solace in a house where I felt utterly displaced. The atmosphere was extraordinarily toxic when I was in his presence. He made certain to show me how unwelcome I was; communication took on three forms when it wasn’t the silent treatment: sterile logistics about the children, gaslighting about what had happened, or hostile criticisms about my character flaws and how I’d ruined our marriage. It was not easy for me to leave because he would not let me drive any of the two vehicles; I was told I could walk somewhere if I needed to get out of the house… in January… with a nursing baby. Large amounts of money started disappearing from our bank account. He said he was protecting it from me. Searches for “divorce” and “annulment” were found on my computer. My blood ran through my body like ice water. On my days with the kids, he would disappear completely. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to answer my children’s questions about where he was. I was suffocating. Disappearing. Stumbling through a nightmare that I never believed possible. 

Eventually, he asked if I wanted a divorce or legal separation. I said “Neither! I want my marriage back!”  He calmly replied “You lost your chance at that.” Oh God, help me fix this! How had I “annihilated” my marriage as he said? Please God. Teach me how to be better! Don’t let this happen to my children! I was losing a lot of weight, being told I was crazy, and utterly incapacitated to leave a situation where my husband was living a bachelor life downstairs and abusing me on multiple fronts upstairs.

In February, after consulting with a priest, I filed for legal separation. I wrote him an email telling him that I absolutely did not want to dissolve our marriage… but that the situation was untenable and hopefully space would help shake up some particles of commitment. His response was mild surprise: “YOU filed?” On Valentines Day, I had a minor, ectopic surgery. He insisted on being at the hospital, even against my will.  (Suddenly, I understood the need for HIPAA laws…) It was profoundly unsettling to be in such a vulnerable position in front of him, and needing his help as I was trying to get my clothes back on etc. I hated it. To this day, I don’t know why he wanted to be there. To control the narrative? For the pleasure of seeing me in a weak place? Out of a genuine, conflicted goodwill? I didn’t understand. Unstable. Many parts of my story can not be intellectually conquered. Such is the human mystery I suppose. As I recovered at home, the situation did not improve. I was still not allowed to drive anywhere to escape the toxicity. I was still required to turn in receipts for every dollar spent, be it a gallon of milk or pack of diapers… all while some of my skirts were being tightened up by safety pins since no money was allowed for clothing that would accommodate the weight loss. I was still told how insane, lazy and negligent I was. But I was too weak to walk around town huffing a baby along with me. Friends came to pick me up and take me (and baby) to their house. And I tried to make sense of my world…


(See Part Two here)


Unanswered Questions

Further adventures in a tale told out of order…

I cross-examined the father of my children in the court-room last week. I wonder how many women have ever had to do that. There were lots of objections by his attorney… some were sustained, but others were—gratifyingly— overruled. The most beautiful thing about it was the absolute confidence and freedom I had in facing him alone. So much has been taken from me already, and he has already gotten nearly everything he’s asked for in this particular action. This produces a deep, deep freedom for me in having very little faith in the justice system and thus being able to speak my truth with almost nothing to lose. He can run laps around me by way of having extra money and time to spend on lawyers and litigation. But after appearing in court more than 14 times in the past four years, begging the ear of multiple attorneys, advocates and one especially wonderful paralegal… I’m now able to speak and write in broken Legalese. It’s sometimes filled with procedural blunders and it will always lack the quintessential, smirking dialect typical of some natives. But this doesn’t phase me the way it used to. I am not afraid. Bring me your condescension. Bring me your soured, volatile ethics. Temporal battles don’t scare me anymore; I know where my victory is… and it’s not of this world.

The difficulty is that I was not allowed to “relitigate the past” according to the judge. Bother. As so many damaging precedents have already been set on deceptive, styrofoam foundations, this is quite a blow. I had hoped to shed light on the current issues by highlighting (just some) of the internal contradictions in the history of the testimony presented against me. Alas, opposing counsel objected to this line of questioning under the grounds of “Irrelevant.”


I did not realize that Truth was invalid currency here or that establishing Credibility had an expiration date. Be it so.

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis

At any rate, for the sake of posterity, and even if the family law system isn’t interested in following up on matters of integrity, I would like to leave here some of my “irrelevant” questions that remain unanswered:

1.  In 2017, you testified, under penalty of perjury, that I was mentally unstable and tried to prove to the court that I was crazy:  

  • Why didn’t you seek to ask the court for a psychiatric evaluation? 
  • Why didn’t you seek a restraining order or supervised visits with our children?
  • Why didn’t you go on to inform my university where I graduated, Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling that they were making a great mistake?
  • Why didn’t you warn the Department of Health who licensed me or the National Board who certified me as a therapist that I might be a danger to my clients?
  • What is your opinion of my mental stability now?

2.  In 2019, you testified, under penalty of perjury, that I was physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive to our children:

  • Why didn’t you call the police?
  • Why didn’t you seek a restraining order or supervised visits with our children?
  • Why didn’t you try to protect the youngest children from me and only want full custody of two of the older ones?

These are grave, life-altering accusations. 

These are mind-boggling anvils thrown at a woman who had already been discarded into the middle of the ocean. 

Do we live in the world where words no longer matter??

Yet… I am grateful.

Yes, you read that right.

 Without these past four years, I would never have known that I could develop the strength, skill and stability to swim in such storms. 

Thank you sir. May you be well and find peace and growth of your own in this life. 

—Elizabeth Rose, MA, LMHCA, NCC


Writing to Know How I Think

Some things need to be said. And they will be said. But the time is not yet.

I will not write what is happening, but just pluck through snippets of how I feel. Doing this assists me in moving through All The Things with clarity and completion. If you can tolerate vagaries and shadows of thoughts… rather than a linear narrative, read on. Writing is something I can control.

I feel as though I don’t know how to interface with the world right now. I am in pain. I am wounded. Deeply. And this requires me to show up for myself and look me square in the eye and say “I see you. I know you. I hear you. This is real.” That’s my responsibility. The covert nature of what is happening creates a fog whereby most others are unable to understand. And even if the veil does get lifted soon, many will look away in discomfort. I accept this.

In the meantime, I own my breath. My body. My thoughts. My soul. There is my freedom. There is my peace. No matter the circumstances surrounding me, that interior dimension is beyond a threshold whereby only my Divine Lover is invited to cross. He weeps with me there. But He is also, quite simply— there: embodying the fullness of joy which can only be properly experienced when it was born of sorrow. I can still laugh. And mean it. Thanks be to God.

It is my responsibility to not transmit this pain onto others, intentionally or unintentionally. 

I alone, am responsible for its transformation. For my relationship to the pain. 

There is meaning here.

And I am noting once again, a reset of my threshold of delight. Today I walked—no, sauntered!— to the mailbox halfway down my block alone. It was like a mini-vacation. My office has air conditioning. What good fortune!  I dedicate myself to important work, an honor! My house is appreciated and loved by my children— I am the wealthiest woman in the world! And there are a few who have remained by me in the most tumultuous years of my life and have proven themselves to be True Blue, in spite of myself… a staggering gift.

Having been knocked down, over and over and over again… with no end in sight… I will still move through this. Having an internal experience that is hidden or misunderstood in the bustling world is not something I want to resist. I want to welcome this.

I will kiss the ground in the terrain of my soul and walk with courage down unknown paths.


DOMINE Iesu Christe, Fili Dei vivi, miserere Mei, peccatricis


A Father’s Love

Last night I saw my father on a bicycle. The sunset was fading and he was alone in the park ahead of me. Recollecting that he’s been dead for almost three years, I didn’t call after him. And he didn’t look back. That man will never know the scar he ripped off in me.

Unbeknownst to him, I wept while this father figure of mine teetered north, his flannel jacket softly flapping in the breeze. 

I have many things to say. 900 stories to tell. But a Wisdom invites me— nay, warns me— to wait. In the meantime, I marshal my body forward at a time when the inclination to hide, defend, and protect the soul inhabiting within… is very, very strong. 

Please pray for me and for my family. Thank you. 

God, the Father of Mercy… see me. I call after You. I won’t mistake who You are. I am Yours and within Your wounds, I hide.  You are Love and in this I find my peace. Stay with me.



This is just a note to folks who wonder why my account is inactive on Facebook and can no longer be found on Instagram right now.
Despite privatizing all my accounts and blocking certain users and being extremely judicious with how I engage in social media, it’s not currently safe for me to be active there. My profile has still been monitored and innocent posts used against me. My children and I have been secretly videotaped at least twice that I know of, and my life is under scrutiny by a man looking to distort any scrap of fodder possible in a quest to tear me down.
The truth of my situation is extraordinarily strange and uncomfortable to believe and I’m not interested in using my energy to try and convince people of what has been happening.
But in the meantime, I have to burrow deeper into what elements of privacy I can retain and cling to the solace and blessings that can be found in the shadows of Gethsemane.
Thank you for your prayers.

Hope Springs Eternal

Looking out my kitchen window this morning made me drop the dish I was washing and gasp. My raspberry plant had suddenly grown— or I suppose it was just being seen for the first time in months— and the tiniest of white buds were making an appearance.  Running outside to verify what I was seeing confirmed the marvel.

This is the ‘botany of hope.’

This is literally post-traumatic growth.

My raspberry is older than I am, see. As children, my siblings and I adored the raspberry patch my parents cultivated for decades. That spot of the yard was both a hide-and-seek place and a fort-building place and a peaceful place of poking at bugs and stealing mom’s berries, leaving evidence rather obvious on our lips and hands. Some years back, against my protests, my dad decided to cut down the tall evergreens and mom pulled out the raspberries to make the front of their house more… I don’t know… appealing or contemporary or open… or something I can’t really understand.  In 2017, my sister-in-law  (much more of a wizard with plants than me) gave me a tiny, 5 inch baby remnant of the raspberries she’d kept aside in a cheap, disposable plant container.  I was grateful but dubious, assuming I’d kill it.

That plant sat outside in my driveway for nearly two years, sitting on top of a plastic grocery bag in its generic plastic holder. It endured rain and hail. Windstorms. 14” of snow. Reduced to just a bare stick or two for a long time, I ignored the plant as life did not cease its punishment during this period…

Then my aunt came over last year and asked me to please love it. I simply had to put in the dirt and sunshine… it would be fine.

I didn’t believe her. The plant was dead to me. While it symbolized “roots,”  I had already gone through my mourning and moved on.

But, there was a still moment in early 2019 when I bought a couple planters and attempted, through my feelings of intimidation, to grow some produce. The bell pepper failed. The cherry tomatoes briefly performed but died early. The lettuce was underwhelming. The carrots were stunted and deformed. And the radishes were eaten all through by ants. My 40 year old raspberry plant grew a shoot or two of green but nothing. Returned to sticks over the winter. It was confirmed: I’m a gardening failure. Or at least… I have a lot to learn still.

But here’s this! My raspberry of glory! It’s almost two feet tall, healthy, beautiful and has a history infused with deep meaning for me.

I am hoping to return to my roots this summer…  and it will be such a joy to return this raspberry to its native land with me.

This plant makes me profoundly happy. And I genuflect at the mystery of it all. 



Chapter 11

This is many, many pages into my story. Someday perhaps, all will be laid clear. But today: Chapter 11 is what my heart is telling me to write.

I finished my Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling today. I took my last, final exam, turned in my 63 page portfolio, finished some case notes on the last clients I saw, then shut my computer and walked to the church to say hello to Jesus. There will be no presidential fanfare, hats tossed into the air, big parties or any of the typical pomp and circumstance. No flight to Kentucky because the ceremony is cancelled. Nothing at all really. Rather, it’s a quiet and surreal feeling. My children are gone for the weekend so I will celebrate with some leftover tacos and feel elegant because I happen to have a fresh avocado on hand. There’s a bottle of prosecco in my fridge too… not sure how long that’s been there, but hey, it feels appropriate. I think I’ll watch something utterly stupid tonight on my computer just because I can’t remember what a Saturday night is supposed to feel like with no schoolwork weighing on my mind. But it is a very, very strange feeling overall. It doesn’t feel like a celebration or great achievement. And honestly, the images moving in and through me are mildly grim: something like steam smoldering over a battlefield of dead orcs and one bleeding carcass of a woman, clutching her Miraculous Medal and uttering benedictions of gratitude that she is still breathing. “… for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is His name.”  How appropriate that it is the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday…

Perhaps this sounds piously melodramatic to read. That’s okay; I encourage you to validate your skepticism and put it to the test. My aim is simply to “write hard and clear about what hurts.” 

I have shared before a wee bit about how I came into this program two years ago. My husband was done with the marriage and we were embroiled in trial and I needed a plan. My lawyer at the time was not impressed with my suggestion about becoming a professional philosopher. Apparently, this wouldn’t provide a steady income. Bother. So, I stumbled over to the cousin of philosophy: Counseling, and have found something of a vocation here. More sane people would do this program over the course of three years. But… the clock is ticking on my spousal support and I’ve got debts coming out my ears, so I crushed through it at a blistering pace, maximizing my credit load every semester and taking no breaks, in order to finish it in two years. 

As anyone can imagine, completing graduate school as a mother is challenging. I finished my bachelors degree when I was pregnant with my third child and it was tough then. But now, as a mother of seven… “difficult” took on new meaning. And beyond that, there is the fact that grad-school as a solo-parent mother of seven— without the support of a spouse— is excruciating. And finally, if you can imagine: trying to do this as a solo-parent, mother of seven, with the antagonistic and hostile presence of an ex-spouse… while representing yourself in legal battles… now there is something beyond words. Truly. I feel like all the superlatives I know are feeble here.

So here I am, resheathing my sword and wiping my brow and noting the new letters behind my name with a peculiar sort of detachment. It wasn’t some act of heroism or inspiring grit that got me here. God knows I cried and resisted and fumbled my way through the whole thing. But it was just the next, right thing to do. Some questions answered:

Was the schoolwork hard?  No. It was time consuming to a large degree, given the demands on my life. But I’ve always had more of an aptitude for academics than I have for real-world skills. Finding time and focus was the challenge.

Do you like being a counselor? “Like” is not the right word at all. I would “like” to get paid to read books and tell other people what books to read. I would “like” to listen to cello music and run in the rain and ride horses for a living. But “like” being a counselor? It’s not the right question to ask. I needed a way to provide for seven children. Period. That I am able to monetize something for which I have an aptitude and in which I can use my gifts is wonderful. I find doing therapy to be very meaningful. And right. After the first couple months were spent resolving my imposter syndrome, I found the clinical portion of what I was learning to be intuitive and fulfilling. The feedback received from my clients was extremely affirming. I know that there remains much to learn that will only come with more time and experience in the field, but I also know that I brought with me a wealth of real-world experience into this role. The challenges I have faced are all across the spectrum and it’s been a marvelous thing to allow that to shape me as a counselor and inform some of the work I do. What has been unexpected is the tremendous emotional toll that comes with being a therapist. The physical and mental exhaustion I feel at the end of a day of sessions dwarves any level of exertion I’ve ever previously known. In counseling, I offer the gift of my whole mind, heart and experience to others in a completely one-way relationship. And even if this is meaningful and fulfilling, it does have a real cost.

What has been the most difficult thing about these grad school years? There are many things. 

  • Peeling the arms of a toddler boy and a toddler girl from around my neck as they cry and scream for me not to leave them with a babysitter. Feeling awful and angry and guilty all at once.
  • Crying on my way to work and trying to decide if explaining that my trainwreck of a face was due to “allergies” would be an acceptable lie to tell. 
  • Cancelling a full day of clients to sit in a courthouse trying to get my ex-husband to help pay for childcare costs.
  • Cancelling on clients because my childcare fell through.
  • Cancelling on clients because a child of mine was sick. 
  • Having to defend myself against false allegations of child abuse as a shameful attempt is being made to try and take my children away from me. 
  • Being fairly out of touch on the schoolwork struggles my children are experiencing because of the lack of time to invest in their work. 
  • Having to miss children’s extracurricular events because I had class. 
  • Having to spend my family’s rare moments of downtime with my nose in my computer or in a textbook.
  • Having to find energy to be a present mother to seven children, after a full day of listening to the trauma and drama of many other people all day long. 

One of the interesting things that’s come from all this is the unlearning I’ve had to do—untangling all the maladaptive thinking patterns I’ve had and reengaging difficult situations I experienced with newer, more complete understandings. Listening more and better, with my ears, eyes and heart.  Now, as one who has gone through many forms of abuse, grief, and trauma, both publicly and privately, I feel like I’m finally becoming fully human. Here, at age 38, and it feels like I’m just now beginning in many ways. When you add in the formal training on science and psychology… now there is something pretty staggering! How I view others has changed. How I view myself has changed. How I engage my children, my loved ones and my spirituality has changed. I feel a remarkable amount of freedom in having a pretty sober sense of awareness. I feel both self-possessed and confident in the very acknowledgement of being a work in progress!

What is the most important thing you’ve learned? That I am the author of my own story. That feelings won’t last forever. That it takes courage to be self-aware. That being humble is liberating. And that Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” (Viktor Frankl). 

What’s next for you? I am unsure. I am trying to move to be closer to my family of origin but there may be some difficult situations (COVID-19) and people (singular) that complicate this matter. As soon as I get my transcript, I’ll send in my application to the Department of Health to begin practicing with an Associate’s license. I’ve been applying for jobs and I have an offer and other leads… but for now, I have a few weeks of “not-knowingness” where I’m going to surrender all things to my good and loving Father, curl up with some fiction and tea, and play some board games with my children.

I have mastered survival mode. Now it is time to live…


The Threshold of Joy

One of my favorite take-aways from the many months I spent in the throes of real trauma was experiencing a forceful reorientation of my senses. When it’s pitch black outside and you’re scratching at rock bottom, your eyes become sensitized to any glimmer of light. This takes the form of having a new appreciation for things as basic as… hot water. A warm bed. An exquisite slice of cheese. The kind of belly laugh with a friend that brings you to tears. Etc. For those of us who are “slow of heart,” it takes a full stripping down in order to recognize the goodness in our lives. 

I’m reminded of this with the “stay at home” order in the face of a universal pandemic. I’ve grown sloppy in my appreciation and neglected the journal I keep specifically for recording notes of gratitude. Well, in order to not go insane and to keep any pent-up anxiety at bay, I’ve been forcing myself to reframe— to take things down a notch: “Ellie: You don’t need a whole weekend of solitude in order to feel restored. Savor the 5-10 minutes alone on your front porch. You don’t need fresh meat served at every dinner; you know your way around lentils if needs be. (Thank God you have a tiny extra fridge/freezer!) Oh, and Ellie? You don’t need to run away to Ruby Beach to feel free and alive. You can walk around the block and note the robins plucking at worms and the trees starting to bud their spring blossoms. Reorient, woman. Get back to the basics.”  We are still free and still healthy. The golden foundation! I have an abundance of tea and coffee in my pantry. Precious stones! A chance to organize a cupboard. Fine linen! And there are moments of connection and bonding (intermingled with typical squabbling and restlessness, of course) between my children and me that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if we were all running to and fro, per usual. Pearls of great price! This time right now… ?! This staying at home is not a cross I want to squander. Truly it’s one I kiss and bless— its lessons are many and the perspective offered, invaluable. 

I never want to be someone who has a high baseline for happiness. I want to maintain joy at a very low, attainable threshold, like a toddler who is enraptured by ants scurrying on the sidewalk. I can’t remember the last time I was bored (thank God my curiosity and appetite for learning has kept me from feeling idle); but I do recognize that I have a tendency to develop very particular preferences that are tempting to call “needs.” And I reject this. Not too long ago, I would’ve paid good money to be able to have an hour alone each week; I was starved for time to be restored in the busy mothering life. Now, I yawn that I “need” a full 3 days of silence?! Nonsense. That’s a luxury that I’ve grown accustomed to. (I mean… a wonderful luxury, don’t get me wrong, but not a true need in order to feel whole.) I can make do on less. And this sort of paring down can happen in nearly every domain of my life; I don’t need my beloved forest of moss-covered, grandfather trees to be “happy”: I can pay attention to the succulent above my sink. And so on…

To live the fullest life one can, it’s important to be able to delight in simple things. And a season of social and practical deprivation offers an extraordinary opportunity to reset our thresholds. 



On Writing and Bleeding

So many writers seem to publish articles when they have a tidy moral lesson to share. Or perhaps they have a new spiritual insight born from the foibles of everyday living. Then there are those who have to contrive together passionate words or feigned offenses in order to meet a contracted deadline. And that’s fine for some I suppose. But the former groups are ones that leave me dry if the purpose of writing is supposed to have as its end, something uplifting or at least satisfying to impart to readers.

I reject this as my end. There are hundreds of bits of writing advice out there— one helping to form the title of this blog in “Writing is simple; you just sit down at a typewriter and bleed” (Attributed to many). And that’s always guided me. Further, there is this little gem from a man with whom I profoundly disagree but find myself selectively quoting time and again: “Whoever writes in blood and aphorisms does not want to be read but to be learned by heart.” —Nietzsche

And isn’t that yummy?! Yet it’s still incomplete. I don’t write for the goal of being understood by others as my end either. There is something nearly impersonal about opening your veins. The one who donates blood knows that his gift will be utilized by someone somewhere. He is not concerned about being understood as a person. While I don’t approach writing in quite so sterile a manner, I do recognize that even as I “write hard and clear about what hurts” (Hemingway), it doesn’t really feel to be much about me. It simply feels as something I must do. Sometimes it’s public, more is private, but rarely am I left with hard conclusions that I would like to be understood about me or about life. I usually have more questions than anything else.

Maybe someday, I’ll write my whole story; it’s interesting if nothing else. And maybe someday I’ll  manage to write something profound and brilliant, offering new insights into this human journey. Today, I only offer these anemic statements:

  • My life is really challenging right now.
  • The stress can be crippling.
  • I keep a brave face for the most part, and say “Fine” when asked how I’m doing. (Folks tire of reality.)
  • But I do cry readily and often to a select few.
  • I beg God to take this cross from me.
  • I steel my nerves for battles that I have to face on many domains right now.
  • I am very disorganized because my executive functioning skills (normally my strength!) are suffering from me simply putting out fires day in and day out in the frenetic pace of life I live right now. This has been extraordinarily trying; I miss order… survival gets old.
  • I make inappropriate jokes about stabbing and death in a light, cavalier way that sometimes gets me concerned looks from others. Don’t be alarmed, it’s just me.
  • Representing yourself in court is exhausting.
  • Lawyers can be rogues.
  • Grad school is exhausting.
  • Busy work assignments are infuriating.
  • Seven children is exhausting.
  • And I wish I could love them better and be more present now. But I am getting a life together to better love them and be more present to them in the long term. My absence and inattention and constant childcare crises are for them.
  • I have a number of other unstated issues fighting for mental real estate in my brain. [Insert something here about the art of balancing authenticity with discretion.]
  • My social life looks like this: ignoring or forgetting about a lot of texts, making some plans with people but cancelling more often than not… and just hoping there’ll be a few understanding friends left over at the end of this season.
  • I love and find meaning in what I do as a counselor.
  • I see a therapist. All therapists should see a therapist.
  • But I miss my kids. I miss being a homeschooling mom. I miss being consumed by picture books. I miss the slower pace of life.
  • Still,I kiss the floor each morning and whisper Serviam.

And see! Right here I feel a strange obligation to try and wrap this up with some positive or at least satisfying phrases. Can I let just a string of difficult bullet points sit there without feeling the need to boost my reader’s spirits?

Well, yes. I can. Sure, “God is good all the time.” And “This too shall pass.” Blah, blah, blah. Make no mistake— I know all about silver linings. I even know about silver floodings! They’re wonderful.

But today… today, that’s not what I’m writing about. Today, I don’t have answers, lessons, moralizing or insight to offer at this juncture.

Just a wee bit of hemoglobin on your screen.


Head. Heart. Instinct.

Instinct. Now here’s the thing! “Trust your instinct!” “Listen to your gut!” (And please don’t confuse this with the “Follow your heart” slogan because that is dangerous and misleading…)  Seems like a really big deal these days to talk about trusting our instinct. And this is true on a lot of levels. The intestines of our 6th sense are really, really intelligent! Most intuitive people have certain, unnameable and unexplainable alarm bells that ring at certain times, in certain places, or with certain people. Instinct matters. Pay attention.

 But don’t crown it king.  

I listen to my instinct. I trust it. I pay attention. I believe it has saved me from dangerous situations/people. I have also suffered the consequences that come when I choose to ignore or dismiss my instinct, tightly blindfolding it and shoving it in a dark closet… following my heart instead or listening exclusively to my head that—if left to its own devices— is quite skilled at rationalizing away the reality that is right in front of me. And that’s all kinds of bad news. Indeed, coming off the repercussions of ignoring my instinct has left me somewhat skittish now. I’m easily alarmed when I get the first hints of Instinct trying to chime in on my life now. And I don’t want to be a person who is easily spooked; I want to be measured and thoughtful and deliberate in action. So, this has taken me some time to reorder, take Instinct out of the closet, help it get adjusted to the light of day, and figure out where it should live. This is a work in progress.

But I do think I’ve started to come to a really excellent understanding of its proper place in my life now. Today, Instinct acts its part in an organization that is not unlike the triumvirate of authority in my spiritual life—Tradition. Bible. Papacy. Or if you are among the three secular readers here who prefer more sterile analogies, we can use the branches of government: Executive. Legislative. Judicial. By this I mean that Instinct doesn’t get to wear a crown and dictate actions the way it seems a lot of new-age pop psychology articles want it to. It’s part of the team that includes the Head and the Heart. As with my faith authority… it’s part of—but not conflicting with— the personal guide that makes up the truth of who I am. As with the government, it serves as a power check to both the Head and the Heart but can not effectively exist independent of either of them.

No; Instinct is what contributes to making one a healthy Skeptic. I’m not talking about a cynic, mind you. No one loves the company of a cynic. His wry commentary on the banalities of life are enough to bore anyone who takes seriously the mandate to live. But I’m also not talking about the kind of skeptic that enjoys the popularity of a sort of agnostic skepticism that is demonstrated so often in today’s postchristian culture. It’s convenient and interesting and ‘cool’ to walk along the fence and doubt this and question that. Raise your eyebrows here and look askance there… “trusting your gut” so that one never moves decisively. But walking along a fence in perpetuity is no life worth living. 

There is a way to do Skepticism rightly. Rightly done, skepticism should have a reasonable half-life… never maturing to old age. It must be poked and prodded and wrestled with— and then be put to rest. This doesn’t mean we get to have all the answers in life. Often we are left with more mysteries! But it does mean that we aren’t content to crown ourselves rational kings and queens, too important to come down off of the fence, one way or the other. Putting instinct in its proper place, skepticism in its proper place, requires conviction and humility. To live fully and authentically, you are required to do the hard work of finding the answers. Of playing your instincts out… seeing how they fit with your head and heart. Test the evidence of your thinking. Test the veracity of your heart. And then run everything through a ‘gut check’ and act with conviction, not necessarily with expediency or comfortability.