Everything is okay. Even when it isn't.
No one ever told her this directly, but she learned that it was best to turn a blind eye to problems.
So, everything was okay, when at the age of 16, she gave birth to her daughter, Brittany. Everything was okay when she dropped out of high school to take care of her baby. Never mind that she was hardly old enough to care for herself. But, her dream was to have a family of her own. People she could love and care for.
Brittany's father fell out of the picture in the year following her birth. Then, the boyfriends came and went as Bridget grew up alongside her daughter. On her 21st birthday, she spread her wings a little and started going out to the bars. The attention from men felt good as she kept her eyes open for someone to fill the role of husband. A friend introduced her to Cameron, a guy this friend used to date. They flirted, had a good time, and at the end of the night Cameron asked her out. She told him there was no way she was gonna date a guy who'd dated her friend.
When she was 22, a local bar gave her a job bartending. Bridget had fun and laughed while making good tips. Taking care of people is what she did best. "What do you need? Can I get you a drink? Need another?" During one of her shifts, Cameron walked in and on second glance he seemed like just the kind of person who could provide Bridget with the sort of life she thought she wanted. A new life with white picket fences and happy, smiling pictures on the walls of their beautiful home.
But, their relationship was contentious from the start. He didn't like that she worked in a bar and she fought back in stride. Two years later they had a child together. Marriage came next followed by a second child. Bridget's dream had come true.
As their problems grew the smiling pictures on the walls became a facade for festering emotional wounds and crushing mental blows. Bridget became isolated and depressed. Pretending everything was okay wasn't easy anymore. She had to work hard at making everything look okay. She was given that boost of stamina and courage by alcohol. At first, it was a drink or two in the evening, but soon she woke up in the morning forgetting how she got to bed.
A friend at work was also having difficulties at home and the two of them plotted to leave their husbands together. But, Bridget didn't think she could. Not yet, anyway.
Her daughter, Brittany, was eleven years old by now. For Cameron, Brittany was nothing more than an unwanted bastard child; unworthy of his time or attention. While pouring out affection on his own two children, he ignored Brittany.
One morning, as he was leaving for work, Cameron embraced his children and gave them a fond farewell. Brittany stood in line waiting, but Cameron turned and walked out the door. Bridget could see the hurt on her face. How could he treat her daughter this way? It wasn't the first time, but it would be the last. Right then, she made the decision to leave.
When she spoke with Women's Services, a counselor told her that what she was dealing with an abusive relationship.
Abuse? Was it really abuse? Cameron had never struck her. Everything was okay, really. And, for that reason, it didn't seem like reason enough to leave.
Soon, however, she would have reason enough.
A few days later, she woke up in the bed of an old friend; ashamed and naked. Now, she had a reason to leave her husband. Shattered was the sacred bond between husband and wife. In the process, she had cut open her own heart and soul.
Back at home, there was a small closet under the stairs where she began collecting items she would take with her when she left. Cameron assumed she was cleaning house. The bank accounts had money she could access and Women's Services helped her find a three bedroom town home.
The weekend before Bridget was going to move, she told Cameron. He didn't go to work and they didn't leave the house. Pleading with her, Cameron begged Bridget to stay. Doubts filled Bridget's mind, but she remembered what she had done. Their marriage was over. She didn't tell Cameron about the affair and she never would. It was her reason; her secret.
Finally, Bridget agreed to consider the move a temporary separation and that in six months she would move back. Later that week, Cameron helped her move out.
With her new found freedom, Bridget sought healing at the bar. She hit it often and hard. Brittany was old enough to stay home on her own and the two younger kids were with Cameron every weekend giving Bridget opportunity to pour herself into a new, yet familiar sub-culture of drugs and alcohol.
Three weeks after she left Cameron, she met some people at the bar who invited her to an after party. When she arrived, she was the center of attention. Not many people walk into a crack house with a 2-carat diamond ring, an expensive car, and designer clothing. At some point in the night, someone handed her a pipe. Based on the promise of a good time she took it. She'd never experienced anything like it. The high was amazing.
Drugs, especially a drug like crack cocaine, are like a wildfire. It only takes one small spark to create an unquenchable fire. Given the right conditions, it will consume everything in its path leaving death and destruction in its wake.
So it was for Bridget. It only took a matter of months for her to become enmeshed in the cycle of drug abuse. It became her world. More than the drug or the high, the people made her feel like somebody. She felt needed and important. (See footnote 1.)
Soon, crack dealers were coming in and out of Bridget's town home catching the attention of local authorities. Little did she know, but they began surveying her home. Then, while on a traffic stop - set as a distraction - local police raided Bridget's home where they found crack cocaine along with Brittany. (See footnote 2.)
The charge was fifth-degree controlled substance charge (a felony) and child endangerment (misdemeanor). Bridget was arrested and taken to jail while Brittany was placed in foster care. With shackles on her wrists, Cameron came to the jail and served her with temporary custody papers. He'd been told the raid was going to happen and had been prepared.
Bridget left him in June. It was now September.
That night in intake, on a concrete floor, Bridget slept better than she had in months. Embarrassed, defeated, and humiliated she waited out the weekend until she was released on her own recognizance (ROR) the following Monday.
Coming down off of crack, Bridget felt hopeless and lifeless; as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Smoking crack was her highest priority. So, she went right back to where she had been. This time, she stopped going to work. With Brittany in foster care and the younger kids with Cameron, Bridget could use 24/7. A girl like her had easy access to crack. She drained checking accounts, used credits cards, attached herself to men and did whatever it took to get the next fix.
Because of the raid; however, Bridget was being evicted from her town house. Her fellow crack users came to help her pack, but they ended up doing what they did best - getting high. Nothing got done. People get stuck on stupid when they are high on crack. They lose focus and nothing makes sense. Instead of packing, they tore the house apart.
Everyone left when the crack was gone. Alone and in a stupor, Bridget looked around. The house was a disaster. She laid down on the couch. The silence became deafening. Her children were gone, her friends were gone, the crack was gone and no decent person would answer her call. Every dream she'd ever dreamt for her life never had an ending like this. This time, there was nothing Bridget could do to fend off the demons she had been running from her entire life. Darkness began to consume her.
She glanced at the coffee table. A kitchen knife was laying next to the phone. One cut to the wrist was all it would take to be rid of the guilt, shame, and hopelessness. Reaching for the knife, she bit her lip. What does it feel like to die? She wondered. Crack cocaine had brought her to the shadow of death. All she had to do was finish the job.
Her fingers gripped the handle.
"Oh, God, help me," she spoke out loud. "I don't want to die."
As she brought the knife to her wrist the doorbell rang.
"Police! We have a warrant for your arrest."
A cry escaped her mouth and she dropped the knife as she ran to the door. When she opened it, she could hardly get the words out through her tears.
I felt more confident as I waited in the library for my second session with Bridget to begin. It didn't take long for her to arrive and when she did we sat in the same arrangement as the week prior. We got right to it.
"So. Bridget. How are you?" I said in my usual matter-of-fact greeting.
"You know, I'm doing okay," she said optimistically with a smile. "I met with my attorney yesterday and he seems sure that things will go my way in court. I don't know, though. But, I have to believe that the truth will out itself. That the truth is gonna set me free."
"Please don't say anymore!" I exclaimed with hands over my ears. "I don't wanna hear anything about your current charges!" There's no way I want to be called to testify for or against any of the people I work with so it's best we avoid any conversation around the charges that landed them in jail."
"Oh, don't worry. I won't." She responded with a laugh as I put my hands down.
"How did writing go this week?" I asked as I began to open her journal.
"I was able to do some, but not as much as I had wanted. My memory seems to fail me sometimes."
"Can I read what you wrote?"
"Sure. Go ahead."
The assignment had been to write about the six months prior to her arrest, and she did that, but a lot of her writing went way back to her younger days.
"Since I was a little girl, I only ever wanted to be a teacher or a mom and a wife. I became a mom at 16 and threw myself whole heartedly into what at first was like play acting or playing house..."
"I was her mommy, but she became my keeper. I loved working so that I could buy her cute clothes and fun toys...."
"To make my life perfect, the husband was necessary and needed..."
"Never in the time [when] my life was outwardly perfect did I ever imagine that I would at anytime not be a wife and a mother..."
"I met new friends and they had something that for a moment took the negativity away. Crack became my new love and that romance took me from my children and any kind of life I used to have..."
She'd written more than I had expected, so it took a while for me to read through everything. Along the way, I asked clarifying questions to fill in gaps, but I was beginning to get a sense of who she was. When I finished reading her entries I dug deeper into her early influences. "Tell me about your family or origin. What about your parents?"
"They're divorced. My dad lives up in Detroit Lakes and my mom is in Owatonna. My mom and I have a difficult relationship. Like not good. It's not the sort of relationship where we go out for coffee and talk. I haven't seen my dad in years....That's one relationship I'd like to mend at some point." She paused and I could see tears pooling in her eyes. "I love my Dad." The tears trickled down her cheeks and she brushed them away before they could run their course.
I paused. Her pain was palpable.
"Bridget, what is it you like about yourself?" I asked quietly.
The question seemed to throw her for a loop and there was a long pause before she began.
"I have a big laugh; though, when I was using, drugs took my laughter away," she said.
"You know, you could have said 'I have a big laugh,' and left it at that. You didn't need to add the part about drug use," I said smiling. "Can you think of something you like about yourself that doesn't involve something negative?" I asked.
She paused again. "My thoughts are about others and I have a deep, deep sense of empathy. I can enter into another person's pain; almost too much. So much so that I lose myself trying to save them."
"Did you catch what you did just there?"
"You turned a positive into a negative, again, by saying you care about others too much and that you get hurt when you do so."
"Oh, yeah. Maybe there's something to that?"
"Could be." I took a moment to process our conversation. Our time was up and I wanted to offer her some guidance for her writing in the coming week.
"This week, I'd like for you to revisit the idea of the apple tree or some other sort analogy or picture that might represent your life. Is there any other image that is meaningful to you or do you wanna go with the apple tree?"
"Well, I've always liked butterflies. I think their metamorphosis is amazing. I heard once that when a butterfly is coming out of the cocoon it's under a tremendous amount of pressure and that pressure helps inflate their wings. Without that pressure, they wouldn't be able to fly. I feel like that. Like everything I've gone through has prepared me to fly."
"Ooo, I like that." I responded as I wrote notes."Well, so this week, I want you to focus on yourself in your writing. Listen to your own pain, Bridget. What is your pain telling you?
"Then, I want you to think about those things which you like about yourself. To that end, write down the qualities of an apple tree and butterfly that you love. In terms of the apple tree, describe the bark, the leaves, the roots and what those things might represent to you. Then, in terms of the butterfly tell me how you see yourself as a butterfly.
Use this as an exercise to see the good in yourself rather than listening to all those voices you've heard in your life telling you you're not worth it. Does that sound okay?"
"Yeah. I think I can do that."
We both got up and made small talk as we made our exit. Despite the tears shed during our session, Bridget left the library in a cloud of her big laughter. I wished her well and she smiled as we parted ways. The smile that told the world everything is okay. She turned left to go back to her cell. I went right to go back to the outside world.
1. For more info on the dangers of crack cocaine visit this website.