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“An informative, poignant, and ultimately uplifting account of healing.” – Kirkus Reviews

Justin B. Long J. Boyd Long

The Righteous Rage of a Ten-Year-Old-Boy

Justin B. Long

 

A traumatic childhood led to a life burdened by a negative self-image. But what truths lie undiscovered in the wreckage of the past?

Justin Long never felt comfortable in his own skin. After years of physical and psychological abuse from his parents, he was a self-loathing stranger to love. But at thirty-two, he faced up to the fact that his existence had become a downward spiral of alcoholism and despair.

Knowing something had to change, Justin sought help and got sober. But defeating addiction was just the start of his journey of endurance and revelation. Committed to becoming whole, he fought through his cynicism about men and counseling in order to resolve his underlying pain and rise above his past.

Justin’s raw narrative is a dark yet hopeful outpouring of his battle toward emotional health through self-awareness and therapy. Pairing each trauma with the treatment plan that helped him discover it, he presents an engaging and healing window into his ongoing recovery. And with unflinching honesty, he offers an encouraging and powerful message on the importance of inner validation.

The Righteous Rage of a Ten-Year-Old Boy is an invigorating true story. If you like tales of overcoming hardship, and gaining tools to improve your own life, then you’ll love Justin B. Long’s inspirational memoir.

Justin B. Long J. Boyd Long
Click here to read a free excerpt from the book!

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Righteous Rage of a Ten-Year-Old Boy by Justin B. Long.

I sat in the black leather chair in my therapist’s office, trembling with anger and indignation. My lizard brain just wanted to smash things, to burn off my feelings with mindless violence. While I rarely gave in, I wanted to learn how to grow past such urges and stop living as a victim of my emotions. It was my third session, and we were starting to work on specific things. It was good, but it was painful, too.

Our first couple of sessions had been spent getting to know one another and doing some preliminary groundwork. We talked about what I wanted to work on, and made a list of topics to go over in the coming year. She also had me come up with a list of fictional characters who would be my support team. Not being the superhero type, I picked Bob Ross as my first team member. Watching his painting show from the eighties was one of my favorite ways to unwind. His unflappable calmness was the opposite of my flash temper, so he was an easy choice.

“I want you to really get inside of that feeling,” Nysa was saying. “Move past the mindless rage and find the core of it. Yes, you’re mad at AT&T on the surface, but what’s beneath the anger?”

We were talking about triggering events. I was well-acquainted with the concept that underlying insecurities drove my emotional response to certain things, and that most of my problems stemmed from negative beliefs about myself. Knowing it was one thing. Doing something about it was another.

Getting to the bottom of the rage was tough. I thought about all the things that had gone wrong with the internet installation project at our veterinary clinic, and how AT&T had handled it, or more appropriately, not handled it. For example, no one had told me that as the business owner, I needed to have a ground wire installed to the hardware rack for the box they were putting in. When the installation team showed up, they had to reschedule because I didn’t have that done. Then they charged me three hundred fifty dollars for rescheduling. That’s how it went for the entire three months it took to get the internet up and running.

“I think I just feel helpless,” I said. “They’re screwing me over, and I can’t do anything about it. That’s what pisses me off.”

Nysa shifted in her chair. “Helpless. That’s a good word. Let’s explore it. Do you feel this way about other things you can’t control?”

One of the many things I’ve learned about myself is that I’m a control freak. I’m not a micro-manager, and I’ve used that to convince myself that I’m not a control freak. But when I defend myself by saying things like, I allow my team members to decide the best way to do things, I am still presenting myself as being in ultimate control. I’m allowing them to make a decision.

“It’s not an across-the-board reaction to things. I mean, I certainly don’t like it when I get cut out of the decision-making process at work, which happens sometimes, but that’s not the same as this. That’s me feeling left out or unimportant, and this is me feeling like I’m the victim of an injustice.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere.” Nysa jotted down some notes. “Victim of an injustice. Let’s go with that. Give me another example of that happening.”

Several things came to mind. Getting caught up in a battle between a company I once worked for and the labor union that got voted in, which resulted in me losing my job. Being demoted in the Army for a minor infraction. Reaching back to the heart of the matter, my childhood, I found more.

“Here’s one. When I was in high school, I saved up money and bought my first car. I didn’t borrow any money from my parents, not that they had any. I worked, I saved up, and I paid cash for this old 1976 Chevy Blazer. It was mine, and my dad grounded me from it. I don’t even remember what crime I committed against him, but I remember the war over whether he had the power to take my keys. He won, because he always won, but I remember that helpless rage. I hated that feeling. Still do.”

“Okay, that’s a good example,” Nysa said. “Give me another one.”

The memory that surfaced was old, but the jagged edges were still sharp. “My dad came home from work one day and went out to the garage to do something. I was in my room doing a school assignment. I think I was in third or fourth grade. Anyway, three seconds after he went outside, he was right back in the house screaming for me.”

I closed my eyes, trying to conjure the old terror I used to feel at the sound of my name. It came back surprisingly easily, the recipe having been used so many times: two parts urge to run, one part gut cramp like I need to use the bathroom, and one part overwhelming desire to cease existing.

“Justin Boyd!” my dad shouted. He always used my first and middle names when he was mad. “Justin Boyd!”

I flew out of my room and met him at the back door. When he was enraged, speed was of the essence. My mind raced, trying to come up with a source for his ire. What could I have done? He hadn’t even made it to the garage before whatever it was caught his attention. Had I forgotten a task he’d assigned me? Something in the back yard I was supposed to do?

He grabbed me by the ear, one of his favorite control points, and dragged me out the back door. I knew a beating was inevitable at this point, and tears of resignation began to form against my will.

“What the hell is this shit?” He shook his fist as he spoke, driving spikes of pain deep inside my skull.

The searing pain in my eardrum was making me dizzy, and I tried to move my head in time with his hand so he wouldn’t tear my ear off. “I don’t know what you mean!”

He switched his grip to the sides of my head and spun it roughly from left to right, forcing me to pan the back yard. “That!”

When my vision stabilized, I realized there was trash all over the ground. Literally everywhere. One of the dumpster carts lay on its side near the pecan tree. My first thought was that a stray dog had scattered the trash, but a dog couldn’t have pulled the cart in from the alley where we kept it. It had to have been a person, probably one of the kids from school.

“Were you too lazy to take the trash out?” he demanded, shaking my head. “Did you think you could just throw it out in the yard and get away with it?”

It finally dawned on me that he thought I was responsible. “No, I didn’t do that! Why would I?”

“Do you think I’m stupid? Who else would have done it?” He shoved me back in the house. “Go get the board.”

He’d made the paddle himself, which he dubbed The Board, for the sole purpose of spanking me. Sending me to fetch my instrument of punishment was another of his favorite moves.

Arguing with him was useless. He believed that I’d thrown trash all over the yard, even though I’d never done anything like that in my life. Nothing I could say would change his mind because he was incapable of admitting that he was wrong. I ran to the cabinet where he kept the paddle and hurried back out with it. I wanted to scream right in his face that he was being stupid, that if he’d just think about it for ten seconds, he’d realize how ridiculous he was being. Instead, I handed him the paddle and silently accepted my fate.

“Get the trash can,” he growled, snatching the board out of my hand. “We’re going to pick this up, and you’ll get one swat for every piece of trash in this yard. I promise you’ll never pull a stunt like this again.”

I was used to getting spanked, but never more than ten or fifteen licks. One swat for every piece of trash? He couldn’t be serious, right? An icy spear of dread shot through me as he grabbed my other ear and dragged me to the first item, an empty mac and cheese box. As I dropped it in the cart, the board cracked across the back of my legs.

One.

I opened my eyes, coming back to the present.
Nysa stared at me. “Do you remember how many pieces of trash there were?”

“One hundred and four.”

“You got a hundred and four swats?”

The memory, at least thirty-five years old, was still clear. Every detail all the way down to the way my legs burned. “Yeah. It took a while, but we got it all picked up.”

She shook her head. “Did you ever find out how it really happened?”

“No.” I looked down. “No, but I’m sure it was one of the kids in the neighborhood trying to stick it to my dad. He wasn’t very popular. Or maybe they were trying to stick it to me, I don’t know. I wasn’t very popular, either.”

“What did that event make you believe about yourself?”

It was easy to feel the rage, the overwhelming sense of injustice. I remembered pulling the can slowly from one piece of trash to the next, trying to buy an extra second or two of recovery time, my legs and butt on fire from my knees to my spine. Dreading the next swat, knowing it was going to land somewhere that already stung because there weren’t any fresh places left after the first twenty strikes. Using the helpless anger as motivation to keep going in hopes that he would someday know that he’d been wrong about this and be consumed by his guilt. My feelings for my dad were easy to identify, but the ones about myself were more obscure.

“I think I felt defeated and utterly alone,” I said at last. “I was helpless, but the fact that I was going to take a totally undeserved beating hurt even more. My dad didn’t believe me. I’d done nothing wrong. I’d told the truth, and I was being destroyed for it. When I tried, I failed. When I did nothing, I still failed. The deck was stacked against me.”

She wrote in silence for a moment. “Okay. Let’s take this all the way back, as far as you can into your childhood. What’s the earliest time you can remember being the victim of an injustice?”

My childhood was an unbroken line of injustices, at least to me. To say that my relationship with my parents was adversarial would be like saying that space is big. It’s technically true, but a gross understatement.

My dad ruled me totally and completely. He was quick with criticism and quicker with the paddle. I got a spanking nearly every day of my life until I was thirteen. My mom had her own debilitating emotional challenges, which she was sure that God would fix if she just prayed fervently enough, found the right church, and got involved to the level that He noticed her. Sometimes she was my ally, and sometimes she sold me out to my dad. I never knew which way it would go.

“I always had a heavy workload,” I said. The eggshell wall of my therapist’s office was decorated with an abstract picture of a motorcycle, and I stared at the spokes on the front wheel as I tried to unearth the buried memories. “My dad was the kind of guy who always had fifteen projects going, a real do-it-yourselfer. I don’t think he never paid anyone to do anything in his whole life. I was in awe of him in some ways. He knew how to do everything. Electrical stuff, plumbing, carpentry, working on the car, he did everything himself, and I was his laborer, the go-fetch runner, and the flashlight holder.”

I closed my eyes again and explored things that I hadn’t thought about in years. Crushing cans with the sixteen-pound sledgehammer that I could barely lift. Digging ditches for the new water line my dad was installing. Splitting firewood with that same sledgehammer, pounding steel wedges into the logs, praying that I didn’t break another handle and invoke even more rage. Pulling nails from recycled lumber. Watching my friends ride by on their bicycles while I worked.

“This probably isn’t the earliest, but it’s what’s coming to mind,” I said at last.

“That’s okay,” she said. “Just go with it.”

I glanced at her. The tiny diamond-chip studs in her upper lip reflected the light from her computer monitor, drawing my eyes away from her dark, purple-streaked hair. She wore a white sleeveless blouse above her long, pleated skirt, exposing slender arms covered in tattoos. I might’ve looked like a typical straitlaced white guy with my button-down shirt and khaki trousers, but I totally identified with her look on the inside. It was a defiant reaction to whatever trauma she had endured, and I got it. She was my people.

“One of my jobs was splitting and stacking firewood. Dad cut it to length with a chainsaw, and I did the rest. He built this rack behind the house, two poles in the ground vertically, maybe fifteen feet apart, and six feet high. There was a wire that went across the top from one pole to the other to keep them from splaying out under the weight. My job was to keep that space full and neatly stacked with firewood from one pole to the other, all the way up to the wire. There couldn’t be any gaps at the top or any pieces out of line. We would stand at one end of it and count how many pieces were sticking out the front or the back, and then I would get a spanking, one swat for each piece. The injustice for me was that the wood wasn’t always the same length. Sometimes he would cut a piece longer, but I wasn’t allowed to make excuses.”

Nysa took notes on the pad in her lap. “So, you couldn’t defend yourself by explaining that it was his shortcoming that he was spanking you for, not yours.”

“Right. Well, some of it was his, and some was mine. I would be daydreaming, thinking about a book I was reading or something, and sometimes I wouldn’t realize that I had a few pieces out of line until there was a whole stack on top of them. I would just take the beating rather than unstack all that wood to fix it. That part was on me.”

“And you felt like you deserved punishment for that part?”

I squirmed, aware of where she was going. “He was trying to teach me to always do my best, and spanking was his motivation tool. I knew the system. I was going to get whipped every day no matter what I did, and it made sense to me that I was choosing a few extra licks rather than a half hour of extra work to fix my own mistakes. It was my fault for not paying more attention.”

“So the sense of injustice wasn’t about the work or the spankings. It was just about the swats you got for pieces of wood that he cut too long.”
“Right.” I tried to remember what it felt like, standing in front of the stack of wood after hours of work, waiting as my dad inspected it so I could take my licks. “Mostly.”

“Okay. Let’s do some processing.” She handed me a set of paddles, small plastic discs with a wire coming out of them, one to hold in each hand. “Have I explained the bilateral stimulation part of EMDR therapy to you?”

I shook my head. “Not really. You told me we were going to use it, but not how it works.”

“Okay. The ten-second version is that you hold on to these paddles while you’re going through these scenarios in your head. They vibrate back and forth from hand to hand, and that helps your brain rewire the emotions that are attached to the memories. We’re getting rid of the old negative junk and replacing it with a positive self-view.”

“Okay, sounds good,” I said. “Let’s try it out.”

The vibration buzzed back and forth when she turned it on, oscillating from hand to hand in a comforting way. I closed my eyes and leaned back in the chair as she directed my focus.

“I want you to go back to that time. How old were you?”

I shrugged, keeping my eyes closed. “Probably seven or eight in the beginning. I did the firewood for years, though, until we finally got an electric furnace.”

“We’ll go back to the earliest point, so seven-year-old Justin. I want you to stand beside seven-year-old Justin while he’s waiting for his dad to get the paddle. Put yourself completely in that moment. What is he feeling? What is he thinking?”

We sat in silence for a minute. I pictured the pile of wood, straight and square, but not perfect. Not quite good enough to avoid being punished. I’d probably get four or five swats, so that wasn’t too bad.

She shut off the paddles a minute later. “Did you get there?”

I nodded.

“Okay, good. Let’s rate your starting point. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being maximum disturbance, how disturbing is this moment paired with the thought, I am a victim of injustice?”

“About a three.”

Nysa dropped her pen on the clipboard and stared at me in mock exasperation. “A three? Really?”

I smiled sheepishly. “Well, it’s not like it owns me today, but it’s still a little disturbing when I think about it.”

“How much did it disturb you then? Where would seven-year-old Justin rate it? I want you to immerse yourself in that moment and feel the feelings.”

I took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. She was right— I was holding back. If I was going to get anything out of the therapy, I needed to do it all the way. I chalked my first answer up to a rookie mistake, forgave myself for being new at it, and tried again.

The scene was easy to picture. It was the fall of 1983, chilly, but not yet freezing. We were in the backyard of the house in Dewey, Oklahoma. The stack of wood between the poles was in front of me, parallel with the back porch. To the right, the pile of wood waiting to be split and stacked lay where it had been thrown or rolled out of the back of the truck. I couldn’t lift most of the logs, so my dad didn’t make me stack the wood until after I split it.

To the left, past the door and the end of the closed-in porch, were the driveway and the free-standing garage, faded white paint peeling off the ancient lumber. My dad’s dark blue ’67 Barracuda sat under the A-frame, a tarp covering the open engine compartment. It was always broken down, and helping my dad work on it was another job that consumed a lot of my childhood.

I pictured myself standing there, four feet tall instead of my now six feet, two inches, my blond hair combed forward instead of back, the square brown plastic-framed glasses sliding down my nose. My dad stood at one end of the pile near the porch steps, a red checkered bandana covering his long dark braids and his bushy black beard hanging down to the bib of his dirty blue overalls. That wasn’t quite right, though, was it? He didn’t start growing his hair and beard out for a few more years yet, not until I was about ten. It was hard to remember him before the beard and the braids.

I could smell him, though: a mixture of solvent and metal and sweat, the odor of his job as a machinist that never left him, a smell that still made my guts twist up in a knot to this day. He looked like a biker, hairy and swarthy and irritated. Any minute now, he would tell me to start counting the pieces of wood sticking out of the pile. If I tried to skip one, I’d get two swats for it instead.

It was easy to picture everything, even though I hadn’t thought about it in many years. Capturing the feelings was harder. It was like watching a movie with the sound turned down, and Nysa clearly wasn’t going to let me get away with leaving it like that.

I tried to meld with my younger self, to be a child again and feel my emotions. As I became one with my child mind, I was flooded with impotence and rage. It wasn’t a pure feeling, or omnidirectional. Part of my rage was directed at myself for not doing a better job. I knew there were at least five pieces of wood out of place. I’d already counted them, shoving in the ones that could move deeper into the pile. Part of my rage was directed at the paddle sticking out of the leg-pocket of my dad’s overalls. The fact that he brought it out with him indicated that he didn’t consider it likely that I’d managed to make a perfect stack. It was a reasonable assumption— I’d never made a perfect stack. I just couldn’t seem to do it.

On some level, I was angry at the pointlessness of it all. Tomorrow morning, I would carry a quarter of the stack inside the back porch and refill the wood box by the stove, starting the whole sequence over again. It was an endless loop— splitting wood, stacking it, telling dad how many swats I should get for it, taking it inside and burning it to heat the house, over and over, relentless. I imagined that we were ants in an ant farm and that someone was watching us. How pathetic and ridiculous would we look to them?

I clenched my fists, the burning shame at my inability to get it right just once threatening to overspill my eyes. I forced the tears back, knowing they would just create more anger from my dad. I haven’t even given you anything to cry about yet, he would say. Do you want me to? He pulled the board out of his pocket, indicating with the tip for me to turn around and bend over. I hated myself as much as him as I shuffled over and grabbed my knees.

Nysa’s voice pulled me back to the present. “On a scale of one to ten, how disturbing is it to say, I am a victim?”

“Ten,” I whispered. The paddles buzzed in my hands, left, right, left, right.

“On a scale of one to seven, with one being completely false and seven being completely true, how would you rate this statement? I am good enough.”

“One.”

“I want you to focus on that feeling and think about the statement. I am good enough. Feel it. Focus on the statement. Thirty seconds.”

I nodded mutely and shut my eyes, squeezing the paddles in my fists. Now that I’d turned on the feelings that had been kept suppressed for so long, they were threatening to crush me. They were so powerful, so vast. How had I ever kept them at bay? Maybe I hadn’t. Maybe I just held on to the rage and ignored the rest and convinced myself that I was fine.

I wanted to tell my seven-year-old self that things were going to turn out okay, that life was going to be great for him eventually. But honestly, what could I say, knowing that he had another twenty-five years to go before that started to happen? That was four lifetimes for me at that age, something I couldn’t even fathom then. It would be cruel to tell a child he wasn’t even a quarter of the way through the bad part. I gripped the paddles tightly, trying to draw some sort of calming energy from them.

“Relax your shoulders,” Nysa said. “Take a few deep breaths and let go of the tension.”

I pulled in air through my nose, expanding my chest until my lungs could hold no more, then let it out slowly as I tried to put the two contradictory thoughts together over the top of the image. Rage. Helplessness. I am good enough. Rage. Helplessness. I am good enough.

I stared at the pile. Every day in the winter I would walk home from school and stack wood. It had to be done before my dad got home from work. There were never any excuses allowed. My dad stood beside me, his smell permeating every breath I took. I wondered if my resentment was as palpable to him as his anger was to me. I hated him, feared him, loved him, wanted to please him, and lived for his approval. How did he feel about me? That if he whipped me enough, I would eventually become perfect? That if he pointed out all my failures, I would work harder to avoid them? That if he never acknowledged my successes, that I would commit myself to a path of continuous self-improvement? That if he was demanding enough, I might actually become the kind of son he could be proud of?

I wanted to rip the board out of his hand and attack him with it. I wanted to scream at him, to shout in his face that I worked hard every day to stack the wood, along with all my other chores, and all he ever did was whip me for it. How could he not see the pointlessness of my existence? No matter what I did, he was going to whip me. What was my reward? Fewer swats?

The paddles fell silent in my hands, bringing me back to the present.

“What’s coming up?” Nysa asked.

I shook my head. “A lot of negativity. I wanted to explain to my dad how his system was flawed, but that wasn’t allowed. He would never admit that I was right, even if it was obvious.”

“What was the flaw in the system?”

“That… that I was going to get whipped no matter how hard I worked.” The more I thought about the situation, the more it became clear to me that I was looking at things wrong. “Maybe the injustice wasn’t that some of the wood was cut too long. I think it was actually that I was going to get punished no matter what. The impossible carrot he dangled was that if I did a good enough job, I wouldn’t get spanked, but I never seemed to achieve it. I just kept trying, kept doing all the things, and kept getting punished.”

“How did that make you feel about yourself? What truths did you form about you as a result of that?”

I thought for a moment. “I felt that no matter what, I would always fall short of the mark. I could do things, but I wasn’t capable of doing anything right. I felt like a loser.”

Nysa nodded. “Did you ever give up or rebel against his orders?”

“No, I always did the work, trying to show him that I could be better. I wasn’t able to just outright defy him and not do something he told me to do.”

“Why not?”

I shrugged. “He had me completely cowed. A whipping for not meeting the expectation was one thing. A whipping for not doing it at all? I couldn’t even imagine that. It would be suicide, like throwing trash all over the yard.”

“Okay, one to ten, where is your disturbance?”

“Ten.”

“One to seven, I am good enough.”

“One.”

“Let’s do it again. Put yourself fully in the moment, and just go with your thoughts.”

The paddles began buzzing in my hands, and I let out a deep breath.

Rage. Helplessness. I am good enough. Rage. Helplessness. I am good enough. The anger was subsiding. It was like a brush fire. At first, the flames were tall as they consumed all the leaves and twigs, but then they died back. The logs burned long and slow, but the flames sank into the coals.

What were the facts of the situation? If I took all the emotion out of it, what actually happened? The house was heated by a woodstove. My job was to split the wood, stack it behind the house in the rack, and fill the wood box beside the stove. I did that. I did it every day. As a result of my actions, the house was warm in the winter. Yes, I got a spanking for it instead of gratitude, but that wasn’t because I failed to do my job. That was because my dad didn’t know how to be a father. He was displaying his own shortcomings, not punishing me for mine.

I did the work. I fulfilled my part of the obligation. I succeeded. I was good enough to get the job done. What did it matter if a few pieces stuck out of the pile? It didn’t matter at all. It was a pointless detail. Again, that was my dad, probably still unconsciously trying to get approval from his own father.

The paddles stopped buzzing. “What’s coming up?”

My eyes opened, and I stared at the lamp in front of me. “I’m starting to realize that this whole charade was probably more about my dad than it was about me.”

“Hold on to that,” Nysa said. “One to ten, disturbance.”

“Four.”

“One to seven, I’m good enough.”

“Four.”

“Let’s do it again. Keep following that train of thought, that it’s not about you. What was really going on there?” She turned the paddles back on, and I closed my eyes.

My dad’s behavior was the result of his upbringing. When I was a child, his sisters told me how their dad had treated him when he was growing up. He was the oldest of the four kids, and while I had a hard time envisioning my kindly grandpa as a hardnosed taskmaster who was quick with the belt and slow with his praise, they assured me that my dad grew up the same way I was growing up. That knowledge did little to pacify me then, but the fact that someone cared enough to reach out to me was a comfort like I had never known. I was helpless, yes, but that wasn’t the end of the world. My dad was doing what he knew how to do. The fact that he hadn’t managed to break the cycle was sad, but I was different than he was. I would break the cycle. I am good enough.

Nysa shut the paddles off. “What’s coming up?”

“I realized that the big-picture goal was to keep the flow of firewood going so we could stay warm, and I totally accomplished that. I got whipped for doing it, but not because I didn’t get it done. That was just my dad being confused about parenting and taking his frustrations out on me. It was never about me or the firewood.”

Nysa smiled broadly. “That’s great! You were never a failure. You were just measuring yourself by the wrong things. You had a difficult task, and you worked hard and got it done, over and over, even though you got punished for doing it instead of praised. And you never gave up, you never broke. That’s huge! Can you see what an accomplishment that is?”

I nodded, feeling a bit dizzy from the new perspective. “When I look at it like that, I feel like I was amazing. I worked hard, and it mattered. And it’s so obvious to me how my thoughts on work, and authority, and punishment and all that got so skewed. My dad taught me that no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t good enough, that I’d fall short and get punished. I never really saw what I was accomplishing because I was too busy resenting him. And then I carried that same attitude into the working world and resented every boss I ever had. What a mess.”

“Right?” Nysa laughed. “But you recognized that, and you’ve changed your attitude because of it. That’s the most important thing. You gained new insights and created new behaviors. The only failure would be if you saw the error of your ways but kept acting the same. Does that make sense?”

“Definitely. I made mistakes based on bad information, but as soon as I got new information, I changed. That’s a win.”

“Exactly.” She took the paddles from me and began winding up the cord. “Now then, how can you apply that to AT&T?”

It took me a moment to map out the connection. “I would say that AT&T isn’t targeting me. They aren’t out to get me, they’re just inept. My suffering at their hands is basically the same as my suffering at my dad’s hands in that I just happened to be the one standing there. I have to stop taking it personally. It’s not about me, and it’s not an indicator of my value.”

“Let’s check in. One to ten, disturbance.”

“Two.”

“One to seven, I am good enough.”

“Six.”

“Nicely done.” Nysa rewarded me with a grin. “The hard part is remembering that in the heat of the moment, but between the EMDR, writing this down for your book, and good old-fashioned practice, you’ll get it. Now, let’s put all that stuff in your Pensieve. The feelings, the images, seven-year-old Justin, everything.”

My Pensieve was an artifact stolen from Professor Dumbledor in the Harry Potter series, a magic bowl where I could store things outside my brain; thoughts, memories, feelings, whatever. Nysa had simply told me to imagine a container where I would put these things, but I read way too much fantasy to be content with a box or a tub. Mine was an engraved silver bowl, mysterious, with a layer of fog on the surface hiding the contents. On the inside, it was The Oasis, from Ready Player One. A digital universe with thousands of planets and worlds from every book or movie I wanted. That gave me unlimited storage space, and it also gave me a safe and interesting place to put my child-self. He could explore Treasure Island, or fly in a rocket with Tom Swift Jr., or ride bikes with the Bobbsey Twins as they solved mysteries and had epic good times.

I closed my eyes and visualized myself collecting all of the feelings connected to the firewood stack. Part of me wanted to hang on to the anger, and I really had to work on transferring it all to the Pensieve. Next, I rescued my seven-year-old self. One of my favorite books at that age was The Hobbit, so I wrapped my arms around him and teleported to the Shire in front of Bilbo Baggins’ house. I watched for a moment as he looked around in amazement, then came back to the chair in my therapist’s office and opened my eyes.

“How do you feel?”

“Empty. Weird. Drained. Exhausted.”

“Agitated?”

“No, very calm.”

“Good. If you need to talk to seven-year-old Justin or process any of this stuff, you know where he is, right?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, get out of here. I’ll see you next Thursday.”

I drove home in a daze, trying to put things in perspective. The idea that I had succeeded at the thousands of tasks I’d been assigned as a kid upended the very foundation of my whole understanding of my childhood. That was a lot to wrap my head around. My core identity was built on the knowledge that I always fell short of the mark. Changing that one tenet had massive implications, and it was going to take some time for the dust to settle. If every therapy session was as earth-shattering as this one, it was going to be an interesting year.

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Review

This book is a gift, a gift of hope in many ways…
Hope that an abusive childhood can have a happy ending.
Hope that we now have the psychotherapy tools, like EMDR, that can really help heal the past wounding.
Hope that such wonderful therapists like Nysa really do exist and can walk their clients through their heart-wrenching stories and shepherd them into the light of healing into a functional life.

The dialogues are wonderful. More than anything else, they are real.
This book reads like a story, except that it really is true, and the author really did overcome the challenges of his childhood. He shows us how beautifully an EMDR session can flow into the past and back, and rewards us with hope and triumph.

Esly Regina Carvalho, Ph.D.
Author of Rupture and Repair and Healing the Folks Who Live Inside
EMDR Trainer of Trainers
President, TraumaClinic do Brasil

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