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My Body (Part 1)
My Body (Part 1)
Bren Linto Morrigan
When I was only about 2 years in or so, maybe less, my little sister, who is 12 years younger than I am, was attending college about an hour train ride north of me. She was in her sophomore year in college, and she texted me, somewhat out of the blue, letting me know she was going to her campus health office because she thought she had a UTI. She didn’t have a mother, and her father - who is not my father - was virtually uninvolved in her life.
A few hours later, she texted again and said she didn’t have a UTI. Well, she had HAD a UTI, but according to the bloodwork she’d gotten, she actually had had the UTI for a long time, and now her body had gone into a sepsis infection and she had to be admitted to the ICU.
At the time, I was living paycheck to paycheck - that prosperity gospel Stein was always hawking hadn’t quite hit yet, I suppose - and I was awaiting my next paycheck a few days away. I texted my Aunt -my mom’s sister- to see if she could throw me a hundred bucks to cover me either taking a cab up there or what. Luckily, my then-boyfriend was down to drive me up and drop me off, and my Aunt wired me $100 for a cab ride home later.
I spent some time with my sister in the ICU. She was hooked up to IV antibiotics and who knows what-all else. She was pretty out of it. I called members of my therapy group for emotional support. I called Stein and left a message. I called my real Dad. I’d been half-mom to my sister for a long time, in ways that were both invisible and visible, just like I’d been half-(or more)mom to our mom, but I was having trouble thinking straight this time. I was panicked. My real Dad, ever level-headed, told me some questions to ask my sister’s attending physician and nurses.
As I sat on the left side of my sister’s small ICU bed, she told me that our mom came to visit her while she was in the ICU. That she had a full-on conversation with our dead mother. That is not the point of this story, though I wish it were, dear reader.
The next morning, I was in Stein’s therapy group at 7:30am. Dutifully.
I was crying, fearing for my sister’s life, aware she’d likely had a febrile hallucination.
Stein asked probing questions about her medical condition and what I was able to find out from her physicians. To be honest, I didn’t have much information. All I knew was that she had had a UTI that she hadn’t treated fast enough and it turned into sepsis.
He said, “You know what else causes sepsis.” He said this as a statement, as he often said many things that were supposed to be questions.
I was crying. I shook my head, no.
He said, “Intravenous drug use can cause sepsis.”
There was an audible gasp from somewhere in the room. It might have come from my body, I honestly do not know. I recall being slightly not in my body as I was sobbing, slightly elevated off the worn leather chair.
I was crying harder, as images of my mother - a heroin user at times - flashed behind my eyelids.
Hot anger started to mix with my panic for my sister. I could start to feel my butt in the seat again.
“STEIN! Motherfucker. I just saw her yesterday. She had no marks on her arms. What the fuck.”
I cried harder.
Stein said, “Some people are very good at hiding it and shoot up between their toes. I imagine you didn’t see between her toes.”
I stopped crying as rage filled my body. I felt my feet on the ground.
“LOOK YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE”
I was screaming now, my entire body a scream, hot bursts of liquid shooting into my gut and legs and arms as I stood up, sweat dripping through my clothes.
“SHE HAD A FUCKING UTI THAT TURNED INTO SEPSIS HOW FUCKING DARE YOU TRY TO PLANT THIS FUCKING IDEA IN MY HEAD YOU MOTHERFUCKING—”
And Stein started to laugh. He rubbed his chest with one hand, rather gleefully and laughed. I stomped my feet and screamed. He moved his shoulders up and down indicating a chuckle.
He said, “Thank you for the love.” He took another deep breath in, smiled from ear to ear and shrugged.
“Ok,” he said smugly. “We’ll see.”
That is one of the ones that stands out. Most of them, however, do not. There are simply too many of them, and I did not always come back into my seat. I did not always protect and defend myself the way I might my sister.
I forgot to mention, dear reader, and this is an important detail here - that my mother had been an intravenous heroin user. And Stein was well aware of this. As far as I know, she only used heroin and had a significant problem with this prior to my being born, though Stein planted many many doubts about that over the years, sewing seeds of “what ifs” into my childhood memories with her.
The primary evidence of what he did to me medically and psychologically is in my current symptoms. And snippets and moments of memories here and there. There will be many parts to this unraveling and re-knitting.
If group members were overly concerned about a physical symptom, Stein interpreted their physical symptoms as being psychological in nature - think, Louise Hay, Sigmund Freud, A Course in Miracles. But mixed into a Machiavellian toxic concoction all Stein’s making.
All of our organs represent something psychological. Urinary issues? You’re pissed off. Liver issues - well, that’s rage too, actually. Issues in your reproductive system? You’re stifling your creativity and spontaneity. Bowel issues - constipation means you’re holding too much in and you’re overcontrolling. Diarrhea means you have shitty boundaries and don’t take time to really process things. The list goes on and on. A runny nose? That is your body doing crying you refuse to do for yourself.
Let the snot drip down your face - don’t wipe it away. If you wipe it away, that is your shame.
Live in discomfort. On display.
Before I joined Stein’s groups, I was one of the physically healthiest people I’ve ever met. I almost never got sick.
People used to call me “robust.” I rarely even got the flu. I never got a flu shot. You could call that hubris, but the proof was in the pudding. I just almost never got sick. In my life.
I went through almost 4 years of graduate school without health insurance - which I do not recommend - and relied on annual check-ups, STD tests, and occasional UTI antibiotic treatments from my local LGBTQ community health center to make sure I was ok and safe.
I grew up eerily healthy, particularly as compared to my mother, who was always - and I do mean always - sick.
Before I joined Stein’s groups, I was not particularly focused on my body sensations or illness either. I loved being healthy, it was just part of who I was. If I got sick, I got over it quickly. If I had a sniffle, I used a tissue. I didn’t think too much about it. I might take some homeopathic sugar pills and do a Louise Hay affirmation - my mom did raise me on that stuff - but not because I believed in affirmations over medicine or that I literally create my own illness, more just because I like positive thinking’s impact on my stress response for fuck’s sake - let’s not get carried away.
Stein got carried away. That is Stein’s brand.
In Stein’s group, every little physical sensation someone might mention became a thing to fixate on and psychoanalyze. And it was a problem. And it was related to your addiction, your trauma, and your childhood and your horrible parents.
If you MENTIONED IT, well then, we have to understand why.
And - if you initiated an overly focused approach on a physical problem as only a physical problem, Stein was going to fuck with that - he was going to make it about your psychological problems. And he was going to let you know that your overemphasis on the physical aspect of the physical problem was most likely your denial about the psychological issue that was really the problem.
If you expressed too much frustration, annoyance or upsetness about this, he’d remind you he is your therapist and you can go to a doctor if you want to talk about your medical symptoms.
However, on other occasions, if you came to group and were clearly sick - say, sneezing a lot or looking visibly exhausted or coughing - and you didn’t mention it too much or you didn’t make much of it, say. Or if you off-handedly mentioned some illness you had that was rather serious but didn’t really want or need to talk about it - well… then Stein would start in on how your disease is not allowing you to receive the attention and love and support from the group and from him you deserve.
He’d start asking you medical questions about your illness. He’d also start giving you medical information and advice about your illness. He’s an MD after all, he’d remind you. He’s a physician, he’d remind you He’d express a lot of genuine-seeming concern sometimes. He’d ask if you were taking this or that medication. He’d start to talk about medications he might advise that you take.
(I would later find out, from my PCP or even from friends who are licensed medical providers, that his medical information and advice was incorrect, outdated, or only partially correct and furthermore was outside his scope of practice, as he was a psychiatrist and therapist, and not my medical provider nor even a medical provider who could evaluate me medically.)
He’d ask if you’d been to a doctor yet and what the doctor said. He’d frequently disagree with what the doctor said and often indicate the doctor is not good enough for you or was not thorough enough, particularly if you continued to be sick. He’d scoff at them. He might also chastise you for not asking the right questions and blame this on your disease, your trauma, your childhood, and your horrible parents. It really could go any which way or all of these ways simultaneously.
He’d recommend you go to the hospital and medical group where he is affiliated; he would recommend that you could use his name in order to get seen faster. He’d offer to be a contact because he is so important (news flash: he is not important and is not well-known).
If you expressed disinterest in this or disagreement with his view of things - particularly his addiction-slanted view of just about everything - he would - and group members would - accuse you of not accepting love and being self-neglecting towards your body and having a death wish because you’re an addict.
He might make an interpretation about what your illness means psychologically or spiritually, but in these instances, when you were “actually” sick, it was much more about centering himself as an amazing doctor who is connected to an amazing hospital and how amazing he is at taking care of you. I of course couldn’t see any of that at the time.
No, I saw none of this for many many years.
By the way, the predictability of these things was not in point of fact predictable. It was disorganized. None of what I’m saying now, codified, was codified. It was an ever-careening, dizzying, strobe-lit emergency room bed I was strapped into.
I could get an onslaught of psychoanalytical interpretations of my sneezing in the group - for example, one interpretation might be that I was “using” my sneezing to get attention from him or the group instead of “just asking for attention with my words.” Or, I might get an inordinate and unnecessary amount of “loving” care and attention for very mild physical complaints or for sneezing for reasons I did not understand.
But what would always be consistent was a hyper-attentiveness to my body.
Its sensations, how I was seated in the group - I always had to sit with my legs and arms uncrossed in the group, or else I was not “open” enough - its minor scrapes and bruises, my menstrual cycle, my bowel movements if I mentioned them off-handedly, any minor or major headache, any minor or major illness, all of it. And more and more, as was the norm in the group, I reported in on routine, boring, physical experiences happening to me. This dove-tailed with how my mother was - a reporter of her routine physical experiences and invasive curiosity about mine - and I completely missed the replication of boundarylessness, hyperfixation on my body and other people’s bodies, and Stein’s intense invasive, stalker-like scrutiny of me.
My body belonged to him, his meaning making. What he made of it.
I started getting physically sick - I’d already been suffering psychologically and physically without yet suffering with chronic illnesses - virtually non-stop for 3 years starting in May of 2017, about 7 years into being in his group psychotherapy cult and all this ownership over my body, sensations, bodily experiences, my sex life, my body size and weight, shape, my hair length, what my face looked like, how I was sitting the group and where, if I sneezed in the group, etc.
At that point, in 2017, I was in at least four different simultaneous relationships with him, including patient, professional supervisee, article reviewer for a journal of which he was the editor-in-chief, and “stand by” consultant for future conferences he would be the Director of, after having already been his near-year-round administrator on his conferences for four years while simultaneously being his patient. I was also his theoretical lackey in a small international field of study and had already by 2017 generated some significant scholarship defending some of his practices in that field without having to name him at all and without realizing I was just using my big brain to do not only protect his abuse of me and others but also to in some ways make a case for it. There is perhaps no greater evidence for the abuse I was subjected to than my professional presentation in 2016 (which is memorialized on video and utterly damning) and a published article I wrote later. That is for a different essay.
My own psychoanalytic interpretation is that my body woke up in 2017 and was breaking down constantly because of it long before my mind was truly capable of understanding what was happening to me in that abusive space I was being told was love, my recovery, “good for me.” My body, inflamed, raw, under constant attack, cortisol at defcon 1, shouting at me from beyond the veil: WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP WAKE UP. I became separated from my body in Stein’s cult, and my body started to know things and try to tell me things while my brain struggled in a cage.
I also had insomnia. Could you get any more literal?
Besides a couple migraines here and there, I have not gotten sick once since I actually woke up almost a year ago.
Ask me, however, if I’ve thought I’ve been sick since November 22, 2021.
Ask me, however, how many times I’ve been to the ER because I’m afraid I’m dying, since I woke up.
Ask me, however, if I can bear even talking to a medical provider without crying.
Ask me, however, if I trust my body.
If I trust myself.
If I trust anyone with those two tiny fucking letters after their name yet. M. D.
Ask me if I sleep. Go ahead, ask me.
My Body (Part 1)
Bren Linto Morrigan