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[This account is from Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives, by Mark Pendergrast. Upper Access Books, Hinesburg, Vt. Copyright (c) 1996. All rights reserved. For information to order this book, call Upper Access at 1-800-356-9315, or order it online at or Read our review or visit the Victims of Memory web site.]

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Stephanie Krauss, Retractor from a Psychiatric Hospital

Stephanie Krauss really was sexually abused by her father, who began fondling her at a very young age. A salesman, he was very religious, as well as abusive and alcoholic. Eventually, other people, including members of her extended Georgia family, also coerced her into having sex with them. Though she aspired briefly to be a marine biologist and diver, she dove into depression instead, dropping out of school when she was 15. "I got involved in a number of promiscuous relationships. I went from one man to another to another. I think my lifestyle was a reflection of my upbringing." As a young adult, Krauss sought counseling, which helped turn her life around. "I was able to let the hate go." She married, had two children, and was determined to get on with her life. When she was 34, however, she found herself becoming depressed and having marital problems. In 1991, she entered therapy again, but this time it was not to be a pleasant experience.

I went to see a clinical social worker for what were really quite normal family problems. When she found out about my sexual abuse, though, she said I had post-traumatic stress disorder and should see Dr. Eugene Deming, a psychiatrist who specialized in that sort of thing. Dr. Deming seemed wonderful to me. He was gentle, sincere, intelligent, and articulate. He seemed so warm and trustable, and he listened with his whole heart. I felt that he was going to help me with all my troubles. I didn't worry as much. I had hope that things would get better.

I told him about my current problems, but he was more interested in my childhood. So I told him about my sexual abuse, but I didn't really feel the need to talk about it. I had been to therapy before and dealt with all of that. I don't like thinking about it. I always remembered I was abused. Even when you try to forget, the memories come back to haunt you, like ghosts rising to taunt you again.

Abuse does wound a person. Those wounds can heal, but they leave scars that may stay tender for the rest of your life. You may not dwell on it, but you never really forget that you were abused. After a while, though, that's all Dr. Deming wanted to talk about. He had lots of questions that he said needed to be answered before he could really help me. Some of his questions seemed a bit strange, but I just thought, "Well, he's the psychiatrist, he should know."

The sessions with Dr. Deming rekindled one of the things about my past that did still bother me. Why did I still love my father and yearn for his love in return? I think I saw in him and my other abusers the possibility of a life wasted. I realized that my own life could have been just as wasted as theirs if I did not rise above the bitterness and unforgiveness they harbored for whatever life had brought them. They took it in and it poisoned them.

In the middle of my therapy sessions, my father unexpectedly died of a heart attack. I had to make the funeral arrangements, and a lot of emotions came up for me-fear, guilt, numbness, disbelief, anger, confusion, love and hate. When I came back from the funeral, I was raw-nerved. It was the first time I'd been in the same room with this man that he had not hurt me some way. All of the years I had spent as an adult trying to get his love and attention in a healthy way were over. There would be no more chances.

So I told Dr. Deming about all this emotional turmoil and the flood of memories that had come back. He told me that I had many more memories that needed to come back if I was to get well. That was my real problem, not anything related to pressures of family or job. That confused me, because I didn't know I was sick. But Dr. Deming offered a concrete solution; he had the answers to the perplexing questions of my life. So when he told me that he thought I should enter this special unit at a nearby hospital, I listened.

He said that it was very important that I go in as soon as possible. He made it sound so wonderful. The hospital had programs and facilities especially geared to my needs, all covered by my company insurance. I could have a break from my regular life. That sounded tempting. I felt a bit guilty about taking advantage of the insurance company, but he said that's what it was for.

I felt like I could use a rest for a few days. I talked to my husband about it, and he was all in favor of it. It turns out that Dr. Deming had already called him and convinced him that I was deathly ill, and he should sign me in involuntarily if I wouldn't go on my own. But I didn't know that at the time.

In Dr. Deming's description of the hospital, he had compared it to a fine hotel. When I got there, I was in total shock. It wasn't anything like what he had said. The recreation facilities, the library, the manicured grounds, the jogging trails, those things were there, all right, but I was never allowed to use them. From the very first, I was treated more like a criminal than a patient. I saw people in restraints. Some of them were taken down by nurses and techs if they resisted. I was shocked to find children as patients in this environment. Even now, I cannot stand to hear a child cry, because the sound reminds me of the voice of a young patient in the hospital, begging to see her mother, crying to go home.

Because of my background, I've always felt that I deserved the bad things that happened to me. That was my initial reaction to the hospital. When Dr. Deming finally came to see me, I was so relieved. I didn't want him to leave me there. But he turned so cold. In our sessions, he was hostile. He kept insisting that I close my eyes and picture my abuse. I tried to cooperate, but my efforts were never enough. He told me I had been in a satanic cult, and that I had split off all these alters to cope with it. I knew about satanic cults from watching TV and from things I had read, but I didn't think I had been in one.

Still, if my dear Dr. Deming told me, maybe it was so. I loved him. I felt valued and important when I was with him. But I gradually came to realize that I was only valued if I stayed sick. He couldn't keep me in the hospital if I didn't have grave psychological problems. I had to be suicidal or homicidal. He interpreted all my actions and words that way, even though I told him I wasn't in a cult, and I wasn't suicidal. His response always indicated that I simply did not know the truth about myself.

If I did not behave in a way conducive to what he or the staff believed, I was "in denial," and "regressing," and I would be denied any privileges, like using the telephone or even sleeping in a bed. I finally managed to talk to my husband on the telephone. I told him that this place was not like we were told, that they had lied. I said that bad things were going on, that it was hurting and not helping, that I thought I would go nuts if I had to stay there. He didn't know what to think or what to do. A tech was listening in, it turns out. After that, they told me I couldn't make phone calls for a long time. I wasn't even allowed to see my children. I was put on "constants," where a tech sat with me all the time.

When my family and friends asked why I wasn't allowed to have visitors or phone calls, Dr. Deming would only say that there were "some things" going on. When they asked what he meant, he said he couldn't talk to them about it, because it would break the patient confidentiality law.

There sure was something going on I didn't understand, and I was terrified that it was a possibility that I really was a multiple personality and didn't know it. But I could see that most of the alters the patients had were created there in the hospital. Most of us went along with it so we wouldn't be put on restriction. Often they would threaten us, saying that if we didn't act right, we'd be considered untreatable, and they'd have to put us in the state hospital. They pushed people to the breaking point. I was close to mine.

I was drugged and obsessing over all the pain I had inside. I tried to explain what I felt, but they wouldn't listen to me. So to show them my pain, I started scratching myself up. They had told me that people like me would do those things, so I did. I figured they would understand that. All it got me was these mitts on my hands, kind of like boxing gloves. I couldn't even take them off to eat, so I had to kind of wedge a spoon up inside the mitt or I had to have a tech feed me.

It was like a drug store in there. One of the patients had been given over 20 different drugs at one time or the other. All of us were given at least one addictive drug. Many patients suffered various physical problems. We were physically sick a lot, but they ignored it most of the time, saying that everything was a body memory. A lot of the women had extremely long periods because of the drugs, or had two a month, or stopped having them at all. This was interpreted as evidence that different alters were out.

I was exhausted from fighting them-confused, drugged, and hopeless. I could feel myself emotionally slumping into compliance. I began to just go along with it all more and more. No matter how bizarre or unbelievable, I just did what I thought I was supposed to do to "get well." Some of the people there supposedly had animal alters. Nobody I knew actually had them for real. They were all made up to suit the doctors and their insatiable appetite to help us poor patients [laughs]. We patients tried to help one another by exchanging information on what worked or didn't work to get more privileges or stay out of trouble with the staff. We even managed to make jokes to keep ourselves going. Since Dr. Deming had told most of us that this would be like a hotel, we renamed the unit "Hell Hotel."

The smallest things became precious to me. I began to realize that the problems I had originally sought counseling for were trivial in comparison to what was happening to me in the hospital. Everything the patients did supposedly had some deep, troubling meaning to the staff. For example, in art therapy, if you put apples on your tree, or used different colors for your stick people-it meant something really significant. Every movement, every expression could help or harm you in the eyes of the staff. I think one of the scariest moments for me was when I realized that my doctor's wild imagination was becoming my reality. I fought to hold on to even a semblance of the truth I had once known. I knew I had to get out of that "twilight zone" of a hospital.

But it was almost impossible to get out. I know a woman who called 911 and told the police that these crazy people were holding her hostage. They came to the address, but when they found out it was the nut house, they just laughed and left. The unfortunate thing is that it was really true.

I finally did get out when a member of the hospital housekeeping staff took pity on me and helped me contact my husband, who contacted my insurance company. They stopped certifying any more treatment, and I was released.

So I got out after five months of pure hell. Dr. Deming told me if I left his care and went home, that the cult would arrange for me and my family to be killed, either by sending a hit-man, or triggering me to do it myself. I am still struggling to overcome the fear implanted by that suggestion. I rarely go outside and constantly worry that Dr. Deming's predictions may come true. It makes me nervous just talking to you about the things that happened in the hospital. I still have nightmares about what I saw and experienced there.

As terrible as the incest in my childhood was, that dissociative disorders unit was worse. I've been raped physically, and I know what a person goes through. What happened to me in that hospital was worse than being raped. And I'm one of the lucky ones. I got out sooner than most people, and my husband was still there for me. So many people lost everything. Their children were taken away from them and their spouses divorced them. They had no home to return to. I did, and I went.

Still, my family has been virtually destroyed. My husband wants his lover, his wife, his friend. My children want their mother back. But I'm not the same person I was. I have lost the joy in things I used to do. I can barely function. I'm afraid to leave the house alone.

I'm seeing a good counselor now. She doesn't believe I was ever in a satanic cult, MPD, or anything else Dr. Deming said about me, and now neither does my family. But I'm still afraid to read the Bible, because Dr. Deming convinced me that there were cult messages there that would trigger my programming. I don't think I was in a cult. I don't remember anything about it. Yet I'm afraid to trust my own feelings and memories now, even good ones.

When we went into the hospital, we were your neighbors, your co-workers, your family. Now, we're nuts. Dr. Deming put so much self-doubt and fear into me that I get confused a lot now. If any of Dr. Deming's patients were really in a cult, this man would be dead. He was so paranoid about the cults that he kept bodyguards to protect him. I think now that he was really afraid of the people whose lives were destroyed by him.

They told me in the hospital to beware of this False Memory Syndrome Foundation, that it was a terrible cult full of pedophiles. I've met some parents in that Foundation now, and they're some of the nicest people you'll ever meet. One man at an FMS meeting was angry, though, and vented at me a bit. "How could you let somebody put these lies in your head and believe them?" he demanded. I told him as respectfully as I could, "It's not that I let anyone. That carries the connotation of giving them permission to screw up my head. I gave no one permission. I didn't even know they were doing it."

Some people may believe that, because we were stupid enough to trust these doctors in the first place, we deserved the bad things that happened to us in the hospital. I can only say that human beings can be fooled. They can misplace their trust in another person, and few of us are so wise that we never put faith in someone who may end up hurting us.

I know it's important to get to the root of a problem and deal with it, but I don't believe in this repressed memory theory. It is destructive and does not help get to real problems or truth. Most real victims of sexual abuse that I know, going to counseling, do have some memories. They may try to push them out of their minds. Most of them don't want to talk about it. On the other hand, in my experience, those who have "recovered memories" are usually excited to talk about it and get all the attention they can. It seems to be all they want to talk about.

One thing I've learned through this is that having a bunch of letters after your name doesn't make you wise. People can become so prideful in their knowledge that it makes them fools. You take someone with a big degree like Dr. Deming has and put them on a panel with a laundromat attendant, and I'll put my money on the laundromat attendant every time to display more sanity. A lot of therapists are screwier and more messed up than the patients they treat. They get hold of this impressive-sounding theory and it goes through some metamorphosis in their minds and is transformed into fact. Then they go treat patients with this new information that only causes more havoc in the lives of persons with normal problems. They have this zeal to treat a disorder that doesn't even exist-at least, not until after treatment starts, and that's when the suffering really begins.


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