grapes & thorns


Remember how I said I did a sexual assault exam for the police? Well, in addition to that, I also had to do a psychological exam this past February, with a psychologist who specializes in those types of exams instead of my doctor (aka my therapist; I was feeling bad for not referring to him by his proper title).

It was very extensive, lasting over two 3-hour-long appointments. I had to do a 500+ (or was it 700+?) question test, asking things like “how do you feel about this?” or “do you do this?” She traded words with me, listening to me talk and observing all verbal and nonverbal responses. I looked at ink blots, did some more tests with questions in the hundreds, and finally, she told me to wait on the results.

After a long while (a week or so), she went over said results with me. I was officially diagnosed with PTSD, dissociation, and depression, and there was a lot said in the report, some hitting a little too close to home for comfort. One of those things was from the “behavioral observations” on the report: “Most of Ana’s results were deemed valid, although her response style on an objective measure of personality weakened the validity of that particular assessment. Her profile is suggestive of presenting in an unrealistically virtuous manner.

The psychologist told me that part of the report came from that first, giant personality test. Now, I’d done my best to answer as truthfully and consistently as I could, noting that many questions/answers were repeated or just lightly reworded; I wanted accurate results, so I wanted to be accurate. As I went along, though, I started feeling a touch frustrated with how long this thing was taking, and sometimes I’d feel very anxious and triggered when I came across a more sensitive question (“do you have nightmares?” “were you sexually abused?”), making my responses exaggerated and more emotional. Other times I just felt confused by the question, and I’d forget what I figured it to mean so when I had to answer it again in a repeated question, well, you get the idea.

When I heard her say that (“Her profile is suggestive of presenting in an unrealistically virtuous manner”), I first thought that maybe this was just a secular doctor snubbing my trying to live as a faithful Catholic as “unrealistically virtuous.” Then, I realized what I stated above that messed with my answers, but I also started to feel very insecure about myself; Mother’s voice was flooding my head with all those things she said that taught me any capacity for honesty and goodness was something I invented or dramatized (eg “You’re not fooling anyone, acting all holy and pure. You’re such a drama queen, and you always were, ever since you were little!”).

Now though, looking back, I realize while that some of my answers were indeed accidentally inaccurate, sometimes it was because the “unrealistically virtuous” answer was what I just figured was The Right Thing to do, and so I answered with what I’d ought to do (or hoped I would do) rather than what I actually would do.

As I look back at more recent events, such as my skipping meals in the guise of fasting, I’m starting to see that there is some truth to that assessment. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” as they say. I also grew up learning in church and in Catholic school that every human on the planet is called to be holy, to become Saints (which is to say, the best versions of ourselves). I do honestly want that very much…but I think there’s something very broken in my attitude of going about it, from the way abuse taught me what a Saint was.

I quoted not long ago that verse from Matthew about “false prophets” while looking for something about wolves among sheep. What I didn’t share then was how it continued, with Jesus telling us just how to figure out if a prophet is false or not: “You shall know them by their fruits. Can grapes be gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So then, every good tree produces good fruit, and the evil tree produces evil fruit. A good tree is not able to produce evil fruit, and an evil tree is not able to produce good fruit…Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:16-18, 20)

I remember hearing a homily once that further explained what Jesus was saying, how there were these thorns and thistles where He lived that made fruit that looked almost exactly like grapes and figs, but were actually in fact poisonous. Therefore, as poisonous things could look good to eat, some things could seem to be The Right Thing, but could actually be a very unhealthy Bad Thing.

Going back to my recent mistake, fasting can be a form of prayer, and things like being frugal or being mindful of what we eat are good, healthy things. However, the fruit/result of what I was doing almost got me down the path towards a legit eating disorder (a fact I’m growing more convinced of as I realize things like how much it was about control in light of helplessness, something a recovered anorexic girl revealed was a big part of her disorder). As it is, I don’t like thinking of where I’d be in another month or so, if things kept progressing as they did. Thank God my doctor and confessor suggested it to maybe not be as good an idea as I thought, and that I later had the thought to check whether how I was feeling was connected to what I was doing to make what they were saying real.

A mentor told me yesterday to “never doubt” that I have been given goodness, that there is virtue, intelligence, and strength in me. I told her as I’ll tell you that like a lot of things, it’s a very precarious balancing act: I don’t want to fall from one unhealthy extreme to another. That’s especially a challenge for many victims/survivors of abuse, who often struggle with what the books call “splitting” or “black-and-whiting” which is the tendency to have an “all or nothing” view of the world, and of life in general.

Maybe this is something that’ll get easier with better awareness and practice. I hope so; I hate popping what looks like a sweet, juicy grape in my mouth only to find out too late  that it’s squishy and sour. #theworst

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