For many years, part of my work has been listening to people’s stories. As I listen and respond, I have grown. Over time, my training has expanded so that I’ve heard more and different kinds of stories, and the way I hear them has changed.

Some years ago, a boy had a glorious week of safety and loving predictability in a volunteer foster home, but then his aunt took him out for a burger and never came back.

It was legal for her to do so, but I felt the small building blocks of hope crumble inside of him. He was eight; he’d had a chance. But instead, his guardian took him back to her home, a place just marginal enough to keep protective eyes out, just steel guarded enough to keep them both from getting the things that might have helped.

Now set the new trajectory—we’d see him in detention in a few years. We’d see him enraged and unreached, and I couldn’t stop it. I put my head on my desk and I all-the-way cried that day. I could only send after him a blessing that I could feel he could not accept. He didn’t want blessings—he wanted a secure, sane year or two to shore him up and set things right.

It’s always been easy for me to find a sense of ‘we’ with other people. When one of my best friends went to law school years ago, we spent so much time working through the struggles together, that even though I would never go to law school, we talk about ‘when we went to law school.’ I get happy when other people succeed, even when I have nothing to do with supporting it. I feel kind of part of it all, even just as a witness, from a distance.

I’ve noticed this year that when I am witness to a story, or helping someone weaving their pieces into a story, that I have a much more profound sense of ‘we.’

I’d never say it in words out loud, but I feel something like this, “Oh, yes, when we lost our kids to DCF, when we killed that man, when we broke into that house, when we drove our sister drunk and smashed into the tractor trailer—we lived and she didn’t…”

I want to convey this right—I am not disturbed by this experience, and I don’t imagine that I actually had those experiences- -I just don’t feel separate from them at all. I feel as though I am becoming part of the array of everything people do, good and bad, and I am part of finding our way back from them.

Because no matter how much we imagine we are alone and singular, we come back to ourselves together, as a ‘we.’


Leave A Comment, Written on March 20th, 2015 , children and violence, relationship

I’m going to totally ruin my kids in some of the ways I was ruined and I’m doing it on purpose.
I actually said aloud in the theatre so many years ago, “She’s a PROSTITUTE? This movie is about sexual enslavement gets a bubble bath?” I was hissed at. I left in a kerfluffle, and Julia Roberts became famous anyway in her break out hit as a Pretty Woman.

I had already groaned my way through that little culminating rapey scene at the end of Revenge of the Nerds where he disguises himself as someone else while she has sex with him and then takes off his costume but it is all okay because he was good at sex.

I just kind of gave up on popular film after awhile. I was ruined for it, by a mom who’d stand in front of those precious tv minutes and exhort us to think about what kind of deal I Dream of Genie really had in that bottle.

So I didn’t even think of watching 50 Shades of Lacking Consent and I’m not going to participate.

But I’m going to participate in other ways–like noticing how the “freedom” to show your mons pubis has outstripped the right to public breastfeeding. I’m going to be that constant critique running in the back of their heads about respect and power and humanity. 50 times 5,000 shades of that ought to ruin my kids just fine.

Leave A Comment, Written on February 17th, 2015 , 50 Shades of Grey, Sexual violence

For about seventeen years, I’ve been telling my husband that I won’t go out with him, retrospectively. He grew up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and I grew up in a Long Island suburb. I spent my twenties in different countries as he ended each day running up and down the spines of the hills, even in the pitch of a new moon. We met after I’d been in Vermont for three years. I was thirty-one and he was twenty-nine.

Every year, near Valentine’s Day, he brings up the idea that he wishes we’d grown up together, dated in high school, and stayed together. These are usually very short conversations, where I say, “I never would have even talked to you; I was too busy reading hermeneutics and striving to see the meaning of life as reflected in the Book of Job.” I’m not a look-back, what-if kind of person. Everything fits in its own secret way.

Naturally athletic and ridiculously strong, he’d run at my old high school’s track during holiday visits home. He’d see the kids practicing and come back to Dad’s house, marveling at how much he would have loved to have gone to a high school with so many sports teams. Fewer sprints up the side of the barn avoiding an angry bull, fewer cow births and more tackles would have suited him just fine.

Over the years, and especially with Facebook, he’s come to know my hometown people. Jane, who made me laugh myself sick in third grade, Liz and Susan, how I cried for weeks when I lost Liz as my best friend. Gina and Jackie. Matt, Michael and Artie.

He brought up the topic again this year, but this time, when I said, “I would never have gone out with you,” he hopped up the barn wall and kept talking.

“But why do you always say that? Sure you would have.”

“I was so intense, not happy like I am now.”

“I bet you were happy, too. I was intense,” he said.

“We wouldn’t have been in any of the same classes. I was all ‘XX’ and you didn’t like school.”

“I loved to read,” he said.

“We’d have broken up!”

“I would have got you back.”

“I got fat back then!”

“I saw your pictures!” He smiles and raises his eyebrows approvingly. I made a mental note.

“I was so…needy.”

“It would have been good for me to learn to give more. And I was needy, too.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” I faltered, “but when I was in relationship, I…knocked people off their balance…”

“Have you ever seen me knocked off my balance?” This was his signature gift. I didn’t say anything and he hopped lightly off the wall and back into our routine.

I took his thought for a ski out back today.

For Valentine’s this year, I will ask him to sit next to me in second grade. I will invite him to the ninth grade dinner dance. I will watch him run over people as I write and dance in high school. I will write him a letter, asking him to visit me in Kathmandu after college, and he will come. We will break up, even, and then he will find me again, on that dirt road where I will notice that there is no place else I want to be.


Leave A Comment, Written on February 9th, 2015 , relationship, Valentine's Day

I was in the woods, following a set of bunny tracks, when I saw two giant wing brush marks on either side of the last track, and two drops of blood. That bunny’s last thought: “I’m flying!”

Until of course, that hawk smashed and ate him up.
This is the Seeker’s plight, too, in the talons of the hawkish teacher who promises flights of heaven, love, insight, transcendence, justice.

Though I work primarily with people sorting out their romantic relationships and the aftermath of destruction or violence within them, from time to time, people ask me about struggles they have in their place of work, or within a spiritual group.

It’s usually the same dynamic at heart: a teacher of a path, a leader of some kind, a therapist, or a lover asks you to suspend what you know and trust his judgment over your own for a time.
For those who believe in the deceptions of the ego, or call it the shadow self, or evil, or pathology or the blindness of social, gender and race privilege, this is not an unreasonable request.

We want to grow; we want to see what we don’t see—so we ask someone we respect to show us the things we don’t see about the world or ourselves. In fact, one of the attributes of some of the most painful emotional disturbances is that we don’t see destructive things about ourselves. And so the seeker seeks another point of view.

Which can be the very answer, the doorway, the way forward. Hawk knows about our hopes.

He comes dressed in infallibility. If you question the insight of this kind of boss, teacher, therapist, leader, something predictable happens. He uses the fact that you are questioning his point of view as evidence of your pathology, your shadow self, your evil nature.
This is no easy thing to shrug off. The Seeker risks being cast out by defying the teacher, and often would rather deny her own insight than risk losing so much of the beauty in the path she has come to cherish.

As a parent, I remind myself of this every day when my kids question my authority. Let them struggle, I tell myself—offer paths, offer consequences. Let them choose. When I teach or facilitate, I begin every session saying that I am Praying for Doubt. If the learner challenges me, then I know we are gripped in learning together.
Let’s ask the good questions, seek new information and try on the answers. My ideas might not fit you, and I’m good with that. If yours don’t fit me, will you burn me alive?
True insight offers its own flight—stable and rewarding, demanding bravery and humility and kindness. There are no talons, no tests of loyalty.



When it comes to relationships, questions  like, “Should I  or should I go?” and “Should I really have left?” are not easy to answer, especially on our own.

Together, in Omega’s beautiful setting, we examine some of the root problems that partners bring into relationships. We will learn  to evaluate the expectations, abusive values, addictive behaviors, trauma and other mental health issues that may be present in our relationships.

The weekend helps us:

  • Tell the difference between a health–yet difficult–relationship and one that is destructive or abusive.
  • Design a clear plan of action for you and your partnership.
  • Navigate the waters of a relationship that is difficult, but improving
  • Prepare for life without your partner, even as you keep trying to make life work with your partner
  • Understand and heal from a destructive relationship that you have already left

June 12-June 14, 2015

I haven’t written anything about Ray Rice. I’ve been listening instead. My husband does Batterer Intervention work, so we talk shop all the time, but for this one, we’re both sitting back and listening.

My husband’s been listening to these radio sports commentators. He was braced for the worst, but instead, he’s coming home cheering.
“You should hear them! They are saying, ”The guy is an a–hol…e for what he did! The guy is responsible for his actions 100%. She is not responsible!’

“They’re saying of course she doesn’t leave–she’s afraid–there’s power, money, fear–that we should all get off her back. They are saying out loud to men who call in and who blame her that they are idiots and hanging up on them! They’re talking power, control, intimidation and accountability. They are saying you know this is the tip of the iceberg. I can’t believe it.”
So, even though there are a million others repeating the same old misogynistic, survivor blaming things, I just want to pause and take in that there are so many of us who aren’t. There are people stirring to an understanding of things they haven’t touched before. And some of these people are men, sports guys, to be specific. And that makes me nod while I’m listening.
Leave A Comment, Written on September 17th, 2014 , Ray Rice


Given that I specialize in working with women whose partners are struggling with addiction, chronic immaturity, unresolved mental health issues and abusive attitudes, to me, “Conscious Uncoupling” as it is articulated by Katherine Woodward Thomas can miss its intended mark entirely. There are universally helpful aspects to it and there are trapdoors through which many people could fall.


When Freud discovered women were being sexually abused at high rates, his immediate culture pressured him to take that discovery back and reframe it as a new insight: women were imagining this victimization as a result of repression. Later psychodynamic re-enactment theory told us that women seek out abusive partners to resolve unconscious wounds from previous relationships. Our organized spiritual quests have long struggled with blaming the victim–once victimization was seen as a sign of a retributive god acting upon a sullied soul, then as a sign of the victim’s failures of spiritual awareness. It is the prison of goodness.


When spiritual awareness calls us to take responsibility for the relationships we create, it is a high calling. Yet by doing this, we can accidentally collude with partners who act abusively in the process when we confuse the levels at which we are speaking.

For we must always keep in mind that partners who are destructive also tell you to take responsibility for the inaccurate perceptions you have projected upon them, thus causing the problem in the relationship. It is a common manipulation tactic.


Responsibility for destructiveness is not shared in the common relationship dynamics I work with. There are abusive partners who have caught on to the conscious uncoupling bandwagon. They seek to hide their responsibility in calls for systems theory derivatives like Conscious Uncoupling that tell you everyone plays an equal part. I know of a man, a meditation teacher, who tried to throw his partner out of a moving car while yelling that he was ‘just a projection of her own sick mind.’


And so, I am aware of the levels of meaning at play here. Can I tell a woman who has tried so hard to work with her girlfriend who has become addicted to heroine, a girlfriend who also has some abusive values –shall I tell her that really she “baited her partner into acting out her own unconscious patterns so that she could take a victim stance and deny her responsibility for ‘seeking’ someone who had these hidden values or who lapsed into addiction?”

Do we ask Nelson Mandela what unconscious pattern he is working out to have goaded his jailers into imprisoning him?  Do we tell the marital rape survivor that she really was, metaphysically, “asking for it?”


No, it is unkind and ineffective to do so. Even if on a metaphysical plane we all “wrote our stories,” or that “we all scripted exactly what we need and we all are recalling how we awakened,” even if we accept these points of view to be profoundly and paradoxically true,  I am still acting unwisely to respond to women in this way. It is the wrong medicine.


What helps is still very much a consciousness raising process. We can help that woman with the addicted partner (or abusive or traumatized or mentally ill or chronically immature partner) to see her partner as responsible for their own behavior. We can help that woman appreciate her efforts to strive and help and support and love her partner. We can help her to acknowledge the limitations of that good-hearted, hopeful striving. We can help her to grieve loss–to come back to her center. To see how she has changed in that destructive context–how it may have exacerbated old wounds.


We never want to examine her old wounds or place them equally side by side with the wounds of her partner who is actively being destructive. If we do this, equalizing our understanding into a stance that says, “You see, we are all hurting or acting out our patterns,” then people end up staying longer in situations that are causing them more pain.

We want instead to make sure her own anger and grief are understood in her own context of surviving her partner’s destructive patterns.

In situations such as I describe (which are so common), understanding and compassion for the partner who is destructive or abusive is rarely lacking. Taking responsibility is rarely lacking–it can be the very problem.


I have long embraced the concept of “completed” relationships—that we can fully mine all of them for the insights that they bring. We must do this without taking on any responsibility for destructive or oppressive behavior. This will make our relationships the deep fountain of our wisdom. And will stop our deep cultural, psychological and spiritual history of blaming a survivor.



2 Comments, Written on May 7th, 2014 , Conscious Uncoupling

Alice Whitefeather credits the strength of the Jaguar in helping her escape both her captors—her pimp and her addiction. Though she was free, Alice couldn’t sleep and she couldn’t feel her life. She could only stand outside of herself, wakeful and observing.

She came to her therapist, Natasha, to ask for help with these two things. These days, Alice felt only in flashback. Flashbacks came in a trinity of terror: images, pictures and a stomachful of fear. Childhood’s sexual violations were a cold floor where she and the excrement lay, the degrading names were the curling iron that burned her and the physical assaults were the stones thrown at her eyes and head as she curled in a ball to hide.

Soon after Alice had escaped her childhood home as a teen runaway, she met Scott. He understood her. Scott shared her dreams of a better future in a new city. He paid her way. When they arrived, Alice met his new face and all the other girls whom he controlled as his prostitutes. There the girls all lived on the cold floor, nursed their burns, curled themselves away from the hurtling stones. Scott brought something new to her life, however. He made all the girls take drugs; they were easier to control that way.

Natasha helped Alice get Social Security Disability Insurance and housing for her new life. She taught Alice how to soothe herself, to manage her feelings, to find a life story with many more rooms than those that imprisoned her. Alice learned to sleep. Alice felt her way into a plan. She went to school, found work.

Only after many, many months of working together did Alice Whitefeather speak once and sparingly to Natasha of the sacred spirit of the Jaguar that had helped her. The Jaguar was the spirit of waiting and ferocity. He killed with one bite. He was not afraid to walk through humanity’s darkness; his endurance was unmatched. Alice Whitefeather said the night she took the money and ran, the Jaguar ran beside her, slipped in and out of doorways for months, helped her live on courage. Alice told this story to Natasha, gave her a white feather and did not return for fifteen years.

Upon her return, Alice brought Natasha pictures of her wife and children. The kids were independent enough now that Alice was thinking of returning to school so that she could work with troubled teens. Together, they reviewed the turns in her path that had brought her to this place of ever increasing fulfillment.

“I honor your Jaguar,” said Natasha. Alice Whitefeather looked at her.

“The Jaguar does not offer comfort or reassurance, only his strength. The turning point for me was when you cried for me. No one had ever cried for me before. I began to think that if you were crying for me, maybe I was actually someone who was worth something—someone who was worth crying for. I thought you knew this. I gave you my feather.”

“I did not understand,” replied Natasha, and she cried again.

“We cannot live without fearlessness; that is true. And we cannot live without love’s tears. Do you understand now?”

She did.



“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” Sam sang the words to the classic children’s book as he struggled to put on his baby sister’s shoes.  “I see a little girl looking at me!” He reached up and tickled his almost-three-year-old “Sister” ‘till she laughed. She was tired and he couldn’t fix that. Tired made her grumpy, but he could often fix grumpy.  And sometimes he could fix hungry. Sam was only four, but if he climbed up on a chair, he could reach the sink to fix her a bowl of cereal and water. He’d never seen the Brown Bear book, but once when he was in the doctor’s office waiting room, he listened to a mother read it over and over to her son.

Their mom, Cassie, did what she could. Years of struggle with mental illness had taken its toll. There was just enough food to skinny by. There was often heat when it was cold in the small, rent subsidized apartment. The Department of Children and Families knew how hard Cassie worked to keep these children. Cassie was in therapy and trying a new combination of medications that seemed promising.  One of the conditions of the Department of Children and Families’ service plan was that the kids had to go to preschool.

When the teachers met Sam and Sister, he stood with his hand on her back, silently reassuring her. Sister looked excited to be around the pretty toys. Sam looked exhausted.  The  teachers consulted with Sam. They learned from him that at home there was no such thing as regular bedtime, bath time or meals in their house.  Clean laundry was a rarity. Still, it was better than  when there was more food and heat and a raging father who filled their days with fear.

For days, Sam stood to the side of the room and watched the teachers like a hawk. After the first week, the  teachers let him know that they felt it was their turn to take charge of Sister. Sam nodded quietly. For seven hours during the days, they would tend to her. They would wash her face, comb her hair, put socks on her feet and find clean clothes for her if they were soiled.  They sang to her and read to her and taught her games. When she burst into rages with emotions so much bigger than her little life knew how to handle, the teachers came close to her; they held her and they would not let her go. Sam and Sister and the other children ate and rested together on a regular schedule. And for the first time in his life, Sam played.

On Monday mornings, Sam would wake Sister up early, excited for the week at pre-school ahead of them. When it was time to go to Kindergarten, not only did Sam know his colors and his letters, he knew “Sister” would be loved at school. His teachers had read them Brown Bear so many times that he knew it by heart. At the end of the Going to Kindergarten Party, Sam gave a long hug to his favorite teacher.

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” she whispered to him as they rocked in their hug.

“I see a Teacher looking at me,” he answered.


Leave A Comment, Written on March 14th, 2014 , children and violence

“He always said I was crazy.” Debbie cradled her head in her hands, waiting for her mental health crisis clinician Robin to come back with the cup of water she had asked for. Debbie’s mouth was dry with fear. The truth was, she couldn’t see a way through this slow heavy darkness that seemed to press down on her. Tonight, dying seemed the only way to escape its intolerable press. She couldn’t breathe. Nothing seemed to make it better. There was nowhere to turn, so she came to Crisis. “That makes me crazy, doesn’t it?”


When Robin handed her the water in a white mug, Debbie thought of her husband Andy holding up the coffee mug that had been her mother’s.

“Is this the one? Oh—too-bad,” he said, as he let it smash to the floor. When the kids rushed in to see what the noise had been, he explained, “Oh, your mother’s so uncoordinated, she is just dropping things again. You know how she is. Be careful you don’t step on any chards.”

When they left, he explained to her, “You see, no one will ever believe you. They know how crazy you are. I make sure they know you are a liar.”


And they didn’t believe her. Many years later, when their father died of a heart attack, the kids, now adults, mourned Andy deeply. After awhile, she tried to tell them just a little bit about the abuse she had endured from him all of those years. She tried to tell them that they didn’t deserve it when he would hit them or scream at them, but they wouldn’t, couldn’t, hear one word of it. When a person is intermittently loving and scary, we are bound to them even more tightly than if they were simply loving. It was one of the terrible barbs of her husband’s abuse that the children were bound so much more tightly to him, even in death, than they were to her. And he was charming. He’d charmed the pastor, the sheriff, the couple’s counselor and the neighbors. There was nowhere to turn.


Decades ago, Andy had stopped being even the slightest bit kind to her when not in public. The one benefit of this was though she had felt trapped by him, she hadn’t felt attached to him in the end. Today was the anniversary of his death. She and the kids had gathered at his gravesite, the way they have done for the past seven years. Today the kids were cold to her in that old, familiar Andy way. They left the cemetery and went their separate ways. She thought they might be gathering without her. Debbie’s thoughts turned darker and more painful as the evening wore on, until she reached out to the Crisis team.


“What’s on your mind?” asked Robin. Debbie held the mug with the water. She looked at Robin carefully, and then decided to try. It took awhile. She told about her life with Andy and the kids. She told about his death. She said the thing that she had not been able to say to anyone:

“I’m not sorry he died. I am so relieved. I am so grateful. I am so—happy—he’s gone.”

Debbie cried through a smile that grew wider as she spoke those words. Then, after a very long pause, she told her truth. She told story after story of the humiliations small and large, of the threats and the assaults.  She didn’t rush. She deliberately opened every door and every window in the airless house with Andy where contempt had reigned. She talked and no one stopped her.


It was unlike any Crisis intake Robin had done, because sometimes–this time—the primary intervention is being the safe person in the safe place where the truth can be told and honored.

“And I don’t have to punish myself anymore,” laughed Debbie as she sipped her water. “I don’t have to die because I feel so glad he’s dead or because I’m telling you what happened. And you believe me?”

“I believe you.”

“I can tell.”




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JAC Patrissi's Blog – Growing A New Heart

JAC Patrissi is a Communications Specialist who uses writing, performance art, training and collaborative facilitation in order to support healing for women who are questioning the health of their relationships or who are healing from destructive relationships. This is her blog.