Olivia McKillop, Retractor
She was one of those "perfect" children who had never given her parents the least cause for concern. "We used to call Olivia LPWC, for ‘Little Perfect Wonder Child,’ " her father Harry told me. An avid church-goer, Olivia McKillop seemed thoughtful, compassionate, and well-balanced. A professional child actress, she had appeared in bit parts in Hollywood films. During her senior year in high school, however, she fell apart and began therapy with Tricia Green. Soon, she began to retrieve memories of abuse. Now 20, McKillop has broken with her therapist and is trying to rebuild a good relationship with her family.
I was the good kid. Everybody liked me. I was very compliant to people's faces. But there were a lot of things sleeping beneath the surface. I got everything in the way of material things, but I missed my Dad. He's a high-power businessman, and he just wasn't there a lot in the last few years. I was jealous of my older brother Jerry. Dad seemed much more interested in Jerry's sports than in my plays. I completely love my Mom, but she lives out a lot of dreams through me. I felt that I couldn't just be a normal kid, I had to be the brilliant actress.
The pressure just kept building on me. One day in October of 1991, in the fall of my senior year, I just went berserk. I threw my school bag down and was banging my head on the floor. I had this horrible feeling of total despair. My Mom came in and said, "Get up off the floor, you're fine, get up, get up." Mom is very reserved and controlled. I screamed, "I don't feel loved, I don't feel loved." Finally, I calmed down. "I'm sick of being the perfect kid," I told her. And I went to bed. I just felt this coldness and started to shake. That was the beginning of my panic attacks.
My parents had some meeting behind closed doors, as always, and they took me shopping. I got lots of new clothes. I just got more and more angry. Then one morning I couldn't wake up. I broke down and checked out. For six weeks, I lay in bed 20 hours a day. I couldn't go to school. My Mom just kept saying, "You're stressed, you're stressed."
[The family doctor diagnosed McKillop as clinically depressed. He put her on antidepressants and strongly suggested she receive counseling. Harry McKillop distrusted the mental health profession, but when his friend told him that local therapist Tricia Green had helped his wife through a bad depression, he relented.]
I was looking for a savior. Tricia lived only ten minutes away. I went in, and she had Georgia O'Keefe paintings on the wall, and it was so soothing and nice. I thought, "This is great, I'm going to get better." Tricia is divorced, in her 40s, has a masters in counseling, and is also an artist. She's licensed by the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. I told her what I was going through, but I got the feeling she didn't quite believe anything I said. She was after something. At the end of the hour, she said, "Well, Olivia, your prognosis is really good, but it's going to take a lot of time."
She gave me Outgrowing the Pain: For Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse by Eliana Gil. It was a short little book. I thought, "This is funny. I don't remember telling her about abuse." But I read it from cover to cover, three times that week. Suddenly, I could not wait to go back to counseling. It wasn't so much the book, but her. The atmosphere was so soothing, and I loved the attention Tricia gave me.
I made sure I looked really nice the next week. I wanted to please her.
The second session, she grilled me about my Dad and
She asked me to bring in pictures of myself as a child. I pored over our family photo albums, and we worked from these pictures. I looked kind of sad in one. I said, "Oh, I hated wearing that sweater." And she said, "Oh, really?" as if she didn't believe that was all there was to it.
Then she made me visualize a safe place. It was like a ring, and I would lie down in the middle of it. She'd talk me through guided imagery, with this really soothing voice. "Now just imagine that you're this little girl in the white sweater. Imagine you're a helpless, vulnerable, defenseless little girl." I had told her how I used to go to a day care and lie under the piano, staring up at it. So she took me back to that scene. I was totally seeing all of this as she said it. "Are you scared?" she asked, and I found that I was. "Do you see somebody?" I saw this piano repair man. "Does he come and sit by you?"
And then suddenly I visualized him lying on top of me. Tricia was really silent at this point, letting me live this scene. I imagined this man taking off my pants and sweater and totally licking me and kissing me from my crotch to my neckline. I didn't say this out loud. "Is he hurting you?" Tricia asked. "Yes, yes," I whispered. Then I opened my eyes and screamed, "Stop! Stop! I want out of this." Tricia was calm, really calm, and she was smiling. I grabbed my stuff. I was hyperventilating. She said, "If you need to stay here a minute and settle down, that's fine. But I have another client coming." As I walked out the door, she said, "You're probably going to feel self-destructive, because flashbacks are really hard. So call me any time." I went straight out and bought The Courage to Heal, which she'd told me to do.
That night, after everyone was asleep, I got up, went to the kitchen, and took out this knife. I started cutting myself up on my arms. I was very calm. I just cut and cut and cut, lots of little cuts. Then I put the knife away, cleaned everything up, and just stared at my blood. I liked it! It was so weird. I went to my room and stayed up all night.
I gobbled up The Courage to Heal—just read it, read it, read it, particularly the stories by Survivors at the back of the book, like "Michelle and Artemis" and "Gizelle." They were so awful. The phrase kept coming back, "If your life shows the symptoms and you don't remember it, you were still abused." I just lived with that phrase. And I bought Secret Survivors and Covert Incest and a bunch of other recovery books, too. I read them all.
By the time I went for my next appointment, I was an Incest Survivor, and there was no turning back. I did this drawing exercise with my left hand, showing what I felt like as a little girl. At this point, I wanted Tricia's approval. I wanted her to help me so bad. Sometimes I would exaggerate or even lie. My parents were turning into these monsters of dysfunction. I started to believe my Dad was an alcoholic and Mom was codependent and neurotic. Tricia wanted me to talk to my sister Casey, who's four years older than me, to form a liaison with her, but I resisted that.
I kept worrying that I wasn't like the women in The Courage to Heal. It wasn't like I was driving my car and kazam, I had this flashback. I was really concerned that I wasn't a true Survivor. If I felt I wasn't acting the right way, I would freak out.
Eventually, I came to believe that six men had abused me, including my grandfather, Dad, and my brother Jerry. Tricia would take a real incident and help me turn it into something awful. "Olivia, remember when you and your brother were fighting downstairs," she said during one guided imagery session. "He throws you up against the wall. What are you doing?" "I'm screaming back at him. Now I'm on the ground." "Is he on the ground, too?" I said, "Oh my God, we're rolling around on the ground together!" And then I saw him raping me. That night I went home and cut all my long, curly hair off, my pride and joy. I think I wanted to punish myself for thinking this about my brother.
I stayed in therapy once or twice a week for six months. I deferred college, gave up a potential music scholarship, and moved out of my parents' house on Tricia's advice. I went to be a live-in Nanny. I began to tell my friends that I had been abused, but I didn't confront my family. "You stay away from people who don't believe you!" Tricia told me. "Those people aren't worthy of you!"
[That fall of 1992, a friend got Olivia to go on a six-month Mission Quest program for young people. After extensive training, she volunteered in Central America with her group, but she continued to conduct weekly phone sessions with Tricia. After a near-rape by a Latino, Olivia told her group leader Fran, "I'm so afraid I'm going to have nightmares now and remember much more abuse now."]
Fran just stopped and said, "Olivia, you were not sexually abused." I said, "What?" I was livid. She said, "I'm sorry, but at the risk of you hating me, I have to say this. I've listened to you for the last four months, and I just don't believe it. You're the product of bad counseling. This woman Tricia is a psycho. It kills me to watch it. Every time you call her, you're worse the next day. I can't continue and not tell you the truth. Get out of it."
I didn't believe her, but this seed of doubt was planted. I thought, "Olivia, look at how much better you are. Look at your life. You're so much better than when you were in therapy." I said to myself, "Hey, I was a pretty happy person before." I wished for that peace again. This was a few days before my 19th birthday. I looked back at my past year, and it was just gone, wasted.
At the end of March, 1992, I came back home. I was different, really softened. My depression was gone. I came in the house and saw my family there in the living room by the fire, and I really saw them as this treasure. My God, after a year of being in this daze, I really saw them again. I thought, "I don't want to go back to Tricia. I don't want my family to turn into these horrible people any more." So I called her up that night and told her. She was really okay about it. She said, "Olivia, promise me that you'll continue to work on this, and if you need to come back, come see me. But get into a support group."
By this time, I was accepted to a few colleges. But I realized that my relationship with my parents was still just like ice. So I decided to go back into therapy again. I was having nightmares about the man who assaulted me in Central America. At first, I went to see a male therapist, but when I told him about my repressed memories, he said, "Let me get this straight. You didn't remember anything at all until you went into therapy?" When I told him that was right, he said, "I'm sorry, I can't take you as my client. I can't work from that basis." I was so pissed. He had a woman associate, so I saw her. On her advice, I bought The Courage to Heal Workbook, and we started working more on my memories of my grandfather. I started getting nervous again, starving myself again. I started slipping back. I couldn't afford the $85 sessions, though, so I stopped. But I was still doing the workbook and telling people I was a Survivor, even though some of my oldest friends were confronting me about it, saying "That didn't happen to you."
Finally, what really turned me around was an experience that summer, when I was a camp counselor. I was in a boat on the pond with this beautiful, sweet, sad little ten-year-old girl. She was really quiet and shy and never dressed in front of anyone. She said, "Counselor, my Daddy is doing something bad to me, when he sleeps with me in my bed." I turned around and looked at her, and I started to cry. And I thought to myself, "My Dad did not rape me." I was not like this child. She remembered. She always remembered. So we reported what she said to the authorities.
[Even after the camp experience, however, Olivia continued to waver. "The hold these therapists can have over you, it's so bizarre," she observes. She discovered the FMS Foundation, but she still hadn't rid herself of her "memories."]
In the fall of 1993, when I was a freshman in college, I was crying one day about this whole mess. A male friend who knew my story said, "Tricia still has a hold on your life. Can you say out loud, ‘I was not sexually abused’?" So I said the words out loud, then again, then screamed them in the middle of my dorm, three or four times. It was a liberating moment. After that, I wrote Tricia a letter and told her the same thing. In a ceremony, I ripped up and burned my copy of The Courage to Heal.
When I told my family about this, my father and brother were totally upset and astonished. They had no idea what I'd thought. We're in counseling together now, with a good therapist who understands FMS [false memory syndrome], and I'm so grateful for their forgiveness. My Dad is an amazing man, and he is really trying to rebuild a relationship with me. And I love my brother to death.
But I still have nightmares from these "flashbacks." Sometimes I still say to myself, "Maybe something happened," just to give myself some peace. It's like security, like your savior. It's like coming out of a cult. Something so powerful doesn't just disappear.
Looking back, what makes me the angriest is how Tricia turned me into this pathetic victim. When that man nearly raped me, I froze, and all I could hear was Tricia saying, "You're a helpless, vulnerable, defenseless little girl." She practically told me that I would be revictimized because of what had happened to me, and she led me into cutting myself. Also, I think she had kind of a sick relationship with me. She said I reminded her of her daughter. She kept my picture on her desk and my poetry by her bed. She gave me these long hugs.
Before therapy, I was always a strong person who could stick up for myself. I grew up in a good family. I'm bright. I'm the kid next door. If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.
It has really helped to contact the FMS Foundation and to speak out about this, but I don't want being a Retractor to become the focus of my life the same way being a Survivor was.
Something that has been really difficult for me is realizing that my relationship with my father will never be the same. I can feel it. I'm not the same person to him, and I know that's hard for him. We're adults now. I don't need him like I did as a little girl. It's different now. He's Harry, not Dad. I mean, he'll always be my dad, but it's not the same. I think the sad thing is that, due to FMS, my Dad lost me prematurely. The whole natural process of breaking away from parents and coming of age was sped up and distorted. I came of age by turning into an incest survivor. Yeah, I had to break away from my parents, but it shouldn't have been out of fear and hate.