Today we are back in Dayton, Ohio, in March 1967. I’ve returned from Washington, D. C., where I visited a friend earlier in the month. She had helped me understand that I needed professional help.
I know now—after sessions with two psychiatrists in Dayton, one in New Hampshire, and a psychiatrist and counselor in Minnesota, and after having two spiritual directors—that I had deep-seated problems unconnected with the convent. The convent simply exacerbated my fear of betrayal and my belief that I was both unlovable and worthless.
My friend had searched for and found a Roman Catholic psychiatrist who, she thought, might understand nuns; who might appreciate their answering a call to the religious life and, hopefully, their answering their own inner call to leave that life.
Several of you in the past have commented on my memory. And it’s true that I have a good one. Often I can remember the whole of a conversation because since first engaging in it, I’ve often repeated it to myself. But with this psychiatrist all I can remember is the content of what he said and my response.
I entered his office with some trepidation. At that time seeing a psychiatrist was something rich people did. People who wanted Freudian analysis. I wasn’t rich and I knew nothing of Freud.
Also, at that time, most people I knew believed that psychiatrists treated truly “crazy” people. “Loonies.” Those who’d “gone off the deep end.” Or “around the bend.” Those who babbled inanities.
None of those descriptions fit me I thought.
Or did they?
I was hallucinating—and had done so for many months—three separate aspects of myself: Anna, Dolores, and Dodo. One persisted in berating me; one assured me I was doing the best I could; the third would have, in the 1990s, taken as her mantra, “Don’t worry; be happy.”
They entered the doctor’s office with me. Each immediately chose a corner. Each kept commenting as I recounted my convent experiences and stammered the muddled reasons why I’d left. Each had something to say as I waded through a quagmire of emotions: Grief. Regret. Shame. Guilt. Contrition. And yes, relief.
The psychiatrist’s response? Contempt. He ranted about how God calls a person to be a nun. How I’d made final vows. Vows for life. And I’d tossed them aside.
My memory is of him spewing forth all the dislike he had for me because I’d dared to toss aside my vows and leave the convent.
Sculpture by John Flaxman: The Fury of Athamas.
I listened, my eyes tear-filled. After fifty minutes he barked that he’d see me the following week at the same time. My three counterparts and I left the room.
The next week, as I remember, was the same. He cloaked me in shame, insisted I was a miserable failure.
He commanded me to admit my mistake. Return to the convent. Do penance. Try to placate God who must be so displeased with my tossing aside His gift of vocation.
I can remember the import of what he said, but not his exact words. I see him snarling at me. Angry. Disgusted.
I returned to my room at the Loretto Guild and began to center myself in Presence. And as I did, I found a wellspring of peace within me.
The next week I returned to his office. My three tag-a-longs and I walked in. He invited me to sit. I didn’t. Instead, I stood and told him the truth as I saw it: He did not believe nuns should leave the convent. He was biased. Acting on that bias was unhelpful and unprofessional. He was a sorry example of a person whose job description should have included listening with an open heart and mind. Objectively, but compassionately.
Then I turned around, left his office, and found another psychiatrist.