You can leave the cult, but the cult won't leave you

March 25, 1993. Oh, this sounds so childish but if I could have anything I'd want freedom. I know I'm terribly selfish but these yearnings, these glimmers of hope, these blossoming dreams will never become true. I must resign myself. --my journal, age 16

So, we're not moving. We don't have to sell our home. At first, I was almost faint with relief. I collapsed on the grass in my backyard. I rolled around with my dog in the golden, afternoon sunshine. It felt like a last-minute reprieve.

But today I feel shaky and stretched out and utterly whiplashed. My brain is like an addled monkey, leaping around screeching at high volumes.

I had fully surrendered this home, this way of life. I had gone into fight-or-flight, fully prepared to sell off everything and downsize to a tiny apartment. I had gone into full-blown upheaval mode--all engines firing, adrenaline blasting me into hyper-awareness.

Then my husband discovered Dave Ramsey. Dave Ramsey is like a cult--for financial solvency. My husband is all fired up about this and is throwing around phrases like: "debt snowball," "being a gazelle." The only phrase I like so far is: "Emergency Fund."

Mostly, though, I just want to get over this damn sore throat I've had for almost a month. And also, I would like the screaming monkeys in my head to shut up.

After three weeks of being sick, I finally called my doctor and they were like: yeah, we can't see you for two more weeks. TWO WEEKS. Which would mean (watch my amazing math skills, here) a grand total of FIVE WEEKS of sickness. I opted for Urgent Care instead--you know, that purgatorial limbo where you get to wait for three hours to see a doctor.

Oh, Urgent Care, oh you with the morbidly obese mother and her morbidly obese son loudly discussing their intimate medical issues--"The doctor says I need Immodium for my stool!"

When the student intern finally shuffled me back to the exam room--so freshly sprayed down with Lysol that I choked on the fumes--I got to explain to him all about my latest period and my most recent pap smear.

And then there were the diagrams on the wall. Thank goodness I now know how to deal with Tachycardia. Remember! Unstable signs include altered mental status.

Altered mental status. That's me! I must be suffering from tachycardia--oh, wait. That's my heart, not my throat.

Well, yes, actually. My heart is a mess, too.

I realized this today while standing in the aisle of Trader Joe's wondering to myself if I'm the type of woman who purchases Creme Fraiche. Because I would like to be that woman, adding Creme Fraiche to her shopping basket with an insouciant flip of her wrist. Yes, yes. Creme Fraiche for tonight's genteel soiree with my coterie of literary friends.

And then I looked at what I was wearing and realized I'm not headed for a soiree. I'm headed for a full-blown depressive episode. I'm wearing a long-sleeved black T-shirt and an ankle-length skirt. I always dress like this before I have a depressive episode. I cover myself from head to toe. If I had a burqa, I'd wear one.

I started shaking. I swallowed a few times. The sore throat has abated. But unstable signs include altered mental status.

I careened my shopping cart into the frozen aisle and steadied myself against the freezer. I stared down at Danish Pancake Balls. Then grabbed a jar of Superfruit Spread and studied the ingredients intensely. Anything, anything to take my mind off the growing shriek inside my head.

The trigger: I read all my journals last week, the ones from 1993-2000. It was research for my book. DANISH PANCAKE BALLS! What struck me the most was how very much the same I am. The person writing those journals--who vowed to tell the starkest truths--is the same Elizabeth today, the same one standing here in the frozen aisle of Trader Joe's feeling like a total screwup.

I stagger down the aisle a few steps and grab a jar of Crushed Garlic. INGREDIENTS! California Garlic. Citric freaking acid.

This is a terrible discovery. The journals, I mean. Or, rather, what the journals mean.

It means I am irreparably broken. That the cult worked. That no matter how hard I've worked to get away from all that, I am still here--that the soundtrack laid down early in my infancy is still turned up loud. That all the thousands of spankings worked--my will was broken.

In my journals, I thought that if I could only leave the cult, I'd be free. I'd be OK. I could make a new life for myself.

I was only half-right. I left the cult. I made a new life for myself.

But I will never, ever be free. I will never be OK.

I don't know if I have the strength to keep fighting my past. No matter where I go, it always comes back.

One phrase pulled me back from the brink today. One phrase--and it wasn't Scripture, it was a phrase I coined for myself at the beginning of this year: relentless optimism.

I won't let the cult win.

I have a list of psychiatrists in my phone. I'm going in first thing Monday morning.