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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Adulthood (07/30/09)

TITLE: We Come Unhinged
By Anita van der Elst


On the sofa across from me sat a slim figure of misery. A well-dressed woman in her late thirties, Juliette came in for counseling for depression. As we talked a picture began to emerge of childhood abuses and the resulting pain and anger that Juliette had stuffed down and tried to deny. I explained to her that unless she was willing to bring those issues out into the open, her depression would likely continue, growing deeper.

“But those things all happened in the past,” Juliette protested. “I can’t change what happened then. Why dredge it all up again? Why can’t I just leave the past in the past?”

These are questions frequently heard in counseling offices. They reminded me of an incident shared with me by a friend.

It was Annalee’s first time to give a dinner party in her own home. She’d put the extra leaf in the center of the dining room table and pulled up the hinged leaves on both ends. Her sparkling china and Grandmother’s silverware, displayed on a fine white tablecloth, waited properly at each setting. She’d hummed a little chorus as she circled the table filling the crystal goblets with water.

She’d been a little nervous as she rubbed the roast with garlic and set it in the oven. How many hours for how many pounds? She read and re-read the guidelines in her Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook but still wasn’t sure. She needn’t have worried—the roast came out tender and juicy. It looked lovely surrounded by new potatoes and carrots. A fresh garden salad waited in the fridge along with a chocolate mousse for dessert.

When her guests arrived Annalee had met them at the door.

“Welcome, Pastor Ben. Jeff and I are so happy you and Jeanie could come,” she’d said as the minister escorted his wife through the door. Two other young couples followed close behind. Conversation flowed as they took their seats at the table.

After Annalee brought the salad in, Jeff asked, “Pastor Ben, would you say the grace?”

Annalee peaked through her fingers as the pastor’s prayer rolled on to a heartfelt amen. It gave her a thrill to see the pastor at her table.

“This is our first time to host a dinner party,” she smiled at everyone. “Jeff and I, that is. I feel like we’re finally adults. Doing something just like our parents did.”

“It looks wonderful, Annalee,” Jeanie assured her. The others echoed the phrase.

Plates were passed and filled with food. Annalee noticed that Pastor Ben rested his elbows on the table alongside his plate as he talked. She frowned. What bad manners; didn’t his mother teach him anything?

Suddenly the pressure of the pastor’s elbows and his exuberant monologue became greater than the hinged leaf’s support, which had not been completely latched. Down went the leaf, dumping his plate, roast beef, potatoes, carrots and all into his lap.

Although it was easily cleaned up and she offered to pay for Pastor Ben’s dry cleaning bill, Annalee felt so embarrassed for not making sure the leaf was secure.

Annalee had shared her later insight with me that although we appear to be competent, successful adults on the outside, childhood issues not handled appropriately will create weak spots. A little pressure and we come unhinged, resulting with a mess in our laps. Annalee told me her own healing from depression connected to a place of her greatest pain.

The dawning of comprehension rose in Juliette’s face as I shared Annalee’s story with her.

I spoke gently, “As much as we’d like to say it’s all in the past, lets not talk about it, forget it, it doesn’t affect us now—the problem is it does come with us and how we think and behave is affected by it. Juliette, I hope you will make the choice to examine the path you’ve been on—do the work that needs to be done. I am here to help you.”

Juliette leaned forward. “Yes, I want to try,” she said. “I have a feeling that the mess in my ‘lap’ has spread. Do you think we’ll be able to get the stains out?”

“With God’s help, yes, we can!”

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Member Comments
Member Date
Robyn Burke08/06/09
Well put! The whole story kept my attention. What a wise insightful message.
love the opening line!
Lizzy Ainsworth08/07/09
Very true article, as I am also a training counsellor.
Many people definitely ignore their childhood issues, and even very small incidents such as being burnt by a stove can result in being unable to light a match, as I know from personal experience.