A Stolen Life - A Memoir Part 19

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That session ended up being one of many that brought about several revelations about me and how I viewed the world for so many years. During my time of captivity I couldn't imagine a day I wouldn't be there in that place, doing the same things over and over again. I never thought about asking for help. I wonder why that is? It's hard for me to understand myself.

One particularly eye-opening session was when I created an obstacle in the arena, which happened to be a box made of logs, and the goal was to get the horse in the obstacle using no hands or words. At first Velcro would not go into the box, and I felt this was a metaphor for how I was feeling, not wanting to return to my box/backyard. After about an hour of trying just because I had a task to accomplish and I didn't want to quit, I finally decided that I really didn't want the horse in the box after all and announced I was satisfied with the results of the exercise. We went back to the office and processed what the exercise felt like for me. Later when it was time to leave, it was quite a surprise to see Velcro-that horse that would not go into the box-happily sunning herself right in the middle of it! Earlier as we processed the horse exercise, I did mention to Rebecca how much easier everything seemed and less complicated in the "backyard." I was feeling a lot of pressure to make decisions, and I just wasn't used to the complications of life. Even though I didn't want my old situation back, the reality was the "backyard" was less complicated for me in many ways. And I needed to learn to step out gradually.

In another therapy session, Rebecca brought in a big horse ball and told me that we're having a day of play. I couldn't remember the last time I played just for pleasure. In fact, I couldn't remember a day I did something just for myself. Up until recently life was about making Phillip and Nancy happy and making sure the girls had everything they needed. Rebecca told me to take the ball and just play with the horses, so with the big purple ball clutched in my outstretched hands, I entered the arena and tried to get one of the horses to play with me. I spent a good hour standing in front of Velcro, the docile black-and-white paint, slowly rolling the ball to find that all she did was stand there and look bored. The ball would bounce off her legs and return to me but the "play" was mostly one-sided. During that time, some of my rolls to Velcro would miss her legs and go sailing past her. During one of those times, Rebecca's dog, Skye, would come barreling into the arena and run to the ball that I was running after, and she stopped it and started rolling it back to me. I thought this was more fun than rolling it to a horse that clearly was having none of my antics. So I started playing with Skye, the black Labrador. She was a great ballplayer and we soon had a real game of me throwing the ball up to her and her using her nose to send it flying back to me. During this time Freesia, the beautiful brown Hanoverian, started to become intrigued with the concept of Skye playing with the big round thing and started very slowly to drift our way. Nonchalantly at first, and then later going up to the ball herself when it would get away from either me or Skye. By the end, Freesia was actually nudging the ball herself to return it to Skye. It was an amazing sight to see the dog and horse playing ball together. But I realized something, too: at first I was uncomfortable doing something just for me, and Freesia translated that and was very standoffish, but then as I got more and more out of myself and in the moment, I began to see how important it was for me to take moments just for myself and enjoy the simple pleasures of simply playing.

One horse exercise involving my family was early in the reunification process. It was a time of great confusion and just plain not knowing what was really going to happen to us. The paparazzi were a constant threat, and I had no idea how to handle any of it. Rebecca came up with this exercise to give us a real glimpse of what we were up against. My daughters wanted to stop hiding and just live a normal life. They had had enough of hiding and just didn't understand how relentless the media could be.

The horse exercise started out with all of us receiving buckets. Rebecca warned us that the horses are used to the buckets containing grain, so to be careful because once the horses see the buckets they are going to go after them even if there isn't any grain. In this way, they were like the media. Once the media sees you have information or a story, they come after you even if you don't want to share or even if you really don't have any grain/info. So we all go into the arena with our bright yellow buckets. My sister and my mom went in first, followed by the girls and then me. I was very reluctant because Rebecca pulled me aside and said she was going to fill my bucket with grain. I didn't want the grain/story. I wanted to pa.s.s it to somebody else. But who? I couldn't p.a.w.n it off on my family. So I entered the arena with the bucket filled with grain/info. At first I tried hiding behind my sister with my bucket and it worked. I was left alone. The horses were busy sniffing in all the other buckets, they didn't notice me. I thought this very appropriate because I don't get noticed anyway. Then my sister stepped aside because the horses were really starting to crowd us and I was spotted and the frenzy began. They knew I was the one with the story/grain. They came at me like they had never seen grain before, and in that moment everyone got to see the sheer force the media could be and we knew we needed to find some help. Rebecca suggested I share and spread the grain/info out among my other family members and then try to keep it away from the horses as long as possible. To me the metaphor was, how long can you keep your info to yourself before the National Enquirer comes around and wants it at all costs? It was hard to keep it away from them. I am something they want very badly. My daughter felt like she could handle the media, and Rebecca told her to come with her. They walked a little ways away from the group and she whispered something in her ear; later I found out she was preparing her and telling her what she had planned and how to do it safely. She put more grain in G's bucket and told her to run away with the info/grain. Well, she did and those horses went thundering after her. It happened too quickly for me to panic, but I had a firsthand glance of just how dangerous running away with the story can be. Later we went back to the office to discuss what had happened and how we could better deal with the situation. Contact was made with public relations representative and manager Nancy Seltzer and, thanks to her, we have much better dealings with the media.

Another component to the Reunification process is food. Food can be a real comfort, and I must admit I have used it as a crutch many times in the past. Mint Chocolate is one of my favorite treats. Rebecca's team includes a professional chef, Charles. In one of the tabloid magazines they speculated on what I fed the girls for dinner. TV dinners became their guess. Boy, did they get it wrong. We, in fact, were enjoying some delicious and nutritious meals. I feel it is super important to sit down as a family every night and have dinner together. This is not something we got to do before in the "backyard." Now I feel it is doubly important to instill family dinnertime in the girls while they are still living at home. Hopefully, one day they will pa.s.s this new tradition of ours to their own families.

Besides Chef Charles, my mom is an excellent cook as well and makes most of our meals at home.

One of my favorite dishes my mom and grandma used to make me when I was little was tomato dumplings. Now that I am home she is able to make them for me once again. It's a very simple recipe, but one that brings back such happy memories for me.

Tomato Dumplings

1 large can (32 oz.) tomatoes

1 small can (16 oz.) diced tomatoes

2 or 3 cans of biscuits

Heat the big can and the smaller can of tomato juice (you have to cut up the tomatoes in the large can into pieces) and bring to a boil. Pinch the raw biscuits into thirds and drop them into the boiling tomatoes and cook until the biscuits puff up ... maybe 5 minutes or so. That's it!! So easy, but oh so delicious. I'm hoping my mom will write a cookbook to pa.s.s the recipes along.

My favorite thing to do in the kitchen is bake. My aunt has taught me the secret of making scrumptious chocolate chip cookies. It's basically the recipe on the back of chocolate chips with a few tweaks, such as adding a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon to the dry ingredients. The real secret is to mix them by hand and not with a mixer. Also don't over-mix. The cookies end up coming out of the oven softer.

The first days reunited with my family were a blur. I do remember distinctly encountering some strange food in the refrigerator. In particular, some awful peanut b.u.t.ter in the refrigerator and it didn't occur to me to ask where it came from. Later I found it had been stocked by the Transitioning Families chef. The chef told me later how difficult it had been to stock a kitchen with food that would be comforting to a family he didn't know. We had lived primarily on fast food, which was a challenge for my vegetarian child. The healthy food we ate was inconsistently provided.

During the reunification process the chef began to provide us with a new definition of comfort food. In particular I remember a satisfying morsel of chocolate filled with lemon. In the past comfort food meant half a chocolate cake and the agony that followed. Each day when we went to reunification therapy, we were greeted with fresh scones, cuc.u.mber water, and incredible indescribable oatmeal. We began to suspect we were being nurtured through this healthy food.

Often after some stressful therapy sessions, we would all sit down to a delicious home-cooked meal. This time allowed us the s.p.a.ce to connect together and the opportunity to regroup. Throughout the process, eating meals together was when we really began to feel like a family. The food often gave us something neutral to talk about. Vegetables we had never heard of were presented with regularity. Foods like fennel, Jerusalem artichokes, golden polenta, and Comte cheese became not only new words in our vocabulary but staples in our diet. The food distracted and entertained us, allowing us to leave ourselves for a bit. Later I heard that the food receipts were being commented on from Eldorado to Was.h.i.+ngton, DC. They all wanted to know what was for lunch.

During some of the sessions, Chef Charles would take the kids into the kitchen for baking and prepping for lunch. The kids were finding it difficult to figure out where they fit in as my mom, sister, and I were reconnecting. That step needed to occur before we could really figure out how we all fit in together. The kids relished having a place where they could be useful and learn something at the same time. The kids and I had already spent a good deal of time in family equine therapy, and I felt it was only right they had a break. Chef Charles recently mentioned that on one particular day the girls helped him take down an old corral fence. He innocently mentioned how much they enjoyed that activity. I can't help but wonder about the symbolism of taking down a fence for them. It is refres.h.i.+ng that the chef never speculated.

My growth has not been an overnight phenomenon. Nonetheless, it has slowly but surely come about. In the beginning, everything I had been led to believe from Phillip was about protecting him and his plans. I thought he loved me and the girls. I have come to see his love as not real and only based in his reality when it suited him to love us. But love is not part-time and it's not conditional. I learned this from Mom.

Phillip is narcissistic and only does things that benefit him, and I've come to realize this has been the case all along. I learned when I could and couldn't push. For every argument we had-whether it be about the angels or G.o.d, or Nancy or the girls, whatever it might be-I was always the one to give up and hand in the towel. I remember one time I was working on pruning my roses around my tent, and he comes to the back to announce that one of our Printing for Less clients was going to set him up with an attorney to get parole off his back. This was not the first time he said something and then nothing happened, so my reaction was less than what he felt like it should be and he asked why I wasn't jumping up and down. Wasn't I happy that finally we could get going? Well, yes, I would have been if I thought he was really going to follow through, but this was in 2006, and up until then he had several ideas and not one he followed through on. So inside I was not impressed with his declaration. He became very angry and said that there was nothing he could do for me if I wasn't going to be happy. The rest of the day was awful. He moped around mostly sleeping. He told the girls, "Allissa was responsible for my mood, she was letting the angels control her"-that's all part of the way I was manipulated. If I didn't do something right, it was my entire fault for how the rest of the day went. I didn't let those days happen very often, at least not on purpose, but I never really knew what could set him off. Sometimes he would shut the business down for days and wouldn't let me touch the printers or get any jobs done. Even when it would look like I had won a battle, he would act disappointed in me or just shut down for days. It taught me that most days were not worth fighting over. Some of the topics of "discussion" were centered around his belief that the angels existed and controlled our minds. Every bad thing that humans do is due to the angels infecting our minds. When I would ask for him to clarify, it would turn into a long speech about how the angels are men and that they live under the earth and one day he would work with the governments to uncover them. He said they gave him terrible dreams of men raping him in prison and him driving off cliffs. I thought maybe that was his conscience speaking. I always felt with him that there was no other answer but his. He would say we could ask him anything. But can you really ask anything to someone who believes that they have an answer for everything and that that answer is the right one? When it came to the Bible, he would say there is not just one answer but that he could take one answer and make it into something entirely new. Sometimes I know my daughters don't understand why I didn't stand up for myself. It frustrates them, I know. That is something that I am working on in therapy. My a.s.sertiveness. Sometimes I feel if I disagree with someone, then I need to have a good reason for doing so and I need to have reasons to back me up. I learned in therapy the word "No" is a complete sentence. I love that! I never thought of that before. I'm the type of person that when something new comes up, I like to think it through and, yes, sometimes I hope the problem will just disappear or solve itself. But given enough time, I will work up the courage inside to deal with whatever new needs attention. I can come up with a solution that works for me and usually works for everyone. It's hard to know what will be a mistake and what will not. With Phillip it was easier to know because I had learned his moods throughout the many years of knowing him. I learned to avoid certain situations that I knew would cause a problem. I notice now that I have to deal with things on my own that I avoid making certain decisions or find the easy way out. In some ways I learned to rely on Phillip and Nancy for so many things that now that it is time to do things for myself, I find it not so easy. In my therapy the horses gave me another example. Sometimes it is my job to catch and halter a horse. This particular horse is sometimes mean and nasty. She's the dominant female of the herd for sure and she knows it, so when she senses that I am not a dominant female, her instinct is to challenge or more likely not give a flying leap what I want. So on my first try, I walk out into her stall, and she immediately rushes away from me. I have the idea maybe if she doesn't see the halter, I will have better luck. I put the halter behind my back and she actually lets me approach her. Her ears are flat down and she moves her head like to say I'm going to bite you! My goal is to learn to control my fears and not show any fear. In a contradictory way I'm afraid, but then again I'm not afraid. I confuse myself sometimes. I know this horse and I know she is bluffing. At least I hope so. I try to put the halter on, but she just puts her b.u.t.t to me and walks away. I have used grain before, so I go get some grain. That does the trick; she comes walking to me for the grain at which time I slip the lead rope around her neck and wait until she finishes the grain to put the halter on. I slip on the halter and at first don't understand why I can't get the clip on. I think I must have gotten the wrong halter, but I don't want to get the other one because now I have her I can't let go or I will have to catch her again. I yell for some help. Something I wouldn't have done before. Luckily, Rebecca is nearby and brings me another halter. I slip the new lead rope around her neck and drop the other in the feeder. I get the halter on and go to buckle it only to find this one does not fit either. Darn! This must not be the right one either. But I think that couldn't be right because Rebecca gave me the halter and surely she knows which one to use. After several tries of unsuccessfully trying to get the buckle on, I ask a stable boy for help. He is at first confused, too, and takes the halter off to inspect it, exactly what I should have done. He discovers that it is inside out. He right-side-ins it and slips it back on and does the buckle up. Rebecca asks what made me think I couldn't have figured it out myself. It got me to think what I would have done if there was n.o.body there to ask. Would I have figured that out for myself? I'm so used to having someone do it for me that I don't know the answer to that. All I can do is do better next time. Going out by myself is getting easier. I still prefer company but have learned that when forced to do something or go somewhere by myself, I do fine and feel good about myself for going.

Part of my therapy includes learning as much about Phillip and Nancy and the control they had over me as I can stand. This helps me to come to terms about how confusing life was in the backyard. The more knowledge I gain, the more like an adult I feel. I never got the chance to become an adult. Thanks to Phillip, I missed out on some parts of normal human development and I feel I am making up for lost time. Experiencing things for the first time, like going out shopping by myself. Or even just filling up a tank of gas alone was intimidating at first. I was so afraid I would do something wrong and then get into trouble. But since I'm not in Phillip's environment anymore I have the confidence to tell myself, it's okay to make a mistake or, yes, you can do this. I even find myself not realizing that I can even do a certain thing, like go to a concert with a friend or walk into a place by myself; sometimes I still feel like I have to have someone with me. Those feelings are slowly fading now and I'm doing more and more for myself.

One of my favorite things about therapy is the long walks that I go on with Rebecca. I find myself talking more in those two-hour hikes than ever I would in an office. I'm not sure why this is. One theory I have is that I was cooped up for so many years that I relish the thought of walking for long periods of time and just being outside. I love being outside, whether it's for a run or just sitting and watching my cats play, it's where I prefer to be. My least favorite thing to do is sit in the office and talk, but my therapist has found a way to make it interesting for me. I love metaphors and she has come up with the idea of lighting candles to symbolize my past, present, and future. My past and present were the two candles we started with; she would ask me what I would like to start with or deal with today. I would light up either my past or present depending on my answer. During the last few sessions we've used the candles I've noticed my past melting more and more and becoming duller and duller in light. To me, a lover of imagery, this is my past slowly extinguis.h.i.+ng itself becoming something that's been melted. s.h.i.+fting and changing into something completely different than the way I saw it when it was first lit. Remarkably, my present candle has stayed pretty much exactly the way it was when we first lighted it, which to me, symbolizes continuity. My future candle is a special one. Rebecca gave it to me for my thirtieth birthday. It is the face of a horse and her baby. From the first time I lit it to this day, it has burned brighter than the other two put together. I haven't really thought about what that means entirely other than the obvious; that my future is bright and can contain anything I can possibly imagine.

When I imagine that future, I see myself helping families heal after traumatic situations. Families are like snowflakes: they come in many shapes and sizes and no two are the same. And like a snowflake, they are very delicate and must be protected and guarded from elements that threaten to destroy their precarious balance. When two or more snowflakes merge, they strengthen their chances of surviving in an ever-changing world. Unlike snowflakes, given the right tools, families can survive through the worst conditions.

What Phillip and Nancy forced us to pretend in the backyard was not a family. Yet by some remarkable fortune, the girls and I do have a bond that kept us together despite our challenging situation. Now that bond is free to grow in an environment of better conditions.

Sometimes I look at my life and what I have and think I don't deserve it. Look at all I have when there are so many struggling just to get by and feed their families. The JAYC Foundation evolved from a deep need to give back all that I was given. A pinecone was my last grip on freedom, so to me they represent what was stolen away from me. Now that I am free, they symbolize life and freedom. They are the seeds of new life and that is exactly what I have: "new life." The pinecone is my reminder that life can always be restarted. But I know I can't heal the world. To me the best place to at least start the healing process is within our own families. Given the right tools, even a family that has been torn apart by unimaginable circ.u.mstances can learn to build a new path together. The JAYC Foundation will be set up to support families willing to come together in a variety of situations and diverse circ.u.mstances. My hope is to provide counseling and housing for families and victims of abductions and exploitations during the crucial early days of reconnection. I will work to provide the same type of safe environment my family and I experienced during the early days. It was the simple, real approach that helped us heal and return to each other. Transitioning Families worked with my family in the crucial beginning months reuniting us after eighteen very long years apart. My goal is to help one family at a time, providing the tools and time they need to thrive. Animal rescue has always been a dream of mine. And I find it ironic that I landed in a place that embodies so many of my dreams. I'm hoping to rescue many needy families and animals in the years to come. I hope to encourage others to reach out and help other families and animals, too. It's the simple things that count.

Just Ask Yourself to Care (JAYC).

Acknowledgments

There are so many people I want to thank. First and foremost, I want to thank my mom. Mom, you are the bravest person I know and the ultimate survivor. If I was ever to harbor any hate in my heart, it would be for all that you have suffered because of Phillip and Nancy Garrido. Mom, you never gave up hope that I would one day come home and here I am, so glad to be back. You are everything I remember and more. You have embraced your grandchildren in a way I never believed possible. They truly have a grandmother that loves them unconditionally. I can't thank you enough for all the love and acceptance you have given us. Thank you for supporting me in all the decisions I have made. As a single mother you have always been my hero. I knew in my heart when I stared at the moon that you were still holding on to hope. That hope somehow helped me get by.

I encourage those of you that have had a son or daughter kidnapped to hold on to your hope for as long as you can. NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) was there in the background, helping my mom hold on to her hope. Since my return, this organization has been invaluable to me and my family and many others throughout the years. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

To my sister Shayna: what can I say? I have missed so many years with you and am now aware of all that you must have sacrificed. While I was captive in the backyard, you were there caring for our mom. You grew up watching our mom shed tears for a sister you hardly remembered, that must have been so confusing. We should have been growing up together; instead we lost the innocence of our childhoods. I don't want to give one more moment to the Garridos. It's time to look toward the future and celebrate happy moments to come. I know when I returned, your life was turned upside down again. Thank you for all the love you gave us during that transition. When you taught me to drive, you gave me the first real sense of freedom I had in eighteen years. Thank you, Sis. I love you.

To my aunt Tina: you are a pillar of strength. When I returned, you were still the grounded loving aunt I remember. It did not surprise me at all that you had supported my mom and sister while I was missing. You were so wonderful when I returned; sitting with you as Mom braided my hair I was reminded of my childhood. The missing years were behind me and I remembered all the wonderful things we did together. Now watching you being an aunt to my children brings happy tears to my eyes. I love you and thank you for being the wonderful person you are.

To my extended family: thank you for giving me the s.p.a.ce and consideration to relearn who I am. You have all allowed me the time I needed to explore this new world. I am not the person today I once was, but as each day goes by, it is clear who I am becoming. My distance from all of you is more about my own personal journey and not meant to be a reflection on my love for all of you.

To those of you who took part in the effort to locate me and to those who were there when I was recovered: I want to thank you for your strength and support. In the early days of my recovery, the cards and donations gave me hope that the outside world was not such a terrible place. The money helped me believe my daughters and I would be able to survive and I would have a way at least for the time being to get by. We had left the backyard with nothing (if you don't include the hermit crabs). Each and every letter was a testament that is was okay to be free.

To El Dorado County officials: I want to thank you for your continued support and your willingness to understand the complexity of our situation and treat it with such care. To Trish Kelliher, who had the foresight to connect with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) who then were able to connect us to Transitioning Families. Those simple calls provided me a soft place to land and get my bearings. The community I landed in was full of supportive, loving people who provided the anonymity I needed. Not one person I encountered felt the need to expose our whereabouts. Even when federal cars clogged the driveways making us hard not to notice. All the officials in the know from the local sheriff's department to the FBI practiced discretion and helped keep us safe.

I want to thank Vern Pierson and staff. Throughout this journey, Vern Pierson and his staff supported me and kept me informed of the criminal proceedings with the Garridos. Vern was always willing to work closely with the mental health team supporting my family. His willingness to keep in contact with me and my team allowed me to feel important and a part of something which had very much affected my life.

Team Jaycee grew as time went on. I want to thank each and every one of you that became part of the team. To all the therapists: thanks for making therapy something we all look forward to. Each of you has brought so much insight into our lives. To Rebecca and Jane, you have taught me friends.h.i.+ps are more than just about agreeing; people can disagree and still like each other. You both have taught me how to stand up for myself and be a strong mother to my children.

To Nancy Seltzer: I will keep this short and sweet. Your advice and support is invaluable, but it is our friends.h.i.+p that I value the most. I would have been lost without your guidance in dealing with the headless, nameless media. Your strength is inspirational, and I look forward to all we can accomplish with the JAYC Foundation and, yes, I'm learning to roar a little louder.

There are so many of you who sacrificed yourself and your families to the healing of my own family. I saw the commitment it took and although none of you asked for anything, I want to thank you for your love and support. You opened your houses and hearts to me, teaching me to do the same. You all know who you are, but in case you have forgotten, thank you for Chuck E. Cheese's, the horseback riding, the Target shopping spree, fostering our beloved animals, the medical care, taking us to the snow, helping us grow as a family, but most of all helping us sometimes laugh and sometimes cry as we all figured out how to do this.

To the children of my new extended family: thanks for teaching my kids to play ball, introducing them to new music, embracing uniqueness, thanks for supporting my kids as they acclimated to this new world. And, Yes to one of you, I will work on getting you Dwight Howard's autograph! Thanks for sharing your parents with us and letting us see that being part of a family means reaching out and helping others.

And last but certainly not least, to Dr. Rebecca Bailey: You have become my mentor, my coach, and my confidante. You never treated me as a victim but instead embraced me as a friend. Together we have shared hard times and joyful times, and you have taught me to find the humor in both cases. I have found we share the same philosophy, which is, it is better to laugh and cry than to just cry. Our work together has brought insight into myself and with your help, I am growing into the adult I've always wanted to become. The words "thank you" do not begin to convey how much you mean to me. Your continued support and mentoring will always be a source of comfort and strength for me in the years to come.

A Stolen Life - A Memoir Part 19

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A Stolen Life - A Memoir Part 19 summary

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