Episode 99: Jess
Paul’s friend opens about her chaotic childhood in New Orleans, her abandonment issues, and the struggling to find words to categorize the sex she wanted and got at 12, from a 27 year-old man. She also talk about the self-doubt of giving up her fledgling comedy career to become a therapist.
Paul: Welcome to episode 99 with my guest Jess. My name is Paul Gilmartin. This is The Mental Illness Happy Hour, 90 minutes of honesty about all the battles in our heads, from medically diagnosed conditions and past traumas to everyday compulsive, negative thinking. This show is not meant to be a substitute for professional, mental counseling. It’s not a doctor’s office. It’s more like a waiting room full of conversations that you always wanted to have but you didn’t know how to start. Or maybe you did and you’ve had them and you want to hear more of them! I don’t know what your fucking story is! Quit pushing me! God damn it. Thirty seconds in you’re breathing down my fucking (sighs). I think that might have been my fault.
I have a couple of things that I want to—I have a favor to ask of you guys. I have two new surveys up that I’d like you to take. The first one that I’d like you to take is a survey that potential sponsors will look at to see how connected you are to this podcast, how you feel about it, how you feel about me, the level of honesty in the podcast, and some of your podcasting habits. They don’t collect any information on you. They don’t collect your email, your IP address, none of that. It’s totally anonymous. But it would be a HUGE favor to me if you would go to the website and take that. If you have a great memory, I’ll give you the URL and you can just go there directly. The URL for it is www—Why do I need to say www?—http—the address is themidroll.com/survey/mentalpod. (whispers) Oh there’s no way you’re gonna remember that. So I’ll say it again. themidroll.com/survey/mentalpod. Yeah, that will help, if enough people do that, that will help some sponsors come aboard and sponsor the show and bring me closer to my dream of running the world! Oh, that went off the rails.
The other survey that I have up that I’d love you to take: my friend Katie, who is in the process of getting her license as a therapist, is doing a project for her schooling and she has put a survey up on our website about people’s experience in therapy, both as clients and as therapists. And it’s a really cool survey and you can see how other people respond as well, just like the other surveys that we have up. So go to the website and check that one out as well. And that one’s called My First Day in Therapy, I think. I think it’s called something like that.
All right. Enough of my begging and groveling. I want to read you—oh this is an excerpt in fact from the survey that I was just telling you about filled out by—oh I guess people don’t list names on this, but this was filled out by a male in his 30’s who was a therapy client and “What brought you to therapy?” He writes, “To disclose secrets, discuss dysfunctional family, and addictions.” “Describe any fears you had associated with starting therapy?” He writes, “Fear of intimacy.” “Of the fears you described, did any of them come true?” He writes, “No.” “As a client, describe what worked best for you in therapy.” And he writes, “Direct and strong comments and EMDR.” I’m also a fan of EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming. “As a client, what were your initial impressions of your therapist? Was there anything he or she did that was unsettling to you?” And he writes, “My current therapist adjusts her long, beautiful hair throughout our session. It takes away from the session because now I wonder if she is sexually attracted to me. Is this subconscious flirting?” I found that one interesting so I kind of wanted to read that. And the other thing he said about therapy, “For me, therapy has been complete surrender. I am honest.” And that is such a great way to approach therapy. It is—to surrender to the process. And I think it would even be ok to say to that therapist, “When you play with your hair, it distracts me and I just have to tell you that and I hope that doesn’t hurt your feelings.” I don’t know if I could do that, but God bless you trying it. (laughs) On a good day, I could get that out. And the funny thing is I could tell the darkest secret from my past, but that, hurting somebody’s feelings, or possibly, and if they’re a good therapist, they would want to know that they’re doing something distracting. I would imagine that she’s not conscious that she’s playing with her hair. Unless she’s also masturbating, in which case ding dong.
This next email—what an inappropriate segue. This next email is from a 14-year-old kid—I have no control how old people are that listen to this podcast, but I have to tell you I love when young people listen to it because there’s a lot of shit that we talk about that I think I would have loved to have heard when I was a 14-year-old. And his name is Will and he writes, “Hi Paul, I’m 14 years old and I’ve had depression for a while. I feel like I’m only happy when I’m with this girl I really like. I’ve got two problems about my depression. One, I haven’t told my parents. I cut myself and I think about suicide all the time but I can’t seem to work up the courage to tell them about it. I know they will take it seriously and nothing bad will really come of it but I just feel like I can’t tell them. Only two of my closest friends know about my depression. And two, I feel like I don’t have a right to be depressed. There’s never been some traumatic experience like getting raped or something in my life and my parents are nice and I have friends, I am just very depressed nearly all the time except when I’m with the previously mentioned girl. Can you offer some form of advice?” And I wrote him back and I said, “I think you should absolutely tell your parents. A good parent wants as much information as possible about their children so that they can better how to raise them. You having depression is a large piece of information and if I were your parent, I would ABSOLUTELY want to know. And we don’t need any event from our past to have depression. My best friends’ son, who is your age, came to them one day and told them he suffers from depression. It brought them closer together as a family because they understood their son better and it gave them a chance to support their son in a way that helped ease their anxiety about his depression. And lastly depression isn’t a weakness or a failing, it’s a lack of certain chemicals in the brain that makes us feel right or ok. It’s no different than being diabetic, but instead of our pancreas having trouble making insulin, it’s our brains having trouble making certain chemicals that allow us to feel good. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It’s incredibly common and almost always treatable. But it can take some patience and definitely involve seeing a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatments. Let your parents love you Will. They didn’t have you so you could hide your problems from them. They had you so they could help you with them. You sound like an awesome kid. Now go fuck yourself.” Now why did I do that? Why did I throw the 14-year-old under the bus? Cuz I’m not supposed to!
And finally, I put a little fear blast out on Tumblr and people were listing some of their fears, and this one I just had to read because I felt it’s just so fucking honest, I love it. Filled out by Vincent, and he writes, “I’m afraid that when I say I want to be parent, what I mean is I want to be the parent of a child whose needs I can adequately meet and who will be perfectly healthy and who will like me.”
Paul: I’m here with Jess who I’ve known for a couple of years. We met through a support group but you’re also a—did some standup comedy. Although we never performed standup together, we just know each other from support groups and mutual friends and stuff like that. But I’ve always been touched by your story and your honesty and I’m really excited that you were willing to come be a guest on this show. So thank you for being here.
Jess: Thank you for having me, Paul.
Paul: And where would be the best place to start?
Paul: Do you want to start with fears? I’ve never started with the fear list. But we could do that.
Jess: Oh, let’s just jump right in.
Paul: Let’s do it. You go first.
Jess: Truth or dare.
Paul: If you could hold your mic a little closer to your mouth, that would be great.
Jess: Sorry. All right. Well, um, it was really interesting when you asked me to write a list of fears and loves, or at least to think about it. The first thing that came up was doing a podcast. A comedy podcast. You know, I’m leaving, I’m moving away to Oakland.
Paul: Although it’s not a comedy podcast. Even though I have comedians on it and I’m a comedian, yeah, yeah, no pressure to be funny at all, no.
Jess: Well, good, cuz it’s not gonna happen. (both laugh) But you know it is ironic because, you know, I did used to do standup and, at least I tried, and I know a lot of people that have done standup and it’s terrifying.
Paul: Doing standup.
Jess: Doing standup is terrifying, a little bit terrifying, and walking away from it is terrifying, because, you know, you think that you have one identity, you know, and you’re only given one identity, and without that, you know, who the fuck are you? You know, and deciding to go back to graduate school and walk away from, you know, this city of industry where, you know, so many things came up. So many fears came up of, “Am I giving up on it? Was I never really funny in the first place?” You know.
Paul: Where does the truth lie? Will I ever know the truth?
Jess: Right. Right. And just these bigger existential issues and questions that came up that, you know, made me so much happier that I actually went into psychology. You know, because those are the things that were going through my mind that I now have learned to be able to sit with. You know, so when I left the industry and went back into graduate school for marriage and family therapy and, you know, graduate school for that is basically—people just go there to learn about themselves.
Paul: I’m glad you said that because I’ve always wondered.
Jess: It’s true. It’s like they’re just total narcissists. And I’m one of them. And you go back and you learn about yourself and you help other people learn about themselves, hopefully. That’s what you’re doing. There are a lot of people in my graduate school I would never send anyone to. They were just psychotic. But they—you know, going back there and realizing that all of these fears are just big existential questions we’ll never have the answer to. And how you sit with that, you know.
Paul: I am afraid there will always be another addiction to replace an old one.
Jess: Yes. (both laugh)
Paul: You have that too?
Jess: Yes. I mean, because, you know, I think that all of these smaller, you know, nuances of addictions are just part of the same existential fears. You know, if it’s not gonna be eating, it’s gonna be people. If it’s not gonna be people, it’s gonna be gambling and so on. Until you can just sit with what is.
Paul: I like to actually become a slave trader and gamble people. And combine them.
Jess: Yeah, that would be a great movie. I’m actually—
Paul: Amistad 13.
Jess: Amistad Small Children. I’m afraid that I will get hit by a falling turtle. This is a genuine fear of mine.
Jess: Yeah, when I was—or something of the like. When I was in New Orleans, I was running around Ottoman Park and I was 18 and I had headphones on, that’s how long ago it was, and a cassette player, and a turtle fell out of the sky and almost killed me. And I thought I was seeing shit and I was running—well I had stopped and the turtle smacked right in front of me on the ground and exploded and I stopped and everyone around me looked at me and I knew I wasn’t seeing shit. And what had happened was a pelican had been flying above us, circling, and wanted to crack the shell of the turtle and so it had dropped the turtle and I could have died. If this turtle would have hit me in the head—and it fell right in front of me.
Jess: And I told my girlfriends at the time about that and they said if anyone were going to die that way, it would be you. So I know that I’m always afraid that when I go to Griffith Park, I’m like, you know, running in Griffith Park, I’m right next to a golf course and I’m right next to—there’s a sign that says, “Errant Balls.” You know, like beware. And I—balls have scraped the side of my shirt. Like it’s some crazy way to die. I’m afraid to fly.
Paul: It’s funny that that is the way that you think you are special.
Jess: Yeah I’m gonna go out in a really great way. Like it’s not gonna be hopefully cancer or some boring shit like that.
Paul: It is funny how our esteem—the things that it will take on. Yeah we can be special, but we’re gonna be special in a shitty way.
Jess: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Paul: I totally get that. And I actually, when I was driving by Griffith Park a couple of weeks ago, I saw this guy—it looked like this guy just aimed right at me. And bounced a ball of the side of my car. And there was two other guys standing there with him. It bounced off something else and then hit my car, but it was like in slow—I was like, “That’s not really coming at my car—oh my God!”
Jess: Yeah, it totally is. I swear I was not seeing shit. It was so incredible that this turtle fell from the sky.
Paul: That is one of the strangest things that I have ever heard. How big of a turtle was it?
Jess: It was big. It was big. Because I don’t know where he grabbed him from. He probably grabbed him from the lake in the park and it was flying—the bird was flying above, so it was waiting, you know, for—but everyone just stopped. Both ways, coming in both directions.
Paul: Even the Neville brothers?
Jess: Even Harry Connick, Jr. They all stopped and, yeah, it was incredible.
Paul: Wow. All right. I am afraid that I will always need caffeine to function.
Jess: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I drink a lot of caffeine. My fiancé and I bought a caffeine machine, a coffee, an espresso.
Paul: Is that what you call it?
Jess: A caffeine machine? Yes. We bought an espresso machine and we drank so much espresso that we had dehydrated ourselves and we didn’t realize it. Like, we were both tired and our eyes hurt and we couldn’t figure out what was going on.
Paul: Did you have a pain like in your lower left side?
Jess: Yes, yes.
Paul: I had that too. When I first got sober I was drinking nine shots of espresso a day and I would lay down to go to sleep at night and it would just—I had this pain in like my lower intestine. I totally get that. They should call coffeemakers “greet the world machines.”
Jess: There’s research now from somebody that says that it’s good for you.
Paul: In moderation.
Paul: What’s that about? What’s that about? Anybody out there that’s having trouble sleeping, something I discovered, very often I will need water, but even though you don’t feel thirsty. So the first thing I do if I’m having trouble sleeping, especially if I’ve got that thing, that restless leg thing, I’ll get up and I’ll drink eight ounces of water. And almost always 15 minutes later I fall asleep.
Jess: Yeah. Alex really annoys me with that. He’s always shoving a bottle of water in my face. I don’t like the taste of water.
Paul: How do you—there’s no taste?!
Jess: Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t drink a lot of liquid.
Paul: Well you drink terrible water.
Jess: Yeah, it’s gotta be—that’s gotta be it.
Paul: My turn? Or your turn? It’s your turn.
Jess: Mine. I get really scared of driving on the 101 at night. Um, like long distances.
Paul: The 101 is a highway here in Southern California. Actually it runs all the way up and down the coast.
Jess: It could be the 101, the 405, the 202, it doesn’t matter. Like I get really scared at night driving on the highway because you—you can’t control anything. I mean, you can’t control anything during the day but at night there’s that extra element of are people tired? Are, you know …
Paul: Are they drunk?
Jess: Are they drunk?
Paul: People seem creepier at night.
Jess: Yes I am definitely creepier at night myself. But yeah, I don’t know what it is. When I have been on road trips with people I just get scared and I get so shaky that I start scaring myself because I’m shaking and then I end up having to pull over on the side of the road. It’s really weird.
Paul: Is it a panic attack?
Jess: It’s not a panic attack, but it is enough panic to make me pull over. You know, I’m not like heavy breathing or anything, but, just I—it’s that lack of control.
Paul: And a belief that you are a target for the universe’s wrath.
Jess: Yes yes. I am.
Paul: In the form of a turtle.
Jess: I almost got hit by a turtle.
Paul: I am afraid that I will make another bad business decision and suffer for it.
Jess: Graduate school.
Paul: How is that a bad decision? You’re gonna be a great psychologist. You’re an intern right now, right?
Jess: Yeah. And actually I’ll be psychotherapist. There’s a legal difference.
Paul: What is the difference?
Jess: The difference is the psychologist is the PhD. You have the PsyD. You know, you’re a doctor. And you can do testing. You know, I can test people to make sure that they’re crazy, but psychotherapists are basically—and a marriage and family therapist is just basically talk therapy where it’s, you know, it’s a lesser level, it’s bullshit, you just get a degree, you know, like it’s just a degree difference.
Paul: But you have to do hours and hours, 3000 hours to get licensed right, at least in California?
Jess: Yes. I’ve got 825.
Paul: And that’s with one person.
Jess: Yes, that’s just with my mother. Yeah, you know, I’m afraid that I just spent $60,000 you know, and that it’s not gonna be enough to have a stable home.
Paul: It’s not gonna have the lucrative payback that standup comedy does.
Jess: (laughs) Poor me. I don’t think I made a dime ever doing standup or doing writing, and, you know, not for lack of—well, yes, I didn’t try as much as I could have because I was afraid. You know, I was afraid to put everything into it because what if I failed. And then, you know, naturally because I didn’t put enough into it, I failed.
Paul: And you questioned.
Jess: Yeah. And I …
Paul: You know, my take on that is the amount of effort that you feel like putting into something is usually indicative of whether or not that thing is meant for you. That’s my feeling. If something is really meant for you it isn’t as—it doesn’t feel like as much effort, so naturally you will be drawn to it and you will put time into it without questioning it.
Jess: I don’t know. I agree with you in one respect and I also think that if you have enough fear in your body with something—like I think the comedy thing for me was such a big fear on so many levels and it just—it froze me.
Paul: Well it sounds to me like you weren’t doing it out of love, you were doing it because you needed to be heard.
Jess: Oh, absolutely.
Paul: But it was in a way that was maybe not the most ideal forum to be heard, if it terrified you.
Jess: Well, I mean, but this is what pissed me off, was that there were so many comics out there, even relatively successful ones, that were doing it for the exact same reason, but they were doing it, you know. And it was one of those things like what does the world have against me, you know. And it was so, you know, I heard once a mentor say to me, “You think you’re so terminally unique.” You know. And it’s like, I don’t know, it’s almost a self-centeredness, this fear. I think that fear is usually based in a self-centeredness.
Paul: Absolutely, and egotism can reveal itself in low self-esteem. It’s like, “I’m such a piece of shit—the world still revolves around me but I’m a piece of shit.” Yeah, I totally get that.
Jess: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s the same thing I’ve kind of got going on now with, you know, switching professions, it’s am I gonna fuck someone up as a therapist, you know?
Paul: Oh, that’s ridiculous. I mean, yes, there’s that possibility but from what I know about you in our support group and the time we’ve spent together, I think you’re gonna make an awesome therapist. And I’m not just saying that. The last time I heard you in a support group talking about what’s going on with you and where you’ve been and what you’ve been through, I was just moved, just absolutely moved.
Jess: Yeah. I mean, when I say that I don’t really, truly in my heart believe that I’m gonna fuck anyone up. I love that I can now hold all sides of it in my head. You know, I’m worried that I’m gonna fuck someone up and then I can also hold the part that says, “In reality, I’m not.” You know, in reality I’m gonna be able to create a safe space for them. You know, it’s—what I’ve learned myself over the years of my own recovery is that there are, you know—there’s nothing wrong with thinking insane thoughts, it’s what you do with them.
Jess: It’s how you hold them. It’s how you react, you know, like I can think I want to go shoot someone, you know, because it’s these guttural, animalistic thoughts, you know.
Paul: And if you find yourself beginning to go to the gun store, then go get help. But everybody thinks—everybody walks down the sidewalk and thinks, “I wonder what it would look like to see that person’s head get lopped off?” Or, “What would it feel like if I jumped in front of the bus right now?”
Jess: Totally I mean, you know, I keep coming back to it but that’s the thing about this city. I think a lot of people deny these very basic things that everyone thinks and feels.
Jess: And I think that’s such a cause of the rash of insanity in this city. It’s like you’re gonna deny that you have father issues and you’re gonna go out with someone three times your age, you know.
Paul: And eventually settle for your father.
Jess: Yeah, totally, like literally.
Paul: It’s convenient. You’re right there in the same living room. You know each other’s likes and dislikes.
Jess: Yeah. Yeah.
Paul: Is it my turn? My turn? I’m afraid that I will make enemies who will use things I’ve said on the podcast out of context to humiliate me.
Jess: Mmm. That’s quite a possibility.
Paul: I know.
Jess: I mean that’s a fear based in reality. I think a lot of the fears are based in some form of reality.
Paul: Yeah. I have to trust the universe on that one. I really just do.
Jess: You’ll be on TMZ before you know it. I am afraid—I’m afraid that people close to me will die. Like my fiancé Alex, he cycles at night. He starts at 8PM and goes to like 11PM and every time he goes out there’s like a level of panic in my body, you know. Because for so long I didn’t allow myself love and I didn’t allow myself what it felt like to feel secure and safe because I would always pick people that were so—just reenacted with me these traumas, you know. And so now I’m finally with someone that loves me, and I’m just convinced that it’s gonna get taken away.
Paul: You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Jess: Oh, absolutely.
Paul: Maybe that’s why sometimes there’s a comfort in dating chaotic people who had a chaotic upbringing. The shoe’s already dropping so there’s no waiting for it.
Jess: Yeah, not only is the shoe already dropping, we’re making sure it drops because we’re picking people who will reenact—and it’s a very scripted play, you know, and if you don’t fit the script, we just move on to someone else. It’s amazing that I dated—I used to say that I was dating like that character from He-Man that would just have the head that would spin around and be different people. And it was the same body, it was just different personalities—different faces of the same personality, you know. And with Alex it’s just it’s so unnerving sometimes because he just is so solid. I mean he is not—I’m not idealizing him, he’s just a solid person, you know, and that brings up all the fears of—
Paul: What’s hiding, what’s lurking underneath.
Jess: What’s hiding? I don’t deserve it, it’s not gonna happen, it’s gonna go away, you know, all of it.
Paul: That’s great though that you get to work through that then.
Paul: You know, somebody said one time that a relationship is really at its basis is a mirror for how we see ourselves. You know, that we’re forced to look at ourselves
Jess: Yeah, it was incredibly painful at first. You know, it was so hard for me. There was a spot between my stove—in my kitchen and my sink and I would just lay down there while we were—when we first started dating, I would just lay by myself in between dates and cry. Cause—there’s like an imprint on the floor, I’m sure. Like because I couldn’t sit with the discomfort of not going through that same pattern again of addiction.
Paul: Was it the unknown of what is this—I’ve never been with a person like this before, what is going to happen? I need an answer.
Jess: Yeah. Yeah, it’s, you know, it’s—that’s exactly what it brought up—somebody please tell me what happens next. You know, I was in my therapist’s office a couple of weeks ago sobbing because my life is really great and I just wanna make sure that nothing bad is gonna happen. This is the shoe dropping. Like it’s driving me crazy. And as much as I wanted her to, she couldn’t tell me nothing was gonna happen. You know, because something inevitably is going to happen. But how do I sit with it, you know?
Paul: And the chances that it’s going to be as tragic as your darkness makes it out to be is probably not true. Or that it’s insurmountable the way your darkness paints it.
Jess: Yeah. I mean, the thing is—I think my biggest fear is the fear of having fear, you know, it’s the fear of fear that really trips me up and freezes me. But if I really think about what it is—ok, I’m afraid of dying. All right. What happens if I die? I’m dead. You know, so what is there to worry about?
Paul: Somebody’s gonna sort through my CD’s. Pema Chodron has a great book about that very thing called “When Things Fall Apart.” And the only issue that I have with it is she talks about hope in a way that kind of makes me uncomfortable because she talks about it’s good to get to a place of hopelessness. And I don’t like that, especially in terms of talking about people when they’re dealing with depression because I do think there is the need to know that there’s a chance that things can get better. I think when you’re talking to somebody who is suffering from depression saying be comfortable with hopelessness, I don’t think that’s healthy. I like to say, I would like to replace the word “hopelessness” with “expectations.” Get rid of expectations. And I think Buddhism is a great way to deal with that exact thing that you are talking about, which is to be comfortable with whatever is in the moment and with whatever will be in the future and to learn to live a more simple life and to pare down expectations and then that makes us more flexible and fluid and able to deal with whatever life throws at us because we don’t have these fixed ideas of what is good and what is bad.
Jess: Yeah, I mean I would say—I don’t know, the word expectations is triggering to me just because I remember when I was younger I would say, “Oh, I don’t have any expectations.” And the truth was I did, you know, I always had expectations of people and of me and I would say what I do is when I was hopeless, the only way that I could get out of it, you know, I mean, of course, I went into therapy, you know, and I don’t know, it may not be right for everybody, you know, but for me I went into intensive therapy, I’m talking like four days a week for almost three years.
Jess: Yeah, and then three days a week for two years and then, you know, I’m still with the same person. We have two sessions left after eight years before I move. And what helped me was to say, “And then what?” Like, ok, this is going to happen. “OK, and then what?” And then just go through—instead of cutting off the narrative when you’re all worked up, just go through it till the end.
Paul: Yes, pulling the thread I call that. You know, I’m afraid of going out and meeting friends for drinks. Ok, what are you afraid of? Well, I’m afraid the conversation is going to be awkward. Ok, it’s awkward, then what? Then there’s a silence. Ok, then what? Then I’m afraid one of them is going to think I’m boring and then leave and then not be my friend. Ok, then what? Ok then I have one less friend. Ok, then what? And then just keep doing that and then you begin to see the insanity of—and how you blow things up in your mind. I think that is an awesome, awesome tool. I’m glad you mentioned that. Did I cut you off?
Paul: Ok. Whose turn is it?
Jess: Um, oh jeez. I guess I could go. I’m afraid that I made the wrong decision getting married. I don’t—I hope Alex doesn’t get upset at this one. You know, it’s not—I’m not saying I’m afraid he’s not the right one. I’m saying, you know, with the odds stacked against you, you know, like divorce is over 50%, you know, and the truth is like when we say our vows, I’m pretty sure we’re gonna say “one day at a time.” You know, like because we don’t know. You know, and making this decision I feel really solid in who I am. I feel solid with who he is and it’s the best we can do, you know, and my parents’ marriage exploded. His parents have been together 30-something years.
Paul: Your parents were married on the shuttle Challenger though.
Jess: Yeah they were. They actually met when they were 13 in temple.
Jess: Yeah. They were like the Hatfields and the McCoys. They were like sitting—my mother was two rows in front of my father and they hated each other, the two families. And so obviously my parents would meet and get married despite everyone and then divorce. But yeah it was amazing. So you know, I don’t know, I think everyone has that question. I think I’ve realized planning a wedding and getting married is that people fucking lie about marriage and weddings. They say it’s the best time of your life, it’s so exciting, and, you know, I’m so in love, and the truth is there’s a lot of ambivalence. I mean, maybe I’m the only one, I doubt that. I’m terrified to get married. It’s a huge decision. You know, and I think if you go into it so concerned about what the dress is going to look like as opposed to what it’s like to live with another human being in the house, you know.
Paul: And what it’s like to have sex with somebody who—part of you is resentful at. That’s the biggest—that to me is the biggest thing to deal with in marriage because if we talk about every single thing that the other person did that bothered us, there would be probably very little time to get things done. Because we’re—I think most people are kind of neurotic and get easily rubbed the wrong way.
Jess: I do.
Paul: And intimacy, to me, is being able to be ok and accept that person. And it ultimately is about you being ok with yourself first so that you can accept that other person. Because if you’re uncomfortable with yourself, accepting somebody else’s flaws are fucking impossible. So it’s like you have to do work on yourself to then be comfortable to have that intimacy and have sex with somebody and have it not feel false.
Jess: Yeah, I mean, well, you know, I—for so many years I was with so many people that—God, that sounded awful. For so many years I was with like thousands of guys. But, you know, I dated one person after that they were so toxic for me so then to be paired with someone now and to be married and to be intimate with somebody that actually is present and that loves me and that cares for me has been incredibly challenging. You know, like, for me, the physical intimacy has been really hard to deal with because I didn’t know what it was like to be physically touched by someone that cared. You know, that felt foreign to me. That felt foreign.
Paul: What did it feel like the first time?
Jess: It felt like, um, emotional rape. Like I’m dead serious. It felt like so invasive, you know, because it was—I was making myself vulnerable to someone who wasn’t going to play the role of, you know, wasn’t going to stick to the script, you know, and what do I do now, you know.
Paul: And they weren’t going to stay in the yard, they wanted to come in the house.
Jess: Right, right.
Paul: And it’s like, eww.
Jess: And because I would, you know, I knew the script, the script was, you know, we’re together, we have sex, you take off or I take off, you know, what do I say to someone after, when they’re still there and they want to be there the next morning, you know?
Paul: And how do I deal with the feeling inside me that’s telling me something must be wrong with them?
Jess: Yeah, oh yeah, something is wrong with them and then there’s that reflective mirror of oh my God, something’s wrong with me. Because when you’re—when I was dating toxic people, I didn’t have to look at my own issues because I was so focused on what was wrong with them. That guy’s an asshole, that guy’s self-centered. That guy doesn’t give a shit about me. But when I’m dating someone that does care about me, all of my shit comes up. You know, and then I get really scared, you know, because what if they see that? You know, um, yeah. Your turn.
Paul: I am afraid that I will hit a wall with this show and no longer enjoy it.
Jess: Then stop. You know, I mean, if you hit a wall and no longer enjoy it, just like you transitioned out of comedy, and transitioned into this, it’s, you know, of course it’s easier for me to say it to you than to think of it for myself, you know, but it’s like that’s what it is. Life is evolving. Just evolve into something else, you know. I think you should get back to wood making because I think you’re amazing at it.
Paul: Aw, that’s very nice.
Jess: You should see this living room we’re in where he made everything, it’s gorgeous.
Paul: You know, actually one of the things I want to do as the desire to get in the woodshop slowly comes back, is I do want to think about maybe making little things and selling them. Maybe through the show’s website. So I might do that. That might help bring some …
Jess: You should do Etsy.
Paul: I did do Etsy like a year and a half ago and nobody bought anything and I couldn’t bear to even log on any more and then my account got canceled.
Jess: Oh, yuck.
Paul: So there’s that shame.
Jess: Then there’s that.
Paul: But go ahead, your fear now.
Jess: Oh, um, let’s see. I’m afraid of flying in planes. I have to get heavily sedated.
Paul: As opposed to?
Jess: As opposed to swimming in planes. I have to get heavily sedated to get on a plane. To the point where sometimes it’s really annoying to the people that pick me up. Cause I’m like fucked up for the next day and a half. I just went to New York for—I was so hung over for like a day and a half. And I don’t—I just don’t like doing drugs, it’s not like a big—I hardly even drink, you know. So for me to put, you know, a couple milligrams of Lorazepam in my system, I’m like totally gone, you know.
Paul: I can’t wait when we talk about your childhood to get into why you feel the need for control, because that just keeps coming up over and over again in all these things, is just a fear of letting go. I am afraid that I will run out of fears and loves for these segments.
Jess: Then you will not be alive, you know, if you don’t have fear and love then you’re not living and breathing.
Paul: But I’ve done probably three hundred fears on this show and it’s like, there has to be—do I have an infinite number of fears?
Jess: So start lying.
Paul: I don’t want to do that. I guess I’ll probably just at some point begin repeating or it will be variations on some of them. But I guess my fear is that my portion of the fear and love segment will begin to sound stale or repetitive.
Paul: But sometimes I’ll read listeners’ and that helps bolster it. Instead of mine, I’ll read a listener’s fears.
Jess: Yeah, outsource.
Paul: Yeah. That’s right. Your turn.
Jess: I’m afraid my sister will lose her kids. She’s an ex-meth addict and got pregnant about five years ago, has twin girls and then also has a little son and, you know, she is completely in the California welfare system and if anything happens, you know, if any slip, she could lose her kids. And there’s nothing that I can do about it. I can’t take the kids, you know, I’m not equipped for that, you know, and it’s control. It’s another thing of like, just, you know—I have survivor’s guilt with her. Because we grew up in the same home that was extremely chaotic and emotionally abusive and I somehow thrived and I feel like she just kind of went down with the ship and she’s been pulling up for, you know, a raft ever since.
Paul: Yeah. That’s gotta be painful. I’m afraid that nobody will ever see the really funny, dirty outtakes from Dinner and a Movie. I’m telling you there is reels and reels of filthy, really funny shit that we did on that show that I’m just afraid somebody is going to erase or throw away or never see, because I feel like if that stuff ever got put up on the web, a lot of people would really enjoy it.
Jess: Why not? Why don’t you go to them and say…?
Paul: I have. I have. And they’re like, “We don’t have the resources, we’d have to get a budget to get somebody to do it, etc., etc., etc.”
Jess: God, you should take donations. That would be amazing. That would be amazing. I don’t know why but when you said that, I thought about what it would be like to get the outtakes from I Love Lucy.
Paul: Oh yeah.
Jess: Like the dirty …
Paul: There’s a reel going around of Don Rickles outtakes from the shows that he did that was supposedly just hilarious. You know, because he would flub a line and then just unload on somebody and it’s supposed to be pretty fantastic.
Jess: Yeah, I just love the inevitability of all of these idealized people in the media that are just so fucked up. I don’t know why people would want to be famous anymore. Because they’ll just follow you around and tear you apart.
Paul: Yeah. Absolutely. Is it me or you?
Jess: I think you.
Paul: I’m afraid—oh no, I just did that one. It was the outtakes that nobody will ever see, the really funny, dirty outtakes from Dinner and a Movie.
Jess: Oh, I don’t know if I uh …
Paul: Are you done?
Jess: I think I’m done.
Paul: Ok, then we’ll get into the interview part and then we’ll do our loves later. So tell me about the childhood. You grew up in Oakland, how many? No? San Francisco?
Jess: New Orleans.
Paul: Oh but you lived in the Bay Area for a long time.
Jess: I lived—I grew up—I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana and then at about ten years old moved to San Francisco. Stayed there for a few years and then moved back to New Orleans.
Jess: I went to junior high there.
Paul: Ok, because one of the things from your story I remember you telling me about happened in San Francisco and that made an indelible impression on me and we’ll get to that person that you were “dating”. So tell me, what was your childhood in New Orleans like?
Jess: Well I don’t really have a memory of my mother before the age of six. From what I am told, from her and my grandparents, she was a coke addict and was pregnant with me when she was doing coke and was into rehab, and then sent back to rehab, and I was with my father and my sister, so it was the three of us. And he was in law school and …
Paul: You were born in the—when?
Paul: I was gonna say late ‘70’s.
Jess: Isn’t that awesome? I was born in the ‘70’s. I looked it up and the song that I was—the week that I was born, the song that was the top song on the billboard was Herb Albert, Rise. And then I looked nine months before it to what they were listening to like when they did it and it was Le Freak. And I was like—is that the name of the song? I think it is. It was amazing, I was like, ok.
Paul: Le freak, c’est chic.
Jess: Totally, it was awesome. So yeah, you know, it was a really nasty divorce. I mean, just awful. My dad had just gotten his law degree. I guess in an attempt to flaunt it, I don’t know, but he wanted custody of my sister and I and both of them had remarried and he actually accused my stepfather, I was about six years old, and he accused my stepfather of molested my sister and I. And he had—he sent in the police, and it was false, it was a false accusation. And …
Paul: That is one of the fucking cruelest things any human being can do.
Jess: Yeah, no, and I will say to this day that I have still have nightmares of possibly being molested. That’s how cruel it is, is that, I mean, not just cruel, that’s how twisted a mind can get.
Paul: How vindictive.
Jess: Yeah, I mean, children, and I know this from studying it now, children have the ability to create false memories really easily and I remember being brought into a judge’s chambers and being made to touch a puppet and, you know, all the charges were dropped and whatever, to this day, if I’m having an intimate moment with my fiancé, there’s a chance that that night I will have a dream of my stepfather wanting to come into by bedroom. And it’s just so unfair. It’s so unfair, you know.
Paul: To both of you.
Jess: To both of us because he passed away in Katrina.
Paul: Oh no!
Jess: Yeah, he did. It was really interesting.
Paul: Were you close with him?
Jess: I was. He was the first person I had ever really trusted and then unfortunately when I was 21 and I was living back in San Francisco, my wallet was stolen and I went to check my credit report and I found out that he, my stepfather, had actually stolen my identity and had charged about $10,000 in credit cards in my name. I called him and we talked about it and he sent me a letter of apology and we worked with my aunt to square it all away, and I was so grateful that I knew, looking at that I knew that he had a major spending problem and that it wasn’t—I didn’t take it personally. He lived a very chaotic life, he wasn’t able to manage his life. A lot of it was a lie and I knew it from growing up.
Paul: Well, he picked your mom, so, that was the first…
Jess: My mom’s not as evil as…
Paul: No, no, no, I’m not saying she’s evil, but she was a coke addict and he picked her. Anybody that picks, uh …
Jess: Well, he was dealer, so.
Paul: Ok, there we go. But there’s a sickness. I don’t think there’s anybody really that we’ve talked about on this podcast that we’ve labeled as evil. You know, I just like to think of people as in various stages of sickness or recovery.
Jess: Right, yeah, things that are done can have evil qualities, but I don’t think that people inherently are. So when I found that out, that he had stolen my identity, I was devastated because he was the first man that I had ever trusted. And it took so long to trust him after—I wouldn’t sit next to him after three, four, or five years until I was about 12 years old, because I just felt sceevy (sp?) around him.
Paul: Because of the allegations?
Jess: Because of the allegations.
Paul: And then you get to let him in and then this happens. No wonder you have a need for control and you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Jess: Yeah, no, I mean, we were best friends. When I finally connected with him my mother would get jealous because, you know, I was so close to him and I needed him so badly. And so when I found this out I was just devastated and—but I knew in my heart and my gut intrinsically that it wasn’t malicious, you know. And so I said let’s just fucking clear this up and I just forgave him without even thinking, you know. And I just forgave him, and thank God I did because then a couple years later he passed away in Katrina.
Jess: Mm-hmmm. Yeah.
Paul: I’m so sorry to hear that. Did you know many people that passed away in Katrina or was he the only person?
Jess: He was the only person I knew that passed away. Almost everyone was displaced in my family, everyone was actually. You know, there was a …
Paul: Do you know the circumstances of his death in Katrina?
Paul: Are you comfortable talking about it?
Jess: Yeah, I mean, you know, I get kind of defensive about it because, you know, a lot of people would consider him not a direct result death. What happened was—you know, there were so many people in New Orleans, a very high population that live a very extravagant lifestyle, like drinking and eating, you know, so if you couple that with a catastrophe, there’s gonna be a lot of heart attacks. And that’s exactly what happened. He waited, he was one of those people that like, you know, you saw the footage of them knocking on the door and, “I’m not leaving my house.” You know? And he was one of them. Bless his heart. And he waited until the last minute and then went to Collegetown, Texas and had a heart attack and died.
Jess: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you know, I don’t know I just get really defensive when they say that he didn’t die in Katrina. Cuz he wasn’t swept away. But I think there was a whole level of people that …
Paul: When you lose all your shit and you’re displaced, yeah, that’s at the very least related, you know. So your parents split up, they had this ugly divorce. And who got custody of you? Your mom and your dad was trying to get it back and that’s why the things were …?
Jess: No, my dad always had custody of us but he wanted to maintain custody when she got sober and so that’s why filed for full custody.
Paul: And that’s why he laid those charges out about your stepfather.
Jess: Yeah, he laid those charges, he got full custody and then promptly, when my sister and I were—each turned ten, sent us away, back to go live with them. Because he remarried and had a couple of more kids and the house was getting small. We weren’t getting along with his wife, you know, and he chose that. You know, and then flipped it. I mean, he made our lives so incredibly uncomfortable that I had developed like acute OCD, like on and off light turning. I actually, I was so distressed at one point like at age nine or ten that I started making myself throw up every night to go to sleep because there was no other way I could relax my body, until one night I threw up blood. And I knew that if I didn’t leave I was gonna die. Like something was gonna happen, something bad was gonna happen. So I went into my father’s room and I said, “Can I please talk to you?” and he said, “Anything you can say in front of me you can say in front of my wife.” You know, I knew what his answer would be when I said I want to go live with my mother, you know. And then he flipped it on me.
Paul: What did he say?
Jess: He said—well, he cried and he said, “If that’s what you really want,” you know. But it was what he really wanted and he always said, “You made that decision,” you know. And the truth is I don’t think ten-year-olds have that capacity. I think they have wants and needs and he really forced us out.
Paul: When you say he made things uncomfortable for you, can you give me some examples?
Jess: Sure. Well, it was very obvious the level, the different levels of importance. There was his wife and his wife’s kids, and then his kids with his wife, and then my sister and I.
Paul: God, I hear this over and over again with stepkids where the parent will assign their kids this lower level, there’s this power.
Jess: In my opinion it’s the threat of him not getting the love he needs from is wife and willing to sacrifice his children for it. You know, like an instance of it we all went to the beach one day and my stepmother had made sandwiches for her and her daughter with the sides cut off and all these other things and didn’t even make any for the sister and I, like we had no sandwich. You know, and my aunt, my father’s sister was like, “Where is their food?” And we were just not even considered. You know, it’s like that level, you know. And it was just, you know, I think it was just very apparent, it was always said, “my wife, my wife,” you know, like prizing this person and having hardly any value to us.
Paul: And you can feel at that age, you know, there’s just all kinds of little nonverbal cues and kids pick up so much without stuff being said, eye contact, physical affection.
Jess: I work with children. I know how much they know. I see it all of the time. If you scold a child you can see it in their eyes, their brain kind of ticking away, “What’s going on here? What did I do?” It’s about me, it’s about me, it’s about me, you know.
Paul: So then you go live with your mom and did your sister come with you?
Jess: My sister went first. She turned ten first. She’s a couple of years older than me, so she went to go live with my mother and stepfather and then I moved out there when I was ten. My father actually threatened my stepmother’s child once cuz she was being mad that she was gonna be sent to go live with my mother and stepfather, which I thought was funny because she doesn’t know them. So I went to—I moved to San Francisco and you know I was a miserable child. I was throwing up every night still and I had no friends, I had no ability to make friends, I had never had a friend in my life. I didn’t have a friend until I was a sophomore in high school, I just didn’t allow people near me. And then I joined up—my brother and sister were already going to this karate school and it was the first time I had experienced value because I would go to this karate school and people thought, you know, it was cute, there was this little kid, I was eleven years old, ten or eleven, and I was doing karate and I was really thriving in it and I was like getting up there in the belts and going to tournaments. At the karate school there were just—the karate studio was made up—the majority were men, older men, like 20’s and 30’s.
Paul: I don’t like where this is going.
Jess: You’re not going to. So 20’s, 30’s. There was woman there that was the wife of the main guy and I just idealized her. She was so cool to me. I found out later on that she was actually the victim of domestic violence from the main guy. So I started hanging out every day, you know. It was the only sense of—I felt like a family with these people, they cared about me. All the while kind of realizing there was an element a little off there, you know. A lot of these older men were very—clients would come in, like customers, karate people would come in and they would be very flirtatious, very sexual, saying sexual things in the office after these women would leave. And there were things called private lessons, you know, where like you would go in the back and do a karate lesson. And so I’m working there, you know, I’m there like six days a week. I’m cleaning the floors, cleaning the windows, you know, I’d become like the mascot. Then I get to a certain level and I start teaching private lessons. Which would be to the adults, I would teach them—I’m eleven at this point and I’m teaching them the basics of karate, you know, all the while I’m discovering, because I’m 11 or 12, I’m discovering my sexuality. You know, I’m discovering I can get attention if I maybe wear a small shirt under my karate uniform. Or, you know, it was the only form of attention that I’d ever really received, so I just went for it. You know, and I played up the idea of being the Lolita and the truth is that if you challenge enough men, odds are that one will bite, you know.
Paul: And I think probably those men don’t realize that the 12-year-old you had a really innocent idea of what sex and flirtation is. That she doesn’t know what she’s getting into, she doesn’t know what kind of a trap she’s setting. She doesn’t know what she’s going to catch. She thinks she’s going to get attention and maybe a little bit—I mean you weren’t hoping to become sexual with these people, were you? You just wanted …
Jess: Well, I think this is where it gets really, really shady. And this is where a lot of people that might be listening might get upset, because I still hold to the belief that when I was that young I absolutely wanted to be sexual and I absolutely knew what I was doing because I was—I just learned so early how to manipulate the situation because I needed to to survive. I needed to know how to read people and I needed to know how to work people. And if that meant I was going to get attention and survive, because I was being seen, you know, it didn’t matter how I was being seen. If I was being seen, I was gonna survive. So if it meant I was gonna be sexual or be you know, overtly sexual to these older men, fine.
Paul: But my point too Jess is that the 12-year-old’s version of what being sexual is going to encompass is going to be different than what an adult who has already lived and experienced that knows. So that child still, even though they may want that thing, is still that adult should know that and see that and not engage that because they know that child doesn’t know what they’re getting into to.
Jess: Absolutely. That’s, I mean, that I agree with. You know, years into my recovery I had a friend of mine say to me once, “All right, Jess. I want you to go on the Internet right now and I want you to find one 12-year-old boy, one, that you find attractive, one.” You know, and as soon as she said that I realized I was looking through it through an older person’s eyes. It’s insane, you know. And you know I just—like I said, you play the odds enough, you know, and the person that I ended up having these intimate relations with, he was a 27-year-old ex-Marine and God only knows what he had been through and what he had seen and what he had done already, you know, overseas, he went to the first Gulf War and so he came in as a student. I was teaching him, and, you know, over the next year and a half, we started spending time together and the part that always got me was that my mother and stepfather had no problem with me spending time, as much as I did then.
Paul: That’s the part that makes my fucking jaw drop. Talk about—you told the story about him coming to pick you up for a fucking date and your mom and stepdad signing off on that.
Jess: Well my stepdad was already back in New Orleans and my mother, my mother at that time was then into, I’m pretty sure she was into pill addiction at that time. And also when I asked her about it, she said, “If I had any idea, you know, all I knew is that you were happy. That’s the only time you were happy,” you know. And for that, I just need to let that go, you know, it was—I don’t know it’s really—I swear it felt like what I thought dating would be. You know, I would go and I would spend hours there with him.
Paul: I’m sure the attention was electric. Because not only was it attention from a guy, it was attention from a 27-year-old guy, which is got explode a 12-year-old’s ego.
Jess: It was pretty wild you know. We never had actual sex, we had, well, you know, full on sex. We had different forms, and yeah, you know, it was, in a 12-year-old’s mind we were dating.
Paul: What was—what were the sexual experiences like for you in terms of what you what you thought they were going to be? Were they fulfilling? Were they confusing? Were they good and bad? Was it all bad?
Jess: It was pretty spot on of what I thought it would be. To be honest, it was fulfilling. I never did anything to him. It was all him. It was—I’m amazed no one at the studio knew. Everyone claims they didn’t know. You know, but there was someone living with him at the time, another teacher at the studio, and how he didn’t know is beyond me. You know, because I would be spending the whole day on the weekends there, you know.
Paul: That boggles my mind.
Jess: There was a lot of—it was really super shady. But you know, fast forward, you know, we have this final date, the one you’re speaking of where he picks me up and gives my mom a bottle of wine or champagne or something and me a rose and we go on a date, and then I move back to New Orleans. And then
Paul: And when you moved back to New Orleans, were you sorry to not see him anymore?
Jess: I was devastated. I was devastated because not only was I being taken away from the one place that I felt like was a home, as twisted as it was, you know, I was already fully addicted to this person. This was a man that pleased me on a level I had never been pleased, and also you know was giving me this attention, and what was I going to do without him? You know, it was a total setup for the rest of, you know, my relationships. And so when I found, you know, when I found out we were moving I was devastated. And when we did move I just flipped out, you know, and I remembered when things started changing for the worse because I made him a necklace and I sent it to him and I called him and I said, “Hey, did you get the necklace?” and he said, “Oh, yeah, your cute little necklace. Yeah, it broke in the mail.” You know, and I realized at that point he was treating me like a kid, because he hadn’t treated me like a kid before.
Paul: Because he wanted something from you.
Jess: Yeah. And so I started—I felt so out of control of the situation. And I tried to regain control the only way I could, which was I told a friend of my mother’s how upset I was. You know, when the friend of your mother’s is a heroin addict …
Paul: Always the best person to go to.
Jess: Always, always.
Paul: For one, you know that they’re going to react calmly.
Jess: You know, I mean like not a good person to keep a secret. So she goes to my mother and then it becomes like a domino affect. My mother calls California. I’m finding out—and I’m just finding things out through hearsay. I’m afraid to ask anyone, you know, all of the sudden my mother is just so upset. My mother is like, “How could this happen? How could you do this to my baby?” You know, all these things, and in my opinion it was just like this embarrassment, how could people find out you know, that I had fucked up as a mother. What I’m hearing from the grapevine is that this person, this man that I had been involved with not only got his ass royally kicked by all of the instructors, but lost his house, lost his job, I’m not sure why charges weren’t pressed, I’m really not sure. But I was just, there was nothing I could do. And I felt completely powerless and devastated and no one wanted to speak with me again, no one from that entire place and that was crushing because that was the only connection that I had ever really made and so what I basically learned—
Paul: Why would they punish you?
Jess: Because I was trouble. I was now labeled as trouble, you know. And, yeah, it really sucked, because I really cared for these people, but they—I was branded. And I didn’t hear anything for years, a couple of years went by and then I got—my mother came up to me with the phone one night and said, “You better not fucking lie to them.” And I said, “Who?” I answered the phone and it was the California Highway Police and this—the police were calling to confirm that this guy had molested me and I was like, “What? Whoa? What’s going on here?” And he was applying for a California Highway Police job. So apparently it’s somewhere in the books, and you know, I felt like I had ruined his life twice. It was like re-traumatizing you know and nowhere in there was there really support for me, you know, I’m trying to make sure everyone else is fine, so you know, I tell these stories and I don’t want to sound like a super victim because I don’t really feel like a victim anymore, but it does sound kind of shitty these things.
Paul: It’s like nobody ever took that little twelve year old girl aside and said, you know, “Let’s talk about what you’re feeling, let’s talk about, you know, how desperately you want attention, and let’s show her that there are healthy ways for a 12-year-old girl to get attention. And let’s see that she has an outlet for her feelings and her creativities and her desires so that she doesn’t have to confuse an adult who is probably as confused and as fucked up as she is.”
Jess: Well what I think it did was set this perfect template of, ok, so from now on my sexuality and my dating is going to be secret, I’m not gonna tell anyone. They’re gonna continue to be older because I’m gonna try and relive this situation and make it work out for me, you know, but also reliving the situation of my father sending me away, like changing that, fixing that, like, pick me instead of my stepmother, you know, like. So I mean just this deep template being set down and then the second part of the story is, you know, after—flash forward, I’m 28 years old and in San Francisco because I’m applying to graduate schools for therapy, marriage and family therapy, and I’m with my aunts, a couple of my aunts who, you know, over my adulthood, they’ve become my real core, you know, of family, and we’re in a San Francisco supermarket and I walk in and I turn my head to the right and I see the back of this man’s head and there is a scar on it, and the shape of the head and the shape of the hair, and I realize it’s the man, the karate guy that I was involved with when I was 12.
Paul: And that phrase “involved with” makes me so want to find a different phrase than that.
Jess: I know, I know, I know, because—well the thing is, if I say “the man that molested me” I’m immediately a victim, he takes 100% of the blame, and the truth is I fully believe that I had a part in it. I don’t believe it was a bigger part, I don’t believe that, you know—I believe that it was an involvement.
Paul: And, while I’m sorry that you had to go through all of this stuff, I’m so glad that you could share this story with us because I stress many times on the podcast that most of the stuff that fucks us up is stuff that’s in a gray area and can’t be black and white. And most of our life is spent trying to sort through that gray area, wanting to know where the truth is, wanting some type of catharsis and sometimes it’s really hard with stuff that’s in the gray area and this is a perfect example where it’s …
Jess: Well I don’t think it’s socially acceptable to say that I had a part in it, you know, and it really rubs people the wrong way to say that I was fully aware of what I was doing and, you know, the truth is he still had the responsibility of stopping the situation.
Paul: And I have to say Jess I don’t think you were fully aware of what you were doing. I think you were fully aware of the game you were playing, but you weren’t aware of the repercussions of the game you were playing.
Jess: Ok, that’s a good clarification. I agree with that clarification. But, yeah, you know, I mean, I think that, you know, to become a full victim is to be able to not be able to get out of it, you know, to not be able to work through the issue and I’m not a full victim, you know and I felt awful about what happened to him. And I still do to a certain extent—I don’t feel that awful but I feel, you know, I feel sad for him.
Paul: So ….
Jess: Back to the story. So I see the back of his head and I know immediately it’s him, immediately. Like my whole body froze, right there next to the vegetables, like just absolutely.
Paul: But you were excited to see that he now had a brown belt.
Jess: Exactly. He was about to get a brown belt. He—it was cra—it was so out of a movie, you know, like it was so unfathomable, the odds.
Paul: What did your body feel when you saw that?
Jess: Completely seized up. I couldn’t speak, I, you know, my blood went cold. Like my whole body got really, really cold, you know, I got dizzy, everything slowed down, and, you know.
Paul: At this point, had you done any work?
Paul: So you knew that this had been a sick relationship.
Jess: Oh yeah.
Jess: This was …
Paul: You had talked about it in therapy for years at this point.
Jess: We had fully processed through it, you know, I had been trying to find him over, you know, the last fifteen years, you know, to no avail. This guy is not on the map.
Paul: Trying to find him for what reason?
Jess: Oh, at first I wanted to find him to reconcile. You know, and get back together when I was younger, 15, 16. Then I wanted to call him to curse him out and punch him in the face and what would I say? And fuck you. And then I was just like, well, it is what it is and we’re all forgiven. And then I was at the point where it doesn’t fucking matter anymore. You know, like this happened, it’s what it is. You know, and that’s when I ran into him, you know. And so I turned to my aunt and I said, “I don’t know what to do. That’s him, that’s him, that’s him.” She’s like, “Who? It’s who?” and I was like, “That’s him – that’s the guy, the karate guy.” And she’s like, “Well, what do you want to do?” And I said, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” You know, and I’m standing there.
Paul: Thank God you had your aunt there.
Jess: Oh my God, it was a perfect, it was like, you know, these cosmic things that happen sometimes, you know, and I mean if anyone in the world were to be standing next to me, you know, to support me, it was her, and so she said, “Well, do want to go or do you want to stay?” and I sat there—I just stood there and I thought, “Let’s do it.” And I don’t need to, you know, I don’t know. And so there were like ten aisles and he was like checking out in number two or something like that and my other aunt, out of all the other aisles, was in his aisle. And I said, “Well, I guess I’m going.” You know, like, I walked up and I stood right next to her, and I looked at this guy, and he looked exactly the same, except a little bit old—a few years older, pudgier, you know, and I just—I hadn’t seen his face in so long, you know, and all these things were going through my head: do I scream? Do I yell? Do I tell everyone in the store what he did to me? You know, like, do I forgive him on the spot? Like what do I do? And so his nametag, it was him.
Paul: So he was working at the store.
Jess: He was the checker outer. You know, and—that’s not the name for that.
Jess: Bagger. No.
Paul: Or the cashier?
Jess: Cashier, yes. He was the cashier and it was his name, it was him. I couldn’t fucking believe it, you know. And so I said, his name, and he looked at me just confused and I said, “It’s Jess.” And he stopped, he was pulling—like pushing an item over the scanner and he just stopped his had mid-push and looked at me and his eyes rolled—like got really, really wide, and rolled like in the back of his head, and then he put his head down and kept checking. And said nothing. Like said nothing. And just kept doing his job. And I looked at him and I realized that—I realized many things. I realized I have no idea who this guy is, what he’s been through, what he’s capable of. He may get violent, he may not, he may, you know, who knows what this guy is going to do? I also thought it doesn’t matter, I’ve worked through it. I’ve worked through it, like, I can hold whatever response he has, you know, and I just—we took the groceries and left. And I walked outside and of course I had a total meltdown, you know, and my other aunt was like, “What the fuck just went on?” you know, like.
Paul: Oh there was two aunts there with you. Ok.
Jess: Rhonda and Debra, yeah. I just melted, melted down, I couldn’t believe it. And it was such, it was like one of the biggest gifts I’ve ever had in my life because I was able to—I had the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. I had all the control, you know, because he’s working for me, he’s my scanner, you know, and …
Paul: And you could out him right there.
Jess: I could out him, I could do whatever I wanted and it just—what was it going to do? You know, what good was that gonna do? You know, it wouldn’t be who I am. If all of this—I’m not thanking him for, you know, molesting me, but it is who I am, you know, and he’s just a piece of my life, and it was such a gift that I feel so lucky to have, that closure, you know. And that I didn’t have to scream and yell, because I’m in a place where I can just hold my stance, and it was a miracle.
Paul: It’s kind of like a little gentle turtle just floated down in a little parachute right down at your feet. Like a gift, you know?
Jess: Yeah, I guess a turtle. Yeah, it was, it was, it was unreal. It was unreal.
Paul: The first time that I really felt a connection to you, we were in our support group and your aunt came with you. Do you remember that night?
Paul: Do you remember what you said?
Jess: Uh ….
Paul: Because I was so touched by it. We talked about what you put people through when you were a kid.
Jess: Oh God, yeah. Oh I was so awful to her. I mean I was in so much pain, you know, I was in so much pain at 10, 11 years old. And when I was 10, um, she offered to house me for a summer while I went to a theater camp in her town of Carmel. And I was living in San Francisco and my parents were like, “Fine, take her.”
Jess: And I mean I was just—I was such an angry child, you know, I (sighs) was snappy and I liken it to biting, like a dog. Like just don’t. If you get fucking close to me I will bite your head off, you know. Nothing was good enough, you know. I didn’t want to be there. It’s hard to put my finger on what it was. I was just a pain in the ass, you know, and I was so sad. And at the end of that summer, I realized that as angry and miserable as I was, she was kind to me the whole time. She had never expected anything of me, for me to act a certain way, I could keep my room messy, I could do whatever I wanted, you know, but within reason. And she was showing me, without knowing it, what a parent is supposed to give to the child, you know, this containment of you’re going to be ok if you abide by what keeps you safe. Other than that, have at you know. I went back to San Francisco and I realized the stark difference when I got back home, and there were no rules, there was no containment, it was chaos, and I felt like I was just being, I was just existing. And so I wrote her a letter and thanked her and then she invited me back the next summer, as crazy as I was, as angry as I was, she still loved me. You know, and still wanted to be around me. And it was that unconditional love that I just—that next summer I was an angel, you know. I loved her, you know. Like I—we became inseparable. And we really did, we really bonded. And then when I turned 18 and I was living in New Orleans—well, 21, I came to live with her.
Paul: The love that I saw between the two of you that night in that support group, I had tears rolling down my face. And I went up to her afterwards and I said, “I know you don’t know me, but I need to hug you because that love that you showed for that little girl is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard of in my life.” And I suppose in many ways it’s what I wished somebody had shown me when I was, you know, 11 years old. But seeing how—it was like a fucking life preserver that she threw to you.
Jess: She did. It was.
Paul: And that you were able to thank her for it, that you could see how important it was to you and to be able to thank her for that, was just so beautiful.
Jess: I was so desperate for—I had no idea what love even looked like. To me it looked like a chess game, you know, it looked like you’re gonna do this for me, then I’m gonna do this for you, and it’s based on conditions, it’s based on rules, and if you don’t follow it, you get nothing. You know, and with her, all that was out the window. It was just like, it’s here. I just got this love and I’m just gonna give it to you.
Paul: Love you exactly as you are, you don’t need to do anything for me to love you.
Jess: It took at least ten years for me to even believe it. It took ten years for me to believe that she wasn’t going anywhere. You know, that’s how hurt I was, you know. But I knew, somewhere in my body I knew that she was safe and to just hold on, you know, and she was a life preserver. She’s one of the reasons I feel like I didn’t—not that it’s, you know, not that it—I hate to say—I didn’t make some of the choices my sister did, you know, some of the choices my brother has made, you know, like, I really feel like she just showed me this unconditional love that the didn’t really get to have.
Paul: And the thing that I’d like to say to any parents out there, you know, it seems obvious to me that she must be so comfortable in her own skin, to be able to let that stuff roll off her back. You know, a child acting out and all that other stuff, and to be able to love that child unconditionally. And am I wrong there, or no?
Jess: I mean, she didn’t have any kids of her own and I think that a lot of parents, you know, working with parents, they’re exhausted so for them to be able to have that unlimited, you know, amount of patience.
Paul: She had a reservoir when you came to visit her.
Jess: Yeah, totally. I mean, she got me at 11, you know, raising children all you’re doing is saying no, you know. And it’s really tough. I think I just fucking lucked out, you know.
Paul: Well the thing that strikes me is, um, that I wanted to say was any parents out there if you want to be a better parent and you want to have more patience with your kid, the more comfortable you can be in your own skin, the larger your reservoir of patience is going to be for your kids. I could be wrong because I’m not a parent, but that’s just what struck me when I saw her there. She just seemed like a really peaceful kind of centered person. She just seemed very kind of peaceful and centered and I could be wrong, she could be a nut job.
Jess: No she’s not, she’s not a nut job. She’s a hippie. If you want to be a good parent, be a hippie. No, you know, it’s true.
Paul: The good kind of hippie, not the annoying kind of hippie.
Jess: Not the LL Bean hippie. You know, I don’t—I’m afraid to have kids, even though, you know, I will, I wanted to make sure I did as much work as possible on myself because it is so easy and inevitable to transmit whatever issues you have to your children if they’re not worked through.
Paul: Yes. That’s what I was trying to say. That’s what I was trying to say - what you so eloquently said. So let’s do our love list. Do you want to go first or do you want me to?
Jess: I’ll go. I love my life and how it’s going so far, how it’s turning out and the gifts of second and third chances.
Paul: I love when my dog makes a ridiculously loud, lewd noise licking her junk.
Jess: Gross. I actually love it when my cat Charlie runs down the hallway and slides on his butt and hits a wall.
Paul: I love when a new solar light that I install works and I feel handy and earth conscious.
Jess: I love that I can find the same kind of support, wherever I go I just kind of gravitate towards it.
Paul: I love when I confide in a friend and they cry for what I’m going through.
Jess: I love my fiancé and that I ended up with a nice guy.
Paul: I love when a friend confides in me and I know that they know that I feel them.
Jess: I love my accomplishments.
Paul: I love when a woman has a more shame-inducing fantasy than I do.
Jess: I love being able to say “I’m sorry” and “thank you.”
Paul: I love when Peter Sellers and the Pink Panther, I forget which Pink Panther movie it is, where he plants the phone bug and winds up gluing himself to a seat and you really believe that he actually did it.
Jess: I love that I live next door to two different churches and across the street from a school.
Paul: I love all the scenes in Broadcast News between Albert Brooks and Holly Hunter.
Jess: I love that I have nothing else to say I love.
Paul: Then I’m gonna do a couple more. I love when I watch Broadcast News and feel like I’m not the only who’s incredibly sad and disappointed by TV journalism and realize maybe it’s ok to laugh about it sometimes.
Well Jess I love you. I’m so glad you could come by and share your story with us. And I’m really excited for this next phase of your life. I got to meet your fiancé and he seems like a great guy. And lots of love.
Jess: Thank you and I really want to thank you for having the podcast for people because I think it’s a rarity and it’s a very good thing to do.
Paul: Thanks. It’s my pleasure.
Many thanks to my buddy Jess, what a sweetheart. What did I want to say? Before we take it out with an email and a survey or two, I wanted to remind you again of the URL for that survey to take to help potential sponsors to know the relationship that you and I have as lovers, as internet lovers, our torrid early Friday morning—I can’t even finish this riff. It’s half-assed right out of the gate. The URL to take that survey—you go to the mentalpod website and just click on Surveys and you’ll see it right at the top, but I’m also going to give you this incredibly long, complicated URL: themidroll.com/survey/mentalpod.
And I want to give a hug out to somebody who filled a survey out called Grubbs Grady. Just giving you a big hug, big, big hug. Thinking about you.
There are a couple of different ways to support this podcast if you so choose. You can support it by going to PayPal, I’m sorry, going to our website mentalpod.com and making a one-time PayPal donation, or my favorite: a recurring monthly donation. God bless you and thank you those of you who have signed up to be monthly donors, I really appreciate it. You can also support us by using our Amazon search portal. It’s there on the homepage, right hand side about halfway down. And that when you buy something on Amazon through that portal, Amazon gives us a couple nickels, doesn’t cost you anything. And you can support the show non-financially by going to iTunes and giving us a good rating, writing something nice about the show if you feel that that is the case. And you can also help us by spreading the word through social media. I really appreciate the people that have been stepping up and doing that. And you can also volunteer to transcribe episodes. We’ve been having some people step up lately. It takes about a full day to transcribe one of these because I like to run my mouth and say a lot of “right” and “uh huh” which has got to be so annoying for somebody transcribing that they have to change the name of the person just because I decide to go “uh”. Maybe they could edit it out. I don’t know. Maybe I’m beating myself up. Let’s get to an email. Let’s let somebody else beat themselves up.
This is an email that I got from a listener named Nissa. I think I’m saying her name correctly. She writes, “Hey, Paul, I had an interesting moment today and thought of you. I’ve been crushing on this guy, I think/fear that he does not feel the same way, in spite of the only physical stuff, making out between us, which was instigated by him. But I got panicky and was all like we should just be friends because I am a dork and little terrified of intimacy. Anyway, he is a performer, a comedian, and I was going to gig that he was at. I wrote him and told him that I would be attending. I then thought, and this is real in spite of the crazy that I’m about to unload, that he would cancel his headlining position in order to not see me. Yep, I am that powerful in my mind. Anyway, he did not. I saw him after the show and all was cool and friendly. And then I had a moment where I thought, ‘Wow. My negative thinking is just wrong.’ I know intellectually that that’s true. My therapist tells me so, ha ha. But it suddenly hit me at my emotional core how incorrect I can be in my narcissism. At the same event I met up with a girl whom I tried to start a friendship with but it had gone nowhere. She told me about how she wanted to text but was afraid it had been too long and she thought it was weird. I told her that was crazy and that I did the exact same thing with not writing her. We’re going out for coffee soon. I may still not know where I stand with the guy or with any of my friends as I constantly question how anyone could or does like me. But I had this epiphany and wanted to share. Everybody is so afraid of rejection. And maybe if you just put yourself out there it really will be worth it because at least you won’t be living through fear. Even though it’s scary I sort of just feel like fuck it, let’s just do it. Thank you so much for the podcast.” Well thank you so much Nissa for that awesome and poignant email. I heartily agree man. I lived for years from a place of fear and it is just so fucked, it is so fucked. Such bad information.
The next thing I want to read is from the Shame and Secrets survey filled out by a guy named Terry. He’s in his 40’s, he’s straight but loves beautiful transsexuals. Was raised in an environment that was totally chaotic, father raging, abusive alcoholic. “Deepest, darkest thoughts?” He writes—never been sexually abused. “Deepest, darkest thoughts?” “I am a male with a potent fetish for women in high heels or leather boots. The fantasy smell of the leather and foot together is a potent combination for me. Beautiful women only. I see them in stores, at work, walking, but know I can’t act on my passion. I am ashamed because I put emphasis on the shoes rather than on the person.”
“Deepest, darkest secrets?” “I am a divorced, 47-year-old male who has been visiting transsexual escorts for the last decade. I haven’t had straight intercourse or dated anyone since 2001. I am also completely addicted to my shoe fetish. Beautiful women in high heels. I masturbate to them on TV every morning during news and talk shows, sometimes for hours. On a bad day, I resort back to the old standby, Internet porn of all types. Since I was 13, I have masturbated to the TV high heeled women virtually every day of my life.”
“Sexual fantasies most powerful to you?” He writes, “Receiving oral sex from a beautiful woman while smelling the leather of her high heels.”
“Would you ever consider telling a partner or close friend?” He writes, “I’ve been single for 11 years. I’m now 47 but introduced shoe fetish to every wife and girlfriend. Not a good idea because I keep wanting it every time and they lost interest.”
“Do these secrets and thoughts generate any particular feelings towards yourself?” He writes, “That I am broken, unfixable. I am so afraid of the intimacy.”
“Do you have any comments or suggestions to make the podcast better?” “I would like to hear more about sexual fetishes. I believe they can provide a great clue about our problems.” Thank you for filling that out Terry and I’m sending some love your way, man. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re lovable, we all have skeletons in our closet, parts of ourselves that we struggle with. And I’d reach for type of help and see what is possible to change and if you want to change it. Because I think—I don’t know. I don’t know enough about fetish addictions to weigh in fully on that but yeah. That was a weird trail off. Are you enjoying this uncomfortable silence? It’s pretty nice. Would you care to check out a library book? All right. End of bit.
This is from the Happy Moments filled out by a woman who gives her full name. So I’m gonna read it. Shauna Simms. She is in her 20’s, and her happy moment—most of the moments that people fill out are sublime and kind of really subtle and those are my favorite ones. This one is a little bigger than that but I just loved it. It just, it captivated me. She writes, “The day I got to fly in the back seat of a T38, a trainer jet used in the air force capable of supersonic speeds. A small two-seater, from the underbelly the T38 somewhat resembles a shark darting across the sky. We flew out as a two-ship flight, and as we crossed the departure end of the runway, turned our noses straight up and climbed to 10,000 feet, the pilots then chased each other, intermittently getting close and drifting apart. We then broke off from each other and that is when things got intense. The pilot let me take control of jet and climb, dive, turn, barrel roll, pretty much whatever I wanted.” Holy fuck, that is amazing. “In that moment, I owned the sky. We pulled 5.3G’s. That means I felt what 5.3 times the weight of gravity felt like. And we went to .99 mach. To withstand that many G’s on your body and not pass out, you must tense your abs all the way down to your toes and breathe in a funny way called hooking. I was one with the jet. I had never been through any formal flight,” I added way too much emphasis for that. I don’t know what I thought was around the corner that I had to add fucking gravitas to that. “I have never been through any formal flight training but I have worked in aviation for a few years and was able to keep up with the air traffic control instructions, our altitude and air speed, as well as our pitch and bank. I was completely absorbed in what it took to keep flying that jet. It was a beautiful feeling. The most freedom I’ve ever experienced. I was riding such an adrenaline high that when I landed, in that moment I decided I would get my pilot’s license when the circumstances were right. I changed out of the flight suit, put on some makeup, and got the fuck out of Dodge. My destination was Tulsa and a concert with my favorite all-time band, Incubus. Seeing them was amazing. I sang along to all the songs, not knowing one person around me. Needless to say, you’d think I’d be so tired I would have gone back to my hotel room. No. I went to the bar, made some friends I’ll never remember, and just as I was about to leave, the DJ and his entourage show up at the bar. I shook his hand and said, ‘Your music has been the theme songs to my life. Thank you.’ He graciously nodded his head then embraced me for a picture. I don’t think that day could have worked out any better.” What a fucking amazing day. I’m a little jealous, actually. Actually now I’m feeling spiteful towards you. And I’m gonna see if I can make sure that you never get your pilot’s license and that you are never able to attend an Incubus concert. Nah, you know what? I’ll give you a pass. I’ll give you a pass.
Well, I think what are we at, like the 100-minute mark? I’m getting more comfortable with the shows being longer. Thank you for the feedback from those of you that not only don’t mind the longer shows but enjoy them. Thank you for all the feedback that you guys give me. It means a lot to me. And thank you for listening. And to anybody who’s out there struggling, your feelings will never kill you. But running from your feelings might. Everybody gets overwhelmed. Everybody feels like, “Oh, how the fuck can I go on? This is just…” Well, I don’t know about everybody, a lot of people. So just know that you’re not alone. You’re not alone at all. And thanks for listening.