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  • Renee LaVallee McKenna,MA

When Denial Looks Like Hope


14 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child, we did a major remodel of our house. We moved out, ripped off the roof, tore out the walls and added a second floor and an addition out back. It was like building a whole new house. We added 1300 square feet to make room for the kids, pets and new life we wanted to create.


Our son was born during this process and I went to visit the work site one day. It was raining pretty hard as I parked in front. My infant was strapped to the front of my body in a baby carrier and I ran from the car into the construction site that was my home, covering my baby with the flaps of my raincoat. The doors and windows were installed, so it was water tight, but there were no interior walls. All the studs were exposed and rooms were only outlined with these open 2x4 frames, like floor to ceiling fences I could have walked through sideways, if I didn’t have an infant attached to my chest.


I shook off my wet coat and hung it over a metal strut that would eventually be part of my hall wall. I was alone in the house. It was chilly. Baby was sucking his hand. I picked my way up the stairs to the main floor. We had added a room behind the ground floor garage with a deck on top that would eventually become my home office. Rain splashed against the new french doors that lead out to the roof deck that was above my office to be. I liked the glass doors a lot.


As I stood admiring my new dack, I heard a funny sound, like splashing. I followed the sound down the back stairs toward my new office space and was shocked to see water pouring down onto the cement slab between the studs of what would be my office wall. I was there alone. Yikes. The workmen were gone, really gone. They were officially done with their part of the job and didn’t intend to come back. The plan was that my husband would now work long hours installing the electrical, plumbing, heating and many of the finishes and cabinets.


Somehow a leak had been built into our new house. I called my husband freaking out and we arranged for the contractor to come out the following week. They went out onto the new deck above where the leak was and sprayed the house everywhere they could think of to try to make it leak. They flooded the deck - nothing. I think they all thought I was just crazy.


The sheetrock went up with paint and mouldings, inside doors and flooring. That day I saw the leak was the last rain of the season in San Francisco. We moved in that fall. I got pregnant with my second child. It didn’t rain much the next year. We hoped it had been a fluke.


Time passed. I saw clients part time in the back office past the hallway. Then we had a wet year. One morning we heard the dripping, plop, plop, plop on the pergo floor. It came out of the fire alarm. Crap. We put a bucket down. The storm passed. My husband taped around the door upstairs and sealed the edges of the deck with caulking. We hoped for the best. The next time it rained, no leak. So relieved. The following storm we heard the dreaded drip, drip, drip again.


Over the years we have tried many things, re roofing the deck, sealing everything twice, taping any gap, building awnings. There was a drought for three years that was a welcome relief. This year it poured. There is mold on my walls and ceiling. The leak has spread to my office bathroom and warped the door frame, ruined the medicine cabinet, the ceiling fell in. Sometimes the water gets under the paint on the wall and creates a balloon that bulges out. I squish it with a towel and it runs down the wall. I soak up the flow.


We still don’t know what the problem is, but 12 years later, we can no longer live with it. We need to rip the walls out, tear open the deck and take out the doors above to really look deeply into the now rotting wood to find out the source of the problem and repair it. It will cost a lot of money and take a lot of time and effort.


This leak is a metaphor for emotional healing. As a therapist, I see this process frequently. There is a problem, but it only shows up sometimes. When it rains, it pours and makes a big mess, but then there is a dry spell and we hope the issue has resolved itself. We try little things, make some changes that seem like they should work, but then a storm comes and the water pours in again. There is a drought and again we hope the problem fixed itself.


Our leak is improved, but it is still not resolved. Last fall we tore out the ceilings so that we can really see what’s happening. We have had many sessions with a hose finding places that the painters didn’t caulk the gaps in the siding. My husband wanted to put the ceilings back. I had a feeling. Our last big rain of the season, it leaked again. Still looking for the problem.


Sometimes we need to deconstruct our lives to build them back up in a healthy way. Sometimes there’s only minor repair needed. Sometimes, it’s a really big deal. It can take a long time and a lot of effort. You might think change has happened and then it leaks again - discouraging. But if we are committed, the solution will reveal itself. I have faith in that. In the mean time, I still have buckets in the closet for the next time it pours.

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3131 Rivera St.

San Francisco, CA