I’ll Be Home for Christmas

(or Caterpillars & Cucumbers, Confusion & Clarity)

I’ve got the idea of home on the brain again.  It’s probably not surprising, given the time of year.  Well-meaning friends and neighbors casually ask “are you going home for the holidays?” to which I can only reply “no, we are staying right here.”  But it is actually fitting because, for all intents and purposes, this is home now.  It’s the place I’ve lived the longest.  It’s the only home my boys have ever known.  Yet this idea of “home” seems to elude me, and gnaw at me, a kind of still unresolved story line.

My wife and I often play the “where should we move to” game?  I actually get unnerved when we do this because we just seem to talk in circles, feeling more unsettled each time we take up the discussion.  “If you don’t like where you are, just picture where you want to be” extols August “Auggie” Pullman in the movie version of Wonder.  It sounds easy enough, but this particular vision seems impossible to see.  Earlier this year we flirted with packing it all up and moving somewhere else, a kind of “anywhere but here” mission.  But in the end, the stars just didn’t align.  Job offers never materialized.  Negotiations stalled.  Dreams and desires and hopes collided.  It was as if the universe was clearly sending us a message.  We are meant to stay put, right here.  For now at least.

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Cancellation

(or Is It Time to Quit Therapy?)

I did something over the holidays that would have been unthinkable this time a year ago.  I cancelled a therapy appointment simply because I had something better to do with my time.  I chose to spend a day in the city with my wife, taking in an art exhibit followed by lunch and uninterrupted conversation with each other.  If I had kept my appointment, we would not have been able to do both, or we would have done both but would have been rushed and it would not have been as enjoyable or pleasant.  So I cancelled and didn’t feel the least bit of regret or remorse or concern.  I was forthright in my decision and never questioned it or second-guessed it.  It was actually a really easy decision to make.

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Stitching

(or How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?)

Whenever I need to engage in some emotional self-flagellation, I know exactly where to go.  The ex-therapist still maintains a very active Twitter feed, and if I am stupid enough to look, I am bound to find something there that upsets me and makes me feel bad about myself.  I had stopped lurking altogether, for a time, but as the seasons started to shift and the cooler weather finally arrived, my psyche felt pulled back, still trying to reconcile the events of the past year.  A year ago she first told me she was sick.  In a few more weeks, it will be a year since our last session.  And in a few more weeks after that, it will be a year since she dumped me.  I can still feel it all deep in my bones: the fear, the disruption, the panic.

The ex-therapist has tweeted ad nauseam about how clients have “agency” and don’t have to read or follow any of her postings online.  I find this defense to be ignorant at best, and grandiosely self-justifying in reality.  She probably knows that she should be more careful with her tweets and words, knowing that there are clients and ex-clients out there, but she just can’t help herself.  So she constructs this elaborate justification for her actions, to make it all seem reasonable and okay.  The problem with this outlook is that the relationship between therapist and client can be intimate and intense in a way that is unlike any other relationship.  It’s also imbalanced, with the therapist usually knowing more about the client than vice versa.  So it is only natural that the client will seek out any information available to try to make sense of the person on the other side of the couch.  And the ex-therapist made that information so tantalizingly available, like leading a kid into a candy store.  It is irrational to then expect the kid to not indulge in the candy laid out before them.

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Manifesto

(or Shout It From the Rooftops!)

I’ve been re-reading old writings and notes and emails, trying to retrace my path of the past few years.  I’m looking for patterns, for what has changed and what hasn’t.  I’m trying to see where I’ve moved forwards or backwards, where I’ve gone in concentric circles, where I’ve stayed in place or just gotten stuck.

In seeing a new temporary-therapist, I’ve had to recover familiar ground and revisit old injuries.  I’ve had to adjust my schedule, contort to fit into a new space, negotiate a fee.  And I’ve had to contend with a whole host of new feelings – ones of loss and rejection and minimization – that caught me off guard.

I’ve had to let this other person into a space that used to only be occupied by me and my therapist.  I’ve had to tell her about our relationship and things that worked well and things that didn’t.  I had to rehash the Impasse, which has always felt like a dark cloud that continued to lurk over me, occasionally unleashing a torrent of anger and rage when I least suspected it.

One of the ways we found our way out of that impasse (although we still sometimes go back in) was by writing a Manifesto.

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Impasse: A Tale in 3 Acts

(or When an Unstoppable Force Meets an Immovable Object)

Prologue: At the heart of every good therapeutic alliance there is an impasse – some insurmountable challenge that must be negotiated between client and therapist before the real work begins.  I know, from my own experience, that being in the depths of an impasse is intolerable.  It takes all the courage and energy you can summon to engage in the battle, to fight the good fight.  I share these stories because it helped me to know how others in my own therapeutic lineage tackled these ruptures, and because I hope my own impasse story gives others hope that there is a way through.  It’s messy and terrifying and may never be fully resolved, but it doesn’t have to spell the end.  It is, in fact, often just the beginning.

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Real

(or Questioning Everything I Once Held to Be True About the Therapeutic Alliance)

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out-handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.

~ Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

There have been several occasions when I have had to remind my therapist that therapy isn’t real.  She always takes offense at my insistence that therapy is actually an alternate, concocted, manufactured universe that doesn’t even come close to approximating reality.  If all the people in my life were as compassionate and empathic and understanding and able to listen and willing to negotiate and able to engage in conflict and open to change, not to mention be completely focused on me, as my therapist is, then I wouldn’t have a need for therapy!

I know that therapy is meant to be a petri-dish, where you get to test and experiment and fail in safety with a dedicated guide and cheerleader right there by your side.  It’s a chance for a dress-rehearsal, to try things out before you have to do something out there, in the real world.  But it is an artificial construct, with carefully appointed boundaries and roles and responsibilities.  The real world doesn’t work in the same way.  I wish it did, but sadly, it doesn’t.

I also know that what my therapist is really reacting to is my suggestion that the relationship between us isn’t real.  She will counter that the relationship we have is indeed very real, and intimate and loving and supportive and everything you’d hope to find in another person you can relate to.

Sometimes in the past I had allowed myself to believe this, to be pulled into the notion that what we had between us was more than a business transaction.

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Out of Control

(or More Tantrums Required?)

Our 4 year old is currently in a battle for control, or lack thereof really.  He will launch into these emotional tantrums and irrational tirades, seemingly over nothing at all.  Or perhaps they are over everything.

Which is how we found ourselves at the beach at few months ago, on a mid-September day, with our son in his pajamas.  When he has these fits, if we can even figure out what he is upset about, we do our best to concede some point or decision to him.  The director of a local preschool advised parents not to fight their children on what they wear to school.  She even suggested that if they want to show up naked, that was perfectly fine – and that after that one time, they wouldn’t try that antic again.  I’m not sure I support the peer shaming of preschoolers to get them to conform to societal norms, so I’m okay with most things as long as there is no inherent danger present, physical or emotional.  Pajamas on the beach seemed to pass that test.

Since it was mid-September, we were just planning on sitting on the beach.  It was a clear, sunny day, but not the beach weather of the height of the summer.  We had left behind our beach umbrella, our sand toys, even our swimsuits.  But sure enough, our son in his pajamas wanted to go into the water.  I said we could go dip our toes in the water, certain that it would be too cold for much else.

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