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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Holiday Wish

(or Guilt in a Box)

A few weeks ago a colleague asked me “How was your Thanksgiving?”  I replied by letting out an audible groan, to which he laughed and replied “You are the first person to respond that way.”  And in that moment I realized that not everyone sees the holidays as a detonated minefield ready to explode.

For me, the holidays highlight loss.  I become acutely aware of what I’ve had to sever in order to stay true to myself.  I have a heightened sensitivity to people who are no longer in my life – either by death or estrangement.  I look wistfully at friends and neighbors, who seem surrounded by family and who never have to contemplate the question of where or how to spend the holidays.  Of course they will be with family, of course everyone will get together to celebrate.  I live in hope that we will find a “chosen” family of our own, but it never seems like there is anyone around us who is also family-less.

And yet, I find myself trapped in the traditions of my childhood, unable to completely let go and forge a new set of traditions for my family.  The past is hard enough to shake free from, under normal circumstances.

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Left Behind

(with Unfinished Business)

It’s been 15 days (and counting) since I last saw my therapist.  The last time I saw her I was still functioning under the illusion that she and her doctors were working, slowly, methodically, through a long diagnostic process.  Initial signs, along with a family history, pointed to MS, but in order to diagnose, they had to work down the MS rule out list.  There was a long list of possibilities to test for and that would take time to get through.  I did not sense any urgency.  It seemed sensible to remain calm and carry on with these rule-out tests.  Cancer was in the mix, and mentioned, along with the caveat that it seemed unlikely.  At one point, less than a month ago, there was even talk of just needing back surgery, with a mere 10 days to recuperate.

So I wasn’t worried.  And I wasn’t prepared when the very next day, the cancer diagnosis was made.  I had no time to prepare.  I didn’t know we’d be heading into a long, traumatic break.  When she took a 3-week break last spring, we had time to prepare and plan and find ways to explicitly stay connected.  This time, the bottom just fell out.

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Fill It Up Again

(or You Can’t Always Get What You Want Need)

One of the ideas rattling around in my head before the election madness took over had to do with routines and the impact of disruption to these orienting, centering, reliable constructs that make up most of our lives.  As a parent, I know I bemoan any disruption in my children’s routine, be it a snow day, a holiday break, summer vacation, even the weekend.  We all know that children usually thrive on routine, when they are fully aware of plans and timings and expectations and what comes next.

I suspect many adults also function better on routines, but for some reason we aren’t allowed to openly admit that.  As adults we are somehow expected to better withstand the changes in routine, to be able to adjust the sails and keep the boat from capsizing.  Even if it’s a tricky maneuver, we must try to make it look easy and effortless, even in the face of gale-force winds.

I’m likewise certain that the recent election results are unsettling to so many precisely because we are entering unchartered waters, and have no idea of where we are going, or how we will get there or what the ultimate outcome will be.  The routine of life as we know it has been completely disrupted and we may never settle into a new, predictable routine again.  Responding to rapid changes may become the new norm.

For me, the theme of therapy this year has been disruption in routine.  It started back in April when my therapist took a much-needed sabbatical abroad.  I didn’t begrudge her (too much) this time away, but I did anxiously count down the 25 days she was gone.  Then we ran into a 21 day stretch at the end of June when I was away and another 20 day stretch at the end of the summer when our vacations misaligned.

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The Missing Piece

(or Simple Questions, Complicated Answers)

People can ask the darnedest questions.  I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been asked “Are you going to have a third?” or “Do you want to try for a daughter?”  Usually this comes in the form of idle small-talk and meaningless banter.  I have to hope that the questioners are just naive, and that they haven’t given much thought to the myriad of ways one could answer these seemingly innocent questions.

No matter how often it happens, it always takes my breath away, even for just a minute.  My heart wrenches, a sadness overwhelms me.  I might pause for a minute to think about how to respond – or how I would like to respond.  I usually defer to simple answers: “oh, I think we’re done” or maybe even “you never know.”

Truth is we already have a third child, a daughter.  She was our first and had to leave this human realm before we even had a chance to hold her.  She wouldn’t have survived here on earth, but I have to think she is somewhere, without pain, in the great beyond.

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Free Fall

(or A Day to Forget)

I wrote this out last year, long before I started even thinking about a blog.  It was too much for Facebook, and seems more appropriate to post here anyways, this marking the 15th anniversary of that horrible day.

Last night (9/11/2014) as we looked over the river to the beams of light, what I noticed most was the sound of the airplanes.  Lots of airplanes.

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And it made me remember the silence of the city that September night.  It was eerily silent and still, except of course for the steady stream of the sound of sirens.  But even those seemed to fade into the background, leaving the world all too quiet.

I remember the smell.  It’s a smell I would much rather forget, but don’t think I ever will.   It was an unavoidable smell that hung over the city for months – a combination of burning jet fuel and melting iron, dust and ash, flesh and death.

I really dislike the mantra “never forget.”  Many need to forget, in order to be able to move on, to be able to keep on living.

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Home Base

(or The Art of Saying Thank You)

Being a parent is hard.  It is so much harder than I realized before becoming a mom.  And I’m not just talking about the disrupted sleep and poopy diapers and projectile vomit and being on-call 24/7.

The first three months are particularly brutal because you don’t get anything back.  You have this beautiful, precious creature who is completely dependent on your for everything, every day.  And then suddenly, one day, after months of feeding, changing, bathing, comforting, loving, you get a smile – a sign that the baby sees you.  Maybe he doesn’t appreciate you (do they ever?) but he sees you and gives you a smile or a coo or even a laugh.  And usually that’s enough to keep you going.  With that little acknowledgement, your energy reserves are topped up and you can keep going.

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