After finishing my teary-eyed reading to Robert of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, and seeing my own quirky parallels to the story, we finally arrived in Statesboro for my weekly therapist appointment. And I was ready to “BE FIXED!” As I am at every session. And come to think of it, as I am every new morning. Isn’t that what I’m paying for?! And living for?
I really love therapist Lori Gottlieb’s beautifully humorous and heartwarming examination of therapy in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.
Which, okay, I’ve read three times now, so my copy should be called You Should DEFINITELY Talk to Someone. In the book, Lori (first-name basis now) explains to me that … “One of the most important steps in therapy is helping people take responsibility for their current predicaments, because once they realize that they can and must construct their own lives, they are free to generate change.” She goes on, “A therapist will hold up a mirror to patients.”
Oh gosh, that sounds like far too much work. And the mirror is not one of my best friends.
It’s a bit of a challenge to drive to my therapist’s actual office, at least if you’re arriving from the main avenue out front. You see, he shares this beautiful, slightly crumbling but genteel old white house with several other therapists (Oh, if walls could talk!), and when you turn onto the paved driveway, a little narrow wooden garage appears straight ahead, or what you think is the garage. If this is your first time, you are a bit confused about the layout because the garage doesn’t seem to have a back wall. “Should I keep driving through? Surely you don’t park in a carport with no back wall and where the drive seems to continue.” You slowly inch forward, trying your best not to bring the entire old structure down by grazing the rickety walls. Your effort finds you, slightly exhausted, finally pulling into the mostly-dirt-with-a-little-gravel parking lot out back.
Whew! You haven’t even darkened the therapist’s door yet. You wonder if there’s a trick entrance there as well.
And then it hits you. At least it hit me: I just drove through wooden metaphorical therapy! [TIB (Truth in Blogging): it didnt hit me that first day, but weeks, maybe months later it did.]
Negotiating through therapy can be a confusing and hazardous drive.
You think you know where you’re headed, but then the lane narrows and you find yourself in unexpected, unsteady and unexplored spaces. “It’s too tight in here. Even breathing can be a struggle.” But effective therapy shows you doors you may not have noticed before, in unanticipated places … avenues through. Even if the ways aren’t paved, perhaps covered with dirt, challenging and uncomfortable to push through.
I can’t just keep referring to my therapist as “my therapist” ad nauseam. And I can’t just tell you his real name, because then you might try to go through the garage to see him and claim him as YOUR THERAPIST. And we patients (consumers? clients?) can get very possessive and territorial.
So let’s call him Rubinstein, Rubi for short.
Today, leaving Robert and “A Christmas Memory” in the car, I open the back screen door and walk through the porch into the practice’s common waiting area. I sit down, albuterol inhaler in hand, onto one of only two small, ancient, uncomfortable and rickety-squeak ladder-back chairs. (Don’t get me started on metaphors again.) Soon I hear Rubi walking down the steps from his second-floor suite to fetch me.
Metaphorically Climbing the stairs, I position myself onto the left side of the little couch (everything’s not quite right yet), arrange the oversized throw pillow into its weekly fit behind my back and sit into the session.
Rubi has this simple yet Superpower ability, without saying a word, to slow down and ground my rushed, shallow breathing by making eye contact and then deepening and lengthening his own breath. I follow. It works every time.
After therapist/patient chit chat, I ramble on about the drive, my reading of the Capote story, Robert’s response to the story, my tears and my dysfunctionally functional, alcohol-soaked family backstory. (HOW does he listen to people like me?) And of course I get moist eyes for the second time in an hour.
One of Rubi’s most practical and helpful pieces of advice is to “assign a number level to your anxiety when it comes, Neal. Attend to it.”
Most of the time, however, when anxiety raises its head, I forget ME and just see HIM/HER/IT. “I must fight this monster!” But Rubi is teaching me that anxiety is not the real enemy. It’s how I try to “manage or control” my anxiety.
I have such difficulty “owning” my anxiety as a part of my lived experience because I often get so caught up in the belief that anxiety truly is my great enemy, instead of perhaps an overprotective friend trying too hard to help.
“It’s all about noticing what you feel, instead of just feeling what you feel,” Rubi explains. “And it’s SO important what you tell yourself about what you feel.”
I usually tell myself that I’m weak, that I need to try harder, that other people don’t deal with these crazy issues. And, by all means, to put up a good front! Be “the best little boy in the world.”
So I’ve got some work to do, and obviously some tight garages to drive through, some ladder-back chairs to sit on and some stairs to climb.
My “homework” assignment from this session is to continue giving a numeric value to my anxiety. To attend to it. To see it. But casually, not too intensely, he emphasized. (I tend to overdo homework.)
Yesterday, I hit a chronological milestone. I turned 70. I should have worn this t-shirt …
I woke up to flowers from Robert.
Lots of flowers …
And cards from Robert, lots of cards (he has this tradition of giving more than just one card for special occasions, which at first I thought was a little over the top but now LOVE) …
And lots of new t-shirts from Robert (do you see a trend here?) …
A beautiful day. Greetings and best wishes from family and friends.
And a hand-me-down Apple Watch!
Finally, as I promised in my recent thrilling colonoscopy post, an update on the birthday steak dinner at Toni’s Steakhouse which the “doctor-helper nurse” suggested just before the “anesthesia nurse” put me to sleep.
We opted for the New York strip with broccoli and potato.
What a joy to have lived through the Sixties two times now!
A post from the past about … magic and family. Heads-up: our family text groups have gotten MUCH more complicated since this old post. We now have what I named “Just Family” (ex-wife Donna, daughters Amy and Emily, and me. Then there’s “New Family Plus” consisting of all the above plus the spouses.
To throw a bunch of wrenches into the textual road, there’s also now just “Neal and Donna,” “Neal and Emily,” “Neal and Amy,” and every other two- or three- or four-person family configuration you can come up with. I have gotten into trouble too many times to count by getting the text groups confused and texting something I shouldn’t have.
Magic Dream Spray
Do other folks out there do what my family does? All get iPhones and set up a little Family Group Messaging System? Well, my two daughters Amy and Emily, along with Donna (even though divorced now, we remain the best-est of friends) have done just that. And it’s such an incredibly efficient strategy for staying in touch, bothering each other constantly and having SO MUCH FUN!
The other night, daughter Amy (and mother of grandsons Daniel, 7 and Gabriel, 4) sent us this text:
I LOVE faith-stretching strategies such as that! My response:
A bit more of Amy’s explanation:
End of discussion until a couple of days later when we received this text from Amy as she, Orte and the boys were driving down to Florida for the weekend:
I admit that I’m often moaning on Monday morning, but this Monday morning I’m actually marveling.
Do you know about the concept of “marveling”? I didn’t until I discovered Methodist minister Fred Craddock and his book, Craddock Stories, in which he writes about his ancestors who would go out walking, often on Sunday afternoon, not to find anything in particular, but just to look for God‘s handiwork and beauty: a pretty flower, an interesting tree, a striking rock or a glorious cloud perhaps. anything that would produce a sense of wonder, appreciation or joy.
I LOVE that idea! It’s … marvelous.
Well, I went a-marveling last night (without exactly intending to) when I started pulling out Christmas decorations. I came across in the back of an old wardrobe, sort of Neal-in-Wonderland-ishly, these …
What do you mean you don’t know what you’re looking at?! They’re candle holders. Well they are now. They used to be the bases of two old wooden lamps that sat on the end tables on either side of the couch in my parents’ little house.
You can barely see them in this old pic …
After my folks passed away a few years back, and I was going through all their things, deciding what to keep and what to throw away, I nearly tossed the old lamps. They had seen their better days.
But something made me pause, take the lampshades off, remove the wiring and toss the wooden bases into my back seat. And eventually into the back of my old wardrobe.
Now (voila!) they are born again as 2021 Christmas decor.
What light, joy and marvel my parents brought into my life and the world.
I invite you to go marveling! And please tell me what you find.