Archive for the ‘Therapy Couch’ Category

Figuring stuff out

April 20, 2011

So I’ve been going to some meetings, and it’s helped me figure some stuff out.

First of all, one of the things that’s…

I was about to say “One of the things that’s causing my anxiety lately…” but that’s not quite right. I’ve been watching my words, because our words shape us as we shape them. For instance, if I say that someone pushed my buttons, it’s not accurate. That person didn’t push my buttons. I’m not a victim. I reacted to something I saw in them. That clichéd old directive to start my sentences with ‘I’ has more validity than I’d like. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to redirect myself so that I remain aware that my feelings are my responsibility.

So. Start the sentence with “I”. I’ve been eating a lot lately, and I think much of it stems from anxiety.

Over the last few years I’ve learned things about myself. And it seems that, in almost every instance when I’ve acted to change a dysfunctional behavior to make myself a better person, I’ve met with resistance. I’ve lost one of my oldest friendships. And I’ve come to see the rigid structure that accreted around my old behavior patterns, like ice crystals around a stationary framework. I never noticed that rigid coating before because I wasn’t moving. But for the last year I’ve been flexing, moving my limbs in new ways, and the framework has groaned and cracked and shrieked. I’m terrified of losing more friendships if I so much as take a step.

That terror isn’t new, nor does it feel particularly important to talk about. I know it’s there. It’s not something I can think away. It’s something that only time and work and compassion and experience will ameliorate. I need to forgive myself for the past and just keep doing the work.

The new realization feels more important to talk about. It came to me as I mulled over what happened at a meeting yesterday.

One person made a comment about how self-loathing is a form of arrogance. I was surprised, because that’s been a pet assertion of mine for the last few years. I’ve turned it around in my head, and it feels true, but I’ve never been able to satisfactorily articulate why. So my ears perked up when I heard someone else say it.

A few minutes later, another person spoke of a trauma they’d suffered years ago. And I felt myself reacting with self-abnegating horror. If I had to verbalize the feeling that coursed through me, it would be to say “What am I even doing here, talking about my little drama? Compared to what this person has been through, my problems are nothing!”

I’m thankful that I’ve at least accumulated enough wisdom to see that impulse and resist it. Just because this person has suffered more than I, doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be there. In my mind, I managed to stand against the wave of self-abnegation, because I knew that it was just arrogance in another form. I’m not special. And that means I don’t get to single myself out for self-loathing.

Then, this morning, I finally saw the obvious and quantifiable similarity between self-loathing and arrogance. You know that feeling I had? The one that made me want to hang my head and deny myself the right to be there, talking about my problems, in the same room with this person who’d suffered so much? What it amounted to was the assertion that I don’t deserve help. And that’s the parallel: When I’m arrogant, I don’t think I need help. When I’m self-loathing, I don’t think I deserve help. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which path I chose, because I didn’t get help.

I’m trying the third path.

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The Asylum

November 20, 2010

I started writing the following back in September, but wasn’t satisfied with it. I finished it just now because the new display of Winter Oreo cookies at Stop & Shop reminded me that I’m still in the asylum.

A small selection of the bakery goods at Stop & Shop

A small selection of the bakery goods at Stop & Shop


“When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”

–Mark Twain

Here’s a small portion of the bakery goods available at Stop & Shop. I look at this and I think “My god, we’re insane.” Any species that would make such a surfeit of something so bad for itself so readily available has lost its grip.

A few months ago I was comfortably ensconced within the asylum: I would have bought one of those ring cakes just because it looked so good. It still looks as good, but now I have the clarity and strength to walk away.

About five years ago I’d gotten into the best shape of my life and was feeling sure of myself; I would have told you that I was never going to get out of shape again — that I was out of the asylum for good. Since then I’ve gone through several cycles of falling from grace, clawing partway back up to where I was, and then falling again. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that old self-certainty again. I don’t know if I should.

I’m still in the asylum, but at least I know it. These days I spend most of my time walking around the grounds, enjoying the fresh air. Occasionally I stumble and find myself back inside (as when I spent a few weeks in late October eating everything in sight) but I’ve gotten better at making my way to the exits.

I live in fear of losing myself among the inmates again someday — for a month, for a year, for the rest of my life. The feeling is like a heavy, oily cloud hanging at the edge of my consciousness. Whenever I catch a glimpse of it, my heart sinks.

I wrote the previous paragraph and then struggled to articulate how, along with the fear, I feel a surge of hopefulness. And now I see clearly that the hope is not separable from the fear. My feelings are like a piece of repoussé: the fear hammers its shapes into the reverse side of the metal, and on the front side the contours of hope emerge. The fear defines the hope. Without seeing in my mind’s eye what I don’t want to be, I’m not fully understanding what I do want to be.

My fear of reentering the asylum may be the best tool I have for staying out.