My friend B. is a body psychotherapist. She’s explained what this means more than once, but I never quite get a handle on it.1 I gather that, where traditional psychotherapy is focused on talking, body psychotherapy treats us as the soul-body composite we are.

One of the tenets of the discipline is that past trauma can manifest itself, not only in our thought patterns, but in our patterns of movement. So the therapist is trained to tune in on the body language of the client, to sense when his movements reveal something his conscious mind would rather avoid, or when his body is somehow trapped in a pattern it learned from some disaster.

As with most things B. has introduced me to — stevia, glossolalia, aikido — it sounded kooky at first. Due in part to my my father’s inveterate intolerance for any and all forms of bullsh★t, I’ve spent most of my life with my kook-o-meter turned up to eleven. It’s been a tricky business, learning to turn the thing down notch by notch: learning to keep an open mind, as the saying goes, but not so open that my brains falls out.

I owe so much of my kookiness to you, B., and I’m forever grateful.

Like traditional psychotherapy, it seems to me that body psychotherapy is something that anybody could do, but that some people have a natural gift for; a gift which can of course be sharpened by training. We’ve all had (or been) the friend who is always on the receiving end of intense personal revelations, from friends and coworkers and even from strangers on airplanes. That friend is a kind of therapist, or maybe every therapist is a particular kind of friend.

B. is gifted. Her native sensitivity makes it impossible for her to ignore the energy, good and bad, that radiates from people. If I’m in a horrible mood and my roommate C. walks into the room, he’ll be completely oblivious (God bless him). But for B., walking in the door will be like stepping off a lead-lined Chernobyl tour bus. Her Geiger counter is finely tuned, and the gain is all the way up.

I was explaining all this to my dad once (sorry, Abba,2 it may have been a sort of passive-aggressive act of rebellion; I’ve noticed that I seem to enjoy doing things in front of you that I imagine flout the Gershom code) and concluded by saying something like “It seems like a good idea to me. I bet it helps people.” He replied: “Yeah; I think pretty much anything does.”

My father is always lamenting his inability to hand out fatherly words of wisdom. It’s true that when he tries to come up with sage advice, it usually amounts to the Gershom family motto: It could always be worse. But he doesn’t realize how often, when he isn’t trying at all, a phrase of his will stick in my mind, slowly dissolving over the next five or ten years.

It’s fun to talk about our chronic problems as if they were monsters, or maybe dragons: it lends an air of heroism to things that, for anybody on the outside, would seem achingly mundane. It’s also comforting, because a dragon might be big and scary, but one well-placed sword-thrust and the thing is conquered for good.

Solving real problems, or anyway the big ones, is rarely like that. It’s less like killing a dragon and more like kneading3 a huge, heavy lump of dough. You can stop and ask yourself whether you should be using a rolling pin4 or just your hands, or whether you should be wearing gloves, or whether it’s got enough flour, or whether maybe you should buy a special as-seen-on-TV kneading implement. Those are okay questions, but kneading is by its nature a slow process: there’s no such thing as flash-kneading. And the lump is huge, huge.

The best thing is to try one approach until it stops working, and then try another. One approach might work better than another, but nearly anything helps. And nearly everything teaches you something worth knowing.

That pretty much sums up how I feel about reparative therapy, and why I don’t put too much stock in it, at least no more stock than I put in any single solution to any complex problem. I’ll probably always be attracted to men, but — O listen well, 18-year-old self — I’m no longer frantic, no longer miserable, no longer desperate.

When people ask me how I got from there to here, I want to tell them: Everything. Family, friends, meds, therapy; praying to God, cursing Him, threatening Him and making up with Him and just sitting still; writing, reading, laughing, crying, living. It all helps. Life helps, reality helps.

The one sure way to stay miserable is to do nothing at all.

1 Won’t stop me from talking about it, though. Heck no! So please take all this with a grain of salt.
2 Gershoms are Jewish by descent, if not by creed. We say grace in Hebrew, celbrate Passover and Chanukah, and call my parents Ima and Abba. It’s always made certain Scripture passages particularly poignant for me. I sort of enjoy the band, too, but it’s not pronounced the same way.
3 Or, come to think of it, leavening.
4 Do people even use rolling pins for kneading or is that for something else? I don’t know anything about body psychotherapy OR baking.

17 thoughts on “Nearly Anything

  1. Melissa

    No, you don’t use rolling pins for kneading, but the point holds anyway ;)

    I used the dragon metaphor for a long time for the Big Problem in my life. It was extremely helpful when I didn’t know what was really going on. I’ve found that it has ceased to be helpful, though, and I think I’ll pick up the bread dough analogy now that I know it’s not going to be a one-time, take-out-the-sword-and-lop-off-its-head type battle, but a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute kneading of the dough.

    Thank you for blogging.

    Reply
  2. SCAATY

    “The best thing is to try one approach until it stops working, and then try another. One approach might work better than another, but nearly anything helps. And nearly everything teaches you something worth knowing.”

    I really, really like that…it’s not only true, it’s profoundly true, and good general-purpose wisdom for living. It’s also a pretty good paraphrase from the book of Ecclesiastes, and Solomon knew his stuff. :J

    Reply
  3. Joe K.

    Hey Steve,

    Can I ask a somewhat personal question? If you don’t want to answer, fully understandable. But how did your father respond to your telling him that you about your SSA? I can’t remember if you’ve mentioned anything related to that on here. He sounds…somewhat like my father, so I’m curious.

    Also, I too kind of like Abba, for what that’s worth.

    Reply
  4. Cletus

    Excellent post Steve.

    I particularly like the dough analogy and the trying one approach until it doesn’t work anymore, then trying another. You are spot on that each approach has a lesson to teach us. What I am learning (and struggle with!) is patience. Patience is critical to allowing each approach the time it needs to develop and produce it’s fruit, or lack of fruit. I like answers and solutions right away(!) and I have to constantly remind myself that the answers will come when I am ready to receive them. I also have to tell myself to stop obsessing over whether I’m “doing it right”. That’s what I took from you dough kneading analogy. Do I have the right tools, should I read more, call people more, pray more, go to church more, etc, etc.

    I’m also glad that you don’t put an inordinate amount of stock into reparative therapy. I personally don’t put any stock into it, though I recognize that some folks may find it helpful. Trying to “repair” my SSA would by like trying to convince myself that I don’t like peanut butter and (strawberry) jelly sandwiches. It just is and no amount of counseling will convince me otherwise.

    I’m working on seeing my SSA as a gift, a fuel source, for powering works of faith in my life and perfecting my love for God. I’m pretty sure your blog planted that seed in my head somewhere along the way. Thank you for that.

    Cheers

    Reply
  5. El

    What your friend practices sounds a lot like Alexander Technique, which has helped me both with my anxiety disorder and with a muscle problem I have. Every little bit helps! Keep kneading. :-)

    Reply
  6. Steve's (other) sister

    Ha, the lovely Kitchenaid mixer you got me for Christmas (which I use all the time, by the way!) kneads dough for me. I just dump in the ingredients and turn it on. Too bad there isn’t a spiritual equivalent!

    Reply
  7. Victor

    OF COURSE I heard it – repeatedly! And I agree, it IS an amazing song. But then, the two of us are supposed to like it, aren’t we? ;)

    Reply
  8. Mark from PA

    I think “Dancing Queen” is my favorite Abba song. I still get confused with people talking about SSA. Before I was on the computer I never heard or saw this expression. Where I live this expression is not used. I don’t care for it that much as to me it seems to reduce people to sexual attractions. In truth I think that most people are naturally attracted to people of both sexes at different levels.

    Reply
  9. Sky

    ‘Happy kneading’. I think I’m going to start signing my emails this way.

    And Steve?

    …steve…

    STEVE. A book, man. A BOOK. This needs to happen, pleeeeeaaase.

    Reply
  10. Heloise

    Benedictus es, Steve! I love your blog–as a nearing thirty woman who has chronically struggled with loneliness and impurity, sometimes reading your posts is uncanny. It’s not easy to be chaste, in our culture particularly it seems.

    Physical focus has really helped me. I took up long distance running last year and aside from losing sixty plus pounds the stress relief and greater awareness of my body have aided me so much in recognizing occasions to sin. It also gives me lots of time to say the rosary…

    I cannot thank you enough for sharing your journey; it is good to know intellectually, emotionally we are not in this alone, which truly we can never be. Deo gratias.

    Reply

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