Tag Archives: Abba

“Oh, stop crying already.” It’s twenty years ago, but I remember the exact tone of my father’s voice, equal parts impatience and disgust. To me, crying is something that happens, not something I can decide to do or not do, so his command makes me burn with all the anger of which a nine-year-old is capable, which is a frightening amount. But there’s nobody I can tell about any of this.

It’s eighteen years ago. I am auditioning for a play that our church group is putting on. The woman in charge has me read a line or two in front of everyone. I’m profoundly self-conscious, but I do it anyway. She takes me aside later and asks if I’m okay. Even though she’s someone I know and like and trust, I can’t say something as simple as That was really hard for me, because as soon as I open my mouth, I feel the danger of tears — not just a trickle but an explosion. So I say, Yeah, it’s nothing.

When she goes away, I wonder for the first time: why is it that whenever I try to tell someone what’s wrong, the tears dam up in my head until it’s a choice between silence and total breakdown — even when it’s something small? What’s wrong with me?

It’s thirteen years ago, my first year of college. I’m standing alone in my dorm room and facing for the hundredth time the feeling of separateness: I don’t fit in here, don’t fit in anywhere, and it’s somehow all my fault. By now I should have learned the rules, but it’s too late to start.

I start to cry, and then, disgusted and impatient, I yell at myself: Stop it. Stop crying. I slap myself in the face two or three times, because sometimes that helps me stop. Soon I stop.

It’s nine years ago, my last year of college. I’m in Sal’s room, confessing to him how alone I am, how separate, what a fake and a poser and a general failure at being anything that anyone would recognize as a human being.

I hate the way my voice is starting to shake, I hate that the tears are coming. I must sound so pathetic. I can’t stand for him to watch me anymore, so I get up and run out. I catch a glimpse of his face, but I can’t look for too long. Nobody should see this.

It’s five years ago. I’ve gotten together the necessary money and resolve, and I find myself at a campground in rural Virginia, participating in the 27th Journey Into Manhood weekend — still in disbelief that I’ve subjected myself to such manifest kookery, still wildly expectant, still wondering how I’m going to explain this one to my friends.

I watch other men scream and howl, weep and claw at the ground, come face to face with the things they never let themselves feel before. When it’s my turn, I do it too.

The weekend is over, and I feel as empty and fresh as a new wineskin. For the next few weeks I keep bursting into tears at unpredictable moments. I don’t mind. It feels good to cry; it feels clean.

It’s nine months ago. I am on the porch, spilling my guts to my roommate S.: how living here with him and C. was supposed to was supposed to be my chance to finally be normal, and how it all went wrong instead. How I’ve got to move out because I can’t control my fears, my feelings of exclusion, my jealousy. I apologize for my tears, which are flowing freely now.

He looks at me and says, Hey, come on. It’s me.

So I blow my nose and we keep talking. Soon I’m feeling at peace, like the reservoir is drained, no more pressure left behind the dam. He gives me a hug and, because by this time it’s past two, I let the poor bastard get some sleep.

It’s three days ago. I am sitting around the kitchen table with two good friends. We’re drinking cheap beer and leftover wine. We all have to get up in the morning, but nobody feels like leaving.

It’s hard to believe how easy it is to talk with them, how much we have in common, even if the specifics differ. I tell them how it used to be for me; how it still is for so many men I know; how I would have once given anything for a night like this; how grateful I still am that such nights are not only possible now, but practically commonplace.

At one point I notice that I’m crying, but that’s okay — that is what people do when they are very happy or very sad.

Next moment we are all laughing again.

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.