Tag Archives: therapy

I’ve been reading Gabriel Blanchard’s stuff over at Mudblood Catholic, a site of which I’m newly and extremely fond. I don’t agree (I don’t think) with Gabriel on all points, but I love his clarity of thought, his humor, and his honesty.

Given the whole Exodus thing, orientation change has been the obsession du jour in the Gershom headspace. It’s a subject I don’t relish but can’t not think about, although thanks to some mixture of maturity and meds, it’s something I can stop thinking about when I feel done with it.

My position on the whole thing is something like this:

  • Gay people (and everybody else) can and should seek competent help in looking closely at the things that are causing them pain.
  • They should do this not in response to some kind of moral imperative, but just because suffering, although it can be offered up, is itself an evil.
  • Yes, suffering is an evil and should be avoided if reasonably possible. I can’t believe this is controversial. Even Jesus didn’t want to be crucified.
  • I do think it’s possible that, as a kind of side effect of emotional healing, some people with SSA sometimes see a diminution of same-sex attraction and an increase of opposite-sex attraction.
  • But! Making this kind of shift the whole point of therapy, or of addressing one’s issues in general, is stupid and dangerous and, on the part of those offering the therapy, incredibly irresponsible.

Whether we’re able to relate to other human beings in healthy ways matters a zillion times more than whether we fancy a roll in the hay with them. If you’re focusing too much on the second thing, you’re not going to get the first.

In other words, Seek ye first His healing and His sanity, and heterosexuality will be added unto you as well — or actually, it almost definitely won’t, but by the time you’ve achieved some measure of sanity, you’ll begin to discover that heterosexuality matters very much less than you had supposed.

So yes, as you were, I’m going to take a few breaths and keep drinking my coffee. Why the !@#$ did I quit smoking again?

On my 17th visit to my therapist, marking nearly a year with her, she asks me, What do you think has changed?

I could truthfully answer:

No longer frantic and empty
Like a cat
Tied to a stick
That’s driven into
Frozen winter sh★t1

But I don’t listen to Radiohead very often anymore, and that’s part of the point. The question doesn’t really have to do with the ways in which I feel differently, but with what I’ve been doing differently. So I answer that I live my life now as if living my life were a skill, something that has to be learned and practiced consciously.

Because it is. It would be absurd to imagine that playing the piano, or doing Kung Fu, or coding in PHP, was supposed to be automatic. It would be ridiculous to tell yourself that, because you weren’t born knowing differential calculus, there must be something wrong with you.

But that’s exactly what I’m sometimes tempted to tell myself about living life and being happy, even though living life — a balancing act between action and passivity, relationship and independence, grieving and celebrating, surviving and enjoying, all requiring billions of on-the-fly adjustments and split-second decisions and, probably most importantly, failure after failure — is exponentially more complicated than any of those other things.

It’s true that some people do seem to have a natural talent for living, the way some people have a natural talent for dancing: while we’re mouthing a frantic onetwothreeonetwothree and focusing on not stepping on our partner’s feet, they’re the ones grooving along like they were on living rails, whirling off into arabesques and syncopations without seeming to think about anything at all.

Maybe it’s because they worked very, very hard for very, very long. Or maybe it’s because they were born with rhythm. Or maybe they grew up listening to Bach and Strauss and Glenn Miller and the Beach Boys, so it all seeped into their blood. Or maybe they are on some damn good rhythm-enhancing drugs.

But I can’t know those things. All I can know is what I do and how well it works, or doesn’t, for me. So I make a point of things like:

  • Planning out my Sunday morning so I don’t get to Sunday night without talking to at least one or two people that I love
  • Switching the radio if I’m feeling raw and something too melancholy comes on
  • Calling a friend before I start feeling abandoned and lonesome
  • Working out on a regular schedule, whether I want to or not

And so on. I do this stuff because I’ve found out that nothing else does the trick, and with the knowledge that I have friends who can spend seven hours by themselves watching The X-Files, fall asleep on the courch eating fried pork rinds, sleep for ten hours, and wake up not feeling substantially worse about themselves; whereas if I did those things, it’d take a week of recovery before I could stop feeling like crying.

That’s just how it is. I dunno if it’ll always be that way, and I’m certain that it’s better than it used to be. Some of these things do become second nature. You build momentum and it carries you; when you’re moving along at a good clip, you keep doing what you’re doing; when you come to a screeching halt, you look at how you got there, and you start methodically doing the opposite.

1 It’s from Fitter, Happier, off OK Computer, which yeah, is the best album of its decade, but definitely isn’t suitable for one’s daily bread.

1: My boss is annoyed with me because I just put in a request to go part-time, so I can spend a full day every work week doing Gershom-type things. It’s okay that he’s annoyed: I know he’d rather I invested more and more of myself in helping him keep the place running smoothly. But I’m okay with not pleasing him. Writing is my first love and maybe my first duty besides, and coding is just how I pay the bills. I’m elated: writing makes me feel alive, when I can get around to it, and I’m looking forward to no longer having to squeeze it into the corners of my life.

2: Turns out you can just call up the doctor and ask him over the phone to up your dosage of antidepressants, and nobody bats an eye. Whee-oo! I loved the way fluoxetine made me feel when I first started taking it. The effects dried up after 6 months, but it was 6 months of feeling like a normal human being most of the time, relishing the blessed absence of that deep, pre-rational sadness. Maybe it’ll burn out again in another 6 months or maybe it will stick around, or maybe it won’t make any difference at all. But right now I feel fine, fine.

3: It’s still only 54 degrees out, but enough waiting already, I took my beloved Shadow out for its 2013 inaugural joyride. Oh sweet speed, to twist the throttle and feel how that engine craves more and more acceleration! I keep it in check, but I glory in the way it thrums, the exuberance of cornering on a twisty road. It’s like riding a dragon. Come on summer.

4: I just finished all seven Harry Potter books. I started them at age 15, got through the first three, then let a decade or so go by. Why did I wait so long? Dang, good stuff. Rowling is no great stylist, and her moral compass may not be perfectly calibrated, but she’s got ahold of something real: she knows about courage and she knows about true friendship, and those are things we need to hear. Plus she weaves a mean plot.

5: Speaking of good reads and waiting too long, I’m so glad I bought a Kindle. I got it as a sort of reward for having quit smoking, and in the hopes that it would get me to read a bit more. It’s a marvelous device. It’s a Paperwhite, so during the day it looks like paper and during the night it has a soft, adjustable glow. Somehow they made the screen gently textured, so when you swipe across it to turn the page, it even feels like paper. I love watching the letters dissolve and new ones form, I love how light it is and how many cheap C. S. Lewis books there are on Amazon. Yup, I guess I’m an Amazon fanboy now.

6: I just got back from a week spent in Florida with a couple of good friends. Tropical climes, quiet beaches, and sumptuous golf courses notwithstanding, my favorite part was the car ride there and back. My favorite thing after all is just conversation, even if that conversation mostly consists in singing along to Taylor Swift (complete with enthusiastic goat-screams) and making up new verses to “Pieces of You”, which Weird Al himself would find hard to make any more ridiculous than it already is.

7: I’m coming up on a year with my current therapist. That’s longer than I’ve lasted with anybody else. We agreed that we’ve made a sh★t-ton of progress, and all in all I’m so glad I no longer believe that therapy is only for the terminally screwed-up — either that, or everybody belongs to that category. We are, as Faulkner observed, a race of poor sons of bitches, so we might as well take help wherever we can get it.

It’s 2003, and I am afloat emotionally and spiritually and socially and nearly every other way a 20-year-old can be afloat. The administration keeps talking about community, like it has for the last three years: building it, taking part in it, respecting it, supporting it; but I don’t know what community is, don’t even know that I don’t know what it is. I feel like I’m alone on a sinking ship.

I think some kind of class spirit is supposed to have gelled by now, but it hasn’t. A couple of people have noticed the way I glom onto the new freshman class every year. I hear, secondhand, that they think I’m purposely aloof from my own class. Really I’m just looking for a second chance.

This year one of the incoming freshmen is Sal. He hasn’t been there long before he has pulled together a small cadre of freshman guys, through sheer force of levity. I don’t know how he does it or how he got what he has or why I get to be on the inside, but I do, because Sal is my friend. I am the stray electron to his free radical.

We are drinking cheap wine in somebody’s dorm room. Privately, I am elated and terrified: elated because here we are, a bunch of young guys, drinking and making dirty jokes, just like you are supposed to do; terrified because at any second I may be found out. What, exactly, will be found out? I don’t yet know how to ask myself this question.

I laugh a laugh that is not quite mine and wait for just the right moment to pronounce the casual-sounding sentence that I have spent the last five minutes constructing, hoping desperately that nobody knows me well enough to hear all the false notes. And wishing desperately that somebody did.

While everyone else is blowing off steam, I’m building it up, because this kind of performance is hard to sustain. Finally everyone is gone but me and Sal. I burst into tears and explain incoherently that it’s all fake, that I just wanted to be normal, that I don’t know how to do any of this, that none of it comes naturally. Above all I accuse myself of what I consider the worst of sins: being a fraud.

Sorry, Sal, I don’t remember what you said to comfort me, because I couldn’t hear anything except what was in my own head. Anyway it’s not always important what friends say with words. I remember that we were sitting on the floor and you touched my ankle kindly, which meant a lot, and that when I stumbled out of the room, trailing a good six inches of snot from my nose, the look on your face didn’t show anything but warm concern. That meant a lot, too.

It’s a decade later. I have been learning how not to take seriously the kind of nonsensical, spontaneous self-accusations that my mind still throws at me from time to time. When they pop up like moles I whack ‘em down again, with my well-practiced hammer, or just watch them sail by.1 As a result, they have been popping up less and less, and making less noise when they do.

I am learning that the thing I called conscience was mainly neurotic guilt, and that my actual conscience is a lot quieter and more easily ignored; that neither the best things about me nor the worst things are what I would have expected.

I am better at friendship now, good at it in fact, if friendship is something you can be good at. A lot changes in ten years. I know that being inauthentic isn’t the worst sin, and that being completely authentic all the time is something only gods and beasts can do.

My therapist puts the cap on all this for me when she gives me a safeguard against that tension and guilt, a way to acquit myself of the constant suspicion of falseness. “You can’t be false,” she said, “if you are taking delight in the person you’re with.”

That cuts right through the Gordian knot of self-absorption. I don’t have to monitor myself, to “watch over my own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute”.2 I just have to focus on the people I’m with, and be glad to be with them. Less of me, more of them.

That’s not so hard.

1 Sail by, like moles. This metaphor may have gotten away from me.
2 What were you thinking, Dostoevsky? The quote’s from Fr. Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov, and it’s just terrible advice, at least for anybody who’s already prone to living in their own head. The Russians, you can’t trust ‘em.

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.

I’m sitting in the parking lot of the shrink’s office. This is why I got a laptop: I am so often in transit that if I waited until I was settled at my desk, I’d never get any writing done.

I think the woman two spaces away is in the same boat. She’s parked in her car, running the AC and eating something with a plastic fork. Poor thing, poor both of us. I’ll write for ten minutes more, smoke a cig, and then go get (as my father would say) my brain drained.

I avoid the waiting rooms of shrinks, strange places because everybody knows why everybody else is there. Not really, of course, since there are as many varieties of mental illness as physical. It’s like the waiting room of a proctologist: it’s not your fault if your smelly parts aren’t working right, it’s not even your fault that you have smelly parts, but everybody is kinda embarrassed anyway.

It took me so long to finally see this shrink, and there were so many roadblocks in the way, that Fr. T and I began to suspect either divine or demonic displeasure. I mainly suspected the latter, or actually neither, since I’ve been trying not to spiritualize every. Single. Thing in my life, and get used to the idea that sometimes sh★t just happens; that maybe there’s a supernatural reason for it and maybe there ain’t, but it usually doesn’t do much good to wonder.

You just try to figure out the best thing to do and then do it.1 If there’s a lesson, it’ll come anyway. We’re children and God’s the teacher, right? So nobody expects kindergartners to see the point behind phonics exercises. If you got the point already, you could’ve designed the lesson yourself.

I dunno what we’ll talk about today. I have some ideas; we could talk about my family and how it’s not my fault I’m so nuts, and maybe I will believe it this time. We could talk about why, if a particular love is hopeless and known to be hopeless, it should nevertheless persist and ache and anguish;2 and what to do when it does. We’ll see.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what William Lynch says about hope: that it is not, after all, an interior resource, not something you generate on your own; anyone who’s been in the throes of a serious depression knows this to be true, and the idea that one should be able to generate hope only drives the nails deeper.

Hope is, instead, the belief that help is available from the outside.

So I hope in my shrink, I hope in my friends, I hope in my family and all of my so-many loved ones, and the so-many who love me. I try to get the hang of hoping in God, but I have to admit that I don’t know what that means, and ask his pardon if all I can muster is hope in the people I can see and touch and hug. I know they can help me, because they have.

What God has to do with it, precisely, I don’t know; but since I don’t know, and since wondering about it makes me crazier, I conclude that he doesn’t mind if I don’t know yet.

1 Like Screwtape says: “He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”
2 “Ache and anguish” is from this particularly penetrating sentence of Faulkner’s, which often floats into my head: “life is always premature, which is why it aches and anguishes.” From somewhere in The Town.