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Break Through Breakthrough

It doesn't wash away all at once

It doesn't wash away all at once

Our collective psyche is split on therapy. In theory, we accept it. We know it’s good for others, and we expect them to use it, like we expect everyone else to use public transportation. Pop psychology lingo has been with us for some time, making us all faux clinicians. He’s a little bipolar, don’t you think? Watch out for her–she’s a little too codepenent to get involved with. The TV has a daily hour with a roly-poly loudmouth who insists he is a trained psychotherapist but seems more like a junkie Will Rogers, berating and cajoling his victims with downhome homilies all dressed up with pseudoscience.

Therapy might be a good idea for you now while you’re going through all this. The suggestion came from several directions and seemed sound. I’d given it up, thinking I’d gained whatever talking with a professionally trained listener could be gained. Out of the Hawai’ian sunshine and back in Microsoft’s fluorescent hallways, it made that inevitable sort of sense that comes with having more money than time. The woman that saw us as a couple had no issues with seeing me individually. She had moved from one quasi-downtown Bellevue forested office park to a smaller one across the freeway, both possible to reach by bus and both equally inconvenient. I enjoyed the autumn walks, under a suburban tunnel of tall maples dressed in natural Technicolor, East Side BMWs and Lexuses whispering by. The beautiful, white and anxious women driving them never looked at me, or the leaves.

This woman is as present as she is tall, perceptive as she is willow thin. The only time previous I saw her alone, during the last period of couples counseling, I took notes that helped me through those nights that are hollow with black. I typed them in OneNote as she talked, apologizing for the typing which irritated another therapist. Don’t apologize, she snapped. Type if you need to type. It’s your session. Months after, in Oscar’s attic shadows or listening to the Hilo rain, I could hear my typing as I read: just choices, no right or wrong, stasis, movement, what do you want? The words were not so much comforting as plain, the notes a mile marker as big as college graduation or getting out of Texas. They were presented in a way that finally got through.

The therapist is accomplished and human, direct and friendly, wholly absent of pushover fallibility. She skis and has the elongated build and thin hands of a skinny, intense girl, the kind that did math homework without complaining and didn’t overworry about being pretty enough. In talking about the damage parents invariably do to their children, she described jumping on her kids’ beds to wake them up for late-night adventures. If things were different, I can see being attracted to her. If you’re going to cause and admit damage, better that it’s interesting.

We have been talking about the usual things you talk about in therapy. The Mom Talk is proceeding apace, to the satisfaction of people who ask how therapy is going. Everybody talks about mom. Familiar terrain of my depressive, self-critical nature and my circular, self-negating logic is upended in the constructive way of therapy, but she seems dissatisfied that I’m not making concrete changes. Behavior is change, but patterns of thought are the most limiting–and most pernicious. We’ve been talking for a few months and she seems to insist I should be feeling and living differently already. I am faced with the unanswered question of how talking aloud with the conscious mind is supposed to reach in and change the nonverbal, timeless unconscious, where all the trouble is.

It does help. The first few visits gave me a perceptible high, though now I don’t remember exactly why. Some sense of validation, or the concrete fact I was willing to face things and do work on an invisible, tangled mountain. She has long felt I am at least emotionally repressed if not something like Asperger’s; she asks if I feel safe in sessions. She has me bring posts from this blog to read to discuss. The conclusions: you are not alone in what you are feeling, exceptional or flawed. She rates her literary nose slightly upturned and thus qualifies herself to declare my writing good, and that judgement something I should believe. Writing is important, she says. It is a path to enlightenment and revelation.

Midsession a few months ago there is a break. We are reading a post from the blog. She asks a question, I think something about whether I still have troubled or regretful feelings about leaving the marriage. Maybe it was about my accommodating my ex in receiving a rug and some other items she’d found and didn’t want to keep. (I had a day’s notice to meet her across town, after which the stuff would be Goodwilled.) I am explaining the vast and multivariant plain of perspectives. Yes, I did the right thing, but there is part of me that still wonders about selfishness. She feels how she feels and it’s not for me to say why she didn’t give me more notice or why I didn’t push back for more time: there was no need to, and the exchange is finished.

This is the break: the therapist puts the blog printout down and fixes me in a gaze uncomfortably reminiscent of my mother’s. She asks: do you realize how extreme your ex is? 

That this isn’t a simple question shows how loaded it is, or how loaded I am. The rest of the session is recitation and examples, discussion of how the therapist’s clinical opinion based on the individual session she had with my ex, her assessment of how I react to her and my relationship patterns with women in general. Of course it would be difficult to relate to someone who gave you less than a day to get your things or else. You defer to her and rationalize her behavior when a typical person would say, ‘she’s crazy’. The therapist seems harsh, relentless in a way. She makes a clear argument and cites examples and justifications supplied by the profession, admixing them with her own experience. This is how it is, she is saying, which is not the same as saying it is true.

I remember the drive home as dark, the streetlights muted, buildings shrunk away from the street. I turned off the radio for more quiet, not to think, but to sit in that space the car gives. This is what public transportation has to beat for harried, frightened, isolated Americans: this precious bubble of protected space.

Next week, the full hour goes to recitation of the extremity. The crux is the quality of my experience–not whether it was true or not, but what was real for me. I know she doesn’t intend it, but it feels like an assault, the full-court press of deprogramming cult escapees. This is a quiet battle of worldviews: one where there is right and wrong and certainty, and another where those things do not apply but is just as real.

Then, in the moment, it was an onslaught as much as it was a vindication, though that is the wrong word. As if I were trapped on a blackboard, a door was being drawn that opened into the third dimension. To walk through the door was free of moral overhang: nothing right or wrong about it. Walking through would dissolve the wall. There had never been a blackboard. Whatever was through the door had always been there.

Breakthroughs for us in the living world are not cinematic. From the outside, there is nothing to see. Look around: when you see someone realize they have been wasting their time, that they wish they had said something while the other was still alive, that they really are gay, what changes? The person may be quiet, face blank, expression upside-down. The crowd keeps walking, traffic keeps flowing, birds alight on telephone poles and the sun shines down on all. The upending of the universe is private. Next to them on the bus, we feel no gravity. Inside the breakthrough it is quiet, suspended, changed and irrevocable. Change or stasis is a separate thing, but the break is permanent and echoes.

Now, a few months on, the break it still there, but it recedes. Like Wile E. Coyote I am suspended in the transition. Lucky for me the trajectory is on to reach the other side. I am not sure there is a truth or answer or revelation, just as I am not sure thinking in these high church terms is helpful. The mass of the past is unfolding behind me, in proper place and measure. The therapist may prefer I was faster or more certain, but I am getting there, wherever there is, a little bit, every day.

How solid, really?

How solid, really?


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