I’m at this ever-so-familiar point in my experience with you, which is inevitable.
Transference. That fantastic adolescent stage of The Work when I become a snarky dismissive teenager again.
I’m assigning to you whatever emotions, biases, fears, hostilities and actions I would to a person of significance in my life. At this juncture, despite my obvious progress, it all becomes Mother, again. You are my Mother. Your agent, another ever-pleasant and helpful therapist with the wingback chair, low lighting, doilies, sets of clocks and tissues, commercial carpeting, collections of I’m OK, You’re OK books, posters explaining states of emotional identification, is Mother.
Editorial note: buckle in. This post goes all over the place but lands without much turbulence.
Due to my track record, and my intellectual tendencies to do all I can to learn about “law of diminishing returns in therapy” and to debunk the “value of long-term psychotherapy” I have to say that I am yet again at a crossroads: I don’t like this … this occasional visit to you to tell you about my nocturnal dreams (heaven forbid my life ambitions) and memories and the pattern I exhibited in choosing some friends (boy- and girl-) who were like Mother: distant, brilliant, funny, competitive, self-absorbed, unreachable, private and terrified.
Two weeks ago, the death of a former friend whom I’d unknown (read: hung on every syllable) more than 11 years ago rocked my world. She was all the things I’d apparently (and unwittingly) looked for in a friend. The news and my reaction at first were other worldly, as though on a ticker tape: “HUMAN FEMALE CONTEMPORARY OF REMOVED YET SIGNIFICANT PERSONAL HISTORICAL CONTEXT ON SEPARATE EXISTENTIAL PLANE HAS EXPERIENCED CELLULAR AND SOMATIC FAILURE. CHECK BOX HERE TO ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT OF THIS DATA. THIS MESSAGE WILL SELF-DESTRUCT IN … 60 DAYS.”
She is the first of my mommyhood friends to go to God and she was young, vivacious and super-involved. After initially processing the news, I thought I was ok. What I was unprepared for was the just-hours-away first shipment of hungover emotional detritus ranging from authentic heart-wrenching sadness to fervent antipathy due to how things died between us. How from the beginning I was dazzled by her glitter trail, slack-jawed and dazed like a five-year-old in Health-Tex clothes and Mary Janes at the tetherball pole and almost two years later, at 34, wrapped soundly by the tether around the pole as she slapped the ball again and again and again ever tighter.
I felt compelled to perform. To join in the chorus of mutual persons who knew her and voice my once-knowing of her. To be a part of something, despite my personal perspective, which likely everyone else was feeling: her loss. I shared on my Facebook wall about her some kindnesses and candor: that our relationship had ended years before, but that her loss was significant to me nonetheless. Most of all, I was sad that I would never see her again and thus, the exchange of another awkward civility between us was impossible. Everything I wrote was sincere. I took it down after a few days because I felt sticky, as though I didn’t belong: those people still deeply loved her. I share this here and now, likely at risk to my friendship with mutuals, but that’s how life is. I’ve never been a faker. When we share these intricacies with people and then they die or we divorce from them, our loss of them also become a loss of ourselves as well, I think. That part of us / our relationship (or co-identity) we have and which they held (in their own value system) has ceased to be held. It’s “floating” out there, vulnerable and alone. That can be hard.
Our relationship imploded, as many have, due to my allegiance to and advocacy for my children over the relative intensity, tenure and we-all-know-it’s-really-not-healthy but we-will-deny-it-because-its-easier friendship with this person. Just like so many others. So many others with people who so energetically reminded me, in one shape or another, of my woeful habit of picking people who were stunning/terrified, cheerful/angry, energetic/hostile, altruistic/competitive, ____ and ____ and ____… and ____ (read: just like me) to populate my consciousness.
As Rumi said in his poem “The Guest House”:
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
Yet here’s the difference, this time: I am wiser. I understand now that my “selection” of those vipers (energies) in my life had little to do with them, and everything (or at least more) to do with me. This is what maturity has given me: extremely poor distance eyesight and a mirror to hold at 18″ away. That somewhere in the lineage of all these souls, are lessons about myself. About my predilections (will I EVER spell that word correctly?) due to history.
the dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
‘Guide from beyond.’ I like that.
I’m done with saying “conditioning.” At some point, I must cease blaming this stuff on my former life and wake up to the pattern and see that the tenor of familiarity in those people is what hooked me — because honestly, I KNEW.
Not two months after she vaporized from my life, I’d lined up another vacuum. And then four more in two years’ time. If I’d just slowed down for a few breaths, stepped back, checked in (as if a 34-y.o. pregnant mother [with braces and bad hair] of 2 boys under 6 could really do that: STAYBUSYSTAYBUSYSTAYBUSYSTAYBUSY BLOCK ALL INTUITIVE FEELINGS) and assessed, I would’ve
walked run. I would’ve kept things high level. But there was something in ME. Every single one of those people was just like me: floundering. We just didn’t know it. I’d like to chalk it all up to battle shock, loneliness and sadness from her exodus, but no. It was me.
In retrospect, at almost every relationship genesis, the other person was in pain and I think I was there to save the day. Not to assuage their pain (initially, anyway) but to somehow apply my kindness to them to alleviate the guilt I unconsciously felt about my mother and my inability to fix her and have some semblance of normal. (Now I know it wasn’t my job — that this is all part of the lesson, the journey in life that we are all on — we are here to do the best we can with what we have and love one another, no questions asked, and mind our own business while at the same time effecting peace and harmony as much as we are able. Right?)
Oh Therapy… the magnifying-glass-under-the-sun, focusing-on-the-leaf feeling I have toward myself (me, being the leaf, the sun and the glass, all at different times) and my hesitancy to go forward with your agent? What of that? True to my other -ections, I need a goal. I need to have an end point, an expiration date. A “best used by” date. Something that tells me, some form of pee-on-the-stick, get-a-prick-of-blood test that tells me… I am good. And not just “good” in the sense of how my father would say, “We’re good…” as in “has everyone used the bathroom and we’re good to go?” -good:
4 he will make good his promise: fulfill, carry out, implement, discharge, honor, redeem; keep, observe, abide by, comply with, stick to, heed, follow, be bound by, live up to, stand by, adhere to.
But GOOD… (have you ever looked up “good” in the dictionary? My word….) — these are great:
for good those days are gone for good: forever, permanently, for always, evermore, forevermore, for ever and ever, for eternity, never to return, forevermore; informal for keeps, until the cows come home, until hell freezes over; archaic for aye.make good
TRUE EXAMPLE!: 1 if I don’t get away from my family, I’ll never make good: succeed, be successful, be a success, do well, get ahead, reach the top; prosper, flourish, thrive; informal make it, make the grade, make a name for oneself, make one’s mark, get somewhere, arrive.
That good. The “those days are gone forever -good.”
My mother has died. Corporeal and somatic and cellular death occurred over a year ago. 19 months, 7 days and 20 hours ago. -ish.
I would like to move the fuck on. For good.
Being a student of life, an examiner, a truth-teller and a “seeker” (whatever the what that means), instead of moving the fuck on, I instead have found myself dissecting the lint from my navel and wondering about shit which simply doesn’t matter any more.
I have been given numerous “signs” to move on. Signs and messages that have told me “All is well” and “You have been written a blank check by God” and “For every shame there is a star.” Those are the audible ones. The supposed more subtle ones are the breath-by-precious breath fact that I am here, every day, aspirating and exchanging gases with the trees and the grass.
There is no “thing” I’m doing “wrong.” Therapy is …. Not my mother, but I’m beginning to treat it as though it is: I’m dismissing it, arguing with it, wondering about its value and its harm. My therapist is lovely — as transference (in my case) dictates, I’m polite with her. I’m talking and “listening” and nodding and “Oh? Yes… Well…” -ing while at the same time … inwardly hostilely wondering, “What the fuck is the point of this? Can’t we just exchange casserole recipes and be done?”
I told her yesterday, “I miss my sense of humor.”
“Really? What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, I used to be really flip and funny, before …”
“Before this. Before therapy. Before ‘help’ and ‘healthy’ got in the way…” I squirm in my chair. Instead of looking away, I look right at her. With dead, laser eyes and a sneer beginning its curl on my upper lip. “Oh, I know… it was a defense …”
She said nothing.
I continued. “Was it wrong? Maybe. No. It wasn’t. But it was certainly more fun than this.” (Pass the sugar, my venom is getting acidic. I need you to think it’s a nectar first….)
She adjusted herself.
I sat there. Put the old well-intentioned pillow (covered in who knows what) on my lap. I wanted a blanket. I trusted no one. I knew I’d done it, was in for it. I was expecting some sort of comment along the lines of, “Well, I don’t take much of what you say with any weight. At least you’re you. Much of what you say is figurative emotionally, loaded with a lot of irregularities. And I don’t take it that seriously…” which is part of the rambling and incoherent voicemail message my mother left for me three days after my birthday a few years ago. The other part of the message is the blaring daytime television talk show playing in the background. She left the message on the heels of yet another argument we’d had when she called me earlier in the week to say happy birthday to me and then remind me that it was she who should get the presents because she did all the work, “HEE HEE.” My eyes rolled so much they spun themselves out.
“But it was all a joke, don’t you see, Mally. You take everything so seriously…”
God, I’m screwed.
What do you do with that? Yes, I still have that message. Part of me says, “IT’S POISON! GET RID OF IT!!!” and the other says, “NO! IT’S DATA! IT’S PROOF!” and then another part of me says, “You’re 47. Move on.” To which I reply, “Move on and keep it –move on? Or move on and delete it –move on?” It’s hard to decide.
Why? Because like most of us, Mom had a different face for each place. I’d like to say that I’m pretty consistent, but the fact is that we’re all a little scared inside. Hence, the faces.
So, Therapy, what do we do?
A message I woke with in my head this morning was “This is life. Everyone has their shit to deal with. The more you inspect it, the more you find… How much more do you want to find? It’s all about you anyway — your deflections and projections and transferences and ruses to throw Therapist off the scent by bitching about other people are all about you anyway… YOU DO KNOW THIS… Accept it. Accept what’s yours, learn what you can and grow up. Cut it out.”
It wasn’t quite that Joan Rivers-esque, but it was close. Wouldn’t it be funny if my Messenger were Joan Rivers? It would be The Best.
Mother is gone and I have learned. The latent vipers I welcomed have also vacated. I don’t give all my bandwidth to the vacuums anymore and yet… . Egads, I don’t want to be a vacuum. So this requires Radical Acceptance of what is and screw the rest. After all, what are we going to do? Unring a bell? That’s crazy. The thing is: we all have stories. We all have -isms.
My goal, I just realized 20 minutes ago when the computer locked up and I was concerned I’d lost all this post (which I hadn’t), was that I think I’ve have resumed with Therapy was because I had a certain, alien, expectation of Therapy, that I would emerge from it somehow taller, Scandinavian, in fabulous boots, and perky. That all my shit would be gone and my baggage replaced with a new set of Louis Vuitton — all of it, from the key fob to the casket — and I’d be ready to pack in new experiences, taller experiences.
I honestly thought I would be scrubbed of stuff. It’s like when I rowed in the stroke seat for the first time; the coaches just automatically assumed I knew that I wasn’t supposed to pull the hardest, but that I was simply supposed to set the time. Well, I did both, and I screwed up my back. I wonder how many other people think that Therapy somehow has a new YOU waiting at the end of the ever-distant and moving finish line? But that’s not it, is it? That’s not at all how it goes. I’m
going to emerge emerging wiser and older with my same mismatched luggage, two rolls of animal print duct tape, some WD-40 (one of the small cans, I’m 47 after all), and toolkit instead of an array of showy new designer luggage and casket.
And that’s the point. We are who we are, with all our baggage and shit and we can still get fabulous boots.
I’m feeling that when I bring this wagon back to center, that when I identify with these moments of transference and realize that they are really about ME, then change can happen.
We’ve got this.