Psychotherapy: A Travelogue
As I sit down to start writing, my mind seizes my body and makes it contract. My breathing becomes labored. I grip the keyboard, stare off into space, and recognize an old, but familiar, feeling of the physical manifestations of disengaging to protect myself from anxiety; from traveling to those intense badlands of fear. I draw a blank as I enshroud myself in the banalities of nostalgia. What will I write? Nothingness envelops me. For several days I play this charade as I start, then violently stop myself from birthing any words or images. Each time returning to the computer to crank up my courage enough to pry open the lid on musty memories.
Group therapy was a lesson in public humiliation. I didn't feel the warm arms of safety in the camaraderie of a group. In fact, I didn't even want to go to group. I sought the relative security of my private sessions until my therapist urged me to step out of my comfort zone. Each person in the group was to tell a bit about themselves and what brought them to this drab room, sitting in a rag-tag circle on a worn, brown shag carpet, bodies/knees trying not to touch in the cramped space. I was acutely aware of my discomfort. Uneasy. I wanted to be anywhere but there. Anywhere but on the floor, leaning against walnut-stained paneling, feeling like a helpless, crawling infant in a brownout-world of burnt coffee grounds and chocolate-coloured shit.
The premise was the longer we work with the other members, the more comfortable we would feel. We would work cooperatively to find a collective voice. We were assessing each other's strength and weakness in this human balance-sheet arena. By my third group session I was still shy and frightened. I didn't like the feeling of being a part of a soulless herd governed by panic and insecurities. I'd found a safe corner to nestle in.
My space. I sectioned it off with my purse on one side and my coat on the other. Wired wires, wires, everywhere wires. A secure barrier. I didn't want to invade anyone else's territory either.
I tried to contribute to the overall picture but it was difficult for me. I held back the best parts of me and they knew it. I contained my joy, my anger, even my shock at what a few shared. Sometimes the sounds of crackling hearts would be too much to
take. The minute scrutiny made me dread going to the sessions as patients alternated between whining about a past they couldn't change or perpetually brooding about a future they refused to confront. Sometimes the sessions were sterile lessons in neurotic stupidity as monotonous to a barely eighteen-year-old as anything could be. Life had kicked me around inside a furnace of affliction but I didn't have the nerve to kick back. I
desperately needed some internal, as well as external, approval. I'd had too much focus on pathology instead of open doorways showering me with a special light.
My male therapist came highly recommended. An entire wall of degrees,diplomas and certificates attested to the fact that Mark was well educated. He stood physically tall and well built with wavy brown hair and sympathetic brown eyes that would alternately command or mist over at just the right moment. I was innocent and naive but I knew that the definition of having a good character was a balance of empathy and self-control. There was this illusion of a desirable, intimate personal relationship as Mark heard my
deepest secrets and still liked me. He promised to guide me as he taught me the skills of communicating in a group. "Don't worry. I'll be sitting right next to you as we journey away from your stewardship of pain along a new road of discovery." A wink and a million dollar smile followed this promise. He told me if I needed courage just reach out and he'll be next to me, right there to catch my fears and chase them away. When he said we would still have a private session once a week I wanted to crawl into his lap for a big hug.
Who could resist his paternal ethic of evenhandedness? Not me. I was convinced he had the integrity to integrate my disparate elements into a harmonious wholeness. Because of my vulnerability and his persuasive and penetrating powers we had established a special rapport. We were like two psychic systems interacting and sharing deeper insights. Synchronized swimmers couldn't have been closer than we were becoming. Whenever tough issues were being discussed Mark always sat next to me on his leather sofa, gently holding my hand. Snuggled together, me in my hypnotic trance, as a childish reliance of the father-daughter relationship weaned itself into a mutual infatuation. Together we were like two chemical substances combining and forever altering the combination. Sizzle, pow, zap, fizz. He would talk to me about his personal life as he shared very, very human points of view.
Once I left his office with a swelled head, a puffed up ego, because he'd said I was easy to talk to. His sufferings were mine, mine were his. We both had a hunger to possess something we apparently didn't have.
Shortly after I started seeing Mark I had a recurring dream:
I was held captive in a castle with tall, cream-coloured stone turrets. A wizard with bright red eyes and an emerald jewel on his forehead had locked me in the tower. He'd pushed me into an abyss, then hollered down to me, "Fair lady, I promise riches galore and my love eternal if you will only surrender." I didn't know how I would survive or what it meant to surrender but I was willing to give it a try.
"What do I have to do?," I yelled back listening as the words echoed against the dank walls.
The wizard had a mouth full of saliva and it bubbled over as he talked. In the dark of the night he cast a black shadow as he gave me a long list of problems to solve. He said he would give me a crystal after I conquered each hurdle. I had to climb to the top of the turret by a beautiful, winding staircase. An injured bird flew close to my head as it dropped ruffled feathers at my feet.
There were spectacular round, stained glass windows, divided into four sections much like a mandala, that I wanted to reach but as I stretched my arms to touch them the windows would wiggle and recede. I climbed the shiny steps faster and faster in order to catch up to the gaily-colored windows.
Someone started to chase me. The stairs were coated with what looked like gold and diamond dust but once I tripped and fell discovering it was really ground up glass with jagged edges. I cut my palm, severed a finger and bled all over the steps. I mutter "cruel guillotine" under my breath and examine my fingers, touch my head to make sure it's still there, as I float higher and higher into an impenetrable, heavenly blue sky. I was too young to decipher the dream's inconceivably complex meaning. In fact, it's been years since I've even thought of that dream.
The content of the unconscious is probably the matrix to the human mind. Looking back, I could never make out what it was all about. Now, I think the dream held most of the answers to my problems. Perhaps it was even a warning of the dismemberment Mark would do to my spirit. Severing a finger, severing the lines to my abusive past, severing ties of trust. There was blood, rich, red blood. Maternal, sexual, innocent, lover's blood spilling all over the place. There was an undeniable sexual aspect to our transference fantasies. Mark wanted to put our desires in motion for these instinctive urges we were both feeling. He would breath softly in my ear and gently rub the back of my neck as I re-told my week's laundry list of triumphs or hurts.
I became a mother to imaginations, to desire, yet remained a maiden. As his chaste disguises fell away his sexual advances grew stronger with each private session until finally my usually egocentric eighteen year old brain/body sensed danger. I bolted and ran out of the emotional complications back into the world of primeval chaos.
I was lost again without my confessor and our thrice weekly sessions. Dispossessed. I vividly remember the confusion and disintegration that I melted into afterwards as I was thrust forward to the fringes of sanity. My healer, my doctor, the one who was supposed to touch my soul and deal directly with its suffering had dissolved our psychic connection, in a sort of coitus interruptus of the mind, leaving me spiritually desolate. I ended the
relationship in hatred.
Each of us has a remarkable wisdom when it comes to defending our Self. In the years to follow I decided I needed a maternal ethic of care to soothe the words my body speaks. Maybe a female therapist would understand me better, I reasoned. Understand my tyrannical inner gremlin who bruised my ego with harsh attacks of failing at yet one more thing. Perhaps I was just seeking the mother I never had but Mark had cured me of ever again baring my soul to a male therapist.
c2001 Linda Madeleine Beltran