Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When The Student is ready The Teacher appears

Yes, I've spent some time in therapy. Hey, when you're a 40 year old man who has just come out of the closet and are scared shitless about it, as well as realizing that a propensity for substance abuse might be a bit of a problem, well, talking to an objective outside party about the chaotic clusterfuck that I called a "life" seemed in order.

I'll elaborate on the "coming out" debacle with my family at a later date. Ditto my journey toward a sober existence. Right now, I just want to talk about finding my therapist.

I didn't find him right away...

Therapist #1:

Years before, as I struggled with self-esteem issues, which I was blaming wholey upon my weight, I had met with a psychologist named George. George had a nice house/office in the middle of a swank neighborhood in central Austin. George had a sofa that he wanted me to lie back on as he sat behind a big mahogany desk across the room from me. Way across the room.

It was a nice sofa, to be sure, but I'm a fat guy, and lieing down into furniture is problematic. Well, it's the getting back up that is the problem, actually. Every session with him began with me asking if I really had to lie down on this sofa.

"Please", he would say.

And so I would sigh heavily and lie down. And every session would end with me grunting and groaning to get myself upright. Just what my self-esteem needed, huh?

A typical session with this guy would involve me spilling my guts all over the immaculate hardwood floor of his office. Details of my feelings of inadequacies and self-loathing would pour from me and splatter below like Campbell's Chunky Soup. I think I'm just being gross now. Sorry.

George would scribble on his pad.

The session would end with a look to his watch, an announcement that we were out of time, and that we would pick it up next week. He'd stand up, open the door to his office, and walk toward the front of his office/house. On the way, we'd pass through the kitchen area, where he'd leave me to walk the rest of the way by myself because he would stop at the sink and rollup his sleeves and vigorously and fervently scrub his hands with soap and water. Like my discharges were dirtying him somehow. Like he'd just had his hands up my ass, or in my mouth or something. I'm not kidding, this happened every session.

It was about session #6 that something happened. I got some input from George. I had been talking about my struggle with my weight when he put his pad and pen down on his desk and looked me straight in the eye.

"You know what I like to do?" he asked.

I just blinked, waiting.

"Sometimes I'll take a chicken breast and wrap it in aluminum foil with some onion, some sliced mushrooms, a little salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. I wrap that package up and bake it in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Make a little rice on the side and slap together a salad. It's delicious!"

Over one month into my therapy and all I had gotten from George was a recipe for "Chicken WhatTheFuck".

As he escorted me from his office and ditched me for the kitchen sink, I vowed to never return.

I, also, mistakenly determined that therapy was a colossal waste of time. Years passed before I considered trying it again.

Therapist #2

Bob was a psychologist who was younger than me. By this time, I realized I was having issues concerning my sexual orientation, so I found him because he specialized in that sort of thing. Bob was cool and hip. He had the gelled hair, the perfectly manicured moustache and goatee. At the time, "Seinfeld" was all the rage. His wardrobe was all Kramer shirts, stylin' blue jeans, and Kenneth Cole shoes. He was gay, so I was sure I could learn something from him.

Bob had a sofa as well. But he didn't make me lie down on it. No, I could just sit there, among a menagerie of stuffed animals. He often asked me if I'd like to hold one of the plush creatures as I talked. What? What's with psychologists and their freaking sofas? He, too, sat across the room from me at his desk.

I was determined to stick it out with Bob. Our sessions, again, involved me spewing my history out to him. But Bob was much more apt to interject his thoughts along the way. Mostly, his comments were along the lines of "Interesting!", or "Many gay men go through that!" and "Yes, that's typical of homosexual men!" and after about three months, I realized that all Bob was doing was validating that, indeed, I was queer. Yup, big ol' fag. I know cuz my therapist told me so. whew! Well, I was sure there was more for me to learn from this guy, so I continued to book sessions with him.

Bob also had a group that he invited me to join. This was a collection of 6 people with issues ranging from a middle aged man addicted to porn to a retired nurse who struggled with being passive/aggressive with her husband to a lesbian with a crystal meth problem to a compulsive kleptomaniac to a young bulemic. And me. Big ol' hairy fag, remember?

Everyone was really warm and receptive to me, with the exception of the lesbian. This woman seemed to detest me right off the bat. I couldn't open my mouth without her rolling her eyes at me. It gave me a complex fairly quickly. Self-esteem issues, keep in mind. This chick was doing a tapdance on my emotional baggage. And, I felt no support from Bob. I think he wanted me to deal with it in this "controlled environment" without solving it for me. I was completely intimidated by the bitch. I was furious that I was spending money on sessions that I walked away from feeling like crap. It was too early for me to be in a "group".

Maybe I wasn't gay, either!

I walked away, vowing never to return.

I also, AGAIN, determined that therapy was a colossal waste of time. Years passed... yada yada yada...

Therapist #3

When I talked to him on the phone, T. sounded SO yummy. Soft-spoken and calming on the phone, I had called him during a break in one of my out-patient rehab sessions. I found his name in a list that my employer's EAP (Employee Assistance Program) offered. Yes, he said, he could talk to me about my sexual orientation and substance abuse issues, but not until I was out of rehab and sober. I pictured a small, fuzzy bear. I swear, he sounded hairy. Shut up. Actually, I pictured Robin Williams in "Good Will Hunting". It had recently dawned on me that hairy older men in flannel shirts and beerguts were what tripped my trigger. I wondered if this man, who was obviously sent to the Earth to help me be a whole, complete, and integrated personality, would find me to be fascinating, handsome, and do-able. Yes, I am aware that I have boundary issues as well, thank you very much. I promised that I would call his secretary and book a session in two weeks, right after I completed the 5 week program I was in.

When we met, I was stunned. Far from looking like Robin Williams, T. was a tall, very slender man in his 60's who looked more like a butler in a PBS Upstairs/Downstairs episode. Oh well, no homo-erotic fantasies about my counselor. Drat.

My initial session lasted over an hour, which is unusual, I'm told. Psychologists are strict timekeepers. I sat down in his comfy chair, with him sitting directly across from me. No weird sofa, no big, important desk. Cool.

And it began.

He stopped me 60 minutes into the session. He said I was a People Pleaser. He told me that my relationship with my partner was doomed to fail. And he pulled out a piece of paper, wrote something across it, and told me to make copies of it and to post it in the following places and look at it daily:

*On the bathroom mirror

*On the dashboard of my truck

*In my cubicle at work

and what he wrote was:

"What Everyone Thinks of Me is None of My Business"

I swear, it hit me right between the eyes. It resonated with me completely. The words made me shiver. When The Student is ready, The Teacher appears. I found my therapist.

He told me that we would be spending the next several years trying to convince me that this statement was true and at the heart of my issues.

He also told me to plan on allowing him to talk a little bit next time.

Then, he laughed and told me to go home.

And I walked away, vowing to come back time and time again until I got it right, certain that therapy was going to save my life.


Tom Dougherty said...

A good mechanic and a good shrink are the only things you need to navigate the Thunderdome of life.

Nice post. Hope you're feeling a good bit better since.

dirk.mancuso said...

I never had much luck finding a shrink I felt comfortable with, so I congratulate you on your success.

In your case it does indeed seem as though the third time was the charm.


Anonymous said...

I just found your blog via your comment on Joe.My.God and after reading this post I added you to my favorites list. Disclosure; I am a mental health counseling graduate student and this post so hit home for me. -- Randy

jimmycity said...

Well, thanks Randy. I appreciate that you took the time to drop in and read a bit about me.

I am in awe of people who dedicate their lives to helping others, and counselors, therapists, and social workers are real heroes to me. We all have things we could mull over with a professional, right? There's no shame in wanting to understand yourself better. The trick, it seems to me, is taking the time to find the right person with which to take that journey.