Chris Writes

My life in real time

Becoming a Therapist – First Thoughts

With my first quarter of grad school in the books I have some time to reflect how the last three months have changed me.  My family origins class was all about analyzing my family and how it has operated in childhood and now.  It was a difficult journey that involved periods of sadness, disappointment, discovery, and change.

In analyzing my parent’s childhood I realized that I could no longer blame them so readily for the harm they caused me.  I had to process the trauma that was done to them and how it played a part in who they raised me to be.  I saw the good intentions they had and how their limitations got in the way time and again.

I blamed my mother for so much.  Now i’m finding myself empathetic toward the choices she had to make.  Our childhood and family lives are messy.  Family roles are thrust upon children and they have no choice in the matter.  The rejected child comes to accept the role that they are given.  Adults bring all of the baggage from their family of origins with them and do what they know to raise their children.

In family therapy, there are no good guys or bad guys.  There is only the system that forms.  There are family roles that are occupied, and we all play these roles because the system needs us to.  In this spirit, I had to remove myself and observe this family of mine, sort of like a detective.  I had to go through the painful process of categorizing each member.

I sat down for hours with my mother and siblings, asking them direct questions about their experience growing up.  We had never had conversations like this before.  The things I learned made my heart break.  I asked the questions and I feared their answers.  Yet, the answers came and I learned so much about this family of mine that I never knew.

I thought about my father, who died a few months ago.  There is so much I wanted to ask him.  So much I will never know.  I was forced to fill in the blanks his death left me.  To speculate about what happened to him.  It didn’t feel right, but I did it anyways.

My mother told me so many stories of her childhood.  She became more than just a mother.  She was a daughter, sister, and friend.  This all came alive as she spoke.  I only knew her one way.  My family became three dimensional, not only what I felt them to be.

This was one of the gifts and realizations of my first quarter of grad school.

I have become very proficient at analyzing all of my wife’s problems as well.  Sometimes I can be quite irritating to be around, but it’s part of the deal.  It’s like exercising a muscle.  I have to analyze everyone to get better at it.  I analyze family, friends, characters on television and books.  Everyone is fair game.

With all of this heavy emotional work i’ve realized the importance of self-care.  I won’t be able to do this work without wiring in things like meditation and fitness into my daily routine.  Spending five minutes kidding around with my daughter can have such a healing effect.

I was inspired by the courage of my classmates, putting their raw emotions out there for all to see in our role plays.  There is kinship in knowing their stories and the incredibly difficult circumstances that brought them to take this step into the counseling field. Therapists can be a weird and eccentric lot, but I respect the sacrifices being made and the processing that we are all doing now.

I am reminded of something I learned in my undergrad school.  I can still write the fuck out of a paper.  The sheer amount of technical writing involved was very intimidating, but I did it.  I wrote two 12-page family analyses and two 8 page literature reviews in the space of three months.  I asked for and received alot of support and help in the process, but I did it!

This first quarter was emotionally taxing on so many levels, but the mind is still focused and ready for the next series of challenges.  There is an alive-ness that one feels in an educational setting.  We are constantly taking chances, making mistakes, discovering, and rediscovering.  It feels good to be a student again.

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Be A Citizen

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I grew up on military bases.  My father served the Air Force, Army, and the Navy for over 40 years.  His entire adult life.  Marching for causes was not something soldiers, or their families, did.  It was seen as disloyal and disrespectful of those who serve their country proudly.

My generation came shortly after the Vietnam War, still haunted by memories of protesters harassing and attacking returning vets.  I voted largely Republican, whose candidates bathed themselves in patriotism and identified as the protector of our armed forces.  As an Army brat, what I saw from them best represented what I grew up believing in.

As a veteran myself, I began to see how firsthand how our government turned it’s back on fellow veterans who experienced debilitating PTSD, lost limbs, and the ability to function in civilian society.  Yet, it was difficult for me to walk the street holding up signs against the country that I love and respect.

My wife was an experienced activist, spilling blood for PETA and protesting for LGBTQ rights throughout her younger years.

She was a natural activist and advocate and provocateur when she needed to be.  There was always this underlying tension between us.  Her need to react to injustice and my need to look at all the details and put out a measured response. I supported her desire to protest and advocate, but I never saw myself participating in a march.

Then our daughter was born.  Not a day goes by where I wonder what kind of world we will leave for our daughters and sons to live in.  I wondered what glass ceilings my daughter will encounter and what harassment she will be forced to endure from priviledged boys and men in this society.  It was unacceptable to me and to the person I hold most dear in my heart.

So we took our daughter to her first march when she was 2 years old.  It was the Slutwalk.  It was organized in many cities after a Toronto police officer suggested that women shouldn’t dress like “sluts” to avoid sexual assault.

There were not very many kids on the march that day.  My daughter stood out as a symbol of the stakes involved.  A march is not just a fight for today.  It sends a powerful message forward for those whose time is soon to come.

The next year we marched the Slutwalk again.  This time we were invited to speak.  I believe there’s a youtube video somewhere.

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Since then, our daughter marched for women.

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Her school staged a walkout to address gun violence in schools.

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Then we marched this past weekend in the historic March For Our Lives.

The very next day she came up with an idea to make our neighborhood safer for kids.  She called it the Friendly Project.  Her first goal is to build a tiny little library in front of our house and have the city assess our neighborhood street for traffic safety.

She is learning how to be a citizen and I want that for her.  I want it for all of our children because it’s needed more than ever.

 

Can Therapists Say Fuck?

Yes, I am now officially a student-therapist.  I also survived my first quarter of grad school.  I even met my first client.

Me, and my fucked up family.

I won’t be able to get rid of this client no matter what I do.  Nor did I really didn’t want to reacquaint myself with them.  Not in a more objective, non-judgmental therapist kind of way at least.  You see, part of being a therapist is seeing everything with a different lens.  This lens will help me be an effective therapist, but I can tell my wife is sick and tired of it.  Here’s a brief conversation:

Wife:  I can’t believe my mum called again.  I already told her I didn’t want to talk to her!

Me:  Interesting.  Why do you suppose she is not respecting your boundaries?

Wife:  Because she is insane.

Me:  Insane.  That’s a strong word.  Does this reflect how you really feel?

It’s insufferable I know.  But it’s who I am becoming.  I can’t cuss as often.  I can’t even get into epic Facebook battles over gun rights.  I can explore and reflect feelings.  I can role model and offer corrective experiences.  While the ID in me wants to vent like everyone else does, it’s not the life of a therapist.  We need to be an oasis of positive self-regard to use at your pleasure.

This is my new world and, if I choose to accept, I am going to have to get comfortable with it.  Fuck.

 

 

What Is Your Role?

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Every family is a system.  For the system to function, you have to play your role.  If you don’t like your role and you want to change it, the system rebels.  It creates pressure.  It needs you to be what you unconsciously agreed to be.  It needs you to be what your parents socialized you to be.  If you can’t function in your role, you may have to walk away entirely.  There are no restarts.

But you never lose your role.  Even walking away from your family occupies a role.

Maybe you were the scapegoat in the family.  A regular source of blame and criticism.  You are a way for the system to relieve anxiety.  When your parents find it too difficult to deal with their marital issues, they transfer the anxiety to you.  The fuck up.  The clumsy one.  The mouthy one.  Always acting out.  They need you to be the scapegoat.

They triangulate you.

You are too young to realize what is happening, to differentiate yourself from what they want you to be.  So you agree to be the scapegoat.  Resigned to this role, you fulfill it.  You fuck up.  You drop dinner onto the carpet.  You yell and scream because that is your role.  Even your siblings are socializing you, as you are socializing them to play their roles.

There are many roles.  What is yours?  How does it serve your system?

via Daily Prompt: Restart

 

Invisible Sun

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I never really knew my family all that well.  The person I knew the least was my father.  He died six months ago.  Even in death he tried his best to minimize himself.  To deflect attention away from him and what was coming.  He kept asking us to leave the room.  It was always his way to blend in while my mother, my siblings, and I lived our lives around him.  I had this dream of a stage, in the middle is my father sitting on his recliner, watching the television.  Moving vigorously around him is our family, orbiting like a school of fish.  He is the Sun.  An invisible constant body we hover around, letting out light and dark at rare intervals.  Like being at the base of a jungle canopy that rises hundreds of feet. Our movements around him speed up but his quiet, inert presence always stays the same speed.  Stop.  He is watching us live our lives, but we don’t notice because every time we look at him his eyes are fixed to the television.  Fixed to something we will never know.

I often wonder how his presence and absence of presence has affected who I have become.  He had so little prominence in my world that when he sexually abused me that one time it eclipsed everything that I could possibly know about my childhood with him in it.  My curiosity about this person died.  I knew in that moment everything I ever wanted to know.  The Sun that was invisible should remain that way.  There was no way he could have the potential to shine a little light on my childhood anymore.  In true Dad fashion, we woke up the day after and it was as if nothing had ever happened.  Just sitting and watching.

The Sun continued to pulse.

Then he died.  Then a few months later I changed careers.  I began study to become a therapist.  My first class?

Family origins.

They asked me how did your parents contribute to the person I was today?  I was required to answer somehow.  So this is where my journey begins.  To know the unknowable.  To find him in myself.

To cut open the Sun and peer inside.

via Daily Prompt: Constant

Our Social Media Experiment

It started out quite calmly.  Then our voices got louder.  We had hit a rough patch in our relationship and it was time to find a way out.  We started talking about, of all things, Facebook.  Yes, that great blackhole of timesuck.  The new ‘home’ where we hang our hats.  I have been wanting to step away from quite some time.  When things aren’t going well you look for distractions.  For outlets to connect.  To stay in touch with friends and family.  To share.  To laugh at funny videos.  To denounce the political stupidity of the other.  To do almost everything it seems.

The internet has replaced the TV as the place to go to zombie out.  To waste time.  To disengage from our immediate worlds to be part of a sometimes imaginary world.  This world provides a reward every time we log on.  The likes.  The comments.  They are fed to us in regular interviews.  If we seek, we find, instantly.  So we invest more time because we always get what we want, when we want it.

Imagine for a second if we changed social media.  If we made everyone wait a day before their likes, comments, and posts were added to our Facebooks and our Instagrams.  If we had to wait 24 hours for those responses to the funny selfie we just posted.  Our dopamine feedback loop would be broken and we would have a much different internet experience.

The social media is changing how we relate and how our children relate.  They are born into this.  That makes them an entirely different generation than those, such as me, who grew up in the 80’s.  We knew life before instant gratification.  We had to wait for things.  Many of us grew up knowing the merits of waiting for the things we want most.  Our children will only know this feeling if we expose them to it.  The world, as it is now, is not set up that way anymore.

After the voices died down, we agreed to stop all social media for 30 days.  Specifically those things that provide instant feedback.  Facebook.  Instagram.  Twitter.

I secretly hope this experiment will last much longer.

Let Him Carry His Own Water

When I was in my 20’s I met a girl.  She was a pretty girl with a pretty smile.  She was a tireless worker.  She lived in New York City, but left her life there to come home to a small isolated island in the Pacific Ocean named Guam.  She had advanced degrees in engineering and biology.  She had dreams of being a doctor someday.  Yet, her parents were getting old and they called on her to come back and take care of them.  It was what daughter’s did in her culture.  Actually in most every culture, it was the daughters who took care of the parents.  So she worked as a medical assistant, making just enough to get by.

When we met I had recently graduated from university.  I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  My father took an opportunity in Guam working for the civil service.  I was born in Guam, but I had bad memories of the island when I was a child.  I wanted to see if maybe I could turn that into something different.  So I went with them.

Then I met her.  She was a few years older than me.  She also was more ‘ready’ to settle down.  But she stayed with me.  She took really good care of me.  At one point, I had no job, and I was another mouth to feed.  I went into depression and spent hours on my dial-up internet connection, surfing the internet, waiting for her to get off of another 12 hour shift.  She even cooked me dinner.

She bought me a $1000 guitar with money she didn’t have.  It was my birthday and she knew I wanted it.  I got to be honest.  I let her buy it for me.  I let her do many things for me.  She was carrying my water, and the water of both her parents.  She was exhausted and run down and I let her keep going.  Taking care of others was what she knew best.

I still think back to her with regret.  With guilt.   I leaned heavily on her, but who did she have to lean on?  I knew it was wrong, but I wallowed in my own pity anyways.  I was a victim, and I played it well.  She didn’t have that luxury.

So when I read about the disaffected white male population lashing out against women and minorities and everyone but them, I understand the anger.  We hear about the ever-growing group of white males who are unemployed and not actively looking for work.  They are prone to drug and alcohol abuse and marathon sessions of Call of Duty on a Monday morning.

They are represented by a man who never had to carry his own water a day in his life.  I thought about Donald Trump when he trotted out General John Kelly in a press conference recently to use his reputation and dead son’s legacy to carry the water for the priviledged narcissist.

It was sickening.  It is sickening.  To carve out a significant portion of your time as POTUS to playing golf, watching news, and mean tweeting.  We live in a country of those who do not carry their own water.  They are cared for by mothers, wives, sons, daughters, minorities, and our military.  They don’t need to be.  They are quite capable.  Maybe they lost some of their priviledge and they sense all hope is lost.  This is what they see in Trump.  They feel emasculated by the lack of easy opportunities because the opportunities are expected.  When they dry up there is something wrong with the system.  It’s the system, not them.

Who gives our young boys this set of expectations in life?  That college, high paying jobs, and pretty women are waiting for us.  All we need to do is try a little and it’s all there for the taking.  Donald told us that it’s there, all you need to do is grab it with one hand.  They’ll even let you do it.  There’s no water for us to carry.  That sits on the back of the others.

And if we don’t receive what is expected, then we burn the whole system to the ground before even considering carrying our weight.

In Peace

I wondered what it would be like to be him.  He was dying.  Things like cars and houses and bills and next month no longer had any value.  You drift between anxiety and fear and regret.  You don’t have any more time to right all the wrongs you’ve done.  You are surrounded by the one’s you love the most.  So you can say i’m sorry for what i’ve done to you in this life.  Yet, life is long and overwhelming and filled with mistakes.  So that is where you leave it.

He died in stages.  In the week before he passed, he looked at his life.  He told me he had trouble sleeping.  His mind was filled with all the events of his life.  All the mistakes.  All the love.  All the memories.  It was a flood that kept him alert and awake.  Then there was the decision to leave.  How does someone decide it is time?  Suffering and pain over long months, over a couple of years.  The gradual taking away of old age and failing organs.  He had a good week about two months before.  He was like his old self, waking up early and doing yard work.  It almost made me believe I had my dad back.  He bought about ten new plants and filled his back porch his favorite flowers.  Then he got sick again and we were back to normal.  Maybe it was this time that broke him.  To feel good, just for a few days, and have that taken away once again.  It broke his heart.

Maybe he saw it as a gift.  One last offering of life.

On those sleepless nights he decided.  I didn’t realize it until the day he died.  There was a lightness.  He was smiling and his body seemed to be floating.  He used few words.  He had little energy but he mustered all of it in this moment.  When he looked at us one last time, as a father.  I felt this energy.  He only had to say one word.  Goodbye.  It was the look he gave that crushed me because I knew this was the last one.

They turned all the machines off.  The only thing left was the pain medications to keep him comfortable.  It was hard, the waiting.  It was necessary.  If not his children to watch, then who?  His heart rate gradually fell.  It fell so low and immediately collapsed.

The nurse came in, pushed the stethoscope to his chest, and shut off the machines.  He was finally with his mommy again.

In Death

I see the texts on my phone.  One stream is from my mother.  She is rapid and seemingly without focus.  A rattling off of events in real time, as she is experiencing them.  I read it like a code, trying to decipher what is happening.  Is he dying in a month or a week?  Did the doctor say he had 2 days or 2 weeks?  I can’t figure it out when pushed through her jaundiced filter.

She keeps asking me to come see him.  It doesn’t matter if I work or if I have a child to protect from this.  She is like a bright homing beacon, perpetually turning, beckoning me to come.  Every day if I would.  If I don’t come then she uses guilt.  Swings it at me.  At my brother.

My father is a good man.  That’s what most believe.  I have reason to hate him.  To want him to die.  To ignore him.

I saw his frail, emaciated body turned sideways on his bed.  There was dried vomit on his gown.  It led into a blue bag.  His stomach bulged, filled with fluid his diseased liver refused to filter.  His face was shriveled over his skull.  Eye sockets sunken in.  Both arms were painted in purple and brown bruises.  Four bags of medication were pumping into his system.  Keeping him alive.

There comes a point in our lives when mom and dad are here, then they aren’t.  I don’t know that experience will change me.  When the conduit closes forever.  Death is hard.  I find it hard to stay here in my present moment.  I wonder what am I doing?  Dealing with this or waiting or numbing myself into non-existence?

I am looking for a hiding place.  From all the beckoning.  In my dream I ask mom, “Do you know why I don’t want to come?  Do you know about dad?  Would you ask me to be there if I told you?”

I was vulnerable once.

Waiting

I got the text early in the morning.  I wasn’t sure what she thought I could do.  He was in the hospital again.  He hadn’t woken up in the past day and was still asleep.  When I came in he was on his side, a stream of dried saliva crusted down the side of his mouth.  He kept kicking his legs out.  His body jerked spastically.  It wasn’t a seizure.  He grunted periodically.  Those were bowel movements.  He had tubes running through every orifice.

Mom urged me to talk to him, but I wasn’t sure what to say.  She pulled her chair closer and  grabbed his arm, saying “it’s okay, it’s okay.”

The doctor came in and told us we’d need to wait and see if he woke up.  Should I have spoken to him sooner?  What if he doesn’t wake up?  Mom cries.  She tells me that he always called her in the morning.  He didn’t call.  I can’t remember the last time I saw her this honest with her feelings.  Then she shuffles in her chair and the guard goes up again.

I don’t know how to wait on things like this.  Wait for it all to end.  The most horrible kind of waiting.  Things are going to change.  One minute you are sitting in a nice old house.  Then they are swinging through the drywall with bats and hammers.  Now it’s just a shell, this house.  Yet, it’s not over yet.  So you sit and watch a little more drift away.  A little more.  At some point it will feel like its gone.  Who knows when we reach that point.  So we wait.