Chapter 14 – Choreography

To choreograph or not – that is the question. Maybe psychotherapy is the art of dance, maybe not. Dance requires music which necessitates an ear for rhythm and a sense of alignment with melody.

Or maybe I’m just the playwright, not the choreographer. The skills of a choreographer I do not possess. As a playwright I create dialogue and I rehearse well before going into session with my psychotherapist, Anne. Usually the plot I design is well-grounded in reality and the play is performed without a hitch (usually, sometimes, occasionally).

The actors involved know their roles well. The playwright (me) has written their lines with a keen understanding of the real dynamics between them and can deftly arrange the movement between them so as to more easily nudge the plot forward.

My preparation is nearly bullet proof. I have my lists of topics: I already know what Anne will say (although she isn’t given much of a speaking role); I push through my agenda with an expertise that most would admire.

The couple of times in which I have not had the latest installment of the plot developed have resulted in a languishing and stumbling episode – a session that does not seem effective at all. The playwright is related to the control freak. (see chapter 8)

So, I’ve learned to always have my play up-to-date before entering her office but sometimes I wonder…

Now, some of my friends have said “It doesn’t really sound like therapy to me.”

Yes, I suspect most clients do not approach their self-exploration in such an analytical way. I guess how I’ve always approached it is like a focused tactician. You’d think I’d be great at math or science given this propensity of analysis towards my internal investigation. You’d think that my methodology springs from a clear and focused mind.

Well, you think wrong. I suck at math and science. Hmmm –interesting that I tap into the qualities that define scientific inquiry when I approach something so personal such as self-inquiry. It’s

just this – it feels like I need to be in control so that I can address fully that which I think needs exploration. Otherwise, it seems to me that I’m just throwing darts in the dark hoping I’ll hit the target.

Sometimes I wish Anne would just take control but how would she be able to do that without me providing a complete backstory for the characters in the play – specifically me? Anne doesn’t get a backstory. That’s the perk the therapist possesses. We all get a little miffed at that sometimes, don’t we? Don’t worry – I’ll address that issue in another chapter.

Now – back on topic. Therapy seems like a school where the students must be fully prepared and engaged in order to learn anything. But in this school, the student must be self-directed and learn to ask the right questions.

New knowledge does not flow easily from some proverbial enlightenment fountain ready to be consumed and absorbed. Effort and self-propulsion are required to drink from its faucet.

Uh oh, I’m beginning to see some fallacy in my argument as I write these words. Doesn’t analysis and reasoning inhibit FEELING? Yikes, have I been doing this all wrong the past few years? Has my fine-tuned method actually delayed my self-understanding and my inner growth? Is my approach nothing more than applying the brakes to forward movement while all the time I’ve believed I’ve been heavy on the accelerator?

O.k. What if I don’t need to be the playwright? What would I be? How would I enter the therapy room? I’m stumped now. I need to think a bit about this. Dang, when I thought I had it all figured out and then I begin to write this book and confusion descends on me.

Maybe choreography would provide better results. Maybe if I had the players become dancers and they moved in harmony to the music, then doubts and difficulties would evaporate with each step they made.

Oops, I see another problem with this idea. How can I be a choreographer when I don’t even know how to dance?

You know, guys – I’m gonna have to get back to you on this topic of how I really would prefer my therapy sessions to play out (pun intended).

Yes, I’ve been a pretty good playwright and that’s served me well so far but maybe I need to study dancing now.

I’ll bring you up-to-date on this latest thought in a later chapter which I haven’t written yet because I’m not a dancer yet.

That chapter may be titled “Misty Copeland”. (Look her up – she’s an incredible modern day dancer) Or maybe I’ll name the chapter “Look, Ma – No Hands”. There’s an optimistic attitude – I would have finally taken off my grip of control. Or it’s possible I’ll call the chapter “Let’s Tango, Swing & Twist” where I’ll offer step- by- step instructions.

We’ll just have to wait to find out, won’t we? Me too, you know. I have no idea at this point if dancing is even my thing.

Chapter 13 – Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite I don’t blame you if you don’t know who Walter Cronkite was. It’s o.k. because I’m here to educate you. Cronkite was known in the 60’s as “the most trusted man in America.” Who was he? -simply a reporter of the news. He was a broadcast journalist but is best known for his work on CBS Evening News. He was its anchorman from 1962-1981 – a total of 19 years.

Americans would tune in to his report for the latest breaking news. Bulletins of important news were a hallmark of his reporting. He was counted on to deliver information that was crucial for the American public to know. The concept of ‘fake’ news was an alien idea. People trusted him to tell the truth.

You’re wondering why Cronkite’s story is relevant to my adventures in psychotherapy, aren’t you? Well, it’s this. I perform a similar function in my sessions with Anne. I always provide a news report.

Huh, you ask?

It’s like this: I want Anne to have a better idea of my WHOLE person, not just the dysfunctional emotional fragments of my identity. I try to ensure that my newscast consume only 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning of session. And, to me, the ‘briefing’ that I provide to my therapist contains as much or more importance than the typical news bulletin.

I’ll give you an example of a therapy newscast. No, I won’t tell you the truth. I will not disclose any real details of my life. What you’ll read next is totally made up. You didn’t honestly think I’d open up to you about my own personal emotional torments, did you? Really?

By golly, I’m surprised that you’d think I’d reveal to you when I squirm each time I ‘expose’ myself to Anne.

What I will provide in my ongoing tale are descriptions to you of the battles I waged inside of myself while I’ve tried to make sense of the therapeutic relationship. On that question, I’m pure honesty. No ‘truthiness’ there.

I wonder how many other therapy clients make a point in providing a news broadcast to their therapist. Probably most people just let ‘news’ seep into the conversation naturally if at all.

I want you to be clear that I’m not proposing or suggesting that anyone try to conduct their therapy sessions the way I do. It’s all very person. Once I asked Anne if there was a better way to approach our time together and she replied that it’s individual and if I’m happy doing what I do, then that’s the right way for me. Still, I wonder sometimes as I hear friends describe their ability to get deep inside themselves with no plan at all. Hmmmm…. I don’t know how to do that yet. Maybe I’ll learn or maybe I’ll continue the way I am.

Chapter 8, Control Freak, probably already provided you with enough evidence that I don’t leave much up to chance. The next chapter, Choreography, will offer even more confirmation that I’m fond of control. As an aside, I must tell you that I never realized that I like control until I began therapy. Weird, huh? – that I never knew before then?

Okay – here goes a sample newscast in therapy session:

1. I took a walk in the woods today.

2. I signed up for a pilates class.

3. I wrote a letter to the mayor.

4. I’m going to run the 5K.

5. I told my friend about the abuse.

6. I had a calm conversation with my ex.

And although I believe the newscast is valuable for me and to me by opening up more of who I am out in the ‘real’ world with my therapist, I also believe that the ‘news’ gives her information about me that can help me.

For example referring to above list (therapist thinking):

1. She’s not scared of bears (or spiders or ivy) anymore

2. She’s beginning to take care of herself more.

3. She exhibiting more self-confidence.

4. She’s emerging from depression.

5. She’s leaving shame behind.

6. She’s gotten a handle on her anger.

And I’ll end this part of my story with Walter Cronkite’s famous ending of his nightly newscast “And that’s the way it is”

Chapter 11 – Witness Protection Program

The Witness Protection Program Am I the witness or is my therapist the witness? I witness myself. My therapist joins me in that witnessing. So, who needs protecting?

Obviously it’s me. Unlike the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program, we, who join the therapeutic witness protection program, will not need protection forever. In fact, joining the restorative witnessing empowers and emboldens those who participate.

One of the oddities I encountered witnessing myself is that I discovered that I needed protection from MYSELF. Huh, you ask? I know, I know. I’m a bit confused here too. We need to explore now the concept of protection and from what or who is protection provided? Let’s visit a cultural icon – Pac-Man.

Pac-Man has enemies and their names are Blinky, Inky, Pinky and Clyde. Some of our enemies that we may be named fear, shame, anger, and melancholy. The enemies of Pac-Man chase him and our enemies chase us too.

Pac-Man is the classic computer game released way back in 1980. Since then there have been thousands upon thousands of games to download on computers/tablets/smartphones. We can ‘enjoy’ being chased by evil demon monkeys in ‘Temple Run’. We can have ‘fun’ avoiding all those zombies who chase us in too many games to count.

We can become Merida the heroine from the animated feature from Disney “Brave” and outrun Mordu the demon bear. Being chased is a theme common in kids’ movies. In ‘Epic’ our heroes, M.K., Nod, and General Nonin are chased by Mandrake, leading his forces of evil. In the chronicles of kids’ stories,

Bambi was chased and so was Lady, the beloved Cocker Spaniel by the dog catcher and mean street dogs in Walt Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”.

It is known that the most archetypal nightmare is the one in which we’re not able to run fast enough while being chased. And most of us have been chased – either in reality or in our imaginations. The terror of running and trying to hide and avoid dying is an overwhelming experience.

But you know what I’ve found – in my middle class American life where few physical dangers exist? I’ve found that my fear mostly resides inside myself. And what have I feared the most? Being Found Out – by ME!

See, I do not want to be caught by those aspects of me that I find scary and distasteful. So I run. And hide. And refuse to stop and take an attentive look at the ‘danger’ I am running from.

I seek protection. I don’t want to engage in witnessing unlike the Federal program in which the witness has already witnessed. So, we seek protection BEFORE witnessing and they do so AFTER witnessing.

Can I say one more time how my therapist is great? Well, I will. She sees me running and hiding. But she doesn’t tell me to STOP. She comes with me and slowly yet slowly encourages me to slow down and look back at those terrifying images. And I slowly yet slowly I learn that they weren’t as terrifying as I had believed. I begin to SEE them; witness them.

Yep, sometimes it’s still hard to keep from running and hiding. I mean, who wants to actually see themselves as ‘selfish’, ‘controlling’, ‘proud’, ‘angry’, ‘petty’, and so on. But, I’ve learned that if a person does not look squarely at their WHOLE person, become a witness, they will always be on the run, being chased, trying to keep from ‘killed’ by the truth.

But there’s no ‘dying’ with the truth – there is freedom from fear and freedom from lies. Maybe the time has come to understand that most of us do not have physical dangers to flee and to realize we no longer need to identify those ‘ugly’ parts of ourselves as threats.

The therapeutic witness protection program is where the therapist provides a safe place to witness and become whole. Eventually we’ll be able to let go of protection and stop running and stop hiding. Until then, we can be grateful that this program is made available for most of us who enter the therapy relationship.

Chapter 10 -Blabbering/Blubbering

Oh yes, my therapist has been and continues to be a hapless victim of my non-stop blabbering. All of the words tumbling out of my mouth also go by the names of jabbering, blathering, prattling, driveling. Oh yes, oh my. Such a wealth of titles given to uncontrolled verbiage.

Although I’m shocked by my non-stop chatter in session, probably my friends and acquaintances will just nod their heads knowingly. Hmmm… Does this mean they know me better than myself?

So, what do I bring to session? What topics do I drag through the door and into her office? I can assure you that they’re all very interesting and relevant (to my inquiring mind.

For example (since there have been 1,000’s upon 1,000’s of subjects, I can only offer you a small sample):

To T – “Did you know that cricket is the 2nd most popular sport in the world with 2.5 billion fans – only 1 billion less than soccer and 1/2 billion more than field hockey?”

“Have you ever been on a roller coaster? Not me – and let me tell you the reasons                 why.”

“I think Emma Thompson is the best actress ever. What do you think?”

“What possesses those people who try to climb Mt. Everest? Are they crazy?”

Occasionally I’ll mention I’m feeling sad or anxious but then I quickly change the subject to something much more interesting.

I do know that many people have a hard time talking in session. Not me! I’m the original chatterbox. I believe that my role in therapy is to entertain my therapist. I mean that’s why she pays me, right? Oh, just remembering that I pay HER! Oh well.

And opinions. I have opinions galore. Finally I’ve trapped someone for 50 minutes and they get to hear all about them. No weaseling off with an excuse to go to the restroom. No checking cell phone and finding a reason to leave. No interrupting me to share their news. No siree. I’ve got a captive who has no choice but to endure me. Ah, what power!

So, blabbering I’ve mastered but blubbering still eludes me. I’m realizing now that blabbering is just another word for ‘mute’ in therapy. Instead of silence, my mutism breaks out in noise. My particular flavor of numbness prevents me from touching that emotional core that allows the inner self to rise and be seen.

So, sorry guys, I thought I was making a case for blabbering here but it is apparent that blubbering is the optimum skill. I’m still learning. You know that, right?

Chapter 9 – Archeology

You know those people who dig and excavate and chip away at old ruins, those people called archeologists? Curiosity of the past is understandable but who wants to get dirt under their fingernails for such a cause? Not me!

Little did I realize when I began therapy that I would be embarking on a true excavating adventure. And what is even more amazing is that when I began, I was not even aware that I was moving towards getting my own hands dirty, so to speak.

We know about exploration – we explore the foundations of knowledge and try to fill the tank with more and more facts; we explore the tiniest to subatomic matter; we explore the furthest to distant galaxies; we explore the past to the time of dinosaurs; we explore the future to centuries ahead.

Our eyes look, our ears listen, our fingers touch, our lips taste and we are captivated in wonder by all of creation.

But, I believe, the greatest target of exploration is within oneself – not the body, but the mind.

And so, when I began my work with my therapist, I began an excavation. It is the most curious thing because I was not exactly sure, in fact I was completely ignorant of what I was searching for. There was only an impulse, a drive that kept me digging and a vulnerable, naked intent that took ahold of me.

The search takes place in the dark. The tools used are unseen and unknown (at least to me they were). Handling such tools was awkward and frustrating. There was only clumsy movement with no sense of direction nor any easily understood goal.

O.k., o.k., now I’m scaring off those of you who might consider entering the fun playground of psychotherapy. Hey, don’t be frightened. It’s actually quite exciting. Who wants to live their whole days and complete lives in comfortable and boring circumstances? Maybe we don’t have the chance to go to the moon or discover the Americas, but we CAN dive into that wonderful adventure of learning who we are.

Hey, go ahead and laugh. You won’t be the first one nor the last. I’m laughing too. Really, there are people watching me who smirk and snicker and most of them are the voices I hear within myself that continually told me I was on a fool’s errand.

I felt like Don Quixote but at least he had plenty of faith, courage and belief. Whatever faith, courage or belief I may have owned continued to waver and flicker and threatened to die.

Well, yes, like any excavation project or any crazy search for life on other planets, the work is grueling and dirty and sweaty and the dust and commotion created is immense.

The pull is almost overpowering to give up the exertion and return to the ground/surface on planet Earth where all seems clean and calm.

The voices pounded away at me: “Give up your silly pursuit. What do you really hope to gain? There is nothing to be found. You have been enchanted by a romantic idea that has no foundation in reality. Just accept your lot like everyone else and save yourself all that turmoil and trouble.”

So, with so much doubt, confusion and weakness of will, how did I continue? How did I hang on to that willowy, barely discernible sense, that yes, there IS something valuable to discover deep within?

Well, I can’t answer that question. I suspect that there is a life force that insists on exerting its power. I could not ignore the hints that came my way that confirmed that my efforts were not a tremendous waste.

To be honest, I have no idea how I was to snag sufficient faith that my endeavor was worthwhile; how I strengthened my shallow and weak belief that I was heading in the right direction; how I sensed that the dirty and difficult work WOULD reveal a hidden treasure – a healing that was to be mine alone.

I wavered and threatened to quit too many times to count. But I always returned to the thought that ‘ I don’t have anything to lose even if the hunt, in the end, is a hunt for nothing.’

And clinging to these concepts did help:

Persistence; Perseverance; Patience

And now- well, you could say I’ve become a believer in archeology.