Chapter 18 – The Quest

I promised you  dazzling and swashbuckling tales of the epic battles between good and evil. You anticipate stories of valor and bravura. You breathlessly await accounts of perseverance that combat seemingly insurmountable blockades to success.

Yep, that’s all in store for you. Follow my narration of events that have become the legend and the lore of heroes. You’ll be able to view a first hand account of blazing glory. You’ll never regret that you walked this path with me.

The latest adventure began when it was ME who was going on vacation. Whoopee! I’m gonna get outta town for a while. What a nice change. Instead of my therapist, Anne, leaving me, I was leaving her. (Hmmm… did I subconsciously wish she’d be in agony with MY absence?)

I get to disappear and forget all of my troubles. I told Anne that I just wanted to drive until I arrived at the end of the Earth. It was going to be so great! Total freedom. No responsibilities. Hundreds of miles on the road. Slow and easy and an opportunity to finally ‘find myself’.

I decided then to appoint a name to my journey. It would be titled ‘A Quest’. My imagination elevated its purpose as being similar to those who sought the Holy Grail. I felt a mystical companionship with King Arthur and his knights. But, whereas Lancelot and Galahad enjoyed the alliance of other brave knights, I was alone in my quest.

Uh, quest for what? Uh…uh… well, uh… complete and total self- knowledge? Uh-final victory over my deficiencies and deficits? Uh…and how would I do that? Uh… make it a ‘boot camp’ for the mind? Uh…do what exactly? Uh… well, obviously not well thought out so, of course, I fumbled and tripped and fell and regrouped and… (I’ll share the gory details in the next chapter).

Needless to say, and as anyone who has a brain in their noggin, “wherever you go, there you are.” Silly me – I thought if I drove 1000 miles, I would leave my old self behind and my new improved self would just hop in the car without even needing an invitation.

Hey, I told you already that I’m not the brightest bulb in the box. I know that many of you are beginning to feel sorry for Anne. I also feel sorry that she has such a dimwit to work with. I suppose I should pay her extra for the terrible challenge she faces when I enter her office.

Now is when you get a preview of the next chapter. I will tell you that Anne agreed that I could call her as often as needed and that I could leave voicemails or we could have telephone sessions. Not bad, huh?

Fear = cowardice.

In this situation, I was a true coward. It’s strange, though, because I don’t lack bravery in other parts of my life. I can travel alone to the far corners of the Earth and feel no fear. I can traipse alone in foreign lands and thrive where I understand not a word being spoken. I can make a fool of myself in front of an audience and happily laugh at myself.

I can challenge the hierarchy of a large organization and stand my ground for what I think is right. I can act silly and stupid and childish and carefree and not have a worry about what anyone thinks of me.

I can enroll in a class that teaches Quantum Physics and not be embarrassed that I understand almost nothing but still enjoy being surrounded by all those smart people. Oh, not credit courses, you know – I’m not that crazy.

You know the advice of ‘dance as if no one is watching’. I do that.

But, if you take my therapist away from my me, I dissolve into a puddle of fear. Who can figure?

Oops – just realized that the swashbuckling tale doesn’t arrive until the next chapter. Sorry.

Chapter 6 – The Dungeon Keeper

No, no, no – I’m not talking about that famous video game where we want to conquer the world. No, that’s not what I mean. My dungeon keeper is someone slightly different but you’ll have to wait a bit to understand until I get to that part of the tale.

See, I had a story. I’m not unique. We all have stories. I can tell you a story about my trip to Costco yesterday. Breakfast stories are always entertaining. Stories within stories are numerous too. Let me tell you about the T.V. show Luke Cage on Netflix. Or did you hear the latest about Rihanna (or my next door neighbor)? We breathe stories every moment of our lives.

But what if you have a secret story, a hidden story? What if that story hurts? What if it keeps gnawing at you and it won’t disappear?

That story lives inside. And that story wants, no, NEEDS to be told. It needs to be heard, and seen.

Maybe you remember some happy stories from when you were a kid. Maybe you remember getting an ‘A’ on a test or drawing a picture that you liked. Didn’t you run to your Mom or Dad all excited because your ‘story’ needed to be shared? Didn’t that feel good?

And those stories that hurt? Maybe someone at school was mean to you. Maybe you felt ashamed that you hadn’t done your homework. If you were lucky, there was someone in your life you could tell.

But, many of us weren’t given that gift of having a listener in our lives. And so much of our unspoken history collected inside of us. And some, or even many of those tales, were seemingly forgotten. You know, like when you throw your excess coins into a bowl or box but then forget that you’ve amassed a small fortune?

Our abandoned stories sure don’t seem like treasures. We may have deigned them simply as waste to be discarded. We cast them into our own personal dungeon – deep below our living room – below the space where our conscious lives carry on.

Then one day, or one week, or one year we begin to live a story that we can’t have imagined. The dungeon is full – no more stories can be hidden. We believe that everything tossed into the dungeon is offal – getting close to it too terrible to contemplate.

Maybe we try to empty the dungeon by throwing this refuse into the garbage cans out back. Again, surprisingly, we discover that no one is coming by to pick up the rubbish.

What to do? Panic mode ensues. The muck is beginning to seep everywhere. My goodness – what if someone sees it? Smells it? What if my secret story spills out into the alleyway? What, what, what to do?

Well, now it’s time to face the Dungeon Keeper. Who is the dungeon keeper? Why does she keep my stories captive? Why do the stories seldom escape? And why do I believe my stories are less than worthy – that they need to be tossed?

It wasn’t until my own self-described sewage became too toxic to survive anymore that I realized the dungeon keeper was my own fear. It was me, living upstairs, who kept the stories hidden.

I needed to release my stories. And who would slay the dungeon keeper? Who would conquer the fear? Who slays the dungeon keeper? Who will be the hero? You may begin to agree with others that I have a split personality when I tell you that it was ME who was able to become the conqueror. The courage within ME overcame the fear within ME.

Courage slays fear, I’ve learned. Well, no – the truth is we’ve always known that courage slays fear but I guess I’d say that that ‘truth’ does not become Truth until we’ve experienced it ourselves.

I became the hero.

I don’t know about you but my imaginary life overlaps with my so-called ‘real’ life. Honestly, when I thought about my pent up stories, I actually could visualize their life in a dungeon.

So, anyway, what does all this talk about dungeons, keepers, trash have to do with therapy anyway? (Yep, two anyways in a sentence is bound to be an object of your admiration, right?)

This long drawn out story is really about my therapist, Anne. No, maybe it’s really about the hero, my courage. No, I think it’s about that space that opened up once the hero came forth and rescued me. No, it’s about….

Let me think about this a bit more, ok?

Well, the metaphor so far has a few characters – all of whom are me, by the way. The trash, the dungeon, the hero, the dragon master, even the trash cans are the roles that I inhabit.

So, what role does my therapist play? Is she the ‘sanitation engineer’ that we so fondly like to name our garbage collectors? Did she help me dispose of the trash?

No. I don’t want to visualize her in that role simply because by the end of the story I realized that what I had considered trash and garbage were really signposts to my deeper self. They needed airing because without coming into the light out of the dungeon they would fester and rot and sicken the entire house.

What she was and continues to be is the torchbearer. When the hero (me) used courage (me) to look for a solution to the trash problem (me), she showed a beacon, a light that guided me.

One of the definitions of torchbearer in the Oxford dictionary is “ A person who leads or inspires others in working towards a valued goal. Yes, I could state that about my Anne, my therapist but how she did that is the magical part of the story.

See, with Anne, I WAS HEARD. I AM HEARD. Being heard, I believe, is the most important part of inner growth and healing.

And though we began this little fable referring to dungeons, I’ll conclude by stating that my forward journey could not have begun without someone listening to ME.

The removal of the treasures (I called them trash earlier) in my dungeon can take a long time. That’s o.k., because unlike real trash which we want to discard as quickly as possible, our ‘trash’ are jewels that need close inspection and renewed appreciation. We discover that these jewels deliver a richness of life that might never have been discovered without someone the hero could show them to.

I’m going to repeat myself: Being heard is a powerful antidote to emotional suffering and is a salve to emotional wounds.

It is a theme that runs through all of the stories I’ll share with you. Whether I’ve struggles with ruptures with my therapist or I’ve felt fear of her or I’ve gained incredible insights with her, I can guarantee you that if I hadn’t felt heard, my inner work with Anne would have not have been fruitful.

Now that you know that the key element, for me, in therapy is the experience of being heard, I can now discuss some of the stumbling blocks that can be put in the path of our inner work.

The work of cleaning out the dungeon can be dirty and challenging. We face steep, slippery steps. Some of the bags to remove seem too heavy. Other debris is difficult to see in the poor light.

The next chapters I’ll begin describing some of those challenges.

Chapter 12 -Finding Nemo, I mean, Ovid

Ha! You thought you’d be reading about a cute little fish, didn’t you? Nemo, the star of the 2003 animated feature by Disney, is beloved by children of all ages. And, yep, I’m guilty of pulling that ol’ “bait and switch” dirty trick. But, hey, be honest – if I’d just thrown out Ovid’s name, would you have even taken a second look? Probably not. So, don’t blame me. I’m just doing what I can do to help you see the connections between Nemo, Ovid and Justin Bieber and how they all are part of the string of associations to my experience in psychotherapy. (Hey, did that last sentence grab you? Just so you know – Walt Whitman makes an appearance also)

Let’s begin at the beginning. I found Ovid. Well, not actually. I didn’t even know I was looking for Ovid. Truth be told, I had never heard of Ovid before. (Don’t tell anyone) Well, maybe that name was tucked away in one of those tiny cavities of information that is stored so deep in my brain that not even the most talented of brain ‘miners’ in the world would be able to recover.

This is it – Ovid is to Narcissus what Usher is to Bieber. Not bad how I am able to plug pop culture into Greek mythology into Roman poetry, huh? (Hold on – I’ll get to Nemo later)

In the first months of seeing a therapist on a weekly basis, I was very uncomfortable talking, talking, talking, about myself. That’s not how I do ‘real life’. In real life, I have CONVERSATIONS. Those conversations incorporate the natural give and take of sharing.

But, no – not in a therapy session. The focus is all on you. You know – out there in the world, it’s not cute to be as self-absorbed as one must be in therapy. It’s not attractive. It’s not appealing. We say things about those people who seem like NARCISSISTS!

“Oh, my”, I whispered to myself. “Am I a narcissist? I think I’m a narcissist. All I do is think about myself – my thoughts, my feelings, my life, my point of view, my intentions, my, my, my, my.”

So, I came to believe that my new-found attraction to therapy was simply and only an elitist exercise in self-indulgence. With a creeping growth of a sense of horror, I could not avoid thinking thoughts like:

“Where else can I show how much I love myself except with my therapist? Only there with her can I talk about myself non-stop. Only there can I think only about myself. Only there can I hang on my every word and thought. Only there can I believe how important and precious I am. Only there can I accept my own self-accolades. Only there can I, in reality, make love to myself.

“Sure, I can moan and groan about my lacks and faults in session. But, dang, they’re MY lacks and faults. Oh, what a pleasure to examine them in detail and to explore their ‘possibilities’. And what about my childhood? Oh, the most important childhood ever – because it leads to ME!”

Because of my feelings of shame and disgust about the signs that seemed to point to my being narcissistic, I decided to investigate the topic more. And that’s when I learned about Ovid (Publius Ovidus Naso 43 BC-AD 17), the Roman poet who in his work, Metamorpheses , popularized the Greek myth about Narcissus. [Like Bieber toiling away in obscurity in Canada before Usher brought him fame, so was Narcissus tucked away in the canon of Greek myths until Ovid brought him to our attention).

And the character Narcissus is the source of our term narcissistic which is defined as ‘excessive love or admiration for oneself’. This mythical character was very proud of himself and his beauty. He felt aloof and held disdain for anyone who loved him. He cared only for himself – so much so that when he saw his reflection in a pool, he was so entranced by his own beauty that he could not leave the image and died by that body of water.

But many centuries later, Walt Whitman, in his poem, “Song of Myself” begins his work by writing:

‘I celebrate myself, and sing myself’

And further in poem states:

‘We are large, we contain multitudes’

And so, maybe during this exploration into our inner self, we can face the adventure like Nemo who was abducted and lost but was able to face the dangers and learn how to take care of himself.

For us, one of the dangers is the risk of beating up on ourselves too much while we’re engaged in our own adventure and to realize that we need not compare ourselves to ancient mythological characters while still accepting that, yes,