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 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 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.


Chapter 8 -Control Freak

Yep, that’s me. Not too long after beginning therapy, I wanted desperately to take control. I thought that control meant success, control meant progress, control meant solutions to my problems. WRONG!  Take a look at my proposal to my therapist. I know, I know – pretty laughable, huh?  But, have some sympathy, ok? – I was feeling desperate.

I named my strategy – The Preferred Method

“Oh yes Well, how I’d like it to go is like this: I share with you my issues; we discuss them with clear and focused attention; we make charts and outlines that represent historical events; current scenarios; emotional triggers; etc. etc.

“Then we cross-reference all the data we have collected. We take all the gathered information and we work together to piece the parts into an clearly viewed coherent whole.

“We will discuss how my particular pieces fit into a schema that is easily understood and addressed.

“We then will match the data with known effective approaches for change. After matching them, I will employ those strategies.

“Each week I will report to you how those strategies were helpful or not. We will then adjust the strategies to my personal changing situation.

“While doing this we will refer to the volumes of writings that support our conclusions and our decisions on what protocols to apply. The masters of psychological investigation will be our guides in this enterprise.

“We will continue this until we’ve found the perfect formula and after applying that formula, experiencing success with that formula, I will then take leave of therapy.

“You and I will congratulate each other on our wonderful analytical approach and how well we did in our detective work and how much genius we applied to our mutual effort in decoding anything that was at first not easily understood. And we both will go home happy and content. Everything under control…”


Hey, guys – pretty cool, huh? Wish it had worked, though.

Chapter 7 -At The Deli

When I’m at the deli counter, I usually have a list in hand. In days past, I’d glance at a crumbled piece of paper in which I’d been adding names of delectables throughout the week. Even though wrinkled and scribbled upon, it held the inventory of my needs and wants. Nowadays, those goods of desire live inside my smart phone in one of those ubiquitous shopping apps.

I’m not one to command or bark at another. I just softly but firmly point to that which I require – a pound of potato salad, ½ pound of sharp cheddar cheese, a dozen dolmas. I suppose if I were wracked with hunger, my order might be expressed with more urgency and with maybe a tremulous voice.

My first visit to my T felt like going to the deli when hungry. I intended to express my needs in the same manner of clarity & urgency as when requesting deli items. In both situations I intend to hide from the other any detection of my hunger. I suspect I failed in that quest with my therapist since she’s trained in the art of detection. No matter.

A difference emerges- the therapy list’s purpose served also as a barrier between me and T. A flimsy piece of paper has never been put to such good use. I could keep my eyes on the words while reading and thereby avoiding eye contact. And I could hold the paper in a defensive posture (we’ve all heard the stories of therapists attacking their clients, right? just kidding, just kidding)

Lists have always served me well. They help me organize my thoughts and clarify my actions. Lists even morph into outlines if I’m not careful with them. And outlines occasionally scurry into diagrams. They’ve even been known to get out of control and become synopses or blueprints or thumbnail sketches. Lists exude safety – false security, I know, but still they do help me. I did learn later on that lists can also serve as a crutch but that’s a topic for another time.

So, you must already know, I had no idea what my therapist was selling. Did she even stock the goods I wanted to purchase? I didn’t know who she was and what she’d be like. So, fear (of what? I don’t know) along with desperate need accompanied me into her office- all to acquire a certain commodity.

Should I self-disclose? Right now I feel anxious about over-sharing. But I will let you take a peek at some of what I had meticulously painfully concentratedly inscribed in my therapist shopping list.

I read to her the entire page but for you now just the first 2 sentences.

Here goes: “What I want – I want to talk, unburden, confess, bare my soul in comfort and without fear- with the freedom to tell the truth as far as I understand it. And I want a listener who can offer insights and guidance.”

Dang – what demands I brought into that office. That 1st paragraph presents the introduction.

How many items are listed so far? –

1.Talk. 2. Unburden. 3. Confess. 4. Bare my soul. 5. Freedom. 6. Need Listener. 6…and more to come

To my therapist’s credit she did not graciously escort me out of her office right then. It must have been clear to her that I had high needs and expectations.

I did enjoy a saving grace that day, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought I was simply there to ‘interview’ her and then to decide if I would ‘employ’ her. I didn’t know then that she also was making an assessment of me and would be deciding if she’d take me on. I’m sure I would have fumbled the first meeting even worse than I did if I had have known I was being ‘interviewed’ also. What happened next? We made another appointment for the following week and my months of self-study had seriously begun.