Thursday, September 12, 2013


Over the past decade or so, I have mentioned my last therapist, Maude (the one therapist who really helped me heal), in various conversations with friends, always with a sense of awe or deep appreciation. She didn't offer answers or platitudes, but she had the wisdom of lived (and learned) experience, as well as a very skillful compassion that was not always gentle. Some days her compassion was so direct that it broke me wide open, left me gasping for air, feeling as raw as an exposed nerve.

With Maude I learned to cry again. I learned how to mourn. I learned that my childhood was not normal and not healthy. I learned how to accept myself, and in that process I learned how to forgive my parents for their failings, their shortcomings, and their ignorance. I learned that I was a kind of ugly duckling in my family and that separating from them as soon as I was able was not ungrateful, not disloyal, not selfish - it was necessary for my growth and survival.

I learned that all the drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity of my teen years - behaviors that had filled me with a sense of shame, that made me feel like a broken and terrible person - were nothing more than unskillful coping strategies, they were the ways I found not to chase a bottle of Vicodin with a fifth of whiskey and a handful of Valium. I learned to feel compassion rather than contempt for that scared and wounded kid that I had been.

I learned that depression can be a sane response to an insane world (this is a reframe of a quote from Ronald David Laing, who once said: "Insanity sometimes is the sane response to a mad society"). I also learned that my particular kind of depression was a form of living in the past, and that my anxiety was a way to live in fear of the future, a perspective that came originally from Lao Tzu:
If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.
I learned how to apply mindfulness and awareness to my interior states, an approach I was familiar with from the writings of Pema Chödrön. I learned that my Buddhist practice was not confined to time spent in meditation, that the best place to practice was my daily life.

After a couple of years, I began to notice that I was not so reactive to daily stresses and annoyances. I came to realize that the political blog I was writing at the time was making me miserable and cynical, aggravating my depression. I stopped following political news and switched to blogging at Integral Options Cafe, then to this blog.

I switched my blogging focus to growth, psychology, philosophy, and health. I became curious about what it means to be a man in this culture, during this time when gender roles and identities are shifting so rapidly. I began blogging here, at The Masculine Heart.

Soon I realized it was time to go back to school, to return to my original goal of becoming a psychotherapist. That had been my major during my first stint in college, but the program as too reductionist and I switched to an English degree and then a masters in humanities (literature and comparative religions).

When I was nearly 40, I was finally ready to become a therapist.

I am still learning, still trying to be a better person, and through working with my clients, I become my best self more and more every day. This is the gift they give me without ever knowing.

Even now, when I am working with clients, I hear Maude's voice in my head, asking the hard questions, reminding me to connect my brain with my heart in every moment. For that gift, I will be forever grateful.

No comments: