transforming my world
one lousy, hateful, embarrassing thought at a time
When I told my therapist the other day that instead of looking for a job I was going to devote myself primarily to weeding out all the unhelpful thoughts in my mind, she nodded adamantly in favor.
I thought that was a sign that we had finally found a middle ground between my predisposition to solve every problem spiritually, and her more practical, feet on the earth, approach to life.
If I can solve all my problems in the world by changing the thoughts in my mind, that’s not exactly a “hands on” approach, but somehow it comes close enough to earth for her to approve of.
“It’s called cognitive behavioral therapy,” she said with an apologetic smile. I guess she didn’t want me to give all the credit for the idea to A Course in Miracles.
Today I ran into a conundrum though. I’m following Julia Cameron’s prescriptions for how to structure my time, as I’ve mentioned. So, first thing in the morning I write three pages of longhand blather — the “morning pages.”
First thing in the morning is a misrepresentation. That’s what it’s supposed to be, a half hour exercise. But because I’m never one to obey the rules, I make tea, I write a few sentences and then I turn on the computer. I jerk myself back to my task after 45 minutes lost, and write some more, until I remember an e-mail I forgot to send, and the whole thing often takes me three hours.
Today I got disgusted with myself. I called myself an addict. Then I remembered I’m on a campaign to stop hating myself, to weed out all the hateful thoughts. OK, but then how am I ever going to do anything? If I just sit here and approve of myself, I’ll just sit here wasting time forever. Or so I think. Which thoughts are good and which thoughts are bad? How do I sort it out?
This reminds me of my recurring nightmare of being assigned to sort through impossibly huge piles of junk — keep or get rid of — sell or throw in the garbage? I wish I could throw EVERYTHING in the garbage, but no, there’s probably some teapot worth $100,000 somewhere in this pile.
So I had to ask Bob for help, my faithful, made-up, inner guide and invisible friend. He almost always starts the same way, with a question about what I want.
Bob: What do you want to do right now?
me: Write a blog
Bob: Tell me all the reasons you can’t do what you want.
me: People don’t read my blog, people are sick of me, I should be earning money, I should be more productive, I say I want to follow Julia Cameron’s program but I don’t do it (so do I really want to?), I have other tasks I should be doing, I need to change my behavior, follow a discipline.
Bob: Anything else?
me: I don’t trust myself to know what I should do. Or when I should do it. I don’t trust my “flow.” I find a program to follow and then I don’t follow it. I’m like an addict, the kid I read about today (when I was supposed to be writing my morning pages) who spent 15 months at a very expensive rehab center, and then died of a drug overdose three days into his freshman year of college.
Bob: What would you do if you trusted yourself?
me: Immediately I think, I’d go shopping for food. I need to get some ingredients to cook something for the dinner tonight with my friends. I need to get that out of the way… so I can write my blog.
But that’s what I’d do if I didn’t trust myself, isn’t it? Because I’m afraid I’ll leave the shopping and cooking until the last minute and then I won’t have time to make something nice for our dinner — what a deadbeat!
Bob: What would you do if there was nothing to fear?
me: Write my blog, Bob. But I tell myself I just want attention. That seems to have been the biggest taboo there ever was in my family, you know, to be caught asking for attention…
And that brings up another incident that happened recently.
We were sitting in my mother’s living room having drinks and appetizers before Thanksgiving dinner. Half of the family was out in L.A. this year, so we had planned to call them around 5:30 east coast time. My son suggested we use facetime. I handed him my phone to dial his sister in L.A. because I had never used facetime before.
The first two letters of my daughter’s first name happen to also be the first two letters of my therapist’s last name and somehow instead of calling his sister, my son ended up dialing my therapist. He looked down at my phone after it started ringing and called out my therapist’s name in surprise.
“Hang up!!” I yelled. I couldn’t stop laughing. “Wow, that would be SO EMBARRASSING!” It had only rung once on our end. I hoped it had not rung at all on her end. We proceeded with another try and eventually had our Thanksgiving hellos with the correct California faces.
Every time I thought about this over the next week, I laughed. I even woke up in the middle of the night laughing. SO AWKWARD.
When I saw my therapist this week I asked if she’d gotten a missed call from me on Thanksgiving Day. She had not. She said, “I probably wouldn’t have even heard it if my phone rang— there were a lot of people in my house.”
I said, “I wouldn’t have ever intentionally called you on Thanksgiving!”
She said, “You could have. I would have called you back if I’d seen a missed call.”
“But I didn’t need to!” I protested. “I was having a nice Thanksgiving.”
She gave me one of her soft loving looks. Then we went on to other things, but the phone incident still replayed in my mind after the therapy session was over, causing hysterical laughter whenever I thought about it. This morning, in my morning pages, (yes, I did finally complete them around noon), it occurred to me that the laughter was an expression of my intense embarrassment. But why? What’s so embarrassing?
Ugh — this is hard to look at. When she said she wouldn’t have heard the phone because “there were so many people in my house,” I felt jealous. I wished I could have been one of them. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I do not want to wish that! That’s not ME, I tell myself. That’s an inner child I don’t want to acknowledge. Far be it from ME to ever wish anything like that!! I know the rules of therapy: strict separation of therapist from ordinary life. And yet at night I dream of her coming into my ordinary life, lying on my bed chatting with me, or hanging out with my family. It always feels so good in a way— and yet there’s also a background anxiety in the dreams — I don’t know how to BE around her in these ordinary situations. I can’t relax, even though I really want her there.
Thank goodness therapy is set up the way it is, and she obeys the rules. I really would get SO CONFUSED if my therapist tried to be my friend. I’m glad I read Jeffrey Smith’s blog (see link below) about this early on, so I understand that it’s perfectly ordinary, and expected, for my unmet needs from childhood to be transferred onto a therapist. Somehow she has to walk a fine line between giving me what I need, but not going too far. She’s amazing at that. She never hurts my feelings, but she lets me feel the hurt feelings that come up because of the boundaries.
I guess I have to talk about this next time, about what I secretly wanted, my jealousy, the picture I had of her full living room (which I’ve never seen, but the couches were just like the ones in her therapy room) on Thanksgiving Day. Ugh, ugh, ugh. So crazy, so embarrassing.
Bob: You can come home with me any time. There will be a thanksgiving party whenever you get here, and a full house.
me: Oh, Bob…
When I broke up with the last man in my life, I decided I was not going to go into another relationship until I had healed the wounds that have caused all my relationships to fall apart. Therapy is a sort of laboratory, a place to experiment with a relationship. All the same feelings come up as if it were a “real” relationship. But it isn’t real. Nor is it unreal. It’s a carefully maintained middle ground.