There but for the Grace of God

I feel as though sometimes I come off as a complainer.  When I talk about feelings of being “less than” it comes from a place of being fearful that I don’t know enough, I don’t know the right things to say or do to help my clients.  That I am not worthy enough to help them.  I am unbelievably humbled by them every day, and grateful.  I am grateful for the chance to learn about the complexities of the human condition.  I am humbled to even presume to be a part of their journey.  It gets frustrating when you I want to help them so badly but I simply cannot travel their journey for them.  Then I think it sounds insufferably arrogant to talk about journeys when they are in the middle of the muck of drug addiction, self-harm, emotional disregulation, schizophrenia, BPD…

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

“The worst thing is watching someone drown and not being able to convince them that they can save themselves by standing up.”  Anon

It comes down to not knowing enough, not understanding enough, and not having lived the experiences they have.  And yet…I kind of see us like…

“This guy is walking down the street and he falls in a hole.  The walls are so steep he cannot get out.

A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you.  Can you help me out?’  The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down the hole and moves on.

Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father I’m don in this hole.  Can you help me out?’  The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down the hole, and moves on.

Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?’  And the friend jumps in the hole.  Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid?  Now we are both down here.’  The friend says, “Yeah but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”–  The West Wing, IMG_6957 I remember when I was still in school someone gave a presentation on hospice care and how to work with families in the middle of the grieving process.  The woman made reference to “mud sitting,” sitting in the mud with a client.  Sometimes the company of another person while sitting in the mud is what is needed to transform the suffering.  Or as Thich Nhat Hanh says, “No mud, no lotus.”

This post has been kind of unfocused.  Long story, short:  Knowing how to mud sit while knowing the way out.  Be humble because, there but for the grace of God go we.

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Can I get a witness?

My Art Therapy supervisor and I had a brief conversation yesterday about “witnessing” another person’s story.  As therapists that’s part of what our role is, to witness.  In truth that is a large part of any social interaction.  “I am here to witness and share your story and you are here to witness and share in mine.”  This lead to me musing on my lack of friends.  I have acquaintances.  I have a few people I hang out with on the average of something like once a month.  I have family I regularly associate with.  But there is no one I am close to.  Most of this comes from the fact that I am an introvert and after a long day at work interacting with a lot of people, I am tired and all I look forward to is going home.  Alone.  Some of this also comes from the amount of time and effort it takes to cultivate a close friendship.  In some cases this can take years. Then again much of the time I am happy being alone, doing things alone, until I think, “I really should have a friend.  I really wish I had someone to share stories with.  I really wish I had someone I could relate to….I really wish I had a witness.”  I really wish I had someone I interacted with regularly where a mutual exchange of interests, energy, and enjoyment in each others company could take place.  And at times, I really wish I wanted it bad enough to make a coordinated effort to achieve such a relationship.

I once told my therapist that the thing I looked forward to the most each week were our sessions.  Our sessions, at that time, were pretty much the only “social” thing I did each week.  Her reply was, “That’s sad.”  I giggled over that for quiet a while.  (No lie.  I still giggle about it.)  I found it extremely funny.  She didn’t mean, of course, that it was sad that my primary interaction with someone was with my therapist.  She meant, she said, that it was sad that I did not share myself with anyone.  She saw the value in me as a person, qualities she thought meaningful, and that I had no one to share those with, she found sad.

I guess I am musing on this now because in the next couple of weeks we will be having what might be our last session, unless of course I need something or face some kind of crisis.  It has been a long road and I have spent a lot of time in her office over the last 6+ years.  I spent a lot of tortured time, a lot of growing time, and a lot of time simply enjoying the presence of a person I also found valuable.  I found my witness for the story I needed to tell.  I think back on how our therapeutic relationship started and marvel at the obscurities of chance.  Why her?  Why me?  She’s told me she doesn’t believe in chance which then leaves, we were meant to cross paths for a reason….This is getting off topic.  Excuse me.  I have had a valuable witness and part of me doesn’t want to let go.  I know that it is possible, if I really needed it or wanted it, to continue to see my therapist once every few months or so but I don’t know.  At that point it seems…pointless?  Or is it?There is value in checking in of course but the transformative period of time where the magic happened has passed, a chapter has closed so to speak.  Is it time for me to grow beyond the therapeutic relationship?  This could be equated to any relationship I guess.  So does the relationship need to end entirely now that my primary treatment goals are met or does it just need to transition to a new phase?

When my supervisor and I were talking yesterday she said something that kind of made my lack of close friends okay.  Before my new job I was working with people all day everyday at one job (cashier at a grocery store) and working primarily by myself at my “real” job (mobile therapy).  At my “real” job I had no one to regularly bounce ideas off of or seek feedback from.  As a result of both jobs, I was depressed and highly disillusioned, which lead me to feeling like an all around failure personally and professionally.  Now that I have regular contact with a treatment team at my new job I am much more fulfilled and I am more okay than not with having few social contacts.  My supervisor pointed out that as long as I am happy it is okay that I have so few social interactions.  But it’s not like one can regularly share the same things one would with a friend, at work. So where does that leave me?

New Day

At the suggestion of a friend of mine I decided to write an update entry.  In the past I’ve often written when I was upset or bothered by something.  Perhaps it is time for a different perspective.

Two months ago I got a new job.  One job. One paycheck.  Complete days off instead of partial.  I feel so blessed to be working a job and feeling like I am FINALLY getting somewhere instead of just treading water.  These past two months I’ve been excited to go to work for the first time I can ever remember and I don’t have to worry whether it will pay the bills.  It has been such a long time since I’ve had an ever so slight flexibility in my bank account.

I am learning so much too!  I can use what knowledge I already have.

When a person or a family is confined by their paycheck or lack of paycheck it is very hard to be hopeful and growth minded.  When your primary concern is survival, growth becomes almost impossible.  Everyday a person can read these “positive thinking” quotes or listen to podcasts or absorb the cultural messages that “if you just think it and work hard you will manifest your greatest self.”  While I appreciate the sentiment it is really condescending and disingenuous to the family who is wondering how to pay rent or waiting in line at the food bank.  Their priorities, my priority was surviving and I was in a much better place than most when I was working two jobs.  It is very difficult to be growth minded when you work yourself to exhaustion and feel hopeless.  Now this all can sound very condescending from a well-educated white chick but I am honestly amazed at the strength these families have and the sacrifices they make.

Now that I am in a better place financially my struggles with other issues seem more manageable.  Socially, eh, I’m working on it.  Expanding my therapeutic skills, I probably have a long way to go.  My anxiety is still present, especially when I am aware of all of my flaws and weaknesses (areas of growth). But the biggest change is finally, finally I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (and it is not just an oncoming train) and I can see a future.  I am finally able to judge my weaknesses and flaws with ever so slightly more perspective.  I am working on not judging my weaknesses and flaws as disqualifications for my worth as a human being.  Okay so maybe I am not as assertive or outgoing as would be beneficial in my profession.  Maybe I don’t respond as therapeutically, maybe I share too much, maybe I am little more than a friendly face…  I idolize people too readily, sometimes, to the point I disregard or cannot see or trust my own judgement.  I can always find my flaws before someone else points them out to me.  My strengths are what I need to concentrate on and finally I feel like I can (at least a little).

I am a writer.  I am smart (thanks Mom and Dad).  I enjoy my time alone.  I enjoy intelligent conversation.  I know what I like and what I don’t like.  I am creative.  I love art.  I love writing.  Now how do I make the best use of my strengths.  Grant writer?  Art therapy advocate?  Art therapist (if I am even no so awkward and clumsy) Author?

So what I am asking from the universe is help in keeping things in perspective.  Help me weigh my strengths more than my weaknesses.  Help me value myself and my contributions.  Help the anxieties and “less than” feelings fade away.  Help me find my place in the world.

The Gift of Relationship Building

So I’m writing about friendship and relationships again…When I was recovering from a migraine a couple of weeks ago what I wanted more than anything was for someone to make me a cup of tea.  Can cats be trained to make tea? I wondered.  I was on the mend but it took me quite a while to push myself to get off the couch to make the tea.  Regardless, it was one of the first times I could clearly remember wishing someone else was there to take care of me and not in a “I’m feeling sorry for myself, I’m so alone” kind of way.  I just remembered thinking about how nice it would be if the tea was there and made and I didn’t have to move my exhausted and woozy self.  And that I actually wanted someone there to be nice and take care of me was a weird weird experience for me.

I remember a few years ago I sprained my ankle and I had people from all over the place offering to do things for me.  Get groceries or whatever.  I put them off.  “No. No. It’s okay.  I’m fine”  You know how it is.  Nobody ever wants to admit, “Yeah groceries would be nice.” (If you have ever walked around a grocery store in a walking boot you know how exhausting it is.)  I pushed myself because it’s just “easier” to do it myself.  And to think I was actually going to go to work the next day and I had to be convinced to stay home.  It’s okay to take care of yourself.

This year especially I have realized it’s okay to admit shortcomings.  It is okay to admit I can’t and that nobody can do it all.  It is okay to want to be taken care of and to take care of yourself for that matter….But that is not really where I intended to go with this post.

Off and on my therapist and I have had conversations surrounding letting others do things for you.  It is okay to do things for other people but ya gotta let them do for you too.  She’s asked me how it feels when I have the opportunity to do something for someone, buy flowers, buy tea, drive someone somewhere, or let them sleep on your floor…It feels good.  It gives me a sense of control and demonstrates that I can matter to someone.  Being able to help someone feel better is a gift.  But when you or I don’t allow other people to do those same things for you, when needed, you or I are robbing them of that gift.  Now when I had my migraine it simply didn’t occur to me that I could ask friends or acquaintances to come make me tea.  I had people offer after the fact.  It just never occurred to me.  I guess that is the result of trying to do everything by myself for so long and being afraid of being hurt.  Definitely, being afraid of being hurt…But that I actually wanted someone there this time was even more astonishing to me.

My therapist says that doing for others and letting others do for you is how we establish relationships.  Being vulnerable and finding a safe place to land or a safe way to get your needs met is what draws us together as humans.  I have to learn to recognize the opportunities for joining in this way.  I have to recognize when to ask.

Pre-session Musings

Written pre-session a few days ago…and yes I did share this with my therapist.

Many times when I leave K’s I am anxious, sometimes happy, sometimes satisfied, sometimes, a few times, desolate.  Primarily, with a few exceptions, it’s all for the same reason.  I give “my power” away too easily.  If it’s not to Mom, or my Aunt, or to K then it’s to someone else.  I try to do or want what they want, or what they think I should do or want.

Last week K and I talked about my need to “write my own rules” and taking responsibility for making my own decisions.  She asked if part of the reason why I struggle with any kind of action towards anything is that I still have the need to put blame or responsibility onto my parents for my life choices.  While in part that may be true I don’t know if it’s true in the way she intended.  It is true that sometimes I take a perverse kind of pleasure in berating myself for not, in my perception, doing what others, again in my perception, want me to do.  So in leaving K’s with these perceptions of what I “should” be doing, what actions, any actions I “should” be taking, I get a kind of permission to metaphorically self-harm.  There is this belief that I “should” be doing more simply from the belief that I am not doing enough.  I am stagnant.  And K will ask “for what and for whom” and I struggle to answer.  Just the shear number of answers to that question overwhelms me.  And it is then that I realize “for what or for whom” usually means any person I assign parental authority to.  And it is then that I ask, “how do I learn to parent myself?”

Frequently there is this feeling at K’s that I have ti take action now.  Do things now. Make decisions now.  But I feel the need to be patient.  If an opportunity comes along I’ll give it attention.  In the meantime, I feel the need to be patient, be aware, learn what I can now. Let things come in their own time.  Is this apathy?  Maybe in part.  Could I be doing more.  Probably.  But in answering that question the anxiety begins to creep in.

Sometimes I feel and sometimes I know K pushes me and challenges me the way she does just to see how far she can go until I push back.  Except frequently I get so wrapped up in my self imposed anxiety that I withdraw and head down the well-worn path of self-abuse and the endless refrain of “not good enough.”  Which is where the desolation has come from in the past.

My anxiety has decreased quite a bit from what it was in the past.  I’ve learned to take pleasure in more things.  I do more for myself simply because they give me pleasure and they are my choices to make.  It is an immense relief to live by myself without being hyperaware of what another person is doing and feeling.  Having my own space to do whatever I please with and in has helped enormously.  But then I think of college where I shared a suite with suite mates and it wasn’t a big deal.

My anxiety comes now from doing more of those things that make me happy while balancing the burdens and obligations of paying bills.  I don’t feel like I can be too adventurous without jeopardizing what little balance I have.  That’s what I meant when I told K last week that “I’m just focused on maintaining right now.”  That is where the majority of my energy goes.  Any extra is spent on simple pleasures that make the burdens more bearable.  The question is, how do I lighten the burdens of maintaining, two jobs I tolerate with paychecks that barely cover my needs, without upsetting the balance?  What can I risk? Where?  How?  When?

I’ve asked these questions.  I’ve asked these questions repeatedly.  How do I become my own person fully and to not feel so connected to the ifs, buts, ands, ors, and maybe nots, that I try to navigate around?

What opened my eyes last week was a discussion we’ve had in some form or another in the past.  I was talking about Dad and how he just doesn’t seem to care.  I always end up feeling that I should be doing more, calling more, making more of an effort, visiting more even.  Where is his effort???  Anyway, K made a statement about it not being about me, that maybe it has nothing to do with me.  It could be and very likely is entirely Dad’s own problem to deal with.  For so long, forever it seems like, I’ve made things, like Mom’s emotions, Dad’s level of interest, whether or not someone likes me, my problem.  I have been the one not doing enough, not doing the right things, not right, not good enough.  What if it has nothing to do with me?  I haven’t spoken up about my thoughts and feelings many different times because I made them my problem.  I was the one who never fit and I struggled because I knew how I felt and it never seemed right.

There are so many stories I tell myself based on partial or skewed information that scenarios or themes are created that really have little foundation.  Of course other people  go around creating their own stories too based upon their own inaccurate conclusions.  The story I have told myself for so long is that I am bad, that I’m an inconvenience, and that it is my responsibility to make my life the least intrusive it could possibly be.  In my core I still struggle with believing in my value and worth.  That anyone would actually enjoy my existence is a foreign concept.  That anyone could value my existence, as I valued theirs, doesn’t seem possible in my heart and mind…

In search of…

My eternal struggle seems to be how to make a close friend.  There are a number of people I consider friendly acquaintances and a few, one maybe, two maybe, with whom I am a little closer.  I don’t have a close personal friend to do stuff with, to confide in and generally depend upon.  The most enriching interactions I get on a regular basis are my appointments with my therapist.  In order to truly be ready for discharge (something we have discussed directly and indirectly) I feel like I need to develop or be on my way to developing a replacement relationship otherwise I will end up exactly where I started 6 plus years ago.  It’s terribly depressing not to have a socially and emotionally validating relationship other than the one with my therapist.  In many ways I believe this is what keeps me stuck when attempting to develop therapeutic relationships with my own clients.  I do not have outside validation in my personal life and so I struggle with having confidence in my “self” as an inherently valuable individual.  My sense of self is dependent on others I’d say about 50-60% of the time, sometimes more.  It is a long and complicated concept to explain but it makes sense to me in my own personal journal writing.  My therapist once said that she believes that if my cat could talk I would never leave my apartment, and sometimes I wonder if this is true.  Finding the right person to invest time in and interest in is difficult, especially as I have been by myself for so long.  I can hardly remember what it was like when I did have a close friend.  I don’t remember it being very difficult to make allowances for our individual differences.  I remember having fun and enjoying each others company.  So why now does it seem like developing close intimate friendships requires so much more energy and why now does it require so much more to make it feel worth it?

Most of my interactions with people are work related either with the mental health company I work for or for the grocery store chain I work for. (blah prepositions at the end of sentences)  Other than the occasional Meetup group for coffee or whatever, I am alone.  Sometimes I wonder if I am just one of those perpetually alone, aloof, people.  The ones that are invited to parties and who leave alone, quietly, unobtrusively, at the end of the night.  They make dry witty remarks and are quite amusing but no one could mistake them for the life of the party.  But then no, because I usually prefer to be in bed, alone, in the quiet, by 9 or 10pm.  The quiet away from other people is what I prefer and yet I long for supportive, mutually validating, reflective, enjoyable, worthwhile relationships.

In the past I’ve sought out, purposefully sometimes and without purpose at other times, friendships? mentorships? with older adult women.  Excuse my mommy issues please.  I’ve lost the ability to make friends with peers.  I’ve lost the patience and attention and focus, perhaps?  I don’t know.  Friendships, I know, take time to cultivate but first I feel as if I need to see that there is someone or something I want to get to know.  I’ve met many perfectly nice people but where is that quality that draws us together, that makes it feel worthwhile?  If it requires work without interest or validation then it is just not worth it to me.  It would be like eating broccoli if you hate it.  It is good for you but you hate it and  you don’t see the point.  Why pursue something, like a relationship, if you are miserable?  And so, it has to be worth it to me.  A relationship, any relationship, has to be worth it to both parties.  When it no longer matters to one or the other then it kind of just drifts away because one person cannot force it to continue.  It’s impossible.  I just have to find my “worth it” friendships.  Whatever that means…

Together Alone

I know I have been lax in my blogging again.  Frequently it is an event that sparks my return to the blogging format.  This past week my therapist informed me that my next session would be my 200th.  That’s not 200 hours because she frequently goes above and beyond the therapeutic hour.  We do good work together.  The culmination of this work lead to a discussion of termination in the not too distant future.  It excites me but scares me at the same time, not because I don’t think I could handle it but because I would miss the conversation, the processing, and the interaction.  Socialization is one of the things I have to work on, developing relationships and friendships outside of the therapeutic relationship.

So that is what I have been thinking a lot about since my session early this past week.  My therapist has told me often that different friends meet different needs.  Someone you might hang out with at a ball game might not be someone you necessarily bring to a work party, for example.  My problem, if it can be called a problem, is that I don’t really have a clear idea of what my needs are.  I know I prefer more intimate social relationships than I do casual friendships.  I have work friends but I don’t know how many of them I would hang out with outside of work.  But then, I haven’t, so I don’t know.  One of my work friends could turn out to be a bestie.  I know from a social aspect I have loved my time with my therapist but I frequently confront the fact that in many of my relationships with women who are older than I am, I seek consciously or unconsciously to fill a surrogate mother/ daughter relationship.  I flourish like a plant turning towards a light source in their presence.  I feel like I glow with excitement.  However one friend who is nearly the exact same age as my mother I see and interact with more as a peer and I don’t get that striving kind of feeling from our friendship and it feels less intimate in some ways.  I guess I am trying to figure out what friendship looks like and feels like since it has been so long since I have had a relationship I could clearly define and count on as a friend.  And if that striving, intimate, nourishing feeling isn’t realistic or is something I need to do for myself, then what is a friendship and how do I do that for myself?  Logically I know a friendship is a connection between two people who enjoy spending time together.

Professionally, my therapist has helped me to see that I need practice in interacting socially.  I have the head knowledge, as she says.  But I need to develop my ability to interact with people.

I have also been wondering again about the mystery of what leads us to be drawn to one person over another.  Why, for example, did I choose my therapist?  She was a professor of mine during a summer studio class.  There were two professors so why her and not the other woman?  There was something about my therapist’s personality that I liked, obviously.  Why are we drawn to some people more than others?  I know some people who are perfectly nice and fine and would be a good friend probably but I am just not drawn?, compelled?, attracted?,  to them as I would be to someone else.  There were teachers like that in school too.  As for peers I remember feeling on the outside, like a third wheel.  It often didn’t feel natural.  The only time it didn’t I remember was with my middle school best friend.  I remember that same sense of inclusion during the Curves trip to see the Pirates play.  I was part of the group…I am getting off track.

Now as for that sense of belonging I know I felt somewhat separate from the group during my grad school experience.  There were groups of people who hung out together, smallish little groups of 2-3-4 people, and I didn’t really feel like I was a part of one of those.  I felt separate.  It was a lonely feeling but not unfamiliar.

One of the reasons I like working at Giant Eagle is that sense of belonging.  People know me.  Coworkers can count on me.  They see me as a good worker.  I have been there long enough to be a part of that camaraderie that comes from working in the trenches of a service industry.  I can joke freely and I am confident enough in the duties of my job that I can get in there and work as hard as the best of them.  Best of all are the regular customers.  I remember when I first started at Giant Eagle that I admired and longed for that sense of community.  Now I am one of those who can say, “Mr. So-and-so, you’re by yourself today!” or “Hey! You’re late today.”  I can joke with the regulars and they know me.  And in that sense, beyond the monetary one, working at Giant Eagle meets a very big need of togetherness and community, for me.

So…my point.  Friendship.  What is it?  What does it mean?  What needs does it meet?  How do I know if my expectations are too high?