Tuesday, 30 August 2016

This breath

Confusion, the Cauldron of creation
Bubbling with directions not yet clear...
I see nothing, I understand nothing.
Yet I breathe, this moment is all I have.

I put one foot in front of the other
And jump off the cliffs of Certainty
Into the Abyss of Nothingness and Surrender;
 I give away everything
Knowing I could only grasp at illusion.
A part of me will die, another is waiting to be born.

This breath is all I have
This breath I surrender, too.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Different (part 3 of 3)

I couldn't believe my ears! All my carefully constructed relationship with her up to that day I had now blown away. What a beginners' mistake! Why was I so angry? Why was I so adamant to blow all her defenses away in one single session? Why hadn't I been able to contain myself? This was either going to work wonders or it was going to be a complete idiocy on my part. 

I dreaded the discussion I was going to have with my supervisor about the therapy with Irene. I knew all too well I had lost all control. This was a huge gamble and maybe I should have played it safe. There was no going back now, however, and i couldn't afford to pussyfoot around these issues anymore. I might as well go all the way now. Even though I realized that in most likelihood Irene would abandon therapy with me after this session. My only hope was that she would contemplate my words at some point, and some day in the future let their truth transform her.

Irene was aghast. I went on.
"Yes, Irene, you are not a woman yet. And therefore not ready for a man yet. To be a woman and to be ready for a satisfying relationship you have to be able to open up and be vulnerable. It takes real strength to do that. And you have that within you, Irene. But you have to access that strength and use it! Do you think it is a coincidence your boyfriend lives in another country? No, Irene, it is not. It is your running away from intimacy and vulnerability. You complain about your mother, her lack of spine, her lack of strength in standing up to your father, her lack of ability to build a strong and harmonious relationship with him and a stable and nurturing home for you and your little sister. You also speak of how you feel that you do not belong here in this country, in your workplace, unable to find a partner here. And you want to be different from your mother. You know what, Irene? So far you are not at all different. You are running away, just like her. You are running away from your workplace, from the men here and from this country. Want to be be truly different, Irene? Why don't you then stand your ground? Go deep down in yourself and find the ancestral strength that your mother never found, but that was always there within her too. Go deep down and find the roots of true intimacy and vulnerability - these roots are found in strength. The strength to be open despite being wounded. The strength to fall and rise again. The strength to dare life and to dare your family history, the strength to decide that you are done running, Irene, no matter what life brings your way! The strength to be truly different, Irene,  be different from your mother! Have the courage to face life, have a spine and let the woman in you come up to the surface and truly bloom!"

Alea acta est. There was no turning back. I had witnessed my own monologue like having been possessed. For some reason some overwhelming force had silenced all my therapist alarm bells about the adequacy of content and timing of my intervention and I witnessed myself blowing Irene out of the water. 

She was dumbfounded, completely stunned. I felt a deep silence and peace befall me, as if the spirit that had possessed me had been satisfied and now lifted out of me, my mission completed. I leaned back in my chair as I gave Irene time to take it all in. 
"Oh my God..." she managed to utter. 
"Different... you have completely blown my mind...", her voice having turned into a hoarse whisper from bewilderment. 
"Oh my... different from my mother... I am going to have to chew on that."

I was trying to ascertain the damage. To my surprise, she had not gotten defensive about my cutting her into pieces. She was genuinely taking it all in. Most unexpected! I felt relieved. This was going to be one of the most important turning points in her life, if she let this session truly touch her deeply. I felt humble about the mechanisms that had brought about all this. I felt like I myself had been reduced to an actor or a puppet on a grander theater stage, where an unseen puppeteer had orchestrated all this beyond my control and against my reasoning. Of course this was not a new phenomenon, in Gestalt terms it was known as "the field", and the ability to attune to it and sense and act upon unexpressed needs of the patient was the goal for and art of experienced therapists. Nevertheless, I once more couldn't escape the feeling of deep humility, for it had not truly been me doing the therapy, but a doctor far greater than me whose unfaltering determination and precision had led Irene towards what she needed, and that was beyond my rational appraisal of her needs. My only merit had been to get out of his way and let him work his magic. 

Two weeks later I saw Irene again. She was smiling from ear to ear! 
"I was so eager to come and tell you what happened!"
Her smile had changed from the one in her past. It had become more genuine. 
"So what happened?" I replied, eager to bask in her glow. 
"Well, don't you see anything differently when you look at me?"
"Ahm... there are various things I see changed, but I don't know which one you are referring to."
"I am wearing flowers on my shirt!" she said. 
"Oh, and... what does that mean?" I asked slightly confused.
"I have never worn flowers! I always thought this was for pussies. But now I feel more feminine, and I actually like them very much! And also I have changed my attitude at work, I have kind of scared people there, I have started having a voice! My own voice. You should have seen their faces! And another thing happened - during the last two weeks whilst you were gone I did my blood tests again. Guess what? My testosterone levels are way down, they have normalized. And guess what?"
"My God, Irene, there's still more? Wow!"
"Yes, Octavian! My period came. It was finally... a normal period, with enough blood, as there should be, and I even had PMS, my breasts hurt, I really enjoyed it! I truly, for the first time, felt like a woman!"

Different (part 2 of 3)

"Oh, I am so happy!" Irene replied. "My boss at work just confirmed that he got the go-ahead for my transfer to Austria. So I will finally be able to be with my boyfriend!"

Her eyes were beaming with hope. When she talked about her boyfriend in Austria whom with she had a relationship through Skype, those and the moments when she spoke about leaving for Austria were the only ones in which she was filled with hope and joy. 
"Irene... you always speak of him with such great faith and hope.. Are you truly convinced that your leaving to Austria will solve all your problems?"

I could not help but cringe at her naivety of hoping to find paradise and exemptions from all her troubles by running away to another country. Also her experience with intimate relationships had been (unsurprisingly, given her childhood experiences) very little as she kept away from male company. The relationship with her boyfriend in Austria had all the hallmarks of relationships at a distance: an "accidental and circumstantial" lack of intimacy due to distance. But this was never an accident. Almost all such relationships are a cover for deep issues regarding intimacy. The partners involved in such a relationship are almost never aware of their subconscious tendency to run away from or reject intimacy. 

When and if at some point real intimacy does appear when they move in together and start a "real" relationship, almost invariably all hell breaks loose, as the issues surrounding intimacy surface and each of the partners brings his own demons from the past to the table. Most of these relationships do not survive if the partners are not actively engaged in working out their personal issues. And with Irene, I knew that once she and her boyfriend would get more accustomed to one another, she would start projecting her father onto him, and punishing him for all her messed up childhood. This would probably lead to a breakup, perhaps she would even subconsciously push him towards cheating on her as her father did with her mother, and all this would lead to her reinforcing her life scenario of intimacy that brings only pain and of men that are not trustworthy. 

I saw all this in my minds' eye and sighed. What could I do? Not much. There was too little time. And she was too love struck to hear me. I decided to follow the advice of my supervisor and just let the session unfold naturally, unattached to the end result. 
"Look, Irene, I am in a dilemma here with you..."
Irene gazed at me, her smile lessening as she sensed that I am not in a joyful mood anymore. 

"We have talked about your frustrations in the past, we have talked about your childhood and also the way that the frustrations from the present are mere projections and continuations from those of you as a child. Given all this, I am at a loss as to how to wake you up to the cruel reality that you are still in your own repetitive story, in which you are still running away from your life - yes, that's right you ARE running away! - and that what you bestow right now with incredible power, the relationship with your boyfriend, is right now 90% fantasy and only 10% or less reality. But once you get to Austria what do you think is gonna happen? Do you think your troubles are linked to living in Romania?!"

"Well... uhm...! I..." she stuttered as she tried to ascertain what was going on. She was not alone in that - I was trying to figure out the same. I was surprised as to how quickly my holiday mood had changed into the beginning of an open confrontation. I had never had this attitude with Irene before. This usually worked only with patients I had had time to build and consolidate a relationship with and whom I knew well. Irene fell in neither of these categories. I knew my motivation, I wanted to see significant change in her before she left. I also knew there was little time to achieve that. But nevertheless, our relationship should have been at the forefront, and compromising that by engaging too early in a confrontation with her modus operandi would have been the unhappy end of our therapy. I should have been more careful, less challenging. 

"Ahm... I don't think I am running away", Irene replied, still surprised by my attitude. 
"I mean, people in Austria are just different, they are more..."
"More what, Irene? More careful towards you?" I continued with little patience for her own self-deceiving. 
"Well, they are nicer, life there is.. nicer, here people don't care about you, I always get people staring coldly and despisingly at me here. It's not the same there. I know that, I have been there. And also, that's where he is, and I think he is a really nice guy, and I want to give this relationship a chance." 
"Look, Irene, you are running away."
"No I am not!" she tried, but there was no stopping me anymore. I couldn't believe my ears, the words that started coming out of my mouth were almost not mine. 

"Irene, mark my words! You are running away just like you have always done." Those words were cold and cutting, as I looked into her eyes with the most piercing and prophetic look. I knew that what I was about to say would send shivers down her spine. Down mine as well.

"You have witnessed your father coming home drunk after cheating on your mother, his disheveled shirt with lipstick and womanly perfume, your mother crying helplessly to see that once again she had been deceived, their intimacy invaded, compromised, trampled on. You as a child sensed that this was not right, and you wanted your mother to take action, to stand up to herself and make things right. You wanted to see her take attitude and kick him out, you wanted her to do the right thing. But what did she do? She collapsed helplessly and the same old story repeated itself again and again. All this time you amassed anger and frustration. And what do you do now? You are an angry and frustrated young woman, who just like her mother fails to face life and just keeps going on and on, being belittled by people, being neglected, being taken advantage of, and just like your mother, you fail to rise. Where is your anger, Irene? Where is your spine? Where do you rise up to life? You think you are going away to a better life? You are so dead wrong about that! The problems you are facing - where do you think they live? Do they life in Romania? No, Irene. They live in you. When you move to Austria what do you think will happen? They will move in with you. There is no escaping them unless you confront them directly. Do you think it's a coincidence you haven't been able to find a suitable relationship in Romania but you "magically" found your prince in another country? Oh, Irene, you are so down for a disappointment with him! He may be the nicest of guys, but it is you who has a problem with men! And that is because you are not truly ready to be a woman!"

Different (part 1 of 3)

It was a warm July morning. On my road to my clinic I was enjoying this last day before my holiday. Although tired and eager to enjoy my holiday, the fact that this was my last day with my patients before my long awaited holiday gave me a boost of joyfulness and energy. I could not anticipate the sudden change of mood that was to follow. 

Irene, 28 years old, greeted me when i arrived at my clinic. She was already there, waiting for me, with her ever present smile which was also a good disguise for her pervasive frustration with life. We had started our sessions together some three months ago, and I was somewhat frustrated too that we would not get to complete our work together as she was about to move to Austria with work in less than three months' time. It was slightly irritating to me that she had weaved her life scenario in such a way which did not allow for truly significant work to be done on her way of coping with life, which was to run away from facing life and bury her frustration deep inside herself. So much so it had become a physical problem for her as well - facial hair, hormonal imbalances, etc. 

And in her leaving to work in Austria I saw another running away, but this time in a way that undermined the very work we were doing on her tendency, as we would obviously have to terminate therapy prematurely.

This was something that was bothering me. It felt like unfinished business. And especially before my holiday, I didn't like the idea of leaving things unfinished. I was, however, very aware of the fact that our relationship, which was good, was also quite new and was not ripe to sustain major earthquakes that would come with deep transformations. Challenging a patient's life scenario is a monumental task, as it means to challenge the very core of his belief system. And this belief system is very closely guarded. Change is dangerous because it goes against stability. And for better or for worse, the status quo represents that person's way of handling life and its difficulties. Challenging that, even though the purpose may be to construct a better, more enabling way to view life and respond to its difficulties, will usually meet with strong resistance from the patient. Such a challenge has to be planned and delivered at the precise moment the patient is ready and in the appropriate dosage and way so that he can accept it and embrace it. It is because of difficulties like these that therapy is both an art and a science.

Every time i had tried to confront Irene with a preview of her own demons in order to gauge her readiness to plunge deeper, she showed an understanding of what i was saying, but greeted this reality in a rational and social way with her ever-present social and frustrated smile, avoiding to truly delve into those dark depths. I couldn't blame her. 

Our sessions had been quite enjoyable, but we had just laid the groundwork for truly significant deep work. With upcoming holidays after which she would leave the country within a few weeks, however, I was confronted with the problem of how to make sure that we touched on the significant issues for her before she left without hurting our therapeutic relationship and also making sure she would leave for Austria in a way that would allow her to function properly and contain her emotions. 

Her childhood had been marred by the fact that her father had continuously cheated on her mother. And her mother had not stood up to him and had just accepted the status quo. Irene's attitude had been to encourage her mother to stand up to him, to quit the relationship, to divorce him, to do anything, yet all her pleas came to nothing. Hence, Irene had grown up associating intimacy with betrayal, and also a dualistic approach to taking an attitude. She had embodied her mother's anger and frustration, but also her lack of power to truly change things and touch upon the essence. She had learned from a young age that being a woman had its disadvantages, as she associated femininity with being cheated upon and taken advantage of. Therefore, her attitude had become bitter and masculine, and that had started to manifest somatically - she had increased levels of testosterone, had abnormal hair growth in various places on her body (including beard hairs), her menstrual cycle was all but non-existent, which were the reasons for her initial presentation for treatment, as well as a deep and pervasive level of frustration with life. 

"So how are you this fine morning, Irene?" I asked, putting aside all these thoughts about the stages of therapy that i would have liked us to go through before she left and continuing to enjoy my beautiful last morning at work. 
One of the most important lessons I had learned about therapy is that every patient has his own rhythm and that i was not responsible for my patients' evolution and healing. My only responsibility was to do my best and assist them in their change to the best of my abilities. From there on, however, it was every patient for himself. 

In my earlier years as a therapist i had hit my head on the same brick wall countless times, when i found myself wanting my patients' healing more than they did. Somehow, it had been a matter of being "a good enough" therapist. But in my own eyes being good enough had meant that i was only good enough if every patient got better. It was with the help of my supervisor that i had learned that the therapeutic encounter is a co-created relationship, and that I could not and should not try to control the outcome of the encounter, nor take complete responsibility for the final outcome. 

Not everybody was truly ready to embrace change and healing, because they came at a big price - the sacrifice of the stability of the status quo. And this decision, to embark upon months and sometimes years of painful probing of one's psychological innards for the holy grail of personal development and deliverance from one's suffering and failing, repetitive life scenarios - this was the individual choice of each patient. My responsibility was to be a guide and assistant to those that chose to walk that difficult path. My motivation? The laurels of victory and personal transformation of those that had gone through the process and had come out the other side to a life completely and permanently transformed for the better. For each of these patients there had come a moment in our therapy, when understanding the magnitude of what we had achieved working together, they greeted me with a gaze in which they put all the recognition and gratefulness that they were capable of for my helping them achieve such a monumental transformation.

Invariably those were times of silence, because words could not truly express the importance of this transformation, their gratefulness to me for me being there for them every step of the way through their pits and falls, through their despair and fears, a constant beacon of hope on the horizon of their stormy sea. 

And how I cherished those moments! That look in their eyes - worth more than gold! It was those precious minutes and the creation of such a strong bond beyond words, cemented in the months and years we had spent in the blaze of the fire of awareness, and the blows of life that we together transformed into hammer blows of a cosmic hammer on the anvil of life, modeling the iron of their future being. Was I selfish in ever wanting more of these moments for myself? Of course, there was that too. But there was also the satisfaction of having achieved meaning in life, meaning through helping another achieve transformation and give meaning to his own life, helping another manifest his or her own potential.