Last night, I had my second therapy session since my prodigal return. It’s frustrating to me that even after two and a half years of weekly sessions, I still find it awkward and uncomfortable at the beginning of these appointments. I generally experience quite a bit of anxiety on the day of the session, leading up to my appointment as I feel some unexplained (and I’m sure unwarranted) pressure to “do it right”.
As I sat in the waiting room outside Deb’s office yesterday I began to go over the list in my head. The one where I run through the things that are on my mind. The things that I have been thinking a lot about. The things that… Well, the things that are things, not feelings. Even after two and a half years of weekly sessions I still find it difficult to identify, and be comfortable with many of my feelings and emotions.
Yesterday, I forgot most of the day that I even had a session. I mean I didn’t forget. I knew I had to leave work early. I knew I was going to the appointment. I didn’t forget to go. But I didn’t think about it all day. I didn’t dwell on it. I didn’t worry about it… Until I was driving there.
When my time had come and she opened the door, I walked in, hurled myself upon the couch and let out a long, exasperated sigh. I told her exactly what I just told you, that I had managed to avoid the anxiety, until this moment. She asked me what it was about and I said that I never knew how to start things off.
“I think you just did,” she said.
I told her, “Now I’m just running through the list of things I shouldn’t say. Including that I shouldn’t say that there’s a list of things I shouldn’t say.”
“Things you ‘shouldn’t’ say? Why?” she asked.
“Because, it’s reporting.”
Apparently, when in therapy, reporting on your life is not “doin’ it right”. They want to know what and how you feel. When I don’t know the answer to that, or don’t know where to start with that, it’s easier to fill the silence with reporting on what’s been going on. Filling the silence, also not necessarily “doin’ it right”. The silence, though, is unbearable to me.
I know I tend to make assumptions or read into what she tells me but she has said in the past that it sounds like I’m “reporting” to her and how did I feel about… whatever I was talking about. I guess I gathered from that, that reporting is not good.
“Well, it’s been a little while, maybe you should tell me what’s been going on,” she said.
So I started to run down the list (I didn’t get very far.) I told her where things stand with my quest to go to college (pretty much no progress has been made) and how happy I was, when I got my high school transcript to see that it had my ACT scores on it so I didn’t have to figure out where to track them down.
And then I told her about my birthday gift from my mother and how it had gotten lost in transit and the cell phone conversation that took place on Friday.
My mother was very testy with me on the phone and was noticeably annoyed by the fact that I was apparently not giving her my undivided attention. I suspect she was also annoyed that I did not answer the phone when she called. She didn’t have it in her to understand and accept that I didn’t answer the phone because I was in a noisy place where she wouldn’t be able to hear me, nor I her. She didn’t seem to understand and accept the fact that I called her back as soon as I left that noisy place but that it meant I was driving and yes, I had to split my attention between her and the road.
I flashed on a memory of my childhood. I was having my 10th birthday and was spending the summer at my father’s house. My mother, brother and sister and I had just moved to Oklahoma the year before and we were to spend our summers with my father, his wife and her two sons, at his house in Ohio. We had just finished dinner and were starting to eat my birthday cake when my mother called to talk to me.
I was ten and there was cake.
I sat at the table, eating my cake and talking to my mother. Around me the rest of the group were continuing their conversations and having a good time. Finally Mom commented that it sure was noisy and asked what was going on. I told her that we were having cake and somehow conveyed that I was still sitting at the table eating my piece. She said, “What? You couldn’t be bothered to get up from the table to talk to your mother?”
Let me reiterate people, I was ten and there was cake!
Nonetheless, I understood I had apparently done wrong and said that I would go into another room, to which she replied, “Don’t bother. Just put your brother on the phone.”
I remember this event so clearly, and I “learned” from it that you’re supposed to give your undivided attention when you’re on the phone, especially to my mother. Folks remember that. If you’re ever on the phone with my mother, PAY ATTENTION!!
But here’s the thing that Deb helped me to see. On both occasions, it was my birthday. If ever there is a time all year long that “it’s all about me”? It’s on your birthday. Your birthday is the one day each year when you have every right to be selfish and make everything about yourself. My mother called me on my birthday and when I didn’t drop everything and focus all my attention on her, I was in trouble.
I realized that this is always true. It doesn’t matter what day it is or what the circumstances are, IT’S. ALL. ABOUT. HER.
Now for the irony.
When I arrived home last night, my mysteriously disappearing birthday FedEx package was at my door. It had a new shipping label that they had created on it. Obviously, it turned up somewhere and they reshipped it four days late.
I called Mom to tell her the package had arrived and wouldn’t you know it. I got her voice mail. It’s not the first time. She uses her cell phone exclusively and if she sets it down in another room she doesn’t always hear it ring. No big deal. I left my message and went on about my day.
Forty-five minutes later she called me back. I was in the middle of preparing food for today and instinctively, I felt the need to explain the noise. I also held off cooking dinner while I was on the phone and as a result I didn’t eat dinner until nearly 10:00 last night.
In the middle of the conversation she told me that her TV was dying. I’m not surprised, she bought this TV in 1988, but what occurred to me after the fact was that the TV was on, while she was talking to me. Apparently, undivided attention is not a two way street.
Toward the end of our conversation I asked her if she still watches David Letterman. I wanted to know if she knew what the big deal was bout the joke he made about Sarah Palin’s daughter. I wanted to know how seriously his job was in jeopardy over this. I should have known better.
She launched into an emphatic diatribe about how hateful all the late night comics had become and how she just couldn’t stand to listen to them any more since George W. Bush was in office and they were always picking on him. “George W Bush is a good Christian man and a great President and I just couldn’t stand to listen to them say hateful things about him.” I bit my tongue.
Then she said, “Barack Obama is just crazy.” She told me that in one of his books he said, ‘when it comes down to it, I’ll side with the Muslims every time.’
I couldn’t make out what she said and asked her who he said he’d side with and she replied, “The Muslims. You know the ones who want to kill us? He’s crazy. Anybody that wants to shut down Guantanamo Bay and turn those guys loose on American soil, is crazy.”
Now, I don’t agree with my mother on a lot of things politically related, but I also know that one of the stupidest things you can do is get into an involved political discussion with someone you’re close to and you don’t know that they agree with you, so I keep my mouth shut about my politics.
I kept my mouth shut as she went on about how “wonderful” George W Bush is and how “terrible” Barack Obama is and then she said this:
“You may not agree with me, I don’t know, but if you’ve gone that far a field, I just don’t even want to know about it.” (Imagine, if she doesn’t want to know about my politics, how she must feel about my sexuality!)
It was pretty clear, I think, from my lack of response that I did not agree with her, and things got crunchy and the conversation ended quickly after that.
I don’t know. Maybe it just sounds like I’m ranting. Like I’m just one more person who doesn’t get along with his mother and boo hoo, poor me. Get over it! But it just really served to remind me of just how… incompatible (?) we are? That doesn’t really seem like the right word; we’re not dating.
But that’s kind of what it comes down to. How can we have a relationship if it’s all one sided? I can’t really talk to her because it’s always about making sure that her needs are met. Meanwhile, mine fall by the wayside, as they always have. My whole life it’s been this way. My needs, my feelings, they all take a back seat to hers. I learned from a very young age not to express any thoughts, needs or feelings that conflict with hers. And by rote, I learned to subvert my thoughts, needs and feelings to anyone and everyone particularly those in some sort of authority over me. The worst part is I think I do it to those who do not have authority over me. I hate to think that’s true, but it probably is.
So what is the answer? How do you stand up for yourself and your own needs without disrespecting the needs of others? It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard and yet, it feels like it’s nearly impossible. In my experience at least, being direct and assertive makes people angry and defensive. Being passive/aggressive, well it makes people angry and defensive, and it breeds the same. Trying to express your needs in a light hearted and joking way, gets you over-looked.
I continue to hold out hope for a better tomorrow. I continue to desire a life wherein I have close friends and family who like each other and get along well and interact peacefully, but truthfully with each other. I continue to hope for a life where my needs are met and I’m able to meet the needs of others and it all works out for a greater purpose. Is this possible? Am I hoping for something that I can never have? What is the answer?