Tag Archives: New Orleans

I Have Moved Around A Lot

I currently live in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. I have been living here for about two years. Like most people who live in this area, I am not originally from here. I grew up in a town called Avon, Connecticut. I went to college in Boston. I lived in Washington, D.C. for a stretch and then went to law school in New Orleans. While in New Orleans I met and married my wife who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After law school we moved to Scranton and lived there for a year. Then we moved to Philadelphia and lived there for ten years.

In Philadelphia I worked for a big, corporate law firm performing a job I hated. It paid me well but I hated it. I felt unappreciated, made to perform mindless work and trapped because I had upgraded my life style to match my income and could not move to another job that would pay me as well.

In 2009 the recession put an end to that misery because my wife and I both got laid off. We then moved to Connecticut thinking we could live with my parents for a short period of time until we both found work. That short period of time lasted longer than we expected. But eventually we both landed work from home jobs. Suddenly we were in a position to move where ever we wanted to. After some research we picked a place with good schools and a low-cost of living and here we are.

I look back on all this moving with some regret. Everywhere I lived I always felt like I was trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I had to do it all over again I would definitely have made different decisions.

Now that we live in North Carolina I find myself constantly amazed by how nice people are in comparison to all the other places I have lived. When I first moved down here I found myself in situations where I expected people to  f#!@ with me and surprised they didn’t.

I suppose there is some Wizard of Oz message in all this. That I can travel the world looking for happiness but I really only had to go no further than my own back yard. I did move back to my own back yard after I got laid off and it was miserable. But the message is not literal. Dorothy is referring to the back yard of my soul I am sure. I think that is true to a point. Certainly, if you are miserable you are most likely going to take that misery with you where ever you go. On the other hand, if you are miserable there is something about your current situation that is making you miserable so shaking things up can be a good thing. Certainly staying put will probably not change things as I learned from staying at that law firm in Philadelphia for ten years.

I think change can be made, but it has to happen from within and sometimes outside help is needed to make that happen. Growth is possible. I am not the person I was twenty years ago. There’s nothing to do but look forward and keep moving.

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A General Overview of My Experience with Alcohol

I remember drinking vodka and fruit punch in the basement of my parents’ house in high school alone on a Friday night.  I felt the buzz.  It felt different, as if something uncomfortable was being erased. I liked it.  Throughout High School I would not say I was a heavy drinker.  When I did drink it was at house parties generally.  I remember the first party I went to and got drunk.  I do not think I got sick and I do not think I felt sick the next day.  I felt like I was doing something different that would put distance between the shy, awkward, geeky persona I projected and make me one of the cool kids.

Then there was the time a friend slept over and we drank, played Monopoly and dipped tobacco in the basement.  In the morning I was really hung over.  I think I told my mother I was sick.  My friend went home and I went to sleep in my room. My mother later discovered the half-finished bottles in a cooler in the basement.  She made me feel like I was the worst criminal in the world.  I think she also suggested sending me to a rehab or a counselor, which I refused. I did not think there was anything wrong with me.  I was just doing what kids my age did.  Later on my Dad drove me around in his car and interrogated me about what I had done. I remember him asking me if I had mixed the alcohol or drank it straight.  I remember not knowing why he wanted that information and feeling really embarrassed and frustrated about answering it.

In college I joined a fraternity.  I drank in the fraternity to be one of the guys.  For the most part it was the time of my life. The worst part was getting so drunk that the room spun or waking up hung over.  But there was also something in me that told me the more I drank, the cooler people would think of me.

I did the same thing after college when I worked and went out with friends (although not to the same degree or extent).  When I went to law school I did the same thing, perhaps to the same extent as in college, but I was living in New Orleans so that is probably an exception.

At some point after I got married and was working for a law firm alcohol became a way of coping with anxiety and depression. It switched from something fun and seemingly inconsequential to something I began to be concerned about and had trouble stopping.

The good thing and the bad thing about alcohol is that it obscures feelings.  It is bad in the sense that if my feelings are obscured then I do not deal with them and do not move past them.  It is good in the sense that sometimes feelings are too much to endure.  If there is no escape and no dealing then maybe it is a good thing to have alcohol around to escape.  Of course the danger of that is addiction and damage to health.  It is not easy to control and becomes more difficult if whatever feelings are being obscured by alcohol are never dealt with.  In my case that feeling was shame.

So the answer in the long run is of course to deal with feelings and ultimately that is how to overcome a problem with addiction.  It is a chicken and the egg type of situation (maybe).

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part II

I did not see another therapist until I was in law school in New Orleans.  Until that point I never appreciated the connection between the mind and the body.  I had met my wife and asked her to marry me and she said yes.  She immediately went ahead with the planning which took me aback.  It seemed like there was a lot of pressure and looking back on it I had no way of coping.  My throat started to feel like it was closing up on me.  I started to get really bad heartburn.  I went to see the doctor in the school clinic.  He prescribed Prilosec.  It did not really work so I went to a gastroenterologist.  I remember now that he suspected my symptoms were stress related but at the time I did not understand what he told me.  I think the fact that I was in law school scared him because he continued to run tests on me.  There was a procedure where they shoved a camera down my throat.  One time I had a tube fed up my nose and down my throat.  At the end of the tube outside my body was a computer device.  It recorded something to do with my throat.  I eventually changed doctors because nothing he did helped my symptoms.  The second doctor also suggested that stress was the problem but again I did not accept that answer.  I was prescribed antibiotics but they did not work.  The doctor seemed annoyed with me. I wanted to think that the problem was physical.  He eventually referred me to a cardiologist.  The cardiologist acted like he did not know why I was there.  I gave him my story.  He agreed that the problem was stress and recommended me to see a psychiatrist.  This time I listened.

The psychiatrist was a tall, lanky, older man with a gray beard and mustache.  He looked the part of a psychiatrist.  His office was in a shotgun house.  It was dark inside and the walls were lined with tall wooden bookshelves.  One shelf had a skull on it.  He was dyslexic and wrote awkwardly with his left hand.  He assured me my issue with my throat closing up was indeed stress related.  He prescribed me a drug called Serzone which I think is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Prozac.  He had me sit in a recliner and talked me through meditative sessions.  I do not recall what exactly they entailed but I think they brought me to a relaxed state and then he told me when a stressful thought entered my head I should say to it “Stop!  Get out of there!”  After a few sessions the sensation started to subside after months of misery.  This was the first time I appreciated that psychological stress can cause physical problems.  It was also the first time in my life I experienced a physical problem that a regular doctor could not cure.  I believe his method was the Cognitive Behavioral approach.

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Feeling Like an Outsider

For a few years my wife and I had thought about moving to Connecticut where my parents still lived in the house I grew up.  I was not all that happy with Philadelphia.  I did not like my job and I did not have that many friends.  My wife liked it there but she was willing to make a move.  So for a few years while I worked for Dechert I had been conducting a job search in Connecticut.  I waived into the Connecticut bar (a process which took more than a year of amassing records and dealing with the court system).  I was even approached by The Hartford (an insurance company in Hartford, CT) and interviewed for a position that seemed like it would solve all my problems. I ended up not getting the position.  After that my wife and I decided to stop looking to move to Connecticut and decided to buy a nicer house in Philadelphia in an effort to commit to the area and establish roots.

This issue about establishing roots has its origin in the fact that ever since I graduated from college I never felt like I belonged anywhere. When I was young I felt like I belonged in Connecticut even though I was bullied, picked on and humiliated.  When I went to college in Boston I felt like I belonged there.  I was on the same level with all of my peers who were from various places around the country.  But once I graduated from college and could not find a job I fell off the life track that I was supposed to be on and that I felt all my peers were on and had left me behind.  As such, I was so humiliated and felt like I had to hide from the world because I no longer legitimately held a place there.

This feeling stayed with me.  When I moved to Burlington, VT I felt like an outsider there because I was not hippy enough.  When I moved to Washington, DC I felt like an outsider because I did not have a good enough (i.e., well paying and connected job).  When I moved to New Orleans for law school I felt like I belonged on one level because I was on the same level as all my fellow students.  But deep in my heart I felt like I did not belong because I was not a native to New Orleans.  After New Orleans, I was an outsider in Scranton because I was not born and raised there.  And when we moved to Philadelphia I was an outsider there first because I was not a native to the area but also because the firm I worked for treated me as a second-class citizen.

This feeling like an outsider is a bit of a “chicken and the egg” phenomenon.  On the one hand, did I feel like an outsider because I carried that feeling with me?  In other words would I have felt that way no matter where I went?  Did I attract situations where I would feel like an outsider?  The job a Dechert would seem to support this theory.

So my wife and I decided to buy a bigger house during the height of the housing bubble.  We made some money selling our starter house but in order to buy our larger dream house I borrowed some money from my father.  He seemed happy to give me the money at the time but later I felt ashamed for having done that.  Especially after the housing market crashed and I lost my job and we were no longer able to pay the mortgage.  At first we tried to sell our house but there were no takers after the crash.  During this time I burned through my 401K that I accumulated over eight years at Dechert.  Just as that money was about to run out we were able to rent the house.  By this time we were living in Connecticut living with my parents.

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Mardi Gras and The Mind Body Connection

I met my wife, Louanne at a law school TGIF party in an Uptown bar called Brunos.  As I poured her a beer from the keg we introduced ourselves.  She said she was from Scranton, Pennsylvania.  I told her I was originally from Avon, Connecticut.  She said she knew about Avon Old Farms (my high school) because one of her mother’s piano students went there. I knew him.  We discussed how weird he was.  We started dating soon after.

During spring semester Mardi Gras rolled around the school shut down for the week.  My apartment had a balcony overlooking the parade route on St. Charles Avenue so it became a popular hang out spot.  Louanne spent the week.  We made a trip to her basement apartment she rented from the Dean of the law school.  When we got there he stood in his driveway dressed in a Soviet officer’s uniform.  We offered him a beer (everyone had beer in their backpacks that week).  He produced a flask and asked us if we wanted to “spice up” our beers.  We said yes and he poured vodka in our cans.

A month or so later one drunken night I asked her if she wanted to marry me.  She said yes.  The next day she called her parents and told them.  That sort of made things more real than I had anticipated.  We planned on getting married the summer between second and third year.

My second year in law school I lived in the same apartment.  Ed moved out and Louanne moved in.  Later that year I took out a student loan.  The debt made me anxious.  I also began to realize that I was not doing as well academically as I expected despite my efforts.  I was passing all my classes but I was still just barely in the top half of my class.  This made me anxious as well.  The reality that I would be getting married also made me anxious.  Then some woman rear-ended my car on the way to class.  She did not have insurance and I did not have collision.  I opened the trunk and then could not close it.  I shut it with a bungee chord but every time I drove over a bump the trunk flew open and slammed shut.  I felt embarrassed and angry that someone else did this to me and I had to deal with it.

One day I woke up and my throat felt constricted.  I thought it would pass but a week later it was still there.  I went to a Gastroenterologist.  He examined me with an endoscope and did not find anything wrong with me. He told me it was stress.  I did understand what he told me.  In my mind there had to be a physical cause and medical solution to my symptoms.  I went to another Gastroenterologist.  He put a tube up through my nose and down my throat attached to a computer.  I wore that device overnight.  This doctor also told me stress caused my symptoms.

The next Mardi Gras was coming up.  I worried that the symptoms would not go away before then and I would not be able to enjoy myself.  I feared I would be missing out.

My friend Al had a party in at his apartment.  We got drunk on Chevas Regal in a blue felt bag.  My throat still felt constricted but I tried to numb out the feeling with booze.  I ended up throwing up under a rug in his apartment.  I crashed at his place.  The next morning I was so hung-over Louanne and I slipped out and went home.  Al found what I had left him under the rug later in the day.

My last Gastroenterologist sent me to a cardiologist.  I sat in the waiting room.  I finally asked them if they knew I was there.  They said they overlooked me.  I went back into an examination room where a nurse shaved my chest and attached the monitoring equipment.  They found nothing wrong.  The Doctor came in.  He could tell I was exasperated.  He told me my symptoms were stress related and recommended a psychiatrist.  This time I heard the message.

I saw the psychiatrist.  When I told him my symptoms he knew right away what the problem was.  I saw him weekly for about a month and the symptoms started to go away.  This was the first time in my life I began to understand the connection between the mind and physical symptoms.

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How to Breakup With Your Girlfriend

While I lived in Washington DC I wanted to break up with my girlfriend Allison.  We had been dating for four years but the relationship had grown stale.  I felt trapped and resentful and as a result everything she did annoyed me.  This, however, was not her fault.

I felt this way because I was afflicted with three shame-based delusions.  First, I think at my core I felt that there must be something wrong with someone who loved me because I am always wrong.  Second, I thought the grass would be greener on the other side or to put it in shame-based terms, the grass on my side was less green (and deservedly so).  Third, I thought that if only I could get all my ducks in a row, move to the right place or in some other way change my circumstances things would be better and I would not feel shame.  The truth is, the shame traveled with me until I properly addressed it.  Properly addressing shame requires fully feeling the shame, which is something a shame-based person will go to great lengths to avoid.  This was not that point in my life.

I was too afraid to breakup with her for three reasons.  First, we lived together and I was not sure how to coordinate all the complications that would entail.  Second, I did not want to go through the process hurting her feelings.  Third, I feared not being able to find anyone better.  This last reason conflicts with the delusion that the grass would be greener.  But another essential feature of a shame-based mind is conflict and not being able to come to a decision.  As such half of me wanted to breakup with her and the other half was afraid to. Basically, I was spineless.  But I was spineless because I was shame-based and I was shame based because of everything that had happened to me up until this point in my life.

Allison and I had talked about marriage but I never really took it seriously.  To me, that was just something a boyfriend and girlfriend talked about after dating for a while.  Women tend to take this type of conversation more seriously, I would discover.

When I left Washington with all my stuff packed in my white 1992 Ford Escort I had a new energy.  I was embarking on a new chapter of my life just like when I moved from Connecticut to Washington.  It was a new chapter I hoped would solve all the problems of my previous chapters (again).  It did not matter anymore that I was unemployed.  I was now a law student and back on the track of life again.  Allison remained in Washington and once safely in New Orleans I could break up with her from a distance.  Not that I had this all planned in my mind but I suppose subconsciously I did.

A few weeks after arriving in New Orleans, getting settled, making new acquaintances and pretending everything was normal between us, I called Allison and broke up with her.  She was surprised.  She said, “But I thought we would get married.”  I remember how I vacillated when I broke up with my high school girlfriend (breaking up with her and reuniting over and over) and was determined not to do that this time.  I stuck to my guns.  When she said that she thought I was being weak I countered that I would be weak if I continued to stay with her.  When she said that the only reason we were broken up was that she was up in Washington and I was down in New Orleans and that she was willing to take a job in New Orleans, I said okay but things were going to be different between the two of us.  When she said that I should have done this a few years ago I said so now I’m not allowed to break up with you?  I stuck to my guns and broke up with her.

A week later she called me and told me she was pregnant.  I was pretty doubtful of this.  I told her I was not ready to be a father and implied that she should get an abortion.  At the time she worked for the White House and left on a trip to China a week or so later.  When she got back she told me she got into a car accident while in China which ended the pregnancy.  This seemed suspicious to me as well.

Over Thanksgiving my parents were in Washington so I went up and stayed at Allison’s apartment.  It was strange but we ended up sleeping together.  She came over to my sister and brother in law’s place in Dupont Circle for Thanksgiving dinner.  She told me later she felt embarrassed and my mother and sister told her that I was leading her on.

After I returned to New Orleans I met a girl, dated her for a while and proposed to her.  We invited Allison to the wedding but she declined.

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