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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part III

The next therapist I saw was a psychologist I saw for several years while living in Philadelphia.  I went to see him because I was depressed, anxious and generally dissatisfied with life.  Initially my wife and I saw him as a couple’s therapist after friend of mine came to visit.

The three of us went out for drinks.  I remember my wife’s behavior really embarrassed me.  I had just been hired by Dechert and was earning more money than I ever had.  She kept congratulating me and it felt awkward in front of my friend.  I asked her to stop but she kept doing it.  Then we went to a restaurant called Cuba Libre.  There she was involved in some sort of scuffle where some guy picked her up and moved her away from the bar.  She complained to the manager who did nothing.  To me it felt like she was getting drunk and making a scene.  I tried to get her to change the subject but she would not stop talking about what had happened.  Finally I said if she talked about it one more time I was leaving.  She talked about it again and I got up and left.  I waited outside on the street.  She and my friend eventually came out and we took a cab back to our apartment.  She kept yelling at me saying I ruined the night.

The next night my friend was still there.  It felt like things were smoothed over but I wanted to joke with him the way we normally did.  My wife seemed unable to contribute.  It frustrated me.  I felt like I would always have her around so I would never be able to feel free and joke around with my friends. This thought made me feel depressed like I had given up a piece of myself that I could never retrieve.

This was the start of my wife having a problem with my friends.  I remember the psychologist asking me, “why can’t you just let your friend and your wife have that relationship,” meaning (now that I look back on it) why not allow the three of us to interact in the way we did without getting upset that it was not the way I wanted it to go.  It was a valid point but I would not get to that point until much later.

After a few sessions as a couple I continued seeing this psychologist by myself.  Once a week I would leave work at lunchtime and walk across town, past City Hall, to his office.  We talked about a lot of things.  Most of the time I would bring up a subject.  He would take notes and sometimes ask questions but his form of therapy was very client driven.  I cried once or twice.  We talked a lot about my relationship with my father.  We talked about my fascination with “A Christmas Carol,” whether the ghosts were outside entities or creations of Scrooge’s consciousness and about how I burst into tears every time I watched the scene where Fred welcomes Scrooge to dinner (but only when I watched it alone).  He pointed out that even though I was born after my father’s car accident in which my older sister died when she was a baby, that it must have had an impact on me.  That was an idea I had never considered before.  He described me as feeling a “lack of entitlement.”  He told me I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder.

He was definitely compassionate.  He told me I was an interesting case.  I think he liked me on a personal level.  But looking back on it I never really thought the therapy went anywhere.  I think I grew marginally under his care probably because his type of therapy was not well suited for my specific issues.

There were a few instances where he got my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants to me.  I was on Paxil for a while.  It seemed to work but had some sexual side effects that I did not like.  Specifically it was difficult to maintain and erection and to have an orgasm.  I was later on Lexapro, which was pretty similar.  He eventually prescribed me Wellbutrin under the influence of which I had a mental breakdown of sorts.  This happened at my parents’ house in Connecticut one weekend we came for a visit.  Both my sisters and my cousin were there. I remember being so angry with my wife (we were not getting along at the time).  I got up from the dinner table, got a beer in the kitchen and ran out on the golf course behind my parents’ house.  I chugged it in the middle of the fairway in the dark.  The rest of the night is hazy to me.  I remember my cousin consoling me in the driveway as they were leaving.  Then I went up to bed.  I stopped seeing the psychologist after that.

I wanted to get off Wellbutrin but I did not want to experience “mind zaps” I had heard about.  I looked up a psychiatrist in the phone book.  I called her and she was willing to see me.  I think her office was in an apartment building in Washington Square.  My concern was that I wanted to get off Wellbutrin because it was making me behave bizarrely but I wanted to do it in a medically supervised way to avoid the side effects I had read about regarding abruptly going off of anti-depressants.  I do not feel like I made a real connection with her and I only saw her for a few times.  I remember she asked me about my first memory and how abnormal it was that it did not involve either one of my parents.  I also remember another interaction where I told her that I was uncomfortable with my drinking.  Her response was, “well there are other things to drink besides alcohol.”  I suppose she was not that well acquainted with the mind of an alcoholic because I remember thinking that there certainly are other things to drink but none of them make me drunk.  That seemed like an important point looking back on it.  I did not express it to her at the time.

Anyway, she guided me through getting off of Wellbutrin.  Part of that involved not drinking for two weeks, which was difficult but I did it.  Once I got off of Wellbutrin I quickly got back on drinking.

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My Experience With Psychotherapy – Part I

Pretty early on in life I knew there was something wrong with me.  I was always being picked on and laughed at and the neighborhood kids bullied me.  I always felt incapable of performing physical tasks with expertise.  I always felt incompetent and knew that everyone else thought of me that way as well.  I expected people to fuck with me all the time.  I always felt “less than” but pretty much accepted that as a fact of life until I graduated from high school.

But even within this prison my shame constructed and reinforced there existed an inner spark that sought liberation.  I think this is why, even though it made me uncomfortable, I felt compelled to psychotherapy.  I had no idea what therapy meant at first and even resisted it on the surface.  But again and again I found myself in a therapist’s office throughout my life.

I remember my parents taking me to a group session with some therapist that my sister was seeing because she was having difficulty with my father.  I think I was in middle school at the time. I felt really embarrassed to answer any questions. I remember feeling very self-conscious and looking into my lap when I answered questions.  I remember my father being defensive when the woman asked questions about situations where he and my sister interacted.  I remember my mother describing how frustrated I would get playing a computer game called Karatika (not that she knew the name) especially when the bird “ate me.”  I felt humiliated to my core.  The therapist responded, “oh, so you are a computer freak?” which increased my humiliation by a factor of ten.  Looking back on it I can only conclude she was a shitty therapist incapable of recognizing shame issues or helping someone who suffered from them.  I do not think I went there too many times.  I did not feel like I had anything to do with my sister’s problems at the time.

In high school my girlfriend’s mother suggested I see a therapist she worked with.  I do not remember the exact circumstances but at the time I am sure I was frustrated and depressed about a lot of things.  My mother investigated her before I went to see her or said she did anyway. I am guessing she did not trust her mother because she let my girlfriend do whatever she wanted to do.  I remember this therapist had a “new age” altar in her office.  I do not remember much about what happened in the sessions.  I only went a couple of times.  I remember talking about my girlfriend as if that would ingratiate myself to the therapist.  She responded with something like, “well we’re here to discuss you not her.”  I suppose that is a point in favor of the therapist, not that I appreciated it at the time.  I also remember her telling me to close my eyes and picture an animal.  I do not recall what I pictured or where she was going with that. I remember when I told her that I was ending the therapy.  She gave me a hug and asked me if what she did was helpful.  I lied and told her it was helpful to be polite.

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Face My Shame

In order get out of the hell of my job I had to get laid off.  I was too ashamed to quit with all the bills I was responsible for and the family I had to feed and clothe.  If I quit my job simply because I found it unsatisfying I would be irresponsible and undisciplined.  But, if my job could kick me out of our relationship I could tell myself and the world that it was not my fault.  I would avoid the shame of being irresponsible. And so I self-sabotaged until it happened.  I put less effort into my work.  I did not learn the million rules to the document review that bored me to tears every day.

Passive aggression is the primary tool a shame-based person has to get what he wants in the world.  To come out and claim what he wanted would be selfish, childish and undisciplined.  To be honest would risk hurting someone else’s feelings.  To the shame-based it is always better to employ a strategy of plausible deniability.

Once I left my job I found myself in a position where, if I chose to, I could finally begin face the issue of shame in my life.  But, in order for me to finally face my shame I could not do this through passive aggression.  I had to face my shame honestly.  For me, that meant I had to go back to the source of my shame, which is my parents.

This sounds condemning and critical from a shame-based perspective because shame cannot admit its faults.  That is too painful and opens itself to attack.  In a shame-based world there is no mercy or forgiveness.  There may be the pretense of mercy because to be unmerciful is shameful but below the surface were truth resides there is none.  All mistakes, faults and flaws are punished and leave a permanent mark that can never be erased.  So for me to say the source of my shame is my parents is very difficult.  To say this is being ungrateful for all the good they did for me.  To say this is to be disrespectful to my parents, which is something that a good son would not do.  To say this would hurt their feelings and would be selfish of me.  All these moral precepts were instilled in me by my parents.  All these precepts (whether true or not) are my shame’s way of keeping me from facing my shame.  So, in order for me to face my shame I had to see clearly and honestly what my parents had done to me.  In order to do this I had to see clearly and honestly that this shame did not come from a place of love.  That is not to say that they did not have love for me but rather the shame they instilled into me did not come from love.

Of course I did not know any of this before my wife, our two daughters and I moved in with my parents.  But I was in a position to find out.  I had finally reached the rock bottom of my shame.  I was 39 years old, unemployed and living with my parents in my childhood home.  I was so humiliated that I was laid off and could no longer afford the mortgage on my house.  I was so ashamed that my wife and I were not getting along.  I was so utterly ashamed that I could not afford to buy my kids the things and the lives I thought they should have.

I had hit rock bottom and there was nowhere to go from there but up.  To go up from there, however, required effort and understanding.  Thank God I received the teaching that gave me the understanding.  Thank God I developed the courage to put forth the effort and truly face shame.

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