49. Fadedly

Heat seems to affect folks’ short term memory. This results in a lot of forgotten appointments or last minute fade aways when the days become long and hot. I’m fine with human frailty since I majored in it in grad school. Sometimes being a counselor is like being a cab driver. I show up but the client does not. Unlike a cab driver I cannot simply pick up a random person who flags me down for therapy. First of all it would be too public and therefore unethical. Secondly it would be weird. Who waits on a street corner in the hopes of a mental health worker driving by with a lit up “In service” sign? And those that do I think I addressed in an earlier post called Crazily, #33 if you are keeping score at home.

However, missed appointments allow me to blog, which is a lose/lose deal.  I am off the leash for an hour of mental meandering, fueled this morning by some Stevie Ray Vaughn licks. Fabulous. Another hour to chill before trying to wrap my brain around the next client’s history and issues and feelings. Okay, analogy two. Listening to clients tell their stories is like being a mental bricklayer. I take notes and join together their stuff in an ordered fashion, because, as Shakespeare wrote, “Life is a tale told by an idiot”. My job is to sort through it all and lay down course upon course that is mostly square, level and plumb. Session after session builds a psycho-spiritual foundation that, hopefully, the client incorporates over time…if heorshe catches my cab when the light is on.

“How does counseling work?” I am often asked. “I mean, how can talking about problems change anything?”  On one hand it seems pretty obvious that talking/communicating about any problem is how you solve it, whether IT is the atomic bomb or the BP oil spill or HIV. On the other hand it’s equally clear that JUST talk will not solve anything. Still, still, still…a calmness comes after folks have vomited out their emotional lava flows onto the funky carpet of my office floor. Once their emotional spasms cease, they can think more clearly and rationally.  In this process a person can peel off layers of falseness and unnecessary psychological defenses. Their souls get exfoliated and become supple and fresh again. Sounds good, huh?

Yeah, yeah. Does it always turn out productively?  No.Too many variables. However, most of the time I’d say there is a level of improvement, and, of course, sometimes there are enormous gains, even transformed lives. Once I knew a woman who had been hospitalized for being out of control, in emotional spasms, while her stoic husband stood by unable to comfort her or offer any support. In this unruly process a struggle broke out. Ironically or poetically her wedding band was broken, split when she fell on the kitchen floor.

A couple of years later she was stuck in the very same hurt, a pain that seared her liver.  She wanted to move on, to recover.  She knew a lot about nature and once told me that after a fire or some other destroyer of habitat hits a natural site, one of the first recovery plants is poison ivy. Oddly enough poison ivy helps hold the soil and shades the ground so that other people-friendly plants can get a grip on survival. She was in this poison ivy stage in her scorched marriage. Nasty, itchy, clingy, counter intuitive. She wanted to scream at him, “I hate you for not loving me enough to save me then.” Yet she also wanted to scream, “I love you still, Blockhead. Love me back.”

One Saturday morning she brought the ring and some other totems into my office. I asked her to conjure up the pains and hurts, not just from that betrayal but from all significant hurts in her life, of which there were many. She lit a candle, played some soft music, and then wailed for an hour. This time her husband was right next to her comforting her through the awfulness and the acid reflux of regurgitated shame. In the end she seemed transformed. I was surprised a bit when she left the ring with me. “I have no room for this any longer. Maybe you can use it to help someone else.” And I have over the years pulled out the ring and told her story in outline form.  She was a very fine woman whose marriage broke through to another ring size.

How does this counseling thing work?  Like that sometimes, even on hot days when memories almost fade away.


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