This was written several months ago; things are better now.
Right before I took the Buddhist precepts last year, after months of preparation, study, and personal reflection, the founder of our Zen temple visited our group and imparted to us such simple advice:
You have all the tools you need to protect yourself from what the world throws at you.
You have all the tools you need to protect the world against what you throw at it.
How often have I ignored my gut feelings to spare someone else, to avoid an ugly scene, or a uncomfortable moment? How often have I pushed away the clear idea that a person or an action was wrong and should not be pursued?
I spent much of the first third of my life saying and doing as I pleased, with little regard to how it affected those around me. At the same time, I ignored an inner voice that said: run. tell someone. don’t believe it. Instead, I painted flowers over pictures of rotting corpses and rewrote scary stories as funny fables.
Later, when I became aware, really aware of that lack of filter, I overcompensated in the other direction. I kept quiet for the sake of peace and harmony and to further the idea that I was a nice person on the outside as well as the inside.
Often I felt like that repainted picture: a flower to the world, a rotting corpse underneath.
I mention this in the context of the last few months. If you’ve been reading here long enough you know I’m trying to do some deep writing, some exorcising, some healing. (Not much of it sees the light of the Internets.) What’s resulted is that if I open myself wide enough to scrape the contents of my soul, I become physically ill. I have been sick three times in five months. Flat-on-my-back-and-slow-to-recover sick. Aside from a weakened immune system, which has led to less time at the gym and out and about in general doing healthful things, I’ve been on a bit of a downward spiral.
I’ve been haunted by a frank conversation I had this winter where I blurted over tea, “I need to be in therapy. I know I do. I’m just too cheap.”
Ouch. That was my excuse. I’m too cheap. Therapy is not cheap. But somewhere along the way I decided it was too expensive for me. I talked with a few close friends who kindly suggested: What about your husband? your children? Don’t you owe it to them at least to help yourself to be a better partner and mother? Think of yourself: In order for you to launch a job search (which is all about self-esteem and selling yourself) and move forward with our life, you need to be healthy and stong. Think of it as an investment.
Really, I couldn’t argue with that logic. So I contacted a therapist recommended by a person I trust.
It did not go well.
It’s hard to say what went wrong. Was it me, so resistant that I found fault with everything about the therapist? Was it the therapist, who just struck me as too harsh, especially for an initial consultation? I don’t know. I haven’t been in therapy in 20 years. And then? It was a kindly older woman, who always seemed on the verge of serving tea and cookies on a silver platter.
This appointment was more like going to the principal’s office after being caught throwing a sloppy joe at the lunch monitor’s back. By the time the appointment ended and I was alone I found myself on a train without brakes hurtling toward despondency. I cried all weekend long. I was totally alone. My husband was away on business. I came up with excuses not to attend two social gatherings because my poker face was at the dry cleaners.
For days I wrestled with my thoughts, pushed away the self-blame and pity and anger and frustration and finally I heard the faintest of whispers. The smallest of voices, like a pure musical note, cut through cacophony of chain saws, bulldozers and dusty, swirling debris:
So I did. I canceled my next appointment.
I didn’t cancel the idea of therapy.
Just that therapist.
This I know: What lies beneath is no different from a swelling tumor. My denial and lack of trust feeds its cells. Listening to my heart, trusting myself, speaking up, telling the truth, and not allowing myself to be led down dark paths, that’s my chemotherapy.
I won’t give up.