Saturday, March 07, 2020

Saving your life by destroying your story and writing a new one

The dictionary tells us that to be interested by someone is to feel "attentive, concerned, or curious." Curiosity is a friendly emotion and even a moral position. Those whom we make the objects of our curiosity we don't prejudge or condemn. We don't fear and loathe them. My therapist, in our time together, often urged me to "stay curious" and it was a nice thing for him to try and make me do, unsuccessful as he was, because curious is a nice way to feel.
I'm not very good at psychotherapy.

I thought I was going to be the sort of person who goes to psychotherapy, and says things like, "My therapist says [insert something enlightening here]." Instead, I'm the kind of person who dreads going to a session because I have nothing to talk about, and afterward dissects it with friends, making snide comments like, "You wouldn't believe what my therapist said." Skip the session and go straight to the drinks, I say.

[I attended only three sessions, not counting the appointment I made for me and my ex when our marriage was falling apart, only it wasn't supposed to be about our marriage, it was supposed to address his anger and his drinking, but then he bailed at the last minute; I went anyway — it was an opportunity to vent, which I needed, and I came away feeling like I knew what I was doing, which maybe I didn't. That was a cognitive-behavioural therapist, and I wonder if it makes a difference. I know CBT is a form of psychotherapy, at least, so claims the current psychotherapist whom I'm no longer seeing. But I still don't have a grasp of what kind of help would benefit me, and the only clarity she offered is that "it's all psychotherapy — all therapists, counsellors, psychologists engage in some kind of psychotherapy..." Anyway, the first session was underwhelming, predictable the way her eyes lit up when I told her my father died when I was seven. The second session was a little more emotional and made me feel inadequate as a parent. But the third session was deflated, like we didn't know what to talk about, I just rambled on about my recent vacation.]

One thing about psychotherapy: it made me feel kind of stupid, that I wasn't careful with my words, that my definitions of things like, say, emotions was a little sideways, which is quite possibly true but a dangerous hole in my ego to pick at when I make my living from words — people pay me to pay attention to them and fix them and make them better. But maybe I've been doing it all wrong. 
To David, love meant declaration. Wasn't that the whole point? To Sarah, love meant a shared secret. Wasn't that the whole point?
Reading Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi, is a lot like psychotherapy, and a bit of a trust exercise in itself, one which didn't really pay off for me. I just couldn't bring myself to care about it. Maybe if I tried harder I could find something meaningful, significant, worthy of my worry, but I just didn't care. 

(The book is described as being set in the early 80s, but I think that's a bit early for the Morrissey t-shirts and Sade references.)

It did lead me to reminisce about high-school drama club, and all the drama that went along with it. I was surprised to find that most of my class were overthinking, Smiths-listening introverts like me, only a couple attention-seekers among us. The drama teacher, Billy, insisted we call him Billy. He wrote that play we put on about teenage pregnancy, very eye-rollingly after-school special. I remember the cast party where I made out with that guy I didn't even like and got very drunk. The star, Billy's pet, what was her name? I heard later that they'd been having an affair, but then she dropped out of school and married Billy's student intern from the university.

Trust Exercise is kind of like that too; when you're a teenager everything seems boring and exciting at the same time. Exaggeratedly so. Then there are the teenagers who turn into adults who haven't ever gotten over high school.

It's a #metoo kind of book, but I don't think it has anything important to add to the conversation, and I'm surprised by the accolades it's received.

Whom do you trust? Trust the teacher, your friends, witnesses? Trust your memory, trust in yourself? Why should you trust the author? The novel has three distinct parts that tell the same story through a different filter. They can't all be true, not in the same way.
Therapy can seem like revision of memory. It can seem like you're saving your life by destroying your story and writing a new one. It can seem like therapy won't get its goddamn grubby mitts off you. At best therapy demands uncomfortable humility from the person with total recall, and at worst it can remind me of my mother — the difference being that therapy wants the emotional truth, while my mother runs screaming from any emotion or truth that's not hers.
What is the truth? Does it even matter? I don't care.


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