Tuesday, December 15, 2015
The blind man
A few months ago I treated a young man – 20 years old – who was completely, existentially dislodged when I named the fact that feelings are primary substance, are in the body; they are not a waste product of our thoughts. It is painful for me to imagine how barren a life he must have led up to now, killing his feelings and trying to rescue himself by thinking harder, repetitiously, brighter – thoughts fueled by nothing but denied desperation. The client had been drug dependent for several years. It was sad how fake he looked, with that euthymic smile and clever humor and words formed only in the shallows of his neurosis. Apparently three months of intensive rehab hadn’t taught him the simple concept of self-medication. Or he had quickly blinked it away. Or it was presented in a sterile, biopsychiatric frame. Because if he had learned it, he would have gotten some awareness that with drugs, he has been drowning the pain of his tortured childhood.
I’ve seen a fair number of people who are militantly cognitive, belligerent that thinking is the director of one’s ship. Because there is something intense and defensive about them, they seem real, human, anxiously in touch with the feelings that they disparage. This client, though, had no militancy or defense, and he seemed less real. Somehow he had grown up to believe the terrible control his parents exerted – don’t move, don’t contradict me, don’t roll your eyes, don’t get C’s – was right or natural; had been brainwashed by them to believe he should exist in the slightest, dehumanized way. When I told him that feelings are the ground of the person – babies are all feeling, they don’t think that “life’s a bummer,” they don’t tell themselves “this pain is really good for me” – he looked shifted and undone. He heard me right away, was not defended against the idea that a big part of him, maybe the essential part, had been lost, his whole life.
Will the next step be to look a little further into the doorway, to feel – without the juggernaut intercession of his thought – all the pain and destruction his parents had caused? That would be the simple truth. And while I don’t often want clients to fall into the furnace that their childhood keeps – most clients are functional enough with adequate pleasures and defenses not to warrant being undermined – that was not true of this young man starting out on the long road of adulthood. He would assuredly use again, despite his self-cheerleading. But more, he had never gotten an emotional foundation on which to build a life, a certainty, a relationship, to care for a career and to maintain it. He would need, critically more than any other need, to find his discarded heart.
This is a bit of a sidetrack, but I really wish clients could be cleansed of all the psychological smog they’ve absorbed over the past generation, coming from entertainment and editorials, the self-help literature, Dr. Phil and drug commercials. I have yet to hear a client say, “I am 296.32” (major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate), but many produce their labels – “I have clinical depression, I’m bipolar, I have G.A.D., I have Borderline Personality Disorder, I’m ADHD, I have a chemical imbalance.” Thinking this and saying this, they are already disastrously in their head. It would be preferable to tell me, “I don’t know what it is,” “I hurt,” “there’s this emptiness,” “I’m angry, but I’m sad, and nothing’s meaningful,” or “I can’t find the words for something – if it is something – I can’t understand,” or even to look at me silently. These are the psychic ailments. These would be people in touch with themselves.
The young man could possibly have made this sort of ethereal and profound statement, but he had been dragged for years through the torrent of abuse and repression then had run aground on a concept – addict. Blind as he was to his caregivers' crimes, he might still have felt something, might have said, “I’m not really as happy as I thought I was.” But he had lost the ability to feel – a risk of formative-age and long addiction and its causes, and its labels.