Friday, February 19, 2016

Uneasy into that good night

Here in Gambling & Sin Central, Nevada, I have treated more septua- and octogenarians in the last three months than I had over the preceding fifteen years. I am 64 and see, for the sake of some therapies, myself and them on the same voyage toward sunset. One theme prevalent in this group – addiction – has brought to mind the voyage, and along with it a question.

These older clients, for reasons that may have to do with Las Vegas and its pull to special self-medicative souls, are as lively in their thoughts and needs and bleeding hearts as twenty-somethings.  Their thinking runs and twists with exclamation points, acrid attitudes and tears. Their dependencies – shopping, food, May-December infatuation, gambling, morbid grief – have the aura of problems that should have burned out a while ago. And I find in them a disturbance that effectively Teflon-coats their resistance: an unappeasable need to live in their intellect, ripened over decades, that is nevertheless linked to their unhealed childhood injuries. This presents, in the therapy hour, a vexatious front of I already know everythingwisdom and immaturity.

The question I’ve asked is: “As you travel further into old age – maybe you even think of it as the final straightaway – and may want to see your life in a certain way . . . Still burdened with this addiction, do you want to be your best, or do you want to be your truth? I mean the following:

We can all picture a better self: working out, eating healthier; going back to school, showing more kindness toward others; ditching bad habits, stopping to smell the roses, going to marital therapy. But viscerally we may sense that this “improved” version of ourselves is a falsehood: It’s not who we are. A deeper understanding will show that there is a real self, injured, who has never been seen or heard by anyone – a self beneath the adult charade most of us have grown; and that there is a cosmically powerful pull to be that truth.

With less time for wishful thinking, my older addicted clients embody this choice, though it may never have occurred to them: to be their best face – their “better angel” (or one they have adopted); to will dignity and family reconciliation and peace, to transcend. Or, to live the truth by naming and crying their long-forgotten child, their structural failure; to respect the deeper Self by boozing or bingeing or gambling to nurture this undeserved pain; to bleed; to denounce the neglectfulness of others across a lifetime. Of course, this isn't a simple choice, as it's the result of all the wheels of one's life turning, then slowing down, and stopping in place or in confusion, as a kind of verdict.

But if I ask the question, it might make them pause prematurely, and look. To say Face your identity now. Choose between forgiveness and bloody truth, hope and primal truth is to ask: Can I still grow up? Should I? What does that even mean?

And what about the third choice to simply be, as time marches on?

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.