‘Women generally know who they are and what they want. The men in relationships with these strong and healthy women are simply no match for them, in every sense of that word. Conversations go nowhere and relationships collapse because to be in a relationship you have to know who you are, and the man does not have this worked out.’
‘Most men today don’t have a life. What they have instead is an act. When a man is deeply unhappy, desperately worried, or utterly lonely or confused, he will often pretend the opposite, and so no one will know.’
‘The act that a man puts on is drawn from a very small range of choices, clichés almost: he may play the role of tough guy, family man, hard-nosed businessman, detached professional, cool young dude, and so on. The core pretence of all these roles is that ‘everything is fine’.
Passages from the book ‘Manhood’ by Steve Biddulph that stomp my guts out.
Every other Friday I’m in treatment (always in Slovak by the way, so I get a therapy session and challenging Slovak language class all rolled into one…) . The book ‘Manhood’ is listed in the ‘recommended reading’ section on my therapist’s website.
I had been preparing for today’s therapy sessions pretty much since walking out of the previous one.
That’s two weeks of prep time. Some of that time was spent ordering quite a number of books. I tell her that for the past two weeks I’ve been hearing a constant train of conversations between her and me in my head, which I know is not uncommon, I suspect it’s actually very common.
It keeps amazing me how much ground can be covered in a short 50-minute therapy session.
I tell my therapist, Laura, that I think men are in a deep crisis. Scenes from the movie ‘Fight Club’ flash before my eyes as I write this. Not that women don’t have any problems, but men are much more badly mauled by our current culture.
The book puts it this way: ‘By the time the 20th century boy became a grown boy, he was like a tiger raised in a zoo – confused and numb, with huge energies untapped.’
She says she can confirm this, men are in a deep crisis.
I give her my two-weekly accumulation of papers I’ve printed or written by hand for her to go through. Long lists, excerpts of the Story of O&Z, even a test that I gave my students, because I’m eternally questioning my own teaching methods (not exactly a standard highschool teacher attitude I can safely add…)
We simultaneously conclude that our school system is FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition), but the point of therapy is not to fix that of course.
If anything needs to be fixed in this spacious room full of fresh flowers and plants, it’s me.
I briefly touch on things I’ve done or haven’t done with clients recently and/or potential clients of my own, and she approves. I’m far more insecure about my teaching methods than about me as a therapist, I realize while writing this.
I tell her the lastest label a well-meaning friend has put on me ‘reward deficiency syndrome’.
We turn to the assignment she gave me last time. I was supposed to focus on my breathing for 30 seconds a day.
I say I didn’t manage 30 seconds, because it’s painful. After ten seconds I feel how my whole body hurts, I’m full of frustration, sadness, anger, and I feel like I’ve been stabbed multiple times in the gut and the chest with a dagger. Plus I feel like I’m holding a dagger myself. The kind of exercise that makes 30 seconds feel like a 24 hour bombardment by Vietcong mortars at Khe Sanh.
She asks me what the opposite of sadness is.
And my instant response is ‘women’.
She laughs and repeats: ‘So the opposite of sadness is women.’
‘Ok, women and war. Pick one.’
I tell her to pick one, but as I say the words I realize that as the excellent therapist she is, she won’t pick for me, so…
I pick women.
She asks to describe how I would feel if I was out with a woman.
So I say: ‘If I would be out with you, in a different setting, that would be great. I would be listening to you, and I would feel ok’
She smiles, but doesn’t go into this of course, because I’ve now clearly conveyed the message that I find her attractive, which she handles professionally, as I expect her to.
I didn’t mean it as flirting, but as the naked truth. I don’t intend to twist my words around here.
I add: ‘Of course, afterwards, when I’d be going home I would probably feel even sadder. I’ve mentioned this pattern before.’ Guess what happens when you take a heroin junkie’s heroin away.
‘How does it feel when you see yourself and these women from above?’
‘When I see myself from above? Well, it’s sick of course. I use women as a painkiller.’
I add: ‘Not that these women don’t get something in return.’
‘Of course, of course’, she says.
She notices that I go from being totally sad, to smiling brightly as soon as I talk about women.
I explain that when I’m listening to an attractive woman my mind works like a camera, I record it all. I can repeat conversations I’ve had with women verbatim, months and years later.
‘I believe you’, she says.
We turn to war. She asks me to think of Vietnam or some other war scenes.
She notices that I’m smiling brightly now as well.
Smiling like this feels very uncomfortable and out of place by the way if most of the time you feel like you’re mess and shouldn’t be smiling.
‘Clearly, women and war situations engage your brain so fully that the pain stops. What takes its place?’
‘Describe that energy.’
‘It’s red, it’s moving, it’s lava. And when it’s not lava, it’s cold stone. There’s nothing in between.’
‘Yes, from a geological point of view that can be true.’
‘I mean it’s true for me, there’s no middleground there. Everyone tells me so.’
‘I will not decide that for now.’
At the beginning of the session -because she had offered coffee and was walking in with a cup for herself- I have told her that I’m still not drinking coffee, I’m still not drinking any alcohol. I’ve also quit going out on dates with women (By the way: my wife reads every blog post, am not hiding anything). I don’t miss the alcohol, I don’t miss the coffee, I do miss the momentary absence of any pain when I’m looking at a beautiful woman’s face who’s giving me a glimpse of her private world.
As to war, well, it’s a bit trickier to pack up your things and rush to the nearest front (that would be somewhere in Ukraine in my case) than to ask beautiful, highly intelligent women out on dates.
Still, at times I do fantasize about seeking death in a combat zone. Being shot to pieces seems much more fitting than waiting an other fretting 40 years for a heart attack, prostate cancer and/or kidney failure or having my brains splattered across the pavement after an accidental brush with a juggernaught of a Duster or KIA or some other ridiculously oversized civilian armored personnel carrier. (hey, military terms get my energy up, ok?)
I tell her about a presentation I have to do about ‘innovative’ teaching methods to an all female audience, some time next week. Some of which would like nothing better than to prove that the way I teach is totally wrong, so it’s a bit weird I was selected to do this. I also requested to do this ‘showcase of innovative methods’ in an actual classroom, since I do need a classroom if I am to show how I teach, but the request was respectfully denied by my commanding officer, a very professional teacher. She’s also the only reason why I did not outright refuse to do this. She needs to write a pro forma report about innovative teaching methods, so I need to do a pro forma showcase at the worst possible time, in a short break, when everyone is either scrambling to run to the coffee machine, copying machine or toilet. So in less than optimal circumstances, since the audience will not arrive at the same time and will be questioning the validity of this exercise that we’re forced to do. The thing can last a total of 20 minutes max, half of which will surely be lost doing other stuff, and those who for some reason still feel the need to prove themselves as teachers will try to interrupt me, quite likely in übernervous fashion. At least that’s what I suspect. Sounds like a real hoot, doesn’t it? To be clear, there are some wonderful people there as well.
Laura asks why I do not consider the option of simply refusing to do this. Well, I don’t want to get my boss into trouble. She’s not my boss, but I consider her to be my boss. I have a lot of respect for her.
I tell her I handle unpleasant situations like this in a disassociative trance, like the state prostitutes are in.
She says she still doesn’t see the point of doing this and is clearly pro cancelling this.
Well, I will do it, because I don’t want to cause several people I have a lot of sympathy for any trouble.
Come to think of it, I would prefer to jump out of a Huey helicopter in a landing zone infested with Vietcong vets equipped with state of the art Czechoslovak automatic weapons who are desperately trying to waste me. At least there is no need for behind the scenes conniving, no backstabbing, and there’s no time for gossip, because you either kill or you are killed. I think men are incredibly fond of clarity!
I do not make this comparison out loud in therapy of course, because 50 minutes just scud by.
It might surprise you, but the most important element of today’s session, is that I am not comfortable smiling so brightly in front of my therapist. I do not want her to see how radiantly I can smile. I do not want her to see the energy in me, and it takes some effort to hide all the energy that comes bursting out of me when she asks me to focus on women or war.
Apparently I am very ashamed to show that this energy is inside me. Especially to a woman I find attractive. It would be easier to show all this vulnerability to an old man for example, that would be safe, or perhaps to a female therapist I’m not attracted to, but somehow that would be less effective therapy, because it would not bring me out of my comfort zone, and I notice that she, being a skilled therapist, is what she’s aiming at, to get me out of my comfort zone a little bit.
No pain, no gain.
That’s just as true in the gym as in therapy.
I also discus my loneliness and say that with every book I read and every documentary I watch I feel the gap between me and the people around me widen. I tell her my wife and her sister are like in an alarm fase and are trying to compensate for this. My wife stops watching Friends and watches something about war, which I know makes her almost sick to her stomach. Her sister, with whom I have an intense platonic relationship going on towards the direction of affectionate couple-like behavior, tries to talk to me about the books she’s reading (Lady Chatterley‘s lover and Madame Bovary). It’s this lady that wanted me to write in such a way that she would understand what was really going on inside me. And I tell my therapist about architcts and doctors who prefer to talk about beer and that, by contrast, some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had recently were with some of my 16 to 17 year old students…
When I come home my wife politely asks me to not fall in love with my therapist. Which, having studied therapy quite a bit, is totally off limits. A sexual therapist-client relationship is always destructive. And since we don’t fall in love with people who we consider to be truly unattainable we’re on safe ground. Besides, by now, my motivation to fundamentally get better totally dwarfs my motivation to score some pain-dulling female coated smack.
Especially here in Slovakia, where people hide their feelings better than their money (they don’t have any of that anyway) people almost freak out when I throw so much emotional exhibitionism (they never come up with this word themselves) online. It seems to make them very uncomfortable, but they can also just skip it…
So why do I do it? Well, some narcissistic exhibitonism is part of it, but mostly I want to understand the Art and Science (it’s both) of therapy as consummately (as perfectly) as possible, and the fastest way to understand anything is to try and explain it to someone else. I think teaching often benefits the teacher much more than it does the students…
If by now you think I’m totally fucked up, well, that may be true, I’m clearly not entirely ok.
But how are you doing?
A) Pretending to be happy
B) Not sure
C) Truly, honestly, genuinely happy
D) In the process of becoming happy
E) I don’t need to be happy as long as people respect me
I’m throwing out all my dirty laundry, there’s hardly any left, I must say, the feeling of relief this gives is immense. At some point I must inevitably run out of soul-bearing confessions.
It’s not like I’ve murdered any people, and if I had -am so glad I haven’t though- , I would write about that too.
The truth will set us free.
Something to cover in the next ‘in treatment’ session, is what I received when I got home.
My best friend in highschool is coming out of the closet as a writer, a long overdue move, and in a message he lets me know that I’m the ‘main character’ in his introduction. (see below)
I had skipped the introduction so I scroll back, and there it is, a warning from the past: you never know what kind of impact you will have on other people while you think you’re just thinking out loud while the two of you are riding your bike from home to school and back.
I’m partly responsible for him dropping out of highschool. Most a pity, since he was studying Latin and Greek at the time.
Oil always comes floating to the surface however, and here he is with one of his articles, which got me close to tears. Not any actual tears just yet, I know it doesn’t look that way but I’m very in control of my emotions. I have something like functional depression. We never run out labels. I’m depressed, but I function. On a scale from 1 tot 10, 1 being overflowing with happiness and 10 being devastating, desperate depression, I would say that for the last 8 years or so I have been peaking at 7 or 8, with occasional bouts of 9 to 10, and equally occasional luls in the fighting measuring 4 to 5. The last time I hit 1 was back in 2006.
If you are curious about therapy, seek it.
It will lead you to all the doors you frantically want to keep closed by any means necessary,
but you’ll love it.