Chapter 2 "Holding of the Shame"
I notice an unusual gray outside, as I adjust the blinks in my office -- but then, it is the monsoon season. It is the time of year I particularly love -- for several reasons. There is the first the unprecedented smell stirred when the large droplets of rain hit the dust-laden land, a sweet and earthy richness that pervades the senses. The smell immediately connects me to the earth.
The monsoons are fast and furious storms that sweep through the desert, volatile in nature and often unpredictable in their destruction. The storms contain micro-bursts, which are rain combined with winds of up to 60 miles per hour; they can knock down power lines, rip off roofs, and produce sheets of rain so torrential that it is impossible to see farther than your outstretched hand. These bursts usually last only a few minutes, and then the sky clears and returns to its proverbial blue, sunny glow.
Often you can see these storms coming from miles away. The sky turns purple and crimson, and the gray sheets of rain pound the earth below. As I finish adjusting the blinds, I see no dramatic atmospheric displays, so I continue to ready the office for my first client of the day.
When Harold arrives, he seems nervous and untrusting. His eyes dart around the room, his face is blank.
"Have a seat," I say invitingly. Harold responds without saying a word. His eyes are now fierce and piercing. He appears to be in the hypervigilant state, his breath shallow, his body rigid. I understand how frightened, pained, and confused Harold must feel. It is the kind of discomfort that I, a recovering sex addict, lived with on my first visit to a therapist. It continued for many years.
I am sensitive to Milton's painful predicament, but am equally sensitive to the great gift in store for me, for him. As I begin my relationship with Harold, I know that if we do our work, he will come to trust me enough to hold his pain and shame and suffering.
He will place his dark-side secrets into my hands, until he has developed enough strength and understanding to own them for himself. He knows I will hold them respectfully. This "holding of the shame is key to all my clients' recover--and is the abiding gift of my profession. That I can contain such pain safely beyond my boundaries in self-affirming evidence of my own recovery.
"Tell me what brings you into treatment," I ask Harold, noticing how his color has faded to match the gray, billowing clouds outside. Nervously adjusting his position, he responds, "I saw your ad." (My advertisement runs in a local sex-themed newsletter and offers help to those in the area struggling with compulsive sexual behavior.) This means that Harold has probably not had prior treatment or even discussed his secret behavior with anyone outside his own circle of addicts.
"Oh, I see," I say with a warm tone. "So what made you call me?"
"I am sick of my life," he says, his body slightly softening.
"Um humm," I respond, nodding my head. "I am glad you had the courage to call."
A clap of thunder booms through the office as if to affirm his difficult decision. Harold jumps, startled by the loud noise.
Through a slow and arduous interview, Harold explains his behavior, his use of prostitutes, and his masturbation to pornography. At the end of our first meeting, Milton looks drained.
"How are you feeling?" I ask.
"Well, this was different," he says with a slight chuckle.
"How so?" I prompt.
"Well, I have never told anybody this stuff before."
"And how does that feel?"
"I guess good, but... " he says, trailing off.
"But, what?" I ask.
"Well, how did I ever get this way? I must be some kind of sicko pervert to do this stuff."
The rain has now begun to pummel the window as the wind soars, fiercely scraping the branches of the ironwood tree against the stucco wall. I can't help but wonder whether the torrential storm reflects how Harold feels. Is he feeling the enormous release of a lifetime of secrets and shame? A fierce cleansing, like the torrents of rain that are carving away at the exposed and barren earth? If so, does he not say: He seems to merely accept my validation that is is not a "sicko," but is, rather, a person who learned unhealthy and destructive ways to express his sexuality.
As we begin our work together, Harold soon discovers that, like a lot of other sex addicts, hi same is embedded in his childhood trauma. Like all children, Harold needed nurturing and love, a consistent mirroring from his parents to reinforce his sense of well-being and safety. Unfortunately, Harold's mother was incapable of giving this nurturing love to her son because she was mentally ill.
Milton lived in a whirlwind of unpredictable behavior and emotions. When his mother was in a stable mood, she doted on his every whim. However, when she became psychotic or lost touch with reality, Harold was frightened and bewildered. Harold walked on eggshells and learned to prepare himself for the emotional storm that inevitably erupted each day. This left Harold hypervigilant to his environment. He learned to watch for the nuances of his mother's moods, changes in her physical gestures, a distant look in her eyes, a quick, jerky movement of her arms; Milton knew to brace himself. Her erratic behavior took many forms, but the most difficult for Harold occurred when she stripped off her clothes and ran stark naked around the house and yard, singing, dancing, and talking incessantly.
Harold was only a child; his father was a truck driver who would be absent for extended periods. This left Harold to fend for himself. He blamed himself for his mother's mood swings and erratic behavior, and believed that he triggered her outbursts.
Seeing his mother naked was a shock, but this erratic behavior soon became the norm. As Harold grew older and began to develop sexually, his mother's behavior became a profound influence in the imprinting of this sexual identity. His mother's behavior left Harold feeling anger, fear, danger, arousal, and intensity--a strange and powerful menagerie of emotions that became embedded in his sexual expression.
Harold's first masturbatory fantasies were of his mother, and, when he began to see prostitutes,he had them act out his mother's erratic behaviors. Harold learned to do what all sex addicts do, which is to repeat what they have learned from their childhood wounds.
My work with Harold, as with all my clients, becomes a collaboration. It is through our collaborative effort that trust, understanding, and respect begin to unfold. He will willingly off-load into my outstretched hands his darkest secrets.
I hope that all of my clients can metaphorically find in me the selflessly respectful, nurturing parent they never had. I hope they will allow me to store their sick behaviors and demeaning beliefs and emotions until they themselves are willing to acknowledge and deal with hem. I become the solid ego state against which the wounded ego can collide, yet survive. I mirror for them the respect, understanding, and safety they have never known. The wounded part begins to heal. The therapist becomes the good parent. The client internalizes that identity. The healing takes place within the therapeutic relationship.
(To be continued.)