Precursors to the Sexual: Little Pleasures
Buddhists believe that, to be integrated into the creative and destructive natural processes of the universe, we must learn the acceptance of suffering. Psychoanalytic and existential therapies make a distinction between two fundamental kinds of suffering. One is a consequence of fate (i.e., everyday problems such as sickness, grandiose bosses, and rambunctious children). We bring further suffering on ourselves when we try to escape it by denying its existence. If we accept the fact that suffering is part of our lives, we don't have to fight it by hiding our eyes from the truth -- or from what the truth demands of us in the way of acceptance.
Therapy is an effort to open our eyes to the reality of how we have distorted our minds and emotions in order to avoid and deny painful reality. Therapy does not deny that reality can be painful; it teaches acceptance and, at its best, the joyful transcendence that comes with the recognition of a power greater than ourselves.
Making yourself into a victim, as women (and some men) tend to do, or making yourself into a stoic anti-dependent, as men (and some women) tend to do, is a dis-empowering delusion, part of an elaborate process of self-deception instigated by childhood abuse. Acceptance of suffering as part of the life of each human born of imperfect parents is a healthy recognition of the truth of the human condition. Such acceptance empowers us because it prompts us to find ways to live healthfully within that truth.
Michell, now three months into treatment, looks tired and road-worn. His skin is sallow, his eyes puffy, and his expression blank.
"I don't know if I can do this anymore." he says in a defeated tone. "I'm having a hard time."
"How so?" I ask.
"It's just dragging me down."
"Have you relapsed, acted out?"
"No, no, not at all."
"Well, that is great progress. Even though you are emotionally uncomfortable, you have been able to tolerate your feelings. Congratulations."
Mitchel's anger is deep-seated. The rejection he experienced early in life made power and control the compass of his life.
It is the second of May, and Mitchell, who has crossed off each date the kitchen calendar for the past month, is well aware it is his birthday. As is tradition in his first-grade class, his mother will bring cupcakes for an afternoon party, where his classmates will play games and sing "Happy Birthday." Mitchell is a shy, small boy who has few friends. He is often teased about his thick glasses and pigeon toes. At the tender age of six, he suffers from headaches and constant skin rashes. On this day, his birthday, Mitchell believes all of this will be put aside. For at least one day out of the year, he will feel proud.
Anxiously, he watches the clock. The afternoon bell rings, signalling the start of his party. Mitchell is ecstatic. But, to Mitchell's surprise, his classmates head for the door and out to the playground, not at all interested in participating in the classroom nerd's birthday party. Some kids even grab cupcakes as they go.
"Let's get out of here. Let's go away from this weirdo," he hears them mutter under their breath. Mitchell can barely breathe as tears stream down their face.
"It was devastating." Mitchell says.
"Sounds like it," I reply. "This memory is what triggered your sadness?"
"Yeah, it just came to me when I dropped off my daughter at school. I hadn't thought of it for years. I saw this kid with a balloon on the playground and, boom, there it was, clear as a bell, like it happened yesterday."
There is grief in recovery as we remember those times when we didn't think we deserved our place on the planet. So many of us have been told that it is shameful for us to have wants and needs. Self-care becomes a shameful act. We forget that the pleasure associated with fulfilling our needs and wants is our precious birthright. Believing we deserve this becomes daunting and seemingly unimaginable task, but it's not. All is possible.