Mitchell, now three months further 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 is just dragging me down."
"Have you relapsed, acted out?" I ask.
"No, no, not at all."
"Well, that's is great progress. Even though you are emotionally uncomfortable, you have been able to tolerate your feelings. Congratulations."
Mitchell'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 each date off 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 the 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, signaling 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 get away from this weirdo," he hears them mutter under their breath. Mitchell can barely breathe as tears stream down his 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 my daughter off 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 think we didn't deserve our place on this planet. So many of us have been told that it is shameful for us to have wants or 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 a daunting and smilingly unimaginable task.