GRAFFITI

 

Growing up in a city I saw lots of graffiti, but one message sank into me. Words full of social despair, a betrayal so big, its reach seemed to stretch in all directions.

FUCK ALL Y’ALL

That spray-painted scrawl, reduced here to orderly type, was phrased as defiance but felt like naked pain writ large. If this was the message of a young black man, what became of him after? Did he somehow meet with a balm for his wounds?

This country is full of cities and towns and suburbs, shelters and tents and alleys, resounding with betrayal both voiced and unvoiced. Prisons and cemeteries. Desecration of human rights. Families broken, hearts riven with loss.

At a peaceful protest last week, we were asked collectively to take a knee, a gesture now haunted for me. A timer was set, 8 minutes and 46 seconds, so that we might understand more viscerally what a long time that is. Our breath filtered through masks. For an unimperiled crowd, 8 minutes and 46 seconds is restless. For cruelty, for terror, for torture, for murder, 8 minutes and 46 seconds is remorseless.

I haven’t watched that important video—for a number of reasons having to do with my personal feelings about privacy, dignity, media, and desensitization—but I saw a still of the man, an officer of the law, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. That hand in that uniform pocket. Please, vote for sweeping change, and do all the good you can.

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Text and image copyrights held by me. I value your time and appreciate your reading. There are many things to do in a day, and I’m often ambivalent about posting my monthly contribution to this overwhelming world of content; for a little more on that, see my updated About. Meanwhile, feel free to share this post. Take care, and give care. EA

THE TITLE OF THIS POST WAS ALMOST “LOVE SAVES LIVES”

…then I thought about those who suffer at the holidays for losses that abundant love didn’t prevent, and I changed my mind. Love doesn’t always save lives, and I think it’s important to be sensitive to that. Losses aren’t always deaths, either, though they can hurt as much and feel as absolute. Loss of partnership, friendship, regard, connection, career, independence—regret and futility, whatever the source, are quite ruthlessly painful. Nonetheless, love can save lives at times, and what better use of a heart? I was reminded of its redemptive quality when I read this piece.

Best wishes for 2020, with 20/20 vision, clarity, purpose, health, and l-o-v-e.

 

 

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I, for one, will be glad to see the end of 2019, despite the challenges that lie ahead. Text and image copyrights held by me. My posts have gotten shorter as I deal with other things. As ever, I’m grateful for your reading. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too. Bonne Annee, Tanti Auguri, Freues Neues.

 

 

(UN)PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE

 

“Therapy is not meant to last forever,” I tell my kid clients during our first visit. After inviting them to express their feelings about being brought to counseling, I ask them to think about how they’ll know when the work of therapy is done. What will have changed for them?

In asking this, I hope to empower them and shape our work according to their priorities, not necessarily, or only, those of their caregivers. After all, change requires buy-in. Simultaneously, it is my way of planting a seed for one of therapy’s most important flowerings: the good goodbye.

Everyone can expect to experience loss over the fullness of a lifetime; but childhood, for the clients we see in community mental health, can already be replete with losses both clear and ambiguous. Parents especially seem to disappear, in the county where I currently work—into jail, substance use, other towns and states, other relationships and families, mental illness, accidents, suicide, and even death by homicide.

Such loss is complicated in untold ways, with impacts on identity and self-esteem, attachment, concentration, decision-making, moods, stress, coping style, and the immune system. A positive therapeutic relationship, while not “fixing” all that’s gone before, can be a corrective experience, providing safety, reliability, tolerance and adaptability, support and regard, healthy boundaries, respect, and (crucially) warmth. I would contend that when therapy “works,” that corrective quality is the main reason why.

Bringing closure to all the relating that’s come before, the good goodbye is one that is anticipated, planned for, and—though there’s room for sad feelings as well—celebrated together as an accomplishment. I like to provide client-specific “transitional objects,” small items that can carry forward the memory and meaning of our time together. I’ve given skeleton keys, worry stones, figurines, feathers, memory books, and (so far) one mixed CD, all accompanied by notes or letters of congratulations. One spunky little girl I see has already requested brownies, though the end is not yet in sight; for a teen with a love of savory sweets, I made rosemary shortbread.

Needless perhaps to say, all this preparation is as much for me as for the client. I, too, experience some attachment in my work with clients, to varying degrees, and the good goodbye helps me to find closure for work that has impacted me as well. (In The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk espouses the belief that clients can’t grow and change if they can’t see their impact on their worker; I’m hopeful that my clients can see theirs on me.)

The good goodbye is also a corrective experience for me for other losses, both personal and professional—those goodbyes that never resolve. When denied it—when, as happened late this spring, a favorite client simply drops off the map, our work together feels as open-ended and prone to fraying as an unfinished hem. Though coached by colleagues to trust and let go, it is hard not to comb over my memories of our last visit, for possible clues. Did an errant remark cause pain or offense that the client or caregiver wasn’t comfortable addressing?

It’s impossible to know. Some clients aren’t good about calling under any circumstances, let alone the momentous ones that announce the end. My lost client had made radical progress—was he just doing well enough that he felt he was done? Although I give all credit to him and his mom, did disappearing feel necessary to him, in order to own his gains? Or could it be that a lack of experience with healthy endings might have caused him and/or his mother to dread the emotions of closure? When people protect their emotions, it is often (and often unwittingly, though not always) at others’ expense.

In any case, I send my best wishes to him.

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Out of respect for client privacy, names here are always changed or omitted. Text and image copyrights held by me. If you enjoyed this piece, I hope you’ll consider sharing it. To subscribe and receive future posts, please look to the upper right on your computer screen, or scroll to the bottom of the page on your mobile device. “The Numbers Game” (July 2017) will be continued in a future post, when I have more stamina for the topic. Thank you for reading!