Standing Quietly Elsewhere

I am not a person who is self-actualized, not even close. Some days I like to think I am, especially when I've done something I'm especially proud of or overcome a hurdle that's challenged me. Or when I have set aside my own agenda to do the right thing or taken a deep breath and allowed the reality of something to change my perspective.

I have a friend who fancies herself at the end of her process, this journey that is being human and trying to figure out what it all means and get it right. She frequently talks about how so and so doesn't get it, oh, she's a new soul, she'll say, she's got her own stuff to work out, usually with a lilt in her voice that says she's way past that. Comments like these make me want to tell her that only a new soul would call someone else a new soul. Only someone with limited perspective would think they could judge someone else's place on their path. Not that I ascribe to the new soul/old soul tenet anyway.

So I don't consider myself an expert in much besides a meticulous Brazilian wax, a perfectly shaped eyebrow or a homemade roasted tomato pasta sauce. Being in my line of work and probably my natural personality, I give advice quite a bit. I have sound judgement, especially when dealing with things I don't have a stake in, like my clients lives outside their time with me. I give advice not from a place of perfect wisdom but from experience, my own mistakes and insights that have put me squarely where I am today, which is a pretty good spot on most days and my near constant observation of others. I'm rarely emphatic about this advice and more often than not, I'm just an uninvolved person to listen to what someone can't or won't tell anyone else. I guess I'm a little like a blog that way.

I get the normal female conversation and then I get some real doosies(god that sounds like a word an old lady would use like, Madge that's a real doosie right there I tell you.) I'm one of the first people to know about a married woman's affair. Usually she hasn't told friends fearing judgement, so who can she tell but the woman primping her for her lover? I'm often told of fledgling pregnancies before even families know because it might be pertinent to treatment, in the same way a woman will tell another doctor or her dentist, just in case something is verboten. I'm also told sad things like one of my clients who was heavily scarred across her groin and abdomen. She no doubt realized that I would look at the deep slashes in her flesh and wonder what happened. She told me she didn't talk too much about it but that several years back she was a mental health nurse at a corrections facility when she was attacked. She also told me that she now runs training exercises a few times a year on how to avoid such attacks. I am forever amazed at the resilience of people.

Anyway, this is the long set up to talking about a person who has been on my mind lately. She is a client/friend I no longer see but hear about in passing from a few of her friends. She is a woman in her early thirties. She is beautiful, no stunning and talented and terribly, horribly broken.

Her parents were heavy drug abusers, they didn't make sure there was food in the house or electricity much less meet the emotional needs of their children. There is a long history of sexual abuse in her past, her own struggle with self-medicating with drugs and alcohol and a choppy adulthood filled with bad relationships that she to this day still clings to, rocky friendships and false starts with so many of the things that are important to her. At different times there was cutting and bulimia and other self-destructive things that I was surprised she told even me.

Given where she started, she has come tremendously far. Still, her past holds her back. I remember when she told me some of the worst of it after earning my trust with the more typical woes of childhood.

"Do you have a therapist," I asked her.

"Why, do you think I'm crazy," she asked me earnestly.

"Therapy isn't for crazy people", I told her, "it's for people who have come as far as they can on their own with their issues and want someone objective to help them get the rest of the way."

I told her that I had gone, hoping to reassure her that I thought it was a perfectly normal part of getting the tools to handle adult life.

"I've done a lot of research on my own, read books and stuff about abuse and how children process it, but I've never gone and talked to anyone. Do you think I should?"

"Well, I'm the wrong one to ask here because I think everyone should but I don't see how you could have all of the things happen to you that have and not need someone to help you sort it all out and work through it."

She'd come back and tell me about things being the same, the same mistakes the same bad choices the same rut of how she thought about things, herself. My therapist told me after a string of crappy boyfriends that the way I felt about myself was attracting men that validated those feelings. That even if a good one came along, I was so stuck on having been treated a certain way that I would see things through my distorted perception. Change how you feel about yourself, she'd say, and you will change who you are attracted to and how you view life's ups and downs. People are like one track on a record, the way you see yourself plays over and over again and then it's hard to move out of that groove. This friend was a good example of someone who had been so catastrophically victimized that she saw herself the victim of everything. People constantly wronged her, small slights were seen with a magnified intensity, hurts were experienced viscerally.

She connected with men who's history whispered, no screamed, that they would never be able to give her what she'd need and then she'd gasp in wonder months later when it proved to be true. She would try and move forward and carve out the life she wanted and then sabotage herself just as she was making progress. Each time she'd tell me her stories, I'd silently hope that she'd figure it out someday. Figure out how to be free of all the burdens her early life had given her. Free of the record that must play in her head.

She moved from the area and I lost touch with her. I miss her some days but the repetitive sadness and confusion and anger and all of it were so exhausting that truth be told, most days I'm okay with the fact that we've lost touch. And yet I wonder about her, hope that she is making her way towards figuring things out, making peace with her past and forging her own future free of all those wounds that weren't her making. She has a blog that I read now and then and I feel a little voyeuristic reading it and wonder that I still care. Somedays I wish I could talk to her, tell her how worthy she is of the work it takes to become whole again. Instead I sit on the sidelines, an invisible cheerleader.

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A Free Man said... February 8, 2009 at 1:44 PM  

I must not be self-actualized either because I don't even know what it means.

It sounds like you were playing the role of therapist for her for a while. I bet that she misses that time with you as well.

Anonymous said... February 8, 2009 at 2:13 PM  

I can so relate to this woman you describe. Maybe because I am this woman you describe. Not literally, of course, but I am also picking up the pieces of a broken childhood, trying to map out a "norma" life without the proper tools, and struggling to protect myself from the self-destructive forces that are strong within me. Your client/friend sounds like an amazingly strong human being. Your post is a testament to that, and I'm sure she would feel happy to know she had such an impact on you. You are such a compassionate, insightful person. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said... February 8, 2009 at 2:14 PM  

"normal" life - see? I'm so abnormal I have a hard time writing the word "normal" :)

MJ said... February 9, 2009 at 12:20 PM  

I know my hairdresser knows more about me than my own mother. I think it's easy to tell someone like her about the more scandalous parts of my life - mostly because I could stop going to her if I wanted to.

But I've been going to her since I was seven, and she has given me advice on things from kissing boys when I was twelve to picking out my first car at seventeen and relationship advice when I got engaged last year.

I know it sounds lame - I only see her every six weeks, but she has provided me with the longest friendship I've ever had.

Anonymous said... February 9, 2009 at 12:56 PM  

I don't know what self-actualised is either. But your view looking from the outside in to the girls life hooks me in. Sometimes people just don't want to be helped, or like you say, don't feel worthy of being helped. It takes so much to feel good enough to face problems and do something without feeling you're just making a fuss and you should get on with it and everything will be OK. Sometimes it takes someone you'd least expect to show you your life in a different light. There are so many people that you meet and want to shake, want them to realise their potential and have a happy life, and it's so difficult when it's not that simple. I don't really know what point I'm trying to make, I see it two ways, but I liked this post.

Rassles said... February 9, 2009 at 1:30 PM  

If we're going to follow this hierarchy of motivational needs business, I mean, I'm still in the safety stage. Self-actualization? So far off into the future I can't even comprehend what that might feel like. I fear intimacy.

Who wants to be self-actualized anyway? I mean, if you truly believe that a life requires certain completed actions, self-actualization equates with a readiness to die. I mean, you hit nirvana, and you're fucking done.

Nowhere to go but elsewhere.

Gypsy said... February 11, 2009 at 8:36 AM  

Talk about doll parts.

Reading about people like this, people who have truly struggled and hurt and been though the shit, makes me feel like slapping myself for being such a whiny little titty baby about my own "problems."

I wonder where she is now, too, now that you've told us about her. I hope she started therapy.

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