While we collected wild fermenting guavas off the driveway, Josh found the courage to start telling me things he has been experiencing lately. Somehow the shared task made it easier for him to talk. He asked me questions about my own parent’s divorce and we seemed to find a sense that we’re in this together. Rather than him being the victim of my choices, we both spoke about how the boy in me felt similar things to the boy he is now. I realised just how much feeling and insight he harbours inside him; overly cautious about the implications for others of disclosing them. This is not a habit that I hope gets too ingrained in him. It is, perhaps, something I made a habit of myself. I guess I made a career out of that habit, tuning into other’s feelings rather than my own. Other people’s needs can easily become a hiding place. As Winnicott wrote, “It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found.”
I left my marriage when the joy subsided, and as I increasingly realised the disaster of not being found. Nobody’s fault but my own, I guess. It still takes conscious effort to ask to be found. Many of my friendships ended when I stopped doing all the finding. Now I increasingly feel the joy of coming out of hiding. The year I decided to leave my marriage I was gifted a ticket to AfrikaBurn. I camped with a large group of people, some of them my clients. But my identity as therapist seemed to be completely irrelevant in a dust storm of other people’s freedoms. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. If I wasn’t rescuing someone or facilitating something, I wasn’t quite sure who I was.
I have found freedoms that I only ever allowed myself to imagine. It leaves me restless. I can’t shake the feeling that I am running out of time. Irvin Yalom, probably the greatest living therapist, wrote some time back “One thing I feel clear about is that it’s important not to let your life live you. Otherwise, you end up at forty feeling you haven’t really lived. What have I learned? Perhaps to live now, so that at fifty I won’t look back upon my forties with regret.” I feel like I just got started and then the world went on pause.
These freedoms are not always outward. The real rebellion is an inward one. Especially against the outdated voices in our heads that illegitimate our own feelings. There is something rather freeing about legitimating our own feelings. It somehow breathes life into us, despite the anxiety that comes with it. Lockdown seems a good time to bring awareness to those inner voices. As I write this, Josh is struggling to sleep. He seems upbeat, like he doesn’t want the day to end. I hope, somewhere inside of him, outside of his ability to language it, is the realisation that his love for those in his life does not have to be at the sacrifice of his own feelings and their legitimacy.
This afternoon I found myself writing feedback to a dear client that I have known for years: “I think absolute honesty about our feelings is the litmus test of any relationship and over censorship is the absolute demise of ourselves.”
Yalom also wrote, “To love means to be actively concerned for the life and the growth of another.” Love is an invitation to express and to grow. To sometimes hear the things you would rather not hear or say the things you are too afraid to say. Far too often, love seems to require censorship rather than expression.