Snapshots: Masters of Destiny

Wow, that was depressing, the last post, the one about the crash, the "nervous breakdown." And long.

I know they've all been too long lately, these posts, and promise, bli neder (rhymes with see-header, Hebrew for no promises) to tighten them up in the new year.

Here are three short pre-holiday snaps to make up for it. 

1. Masters of Our Destinies

Years ago, after my uncle passed away from cancer, we heard that my cousin, his son, decided to specialize in oncology.

FD said to me at the time, "We only think we choose our professions."

And me, being a therapist, got that right away.

A couple of weeks ago, I get an evite to a birthday party for a friend of my mother's. The invitation is really for mom, not me, but mom can't get to the party on her own, so they grandmothered me in. (The two older women are in their eighties).

At the party I'm chatting it up with D., a friend of my late older brother's, who is now a doctor closing in on retirement. We reminisce about my brother who passed away a young adult, over forty years ago.

D. tells me that he has a sub-specialty in my brother's childhood illness.
Why am I not surprised?

2. Knowing Your Limitations

My birthday is in December, and my son asks his girlfriend to help him pick out a present.

He has the red-green color blind gene from my father and he knows his limitations.
My father, on the other hand, wore insane colors together, refused to believe us when we told him they didn't match.

Sometimes things aren't transgenerational.

Nice, right? Matches my coat, and soft.  No, I won't tell you my age.

I also scored an infinity scarf that my daughter-in-law taught me how to wear, and those gloves with the mitten flaps. And chocolate. They bought me chocolate.

No, we're not finished.  Before my birthday,  FD happened upon this cashmere scarf (no softer than the acrylic above) for $10.00 at a medical conference.

All of the docs crowded around the stand, and FD asked the vender how he got the gig. The man replied that he answered an ad in the New York Times.

Do you believe him? Whaddaya think?

Best gift ever, my grandson's message in a card, telling me that I'm the most funest, smartest, happyst, . . . and a few more good things . . . .bubby, ever.

3. Victimizing Himself

Let's switch gears, get a little psychological.  A gang-banger, working on not being a gang-banger, describes the feedback loop of his life. He tells me to tell the world, maybe it will help people.  His feedback loop is an exercise, an illustration of behavior, thoughts and feelings reinforcing one another.

Inside the circles it reads:

Father beats son, calls him a loser at a young age for minor infractions, i.e., spilt milk →
Son develops low self-esteem, thinks he’s a loser →
Son self-medicates, gets addicted to substances →
Father beats son, calls him a loser →
Son has low self-esteem, thinks he’s a loser →
Son self-medicates, gets addicted to substances
and around and around we go, until the son either gets it together, or hits bottom and either dies or stops using.

We go over the sequence and fill in the blanks.  Although he has broken the cycle, the feedback loop described above, the patient still sees himself as a victim.  He sees people as disrespectful to him, mean, always attributes negativity to the actions of others.  (Twelve Step people would say this is because he hasn't worked a program, and they would be half right.  He's also never worked on this in therapy.)

He may be sober and law-abiding, but his approach to people still tends to be on the defensive, and when he feels offended, he lashes out aggressively.

The more relevant feedback loop addresses this:   

Young man gets addicted, self-medicates discomfort, steals to support drug habit →
He justifies it because he's had a rough childhood, needs drugs to self-medicate →
He beats the drugs, becomes somebody he likes, an upstanding citizen, at least more upstanding than before →
But he still reacts offensively when he feels insulted, disrespected, which is often  →
The perceived insults manifest as aggression   →
Fighting, even verbally, hurts him socially, and hurts his bottom line in business.  Failures drive him to drugs  →
He relapses, gets stoned to self-medicate,  →

But this time, rather than self-justify, he owns his behavior, gets it together much faster, recovery time is short.  And he doesn't steal, is determined not to become a victim of his own psychology.

4. Gangbanging fish 

I buy a new fish, the orange one below, thinking that an angel is going to be angelic.  I put him in an aquarium with other angelic, peaceful fish, and the rumbles begin.  It's worse than West Side Story.  Fish are circling one another, tailing one another, banging it out. It's ugly.

I move him to a different aquarium, one with more aggressive fish. (It's an addiction, tending to aquariums,  but a nice addiction). There, in the aggressive culture, he's chased, beat on, and learns empathy for those he has bullied in his past.  Over time, because he's a survivor, he's accepted into the gang.  There they are, below.  Things are going swimmingly.