Thursday, March 21, 2013

Anger and Abandonment

It has been blustery in Chicago, the reputation as the Windy City well deserved. So blustery that at the end of March, when the weather is supposed to be mild (March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb, every second grader knows this) that we tell frail little people like mother, "Don't go out for lunch. You'll be grabbing onto your walker as the wind carries the both of you away." She goes to lunch anyway.

FD tells the story. He's in a parking lot at Home Depot, returning the cart. A bundled-up middle-aged man with a white beard is holding on tightly to a cart. If we don't hold them tightly, carts will take charge, fly off and hit parked cars. Chicagoans know this.

The man begins to curse as his hat flies off his head and hits the ground. FD, retrieving it, is rightly impressed by the long string of expletives, ef__, es___, d__, ef'in___b, b___, ef___, ef'n___, es-ef___, spewing from the man's mouth. Listening to this, he doesn't say it, but is thinking, Save your expletives for when you break a leg, or lose a house, maybe. Why waste them here?

A few years ago, two men with romantic accents came to see me in one week for anger management. It sometimes happens that two or even three new patients with similar problems come to therapy in the same week. It is as if there is something in the air or the stars are aligned in some special way. This affords the therapist the opportunity to experiment, to do her own little research study, assign homework and see what works and why, and see what doesn't and why not, because there is something of a control, having that second patient with comparable symptoms, comparable objectives.

It gets better. Both tell their narratives fluently, and both are from that continent hailing the new pope, South America. Both are reflecting upon a childhood living with extended family, not their moms or dads. Their parents left southern climes to establish themselves in this country, the United States, a land of opportunity, and called the sons to join them years later.

Years. Later. A long time to miss a parent. Without means, long distance phone service was prohibitive back then, and letter writing, well, there wasn't money for computers and email, and who had time for it anyway?

The child left behind, defenseless, odd-man out among the cousins, abused by drunk uncles and bullied at school, learned to be a very tough human being, so tough that peers eventually realized that to mess with him meant a fist fight that he relished. To beat another human being with his fists felt fantastic. This is where the phrases  sees red, has a hair-pin trigger, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder can meet as one.

Left behind.

Therapists hear about domestic violence, but usually not from the perpetrator, but the victim. The spouse or child tells the story. Here the patient is both victim and perpetrator. As an angry man, however, he doesn't hit his children or his partner, and has learned, as an adult, not to beat other adults, either, unless the circumstances clearly warrant physical violence. To him, they occasionally do, certainly if he hasn't stopped drinking yet.

We don't need advanced degrees to see where it comes from, the anger, and why the expletives become something that will need work, and surely the physical pounding, the rage, the immediate need to redistribute justice and turn things around, has to be channeled productively. One of the interventions I love, one that started with those two-in-a-week, works as follows.

The patient is told that he has to deliberately lose every argument. Every disagreement, every difference of opinion, my bad. He is to tell his partner, dispassionately, "Fine, I'm driving poorly?  I'll work on it." That kind of thing.

"Two weeks, you're an idiot for two weeks. She's the smart one. It's okay. You're really not an idiot. In your heart, in your head, you know that. You do know that, right?!" The therapist asks this in all sincerity. "Keep that in mind at all times. Nobody left because of you. Nothing to prove. Nobody thinks less of you if you are wrong. Your partner will value you more for being human."

It helps to have a partner or spouse in the therapy to reinforce the intervention, someone to look into his eyes, to tell him, "You're the smartest guy I've ever known. I love you. Love me."

And if he can't, there is that possibility, she might leave. Been there, done that.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gaining Perspective

A dreary place at 7:00 a.m. Lincoln Towing
There's this ridiculous situation where I live.

The condo association offers guests parking in the Circle Drive close to the front door of the building. But not to residents, who presumably have their coveted spot in the garage.

That's not so bad. But if you do dare to park in the Circle Drive in the evening, if for some reason you take this risk, maybe you think you'll be right back, or maybe someone calls you and you get involved in a conversation, or you put a soup on and have to watch it and forget about the car--

if the car is still there between 2-6 a. m., a tow truck will certainly hook it up and tow it away in those wee hours.

There are signs in the driveway that communicate this; it isn't exactly rocket science. People have to move their cars from the Circle Drive.

Why? The rule is so old nobody remembers why anymore. It doesn't matter, but last night I forgot to move my car and this morning, thinking he would find it in our usual spot in the garage, FD returned to the condo, confused.

I'm pouring the coffee he has made.

"Car isn't in the usual spot," he informs me, unemotionally. "I'm walking to shul (the synagogue). See if you can track it down. Stay in touch." And he's gone.

My immediate response is an expletive, only one expletive, just so you should know, one that is preceded by a loud

OH! as in,  OH, ___!

It's the kind of thing that doesn't come out of my mouth very often, so when it does, I know I'm upset. This happened once before, this rendezvous bit with Lincoln Towing. It had been pouring that night, deafening lightening and thunder, and being terrified, I hid under the covers and fell asleep. Never did move the car. Surely innocent to a jury of my peers.

But no. To get it out of the auto pound a crummy $198.00 is required. And they don't have change.

I dig out the cash, throw on a coat, and trudge downstairs to wait for the bus. At the stop I text my kids to see if anyone is around to pick up their father. Everyone is willing, but FD is fine. He'll wait to see how things play out. His early meeting at the hospital is optional.

Chicago CTA bus
My bus comes right away and the driver is garrulousness, in a fabulous mood (this is the end of his shift, we'll see). No, he can't change a twenty, and no, this bus will not get me anywhere near 4882 Clark Street. I'll need to transfer at Lawrence. He lets me on for free and offers an "emergency" transfer.

I am tickled. It isn't as if I don't pay lots of taxes for this sort of bail out, but still. Perhaps when your car is towed it is considered an emergency to the CTA. If so, What a wonnerful city, as the late Mayor Richard J. Daley would have said. And it is, truly.

The bus is getting more and more crowded, but I have a good seat. About a half-mile before my stop I see that my driver is getting up to leave, has pulled over to the curb at the light. He's switching with another driver at Foster. I sprint to the front to thank him again and ask if I can take his picture.

I have this blog, I say, it's a therapy blog, Everyone Needs Therapy, and if he wouldn't mind, I could post his picture, tell the world what a great city this is, how a kindness like his, just being really nice at 6:30 in the morning, changes everything for the low-lifes in the world like myself, those who leave their cars overnight in the Circle Drive.

He laughs, "This isn't going up on YouTube right?  I don't want that!"

"Oh, I won't even put up the picture," I tell him, "It didn't come out very well. Don't worry."

He seems disappointed.

Now. The new driver has heard this conversation. "Yes," he nods, "Therapy. People do need therapy.  I swear, the people who ride the bus, man, do they need therapy some of them." He is whispering so that if what he's saying is inappropriate, maybe I won't hear. This man has a true conscience, it is refreshing.

"Uh, huh," I agree, "tell me about it."

He proceeds to tell me quite a bit about himself, how his Mom raised him right, and how she and his father paid attention to him and watched who he hung out with, and made sure he did well in school, and parents today don't do that, and so many of them are on drugs, what is a child to do? Mom made sure he knew that there was a God, too, and he is forever grateful for that, too.

"The most important thing," he tells me, "is kindness.  If you're nice to people they'll be nice to other people. It's a pay it forward thing, like in that movie, Pay it Forward. That's absolutely the most important thing we can do is just be nice. That's all," he says. "That's all."

And I'm thinking, that $198.00 I'm going to spend is a drop in the bucket compared to what people spend on drugs, those who spend money on cocaine, maybe heroin, and probably isn't that much to some who spend their money on lottery tickets or beer and marijuana, either.

And if I only do this, fail at moving my car, lose that gamble, say, every six months, that gamble on  parking in the Circle Drive, the one for guests only, not even a gamble if it is there between 2-6 a.m., a surety, then maybe that isn't so bad either.

Could be worth it to hang out with these guys turning the corners on the CTA in the very early morning rush hour.


PS: The late folk song writer/performer Steve Goodman did a wonderful spoof on a car towing company in Chicago, The Lincoln Park Pirates.  Totally worth a listen. Back then I think it was only $135 to redeem your automobile, but how would I know?