The problem with having unidentified sources of anxiety is that the source is unidentified. So when I meet with my lovely therapist, we cover many topics. But we often veer to the topic of family, the top candidate for the source of most things in my life. I give her the outline of my life story, the family I had growing up. She listens, asks questions, listens some more, and then asks more questions. That is how we delve into the details of my life. Slowly, a picture emerges of this world I inhabit physically, mentally, emotionally.
When I present her with these details, she sifts the information with a more dexterous hand. She repackages them for me, in a way, and delicately bounces them back in the form of questions. Sometimes, the questions spring back lightly. "Why?" "Why do you see it that way?" Other times, the questions land with a thud. Last week, she asked me, "What would it be like to have a family without obligations?" They are almost philosophical, these questions. And like almost all questions along that vein, the answers appear elusive. Yet they seem to hold the key to the missing piece, the sharpening lens that could bring the fuzzy pictures into focus.
Through this process, I start to see my world as it may appear to an outsider like her. I gain a little distance from the familiar, the every day assumptions that have moved in and taken hold, like fixtures that begin to define the house.
I am now realizing how I've become stuck in my perspective over the years. I've fallen into the habit of casting the various members of my family in certain roles and playing the same narrative over and over again in my head. These roles have overtaken all else, like weeds that begins to suffocate the unsuspecting flower. In this refrain, we no longer know how to relate to each other outside of these roles, as the full human beings we are when we are out in the world. However peculiar they may appear to an outsider, I've accepted these roles and the ways of my family as facts, truths. And forgotten that there are other ways.
Here is where the therapist steps in, re-focuses the lens, and asks me to take another look. Look again, she says. Don't you see all the assumptions tucked away in there? She reminds me that there are other possibilities. We have choices in the way we want to be, the way we want to live. We don't have to keep doing things the same way, just because it has always been. We can break out of these roles.
I find myself looking back at her, my mouth agape. Of course, of course. Why didn't I see that before? It feels earth-shattering. And relieving. And so painfully obvious.
But I remind myself that sometimes, it takes an outsider to point out the obvious. To help remove the blinders we've forgotten we have. To remind us to move our heads side to side, up and down, all around, and to shake the dormant strands of thought loose.
It feels like a privilege, this opportunity to talk about my life this way. To study it, almost like analyzing a piece of literature, looking at it this way and that, probing for more details and examining it further, piecing bits and pieces together, searching for insights. But this time, it isn't just theoretical and it isn't about someone else's life. Here, there are immediate consequences. It helps set me in a better direction, a much needed tune-up, at a time when it seems critical as I start out with a new family, before I have a chance to screw up a new relationship. And to do it with someone who has no agenda but to help me think about my life. She has insights inaccessible to me, and she finds patterns in my behavior I've never noticed before. A stranger to my life who sees more than I can. She helps lift me out of my own life for an aerial view and points out the obstacles I have built over the years. Not so insurmountable, she suggests. No, I certainly hope not.
We should all be so lucky to have this chance.