When I start smoking pot and drinking in high school my parents, who are down with legal-age drinking and not at all with pot, are understandably freaked out. They send me to a psychologist. I’m told to look at an image of ink blots and describe what I see.
I say, “it looks like two cliffs on the edge of a body of water. Each cliff has a polar bear hanging from it. Also, I’m very stoned right now.” I’m kidding, I didn’t say that.
Is there a right answer to describing ink blots? If I said, “Reminiscent of the black and white abstract expressionist art movement.” Would that get me a B+ grade on The Rorschach test?
What if I described the cliffs as two windows into darkness and the polar bears as Satan’s little helpers? Would that have gotten me a diagnosis in high school? Did the psychologist have a sit-down with my parents and say, “Water, two cliffs and polar bears. No mention of hell. You’re good.”
Mom makes an appointment for me to see her therapist. She’s been seeing the therapist for several months. After she starts therapy the phrase dysfunctional family is born into her language. Whenever Mom says, “my therapist says” the response from my father looks like a tsunami erupted over his eyes.
I tell Mom I think our family is rather normal (whatever that means) compared to family stories I hear from my friends.
I’m the leading contributor to the family’s dysfunction – the headline news at the therapist – I have no room to speak about family dysfunction, other than to share with Mom that my friend John’s father was arrested for embezzling five thousand dollars from his company to spend on his wife’s brother who has become his lover.
Mom sips on a glass of the fiber powder, Metamucil mixed with water, a glaring example of my point.
Talk therapy is very beneficial if you have a good therapist. This is not one of them. The therapist starts our session by requesting that I list all of my male and female personality traits.
What the hell? Aren’t you supposed to ask me why I feel the need to self-medicate or why I am not working harder towards my future?
I’ve never given any thought to my male and female qualities. It’s like taking a test I haven’t studied for.
Then she asks me to recall a difficult childhood memory.
“Well, I wasn’t allowed to play in the woods with my neighborhood friends. My father was worried about snakes and ticks. Pretty damn ridiculous if you ask me.”
The therapist stares me down like my doctor looks down my throat with his little light.
“I ignore my father because I think it’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. Plus, I want to play in the woods with my friends. One day I return home covered in mud ’cause I fell in the creek. I know I’m up the creek with my father. No pun intended.”
“I sneak through the back door. The family is watching TV in the den. Dad catches sight of my muddy clothes and hauls me into the den. He’s madder than hell. He throws me over his leg and spanks the tarnation out of me. My sisters sit on the couch laughing. That happens a lot. That there is some therapy-worthy material don’t you think?”
“How did that make you feel?”
“Completely humiliated. Also, my butt hurt.”
The therapist writes notes. The session could not end soon enough.
“We’re not returning to the therapist,” my mother announces the night before an appointment.
“Good. I don’t like her. What prompted this decision?”
“She thinks that I’m a lesbian and that I’m in denial about it. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian, but I’m not.” Mom is nervous to say it.
“What? Can you please find another therapist that I can talk to about our therapist?”
Mom writes annual family update letters at Christmas. The letters during my early years say, “Kathy has a lot of energy and she loves to laugh. She joined a Girl Scout Troop. She still takes ballet…” During my teen years the letters say things like, “Kathy is a senior in high school. She’s a big fan of the band, The Who.” That’s it. What Mom doesn’t add: “We all pray she doesn’t die and that she graduates from high school.”