Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Christmas Story

I’m guessing I was around 8 years old.  Christmas was still magical.  Although I was beginning to question the whole Santa Clause story, I was still willing to go along with it.  It was the time in life when it felt like the things you wanted for Christmas were life or death necessities.  
I wanted an electric train set.  I wanted it so badly that it hurt.  In the late 1950’s a trainset was one of the greatest toys you could have.  I had my eye on the American Flyer.  It had a red nose with a silver chasie.  It was a modern diesel train and I had to have it.  
It was a few days before Christmas.  I was in the kitchen with mom and dad.  Mom was getting ready to go shopping and Dad was going up to take a shower before his day.  Just then a delivery truck brought a huge cardboard box to the house.  My father put it high on the kitchen counter.  As he moved it, I thought I saw a picture of a railroad train on the top of the box.  Once it was on the counter it was lost to my line of vision.  Mom left and dad went up for his shower.  But before he left the room he looked me in the eye, very seriously, and told me not to go near the box, and then he went upstairs.  
My father probably had never heard of paradox, but that was what happened to me.  I had to look at that box.  His warning only wet my appetite to spy.  When finally I heard him step into the shower, I quietly dragged one of the kitchen chairs over to the counter.  Slowly, quietly and deliberately I climbed up onto the chair.  Still, this necessitated that I stand on my tip toes, to see the design on the top of the box.  Then, there it was!  A picture of a railroad train, with the words “American Flyer” on the very top of the box.  
“What do you think you are doing?”  My father’s voice boomed at me.  I turned to find him stark naked, dripping wet with a scowl on his face.  “I told you to stay away from that box.  I can’t believe I find you trying to peek at it.  That box goes back to the store tomorrow.”  Leaving a trail of water, my father returned to his shower.  
I was crushed.  I had ruined my surprise.  Only a few days more and it would have been mine.  How could I have sabotaged my great present.  I walked around dejected for most of the week.  I told some of my friends at school and they all agreed that I had screwed up big time.  
I guess you know that on Christmas morning, that beautiful train set was waiting for me.  Thinking that I had lost it and then finding it was all the more sweet.  I spent hours with that train set, changing the shapes of the track designs and coupling and uncoupling the cars that went with the diesel.   It was, undoubtedly, one of my favorite toys as a child, but it held no interest for my children.  After sitting in the attic in boxes for decades, I sold it last year for $125.  I will never know how much my parents paid for it.   Despite its lack of worth today, it will always be one of the most precious gifts I ever received. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Defending the Homeland

Although my mother protected me by forbidding me from participating in most of the work on the farm, I was allowed some duties.  One of those duties was the farm’s defense against critters.  Woodchucks loved to eat the bark off our cherry trees and burrow into the barns.  By the time I was 11 or 12 years old, I was taught how to shoot a rifle and sent out into the orchards to hunt woodchucks.  Life and death on a farm seemed routine.  Over time I became an excellent shot and skillful hunter.  I would tiptoe through the rows of trees, watching for movement.  Then I would usually be able to take out the critter with one shot. 
I enjoyed the challenge.  One missed shot and all the woodchucks would scurry into their holes and hide until dark.  Also, I can not begin to explain the excitement one feels hunting.  It is primal and self-reinforcing.  There is a thrill to it that makes you feel incredibly powerful.  
One day, while relishing in this power, and not seeing any woodchucks, I decided to shoot a bird.  I have no explanation for this, other than I was a kid with the power of life and death in my hands.  Regretably, the first bullet did not kill it.  With my second shot, the damn thing exploded.  I believe the bullets must have collided.  I was shocked and disgusted at what I had just done.  I starred at it for a time, then had the impulse to hide it.  I was ashamed.  
I suspect that was the last time I went hunting in the orchard.  After that I left it to our hired man, Oscar, to do the hunting.  I was left remembering the power of carrying that gun, and the potential horror that accompanied it.  Decades later, I still have that rifle.  The next time a town offers one of those money for guns program, I’m cashing it in.  Now when I think of it, I remember a quote attributed to Winnicott, “If children had guns, we’d all be dead.”   https://soundcloud.com/kellymegan17/newtown-angels

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Supervision of Tears

I had an incredible internship at Elmcrest Psychiatric Institute.  I learned about people, psychotherapy and myself.   We learn about ourselves through our interaction with other people.  As a result, the place emphasized groups.  Everything was done in groups.  There was group therapy, family therapy, community meetings and multifamily therapy.  You couldn’t get your loved one into Elmcrest unless you agreed to attend family therapy and multifamily therapy weekly.  I tried to capture the spectacle of the community meeting in my novel Bedlam
The training I experienced was perfect for who I was at that time in my life.  I had been studying behavior modification in college and graduate school.  Behavior modification didn’t speak to me.  At Elmcrest, I was trained to look at the big picture, Systems Theory.  My mind wanted to think in the big picture and this gave me permission.  
Weekly, we participated in a psychotherapy seminar with Leo Berman, M.D.  Leo had originally trained as an M.S.W.  Then he went back and completed his medical degree.  He was a wise man.  In my blog Great Marriage Advice, the psychiatrist I refer to was Leo.  During the seminars our therapy was scutinized.  In addition, monthly, we were invited to the Medical Director’s Office.  Lou Fierman, M.D. was a brilliant psychiatrist.  He had studied with Helmuth Kaiser, M.D., who was a student of Sigmund Freud.  Since I found that out, I have always felt a legacy sent down to me from Freud.  This is purely fantasy, but I love thinking it.  We had amazing discussions with Lou about psychotherapy.  
Then there were the monthly workshops.  As an intern, I had the opportunity to attend workshops with Sal Minuchin, Virginia Satir, Alexander Lowen (the bioenergeticist), Bandler & Grindler (The Neurolinguistic Programming exponents) and Carl Whitaker.  Carl Whitaker later became my mentor.  These workshops had a huge impact on me and my psychotherapy.  
I had lots of supervision at Elmcrest.  My supervision is representative of some of the craziness of the place.  I started by being supervised by Steve.  Steve was down to earth and a terrific therapist.  However, half way through the internship, he stopped coming to work.  He eventually went into a substance abuse rehab.  It would be Wednesday morning and 15 minutes before clinical rounds and I would find out that Steve, the team leader wasn’t showing up.  As a totally green intern, it fell to me to discuss all eight cases with the team and the psychiatrist.  
The first psychiatrist I ever worked with was Joan.  It was like working with the earth-mother.  She was strong, intelligent, beautiful and a terrific shrink.  She was the most nurturing psychiatrist I have ever known.  I remember one time, receiving a call from my mother, just before the meeting started.  I don’t think I have ever felt safer as an adult.  I had my mother on the phone and the earth-mother sitting across from me.  
The second supervisor I had was from the admission service.  I had to meet with him, because he was the head of psychology.  Half way through the year, he stopped coming to work.  We found out that he had been admitted to a sister hospital for depression.  
The third supervisor I had was the director of the adolescent service.  Richard was often described as a big teddy bear.  He was a wonderful therapist and a great man.  He was amazing with adolescents.  But one morning when we were just starting the unit community meeting, I looked over at Richard and he was sobbing.  Again I had to take over the team and the meeting.  Later we found out that his wife had attempted suicide the night before. 
My fourth supervisor made up for the rest.  E. Bruce Bynum was a Doctoral Psychology Intern and I was a pre-Doctoral Psychology Intern.  As part of Bruce’s training, he was to supervise an intern:  me!  I met him the second day and when we shook hands, he smiled and asked: “So, Thursday night you want to split spaghetti?”  Then he winked.  From that moment on, he has been my brother, my best friend and my confidant.  Next to my wife, he has been my greatest support and I have done the same for him.  He is one of the great blessings of my life.  
The administrator of the hospital was a fascinating character.  He had been a New York City Policeman.  After that, he got his Masters in Social Work.  Finally, he had finished his Masters in Public Health.  He was smart, loud, bossy and a great therapist.  It is his supervision that I want to discuss. 
I was still new to the internship, maybe it was January.  I was working on the adolescent service.  One of the 17 year old patients was running out of insurance and being forced to leave.  He was still not ready to go to the community, so he was being transferred to the state psychiatric hospital.  From the perspective of working at Elmcrest, this was like being thrown into the snake pit.  Everyone on the unit was feeling very sad the day he was leaving.  I was not alone to have tears in my eyes.  At one of these moments, the administrator of the hospital walked by me.  
The next day I was summoned to his office.  “What was that about yesterday?  I saw you crying on the unit.”  I explained the effect of the boys situation.  “That’s ridiculous.  You are going to be a psychotherapist, a clinician.  You can’t be crying in front of your patients.  You need to be stronger than that.  That’s all.”  With that I was dismissed.  
I wrestled with that for years.  Something about what he said didn’t ring true for me.  Eventually, I realized he was wrong.  I wasn’t crying, I was tearing.  I hope that if I am a psychotherapist for 60 years, I’ll still be able to feel sadness in my office.  One of the worst things you can do as a psychotherapist is be a fake, or not connect.  
Now there is a difference between crying and tearing.  When I am in my office, I sometimes tear.  But I am in control of myself when I tear.  I can continue the discussion, react to what people are saying and be there with them.  Crying is not for my office.  When I cry, I let go, I fall into the sadness and am absorbed by it.  I relish these moments as a cleansing of my soul, but I don’t do it in my office.  
I have had tremendous supervision throughout my professional career.  I wouldn’t have accomplished what I have accomplished without all of them.  There lessons were invaluable.  But with each one of them, there reached a moment when I realized that what was right for them, wasn’t right for me.  Usually supervisors are right, but that doesn’t take the responsibility away from the therapist to make their own decision about what is right for them.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Boylin/Surette Wedding Sermon - October 4, 2014: "The Heart transcends life's difficulties"

I believe there is a difference between getting married and having a wedding.  Marriage is a legal union.   Whereas, the wedding blesses the union.  Do you know what bless means?  It means, “to invoke divine care for...”  What we are doing today is asking for divine care for this relationship.  We are asking for a blessing for this couple.  
I ask you, of what value is marriage?   The first 6-12 months is the really fun stuff,  the discovery, the passion and the heat of the relationship.  If this is the most exciting time in the relationship, why get married for life?
Occasionally, I become aware of a movement to institute time limited marriage licenses. You get married for 2 years, or 5 years, and then the license expires.  You can renew your current license, or move on to more fertile pastures.  I don’t know.  Do you think that would work?  I’m skeptical.   I can imagine little Suzy asking mommy what happened to Daddy?   Then Mommy answering, “I’m sorry Suzy, Daddy’s license expired.”   
If the best part of marriage is the beginning, of what value is the lasting marriage commitment?  I have heard many responses to this question over the years, but rarely have I heard a  good one.   We will come back to this question.  

Today, you are looking at the luckiest man in the world.  Today, I get to bless the marriage of Kelly & Kris.  This is an incredible honor for me.   When Kelly first asked me if I would marry them, I was flattered.  Then, I got scared.  I realized what a profound responsibility I was facing.  I did not know if I could pull it off.  I did not know what I would say.   Further, I didn’t know if New Hampshire would give me permission.  So, I did what I always do when I’m in trouble.  I asked for divine help and I received it.  
First, it finally sunk in what a great opportunity it is for me to marry them.  This is one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I can’t begin to tell you how blessed I feel right at this moment.  
Then I had another thought.   Just think, my daughter will have to listen to every word I say for 15 minutes or so.  I can’t remember the last time that happened.  That alone is a blessing. 
Next, the State of New Hampshire gave me permission to marry these two people, on this day, in this place.  My fear grew again.  
Then I remembered that with me today would be people that love me, and love these two.  I knew you would all be rooting for us.  
When I thought about what a great gift they were giving me,  it made me think about other gifts I have received.
Kelly is one of the greatest gifts of my life.  Through the years we have laughed, cried, worried and generally watched her grow into a phenomenal young woman.   I remember crying out of poor joy when she was born.  I remember crying with her when I dropped her off at college the first time.  I remember watching an entire audience be moved to tears from the power of her singing  “On My Own” from Les Mis.  
She is intelligent, creative, passionate, fun loving and giving.  She is only beginning to realize how intelligent she is.  She has incredible power in her personality which she is discovering.  However, she is also emotional and sensitive.  Her feelings can take over and drive her.  Over the years she has filled me with love, pride, joy and terror.  
That led me to thinking about Kris’ gifts.  I think we can all agree that they are much different than Kelly’s.  Kris is intelligent, but it is a different type of intelligence from Kelly.  He is handsome, loyal and successful.  Kris has a soft gentle heart.  Yet, he’s logical and rational.   He is conscientious and a hard worker.  He is mature and grounded.  He is kind and respectful.  Most importantly, he is a tender partner to Kelly.    He treats her like a princess.    I am honored to have him join our family.  
Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  I quote Shakespeare so that when you leave here, you can say you heard a truely intellectual sermon at the wedding. 
Kris and Kelly have many things in common but there are profound differences between them.  That is the nature of relationships.  To understand their relationship, you have to see how they fit together.     
These two balance each other.   For example, Kris can bring Kelly back down to earth when her emotions take over.  On the other hand, Kelly offers spontaneity and creativity that bring Kris out of his shell.  Kris appreciates and benefits from her playfulness.  Kelly benefits and appreciates his being so grounded.  This is why the relationship succeeds but also why it is tumultuous.  Maintaining the balance between their commonality and their differences is why marriage takes work.  What is the work of marriage?  
I remember a student calling and asking me for advice.  This young man was an eligible bachelor.  He was intelligent, handsome, funny and had success written all over him.  He also had a fantastic personality.  He told me that he was dating lots of girls, and looking for the right one, but not finding her.  I don’t know what possesed me to say this, but I told him that it may not be about finding the right one, but about becoming the right one.  
After I told him this, he was quiet.  I didn’t hear from him for almost a year.  During this time, he worked toward becoming the right one.  Today, he is happily married with two beautiful kids. 
The Key to Marriage is to become the right spouse.    Schnarch, America’s foremost marriage expert says: “nobody is ready for marriage when they get married; marriage gets you ready for marriage.”  The work of marriage is being true to your own self, and not losing yourself, while being close to your spouse.  Most of us lose ourselves when we enter into a relationship.
When I was young and I would start a relationship, I was all about what she wanted, what movie she wanted to see, what restaurant she wanted to go to.  I would lose myself.  As I grew, and started to know who I was, I could speak up for myself.  Within marriage, we each need to learn how to be true to ourselves while negotiating with our spouse.  
The next devine intervention came from my wife.  My wife told me I had to include something in today’s message about how we can support this union.  This is the proof that I always do what my wife tells me to do.  
What can you do to support this marriage?   If they ever come to you for marriage advice tell them to work on themselves.  The work of marriage is working on yourself.  Let me tell you what that looks like.  
If you are going to be married for any length of time you need to become a forgiver.
Second, learn to fight with love.  Men are notoriously terrible at fighting with words.  In marriage you need to learn to fight clean.  This means to leave out the nasty words.  I often tell couples to talk nicely to each other.  After several years of marriage, following a fight, Catherine and I decided that in the future we would leave the “d” word (divorce) out of our fights.  Neither of us wanted to leave so we realized that using the word “divorce” in the fight was just another club we used to hit each other.  Since then our fights have been cleaner and more effective.
Third, work on being less selfish.  Catherine insists that she taught me to be less selfish, but I had to teach myself.  Having children helped.  When there is one last piece of bacon and you have a child, you wouldn’t consider taking it.  
Fourth, continue to grow and encourage your partner’s growth.
Fifth, take care of your health and insist that your spouse take care of their health.
Sixth, do things out of love.  It would be ten o’clock at night.  The children and my wife would be in bed.  I still needed to do the dishes, bring up wood for the stove, set the stove, feed the cats, turn of the lights, etc.  I resented it.  Eventually, I got sick and I think that came out of the anger.  I decided that in the future, I would only do jobs if I could do them with love.  If I was going to resent doing them, I would leave them.  To this day, I only do them if I can do them out of love.  I find I do the dishes now more than ever.  
Finally, my mentor, Carl Whitaker, one of the original family therapists, told me just before I was to marry:  “You shouldn’t get married unless you can tolerate being all alone.”  I didn’t know what he meant until I was married.  The aloneness can be felt even more deeply when you are married.  
    In August, I was given the last devine message for this wedding.  I was sent, or I should say reminded of a message for you.  It came to me in a strange way.  It was only recently that I realized why I had this experience.  It occured at a funeral.  Something happened to me there that was very special. 
    Last fall, we attended the wake of Kris’ Grandmother, Lydia.   We had already fallen in love with Kris and we wanted to show him support.  Kris was very close to his grandparents.  We went through the receiving line and met all the relatives.  I met Kris’ Grandfather, Walter, for the first time.  He had spent the last few years taking care of his wife as she faded away.  Shortly after we sat down, there was a lull in the receiving line.  Kris’s Grandfather came over and sat with me.  The first thing he said was:  “You’re a therapist aren’t you?”
    I must add that this question often fills me with terror.  I never know what will follow.  
    He then proceeded to talk to me about his life.  He briefly told me the highlights of his life story.  People tried to talk to him as they came through the line.  He was always courteous, but he would be brief with them, then return to talking to me. What he told me was very beautiful.  He talked about when he was a young man.  He told me a story about a superior who helped him out when he was young.  He told me about the funeral business.   He told me about his career.  He told me about life, and love.  Finally, he started telling me about his wife and their marriage.
    When he and his wife first met and fell in love, nobody approved.  She was Russian Orthodox and he was Polish Catholic.  This was a match that was unheard of at that time.  That didn’t stop them.   
    They believed that the heart transcends life’s difficulties.
    Their parents didn’t approve of their union.   Their extended families didn’t approve.  They told them that they had nothing in common.  They were from different cultures, different religions.  It would never work!  That didn’t stop them.   
     They believed that the heart transcends life’s difficulties. 
    They went to the Catholic Priest.   He refused to marry them.  He told them it couldn’t work.  They were different religions, different cultures.  The families had nothing in common.   That didn’t stop them. 
    They believed that the heart transcends life’s difficulties.   
    Finally, they appealed to the Bishop.  The Bishop was impressed with their perseverence, which was reflective of their love.  The Bishop ordered the Priest to marry them.  They went ahead against the odds.  Walter told me he was deeply blessed by that decision.  He had a wonderful life with your Grandmother.  The love brought him great happiness and made him stronger and more confident.  
    They took care of each other until she got sick.  When she got sick, he took care of her until the day she died.  Then, like the gentleman that he was, he let her go ahead of him to heaven, and then he followed her a few days later.  
    It was an odd experience for me to be singled out by Walter.  At the time, I didn’t know why it happened. Only a few weeks ago I realized why I had that experience.  I think he knew he wouldn’t be here.  So, he gave me the message he wanted you two to hear.   It’s almost like he handed this to me to bring to you today. 
    We now go back to our initial question, “Of What Value is Marriage?”  “Why be Married?”  I think Walter has already answered the question.  
    But I will give you my answer.   I am more because of my wife.  She gives me confidence.  She believes in me.  When we got married, it was like one and one equals three.  We each were bigger, stronger and more effective because we had each other. 
Of What Value is Marriage?  It provides a deep root into the ground.  It anchors you.  It supports you.  It gives you strength, courage, confidence and love.  If you both work on being the best spouse you can be, nothing can stop you.  
    The heart transcends life’s difficulties.  
    These final words capture for me the true meaning of marriage.  I quote from my favorite play, Les Miserable:    
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Telling Kelly We Were Pregnant

We didn’t know if we could have a second child.  We were older and pushing it.  We stopped using birth control in the hope that we might get pregnant.  One day my wife came to me with a physical concern.  The symptoms she was having suggested she might be starting menopause.  She decided to see the doctor in case she needed hormones or something.  As the examination continued the doctor finally started laughing.  “Lady, your not entering menopause.  You’re pregnant.” 
That was great news, but still scary, psychologically, financially and physically.  They ordered all kinds of tests for her.  We had to wait until the end of the first trimester to know if everything was okay.  The tests finally indicated that we were going to have a healthy baby boy.  With that assurance, we could now tell people.  
The first person to tell was our seven year old daughter, Kelly.  We couldn’t wait to tell her.  She had been asking for a little brother or sister.  When she came in off the school bus, we sat her down and told her the news.  She could barely contain herself.  She hugged both of us, kissed us, hugged us again.  Then she hugged my wife’s belly.  Throughout this she was crying tears of joy.  She asked for some of the details and then went back to hugging and kissing us.  This entire scene continued for several minutes.  
Then a look came across her face.  You could see the change of expression, it was so drastic.  You could see she was thinking.  Then she stood up to her full height, she put her hands on her hips and looked at us.  Finally, she looked her mother in the eye and asked: “Does this mean you two have been having sex?”  We laughed for 10 minutes.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Power of the Baby

I had only one brother.  He was six-plus years older than I was.  He seemed to have everything.  I looked up to him as a child.  He was successful at everything he did.  He always got “A’s” in school.  He starred in the plays at school.  He was the captain of the tennis team.  He got into Princeton, but just missed getting into Harvard.  He became a respected psychologist.  He married had a daughter and was loved by his family.
I believe in sibling rivalry.  My brother and I competed over my mother.  He was furious that I came along.  At first he did try and bond with my mother in taking care of me.  I was told that he would get up in the middle of the night when I cried, to make sure I was okay.  He cared about me.  I’m sure he had great intentions.  
The story goes that when I was born, my mother told my brother that it was time for him to step aside.  He had had almost seven wonderful years being the only child.  But now it was the Billy’s turn.  He was seven years older and dumped.  He retreated into his room.   
He was ambivalent about me.  He tried to love me, but then his competitive side would come out.  He would help me and he would then turn around and trip me.  
But this is about my competitiveness.  
It was the middle of the night.  We were all in bed.  My brother’s room was down the hall.  He had started adolescence and frequently had growing pains.  He would get what they called “charlie horses” in his calves.  The best thing for this was to have his legs massaged.  My mother would do this for him.  
I heard the noise.  My brother was having pains in his legs and mom was going to his room to massage them.  I remember being jealous that she was with him.   I felt an asthma attack coming on.  First the wheezing and the coughing.  Then the chest tightens even more and you have to fight for breath.  The more agitated you are the tougher it would be to breath.  
It only took a few minutes.  Shortly, I was lying with my head on my mother’s breast and she was stroking my hair and I was in heaven.  This is the power of the baby.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lesson in Health

I have been thinking about all the gifts I received from my Grandmother.  She was a great old lady and she loved me dearly.  I knew I was her favorite.  It may have been that I spent more time with her than her other grandchildren.  It may have been that I was her favorite daughter’s favorite child.  Whatever it was, she was always great to me.  
I have already written about her going through a reminiscing stage before she died.  For a couple of years before she died, she spent hours thinking about and remembering her past.  She gave me a sense of my own history through the memories she shared.  But other gifts she gave me were more tangible.  
I don’t think I ever visited her without her slipping me a five dollar bill.  In the 1950’s this was a lot of money for a boy.  I prized it.  She would always slip it to me when my mother wasn’t looking and she would wink.  That wink always told me we were co-conspriators in this money exchange.  
She taught me how to sew.  Not exactly a manly art, but one that has proved useful over the years.  She gave us a sugar cookie recipe that goes beyond anything else I have ever tasted.  She also gave me a sense of being responsible for your own self and perseverance.  
Weekly, Grandma would walk down to the end of her street and take the bus into downtown Rochester, N.Y.  She would take herself out to eat, she might catch a movie and she would shop.  When I was old enough, once or twice a year, she would take me with her.  It was an incredible experience going into the city, for a farm boy.  Taking the bus was amazing to me.  We would eat in cafeterias in the department stores.  Usually she would buy me a present.  Finally, we would go to a movie.  I distinctly remember her taking me to see a 3 Stooges Science Fiction movie.  For a 10 year old boy in 1960, it doesn’t get any better than that.  
My Grandmother was a big woman.  I have no idea what her weight would have been, but I can safely say she was fat.  Walking to the bus and walking downtown was really good for her.  However, one day, when she was walking to the bus, a kid on a bicycle knocked her down.  Because she was a big woman, this must have been quite the fall.  She was able to get herself up and make it home, but she was badly bruised and she had severely injured her knee.  
That winter Grandma rarely left her chair in my aunt and uncle’s living room.  She sat there for hours massaging that knee.  I would watch her rub it and massage it the whole time we would visit her.  She did this for the entire winter.  By Spring, her knee was totally healed and she was again taking her trips downtown.  If this were the end of the story, I would never have written it.  But that summer, when walking to the bus stop; again, a kid on a bicycle knocked her down.  Evidently, this was a more difficult blow, because she needed help getting home this time.  The same knee was totally out of commission.  She was reduced to using a walker that winter.  
My Grandma had perseverance.  This time it took her nearly a year of massaging and rubbing the muscles to heal the knee.  But she did it.  Some time later, she was again walking down to the bus stop and taking her jaunts into town.  
Now that I am getting older and feel the aches and pains in my body, I think about my Grandma’s perseverance and I am encouraged.  If there is something wrong with my body, it is my responsibility to fix it.  Doctors may help the healing.  But in the end, it’s my body and if I want to heal it, it’s up to me.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Goodbye Robin

I love Robin Williams.  I had the opportunity to see him do stand up comedy twice.  I listen to his CDs routinely and they make me laugh every time.  This past weekend, my wife and I had our own Robin Williams movie marathon.  We laughed and cried.  
Comedy is a very special art.  Some comedy works for some people, other people laugh at a different venue of jokes.  I believe this is because when comedy works, it speaks truth.  We identify with the jokes and we laugh at ourselves.  Each of us laughs at something different, because we all have unique experiences that we can identify with.
I learned from Robin Williams.  I learned about life, I learned about parenting, politics, sports and most of all addiction.  I quote Robin Williams in my practice as a psychotherapist.  He looked at life and could see it.  I often use his line about ‘functioning alcoholics.’  He said, “Isn’t that like being a paraplegic pole dancer?  You just aren’t as good as the rest.”  I remember when he was asked about what helped him give up drugs.  His answer was, “Zak.”  Zak was his first child.  I knew exactly what he meant.  I stopped smoking marijuana after my daughter was born.  I couldn’t figure out how to tell her not to do drugs if I was doing them.  So I quit.  When Robin said “Zak,” I knew just what he meant.  
But he relapsed.  He relapsed again and again.  Finally, his depression was so painful that he needed the ultimate escape.  I’m angry at him for leaving us and I will miss his wisdom.  
In my office people ask me to explain what happened.  How could a man so cherished and loved, who had everything kill himself?  I wasn’t there that night.  Robin is the only one who knows what he was thinking.  But let me suggest the following.
I saw Robin Williams on stage.   He would just go and go and go.  For over two hours in front of a live audience he was manic.  He was totally wired up and crazy.  We loved him for it.  We demanded that he be crazy for us.  He met our need.  Night after night, show after show, he would allow his manic, crazy personality out of the box for us.  Then I wondered what it was like at 2 in the morning, when the crowd had gone home and his adrenalin was all gone and he was depleted.  You have to pay for that kind of energy output.  When you expend that kind of energy, you get empty, and you have to recharge.  Those times are very sad, you don’t feel loved or powerful.  You feel alone.  
I’ve seen many people who learn to temper both the manic times and the depressed times.  They didn’t have millions of people demanding that they be crazy.  Robin did it for us, for the love we gave him.  Despite my sadness and anger over losing him, in the end I thank him for his sacrifice.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Rubber Band Blooper

Emily looked like a Campbell’s Soup Kid.  She had a red page-boy haircut.  Her face was covered with freckles and she always had a huge grin.  But Emily’s grin was a mask.  She was very depressed.  I worked with her in the psychiatric hospital from the time she was 15 until she left us at 18.  I cared deeply for Emily.  Over that span she must have been taken to the Emergency Room at least seven times.  She repeatedly tried to choke herself.  She wanted to be dead.  
I would meet with Emily several times a week to talk about her demons.  Emotionally it was like trying to talk to a 9 year old.  We would just start to talk about her issues when she would change the subject.  However, there was one incident that took place during a therapy session that had a huge impact on me. 
Her history was poorly recorded.  The report said that her mother was crazy.  She was taken away from her mother when she was 3 years old.  Her mother had tried to cook her in the oven.  She then bounced from one foster home to the next.  To say the least, she was difficult.  Eventually, she would have to be moved.  She did have one wonderful loving family, who hung in there with her, until she was old enough that her self-injurious behaviors became lethal.  She then made the rounds of residential treatment centers and finally the psychiatric hospital. 
Sometimes when I was meeting with teenagers, we would play with the rubber bands.  Engaging them in games was an effective way to get them comfortable so that they could talk.  The rubber bands had been bought by the state under the concept of lowest bidder.  What that means was that the bands were totally useless.  Any tension on them and they would break.  The only thing I found they were good for was playing games with the kids.  Usually the fun was harmless: who could get the most bands into the waste basket.  But one day I made a mistake while shooting rubber bands with Emily.  
We were talking, laughing and having a game, when, I shot a rubber band right down Emily’s cleavage.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  I guess I wasn’t thinking.  Her response was immediate.  She seemed to go into overload.  She froze with a panic look on her face.  She was in shock and I didn’t know what to say.  But I knew I needed help.  I picked up the phone and called the unit.  Luckily, Linda the nurse picked up the phone and came right out to my office.  We must have processed (talked about) what happened for 45 minutes.  By the time we were done, Emily was again relaxed and forgiving.  I still felt terrible, but I knew that Emily and I were okay again.  
The guilty feeling stayed with me all week.  I couldn’t shake it.  I didn’t become a psychotherapist to make people more upset.  I was supposed to reduce stress and anxiety, not increase it.  I felt terrible.  As it turned out, the following week, we had one of our supervision sessions with Carl Whitaker, M.D.   I told Carl exactly what happened.  He listened to my description silently.  When I was done, he still didn’t say anything for a few more seconds.  I was sure he was going to chastise me for my behavior.  Then he spoke.
“That’s nothing.  Did I ever tell you about the time I was playing with the lighter while I was talking with a schizophrenic girl?  I accidentally lit her hair on fire and whoosh.  In seconds, she was totally bald.  The hair just went right up.  And you know burning hair really smells.  It took me a month to get the smell out of my office.”  
That was all he needed to say.  I immediately felt better.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Independent Study

It was the winter of 1973.  I was a senior at Syracuse University, majoring in Clinical Psychology.  It was a great program and I was learning terrific stuff.  But I was frustrated and disappointed.  I wanted to be a therapist.  In school I was studying learning theory, rat research and B.F. Skinner.  I didn’t think I was learning what I needed to be a therapist!  I went to see the Department Chairman. 
He listened me.  He tried to assure me that I was right where I was supposed to be.  But he felt challenged by my complaints.  He made an offer.   If I would take a telephone crisis counseling program that was occuring off campus, he would give me a 3 credit independent study.  Weekly, I would write up what I was learning in the language of Behavior Modification.  It was a good deal and I took it. 
It was better than a good deal.  The course was incredible.  It taught me basic therapy skills from a Carl Rogers perspective.  I learned about empathy, congruence, respect and genuineness.  It taught me how to give feedback to my clients, letting them know that I was hearing them and understanding them.  To this day I still use these skills.  
  I loved it.  However, all good things come to an end.  As the course wound down, I was asked to sign up for the telephones.  Being the rookie I was given an overnight shift.  
I was scared.  I didn’t know if I could do it.  I set in that little room dreading that the phone would ring.  As the hours rolled by I thought I might be spared talking to someone that night.  Then around 4 AM the phone rang.  I answered it and started talking to a woman who was at the end of her rope.  She wanted to end her life.  
I couldn’t tell you now what we said to each other.  We were on the phone for over two hours.  We both relaxed, got to know each other and had a good talk.  We considered her difficulties and  her options.  I could hear her attitude changing.  She knew I understood what she was feeling and the crisis passed.  She again had hope.  She thanked me profusely.  Somewhat reluctantly, we both ended the phone call.  
When I put the phone down, I felt elated.  She was now safe.  This was what I was meant to do.  Talking to people about their lives was going to be my life.  I was home.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Thunderbird

My mother did everything for me.  As a result, by the time I was 17, I was depressed and useless.    This lasted until after I grieved her death.  I don’t remember ever wanting to be dead, but I was self destructive.  Sometimes I didn’t even know when I was being stupid and risking my life.  It took me years to recognize one of my antics as self destructive. 
I was 16 years old when my father had his first heart attack.  He had a second one the following year, and his heart finally quit on him when I was 19 years old.  After the second heart attack, he was out of work for almost 6 months.  During his recovery, I was allowed to drive his car to school every day.  My High School was on the east side of Rochester, a good half hour hike.  At 17 years old I had a car.  
It wasn’t just any car.  My father had a 1967 baby-blue Thunderbird, with 390 horsepower under the hood.  It was a beauty.  I loved it and so did everyone that knew me.   Driving that car was the first time I ever felt ‘cool’ in my life.  I was too immature to respect what I had.
Our farm was on the corner of Manitou Road, which went North and South from Lake Ontario, to the rural areas below Rochester, N.Y.    I lived only 3 miles from the famous Erie Canal.  I am proud to say my Great-Grandfather was a Captain on the Eric Canal.  I used to ride over that canal at least once a day.  The bridge over the canal was probably a smooth quarter mile long and on the South side, the road dipped down and went under a railroad tressel.  In the early hours of the morning, there was rarely any traffic on the bridge.  
On three different occasions, I challenged that bridge.  I would floor the Thunderbird as it went up the bridge.  It would gain speed all the way up.  Then coming down the other side of the bridge, the car would hit 120 mph.  At that speed, you are aiming the car more then you are driving it.  The car would zip under the railroad tressel and as it came up the other side, it would do a Dukes of Hazzard.  My Thunderbird would leave the road and literally fly through the air.  I have no idea how far I went in the air.  But it lasted several seconds.  I thought this was the coolest thing.  I never told anyone about it.  It was my secret.  
It took me years to realize that this was crazy.  Here I was flying through the air with 2 tons of metal around me, totally out of control.  When I think about it now, I can see that if I had landed even the slightest bit cockeyed, I could easily have rolled the car and been a goner.  
Sometimes when I’m working with adolescents and they tell me some crazy thing they did that is incredibly dangerous, rather than being an obnoxious adult who tells them they shouldn’t take risks;  I tell them about driving the Thunderbird through the air and how I thought I was cool.  Now I can see it as totally self destructive.  When I tell them the story, they can see the risk I was taking.  When they look at risky behaviors through someone else’s eyes, it becomes real.  
I drove that Thunderbird 106,000 miles.  On a Sunday night in Bath, New York, while I was coming into town, I heard a big clunk from under the car.  Then, the car lost power.  The motor was running fine, but there was no response from the gas pedal.  As the car slowed, I looked in the rear view mirror.  Lying in the road was the drive shaft of the car.  It died heroically.  I will always love that car.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Japanese Prisoner Camps

Depression is a torturous experience.  I can remember my experiences with depression.  For most of my teenage years, I was depressed.  I remember talking to my mother about seeing a therapist when I was probably 13 or 14.  She talked to our family physician, Dr. Kupinger, who recommended against it.  It was considered too much of a stigma, and that it would have a negative affect on my future.  
I struggled on.  Over the years, my self esteem grew.  Graduate school helped my self image immensely.  Then, when my mother died and I mourned her, the entire depression lifted off of me.  On my website I have a video, Crash Course on Depression, which offers my understanding of depression.  
Over the years I have learned a great deal about depression.  But my most confusing piece of knowledge came from my mentor.  Carl Whitaker, M.D. once told us a perplexing story about depression.  With little explanation he told us about Japanese Prisoner of War camps.  He knew that the story was somewhat controversial.  I think because of it, he never tried to explain it.    
During World War II, Japan had 7 prisoner of war camps for American G.I.s.  They were horrible places with little hope.  It was common for a young soldier to get so depressed that he would stop eating, functioning and shortly, die.  This happened at all 7 camps.  However, one camp discovered that they could save the life of their brother.  
In this one camp, when they observed one of their own slipping into the black hole of despair, his close friends would commit to helping him.  That night, they would take him outside and beat the hell out of him.  They would hit him, kick him, stomp on him and generally bring him within an inch of his life.  Supposedly, this never failed.  Having been brought so close to death, the G.I. would bounce back with a new will to live.  The depression would lift and he would actively engage in life again.  
Depression requires support and assurance.  It also requires courage.  

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Life is Tough" by George Carlin

"I mean, life is tough.  It takes up alot of your time.  What do you get at the end of it?  A death.  What’s that, a bonus?  I think the life cycle is all backwards.  You should die first, get it out of the way.  Then you live in an old age home.  You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch and you go to work.  You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement.  You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school.  You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities.  You become a baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating...and you finish off as an orgasm."  
               Thank you George Carlin.  You are missed.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


My first real job was as a rehabilitation counselor on a substance abuse unit.  I was totally green.  I knew little about addiction treatment.  And I was working with some really tough people, and I mean both the patients and the staff.  One of my responsibilities was being case manager and primary therapist to several clients.  
I was assigned to work with Chick.  Although he was young, in his mid-thirties, he had become a severe alcoholic.  The unit adminstrators must have figured I couldn't hurt Chick, and maybe I might help him.  In other words, they had nothing to lose by assigning him to me.  Chick was a Viet Nam veteran.  He had been badly shot up during the war.  As a result, he was partially paralyzed on his right side.  He walked with a limp, had little control of his right hand and only minimal movement of his right arm.  Chick had come from an upper middle class family.  He had been somewhat pampered in his early life.  Before the war he had been an artist.   Now, because he was right handed, he was told he had to give up art.  His early life had left him unprepared for war, much less the debilitating injuries which he now faced.  Alcohol drowned the lost artist.   
We worked together for only two months  I think we really enjoyed each other.  He was extremely likeable and very funny.  I'm sure he thought I was naive.  From his viewpoint, he was right.  My experience in life could certainly never measure up to what he experienced in battle.  But therapy wasn’t going to take away the damage.  
He used to joke with me about my being young and unathletic.  This used to get under my skin, even though I knew that it was his projection of his poor motor skills.  In an effort to get under my skin, one day, during session, he challenged me to arm wrestle him.  I accepted.  It took me a while, but I pinned him.  Then I had a thought, and I challenged him to a rematch using his other arm, the right, weakened side.  First, he refused.  He accused me of taking advantage of him.  Then, being a good sport, he agreed.  Despite his poor coordination, he gave it a good effort before I again pinned him.
After I released his hand, he sat back and stared off into space for a minute.  Then, for the first time, he began talking about the paralysis.  I can almost remember his words verbatim.  He  remembered waking up in the hospital bed in Nam.  He was badly injured but minimally sedated.  For the next few days, he was not allowed to move, he remained in bed with nothing to do but think.  The nurse offered to help him write his family. Finally, he dictated a letter to his brother describing what had happened.  He described his arm and leg.  When he started to describe his hand, he broke down into tears.  As I watched him now, I could see that he was beginning to tear.  Then, as quickly as he had begun the discussion, he tried to change the subject.  I responded, "Don't think about your body."  This comment forced him to think of his body for several more seconds.  Then, it slipped away again.  “Chick, don’t think about your body.”  Once more I returned him to thinking about his body, by telling him not to think of it.  Then, the moment was lost.  My third attempt failed to take him back there.  I hoped that sharing this pain  would be beneficial.  I felt good about the session.  At least for those moments, I had helped him connect with his pain.  I had no idea the effect this would have on Chick.
That night, Chick eloped from the hospital.  He snuck out after hours and went into town.  He proceeded to get roaring drunk and the police were called to contain him.  When the police arrived, he broke a beer bottle and attempted to assault one of them with it.  In restraining him. they broke his left arm.  The next morning I again found Chick on the locked detox unit with his left arm in a sling.  He now had both arms incapacitated.
For several days, Chick proceeded to tell everyone, "See what happens when you work with Boylin."  Of course. I responded, "Yes, I am reponsible for your drinking, getting you arrested and having your arm broken."  I tried to deny feeling any responsiblity, but I did have some guilt.  However, a funny thing happened.  For the remainder of the time I knew Chick, which was over eight months, he didn’t drink.  He was on the road to recovery.  He landed a job and was discharged from the hospital.  He stayed on this course as long as I knew him.  
I’ll never know exactly what happened.  I think I understand it.  But it is difficult to explain and difficult to teach.  It can’t be learned by copying.  A therapist has to be able to go inside and find their direction.  They have to be able to trust themselves and what is emerging within them.  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Talking in my sleep

This is my third installment regarding the unconscious.  This entry describes how my unconscious provided me with an insight into my personality development.   It came under very odd circumstances.  Under great stress, I talk in my sleep.  For obvious reasons this is a very dangerous thing to do.   
When my wife to-be (Catherine) and I were first dating, we were not exclusive.  We were both free to date other people.  At this time, I and a couple of buddies went to a Club Med. resort for a vacation.   On the vacation I met a wonderful young lady.   After I returned I was very confused.  If you have ever had two women in your head at once, you know how stressful this can be.    
Anyway, I was very upset.  It obviously affected my sleep.  One morning when I woke up Catherine was sitting with a steno pad in her lap.  I had been talking in my sleep and she had three pages of notes she had taken down during my monologue.  I believe I was lucky to have not been clobbered with a machette that morning.  However, the notes went well beyond talking about the girl on the island.  The notes totally surprised me.  Some of it was jibberish, but some of it was extremely profound.  
One topic I talked about was my father.   I had trouble believing what I read.  If you had asked me before I read it, if it was true, I would have denied it.  But reading it in black and white made it impossible to avoid. 
In my sleep I related how my father was depressed.  I never thought of my father as depressed.  I thought of him as a happy, loving man.  In my sleep I recounted how occasionally we would come home in the evening, to find my father sitting in the dark, listening to melancholic music and crying.  As a boy, I never thought anything of it.  Consciously, it didn’t register.  But his sadness registered with my unconscious.  
I went on to say how I learned to be funny and silly in an effort to make my father happy.   Knowing he could be depressed, I developed a comic side to my personality to try and lift his spirits.  Consciously, I remember always trying to make him laugh with a joke or doing something silly.  It always worked.  He enjoyed my antics as a boy and it was one of the things that brought us close.  But it wasn’t until I read it in the steno pad, that I realized the direct connection to my father.  
When my father died, I was 19 years old.  I was a sophomore in college.  What I knew of death was what I had seen growing up on a farm.  I knew it was a natural part of the rhythm of the farm.  But it never occured to me that Dad could die. 
I remember on the night before he died, going into his hospital room and being silly and making him smile.    As I left the hospital, I said a prayer asking that as long as he could smile and enjoy life, he should be allowed to stay with us.  When he no longer could enjoy life, it was time for him to go.  The following night, despite my best effort, I could not even get a smirk out of him.  He was too uncomfortable and weak to smile.  When I left the room, I was devastated.  I knew this was it.  He was going to leave us.  Later that night, he died.  
For a while after he died, I held myself responsible for his death.  I kept thinking if I hadn’t of made that prayer, maybe he’d still be with us.  That was the thinking of a child.  Over time, I recognized that he died because it was his time, and not because of my prayer.   
It is an odd way to find out that a part of your personality, that you appreciate and enjoy, actually developed because of sadness carried by someone that you love.  Then again, I am forever grateful to him, as my light-hearted personality has been a great gift in my life.