My new novel, Attachment Patterns (to be released by Austin-Macauley Publishing this spring), is loosely based on what you might call a “life adventure” that took place some seven years ago. I was doing work with a therapist at the time, exploring and trying to gain insight into some of the issues that consistently confound me and I found myself reading about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – psychotherapy in which negative patterns of thought are challenged in order to address unwanted behavior patterns and mood disorders. Further research found, lo’ and behold, that a nearby clinic offered a three week, 8:30 to 12 noon, out-patient program in COG and, would wonders never cease, the program was covered by health insurance which – as our protagonist points out – seemed rather crazy on their part. What did I have to lose? I signed up and I went.
The program was divided into two parts. The first part was in a lecture hall where various topics were addressed by different therapists. One morning it might be on depression, the next it might be on core beliefs, the next on emotional regulation. Tools and procedures were discussed, literature and worksheets were referenced. It was like being in a classroom – a teacher at the lectern, students intently taking notes. The lecture was followed by a group meeting consisting of about half a dozen participants. In group, individual issues and concerns were addressed and feedback was provided by the group’s therapists and by one’s fellow group members. It could be emotional, it could be uncomfortable, it could be funny, it could be enlightening. At 12:30 pm it was all over and you went home.
It was in the second week of lectures when something odd started to happen. The therapist/lecturer would be addressing a serious subject and all of a sudden, a voice in my head started – no other way to put it – “talking back”. Call it rebuttle, call it psycological protection through casual sarcasm, but suddenly one part of me was still the serious student and another part of me was now the knucklehead who wasn’t sure he wanted to take these morbid, mental health issues to heart and was happy to say so – to me. I found the voice so odd and entertaining, I started writing down the asides and comebacks as much as the lecture notes. As for the group meetings, I remember going through most of them with my mask on, the one I wear in public – somewhat outgoing, seemingly confident, doing just fine, thank you, ma’am, totally underplaying the issues that can effect my daily life.
In retrospect, I now know I did myself a disservice. Was Cognitive Behavioral Therapy a success for me? Helpful, perhaps but no, not really. I didn’t hold on to it long enough. (It takes work, dang your eyes!) However… the voice it inspired in me eventually became the inspiration for a novel. Attachment Patterns is about a middle aged man reluctantly going through a three and half week COG program. Written from the point of view of his aspiring novelist daughter, it details his past and present, his heartbreaks and his triumphs, ultimately taking him to a place of greater self-understanding. I’d like to think that in some ways it also addresses the acute mental health concerns in our modern society. A small excerpt of the novel is below. More to come.
It was Tuesday, the second morning of Cog, and in group, my father had shared his depression and anxiety levels. He’d decided to raise them both to a six, which was the high end of mild, so as to avoid questions from his fellow group members, all of whom seemed to be in their forties, fifties and in the case of the despondent, unshaven man, the nineties. This meant that they all thought that the future was hopeless, they were expecting to be punished or infected, were blaming themselves for their faults (and infections), had lost interest in people, were terrified with the state of the world, weren’t sleeping well and were suffering from various levels of constipation.
The only things Dad had identified with was a nervous stomach and a loss of interest in people, but since he had never had any real interest in people (other than the chosen few) and because, once again, he hadn’t had time for his usual leisurely morning sit on the toilet, these didn’t count.
He had also been forced to share his “Grapes”. This was an acronym for Gentle with Self, Relaxation, Accomplishment, Pleasure, Exercise and Social. Grapes, Dad was told, were a very useful tool in maintaining emotional regulation and planning one’s day. Three out of the six had him flummoxed. Accomplishment? He would work, of course. (Whether he accomplished anything or not, well, that had been debatable for a while now.) Exercise? He did that most every day as well. He ran, he lifted, he rowed on machines. It kept him – (Oops, dare we use this word?) – sane. More important, it also allowed him to eat pretty much whatever he pleased. Case in point. For dinner, that night, he was already contemplating a roast chicken Provencal accompanied by a fresh green salad and a nice Cotes de Rhone. But relax. Who could relax? (Relax does not run in this family.) Oh, but then Dad consulted the list on the back of the sheet and saw that reminding himself to relax would suffice. Fine, he could do that. Four down. As to Gentle With Self, the list suggested things like self-forgiveness, self-encouragement and self-help books. (If all else fails, I plan on writing one someday.) No, Dad went further into the list and settled for drinking enough water daily. Good for him, one to go. Social. That was the tough nut to crack. By habit and inclination, he was not social. Attend a http://www.meetup.com group? What was that? (I could have told him.) Whatever it was, it was not going to happen. Go to a social event through church? No, he didn’t think he’d like a church social. (And I doubt a church social would have liked him.) Talking to another group member on break seemed the best idea. It would have to be tomorrow after the lecture and hopefully he’d forget about it by then. If he came back at all.
The subject of the morning lecture had been Coping With Difficult People and it hadn’t been helpful. The lecturer, yet another young woman, this one wearing librarian glasses, had explained that there were any number of kinds of difficult people, a fact he already knew. It amounted to this. The passive person is the person who avoids conflict but won’t forget about it. (One of my first boyfriends.) The aggressive person is the person who seeks to control the situation with volume, passion and intensity. (Hello!) The passive-aggressive person is a person who won’t engage in conflict but leaves you no doubt you’re going to pay for it. (My last boyfriend). The thwarter is the person who has the uncanny ability to frustrate or upset you even when you know you’re right. (Mom). The stubborn person is the individual so obstinate, they won’t be swayed by a tsunami. (Dad, unless the tsunami is me). And finally – the judgmental person, the complainer and the victim. These are people who will admit you’re right but add that it isn’t fair and they’re helpless to do anything about it. (My college roommates freshman year and good riddance.)
This was all old information as Dad had long ago come to the conclusion that people were argumentative, incoherent and best to be avoided, which was why he was having a problem filling in the social block on his Grapes sheet.
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