Sunday, March 17, 2019



     He walked into my office over fifteen years, now. His skin was fragile,
 transparent, like a fine piece of china, a beautifully patterned, hand-painted cup,
 this one with spidery cracks down the side, like they get with age. It looked like the
 slightest touch of his arm would draw blood. His face had deep wrinkles; his brows
 were wild and bushy. It was the eyes I noticed most.  They were blank, hollow,
 blurry. Like they had seen everything in the world there was to see. He shuffled
 into the office slowly, with a slight limp. His clothes hung on him like a scarecrow
 that had been through one too many thunderstorms.

     It was mainly the booze. Whiskey. I asked if he remembered when he started
 drinking. “I don’t remember, I have always drunk” Have you had any sobriety?
 “Yes. Usually no more than a month or so. One time, I made it six months. But she
 always calls me back. I am under her spell.” Have you used any other drugs? “Oh,
 I’ve tried just about everything at one time or another. But it’s always the alcohol.
 She summons me into her arms, and I go willingly.” 

     For a family therapist, it is not the details you are looking for, but what lies
 beneath  them. While I am seeing a single person, who is it that follows
 invisibly behind him into my office? To understand this requires knowledge of
 systems theory, the mantra being: “The sum total of the parts is equal to more than
 the whole.” In this case, one equals more than one. It’s the “more than” that I’m
 looking for. Unseen and elusive, but always there.

      He talked. I listened. Back from prison. Homeless and living on skid row.
 Begging on the street. Married and divorced three times. Three children. A
 bleeding ulcer. Pancreatitis. Beaten so many times he now only vaguely
 remembered the injuries, much less the people or reasons.

     “I was promised a job in Kansas City. My wife and I and our child were living
 in Indiana. We packed up what little we had, spent what money we could scrounge
 up, and moved. We got settled in and I reported for work. They had given my job
 to someone else. I went on a two-day bender, got into a terrible fight. When I
 returned to our apartment, bloody, battered, and bruised, my wife and child were
 gone. I never saw them again.”

     He came back from many stories like this. Promises broken, nightmares of his
 own making. Each time saved, he was thankful. But not enough to quit drinking.

     He left relieved that he was able to get some things off his chest. There was no
 need pushing. He was not going to quit drinking.  It would have been more fitting
 that I were a priest than a family therapist. It was more absolution that he
 was looking for.

     Several months later I saw his obituary. There were no marriages listed, no sons
 or daughters. Only that he had lived and then died. That night I had a dream. A
  man was standing on the street-corner, begging. When he looked at me, I had this
 strange feeling that we had met before. I shook his hand and handed him a five
 dollar bill. “Thanks,” was all he said.

     According to Carl Jung, dreams are a way of communicating and acquainting
 yourself with the unconscious. Dreams are not attempts to conceal your true
 feelings from the waking mind, but rather they are a window to your unconscious.
 They expose the invisible. They guide you to wholeness and offer solutions to
 problems you are facing in your waking life. Therapy, like faith, involves giving
 yourself over to the invisible. Believing in what you cannot see. Both take hard
 work. You never quite get it right.

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