You Got This...in which Uncle Duke leads cheers in the waiting room


This won’t take long. It’s just a little thing I’ve noticed. And that is that there is not much camaraderie in a therapist’s waiting room. It is a tastefully appointed yet intimidating little room in which the occupants wait for their personal appointments with self-confrontation.

There is generally considerable trepidation involved therein. Soul searching is not always kind to us. One must look hard at parts of our lives that have not seen a lot of light. For some very good reasons.

So face-to-face with others there for the same purpose, they generally make their best attempts at invisibility. There is not much eye contact. Little recognition of each other’s common vulnerability or shared bravery. It is an isolated and isolating little space, a threatening antechamber to self-scrutiny.

Consequently, there is, as I mentioned, very little communicating going on in this room. It is just mostly a very awkward silence. A place for rather polite posturing, with a certain implied defensiveness. “I am not really here for myself,” they seem to convey. “I am only here because my mother needs therapy. And my father. And they couldn’t make it. So I’m doing it for them.”

Not that I blame anyone for their wariness around their own unhappiness. Generally it is a good rule. But I always found it curious that there was so little self-congratulation there. So little pride of ownership and sharing. After all, they had answered the bell. They had indeed ‘shown up’. They had responded to the internal alarms which let them know they had things to attend to. Obstructions, barriers, blockages, things standing in the way of their own happiness. Impediments of one sort or another that needed moving, adjusting or flat-out removing. Sins of omission and commission that needed to be confessed. Relationships in disarray. Snarls what needed unsnarling. That type of thing.

“You should be proud,” I always thought. “Congratulation for getting here. Good on you.” Yet there was never no kind of bluster, none of the swagger that I thought was merited by these actions of determined self-help.

There was certainly none of that pre-game locker room stuff going on--no butt slapping, no high-fiving or fist pumping. No chest thumping, no face painting. No bravado, no solidarity, no atta-boys. None of that.

What there was, it struck me, was a lot of shame. Those folks felt shame. They felt bad. And they felt shame that they felt bad that they felt shame. They felt flawed, unworthy, damaged, wounded. Their days had been long lately, and the nights often longer. They were here to reclaim their lives, yet they were ashamed to be here.

I knew all this because I felt it too. And I also knew that they’d just as soon not talk about it. They’d rather that IT--this malaise, this unease, this dis-ease, this discomfort—would just go away.

Yet talk about it they must. It is generally the only way out of this mental morass. It is stuff that has been festering for some time. And now that time is up. Time to DEAL with it.

They did not choose to be here. Life had cornered them and mostly left them no options but to enter into a relationship with a hopefully skilled and impartial evaluator of trauma and disappointment and loss. They would prefer not to expose themselves to that degree, even to an impartial, non-judgmental counselor. But it had come to this. It needed to be done.

I recall all of those feelings. Those dark days when I shared that waiting room with those other wounded souls. And I felt defeated and lost and afraid--afraid of the past and the future and everything in between. ‘Hopeless and worthless and ashamed’ pretty much covers it.

But some days I just felt Angry. Fed-up Angry. Determined Angry. Tired and Resolute Angry. Pissed-and-Loaded-for-Bear Angry. Some days I felt like a bloody warrior putting on war paint. “A good day to die,” I’d say defiantly.

I felt like I was in that room carrying the load for others who couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. I was pushing this burden up the hill for the sake of family and ancestors who did not have the resources or the opportunity. I was standing up for the person I thought I was--at the base of it, a thoroughly decent son-of-a-bitch. Who deserved better.

I was fuming mad and impatient. I was figuratively climbing Everest with an ice pick and a windbreaker. With only fifty minutes to get it done. I was trekking through the Mojave, with a teeny canteen, a banana and a nutri-bar. Racing to get through to the ‘other side’. Paying a guide $130/hour. Without insurance. “Isn’t there a damned oasis in here anywhere?” I whined. “When will I feel better? When can I rejoin the rest of Humanity?”

I felt somehow like an unfortunate, random guy who was mysteriously handed this load of angst and guilt and suffering and karmic retribution and instructed to carry it to the Fires of Mordor. I’d had a hand in it, sure, but I felt like I had paid my debt. I was ready for it to end. I was anxious to get a new start. And because it was so damned unpleasant, because it hurt so much, I was determined to get there.

The bottom line is that looking in the mirror is hard work. Sitting in the fire, allowing, revisiting all those freaking feelings, requires concentration and perseverance and no small tolerance for pain. It is difficult.

And the way I see it, there should be marching bands with majorettes and baton twirlers in every therapist’s parking lots. There should be trainers and handlers in the waiting rooms, dispensing Gatorade and hot towels and rubdowns. “You got this, Champ. A walk in the park.”

There should be cheering squads with pom-poms in the hallways, and coaches and teammates offering reassurance and encouragement by the bucketful. “You’re doing great work, brother!! Keep it up!” Fans in the stands, supporters by the bus full. “YOU-DA-MAN! YOU-DA-MAN!”

That’s what those waiting rooms should be like. There should be a brotherhood of encouraging supporters who smile knowingly at each other, give each other ‘thumbs up’, a pat on the back and maybe a big, old hug. “Eyes on the Prize,” they would whisper in unison, as they send off one of their own to the inner office to redefine his or her own Truth.

So, the thing that I’ve noticed is...that don’t happen. It is lonely business, this work of healing the self, of mending the soul. It is a job no one really wants to take on. It is much easier to blame others or just to bear up and ignore and self-medicate. No one really volunteers for it. It only happens when we reach our limits.

And the truth is that I consider it Heroic Work. These acts of personal courage deserve the support of a larger community. These expeditions into expanded consciousness, these journeys into unknown rage, this spelunking into the unlit caves of loss and abandonment have benefits for the rest of us. Salvaging a Life deserves the backing of friends and strangers alike. Those what take it on need to know they are not alone in the struggle. What we do for ourselves, we also do for others. It is for a larger Community.