What I’m Doing On My Summer Vacation
A Little ERP*, if you please
“So. . . say a little bit about what you hope to take away from this course.” The usual opening gambit for pretty much every, small enrollment workshop, seminar, personal growth group, or line dancing class I’d ever taken. What wasn’t usual was that the query arrived three days early and came not from the guru, but from my wife. The impact, however, was the same, deer-in-the-headlights scramble for a catchy, succinct, and novel sentence or two that would allow us to move onto dessert and get me off the hot seat.
What you should know is that my wife is an accountant. Albeit a very intuitive one. I’m the psychologist and, by extension, the one’s that’s supposed to be coming up with the pithy question that cuts to the heart of a situation. I’m the one that’s supposed to be tuning into my inner state and confronting it, naming those murky truths, finding those self-defeating patterns that handcuff us to yet another iteration of the ‘same old same old’. Not her.
So I look her squarely in the shoes — that’s what accountants do, I’m told, the extroverted ones at any rate. And there is a hint of the outgoing in me, on a good day, if I concentrate. But I digress. And, as says the bartender in a favorite film of mine, Irma La Douce — you may remember the guy: handlebar mustache, slicked down hair, perpetual eye-roll — ‘that’s another story’. And, well, that’s another story.
I contrive a response. Something lame and predictable about a fourth credit toward a certificate, honing a blogging interest I’d indulged for years from a protected and safe distance. . . There, is that good enough? Too late. The cracks had started to form and the old pre-(fill in the blank) course anxieties had started to leak through. The cues — you’d think I’d recognize these familiar ‘friends’ by now — were lining up, just off the radar; but still lurking in the trees.
Consider the Rumi retreat in the idyllic, upstate Vermont mountains. Five glorious days of homemade bread and readings, diving into writings of this cherished (by me anyway) philosopher-poet. Who knew that Sufis danced? I certainly didn’t. I’m outta here. My wife, who likes to dance (and read poetry), was less spooked. But it was early days in the relationship and she was the accountant in this pairing. So she deferred and all was forgotten, equilibrium restored, as we cycled our way through those same mountains for the remaining four days.
Or my first encounter group. First marriage — different wife — just over and me looking for a place to ‘process’ things before moving onto dessert. California this time. Mountains above Mendocino with a bunch of ‘vets’ of the no holds barred, bare your soul (and other stuff as it turned out) ‘healing experience’. Think Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice — except Bob is a Southern Ontario boy steeped in county fairs and (small ‘C’) conservatism. Exposed was not the word. I would have fled this one too, except the buddy that had talked me into this experience also had the car; and it was a long walk out of these woods.
Esalen for in-depth meditation training, cycling junkets in Italy, annual treks to my group guru in, believe it or not, Kansas — same scenario. Ego out there in front of a bunch of folks I barely (or worse, don’t) know and . . . OMG. The accountant had it pegged. (Good thing, because she does my taxes too!) She wasn’t asking about the usual ‘what are your expectations for this workshop’. She had set her forensic eye a little higher (or deeper): ‘when are you going to twig to the karmic message here, hon?’
Well this could be the time. The reassurance of removing to a controlled (read, self-directed) setting, engaging in familiar, oft-repeated rhythms makes me a happy camper. I should have figured this out, age twelve at Camp Kilcoo, where the infirmary with a timely ear infection trumped a canoe trip. Or Arthur Murray dance (there it is again) lessons in that dreadful second-floor warehouse conversion that passed for a studio in downtown Buffalo. Or . . .
So let’s just let it go as a busman’s holiday. Accept that the compulsion to get a doctor’s note, to hop in the car and head home (or indeed anywhere else), to miss the plane is part of the predictable run-up. Let’s just engage the process. Take a breath. And know that it generally works out — why else would I keep coming back to the trough? How I spent my summer vacation: in a little ‘exposure’ therapy with client one! That would be Exposure and — here’s the kicker — Response Prevention.
*Preferred treatment intervention for the OCD’s amongst us.