Something happened at my home group last night and I wanted to reflect on it, because, although it was just a moment at the beginning of the meeting, the sort of moment that might pass me by on another occasion, it impacted the meeting for me. I was standing near the tea counter and two meeting regulars that I don’t feel close to, G and P, approached to join the queue. At times with both of them I have experienced a sense of not being liked; whether the dislike is real or not isn’t as relevant as the fact that it stays in my head when I see them, because they remind me of my past, that all important shadow that follows me around. That said, in recent months the previously intense awkwardness I had with them has lessened somewhat, to the point where I can feel quite neutral about them on a good day. Yesterday I was feeling relatively neutral, not expecting anything to happen, when I witnessed the pair of them get into an altercation of sorts.
G is an old man who has always had a very acerbic manner that most people take as endearing, whilst with me in the past it was enough to make me storm out of meetings on occasion. P is a highly sensitive soul, easily offended and often quite frosty at the beginning of a meeting, which has gotten in the way of me being able to engage with him in a meaningful way for most of the time I’ve known him. Until now, having lumped them both in the category of people not to be entirely trusted in my mind, I wouldn’t have expected to be in a situation where I’d take one’s side against the other. Except something unusual seemed to happen last night, with them both being in extreme moods that would inevitably bring about a clash. G said something tart to P about the cold weather, P took great offence and, in my direction, whispered loudly, ‘why don’t you go fuck yourself, G?’
If this had happened five years ago, I’d have jumped immediately to P’s side in the matter, as I was very angry with G about this time five years ago over something abrasive that he’d said to me. If this had happened two years ago, I’d have been on G’s side, as I was angry with P for being angry with me over my momentarily insensitive behaviour on a street corner. Since it’s happening now, I didn’t know what side to take. And I noticed how odd it was to find myself in this position, not being the victim of the incident but a neutral bystander. P’s potty mouthed aside left a charged atmosphere in the room that only I could sense, because no one else had heard it, and I could have been unhappy with P for bringing the tone down in such an unnecessary way. I could have gotten annoyed with him for being so childish, just as I could have gotten angry with G for being his usual unthinking self. But within an hour, once everyone was sat down and we were in the midst of the sharing, both of them shared heartfelt things that showed they were trying to be present, to put anger behind them, although no direct reference was made to what had happened earlier. Through more of my own private reflection I’ve recognised that the whole thing could only have impacted on me because of my past, the way P swore bitterly in my direction reminding me of the tirades that mum used to yell at no one in particular when she was angry at some external agency, somehow forgetting but also knowing that I was there listening. It’s interesting.
Today in class we had to practice making eye contact with each other. The horror! We were learning about gestalt therapy and this is all about staying in the here and now with the client, focusing entirely on what the client is doing so as to bring feelings into the awareness. During a morning exercise we were paired up and told to sit facing our partner, with whom we had to maintain eye contact for as long as possible while we described how we felt. It was as awkward as it sounds. The notable thing is that I assumed I would be the only one who really struggled with it. Afterwards when the others shared back about how it had been they all talked about hating it just as I had. So another example of me not being unique in my struggles.
In my ongoing reflections I’m seeing the different types of trauma state that happen to me in the present and the different parts of the past that they originate in. For example, the trauma I went though last Friday whilst waiting for mum to come home isn’t the same as the trauma I had last night when I heard P swear in the meeting. That might seem obvious, but previously I think I would have tried to lump it all under one big trauma category called ‘the past’. It’s only this year I’ve learned that there wasn’t one big thing that happened in my childhood that made everything difficult from there on in. Different things happened at different ages. Last Friday I experienced the fear of a nine year old who can’t find his mother; yesterday I experienced the fear of a five year old whose mother is angry at the world and doesn’t know what to do about it. I can be more specific about what’s coming back to me now when I regress into these states; they are all different shades of the same palette, which is childhood.
Tomorrow our tutors are meeting with the counselling centre to hopefully resolve these issues that have kept us from seeing clients the past few weeks, so fingers crossed there will finally be movement by the end of the week. Someone jokingly remarked in class this afternoon that it’s a bit like Brexit, the way it’s dragged on, and it has really felt like that at times. But the tutors feel hopeful about having their concerns addressed and I do too. Apparently the manager who was dragging her feet a few weeks ago and inadvertently causing all these problems has left the centre, which was ironically reassuring news to hear today. The moment of truth is just on the horizon now; whatever happens, at least the waiting game is nearly over.