Striking a Chord

I want to thank everyone for the reactions to the post on the importance of failure. If you look at the site, I’ve been blogging along, trying to put out a thoughtful piece about– well, as the thing says, wellness, therapy, etc. every week or ten days, for over a year. At first, they were coming faster, but lately not so much. I’m trying to stay thoughtful and not repeat myself  Some of the pieces have gotten some response, some none. I still like ’em, but of course some more than others.

But this one, for some reason, got a lot of response. It was interesting to note that there were an anthology of poets, a portfolio of photographers, and a kitchen full of cooks who responded, based on the themes of their blogs. People covered the emotional spectrum from inspiration to desperation, joy to despair. I tried to stop by everyone’s blog to say thanks, take a look, and in some cases comment. If I missed anyone (or didn’t get to you yet), my apologies.  For some, per legal advice, I need to remind you that my comments do not constitute therapy and we do not have a therapist-client relationship. Sorry, but in a world dominated by attorneys, I gotta say it. If you’re not in traveling distance of Glen Park, San Francisco, we probably will never be face to face.

In talking it over with a confidant, part of the feedback I got was on the order of, “Well, of course. We live in a society where the main tactic for selling stuff is to make people feel like they’re a failure unless they (Fill in the blanks with whatever’s being sold– buy a car, wear the right clothes, go on the right kind of vacation, get the right job, endless list endless list).”  People are propagandized that they are failures– just by turning on the TV.  The implicit message  not good enough is everywhere. Ouch. Damn. Just remember the words of R.D. Laing: “To be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society is a dubious achievement.”

And, I might say that getting a spate of new folks following puts me in a different frame of mind. To me in a role of therapist, my remarks have to be directed to an individual, as in therapy, or at most to a small group– as in a therapy group. That the lyric poet’s remarks are received by many (or the therapist’s) is simply because of the universality of our human nature, and of the human condition.

So here’s a quick thought on the tension between our goals and dreams, which can be limitless, and our achievements and consummations, which are necessarily finite. Wellness, recovery, or sanity, or whatever you want to label it is based on taking the difference between where I am now and where I want to go and using it to become motivated. Recovery can be from alcoholism, an eating disorder, depression– identified problems– or it can be from a devastating illness, accident,  or war wounds. And because we’re all connected– whether we feel it right now or not– recovery can also mean recovery in relationships that have been damaged, or recovery of one’s own equilibrium when a loved one has been ill, injured, or lost.

The first thing is to recognize that recovery happens– sometimes by the body’s own propensity to health, regardless of what the mind is doing. Other times, recovery, and faith in recovery happening, needs some guidance.  I look at the space between where I am and where I want to be and see a path, not a barrier. I somehow need to get from here to there. And the classic therapist angle is that acceptance of where I am is part of understanding my path. Imagine someone giving directions (pre-map apps). “You want to get to my house? Where are you coming from?” To travel the path, you need to have a clear starting point as well as a clear end point. No getting around it. A wrinkle, from the recovery standpoint, is that you may have a moving target: “I want to regain as much function as possible after I get my prosthetic.” It always helps to have it broken down into a small, discrete piece (see the post on SMART goals): “By staying sober, one day at a time, I hope to never drink again.”

There is another side to the coin, of course, where many of us get stuck: we see the difference between where we are and where we want to be as an uncrossable gap, a sign of how damaged we are, or how impossible life is.

Here’s where the metaphor of moving the refrigerator comes up (my apologies for repeating, for those who’ve followed for a long time): If you wanted to move a refrigerator from a third floor apartment with no elevator to another upstairs apartment with no elevator, you would most likely get a friend or two, a pick up truck, and a big dolly to strap the fridge onto. You would get both tools and friends. If you had the money, you’d  hire movers. No shame, no guilt. Right? Just what works. That’s what talk therapists, physical therapists, teachers, coaches, etc. are for. We like helping people.

And, to update the image, if you wanted to grow a vegetable garden, you would need to recognize that even the fastest growing crops take time. Nature happens in real time, and we are part of nature. We have to accept it: either that or accept being impatient, or both. Of course, for the religious, there’s the prayer for patience: “God, give me patience– right now!!”

block planted vegetable garden



About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
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2 Responses to Striking a Chord

  1. I love your garden. Creativity at it’s best mixed with the wonders of nature.

  2. jamesmatter says:

    Alas, it was just a nice garden picture I found. Gardening is one of the challenges I’ve yet to really take up. But I agree, including the whole art of landscape design, landscape architecture. There are places like Central Park in NYC and Golden Gate Park where landscapes were designed with a long view and now seem like nature– when they are really a mix of nature and art– where the greatest part of the art is for the design to disappear and the nature to be all you notice.

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