Discovering Analysis

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Discovering Analysis

The dream was to go to school in Zurich. At the time I wanted to be a Jungian analyst and combining that with my lifelong desire to live in Europe, school at ISAP (The International School of Analytical Psychology) in Switzerland felt ideal and obtainable. First, I had to get a lot of hours of Jungian psychoanalysis (I’ve forgotten how many, exactly, maybe 100, 200, 250?). Second, I had to earn a Master’s Degree. As it turned out, getting the degree was relatively easy, (who knew that my brain still functioned at 54?). The analysis was much more of a challenge.  

I began by going to the website for the C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles. There I found an analyst who was happy to work with me on a sliding scale and was geographically near. I had to make this as easy for myself as possible, try and knock out all the obvious objections that my treacherous defenses would throw in the way. So, it was affordable and easy to get to, even in the worst LA traffic. No excuses not to go.  

This was my first experience with any kind of psychotherapy and I really didn’t know what to expect. But I did know that Jungians love dreams and I am a prolific dreamer (both in terms of daytime fantasies and dreams that come while sleeping). I was looking forward to exploring the depths of my dreams with a professional ally.  

The analyst was probably in his 70’s and worked from a guest house in his backyard. The place felt musty and smelled of some indescribable burnt something. (He later told me there had been a fire in the main house. I asked what happened, but he gave no details.) On first introductions, he seemed nice. Well, until he would erupt into an ear drum-piercing rant about his internal Aries warrior. That did kind of scare me, but I pretended to ignore the prickles running up and down my spine that were trying to push me out the door. No, I sat very still and tried to first tolerate and then silently shush my discomfort. At times he would be cloyingly sweet, talking about how he was such an introvert that he would never have the nerve to approach me at Starbucks, even though we clearly had so much in common. (By the way, I don’t think that I’ve ever been to a Starbucks.) I was confused, had no idea how to react, but stayed, nose to the book of my dream journal. I would read my dreams to him and he would stare at me blankly. I would internally squirm, but try and politely accept the weird atmosphere in the room, thinking I must be doing something really wrong and wondering when the analysis would start or was this blank stare the analysis? This went on for several months. Eventually, unconsciously trying to find an escape strategy, I came up with the idea that we meet every other week instead of weekly. He roared “But the beginning of therapy is where the passion is! We should be meeting at least twice a week!”. I thought, yes, passion is what I’m looking for, and certainly not finding here, but I said, “No, every other week is better for me”, or something equally lame. The switch to biweekly sessions did not help. I eventually had to accept that this therapeutic relationship was not working for me. I very seriously considered leaving him a voice mail at a time I thought he wouldn’t pick up, but decided I needed to at least pretend to be an adult and terminate with him in person.  

I remember showing up to his guest house very contritely. I was certain the failed relationship was my fault, that I must be hiding something really terrible about myself and that’s why the therapy was going nowhere. When I told him I wished to stop, he said “Yes, I’ve felt blocked with you, too”. I thought why didn’t you tell me? Who’s the therapist here? But of course, didn’t say that. We chatted for the rest of the hour; really it was just chatting, no closing, no examination of our time together, just chit-chat.  As I rose to leave, I said “Maybe I’ll be back, maybe this is what therapy is and I just don’t know it”. I held out my hand to shake his and instead of politely shaking it, he took my hand to his lips and kissed my fingers. I was shocked. It felt really yucky. I got to my car and sat in stunned immobility. Then it hit me that he had had a crush on me and that’s what screwed up everything in our sessions. It wasn’t my fault! He just had no idea what to do with his lascivious libido, so he unconsciously blocked all openings to any kind of connecting. I feel ok about putting so much of the responsibility on him because the eros in the room was only working one way, I had zero attraction for him. I am so glad that I had the courage to face him in person instead of leaving a message. I would never have known what was actually happening had I not experienced the final closing. 

After licking my wounds for a few weeks, I went back to the website and found another geographically acceptable generous analyst. This time the connective energies were wide open. Dan was a marvel! The first couple of sessions were awkward, we had miscommunications about our appointment time and a few other snags, but what a difference an open heart makes. I have never, ever, felt so seen, so accepted, so respected. Dan loved his work as an analyst, loved dreams, and became a willing participant in my growth as a human being. Participant? I think the catalyst is a much better word; yes, he participated in the ups and downs, swerves, and challenges of my life, but he was such a catalyst for me finding my courage and owning my power.  

When I first started seeing Dan, I had dreams about being anally raped by an over-bearing, muscular stranger. As the analysis progressed, this figure turned into a loving, supportive friend. No, it wasn’t about turning the rape into something positive or submitting to patriarchal power. As I had never suffered from sexual assault, it was also not any form of post-traumatic stress. It was about me facing my fears, surviving them, and watching them transform; transforming the powerful energy from threat to ally. The energy itself, although supremely intense, was basically neutral (not bad or good), but it lived in my body and psyche as horror and angst. Often dreams relate meaning to the conscious mind through metaphor. In this instance, those images allowed my fears to feel unignorably visceral. The images had to be that violent for me to take notice and experience how they were blocking my growth from victim to adult.  

I was in analysis with Dan for about five years. It’s moving to look back now and see the projections that we were throwing at each other. He was in his mid 80’s and very hard of hearing. He had been in the Air Force during World War II. While serving in the Pacific, his auditory functions had been severely damaged when he fell too near an exploding bomb. But he had his hearing aids, and I spoke loudly, so we found a way. (Remember the open heart?) He was very close to the age my father would have been having he did not die when I was 2. Joe, my father, also served in the Air Force during WWII. Lots of father projections from me onto Dan. I even brought in a photo of Joe, hoping that Dan might have known him, but they had never met.  

Dan worked from a den in his home. During one of our sessions, we heard a loud crash in another room. He left the session to investigate and found his wife where she had fallen in the kitchen. When he came back, I said, “I’m very strong, can I help lift her?” He said, “No, she’s independent and wants to take care of herself”. We made an attempt to continue the session, but I felt too many emotions to be able to resume our therapeutic intimacy. I worried about Grace (his wife) in the other room, I was angry that my session had been interrupted and upstaged, and I felt guilty about that. And I was jealous of Grace. The fall had shown me how much he loved his wife, and how I wished that someone would love me that much. It seemed to demonstrate the limits of our analytical relationship. No matter how deeply Dan and I saw each other, I would never really be special. This last revelation turned out not to be true, but more on that in a bit.   

Dan sensed that I had a very strong intuition and encouraged it. I had no idea. It was something that I wanted, but it felt arrogant to accept that part of myself. Who was I to think that I had anything extraordinary about me; that my perception of the physical world went beyond logical explanations? Who was I to step out of the old story of who I was supposed to be, which included the assumption that it was only others who could claim a non-rational power (or that that power even existed!)? As it turns out, he was correct, but it took me quite a while to accept intuition as part of me; as one of the many natural aspects that contributed to the structure of Nancy. As real and necessary as my bones, blood and brain. I would often have dreams that were populated with people I had known who had died. He would say the folks in the dreams were visitations, I would vehemently say “NO! They are not speaking to me from the other side! Let’s look at them symbolically”. We had several spats over this. I later found out that his oldest son had died a few years earlier, and he poignantly and desperately wanted to contact him. I see now that that was his projection on me; he was hoping I could be a link, or at least prove that a link was possible. 

Late in the 4th year of my analysis with Dan, I began to have a sense that I was helping him die. He wasn’t unhealthy and took very good care of himself (I offered him a throat lozenge once which he refused with exaggerated disdain because it had sugar in it), but the sense that he was dying and I was there to help would not leave me. I had a Jungian supervisor at the time. During one of our weekly meetings, I told her what I was feeling and that I had no idea of how to breach the subject with Dan. She said maybe it’s the death of the analysis or some other symbolic death. That didn’t feel right, but that explanation was much more palatable than what I was truly feeling.  

And then I had a dream. I dreamt that I had come to his house for our regular session and there were several people in his foyer and the hallway leading to the den (where we always had our sessions) waiting to see him. The folks were all a bit off (kinda like weird circus characters), and none of them were from waking life, they were all new dream people. When I read the dream to Dan, his immediate response was “How am I letting you down?”. I simply said, “I feel like I’m helping you die”. He accepted my words without comment. We both knew I was right. 

That was the last session I had with him. Over the next month or so he had to cancel our meetings because he was in and out of the hospital. Turns out he was suffering from congestive heart failure. I would call him. Sometimes he would try to talk, but the effort to speak kicked off debilitating coughing attacks. Other times I would call and his wife would say he was too sick to come to the phone. Many months earlier he had loaned me a book about Shakespeare. During one of our brief conversations, I offered to leave it at his doorstep as he was too ill to see me. He was adamant that I not leave it, that he wanted to see me, and me just dropping the book off without a visit was completely unacceptable. It almost sounded like he was scolding me for even suggesting such a thing. A few days after that exchange, he left me a voice mail saying that he had been back in the hospital, was home now, and he was not going back to the hospital; he was not going to accept any more medical interventions.  

The call came on a brilliantly sunny afternoon. I had been down in the basement doing laundry. When I came back upstairs, I saw the blinking red light from the answering machine on my nightstand. I knew what the call would be, but was still devastated when I heard his daughter’s voice, valiantly trying to choke back tears, saying that her father had passed. 

I am still not able to write about the grief that overwhelmed me. I can say that I felt as if I had been tossed into the middle of a tsunami. It was both an out-of-body and thoroughly in-body experience; the pain was everywhere and inescapable, I could not find a way to get out of my own skin. I’ll leave the exploration of all of that for another essay. However, I can write about what happened a few months later.  

I had a dream. I dreamt that Dan had come to visit me. The suit he was wearing was too small for him. The sleeves and pants were too short and everything was too tight. When I saw him, I said, “Dan, you don’t have to stick around for me. Please, continue on to wherever you need to go”. He said, “No, I want to be here with you.” I said, “Ok, I’ll go and get my checkbook”.  I woke up laughing, thinking you win! Yes, Dan, that was a visitation! The dream was important for another reason; it validated the analytic relationship. Me getting my checkbook in the dream showed me that what Dan and I experienced as analysand and analysts was very real and special. Many of us have feared that paying someone to listen eliminates the veracity of the union; they’re just there for the cash, not for any real interest in us. This dream proved to me that the boundaries of our intimacy did not in any way denigrate its authenticity.   

A few months after I had the aforementioned dream, I was fortunate to receive one more powerful affirmation of my assessment.  My supervisor gave me a copy of Psychological Perspectives. She handed it to me saying, “I think this should belong to you. There’s a remembrance of Dan in it”. The article about Dan was quite loving, obviously written by a dear and very close friend. In the piece, the writer spoke of being with Dan just before he died. He related that Dan had told him of a very recent dream. In the dream, Dan’s clothes did not fit him anymore. They were too small and he knew it was time for him to move on. I’m guessing that he was wearing the same suit that he had dream-visited me in months earlier. By the way, in waking life, I never saw Dan in a suit. His clothes were much more relaxed (in fact we actually laughed about it once, how he was clearly not concerned with any sort of fashion, so much so that he almost bragged about never buying clothes. I responded, “Yes because your wife buys them for you!”). Coming to me in that dream was the most precious gift I have ever received. Thank you, Dan. 

I did not end up going to school in Zurich, again, more about that in other writings. Instead, I found my home and Ph.D. at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. Who knew that what I ultimately wanted was just a beautiful drive up Highway 1? And what I truly needed was even closer than that.