The first time I walked into a therapist’s office, I counted the steps from my car to the front door, forty-eight, and I made the trip four times before I went inside. I was broken, mired in a divorce, hobbled by the crutch of alcohol, and unsure if I wanted to see the thirty-sixth year of my life till it’s conclusion.
Within a few not quite one hour but paid for as such sessions, my pro determined I was not only battling mental illness but was also a grade A type 1 co-dependent. I was capable of grand empathy and compassion for others, but at the cost of my own identity and well-being.
After nine years of on and off therapy, quitting drinking several times, and remarriage that brought my family to five, a wife and three daughters, I’ve improved my ability to take care of myself, but only incrementally. I’ll fill every person’s cup in the room then realize I’m thirsty an hour later because I forgot mine.
Years ago, I rejected the traditional notions of “manhood” and decided being compassionate, kind, emotional, and empathetic was who I was and perhaps something to be mocked politically or by other men, but not something I’d apologize for any longer.
My oldest daughter is a 19-year-old college freshman, recently pledged to a prestigious sorority, member of the honor roll, with dreams of becoming a surgeon. When I was her age, I wanted to be a famous writer and journalist. Almost everyone I knew discouraged me because it was a lofty goal and they thought I should be more grounded. I give my daughter the opposite advice. I tell her to be selfish, for now, because when she’s older, she won’t be able to look after number one. The irony is, these words come someone who has never been selfish enough. My “do as I say not as I do” must make my girl laugh hysterically when my back is turned.
One of my favorite songs comes from the Talking Heads, No Compassion. It’s a punk classic and the actual definition of ironic because it’s the opposite of what the songwriter meant and definitely the polar position of my worldview.
I know I need to be more compassionate to myself, but there always seems to be someone who needs it more. At least I know who I am.