Famous People I Want To Do Therapy With
So before we even dive in, it’s useful to state the obvious. I don’t know Louis CK and Jesse Pinkman is a work of fiction. I know full well that the fraction of anyone’s presence we see in the media is just that, a presentation which may have some, all, or no bearing on a person’s private experience of the world. I know very little about Louis CK’s real life, troubles, and triumphs.
That being said, it is an interesting day-dream/thought-experiment for me to consider if I could pick characters out of thin air and wish them into my office, who could I pick? Why? What does that tell me (and you) about the work I love?
There’s been a few different times where I felt like Louis CK was channeling Buddha, mainly pre-2016. Maybe the first time was here, when he described the deep empty, the sadness we feel and all the ways we try to escape it.
Then again, when he frames buying a puppy as a countdown to sorrow. “Everything that makes you happy is going to end.” So true sir.
And finally, I hear his voice in my head each time I’m crammed into a plane. In 2011, his rough voice marveling at our ability to complain about the miracle of the flight.
That’s it. He nailed it, humanity’s glorious and damning ability to almost immediately get accustomed to any greatness and then evaluate the distance between the current luxury and our next dream. And when we calculate that evaluation, we find the new luxurious reality lacking. His humor articulated and unhooked me, giving just enough jolt to make room for a new perspective.
Maybe I also loved his engagement with sadness, his engagement with mortality and impermanence of being. His acknowledgement, his bravery and courage to be a man out in the world vulnerable and big and gritty real. I love that.
Then midway through his 2017 Netflix special, I stopped watching. It felt different. I’m sure I was different, maybe not up to my usual tempo of straight talk. And yet, there was something else. A pain, an anger that felt floating and festering. Finally, reports of his sexual misconduct came out. And my main reaction was ‘aww buddy, now I see.’
And for me it was a reminder of all the ways we try to avoid and escape our own pain (chemicals, porn, lashing out and shutting down) and the ways this escape only exacerbates the suffering, our own and others. The pain and suffering spirals out.
Then I thought about my own job, and the opportunity to watch people find a way home each day - or to make peace with a new way of being. A way to take responsibility, to look clear eyed at your own life, to apologize for the suffering you extended, and to make a new road, a new life, from the ashes of the old one.
Addiction, and the great heroes of this work, the foot soldiers on the ground helping people recover, will always have a special place in my heart. My personal life was touched deeply by addiction just before I had the great fortune to work with Dr Christine Timko, who published much of the original research on the power of peer support models like AA. The health of so many people I care about would not be possible without the network of anonymous 12 step meetings across the country. I, like so many other people, are indebted with gratitude to those meetings in church basements and conference rooms.
Here’s to you, Louis. Here’s to your real therapist out there something. Here’s to the work you’ve done and the work yet to go.
Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad
When Breaking Bad became popular, I was living in Albuquerque and was so sad, lost, and lonely that I couldn’t bear to watch the show. It felt like an echo chamber of the entrapment I felt. That was all about me, nothing about either the city or the show (and no matter how down I was, the food was AMAZING). So almost a decade later I returned to the masterpiece. I always loved Jesse Pinkman, his mix of vulnerable and reckless and overconfident. You could feel the living part of him shouting from behind the mayhem we all are.
“…One tries to treat [human beings] as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become.” ― James Baldwin, No Name in the Street
It’s so painful to watch a fictionalized and poorly done therapy. I guess this happens for all professions…but to me it feels especially painful to think about who else is watching, someone who may learn that therapy is pitiful and inadequate to hold the breadth of human suffering because some poorly dressed, mumbling therapist is struck dumb at a crucial moment.
And along those lines, when Jesse most needed help, there’s this scene.
This scene always drives me crazy, I want the therapist to be so much better here. To stand up and say that pain has something to teach us, acceptance isn’t about saying ‘oh well’ it’s about saying ‘this is what is’ and ‘what can we learn?’
Pain is useful. Pain is instructive. And there is a difference between pain and suffering. And you can learn something about how you show up for it that makes all the difference. Sigh.
It’s all of us
Alas, there’s a bunch of honorable mentions I didn’t get to. We’ll save that for an upcoming post on whether men go to therapy (spoiler alert, yes).
Catching up on my Beyonce news last night, I fell in love with this clip.
And what struck me is that what I love so much about this, about Lemonade, about all the examples I listed above is the way these scenes mirror all our (or at least my) private pains.
I think the grandest and most destructive illusion is that everyone else is ok and we’re the only one that’s in pain. We’re all in pain; through genes and history and environment and dumb luck, we’re all doing the best we can and sometimes that feels so far from great.
Ira Glass once said that everyone asks how a couple fell in love but what he wants to know is how they stay in love.
How do we stay in love? How do we stay in love with our life, with the countdown to sorrow, with the impermanence of everything that makes us happy?
Beyonce says, “The love is deep within your pain and I believe you can change.”
Dear Louis, dear Jesse, dear Beyonce, dear Kerry. The love is deep. So is the pain. And the work is worth it.
Wishing you love and joy and New Mexican green chiles,
Disclaimer: You as a reasonable person know that reading this blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. And just to be super clear for all the lawyers in the house, I do not assume liability for any content on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your interaction with my writing and the content therein (oh my goodness, I hope you don’t injure yourself reading this). If you are seeking professional support, I recommend seeking services via the websites on my resources page or by contacting me directly.