18. Therapy…

[This is the beginning of the entry in the Pages section titled 18. Therapy and the Wall, about my continuing Zen practice and beginning therapy, a visit to the Vietnam Wall and writing about my Vietnam experiences.]

The long journey that led me to take vows as a Buddhist at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center in 1993 had taught me a lot, but the depression at the heart of my emotional/mental state seemed pretty resistant to the meditation and the vows and anything else I was doing.


I was moody and angry, and I wasn’t easy to get along with for my wife and kids. I think the meditation helped me feel better about things, but it didn’t really seem to be helping how I interacted with my family. I think I yelled at my middle school students a lot, as well!


It somewhat seems like it should have been a no-brainer for me to figure out what was going on, considering the traumatic nature of my whole Vietnam experience, which I’ve written about extensively on my other blog, A War Journal, though I’ve only briefly mentioned it in this narrative. That experience and the recent death of my father were both still unresolved for me, but it took me awhile to realize how all that was eating away at me and making it hard for me to relate to life and other people.


I though I had packed it all away in some locked trunk in the depths of my mind.


Eventually, things just got intolerable I suppose, and my wife began to push me to do something, get therapy, take drugs — anything to make it better. We argued a lot, and I always felt that I didn’t know what it was that was wrong.
I went on anti-depressants, which I didn’t really like, and which maybe helped some, but they didn’t seem to fix things either. It was a constant struggle for all of us.


Somewhere in there, my wife’s father, Dr. Pisacano, suggested that therapy would be a good option. I’m not really sure how long it took me to act on that suggestion, given the resistance that I had to letting go of control.
But at some point, I gave in. I had my first session of therapy with Susan in October of 1997. According to my journal, which Susan recommended I resume seriously, I felt better right away, just for having made the decision to start.


It was a long and arduous path, because I had really buried a lot in the past 25-plus years. I was in therapy, at varying levels of frequency, for about five years.

[To read the entire entry, just go to the Page listed in the left-hand column as 18. Therapy and The Wall.]

Daddy – and back to Georgia

[This is Chap. 16 in the continuing narrative on My Way-finding. Previous chapters are Pages on this site, and links can be found in the menu to the left of the main entry.]

My daddy had a powerful influence on my life.

He was one of those larger-than-life characters who made an indelible impression on everyone, and he shaped me in ways that I’ve only recently begun to understand, though I’ve now outlived him by over a year. He was a tall, handsome man with a personal warmth and a charismatic speaking style that made him the best preacher I ever heard, though he wasn’t a preacher, he was a journalist.

His father and grandfather had both been Baptist preachers, active in the Georgia Baptist Convention and Mercer University, the Baptist college, but Daddy chose a different pulpit: a small-town weekly newspaper. He was a solid Baptist his whole life, and could fill any pulpit with a wonderful sermon, and he raised all of us to be dutiful Baptists as well. I was pretty much into that role until sometime in high school, and college broke me completely out of it (as I’ve related in earlier posts), but that never really came between us at the emotional level.

For much of my young life, I wanted to be him, but Vietnam – and all of the Vietnam era radicalism that I embraced – came between us in a big way. He had been a navigator on B-24’s in World War II, flying out of England in the storied raids on Hitler’s ball-bearing factories, and I became a war resister.

Well – first I joined the Air Force and became a pilot because I knew that would make him happy. But then I encountered the reality of the petty little empire-building escapade that we called, in our ignorance and arrogance, “the Vietnam War.” I went, despite my reticence, because I thought I really didn’t know what was going on there, going on in the world, going on in the exalted realms of the U.S. political system… so I should give up my foolish notions of knowing that it was all wrong and just go, like all the other people I knew who had gone and either died or come back.

And then I got there and found out it was every bit as depraved and stupid and immoral and deceptive and wrong as I had thought… and so after about nine months of it, I bailed. At least I tried to. I told them I wasn’t that into the war and wanted to be out of the Air Force.

They said, well, yes, but… no. You haven’t really done anything bad, you’ve played by the rules, been a good boy, so there’s no reason we should let you out before your commitment is up. So then I said, okay, fine, then I won’t do anything for you anymore. By then of course, I was back in the states and supposed to be an instructor, teaching guys to go there and do what I did for a year and ten days. (I was in country an extra ten days waiting for them to decide what to do with me, since I had an “administrative action pending”.)

It’s a long story, one I’ve related in my War Journal, which is on my website hoyama.org, but the upshot is, I finally got out. In the process of this, of course, my father and I had some serious, divisive, but inconclusive, discussions. He never really understood, though my mother supported me, and even after it was all over – my discharge, the war, the social debate – we never really talked about it at the level that we should have.

And then he died.

On his 66th birthday, really in the prime of his life, while I was living in Oregon, he went into heart bypass surgery and never regained consciousness. We rushed back to Georgia when they decided he needed the surgery, but he was still on the machine when we arrived, and his heart would never resume its work on its own, so he died as I stood in the intensive care ward watching him breathe and listening to the machines beep.

….

I was totally unprepared for the loss, and it flattened me.

I was pretty much lost in grief for some time, but eventually I repressed most of it and went back to my ignorance and denial. But it dug a hole in me that began to fester. All those unsaid things began to eat away my insides, All the regret and guilt of a lifetime eventually ate away my heart and my gut and replaced them with balls of molten metal.

About a year after Daddy’s death, Giana and Luke and I moved back to Georgia to be with my mom. She had been left pretty much alone when Daddy died, and though she was a strong and independent woman in many ways, the solitary life didn’t suit her. She needed family around, so we came.

Moving back to Georgia, I figured any hope of ever finding a Buddhist group to be part of was over. It was Georgia, the heart of Baptist-land. But I brought my Buddha-rupa, my carving, and set up a low-key altar in my house. I continued to think of myself as a Buddhist and read books about Buddhism.

And those balls of hot iron continued to grow inside me. I continued to descend into depression in longer and deeper spirals. I had never figured out that I needed to meditate on a regular basis. It seemed more like an exotic delicacy to be tasted at random, when in fact it’s as necessary as daily bread. So I suffered, and I visited that suffering on all those around me.

….

And then one day, our friend Claire came home from a weekend in Atlanta and told me about this wonderful thing she had found: a Zen center.