Democratic Underground

A Powerful Man Glimpses His Demons

July 12, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

"We're under confidentiality here, right? You can't ever tell anyone what I say to you, doctor/patient relationship, yes?"

That's correct. Under normal circumstances, I cannot be forced to reveal anything you say to me. Only if you're about to do imminent harm to yourself or others am I allowed to break that vow of silence.

"I mean I've got to know that what we say here is totally private. A close friend of mine told something to newspaper reporters and now is in big trouble because he thought that was confidential, too."

So, tell me why you are here.

"My wife said I had to come. She thinks I'm starting to doubt myself, get real moody, not enjoying myself like usual. In trouble, you know."

What kind of 'trouble'?

"I've been having bad dreams. Plus I'm under such pressure these days that I feel like I want to start drinking and blowing stuff up my nose again. In short, I feel like a piece of shit. Is that good enough for you?"

That is very honest. And brave to make those admissions to me. Now tell me about those bad dreams.

"I keep getting the same one over and over, night after night, and sometimes even in naps during the day. I'm swimming in a huge ocean that is covered in sticky black stuff, like molasses; I can hardly move. Then the molasses or whatever suddenly starts turning red, and I hear moans of agony all around me. I realize that I'm crying red tears. It occurs to me that the ocean is made up of my tears. And that's when I wake up, covered in sweat."

Why do you think you are crying in the dream?

"If I knew the answer that, I wouldn't be paying you, doc! (pause) The images from this dream keep coming back to me during the day, and it's interfering with my work. I can't concentrate. And I'm getting facial tics and drooping mouth on one side again."

Well, let's think this one through. People usually cry because they're in great pain or depression. In the dream, you don't seem to be in pain, or depressed, just frustrated by having to swim so slowly in the black sticky stuff. Are you crying because of that difficulty?

"No, I don't think so."

People also cry because of happiness, which doesn't seem to be the case here. Or sometimes they cry because they're inflicting unhappiness or pain on other people, and that makes them feel terribly sad. You say in the dream you hear the moans of agony all around you.

"Yes, I think I do feel sad like that. I don't like it when people don't like me."

Now that's an interesting thing to say. I didn't even mention that one. Tell me more about that.

"I'm always smiling and joking, trying to make people like me. And hardly anybody does. My whole life has been like that. Doesn't matter how much I try to be jolly and joshing, it always seems to come out wrong and people guess that I'm just play-acting, insincere."

Did your parents think that of you when you were growing up?

"I don't see any reason why shrinks always want to be talking about parents. They don't have anything to do with this dream."

Often, how we felt when we were young stays with us, and when we are under a great deal of stress, those feelings from childhood are re-activated. Your job is filled with constant pressure, and perhaps some of those childhood feelings are returning and making you sad.

"Well, OK. (pause) I always tried to please my parents - who I thought were ashamed of me, always measuring me against my brothers and others - and that did make me sad."

Angry, too?

"Yes, angry. Maybe that's what people see when I'm horsing around, that anger just beneath the surface. I like it that they're afraid of me, I like that kind of power over people, but I also wish they'd appreciate me more, that they'd see how hard I'm working, and would like me."

When you felt this way as a youth and as a young man, what did you do with this anger? Did you ever confront your parents? Or did you just hold it all inside?

"Mostly, I held it in, though I did torture some animals, frogs mainly. But I did things that I knew would embarrass my parents, and make them angry at me. I guess I didn't think all that much of myself at the time, and engaged in self-destructive behaviors like drinking and drugs and getting arrested for DUIs and things like that."

I'm guessing that that type of behavior didn't really help you.

"Only for the moment. It went on for many years. Even my wife and daughters, who I love, couldn't snap me out of it. I knew I was in trouble. Jesus turned me around."

But you still seem, on so many occasions in public and in private, to be having problems with your anger. Maybe you went from relying on intoxicants to relying on religion, as if you're still in an addictive pattern, so to speak, but with a different crutch helping you out.

"I don't like your disrespecting my religious beliefs; my trust in Jesus is real, not a crutch. You're crossing over the line, doc! You better watch what you say. (long pause) I wasn't sure: Did you mean maybe the anger is still driving me and nothing I do to hide it or keep it in check is going to work. Is that what you're saying?"

Actually, YOU just said that, and it's very wise. It sounds as if you realize that you have some major issues to work on, and maybe that's why, after all these years, you knew your wife was right that you should see a therapist.

"I never admit weakness or uncertainty. I believe God is beside me, helping me to make my decisions, that I'm speaking for The Lord. That's just who I am. I make a lot of decisions, and my political enemies would crush me if they spotted any opening, any sign of weakness. But my wife is right. She knows how awful I'm feeling these days. Those damn dreams won't let go of me."

Dreams and depression often are wake-up calls. So let's spend some more time on the images in that dream. We know that you were sad because of all the voices moaning in agony. Let's try to figure out other things. What does the black sticky stuff remind you of, for example?

"Well, it probably wasn't really blackstrap molasses. You're talking to a former oil man. I know what that stuff in my dream was; I've had in on my hands many times."

Oceans are often a symbol of the unconscious. Here, in this dream, you're in an ocean - wondering if it is made up of your tears - and that water is covered in this oily substance. What does the former oil man make of that?

"Well, maybe the war. I started that war for, among other reasons, to make sure we rather than bad guys controlled the oil in a region that is fast running out of the stuff. (pause) Hey, I just had this thought right now: maybe the red that comes into the dream, into that oil, is the blood of those who have died in that war."

Could your dream be suggesting that maybe, like a father, you feel deep sadness and maybe even some responsibility for the deaths of the young people you've sent to help control that oil, and the civilians caught up in the war also, and that's why you're crying those red tears? And that few people appreciate what you're doing, indeed you feel they don't like your war and you much at all, which reminds you of how you were treated by your parents when you were younger? No wonder this dream makes you sad, and wakes you up in a cold sweat.

"I think you're on to something there, doc. A person in my position accepts a terrible burden when sending young men and women into harm's way; you know many of them won't come back, but that's the price - a necessary price - a nation has to pay to maintain its position in the world. The civilians are just collateral damage."

I wasn't talking about a nation. You are my client. I was suggesting that your dream seems to be indicating that you, the one who is crying bloody tears, may feel some guilt for having sent off troop, maybe for mistaken reasons, in order to control the oil reserves.

"I don't like that kind of talk. They told me you were one of my supporters, that you voted for me and gave big money to my campaign. Why are you trying to make me feel bad, make me doubt myself? Are you really a Democrat?"

I am a life-long Republican, who happens to believe you are capable of being one of America's great leaders. But in this room during a therapy session, I have no political opinions. I am concerned only with helping the person who happens to be sitting in the chair opposite me. Actually, all I am doing is feeding back to you what you told me, what your dream was telling you. If you are willing to think about the possibility of sharing some guilt about mistakenly sending off soldiers to fight for oil, then we have to deal with that. If those images don't resonate with you, then we move on to something else.

"I told you, there is a terrible burden that comes with sending off troops. But I and my advisers believe that the price of the dead is worth it, if we can keep evil people from getting their hands on the world's oil reserves, and if we can defeat terrorists, and if we can bring democracy and free markets to those living under autocratic regimes in the Middle East and thus change the geopolitical situation in that region. That's a lot to control, but I don't lose sleep over my decisions, let me tell you."

You have told me quite something else. You said that these nightmare images are interfering with your ability to do your job, are waking you up in the middle of the night, and even invading your thoughts during daytime hours, and are causing you some bothersome physical and mental symptoms. Sounds to me like you don't wish to talk about where your dream is taking you.

"That's enough! Everything you've said in our session is bringing me down, attacking me, bringing my parents into this, giving aid and comfort to our enemies, besmirching the honor of our good, grave soldiers. I want you to leave."

Did you just hear what you said? You referred to our troops as 'our good, grave soldiers.'

"I meant brave. It's just a slip of the tongue, and you're trying to make a federal case out of it. You're outta here! Right now! You'll get your check in the mail."

You're doing it again, sir. A quick fix - another drink, another toot, a one-off session with a shrink - so that you won't have to deal with the shadow matter underneath, the stuff that drags you down and makes you feel bad about yourself and others. If you're really serious about wanting to heal yourself, and stop these kind of nightmares, you're going to have to deal with those demons at some point, and my experience teaches me that it's always better to deal with them now than wait until they're in total control and you're in nervous-breakdown stage. You've demonstrated just in a first session today that you have good insights about what you're thinking underneath all that power and feigned jollity. I'd recommend that we keep at it for awhile, and see where it takes you.

"Just get the fuck out of my house. And don't ever come back - unless you want a one-way ticket to a nice governmental resort in Cuba."

I'm sorry you feel that way, sir. But I understand: therapy often frightens people; they're opening doors that long have been sealed off, for good reason. So take your time processing what we spoke about today, and if and when you want to talk some more - I'll be available. Goodbye.

(exits, door closes)

"Goddamn loser. Fuck 'im, I've got a war to win!"

Bernard Weiner, a playwright/poet, has written numerous political fantasias for The Crisis Papers, which he co-edits. A Ph.D. in government & international relations, he has taught at various universities and worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle. Send comments to crisispapers@comcast.net.

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