A Powerful Man Glimpses His Demons
July 12, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The
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,
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,
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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
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
I'm guessing that that type of behavior didn't really help
"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
"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,
"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
"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
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 email@example.com.
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