Last week we had our first class of Adolescence and adolescent therapy of the Semester.
The lecturer asked us to recount our own adolescent experiences in two minutes and to share what was missing given what we know now.
It was a moving experience listening to others’ stories which ranged from those who had a relatively stable and secure adolescence to those whose adolescent experience was dysfunctional and traumatic.
I don’t miss that period of my life. It was confusing, violent and I daresay the appearance of alcohol ‘saved’ my life. Alcohol served as a distraction from what I thought was my normal. I couldn’t ask anyone if what I was dealing with could be sorted. I was told acne was a normal part of growing into manhood. I hated the acne and Cleartone Cream, from London, New York and Paris, was not helping to quash it. Perhaps not putting Nairobi in the mix did me in.
What alcohol quietened was the internal raging storm. However, as dependence is wont to do, I now needed more of it to get the same quiet. But I couldn’t and hence I got violent and very very noisy when all I wanted was a bit of quiet.
What was missing, as I shared in class last week, was that everyone, in the name of helping me, came with questions to sort out their discomfort. My maths teacher’s concern was why I was failing his subject. My tutor asked me why I did not heed his advice to select history and literature; he wondered why I would pick chemistry and physics that I had done so poorly in and was bound to fail later in my ‘O’ Levels. Which actually happened. I got a 9 in both and helped Strathmore come second in Kenya in 1987 KCEs.
The school priest told me, though a former classmate disputes this, that wet dreams were sinful. Honestly, that’s the way I remember it being told. I didn’t even know what was happening and there were no explanations then. Besides, at home, I was an only dude in an all-female household. No one to ask there. The psychiatrist also told me that I was inviting curses through my violent and delinquent behavior.
Additionally, my extended family members asked why I reigned terror on the immediate family when I really should’ve been eternally grateful for all the sacrifices my mum had made to afford us a decent lifestyle.
At the risk of sounding like I still blame others, I shared that what was missing is that I don’t once recall being asked what was going on with me or even what I really wanted. Not once.
I do understand the why of it now.
Later as a parent, and despite being in recovery a long while at one point in 2013/14, I drove my then newly teenage son to desperation when I tried to assert my authority with violence and shaming strategies. I sought therapy mainly because I was scared by my behavior and attitude towards my son. (I will talk about my counseling experience in another post). I embarked on a long trust rebuilding journey. Working on restoring that relationship with my son has been a hard one.
Recently, we had a breakdown at home with my son aka HRH. I consulted my father in law, the closest I have ever come to calling another man dad (also story for another day) and he suggested that instead of instructing and directing HRH on what to do, that we ask him what he really wanted from us and what he wanted us to know about him.
The result was nothing short of miraculous. HRH named what he would be responsible for and asked us to also do the same. We have a negotiated structure with clear boundaries. And it seems too simple to be true. It’s working.
In my sessions with clients, I am now frequently asking them to state what they want. And to allow wonder to have a say. It is not easy because most of the clients say they do not feel they have permission to say what they want. More so, stating what they want does not necessarily mean they will get it. So, they ask what the point is. I can’t tell them the answer, because again the answer is not the point. The process of naming what they want seems like some sort of initiation process into one’s own grown-up self.
I think a state of being that allows us to state what we want in a space of integrity, love and freedom will lead us to create more of integrity, love and freedom in our relationships. It really is about causing the miraculous because as I read somewhere, miracles are accidents and our job is to be as accident-prone as possible.
Mine is to create the blackspots.