No one had ever questioned his work ethic. No one had ever questioned his loyalty and willingness to do whatever it took to protect and serve his family—especially his family. Everyone who knew him knew they could rely on him to be there for them, even before they asked or realized they needed help. He was everyone’s early threat detection system, combing not only his own horizon for hints of danger, but theirs as well. No one ever doubted Trev, except Trev.

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Somewhere early in life, Trev had co-authored a script (with an unknown ghostwriter) for a one-man performance featuring him as the “go to” guy. “I’ve got it,” was his mantra and motto, as evident in his behavior as if it were emblazoned on his chest. He was a man with a mission; always thinking, always planning, always one step ahead of whatever came or might. But somewhere along the path from childhood to adulthood, worry had hopped aboard, burrowing deeply into his psyche and taking on the unsolicited role as navigator. Always sitting, always watching, always sending up warning flares, doing what it thought it needed to do to help Trev through the hardships and challenges, worry was there.

By the time Trev realized how committed worry was to the success of his mission, it was too late, and he couldn’t quite shake it loose. Or perhaps he really didn’t want to, because worry also kept him on his toes, preparing him not only for the possibility of threat and danger, but also for everyday challenges and obstacles.

Years later, when a pandemic hit, Trev’s steady companion, as always, was right there by his side, ready to help him make sure that all his bases were covered, all protections had been put in place, and all efforts had been made to ensure that he and his family would be safe and healthy. Together, they hunkered down to do whatever it took to keep the ravages of the pandemic from their door.

But it came at a cost, and that’s when I entered the picture as his therapist. While I initially had it in my mind that this was going to be individual therapy, it soon became evident that couples work was to be done to help Trev manage the painful separation from his companion, who had grown tiresome and burdensome to him.

Our work was a blend of cognitive reframing and narrative therapy, with just a bit of psychic- surgery aimed at carefully excising worry without harming the highly effective problem-solving skill center of Trev’s threat-detection system. But these are not the metaphors I alluded to in the title of this essay.

As our work progressed and Trev became better able to understand the toll worry had taken on him, he also began to feel freer to live in the moment and to appreciate the small moments of joy that worry’s dark shadow had so effectively obscured. He realized that the heavy psychological lifting he had done in and for his life that had gotten him and his family to a place of security and safety was behind him. He finally understood at a deep and impactful level that he had earned the right to enjoy those small moments of joy that came with playing with his children, buying a few un-needed but highly desired jazz LP’s, (safely) enjoying small family get togethers, and strolling through the garden center at the local home improvement store.

He was finally emerging from a state of hibernation of sorts (my metaphor, not his) having shed the worrisome winter weight of worry. He thought it was a mid-life epiphany. I thought epiphany sufficiently described his awakening because “mid-life” is a socially constructed marker, the manifestation of someone else’s or a collective notion of how long a life is or should be and the need to place arbitrary signposts along the way…you know, “steep developmental curve ahead…midlife, 5 years….last exit before death.” But again, those are my metaphors, not his.

Trev’s metaphor was a bit darker and less comedic than mine, so perhaps that’s why I struggled to contain myself from sharing it with him. Following a medical visit where Trev learned that he had lost 20 pounds over the last several months, roughly coinciding with the impact of the pandemic, he was horrified, or perhaps scared—no doubt worry’s lingering legacy. He attributed the weight loss to the lack of physical activity and worry that came with months of fear and isolation. Trev perceived the weight loss as a breaking down and weakening. I, on the other hand, preferred the metaphor of shedding the unwanted weight of worry and trimming down psychologically in preparation for a lighter and more fulfilling journey through life…free to live.

I must confess at this point that I am a metaphor junky who falls in love with his own metaphors. So, it makes sense that my metaphor for Trev’s metamorphosis was more attractive to me than his was. And I was bursting at the seams (metaphoric pun intended) to share it. After all, aren’t analysts obligated to share their interpretations and cognitive therapists compelled to point out irrational thoughts and offer corrective ones in their place? So didn’t I have that same therapeutic license or imperative to share my metaphor? It was as if the damn thing was sitting on my shoulder poking me, saying, “Tell him, tell him, tell him.” But I refrained.

Back to the title of this essay. “Whose metaphor is it, anyway?” What might have happened in that moment were I to have inserted my metaphor in place of his? Might he have accepted it? Might he have rejected it? Would doing so have advanced his progress or slowed it? Might it have reinforced his insight or created the impression that my insight was more important than his? Might I have diminished him in doing so? Was my role to have been active and directive in that moment, or supportive and non-directive?

In my lighter moments when I am not quite as hard on myself, I believe that our work together brought him to the point of clarity and a metaphor that made sense to him, and him alone.

File under: Musings and Reflections