Friday, January 28, 2011

A Personal History and Reflections

I would like to present some of the personal histories that people have given me about their journeys through Therafields. Each highlights some aspects of the issues that I have written about as well as particular features of his or her own experiences and reflections. The first of these histories was given to me by a man in an interview in 1997:

“In the spring of 1964 a priest I knew mentioned casually a woman therapist whom he was seeing. I’d always thought that if I saw someone I would like it to be a woman, so I got her number and called her. I was late as always. A cab took me there but I had the wrong number. When I arrived and saw her she seemed a strange lady. We went up to her room on the second floor. She was wearing sunglasses in a darkened room and a green smock. She looked weird but I kind of liked her. I went blathering away about being late and the first thing she said to me was, “You’re very apologetic, aren’t you. Why is that?” I had no idea – for being alive? After I had seen her for several weeks I talked about her to all of my chums.

Lea was on Brunswick Ave then. She started telling me about groups. I wasn`t interested at all. It sounded horrendous. She practically had to sedate me. But by the summer I went into my first group – which was absolutely hair-raising for me. There was a roundish table. She had told me in advance who would be there – a seminarian, a teacher, a truck driver. I got them all wrong. It was awful. I hated every group. At the end of the summer she talked about a house group. I said that I had left my boarding house experiences behind in England. But against my better judgement I did move in. I moved into 477 Brunswick with Mitzi, Grant, Barry, Mike Mohan, Richard Taylor, Bernice, Liz Follis, and Bob someone who didn`t stay long. Lea had moved over to 59 Admiral Road. I was at 477 for two years. It was a great house group. That was the beginning of some important friendships, with these really good people, good friends. Then I had two years at 32 Admiral Road. I was in Therafields for seven years, leaving in 1971. I had been in four house groups, the last one being 123-5 Admiral Road. I hated it; it was so chaotic. I moved out but went on working with people for a little while. Then in 1971 I told Barry that I wanted to leave altogether and he took my clients for me. I went to Dallas, Texas for six months. I felt relieved about getting out but guilty as hell at the same time.

When I first met Lea the huge army of people who came along later didn`t exist. It was one-on-one therapy and she was wonderful. She was full of hope and I felt very encouraged by her. She pointed out lots of ways that I was holding myself back, all kinds of things that wouldn`t have occurred to me in a million years. It was unbelievable. Because I was so enthusiastic about her, all my friends started to drift in. I was a scardy cat about the house groups but I loved it on Brunswick and at 32 Admiral. We had friends everywhere. I loved all that social part of it, the dances, the picnics, etc. What I hated was the big groups. I eventually got over that, especially when I was a therapist and a group therapist. What I didn`t like and resisted from the first was this society within a society that was being shoved down our throats. I felt it right at the beginning when we moved into Brunswick. Lea was talking about some kind of empire building that I was uncomfortable with. She didn`t spell it out but she had an image of something. I was picking up signals and was uncomfortable. Once in the group room at 59 she said -- we’ve got to have more houses, you know, and the real estate in the annex is very expensive. She turned to me and said -- but would you want to go out to Runnymede? There were only about three houses then but I could see that it was becoming a movement and that there wouldn`t be a place for me. She used to say that two years should be the maximum time in therapy and then one should leave. But it seemed to have changed. Now it was a whole life. At 32 Admiral Datsi said once -- we`ll have our own restaurants, our own graveyards, our own priests, our own religion. We howled with laughter because we could see exactly where it was headed and none of my friends liked that direction. How were we all going to live? Would it always be in these rooms, in houses, paying very high rent for a room in a house and having your whole life scrutinized and analyzed? I wanted out but I was burdened with patients and was trying to keep my feelings about this to myself while I was working with people. It was very hard, painful and foul. I felt better when I moved out on my own but it wasn`t easy.

I don`t regret that seven years. It was a way to get through the ‘sixties. Everyone was crazy in the sixties anyway; there was so much happening. The friends that I made in Therafields were the most important thing. On the whole, I liked almost everyone. If I run into anyone from those days now, it`s always marvellous. It`s something we all shared – the horror and the wonder. You can’t take that away. I imagine it`s something like being in the military – it’s intense, but thank God it`s over. No one on the outside will ever really understand what it was like. I`m not sure if I gained anything from the therapy. I`ve asked myself that question many times over the years. I don`t feel bitter over the experience even though Lea drove me nuts. I couldn’t ever be honest. She was always holding me up: Let`s ask him. He`s the one person whose always tells the truth. I thought, God, if I ever did tell the truth, you`d find me hung in the morning. She`d be mad at me. She didn’t want the truth at all, I don`t think. I mean she wanted it when it was to help someone else. If it was about the organization or her kids, never. I’m not stupid. I knew she didn’t want the truth so I didn’t say it. It would have been nice for her if she had seen in me a fellow adult with a brain who had something helpful and true to say to her about her children or about her own personal relationships. But I wouldn’t risk it. In the end that`s what made me so angry with her. She forced me to bullshit and I hated myself for it. Two other people have said the same thing about their relationship with her. Once or twice they did tell her the truth and she fell on them like a ton of bricks. She wasn`t interested. But I guess the therapy itself did do me good. The ideas that I absorbed and now live with me came from 1964 when I first met her. Some I reject and some I don`t. I`ve never felt bitter about any of it because it was too offset by the good things.

I remember Lea saying once to someone in a group -- don`t ever tell anybody anything if you can`t tell it with love. She really meant it. I`ve always tried to practice that because it`s true. The things that I wanted to tell her would have hurt her so much that I couldn`t do it. I felt badly about Harry for one thing. I didn`t know him well. My first encounter with him was at 477 Brunswick where he`d slide cups of tea in to me at sessions. He was old country stock. I have no idea what he was like as a husband and a father but he seemed like a nice old guy.

Barry had lived at the Howland Ave house before he lived with us at 477. I could tell that he was Lea’s boy wonder. The two that she solicited most for their opinions were him and Gus, to a lesser extent, Jack. They were the reliable ones. Barry was good; he seemed very clean in his opinions. I never had the feeling from him that he was just giving the party line. He had a good way of establishing a rapport with people one-on-one. To me he was like a kid brother and we had a lot of fun. We couldn`t have been more unalike except in our enjoyment of the old music. I was able to tell him the truth when I was fed up with Lea and the way things were going in Therafields. He was understanding and tried to help me over the hump without making me tow the party line. Generally, I was treated delicately by the family because they liked me and they knew that I wouldn`t take too much pressure. They encouraged me in some ways to be myself.

I talked to Barry the week before he died. He said that he was scared to death of the surgery he was about to have. He was a terrific loss. I felt that at some point he had put all of the Therafields stuff at arm’s length. I suspect that he knew that his own integrity was endangered. He was a Governor General Award winner and he had a reputation that went beyond Therafields. He was able to straddle both worlds and do it with √©lan. I think that toward the end he put some distance between Rob and himself.

One other thing. I am and always was and always will be a Catholic. My parents were devout and I go to Mass almost every day. I didn`t like what was happening to my religious practice during my time in Therafields though I think it was a sign of the times in the 1960s. After two years or so in therapy I stopped going to church altogether but when my sister died in 1971 it turned me totally around. I feel terrible about what happened to all of those priests in Therafields. Stan Kutz was a kind of spiritual director for me at the Newman Centre. I thought he was a really good priest. I liked him very much. He reminded me of men in my family like my father. Mike Quealey too. I knew him as a priest. There were so many – Ken Plotnik and Maurice. I thought it was bad that they left the priesthood. I felt so at the time and I feel that way even more now. I don`t know what their problems were but they were good priests, the kind we should have. They were sensitive and tough when they needed to be. They were kind, super people. And the nuns too. There is a real shortage of people like that in the church right now. I had become indifferent to the church but my sister`s dying changed all of that in an instant. That`s when I started working to get out of Therafields. Those two communities couldn`t mix.

There was a really bad feeling then about anyone leaving. The apartment building that I moved into was dubbed Paranoid Towers as though those of us who moved there were the paranoids. It was horrible. It hadn`t happened often to me while I was a part of the community but on one occasion I was the low man on the totem pole. When that happened to you, you`re life was hell. Everybody knew that you were the bad guy. I saw other people living that way, isolated from all of their friends. I remember saying to Mike Mohan once around 1967 or 1968 -- I think the people that get ground down most are Stan Kutz and me. But then it stopped for me. I wasn`t any longer seen as a dangerous psychotic, undermining the foundations and so on, but Stan was. He was roasted. It was after his marriage and it went on for months. Different people were stigmatized at different times. It was from Lea and it was endorsed by Barry at times. He may have agreed that someone seemed like a danger to the community. My friends, the ‘group of friends,’ were looked upon as practically fifth columnists. Lea had us turning against one another. She talked about us all to the others. I`ll never forget some of the things she said about my close friends. She said to me once -- you may not always see these people, you know. But I do. Nothing has changed; we are still friends. She didn’t really understand friendship.

Then there was the farm. The worst experience for me was around Christmas time in 1968. Josie picked who she wanted for a project and we went to the farm for about a week. During that time Howard Lever committed suicide. Lea said -- we`ve got to have an emergency group. Everyone must come to the farm. It was scheduled for Sunday. Something warned me not to go so I volunteered to stay and look after Matt. I`m so glad I didn`t go. Lea turned it into a fund-raiser. A friend of mine was there. She was working with Stan Kutz. She never lived in a house group. She went up to the meeting and she described it as horrendous and so did everyone else. Lea turned it all into this thing to buy the Phoenix – a place for schizophrenics like Howard who could be there and be surrounded with help. There would be a soothing green room and a conservatory. I thought it was pipe dream No.28. Of course, it was purchased and it became personal property.

Lea developed a lot of strange feelings about homosexuality over time but it wasn`t like that at the beginning at all. She would see inter-personal relationships as the place that we really had to work. Sexuality never had a chance to come up, not because she stifled it, but because it wasn`t her focus. She never seemed to want to focus on the sex act primarily. Now and then she would say -- that`s very homosexual, you know. People would have a hard time knowing what she meant. She was more interested in unconscious hostility toward women. She seemed to be saying that a lot of men, maybe most men, felt this. It was like a cancer and had to be gotten at. People having sex with someone of their own gender wasn`t of interest to her. She was more interested in latent homosexuality and the way it manifested itself in hostility to women. She had us all read Bergler`s Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life. He had hope for a cure for homosexuals. She thought if there wasn`t too much damage to a person that he might be able to develop heterosexually. In 1971 this approach wasn`t seen as homophobic. Homosexuality was seen as a disorder that needed to be treated. It didn`t seem to bother her if people were sexual with one another. It seemed more of a concern to her how people felt about themselves and others. When I left Therafields I didn`t care to hear anything more about this or about psychology. But ten years later some of my chums who were still there felt that they were being force-fed heterosexuality.”

In my next post I will give the experiences of two people who were profoundly and adversely affected by the tenor of theory and practice with respect to homosexuality.

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