A Season for Tea: Contemplation and Closure
By Sean Inderbitzen, LCSW
Solace & Sipping Tea
Winter in Duluth, Minnesota is frosty. A city built around the time of the civil war, it rests, unencumbered by its cityscape along the wavy coast of Lake Superior. It truly is a magnificent sight, with its man-made landscape almost seamlessly merge into its snowy forest surrounding. That’s the beautiful part of this part of the world, it’s hard to know where man’s work ends and where mother nature begins. And at this time of year it’s all covered in white. However I must highlight the need for tea in this season.
As a person on the spectrum, I’ve spent the better part of the last few years giving talks, writing articles, winning research grants, and a fair amount of teaching. Most of my work has been highlighting the mental health needs of those on the spectrum, and clients have ranged from governments to foundations, and spanned physicians to psychologists. And yet with all this success I find not nearly as much joy in this as I do this cup of tea.
I’ve made a career off of being competitive and at times cold. Perhaps an adaptive reaction to my childhood or my losses, I find this way of being rather unsustainable. As a result I took a holiday in New England over Thanksgiving. I needed to get away, see family and friends, and remember who I was. And during that getaway and I recognized the need for more moments in my life to drink tea.
Moments to sit in coffee shops, listen to the northern clamor, and to allow that liquid to ease my throat. Moments to sit and watch my boys, as they build with their Legos, and tinker with their things, and to embrace the happiness of the mess that is my life. And in this mess I’ve taken a step back at work, going from working 50 hours a week down to 32.
And as I struggle to the rhythm of going slow, not being hypervigilant my nervous system comes with it. Scheduling has changed, in the sense that my work has gone from largely paid work that I must bear, to work that brings me sheer joy. It fills my mug with tea, rather than drains it, and creates space for the pain I both listen to and bear.
And for those of you who have followed my work over the seasons here at Different Brains, know I carry with me a great deal of pain. In hindsight a fair number of my earlier articles highlight the loss of a love story in my life. A love story that I once thought would be my entire future, one in which the way that person left did not leave me with a ton of answers. Which has made me think a lot about closure as I sip, and lounge against the backdrop of clamor.
Closure when I started this journey with Different Brains really meant getting some answers. To which there were none. The only answers were a series of frequent panic attacks, screaming on the phone to amazing friends, and texting lots of people who knew I needed a great deal of love. For a while the pain was about me, and what I did to lead to the end of the relationship (of which some was my responsibility). In many ways those early questions haunted me much like a ghost which thanks to my neurology, my own traumatic history, and the events of the relationship ending was a frequent source of self-flagellation. Akin to the Catholics who whip themselves to pay penance, so too did I inflict pain wondering what I had done to deserve such treatment. But in this dark space I had to begin to face myself, and my many parts.
Parts of me that I didn’t like that much, fast part’s (hypervigilant parts), fix it parts (managers), and some exiles. And those exiles parts, oh how lonely they were in that darkness of self-disgust, and how hidden they were. However as these parts have come to the surface, and I have come to trust them as they have me, that idea of closure has shifted. It has required more moments to sip and listen.
Listening to the feedback of others on how the relationship I was in really was unhealthy from the start. Listening to my therapist who repeatedly reflects back to me how I have parts that willfully engage in ignorance to believe whatever myth others fabricate. Like the myth of being someone’s person, and that they could walk off without so much as trying or any kind of explanation. And yet somehow they can, somehow a person can be that horrible, not try, and move on as if you never met a thing to them.
And in that solace of acknowledging the bitter truth of how that person did not love me is a deeper truth. The truth that I don’t have to live with them anymore. I never have to speak to them, see them, or even acknowledge their existence. And in that is freedom. The freedom to know I never have to tolerate this type of treatment again.
So closure has changed, it has gone from holding the torch for someone I thought was the love of my life, too acknowledging the rather difficult facts, and receiving that I need time. Time to meet people like the generous, kind and brilliant mentor I have Dr. Stephen Porges, who continues to challenge me to be open and expansive in my thinking. Time to watch my boys grow-up. Time to enjoy the northern clamor, reading, people watching, and writing. But for now the warmth of sipping.
Sean is a Behavioral Health Therapist, and lives with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has a caseload with 33% of his patients that live with ASD and varying comorbid psychiatric conditions. Prior to being a mental health clinician, he was a Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist for Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for 3 years. He was also appointed by Governor Walker to the Statewide Independent Living Council of Wisconsin. He is an incoming member to the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers, and provides training on motivational interviewing, ASD and employment, and ASD and comorbid psychiatric conditions. For more info, find him at Seaninderbitzen.com or on LinkedIn.