Retirement leaves time for pondering self, relationships


After living on this earth for more than 70 years, I have finally had to admit to myself that I am a misfit. As I look back on my life, I can see that it was always so, but with going to school, marriage, children and working, I was always able to suppress this thought. Now I am retired and living in Las Vegas, and it is time to face the truth. Now I am filled with feelings of hatred, anger, spite and jealousy. I know the answer should be, "You are what you are, it is what it is, so deal with it." But that is the whole problem. How do you deal with it? -- MKB, Las Vegas

Shall I take you literally that, until recently, you have been suppressing the thought of being a misfit? Because repressing a thought is different from denying a fact. I mean, there are any number of thoughts that parade in and out of my head on a given day that deserve to be repressed, rejected, gagged or otherwise ignored. For example:

I am nothing. I am everything. I am all alone. I should spend this free hour channel surfing. I should be famous by now. I'll never be in love again. I should try harder to fall in love. I'm entitled to (fill in the blank). People should give me money for no reason. Nobody gets me. Nobody knows me. I don't belong.

Or, how 'bout, I'm a misfit.

I'm asking, MKB: What sort of evidence does one gather to conclude he/she is a misfit? Is it because, in retirement, you feel hatred, anger, spite and jealousy? And, if you and I could agree this was definitive evidence of "misfittedness," how is it you know you've always been a misfit?

Always is a long time.

Are you saying you've always suppressed hatred, anger, spite and jealousy with the distractions of school, marriage, child-rearing and work? And, if the latter, then why wouldn't you merely conclude that, at the glorious age of 70, some gracious force in the universe has given you the time to examine and work through some unlovely emotions, untended wounds and no-longer-useful ideas about life?

Misfit? If it seems like I'm picking your words apart, well, there's a reason.

Question: What do all people seeking mental health services have in common?

Answer: They are suffering some combination of alienation and estrangement.

I'm being coy, actually. Eventually all people have this in common, not merely those who seek therapy.

Alienation means a crisis of belonging. We are alien. We don't belong.

Estrangement means the painful disruption of the bonds of relationship. Interpersonal injuries and injustices. To become estranged is to become a stranger to the one we love and by whom we are loved.

I'm saying your use of the word "misfit" sounds like a crisis of alienation and estrangement.

A&E crises come in three flavors, often scooped together in the same bowl:

Actual A&E: Important relationships sometimes unravel (become estranged). Sometimes, the cause is egregious injury done to the other. Other times relationships just unravel. Some people are actually alienated by society. Old people, gay people, poor people, Fierce Truth-tellers -- some people are quite deliberately excluded in whole or in part from belonging.

Existential A&E: Contained in the collective human consciousness there is a universal and essential experience of alienation and estrangement as existential reality. Silly religions deny this. Significant religions describe it, narrate it, concretize it in great stories such as Adam and Eve's banishment from the Garden of Eden (Judaism), or it is symbolized in broken bread and wine poured out (Christianity).

Intra-psychic A&E: People presenting themselves in therapy come to explore their alienation and estrangement with self. The brokenness between me and me. They come to gather and reconcile the disconnected and often wounded pieces and parts of identity.

When we are alienated and estranged from self, we tend to experience ourselves as likewise alienated and estranged from the world. If I chronically experience myself as "misfitted" for normal human communion, then it behooves me to examine how I am fitted and misfitted in myself.

I'm asking, MKB: Is there work ahead for you? A journey of selfhood? Count me among those who would admire you and cheer you on.

Originally published in View News, Nov. 25, 2008.