Becoming the Living Poet

Moving Is A Lot Like Therapy

Posted on: May 4, 2009

I’ve been doing a lot of self-work lately (see any destuckification post) working on my pathological perfectionism and self esteem issues. I’ve even been seeing a therapist (I’m trying not to be ashamed of this, my friends keep telling me it’s just a good self maintenance thing, let’s see if posting this on my blog makes it feel less embarrassing).

Lately I’ve been thinking about how the moving process is a lot like therapy.

I’ve lived in the same apartment for about 2 years (for people who’ve been living in a house for over a decade I’d imagine the moving process is even more painful) and in that time I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff.

Right now I’m in a long distance relationship, but less than a year ago my partner was living with me. My partner’s move was very sudden. One minute we’re fretting over grad school rejection letters. The next we’re frantically packing bags and buying plane tickets because the long-shot European school has offered a full scholarship and the fall session is starting in a little over a month. So a lot of the stuff in my apartment isn’t even mine, which makes the process even more surreal.

I’m not the most organized person in the world (understatement of the year), particularly when it comes to paperwork so in my closet I have boxes and boxes of old school work from college, documents I thought needed to be kept, old magazines, programs from plays I’ve attended, ticket stubs from concerts I went to. Anything I was too afraid to throw away for the last 8 years (since I’ve been pretty lax about the stuff I got rid of the last couple moves because they were within city limits) is still in my closet. Yahoo maps informs me that when I move to San Francisco I’ll be moving 503.19 miles away from sunny San Diego. If there was ever a time to streamline my life, this is it.

So starting with my bookshelves (all 5 of them), I’ve been going through my things.

Step 1 is weeding out the stuff that is my partner’s that I don’t want to lug with me across multiple county lines. In a moment of serendipity, it turns out my partner’s parents are moving to a larger house a couple of weeks after I plan to move. They’ve offered to store the bulk of my partner’s stuff until the European master’s degree getting process has been completed. So phase one is essentially figuring out where my lover ends and I begin.

It’s a necessary, but incredibly painful process. This November we will have been together for 4 years and in that time, despite my resolution that the two of us remain two fully separate people, we’ve merged a great deal. Even across thousands of miles we still enjoy a remarkably symbiotic relationship.

I don’t regret the merging. I think resisting it was necessary because prior to being with my partner I was the sort of person who eagerly anticipated finding the person who would complete me and as a result every time I got into a relationship I would alter myself (sometimes dramatically), largely to fit the needs of the other person. My partner and I were friends for 3 or 4 years before we became an “us” and one of the things that both of us were adamant about was that 1 & 1 would always make 2 as long as we were together. Establishing that tenet early allowed us to grow to rely on each other slowly and reciprocally. It gave us time and space to create a healthy, lasting relationship without having the intense pressure that can strain a pairing in which both people are trying really, really hard to create a healthy, lasting relationship.

This move has kind of brought home the point that while I’m not alone (my partner’s been providing packing moral support over Skype on the weekends), I still feel like I’m very much on my own with this one. I’m doing the boxing, I’m deciding what I should take and what I shouldn’t, and the only person who will be using any of these things over the next year is me (though I’m still hoping my new apartment mate will love Rockband as much as I do) so I have to decide what things I need, rather than what things we need.

So I kind of abandoned the therapy metaphor in favor of expository background information, but I think you’re beginning to see where this is going.

In my self-work I’ve been thinking a lot about what stuff is me and what stuff is my family, my past hurts, my beliefs I think I have, but don’t really have. I’m trying to find that voice that mumbles to me sometimes and tells me things like, move to San Francisco and become a poet (I sure hope that’s the me voice and not one of the self-sabotaging voices – cross fingers and knock on wood). I’m trying to remove some of the garbage and debris to give that quiet little voice a little more breathing room and make it easier to hear.

And the process is scary, messy, and demoralizing just like the moving process is.

When you’re trying to pack up all your stuff and put it into nice neatly stacked boxes in the corner of your apartment there’s always an intermediate step where it looks like your apartment just got hit by an earthquake and you’re still cowering in a door frame and haven’t had time to pick anything up yet. Before order there is chaos. This is true of moving, organizing, deep cleaning, and it’s also true of therapy.

My first week (perhaps month) of therapy, metaphysically speaking, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I was finding old hurts I hadn’t thought about in years and now that I was poking at them they were pussing and bleeding all over the place (I know this is a nasty image, but it was a nasty process). I thought I was falling apart and if I hadn’t had good friends telling me that it was perfectly normal for the beginning of therapy to be accompanied by frequent crying jags and the general horrible, frightening feeling of falling into one’s demons without a parachute, I’d have quit therapy and it would have felt like good riddance.

I think the thing I hate most about moving is the chaos. Sure I have a lot of stuff I don’t need and I’ve been meaning to get rid of it anyway, but sometimes I wish the stuff in the junk drawer could just stay in the drunk drawer and not be strewn across the dining room table. Out of sight, out of mind – that’s been my cleaning motto for the last 2 years – and that’s been my modus operatus for my emotional and mental clutter as well. If I can repress it, if I can still be productive, then it doesn’t matter. If there’s a mental health mess that is affecting my personal or professional life, then by all means clean it up, but if there’s a place to bury it just put it there. It saves time that way.

The trouble with the bury it somewhere or throw it in a drawer method of mental and spacial housekeeping is that eventually you’ll want to leave your emotional comfort zone or you’ll want to move 500 miles away, and the dead weight of everything you’ve been shoving in a metaphysical or literal cubby hole will make itself known to you. For the first time in years you’ll have to really look at the junk and the gems you’ve been letting accumulate and decide which is which. You’ll have to stare down that deep-seated inferiority complex you’ve been carrying around like a spare tire for most of your adult life. You’ll have to flip through those 12 notebooks that you filled with old lecture notes, poems of varying quality, and semi-brilliant insights and then threw in a box convinced at the time you’d want to revisit who you were in 2004 someday.

So moving is a lot like therapy and I always thought I despised therapy, but lately I’ve developed a grudging fondness for the process of tentatively realizing that you can still be a good person if you’re not mentally bludgeoning yourself within an inch of your life every time you make a mistake.

And maybe I sort of like the moving process because I know that when it’s finished for the first time in 8 years I’ll have an accurate mental inventory of how many books I own, how many dishes are in the cupboard, etc…. I’ll know that everything I’ve taken with me was a possession I chose to continue owning with all the obligations that ownership implies.

Maybe moving is itself a useful form of self-work rather than just a ginormous pain in the pants pockets. Just don’t ask me to admit it aloud. Ever.

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3 Responses to "Moving Is A Lot Like Therapy"

What an interesting idea! Here’s a weird thing: lately I have been thinking about what a huge pain it would be to move. How the WORK involved would be entirely overwhelming. I’ve lived in the same house for over a decade, so that is part of it. But now I also wonder how much of it is a resistance to working on my stuff….You know, you have inspired me. Even though I have no plans to move in the immediate future, I am going to do some big, BIG spring cleaning, go through and weed out stuff. In that process, I will also be working on dealing with the internal stuff, the past and all its wounds. Thank you!

Glad you found it helpful. Have you ever read the story “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien? It’s a short story about soldiers in the Vietnam war, but one of the most interesting things about the story is that the things the soldiers carry are both physical objects like canteens and photographs and mental ones like memories and feelings of missing home. In the story the physical objects and the mental ones interact and become almost interchangeable. At the risk of slipping into fluffy new age land, I think the objects we own can have an effect on our mental state, and if we have too much stuff we don’t feel connected to it can feel over-whelming.

I like this post. xoxo

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