This time, I know that my husband’s demons have escalated the skirmishes and declared war.  With that cold, insulting lettergram he pulled up one of his own deep roots and is leaving it to dry up and die in the sun.  He would retreat into the shadows.

I will not.  Our family is at stake.

Herb does not want couple counseling.  He insists that there is nothing wrong with me and that he alone will go to therapy.  He will handle it.  He has done it before.

It is time to call Dr. Lowen.

When we were newlyweds and living on cloud nine in New York City, Alicia, a friend of Herb’s, comes to see us.    She is so excited, she says, because she is leaving for a new life in California.

She owns a successful art gallery, but she is packing it up.  She has a Modigliani to sell.   The money will help her get started.

She is going to be part of the world of Reichian therapy.  She is going to Esalen.   This is the 60’s.  Body therapies sprout like psychedelic mushrooms in spiked soil.

Alicia goes shopping with me.  I pick her brains.  She gives me a book, Man in the Trap by Ellsworth Baker.

I go on to read Wilhem Reich.   Then I discover Alexander Lowen.   He uses no jargon.  He is clear as a summer sky.  I read all his books.

I see that all that angst about the absurdity of life and the meaninglessness of existence is a cover-up.

The problem is just the opposite.  Life has too much meaning.  It is coursing through our bodies.   We feel and we know.  Sometimes the feeling is so unbearable that we have to stop it.  Any way we can.  The history of our feelings is in our bodies.

Dr. Lowen is not about touchy feely consolation therapy.  He is above all a clinician.   He works with the body as a part of analysis.   He has learned from thousands of patients.  He is tough.

The work is new, but it is not random.  There is a structure.  I think that someday we will map the meaning of the body the way we map the genome.   We will track energy coursing through the body and understand where it has been and what it leaves in its wake.

This energy has gone by a lot of names.  Dr. Lowen calls it bioenergy.   Whatever it is called, uncovering its mysteries is probably more dangerous than splitting the atom.

Well, I think, maybe someday I will undergo this therapy and see for myself.  But someday later, maybe.


My husband does not believe in talk therapy and balks at taking any kind of drugs.  I know he will go to a therapist only to reassure me.  At heart he believes that he can solve his own problems.

He is healthy and fit.  He is used to working out in the gym.  He was a wrestler in college.   I think that a therapist who combines analysis with body work could help him.

I look up Dr. Alexander Lowen, M.D. for Herb and discover that besides a practice in New York City, he is also in nearby New Canaan.   The woman who answers the phone says that he had a heart attack and refers me to another bioenergetics psychiatrist.

Herb goes to therapy every week.  Things do not get better.  Finally, I discover that he has quit therapy weeks ago.  Why?  Well, he says, the doctor said that if his patients had a relationship like ours two thirds of them would not need him.

Then his doctor asks to meet me.  That’s when Herb quits.

We invite his doctor for lunch, after which I go for a separate session.    Herb goes back to therapy.   I also insist that I go for therapy on my own.

Out of the blue,  I get a hunch to call Dr. Lowen again, just in case.   He answers the phone.  No, he says, he did not have a heart attack.  It was only a cold, something minor.


28. May 2013 · Comments Off on The Crusher · Categories: N. Staying Alive, The Beast · Tags:

Dr. Lowen asks me why I have come to him.

What is the matter with me that I find myself in this situation?  I need to know.

Good, he says.  Now we can begin.


Dr. Lowen looks intently at my face.  He has been working on my facial muscles.

Someone terrorized you.   It happened a long time ago, when you were vulnerable.

He makes a malevolent, devilish face at me.


Mephistopheles Faust


No, I say.  That is Mephistopheles.   He is the one that made the deal with Faust.  He is not my demon.  My demon is the one who sits on your chest.


Nightmare engraving Thomas Burke

The Nightmare, engraving after John Fuseli, 1783 by Thomas Burke

In this famous painting an ugly demon squats on a young woman’s chest.   It is facing her.   My demon has its back to me.  It is faceless, anonymous and heavy as a stone wall.

I cannot breathe.  I cannot move.

You think that you are going to die.

I don’t know.

Yes, you are dying.   You can’t move.  You can’t breathe.  If you stop breathing you die.   You are terrified to death.   To death!



Final Figure, oil on canvas, 1990 by Neil Grayson


I don’t want to die.  I shake to my bones.  My body remembers.

It’s okay.  It’s over.  You are safe here.

What do you do when you can’t move?

I pray to the Holy Spirit.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Love.  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of love.

Then suddenly I can move again.

Dr. Lowen calls himself a secular humanist.  He has had thousands of psychiatric patients, many of them Christians.   Still, his grasp of Christian symbols surprises me.

Then what do you do?

I believe in love.   I look for something to love.  There is always something.

You think that if you do everything well and please everyone they will like you.

I know that some people will never like me.   But I don’t do it for them.  I do my best because that has always brought me good things.  Eventually, things always work out.

That is what kept you there.   It is an illusion.

But there is a darker side.

You are defiant.  They cannot break you.  We will see how you were colluding.


25. May 2013 · Comments Off on Collusion · Categories: N. Staying Alive · Tags:

Dr. Lowen says you know that you were colluding, don’t you?

I knew I was losing something of myself.

When did you realize that it was changing you?

It was gradual.  Once I saw that clearly, nothing could keep me there.

How long did it take?

Four years.

That’s when you stopped being a child.

22. May 2013 · Comments Off on Stratagems · Categories: N. Staying Alive, Take Bull by Horns · Tags:

Dr. Lowen says here you have one female and two males.  Send your son to boarding school.   He’ll come into his own there.  That’s what saved the British aristocracy.

I don’t know about the British, but it is working for us.  Herb says he doesn’t want to go to therapy anymore.   I ask Dr. Lowen to see him for one session to evaluate our situation.

After that, Herb says we don’t need therapists anymore and I should call Dr. Lowen and quit.  I say no, I must tell him in person.

It has been a year since we started.

Dr. Lowen says people go to therapy the way they approach life.

Your husband does not believe that therapy will help him and that he must solve his own problems.

In your case, you think the therapy will succeed if you put your whole effort into it.  You know, I’ve had patients that I work with for years to get them to fully accept a painful truth before they can move on.

With you, as soon as we uncover something you accept it and then you present me with the next step.

I say I’ve read all your books.  They are very clear.  Then I describe my own case.  Am I accurate?  He nods.  You remember everything.   You should write.  Not philosophical tracts.  The most interesting thing you could ever write about is your own life story.

Oh no, I could never do that!  Think of all the people involved!

Not now, he says, you’re too young.  You have years to enjoy life fully.

For what you came to do, I must say that we are done.   Never again will you fall for a man who sabotages himself.

Your fantasy was to be chosen by a king.   (In Dr. Lowen’s terms a king is a man who has come into his own as a man, who is his own man.  Every man has the potential of being a king.)

Your husband is a king.  Your father was a king too.

But your husband is a wounded king.   He is in a bind.   He has a tremendous life force which up to now has maintained his defenses.  But he did not use his energies to go forward with his own achievements – to take his place in the sun.

I have to say that as sick as he is he really loves you.  You gave him a place in the heart.  But for a man, that is not enough.  He cannot live through you.

I still love him.  I want to stay with him.

Dr. Lowen will not tell me what to do, but I can sense his disappointment.  It is as though I went through rehab and just said that I am going back to drugs.

You have a right to your own happiness!

We have a dispirited back and forth.

Finally, he says that he has to warn me.  It may be years, he says, but as he gets older your husband’s defenses will break down.  If he so much as pushes you in anger, you have to leave.  If he turns to violence against you he won’t be able to stop.

I say goodbye, but I don’t do goodbyes well.  This is one of the worst.  I leave Dr. Lowen with a heavy heart.

21. May 2013 · Comments Off on Breaking Down · Categories: N. Staying Alive · Tags:

Nine years later, Herb’s defenses start to break down.  I escape from my home.  My husband stubbornly refuses to go for medical treatment.   He just wants me to come home.

It goes on too long and to break the impasse I file for a divorce.     My divorce lawyer complains that I am not helping him and am asking him to defend me with his hands tied behind his back.

I have dreams of being caught in a tsunami.   I have dreams of water rising and floating my house away.   I have dreams of getting lost and having to find my way back to Fifth Avenue though I never lived there.

Then I have a dream where I hear someone singing

When I grow too old to dream I’ll have you to remember

And I see Dr. Lowen.

What he warned me against has come to pass.  It is a comfort to see him, even in a dream.

I write him a letter letting him know what has happened.



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Herb has a breakdown.   He accepts medical treatment.  I stop the divorce proceedings and I go home.