XXVII: The Sad, Strange Days of Benjamin Steele

Benjamin Steele’s story began as so many stories do with love, love of his mother. The fact that she never taught him to properly love anyone, or anything, impeded his progress and left him with unusual feelings of love.

As any two individuals that are trapped in a shared existence will do, Benjamin Steele and his mother fought, but Benjamin didn’t remember those times in the years that followed her tragic demise. He remembered the love they shared, the unconditional love, the love that could see no wrong. He  remembered how much she cared about him, in that unconditional way a mother can care about a son. It was the type of love that one experiences a sense of “all hope is lost” once it is over. He didn’t seek therapy when he experienced that “all hope is lost” type of feeling, however, as he saw that as something crazy people did. He saw that as something weak people did. He was a man that wanted to manage, or steel, his own way through a moment that transformed his life. He wanted to live with the Gone with the Wind philosophy that “Tomorrow is another day.” He wanted to move on.

He did move on. He began laughing, and playing, and living a normal adult life. He was as shocked as anyone. He couldn’t believe that Benjamin Steele would have the temerity to simply live a normal life without a mother. He couldn’t believe that all those years he spent trying to build emotional detachments had actually paid off. He couldn’t believe how strong he was, and he couldn’t wait to tell those that cared about him, and that’s when it hit him.

The person, perhaps the only person that would’ve cared beyond casual conversational interest, was his mother. It dawned on him that he would never be so important to another person again. Not to the point where they wanted to chart his progress, not to the point where they couldn’t finish breakfast until they found out if he had a successful day at work.

If he told them about his progress, and he did, they would say things like: “That’s great Benjamin!” They would then turn back on him to watch their shows and munched down on their Cheetos, and Benjamin Steele would fade back into their background where he though he belonged.

That’s when he realized that a part of him never would move on, because he would never be that important to anyone again.

Others wouldn’t permit him to forget. They asked him: “How you doing?” But they didn’t count, because they were so involved in his progress that they wouldn’t permit him to progress, and he hated them for that, and he began to consider them enemy combatants in the fight to move on.

The part of him that never could move on, played itself out, in the beginning. This part of him played those moments of the life he spent with his mother, over and over, until they accidentally manifested into an odd form of lust. It wasn’t the usual love, or the forlorn type of adoration that results from the lost love of a mother, it was lust. It was borne of an obsession that grew from being obsessed with the time he spent with his mother, and it progressed until he was picturing her in sexual scenarios. He reached this point, by accident, when he began to believe that no other person could love him as completely as his mother. He hadn’t yet matured to a point, at this point in his life, where he could reason with the fact that conditional love with a woman was okay, that it was what it was, and he would have to deal with the fact that a woman could love him to some degree but never so completely as his mother. This manifestation progressed to a point where Benjamin Steele advanced the idea of his mother’s love to picturing her getting nude for him, thus showing him even a display of love greater than he knew when she was alive. He eventually began masturbating to these delusions, until he became what he termed a Freudian joke.

Benjamin Steele loved his mother in a normal mother-son manner when she was alive, but he didn’t react normally to her death. He didn’t react the way most of us do to the death of a loved one in other words. There may be no normal way to react to the death of a loved one, as each of us deals with it differently, but Benjamin Steele would make medical journals with the way he reacted. He wouldn’t mourn, he would masturbate. Seeing as how she was dead, one could say that there were no discernible consequences to this lust, but the internal damage was incalculable. He couldn’t function in everyday life with such aberrant, unnatural thoughts. He couldn’t overcome his feelings of loss to a point where he could live a normal life, and he couldn’t suppress the over-the-top longing he had for those years they spent together either, until they manifested into lust. He was a self-described train wreck waiting to happen.

“I am an Oedipal, Freudian joke,” Benjamin said after coming to the realization that he did, indeed, need professional, outside, and psychiatric, assistance. He said this in our first session together, shortly after informing me, his psychiatrist, his name. He called the days that occurred between the day his mother died in a car accident and the day he sat before a psychiatrist, the sad strange days of Benjamin Steele.

“Sad,” he said, “Because I’m a grown man that can’t get over the death of my mommy.” Those were his exact words. Those words were meant to be self-effacing and descriptive of how he saw himself at that point. “Strange, because,” he said. “Well, let me tell what these past ten years have all led to.”

Benjamin said that when he approached women, he did so when they reminded him of his mother.

“I did not do this on purpose,” he said. “I did not seek my mother in a conscious sense. It was, in fact, so subconscious that when it dawned on me, one night as I sat at a restaurant with one of them, I rushed home to look at the pictures of some of the women I had dated. I was so floored that had a chair not been behind me, I may have hit the ground. It all came flooding back to me. I was one sick pup.  

“Not every woman I dated looked like mom,” he continued. “And I put those pictures aside with some relief, but the more I thought about those particular women, the more I realized that they had intangibles that reminded me so much of my mother that it didn’t matter what they looked like. They smelled like her, they talked like her, and in one particular case, a woman cared for me in a way that reminded me of my mother.”

When I informed Benjamin that this was absolutely normal, he said: “I’ve read that, and I’ve been comforted by that, but this was something different.

“I never sat down and thought about how beautiful she was, or how she loved me,” he continued. “It all just sort of happened…sort of progressed … in a way.”

Benjamin detailed for me how disgusted with himself he was for the feelings he had for her. He didn’t want to feel this way about her, he said, but he couldn’t suppress it either.

“I just wanted to go back to those days when she was alive. I thought about them all the time. I dreamed about them. I wanted her to be alive now. Somehow or another, I started to have romantic feelings for her, even though I didn’t know her as an adult, even though she’s been dead now for ten years, and even though I’m somewhat happy, but incomplete.”

Benjamin Steele happened to be in the car, in the car accident that took the life of his mother, and he received a concussion in the frontal lobe of his brain. That bump, I theorized, messed up all of the normal patterns and functions of Benjamin Steele’s brain. That bump, I theorized, messed up the normal mourning process that Benjamin may have gone through had he not received that bump. That bump twisted the feelings of loss with romanticized visions of his mother and made them somewhat aberrant. The bump also lasted as a physical remnant on Benjamin’s head throughout his life, so that every time he looked into the mirror, he remembered his mom.

“I’ve never discussed these feelings with anyone else, except for you,” Benjamin told me, “and I never will. I haven’t discussed it with family members, friends, or girlfriends. I’ve tried to hide these feelings, dismiss them, and pretend they’ve never happened. I have been unsuccessful. Talking about these feelings, though, would bring them to another level altogether, a more substantial level that requires substantial thought, and I’m not ready, and I don’t think I ever will be, ready to deal with this on that level.”

This disgust with his lust plagued him so much, for so much of his life, that he eventually started to shut down. He shut off those little registers in the brain that would get excited about things, because to get excited meant to be happy, and he associated happiness with the only person he believed ever truly made him happy, his mother. No one cared, he believed, that he had emotions, not like his mother cared. No one cared when bad things happened to him, or good things. Not anymore. Not like his mother did. Getting excited reminded him of lust, his disgust with that lust, and finally those unhealthy thoughts of his mother, so he shut it all down. He shut off the emotional registers, because if he got too sad, he would think of the ways in which his mother cheered him up, which reminded him of his lust, his disgust with that lust, and finally his mental illness. I suggested that Benjamin may not have been in conscious control of all of these shut downs, and that his brain may have been doing it for him, to protect him.

He was so unsuccessful in suppressing this strange loop that he decided that he was unworthy of happiness. Yet, and here’s the key, Benjamin Steele was not an unhappy person, or at least he wasn’t miserable. He didn’t exhibit signs of being clinically depressed or suicidal in anyway. He just had this aberrant, little characteristic that he couldn’t shake, so he decided to reinvent himself.

This reinvention occurred during the years of sessions Benjamin Steele spent with me, and I wrote about these “reinvention” sessions at great length, and how much progress he believed he was making with Benjamin in these sessions. The two of us achieved a point where we both believed that Benjamin was progressing beyond this aberrant characteristic, and I initially believed that we achieved this together. 

This process of achieving a level of clarity for Benjamin began with Benjamin informing me that he did not want to speak about his mother so often. He acknowledged that her death was the source of his problems, but he didn’t want to talk about her all the time. I pushed back, in the beginning, but I eventually began to realize that Benjamin was attempting, as best he could, to move on. I appreciated this attempt, and I acquiesced to his wishes. Months later, I returned to the subject of Benjamin’s mother, and his lusting of her. 

“Lusting after her?” he asked. “Did you say lusting after her?” I was a bit taken aback by this. I informed him of the reason he came to me in the first place, and I recalled for him some of the things he confessed to me. He laughed. Benjamin Steele couldn’t remember ever lusting after her. He went so far as to say that he thought the very idea of lusting after one’s mother was utterly repulsive.

At one point in these “reinvention” sessions, Benjamin said he couldn’t remember the car accident that took the life of his mother. He was reminded, again, that that was the sole reason he came to see a psychiatrist in the first place. He stated that he still couldn’t remember. He was asked about it in other sessions to see if the block was a temporary block that he had placed to prevent me from asking about it.

I became convinced that Benjamin had managed to block the accident, and all of its psychological underpinnings, out so successfully that he genuinely couldn’t remember the incident. He eventually said he couldn’t remember how she died. I summarized this change saying that Benjamin’s mother’s death, and the eventual lusting after her, had so psychologically damaged Benjamin Steele that the only way he could move on in life was to forget. To utterly forget, I wrote with exclamation points and underlined words. To forget so completely that these incidents were not just a casual slip of the mind, but a total sweep of the memory of anything having to do with his mother, the incident that took her life, and of that life once lived. This was a crucial part of the reinvention of Benjamin Steele that Benjamin Steele believed would allow Benjamin Steele to continue to glide past those overwhelming, “all hope is lost type” feelings.

As a consequence of this re-invention, the new man that Benjamin Steele became could not find affection for another human being. He managed to live a productive life in all ways other than love. Loving another person, I theorized, would bring Benjamin back to that original Benjamin Steele that missed his mother so much that he lusted after her, especially when he sat down to compare the future love others might have for him.

Another consequence that arose in these later sessions was that the conscious Benjamin Steele began believing he was a carbon copy of the person named Benjamin Steele that he couldn’t entirely remember. He could purposefully distance himself from that old Benjamin Steele, and he did so by quitting his job and attempting to ostracize those friends and family of the old Benjamin Steele, so that all of those that knew the old Benjamin Steele were not in his new life. The problem with that, of course, was that all of these suppressed memories kept popping up in the form of mementos that reminded him of his mother. He began throwing all of these items away to clear the house, and his mind, of any thoughts of her, but they kept popping up.

This latter condition manifested itself to a point where Benjamin began wondering if the people he knew in a past life were impostors of those people that once cared about him. He was insecure about his theory, and he suggested that it was the only explanation he could come up with to describe the transformations of these people. He even floated the idea that they could be aliens.   

When I informed Benjamin Steele that these people may have changed, in the manner trans-formative events, like death, can cause people to change, he ignored the suggestion. He called them self-serving, carbon copies of the people he once knew, and he believed that they were a threat to him. While they may not have been a threat to him in the truest sense of the word, I theorized, they were impediments to his attempts to simply start over.

This is what psychologists call the Capgras Delusion. It states that a person believes their friends and family have been replaced by imposters. The part of the brain that provides an emotional response when you see someone you know stops functioning properly in those with this dysfunction. They recognize their loved ones, but they don’t feel the spark remembrance usually causes a person, and that spark could discernibly be called familiarity. The victim makes up a story to explain this confusion and they accept it entirely.

The people that loved him, these carbon copy, imposter people, would not let him go. To their credit, they kept coming back into his life to tell him they cared about him, and that they wanted to see how he was doing. This, in conjunction with the idea that all these new people in his life wanted to know his past, made him feel that people were out to get him, when in fact all they were doing was making it difficult for him to progress to a life that had nothing to do with the memories he had of his mother.

With enough therapy, Benjamin reached a point where he saw this reinvention for what it was. He didn’t know that there was a conscious reaction that caused a need for reinvention, but he began to recognize that there was an old Benjamin Steele. Once at this level, he began to believe that all of these carbon copy people of his life preferred the old Benjamin Steele, and that they didn’t like what the new Benjamin did to that old Benjamin they knew and loved. I laid out the notion that all of the people that took an interest in Benjamin thought the new Benjamin was a little uppity when he decided not to answer their questions, so he built up animosities for them and they him. He just wanted to be left alone, but most people won’t leave others alone, they want to know things about the people that surround them. At this point in his therapy, Benjamin Steele recognized the reinvention for what it was, but he didn’t see it as a trick his mind was playing on him. He believed it was a manifestation, a creation of another person, but he couldn’t explain how it happened.

In one session, Benjamin tried to convince his psychiatrist, and thus himself, that he was an alien that had taken over the body of this Benjamin Steele character, but in another, later session, he recognized that that notion was ridiculous. In yet another session, he couldn’t even remember conceiving of that notion. The psychiatrist theorized that Benjamin saw this “alien takeover” notion in a movie and he latched onto it as a possible theory for why, or how, he had changed so drastically. His brain probably recognized that this notion could be easily thwarted, and he feared that with each successive failed attempt at convincing another, he would regressively fall back in his progress, until he was back to the mother-lusting Benjamin, like a pinball successively falling into the hole after bouncing off bumpers. The brain then discarded the notion so completely that Benjamin couldn’t even remember conjuring it up.

He then tried to convince me, and thus himself, that this new Benjamin incarnation was the product of a scientific lab, (i.e. Frankenstein’s lab) but defending that theory required knowledge he did not have, and he probably had the same fear of regressive failure that the “alien takeover” notion had. He tried to convince himself of a government conspiracy, and how he was the most important person in his nation, and if the lie were ever discovered, the “they” that created the new Benjamin, would have to put him down. He discovered that all of this was a lie, but he could never explain why, and he didn’t really want to either.

Benjamin Steele did eventually reach a breakthrough moment of total clarity. It was a profanity laced breakthrough that culminated in the complaint: “Why can’t you people just leave me alone and let me forget?!” This complaint was leveled at the person that continued to want to dig deeper into Benjamin’s psychosis with repetitive calls for greater analysis, me, but it was also directed at all the carbon copy people that wanted him to deal with the events that regressed him back to the man he used to be.

Prior to that breakthrough, Benjamin Steele declared that he was cured, and that he no longer lusted after his mother, and “That was the reason I came to see you in the first place, so … you’re fired.”

He said that he thought he could go on with his life now without having to constantly go through the events that led him to his reinvention. Throughout the years that followed, Benjamin Steele kept running into roadblocks, however, and he kept running into reasons that brought him back.

He wanted to be the man that beat the system by simply forgetting, but he never could. Not entirely. He tried a number of different measures, both conscious and subconscious, but he could never achieve what he called the normal life.

He tried viewing me as a carbon copy of the psychiatrist that he had shared so much with, and he didn’t understand why he had to keep repeating and reliving. He didn’t understand why he had to analyze everything so much. He didn’t want to deal with the matters that I viewed as germane to his mental health progress. He wanted to forget and move on in his own unusual way, but no one would let him. Those that wouldn’t allow him to live a life that he consciously, and subconsciously, created for himself, became enemies in ways he convinced himself would do him harm. Benjamin Steele had discovered what, for him, would be a world in which he could be happy. I theorized that some part of him was so ashamed that he lusted after his mother that he might not have been able to continue if he didn’t find some method of concealing that part of him. He, initially, tried to frame it as if it were a joke. When that didn’t work, he attempted to be outlandish.

Now that these sessions have become more off again than on again, I think Benjamin Steele attempted to float ideas past me. The idea being, that if I believed in them, he might be able to use it as a refuge from all that he was experiencing.

Benjamin also taught me that some of the times it is better to just forget and move on. No matter how consequential another may think that an event of one’s life is to them, and how they “have to deal with it before moving forward”, some of the times it’s better to just put the past in the rear-view mirror.

The key to understanding Benjamin Steele is that he wasn’t lying. He may have attempted to play games with me, and thus himself, to work his way through what he was going through, and I wouldn’t say he was in denial so much as he used denial as a tool to work through his problems. Benjamin Steele wasn’t projecting a favorable image of himself. He believed all of these incarnations so much that one that attempted to weed through all of the facades was presented with the realization that Benjamin Steele was genuinely shocked that you came to that realization. To suggest that Benjamin was being dishonest in any way, one must believe that beneath it all Benjamin Steele knew the truth. “I have been with Benjamin for months now, and I can tell you the man was not being deceptive in this vein.”

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