Tyger — France, Therapy and Gallic Humor

Daily Prompt Fearful Symmetry Pick a letter, any letter. Now, write a story, poem, or post in which every line starts with that letter.

William Blake wrote a poem about tygers. In that poem he described tygers as having a “fearful symmetry.” Knowing the poem is about a tyger, a reader can see, in just that description, the movement and beauty of a tyger about to attack.

More than once I’ve been described as a tyger. The first time was my therapist, a great French woman I started seeing for help dealing with the guilt and fear I felt when I realized I had to cut off contact with my brother. I had a list of therapists given me by the insurance company. I called the closest four, two returned my calls. One of them had a French accent. I was immersed in French films at the time so I picked her. There was something in the films that “fit” me and I decided anyone from a culture that produced those movies might be good for me. She was. It just so happened that her area of expertise was helping the families of addicts. That first day, after listening to me, she said, “Ze alcohol is ze worst, Maretha. Heroin? Yes, it is a bad sing, but ze heroin addict dies quickly. Wis ze alcohol ze person can live a long time and ruin more people’s lives before zey die.”

French. Worked for me. The same dark thread of truth that ran through the films.

On my first visit she gave me homework. I was supposed to “be nice” to myself. I went home determined to do that or else… πŸ˜‰ So… I took myself shopping. I didn’t know where to start with this, so that’s what I did. Never mind I don’t like shopping. I decided to buy something nice for myself. As I walked across the parking lot to Macy’s in Mission Valley I thought, “This isn’t easy.”

Other things I was supposed to do to be nice to myself included forgiving myself for the choice I’d made to stop talking to my brother until he decided to stop drinking. My brother was an incorrigible drunk, and I had been working an extra job to put him through rehab (for the third time). He’d gone through rehab and had been given housing as long as he remained sober. I’d learned that he’d leapt eagerly “off the wagon” and was again going to be homeless. I didn’t think I could handle this whole thing again. I was exhausted, demoralized and felt like a failure. Every time I picked up the phone and heard my brother’s voice, I felt an abyss open inside me. “I need money.” I’d finally reached a point where I couldn’t do it any more, but I didn’t know what else to do. Support and advice from people who loved me convinced me to cut him off. “Call me when you’ve stopped drinking, OK?” I said and hung up. I cried for hours afterward.

That’s why I was in therapy. I wanted to kill myself. Actually “want” is too strong a word. I was afraid I would kill myself. I didn’t want to. There were just times when the guilt and fear for my brother were so strong they were nearly unbearable.

“Did you do your homework?”


“How were you good to yourself?”

“I took myself shopping.”

“Did you buy yourself something.”


“Good. When you smell it, you should sink, ‘zis is ze smell of my freedom’.”

Wow. I got homework after our second session. I had to learn not to punish myself for letting down people who were not even there, my mom, my brother.

“Ze super-ego is very strong in you, Maretha.”

“What’s that? I never studied psychology.”

“It is ze parent. Ze voice zat says ‘Maretha, you should do zis, you should do zat, you aren’t good enough’.”


“Ze super-ego is a good sing, too, but it is not everysing. Zere is a little girl inside you, too. Were you ever a little girl? I sink not so much. You had a big job to do in your family. You had to care for your parents. Your dad, he was sick. Your muzzer, I sink she was an alcoholic, no?”

I started to cry. France handed me a tissue.

“It is normal. You can see how that little girl had a job too big for her. How can a little girl do zat job? But you needed a family, you were dependent, you needed zem, so you did what you could to keep zem functioning. You could not succeed. You see yourself as a failure, but what you are is a survivor.”

“Wow,” I said. “I never saw that.”

“No. We cannot see so well in ze middle of sings.”

“What’s my homework this week?”

“I don’t have to give you homework any more,” said France. ‘You are figuring zat out for yourself. Ze fact is, Maretha, you are a tyger. You see what you need and you go after it. Nussing can stop you. You are very fierce, actually a little scary.”

“Is it a bad thing?”

“No. Tygers, zey are beautiful. If you were not a tyger, you would not be here now. I sink only a tyger could survive your childhood.”

A tyger? Her explanation gave me so much to think about. I left and persisted in trying to be nice to myself. It helped to remind myself that it was impossible for me to save my brother from what he had chosen to do with his life. His life was his job, not mine. I gave myself the homework to understand that he had the right to make his choices, even bad choices, even sad ones. He had the right to make choices that would take him away from me. As France’ words penetrated more deeply into my mind, I began to see the entire dynamic of my family in a new way. Yes. I’d always been determined to be “normal” and to function and to survive. I’d fought back. I also saw that was why I was sober and had held my life together.

Later that day I reread Blake’s poem and saw how Blake’s tyger was formed in fire of hard elements, of darkness and night’s pinpoints of light. Roar.

The Tyger, written and illustrated by William Blake

A really good song and an even better (cuter) video. You’ll enjoy it! I promise!


20 thoughts on “Tyger — France, Therapy and Gallic Humor

  1. Very well written and when I saw the title I thought immediately of that poem, but not being anything near an expert on poets (except for Lewin Carroll and Edgar Allen Poe with a little bit of Edward Lear) I did not associate William blake with it. I can feel for your problems and glad that you overcame it all.

  2. You chose a wonderfully wise and concise therapist! What a tough situation you had and what a struggle it must have been to try to be free from the clutches of it.

  3. Very well written. You have been through all that and came out as a winner. Yes, you fought back and fought like a tyger. Zes very commendable. Roar is my favorite song and I loved Katy Perry roar.

    • I love that song by Katie Perry, too. In fact, I like Katie Perry a lot — she’s a brilliant entertainer. E, oui. I fought. Parce que je suis le tigre… πŸ™‚

  4. This is your best post thus far. I an fascinated by your story. In a dysfunctional family everybody assumes a role. You were the caretaker, your mother the dependent child and I’m not sure where your brother fits in, but maybe as the child that never got past the nursing bottle of his childhood. He remained dependent too- on that bottle. If there are several family ,there are those who assume the role of the comic and some become the scape goat. I throw this in merely because dysfunction most of the time involves addiction of some sort or families that are constantly fighting, etc.

    My own family was pretty nuts as well and it takes all one has, to rise above dysfunction. I just never went to therapy but I’m sure it would have been beneficial.

    I’ve forgotten most of the dynamics of co-dependency and need to finds my papers or go to Google.

    I am so glad that you survived and that survival only made you stronger. You have a wonderful knack for writing.
    I really enjoyed reading the way you wrote France’s accent. Spot on and funny too. In your life you are definitely the winner and of course a tiger too.

    • My brother was a comic and definitely tied to mom. After 1966 (I was 14) it was a nightmare. BUT until then? A nice family. My dad had MS and I believe that was the broken part…

  5. I was raised on Tyger by my English professor aunt, and I remember that very Blake painting with the poem in the middle. I feel very deeply for your struggles over your brother. I suspect I was the lost one in my family, but they have all given up and left me alone. My problem isn’t alcohol or drugs, but the upshot is the same.

    I have never really paid any attention to Katy Perry, other than being aware of her existence, but that song is dynamite. The video is cool too. I’m glad she made it for the tiger in you, even if she wasn’t aware that was what she was doing. You are a survivor and on your own terms. What could be better?

    • Katie Perry’s videos are well done and many are hilarious (intentionally). I think survival is a pretty decent achievement. Of course, it won’t last… πŸ˜‰

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