I’m with N, in the studio (which is an empty apartment). We’re sitting on our mats, me with my legs out in front of me. Her on a block cross legged. I just finished telling her about my current family saga.
“I can’t figure it out. I can’t figure out how I feel or what to do.”
“PD, you can’t intellectualize this away. What if there is no answer? What if there is nothing to figure out?”
This is a mind blowing concept for me. My mind is literally unable to wrap itself around the idea that there might be nothing to do, nothing to fix. We talk about guilt and shame – how guilt is often the thought of “I did something wrong” and how shame is often “there is something wrong with me” and she asks me to try an exercise with her, to drop into them, one by one. They are the two I’ve mentioned the most since arriving.
Guilt, I find out, lives in my stomach. It is represented by nausea. It’s a greyish-brown colour and is a dull, achy, internal feeling. It kind of churns.
Shame, it lives across my chest. It’s painful, and raw. It’s like a hot poker, a searing ache being dragged over. While I’m focused on shame, which is an orange colour, this thought emerges. “This isn’t trauma, you’re overreacting, this is you being an oversensitive, overemotional, attention seeking special snowflake.”
I share with N, about the feelings. I share with her these revelations. She nods. She seems proud.”I get that. I’ve been there. You’re not over sensitive. This is real, what you feel is real. I also know me telling you that won’t change that internal dialogue.” She asks if we can add mindfulness to my routine.
The goal, she says, is to not react automatically and with old patterns to these emotions as they arise but instead move inward, and let them pass. To be able to separate myself and who I am and how I feel from what is. To be able to witness what is happening and choose how I respond. To be empowered and loving and kind to myself. To watch and choose if and how I relate to them. To be proud of how I relate to them. To relate to them with my truth, from the heart.
I wonder out loud if I am capable of that. She insists I am.
She delivers another hard truth later.
“PD, your family is never going to hear you. You cannot reconcile this with people who don’t want to be reconciled with.”
I’m pretty sure I audibly gasp. “I know.”
“But you can have those relationships, and you can still have a voice in those relationships. You have a say in all your relationships. And whatever you decide and no matter how many times you choose to look to them first, even though it’s painful, I’m here for you. I hear you.”
We talk about the compulsion to go to our parents when something is painful or scary. We talk about studies that show abused people, when given a choice of somewhere safe or their parents, will ask to return over and over again to their parents or the familiar adult – we seek comfort because it’s evolutionary. It makes biological sense. We are wired that way.
But for whatever reason, in my case because they literally were not capable of giving it, that comfort isn’t there. And it won’t be. And they don’t validate my experiences – when I was scared, or in pain, or hurting, there was nobody to say “I see how scary that was for you. I see what happened. It makes sense, but you’re okay now. You’re safe.” And now it’s up to me to validate those times for myself. But because of that evolutionary tendency, the belief we as humans are wired with, I still turn to them when I’m in pain – expecting a different result that will never come, because they are not capable of giving it. N says it makes sense I turn to them, and that she is there no matter how many times I do that. No matter how I decide to structure my relationships with them or how many times I change my mind. Deciding those things is my right, as a participant in those relationships.
N is full of hard truths today “they are never going to validate it for you. They aren’t capable.” I need to hear that. It’s like a lightning bolt to my heart, the rose coloured glasses whip off.
We talk about my brother – how out of control I’ve felt recently, how unsafe and threatened . She insists my rituals are quite normal, habits of making myself feel safe when I don’t. They aren’t OCD, but compulsions to create safety. This makes sense to me because I’ve never had long term obsession/compulsions. They are situational.
We talk about how him using his threats of self-harm is a form of violence. How what often transpired between us, even though he didn’t know what he necessarily was doing, was violent. How it’s ok I feel threatened by him right now. How it makes sense. She takes what I tell her and makes sense of it. She isn’t being a therapist, but is reflecting back to me what I say to her in a way that helps me understand where I am in this moment. I felt like an unsolved rubix cube when I walked in, and now I feel like my colours are in order.
We talk about my trip a bit. I tell her how hard it was. How I drank the whole time. How fragmented I feel – like separate people. How I am so good at disassociating and numbing. We talk about adaptive behaviours becoming maladaptive and how it makes sense to her that I drink there, how it’s about harm reduction. We talk about what it’s been like to not drink in the last week. She mentions that I use fragmented language a lot, something I haven’t picked up on. I talk about myself as if I’m someone else sometimes.
I keep using words like “fix” and it’s “my job” and “I need to fix it” and she pounces in her no bullshit way.
“PD, what if, what if we could stay here in this healthy space and let your family come to you, and if you feel like it you go to them, and what if we don’t define any of this but take it moment by moment. You don’t have to make a decision. Simply wait and allow things to happen, allow feelings to pass. And if you’re enraged you think for a second – this is rage, rage lives here, I’m feeling rage, okay, bye rage, next! – and move through it. What if you didn’t do anything but react when it came to you, and then approach it how you feel in the moment. What if you didn’t plan?”
I look at her like she’s just babbled on in German, a language I don’t speak.
“It’s possible PD. You can trust yourself. You are capable of this. You are capable of validating yourself. You don’t have to intellectualize this. It is practice, not a fairy tale, not a mythical situation. You have been reacting a certain way for 28 years so I get the look you just gave me. But you can train yourself to do this. And if you like I would like to help you get there.”
So mindfulness is something I will be practicing. This idea is so foreign to me and so overwhelming. I have a choice in how I respond? I’m allowed to take a breath and approach these relationships my way? It sounds like a dream come true.
We didn’t actually move much today, which was slightly disappointing. I wanted that weighted blanket. At 6:45 she went “oh no, how did that happen?” And asked if I wanted to talk or move for 15 minutes. I chose talk, and I’m glad I did.
I see her next week and I’m going to try to be mindful of how I feel, and move through it, and not intellectualize everything. And just trust myself.
I think I will have a nice cry when I get home. Play with some datasets (because I’m a nerd), and then head to sleep.
I am feeling raw, but supported. N gets it, she really does. And she wants to be with me and she’s creating this safe space for me to grow in, in terms of mindfulness and trusting myself. I feel so safe with her.
I will read this over when I forget it. And she will remind me to sit, and add that part to my practice. And I see A Wednesday and hopefully I can bring some of this willingness to feel to her.
I feel like I’m learning something. I feel something.