There’s a point in yesterday’s session with A when I start to cry. Big, round, tears. It’s hot in her office and they’re hotter. And I turn my head to the right, so that I am not looking at her, and within thirty seconds, I’m composed.
“Did you just stop yourself from crying?” She asks, somewhat incredulously, as I look back at her with no tears, and no visual signal of anything being wrong.
I nod. I did. It happens almost automatically.
“That’s incredibly impressive. I’ve never seen someone who can shut down such big emotions like that before. I know you do, but not that big. I imagine it usually happens faster, I don’t always get to see.”
I don’t say anything. I haven’t been saying much all session, really.
“Can you tell me what you do? Tell me about the experience inside you. I want to understand.”
I didn’t really give her a big answer then, mumbled something about patterns, but this is exactly what happens, if it’s slow enough to catch.
This is what I visualize.
First, the pit in my chest where the feelings live, I imagine a big bottomless bag like the kind my Mom used to get Scrabble tiles out of. It has drawstrings and is velvet on the outside. And I put all the emotions back into the bag. Shove them there. Sometimes forcefully, sometimes not.
And I draw the drawstrings as tight as they will go. And then, I put the bag in a box. The type of box varies, and I’m sure they have meaning. Sometimes I wrap chain around the box. And all of this happens usually when I’ve closed my eyes and can visualize against a black background.
I usually open my eyes and then keep visualizing the box being buried in a big hole, the kind cartoon characters dig when they’re looking for China. And then I fill that hole with concrete, and erect New York City on top of the hole. It’s always New York City, and normally the box is beneath the empire state building.
Once everything is safely buried I switch tactics again to whatever pattern around me I find most soothing. Counting ceiling tiles, listening to a clock tick, counting to 300 by 3’s in my head, visualizing a perfect stack of dominos falling over. A chess board, it’s perfect patterns of red and black. Those are my go tos, anyways. It really depends on where I am, who I’m with, etc.
And then I’m able to swallow the tears and the emotion and look back at someone and be completely composed. This takes me less than a minute, even with the most intense emotions. If I don’t feel it’s safe to display what I’m feeling, down go the emotions and up goes the city.
Unless I’m drinking, which is when the process breaks and I end up sobbing in front of my boss at a dinner party while drunk (yup, it’s happened. Actually, how he handled that is why he’s now one of my closest friends. You’d think that would be a lesson in letting people in).
This is my biggest block. And it’s hard because it’s automatic. Sometimes it happens without me noticing. And so, my question is, how can I interrupt that and create a sense of safety around it while still honouring my need to protect myself and not pushing too hard? How do I interrupt the process and let myself feel?
I know that once that city is up nobody is getting at that emotion for a while. I also know that if I get space to look away and close my eyes, it’s a lot harder to bring things back about. I also know it’s about safety. At one point, it was only about being safe. And after a while, its replaced my ability to feel difficult emotions.
I’ve told A for weeks I need to cry. This is why I can’t.
And I think I’m about to ask for her help in interrupting this process at the right times, in moving forward.