Dear Readers, I’m going to share an exercise I did while in therapy myself many, many years ago. I hope by being transparent and showing you my vulnerabilities, it will help you in some way on your own journey. Today I feel whole, integrated, and have a lot of joy in my life, along with pain and life’s curveballs; otherwise known as a normal life with quirks. I want you to know that the core issues from childhood stick around, influencing us, often without our awareness. I see working on core issues like peeling away layers of an onion: I think I’ve finished working through an issue (which causes tears), only to circle back to it later on when the issue gets triggered again. I make progress each time it surfaces. And so will you. I feel vulnerable, scared, and brave to share this with you. I will be sure to be soft and caring with myself about it.
The exercise requires no editing. You see this as I wrote it decades ago:
“I’m at the cemetery [where Myrna/mom’s ashes are, and I’m thinking about the Hispanic music I can hear from a funeral just ending. I’m wondering how funerals are different in various cultures. I thought it would be interesting to attend a bunch of funerals to observe the process differences. I realize this thinking is a distraction. Myrna’s ‘cubby’ is in the shade, as is the bench near it. I’m sitting further away in the sun, which feels good. It’s good to feel warm; for the sun to touch me and warm me up.
I’m thinking about Myrna alive, in her brown leather jacket, and I’m thinking about the container of her ashes. How heavy it was, how small it was, and how she went from one to the other. I’m thinking how she chose to smoke for 40 years; how my wanting her to stop never made any difference to her. How it was always about her. I’m thinking how she wasn’t there for me, but she was there for so many people through her work and community activities. I’m thinking about how compartmentalized her life was. I’m thinking about the lack of integration. I’m thinking about what might have happened in her life for her to use control to survive, and then become imprisoned by control.
I’m not thinking about how angry with her I am. I’m not thinking about my physical reaction to not thinking about being angry at her. I’m not thinking about how my self-sufficiency is the result of not having anyone to count on. I just saw myself at eight: while everyone else went to bury Boots [my beloved first dog, and I was trying to call Hal [my father. Who leaves a grieving eight-year-old at home alone? Or any eight-year-old.
I’m not thinking how alone I feel. I’m not thinking how I am taking care of everything alone. I’m not thinking about how I want to be able to lean on and trust someone to be there for me. I’m not thinking about how hard it might be to surrender fully to another person. Not giving myself up, but to allow myself to sink into the safety of another person, without judgment or fixing. It would feel foreign to me. I think I might be able to do this with Locke, but not until he is here; then I can try it.
I’m not thinking about whether I trust Jeff [my therapist. I’m not thinking of how odd it would be to fall back into his arms - not actually physically, because there’s no touch in therapy - but to figuratively allow myself to fall back into him. To be supported and held; I don’t have to do it all myself. That’s what I learned - not to count on anyone, and do it myself. Be competent and responsible, and look like I have it all together. I tried to lean on my ex, but it wasn’t healthy somehow. Instead of surrendering my defenses, I surrendered myself.
Surrendering emotionally isn’t being passive; it’s really letting someone be with me, as I am, in any given moment.
What happens for me when Jeff tries to bring us into the here and now? Last week he asked me how I felt about seeing him in therapy before I got there, and I didn’t have any feelings about it. Just that I had an appointment, and I’d like to talk with him more about my little girl self. I do think about Jeff some but mainly remembering things we said in therapy. I don’t wonder about his family, other clients, etc. I take it at face value, my time to work. Lately I notice he’s more focused on my trust issues with him rather than trying to lead me into deep emotional work with my little girl [*In hindsight, he was doing good therapy by working on our relationship in the present as a means of being able to be present with others in my life. Even my name change was intended to distance myself from Myrna. But it distanced me from my little girl self.
What would happen if I stay in the present with Jeff? Nothing to say? Silence? How would I feel in my body? Can I let my little girl out? Will I let Jeff know her? Will I let myself know her? What about the neat packaging in my chest that I put into place to cope and survive? I can’t undo it, my little girl has to undo it, or allow it to be changed. First, she has to own it. Before that, I have to give her permission to exist and express within me. Before that I have to make room for her.
What space does she need that I can provide? A room indoors? A house? A place outside? To coexist with me in my present life? What does that mean to me? To think about her every day? To figuratively call her and have a conversation with her like I do with my son? Somehow, she’s buried, and I need to dig her out. She had too many feelings, she was messy, she wanted her mom and her dad, and she couldn’t have them. So my little girl self couldn’t help myself either. I didn’t have mirroring or shaping from adults, so I created myself and found other adults to connect with in a healthy way.
Planning and organizing are forms of control. On a spectrum, those can be healthy or unhealthy.
A thought: the important ‘no touch’ rule of therapy may have some impact on my trusting Jeff. As my little girl is reached and interacted with, she might want or need touch, comfort, or reassurance. That’s my kinesthetic approach to life. Will not getting touched feed into feeling alone, unlovable, or abandoned?”
These days, I feel connected, lovable, and yes, abandonment thoughts arise at times; mostly when I think about the fact that the people I love most in this world will die someday. It reminds me not to leave things unsaid.
I invite you to sit at your parents’ graves (if they’re gone), or in a safe place in nature. Think about your parents, and write “I’m Thinking, I’m Not Thinking . . .” Let yourself write without editing. Just write. If you get stuck, start again with “I’m thinking” or “I’m not thinking”. Don’t cross anything out. Don’t erase. Surrender to the process. Be soft and kind with yourself.