Sunday, March 18, 2012

Therapy Actual


The word had been dogging me since starting therapist-training school. Dogging my mind, anyway. My body simply slept through it. In class, in therapy sessions, it was appearing everywhere, like synchronicity in action, but I didn’t really know what it meant. I mean, I knew there was this approach called “primal therapy,” and I knew it had its hayday in the 70s, or maybe it was the 80s, but it had either passed out of fashion or was currently hidden and only practiced by the old guard or in secret therapy societies. I didn’t bother to look it up. 

For weeks we’d been studying Western Mysticism. During our weekend classes, we were introduced to traditions outside of psychotherapy’s more accepted paradigms – we took journeys through forests, many of us meeting spirit-animal guides in meadows, others of us mediating on loving kindness. We built a variety of altars and reconsidered existence through the lens of quantum science, learning that photons fired in opposite directions will mirror each other’s actions instantly – when one changes direction, the other changes in the same manner, despite their being in different locations – suggesting that there’s some other dimension undetectable by our current science in which communication occurs at faster-than-light speed.

But it didn’t matter because I had stopped absorbing. My feelings came slowly, as if from under water, never breaking the surface. The usual insecurities were pulling me under – am I good enough? Will I be loved enough? Will I be loved at all . . . ever . . . WHEN? These questions came in the midst of being loved in the way I’d always dreamed, yet I still had to ask. Nothing was penetrating. Everything had a "but." But it’s probably not real. But it won’t last for long. But nothing ever works out.

And then there were the questions about my life’s purpose: what the hell am I doing with my precious life – not painting, not writing, what and, again, WHEN?! When will my life proper begin, the one where I have a fulfilling and solid career, a sense of purpose? It didn’t matter that I was writing blog posts, or editing my book (that will never see the light of day), or learning a new day job, or studying for my “vocation” (was I really going to be a therapist?!) These things didn’t seem to count. Nothing counted.

Every week I went to therapy and talked, and sometimes mustered a tear or two, but left feeling that while my mind got it, my body was failing the class. It was not therapy’s fault. Something was corked in a deep part of me. I couldn't seem to dislodge the blockage, so I did what I always do when faced with what I perceive as an immovable obstacle: I decided to quit. Quit school, quit therapy, quit dreaming about my future. 

At the end of one particular therapy session in the midst of my doubt, we heard a shattering cry through the wall. 

“Oh. That’s just an emotional release,” said Karen, my therapist, as if she were describing someone’s digestive gurgles. But it was too late. A door had slammed. And it was mine. “I can’t do this,” my mind said, using her inside voice. My body had already slipped into a coma. “I can’t bring people to that place,” I insisted to my interior audience. I was already thinking about popcorn and movies. I was already somewhere else.

“Have you ever been to that place yourself?” A fifth-year student asked me in the waiting room the following week. I was waiting to see Karen. She was waiting to go into Group (which I’ll write about once I’ve done it.) I told the student therapist I was thinking of quitting the program. She told me she'd been seeing patients for two years already and couldn't imagine doing anything else. She loved it. "Have you ever had a primal in therapy?" she asked again.

Had I ever been to a place of total emotional abandonment? I’d come undone before, spent years crying to and from class, to and from work, to and from the grocery store. But letting out a soul-wrenching scream from the depths of my wrenched soul? 

“No,” I admitted.

“Well, that’s why you’re scared,” the student therapist concluded. And she was not wrong. “It’s hard to describe the transformative quality of primal work,” she explained “unless you’ve done it.”

“It’s pretty great!” She added, like describing a ride at the Ex.

Half way through therapy that day, I ventured off the path. “I wonder if what I need is a primal,” I suggested. I had no idea what I was saying. I didn’t even know if that’s how you said it. Was ‘a primal’ a noun?

“We could do that,” Karen said, gamely. My eyes flicked over to the clock. “Well, there’s no time today, anyway. So, let’s do it next week,” I quickly backtracked. Surely a primal required at least an hour, if not longer. There was only half an hour left.

“We could do a dry run today,” Karen suggested, only she had already gotten up to prepare the matt on the floor while explaining what she was about to do. “I’ll be pressing down on your back along its length,” she said, making it sound like a massage. I started to relax, looking forward to releasing some tension in my shoulder blades.

I lay on my stomach and Karen pressed on my lower back. The pain shocked me. Since when do I have pain in my lower back? I had never noticed it before. How long had it been there? Then she moved up my spine to where my pain normally resides. All that pressing felt good, despite the pain. If this was a primal, I was loving it.

Then Karen told me to make some statements as she pressed the pain points. She gave examples like, “I hate my job” or “My mother never let me eat between meals” or whatever else came to mind. Except my mind had gone blank. Shit. I’m going to fail the primal, I panicked. Then Karen pressed really hard on my lower back and a voice broke the surface with the force of the scream from the week before, “I’M TIRED OF WAITING!”

“That sounded pretty true,” Karen said. “Let’s try something else.” She told me to get on my knees, my torso upright, my arms raised above my head, my hands clasped. She placed a tower of pillows in front of me. Then she assumed the same position adjacent to me and came down on the pillow tower, hitting  it with her outstretched arms, yelling, “I’m tired of waiting!”

I giggled uncontrollably. Karen got up and moved behind me. I started to explain that I would not be able to do that because I felt self conscious, "Karen, I don't think I can do . . ." when she pushed me! I fell forward, flooded with anger, and screamed I’M FUCKING TIRED OF WAITING. I’M TIRED OF FUCKING WAITING. I’M TIRED OF ALL THIS FUCKING FUCKING WAITING!!!!! 

Images flooded me. Waiting hours for my mother to pick me up at school. Waiting for dinner to be ready. Waiting for her to be happy so that I could stop trying to do the impossible. Waiting for my fatigue/resistance to ease up so that I could paint. Waiting to feel qualified at . . . well . . . ANYTHING. Waiting for my asshole neighbour to give in on the right-of-way issue to my front door so that I would not lose the value of my home. Waiting to be able to live alone. And yet tired of living alone. Tired of waiting to one day live with a partner again, waiting to possibly get married, waiting for a family of my own (and really tired of feeling ashamed to want these things) –  

And then I stopped. I stopped feeling. Because I knew I would never have a family. That piece of my life has passed me by (and, truthfully, I'm not sure I want children. But is that because of circumstances or because of an inner truth? I'll never know). The people I have loved in the last decade already had families, ones they built with their ex’s. And those children, those roots, those physical and emotional edifices did not include me. I was tired of waiting for inclusion (and, again, tired of feeling ashamed for wanting it). I was tired of waiting on the fringes of other people’s schedules and priorities and pasts. I was tired of waiting for my own will to live.

When the feelings of loss are too great, I shift out of waiting mode and into resignation, which looks an awful lot like quitting.

Andy’s death is the perfect example. For years, I couldn’t wait for the day when both my brothers would stand up for me at my future wedding the way they had done for each other. But that waiting is futile. It will never deliver Andy to my aisle. I guess it’s one less thing I have to wait for. And suddenly I am flooded with fatigue. Who cares? I just want to go to sleep.

Karen held me as I cried. I didn’t cry a lot, but the wave came from somewhere deeper than usual. “Your face looks so much softer,” she said. But the truth was, my time was up. We had come to the end of the half hour. 

On the two following nights, I dreamt about two women from my past, women who had endured family traumas on the level of Andy’s death and greater. In the dreams, they each came to me for comfort. I have always found both these women somehow remote -- able to describe their trauma but not necessarily express it, or maybe not even feel it. It occurred to me when I awoke that feeling is healing. And that I, myself, had become remote. In the dreams, however, these two women had softened through their pain, through their new ability to be vulnerable, to ask for help. Both had snuggled up to me like children seeking comfort in their mother’s arms. I don’t know what that’s like, to find comfort in a mother's arms, but in the role of mother I felt right at home. I took them in and held them. And something from deep within me radiated a feeling I can only describe as love. I may not ever have children of my own, but perhaps I might still become a mother.

As I lay in bed feeling the deliciousness of being needed, even if only by dream "patients,"  the mantra from a Rolling Stones' song resonated its soulful, human-condition truth from the top of  my head down through my  body like an alarm clock without a snooze button: you can't always get what you want; but if you try some time, you just might find you get what you need.

As for this sense I have of always waiting, well, as one therapist told a friend of mine, my pathology may just be my destiny. Waiting may be the teacher I have been waiting for, pushing me to the point of such exasperation that I stop waiting and start doing. Or, even better, realize that I'm already being.

And here's where primal therapy might do a world of good. It's nothing if not about being. When you can feel the nature of your pain, it unfreezes things, lets lifeblood flow again. All the ways in which I believe I'm forced to wait are not actually the truth. They are just cover ups for a deeper pain -- my sense of deprivation, which goes back to ... well, that part is for me to know and sort out. Like cutting, which is an attempt to feel something other than the pain of a trauma, waiting has kept deprivation at bay. But when I finally got past the surface pain of waiting to the raw pain of deprivation, it loosened its grip. At least for a moment.

I might need another primal or two for a full-body release ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a breakthrough. So well expressed. And I LOVE that your therapist *pushed* you onto those pillows!!