Editor’s note: This is part 32 of Marie’s Story.
Today was therapy session. I took my blanket and a couple of small travel pillows with me. I am feeling a very strong need to continue exploring this business of physically acting out the emotions and bodily sensations I feel in relation to the “little girl” memories. After the bit of success I had with putting the blanket around my shoulders last time, I’m feeling a tad braver.
At the start of the session, Carl asked how I was doing in general… if anything specific had come up for me since the last session that I might like to address… asked what I would like to do today…
Me: I would like to continue with the letter I wrote to my dad. Are you up for that?
Carl: You bet!
Me: Good! Would you be willing to read from it again on my behalf? The arrangement we used last time was very helpful to me. I was able to stay in touch with the “little girl” part of me and I was able to stay with my emotions. I’d like to do that again, if that is okay.
Carl: Yes, that would be fine!
Would you like to use the blanket again today?
(I was very relieved to hear him suggest using the blanket. For whatever reason, I was feeling very silly about telling him I wanted to try it again. I felt like I was making a big deal about an exercise he might perceive as silly. But, when he suggested trying the blanket again, I knew he had a solid understanding of the internal battles I was fighting.)
Me: Yeah, I would. Thanks for bringing that up.
Carl: You are welcome! Is there anything I can do to help? Do you need any items in the room moved? Do you need me to sit in any particular place in relation to where you would like to sit?
Me: Um… I’m not sure yet… I need a minute to feel what is going on with my body and what I need to do…
Carl: Okay. Take your time. We’re not in any hurry.
(I pulled the two travel pillows out of my bag and sat them on the couch next to me. I then pulled the blanket out of my bag and sat it on top of the pillows. I placed my hand on the still-folded blanket. And I sat and contemplated what it would take to convince myself to unfold the blanket, wrap it around myself and curl up into a ball. I wondered if it would be easier if I were on the floor or if I were on the couch—I didn’t know the answer to that. I sat and contemplated some more. Carl sat quietly and watched me as my frustration and anxiety started growing… )
Me: (With impatience and fear in my voice… ) Why can’t I express what I am feeling in my body? Why is this so hard for me?
I know I am safe in here. I know you won’t ridicule me. I know you want for me to learn how to express my feelings. So, why can’t I just do this?
(Carl didn’t answer. He just continued watching me with a very concerned expression on his face. I wasn’t sure what he was waiting for… I didn’t know what I wanted him to say, anyway. He patiently watched and waited as my eyes filled with tears.)
Me: What am I so afraid of? I think it would be helpful if I could identify exactly what I fear. But, I can’t. I don’t have a specific fear. Instead, I have this overwhelming general feeling that I will cease to exist if I dare climb under the blanket. Logically, I know that won’t happen. So, why can’t I just do this? It seems like it should be so simple.
It’s not like I’m shy or anything… I’ve never met a stranger, I’m comfortable performing on stage, I can make a wisecrack in a classroom full of people… so why is this so hard?
Carl: Are you asking for my opinion?
Carl: I think that, in your childhood, and even in your adulthood to some extent, whenever you expressed what was really going on inside of you, you have been dismissed, ridiculed, judged, hit, slapped or otherwise punished. I think you learned early on that expressing yourself results in the annihilation of who you perceive yourself to be. It has never been safe for you to express your truth—until now. And, now, it is hard for you to believe you are safe when you have always known your world to be unsafe.
Your brain is telling you that you are safe, but your body has not yet gotten the message. Your body is still in survival mode. It has been for more than 40 years.
Me: Yes. That is true.
And, I keep watching you for any sign that you disapprove of my drama because that is a reliable sign that harm or ridicule is on its way. Even though I know you won’t stop approving of and supporting what I am trying to do here, I can’t stop watching for any sign that tells me otherwise.
Carl: Ouch! (Hand on his heart)
(We sat quietly for a few more minutes as I continued doing battle with myself… )
Me: I don’t know if I can do this. It feels so impossible.
(More sitting… more contemplating… more doing battle… Carl still sat quietly, waiting, watching.)
Me: Will you help me figure out how to do this? I need your help to figure out how to express what I’m feeling.
Carl: Yes. I would be glad…
(I suddenly interrupted him with a very loud, involuntary sob… I don’t know where it came from… it just burst out from deep in my chest. Carl stopped speaking mid-sentence. I was overcome with such strong emotion that I continued sobbing audibly—not my usual behavior, for sure.)
Carl: (After a moment… ) What is happening with you? Can you tell me?
Me: (Struggling to catch my breath enough to speak… ) I felt… a sudden rush… of fear… (gasp)
I asked you… I asked a man… to help me do something that would, in turn, make me very vulnerable… (gasp)… it would put me in danger… asking a man, I mean…
I mean… if I let you know what is really going on inside of me, then you could use it… you could use that information to manipulate me… to hurt me… make me do things I don’t want to do… (sob)
I always maintain this wall… I don’t ever let people… men… know what I’m really thinking or feeling. It’s not safe…
I just asked a man to step inside my wall… I’m not sure I can survive that.
(Again, I was overcome with loud sobs… and Carl patiently sat quietly and waited. Then, after some time… )
Carl: Did you overwhelm yourself by inviting me in?
Me: Yes. (Sob)
Carl: Would you like to take back the invitation? It would be okay with me. You don’t have to do anything you aren’t ready to do.
Me: No. I want to keep going.
Carl: Then, we will take it very slow. You can change your mind at any point. We can even stop before we get started. You are in control of what happens here today.
Me: Okay. But, I want to keep going. I just don’t know what that would look like. I need your help. (Blowing nose… )
Can you check in with yourself and ask yourself what you need right now? I don’t mean what you need in order to be able to wrap up in the blanket, necessarily, but what you need in general to tend to the pain you are feeling right now . . ?
[Continued in the next post… ]