It’s a Monday evening therapy session with E. I tell her I’m doing pretty well overall, except that mornings are still hard.
“Hard as in you don’t want to go to work? Or hard as in you don’t feel well? What do you mean?” she asks.
“Hard as in I often wake up with the repetitive thoughts (“I’m so bad, I’m a terrible person, I want to hurt myself…”). They are really heavy. On the weekdays, I push through them and get to work, and after a while I am distracted by work. And I feel better later in the day. Saturdays, even though I look forward to them because of the free time, can be really hard because nothing necessarily takes me away from the pressing negativity. So I can stay like that for quite a long time until I start to feel better.”
“This Sunday it finally clicked for me, while it was happening, that we had talked about not trying to escape or distract myself or beat the feelings away, but rather to approach them and learn more about them,” I say.
I tell her I tried that on Sunday. I asked myself where those feelings reside in my body. They are a weigh on my chest. Sometimes they also live in my pelvis, though I may be confusing that with some of the weird gynecological stuff I’m dealing with these days.
I tell her I asked myself what the feelings look like, what color they are. They are a grey brown fog, a sooty mist, dirty, thick, and obscuring light.
Then I tell her I asked the feelings to talk to me, to tell me what they needed. And just like that, the overwhelming image is a ferocious snake with giant fangs. (No Freudian analyses here, please.) It was so sudden and powerful; I was shocked. And a little frightened. “Okay, feelings, there is something scary going on here. I think I’ll step back for the moment. But I’ll come back to you tomorrow in E.’s office and get her to help out with this.”
E. says, “That seems like a good way of taking care of yourself, stopping until you feel you are in a space or have the support you need to work on something.”
She suggests we start with figuring out what the snake is feeling. This seems like such a crazy idea that I want to laugh. Now I am not only going to imagine the fog and the snake, but also what that hissing snake is feeling? But I’ve learned that if I go along with the metaphors, I often end up with something that feels true.
Since at first I have no idea what the snake is feeling, we pull out E.’s long list of feelings and go through them. Is he feeling angry? No, that doesn’t seem right. He is tense, agitated, protective. Does he bear me any malice? No, as we talk I realize it’s his job to keep me away from something, and he’s just doing his job. It’s nothing personal.
E. keeps talking about how we can reassure the snake that we aren’t going to charge him. We can proceed at a really slow pace. We can ask him what he needs to allow us to go past him to whatever he’s protecting…
But I’ve zoned out, because suddenly I have a strong feeling about what he’s protecting. He’s protecting me from even thinking about something. “Ugh,” I say, “I think it’s about something else I should talk to you about but don’t want to.”
She looks at me inquisitively. “You don’t want to tell me? Are you afraid I’ll think less of you?”
“Of course,” I reply. “You probably will.”
“Well, I can’t predict the future,” E. says, “but I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that I wouldn’t think less of you. I’m trained to understand…”
“Uh huh, you are trained, so even if you were disgusted, you wouldn’t show it, so I’d just have to guess from little clues, like from a twitch in the corner of your mouth.”
She laughs. “I was going to say I’m trained, yes, but I also think I know you really well. We’ve worked together for years, and I can’t imagine what would change my view that you are a very dear, smart, determined person who is working in a remarkable way towards her own wholeness.”
(She’s been giving me a lot of reassurance lately, which I truly appreciate, but it will take a while to really sink in.)
We sit quietly for a while. “If you are not ready to give up a secret, I am not going to push you and alarm that snake. Maybe this week you can write it down and put it in an envelope. Next week you can bring it in, but you don’t have to open it if you don’t want to. You can just let it sit in the room. Then you can take it home again. You can do that as long as you like until you feel like opening it. You can open it and read a portion to me. Or leave it open but unread. We aren’t in a hurry.”
I think I will write it down and seal it inside multiple envelopes. It still needs to be pretty well protected. But I like the idea of it sitting in her office during one or multiple sessions, getting used to the idea of being there, even if still needs to stay hidden for a while.