“First impressions count”.
My first impression as I look through the car window: Steely. Broken.
Two oppositional realities.
I notice a small internal movement; a sharp intake of breath. And have the immediate thought that I must meet you as an individual. You had arrived, pale and retracted, sitting at the back in your mother’s car. Strange this sense that I had to take on two individuals, as my practice is based on healing the relationship between a mother and a child.
You spoke openly. The outer shell that people build around themselves out of necessity had broken. This left you so vulnerable that any arrow shot now would have shattered the tiny part of you that could still relate to me. It was as if I found myself in the presence of a severely wounded animal.
How did it come to this Samantha?
As your story unfolded, my heart broke a little. I am used to sad stories. I hear them every day. It was your bravery that got to me. Especially given how exposed you had remained for so (too) many years, without someone taking matters firmly in hand, so that your life could be simpler, better, more normal. You were magnanimous about your parents’ well-intentioned, but misguided attempts to help you. With each year passing grievously, that inevitable twin development happened: Escape from the world (who would not want to, given such a reality), and then, inevitably, the more maleficent one: A voice inside your head that, as frightening as it was, it was at least, some kind of a reliable ‘ally’. “Someone” who understood your pain and your suffering.
This is what happens when adults are unable to help growing children who are in deep distress. Sometimes they want to help, but do so in ways that keep the problem in place or that make it worse. These adults do not mean badly, they are either out of their depths or are themselves hurting badly.
Now it is time for healing
Healing means “new”, different, not as before. It means different and not as before for all of you: Your parents, your brother and yourself. It means that you finally have someone who understands and accepts your reality, and who takes it seriously. It means no more lies. It also means that the change that happens now is towards your best interests. It means changing your mind, and your daily self-soothing habits.
It means saying goodbye to the voice in your head. This last one is hard, and we will begin by changing the conversation that you have with it, so that you begin to have equal power to it. It means resurrecting or inventing helpful images that can be called upon in times of distress.
But you won’t be alone anymore: We walk together. And in time, you and your mother and you and your father and you and your brother, will be able to walk a different path. If this is not possible, then still you won’t be alone, because as you change, life will open up in different ways for you, so that helpful friendships can develop.
Seven steps towards healing
- If we were not cared for in the ways that we needed when we were little, these unmet needs remain pressing inside of us. Mostly, we react in one of two ways, “It doesn’t matter, I don’t need anybody”. Or the opposite; being clingy, having a desperate neediness that either puts people right off, or attracts people with similar unmet needs. Our task is to get you to a place where you need others (we all do), but not to be overwhelmed or driven by that need. What you have to do for now: Press Pause. For now you must rely on professional people to hold you and support you. They are the stepping-stones towards another livelier, more intimate connected shore.
- When the beckoning voice inside your head becomes strong, engage with it. Tell it that you have changed your mind, that you have chosen life, and that it can either help you in your quest or, in case it cannot do that, you give it permission to recede.
- Evoke an image of its opposite. What would be an image of life, of healing for you? It may be vague at first, but make it real by drawing, or sculpting, or taking a photo, or cutting out an image in a magazine of it. Make it grow in your mind as an image of life and hope.
- Every single day, do something normal that you have either stopped doing, or something entirely new. Plan for this. Have it in your diary.
- During this activity try your level best not to think about your problem. Practice to interrupt sad thinking. Remember the 2.5 minute rule: If you can distract yourself for two-and-a half minutes from your usual thinking, you will be able to interrupt that negative train of thought that runs away with you. Remember: Rumination (thinking about something over and over and over) is one of the main channels keeping despair in place. I do not mean that you must change your negative thoughts into positive ones. For now, take time to think about something neutral. For example, you are busy baking, and you begin to think about how sad it is that you are not doing it together with someone else, or for someone else. So you stop that thought, and look at the dough to see what the consistency is, and you take a look to see what the temperature on the thermometer is, and look around the kitchen until you see something that you really like, or something that you would really like to change… whatever is concrete and real around you, there you place your eyes and your thoughts.
- Whatever you do, don’t give up. You don’t want to get up out of bed? Just get up. You don’t want to walk the dogs? Just walk the dogs. You don’t want to do something normal today? Just do something normal today. Think of all the mountain climbers who wanted to just lie down in the snow when they thought they could go no further, and didn’t. Of all the ballet dancers who thought they could not take another step, and did.
- Be glad and give credit. Most of all to yourself. For all the years that you still had hope, and dreams. For the battles that you have fought. For the cards that were dealt to you, and that despite them, what you still wanted was something inherently alive and bountiful. That is something good. Deep in your innermost core, you know that. Believe with all your heart, that this is achievable: being alive and being glad.