As I wrote about the other day, the absence of visitors as I sit through my recovery from surgery has made me feel unloved and neglected. I started to think, Maybe I’m not a good enough friend to people. Maybe it’s boring to listen to me. Maybe…
And I catch myself, on the edge of that all-too-familiar path to self-loathing. It’s a path I I have followed it hundreds of times. Thousands, maybe. But what if I were to choose NOT to go there this time?
That was part of my texting conversation with E. over the weekend. On Sunday, I could feel the pull of negativity, the sharp tug in the direction of that familiar, rocky path. I started thinking, hm, my husband is going out tonight. I’ll have the house to myself for three or four hours this evening. Perfect opportunity to burn myself. That would simultaneously punish me for being so unlovable but also diminish the pain of it all–you know, very sensible, in the twisted logic of self-harm.
And still, another voice asked me, what if you choose not to go there? What if you just tolerate the feelings?
At one point, I texted E. to tell her that I was thinking about burning myself later that evening but kind of having an internal battle about it, and that I thought maybe by telling her, I would be less likely to do it (i.e. make it more embarrassing). But later I thought, since she already knows I have done it before, and she never scolds me, maybe that’s not enough to really stop me. What if I really make it impossible for me to do to it? Then I will have to tolerate the feelings.
So I sent another text saying that I hoped she realized I wasn’t asking her to do anything or rescue me from the feelings. I was just trying to make it harder for me to take yet another trip on the well-worn path. And to make it even harder, I wrote to her, I was voluntarily committing myself to NOT burning on Sunday. I respect her too much to break a commitment to her, so that essentially sealed it for me. Not an option anymore.
This was new–I’d never done that before. But I held to it.
E. said it was a great thing to be able to catch myself at the crossroads and to choose not to follow a path I’ve visited so many times. The thing was, though, it didn’t feel like a crossroads to me, because I couldn’t see an alternative path to take. I felt it had something to do with being mindful and tolerating the emotions, but what does that look like, exactly? I envisioned myself in a desert, stranded, with a trail heading off down a rocky cliff, but no other clear path. I just stood there, parched and tired, with no direction.
On alternate Mondays I now have appointments with C., the licensed social worker who does the body work. I carried this (and my post-surgical pain) into her office. She agreed with E. that it was an important step, to catch myself at the edge of route to self-loathing and to put on the brakes.
There was more to the session than just this, but here’s the part relevant to my stuck-in-the-desert problem. She had me on the mat, on my back (of course, can’t lie on my stomach yet), and her hand slid under me, pressing on my tense low back. I’m breathing, slowly, deeply. C said, “Explore what it would be like for you, not just to stop at the edge of the familiar path, but to turn away from it and turn toward something else. What would it feel like to turn toward gratitude? To turn toward everything that is good in your life right now?”
It’s sounds so simple and so obvious, but I needed to be deeply relaxed and then prompted. And then, there was the path. It was a lush, green garden path with buds and blooms. My supportive marriage. My humble but comfortable (and affordable) house. My real garden. My dogs. My healthy (if sometimes challenging) sons. An interesting job. An education and experience that would allow me to survive as a consultant if I have to leave the stress of that interesting job. I felt almost flooded, except with good emotions instead of the usual scary ones. And my back released about the same time.
I don’t even know what this means yet. Is this something I will be able to access again? Was it a one-time fluke? What exactly happened? I can’t answer these questions, but my heart is lighter tonight.