So when I was struggling last week with my flashbacks–or whatever they were–of Stephen and that whole horrible experience, placing ice on the back of my neck wasn’t the only coping strategy I used. I also went back to my internal “house.” That’s the place where all my parts live together, everyone from Compassion to Doubt, from the 9-Year-Old Girl to Rage (Rage is rather like a bear). It’s a metaphor I have returned to frequently over the past four or more years, and it’s served me well. Last week, it did so again.
So it’s Monday afternoon, and I call a number of the parts together for a meeting in the great room. This is a combined kitchen and large living room, with a wall of windows opening out to the ocean. (When it’s built in your imagination, the size of the mortgage presents no obstacle.)
I ask these parts to help me cope with Stephen’s annoying and painful and dominating presence in my psyche. The warrior part immediately volunteers to stand guard at the front gate and keep him off our property. I have a 14-year-old part who used to get sexually abused and manipulated, but I’ve since given her a new role as babysitter, and she takes the younger parts off to another wing of the house to play games. “They don’t need to know anything about that asshole,” she says.
Little by little, the parts are all trying to find ways they can help protect me from what was happening. But one part isn’t going with the plan. That part is instead peeking out the window, trying to catch a glimpse of him. She is thinking that maybe she should go after him, maybe she belongs with someone like him. Also I notice she is confused, disheveled, distraught–almost feverish (note: to date there have been no cases of COVID-19 in my internal world).
This part, I realized, is Sexuality. She’s been a mess for a while. In fact, I never ended up writing a post about this, but late last fall, I told E that I was surprised to find Sexuality living out in the barn. She was thin and dirty and a little sick. Back then, I imagined taking her clean blankets and telling her she would be welcome to come to the house when she’s ready.
So at some point between December and now, she evidently took me up on my offer and moved from the barn into the house. Frankly, though, she doesn’t look a whole lot better than she did then. Her long hair is greasy and tangled and she’s wearing a long, dirty nightgown. Her eyes have a wildness to them. She is, I realize, completely freaked out.
I don’t know exactly what to do with her. I don’t really know what is wrong with her, except that she is agitated and desperate and self-destructive. I look at her. In the past, I might have told her to clean up her act or just to go away. But I’ve been learning that all parts belong in my home. They all have something meaningful to offer, even though I don’t always see it right away.
I decide to ask the other parts that are still there–Compassion and the Cook and the Nurse and a few others–to just take care of her.
“It doesn’t matter what’s wrong with her. We don’t have to figure it out or fix it right now. It’s enough to see that she is suffering. Let’s just keep her safe, feed her, care for her, love her up. Don’t let her sneak out to see Stephen. We know that’s not what she really wants or needs. When she feels better, she’ll be glad to have stayed away from him.”
So do you read this and think, that Q, she is really crazy? I can imagine my younger self would have rolled her eyes at this. But for me, this kind of imaginary work is immensely powerful. Once I put suffering Sexuality into the safe hands of Compassion and the Nurse, among others, I felt a little more at peace.
One of the things that felt meaningful and different to me this time was that I wasn’t trying to change or fix anything. I wasn’t trying to make Sexuality go away. I wasn’t trying to make her suffering go away. I wasn’t trying to analyze her suffering and make some kind of narrative about it. I was just letting her be there with her suffering and sending kindness her way.
It didn’t mean I had to do anything specific. I mean, I did do some nice things for myself, like an online yoga class and an extra nap and some texting with a trusted friend. But I wasn’t doing any of it to change how I felt / how Sexuality felt. I was letting the emotions be what they were, and I was being non-judgmental and accepting as they stormed around inside myself.
I don’t have to make the bad feelings go away. I just have to see them, accept them, be kind to them / to myself. I don’t have to listen to the thoughts or stories that go with them. I don’t have to follow their negative impulses. But I also don’t have to squash them, stop them, deny them.
I’ve tentatively ventured in this direction before, but this was the first time that I felt so clearly that I could live with things being what they were. This, along with some ice on the back of my neck, was what set me on a path to start feeling better over the next few days.
CREDIT: Image adapted from a photo by Paul Larson on Unsplash