Make Room for Trouble

In session today with E, she and I both know we are going to have to come back to the hard stuff we talked about last week. But we aren’t in any hurry.

“How’s your son doing?” she asks me.

I tell her he’s okay, doesn’t do a lot these days, hangs out in his room watching movies, unless I drag him out for a walk by the river.

“And how is your Effexor withdrawal?”

“Good,” I tell her. “I hardly have any withdrawal symptoms anymore.” We both marvel at how amazing it is to finally be free of that hellish drug.

I fiddle around with my art journal, which I now sometimes bring to therapy with me and use instead of the mandala coloring books. I show her a very elaborate drawing I’m still working on.

Finally, after enough stalling, we get around to it. “How are you doing with that regret of yours? she asks.

Ha, funny. “Regret,” she calls it. Not “deep and terrible Shame.” Not “appalling Evil.” I appreciate her tactful euphemism, even if it is an understatement.

So I summarize for her the same thing I wrote about in my last post, essentially that I felt distressed about it, but then I was also able to locate my wise woman self, and she was able to tell me things besides BAD BAD BAD. The wise woman had faith in my ability to integrate this painful part (let’s use E’s name for her, “Regret.” though sometimes I think of her as “Trouble”), but I could take my time about it.

E is impressed. She loves the messages from the wise woman, and the way I drew on other coping strategies to get through the week. I bask for a moment or two in E’s approval.

Then she asks me, “So now what? What do you think is the next small step in this process?”

“I was thinking it’s about listening to the parts that don’t want to let her in, hearing their objections, and seeing what I need to do about them,” I tell her. “I don’t want to just override them.”

“That sounds reasonable,” she agreed. “What parts don’t want Regret to have a place in your house?”

I think for a few moments. “Well, I suppose the obvious one is the one who curates my self-image. She’s quite invested in me being a good person, and Regret really messes that up.”

“Okay, the curator. Is she the only one?”

Now I have to think longer. “I think the Sister.” This one is harder to explain here without going into the whole story, something I don’t feel prepared to do right now. But in general my role as a sister has been an important one, and mostly a happy one, in my life. My siblings were–and still are–a huge source of support through so many difficulties. I don’t want Regret to reshape that in any way, but I fear she might.

E asks what the Sister wants. I don’t know; I suppose she wants everything to not be true. So maybe she is Denial? Sometimes these parts gets mixed up and merge into one another (good thing my imaginary house is flexible and can accommodate that).

Suddenly, I get the sense I might be going at this backwards. “Maybe I don’t need to think about all the reasons to reject this part. Maybe it’s okay if some of my parts don’t like all my other parts. The house is big; they don’t all have to hang out together all the time. Maybe instead I should be thinking about the parts that could accept her. Or… I don’t know…”

E nods, “Don’t stop, just go with that instinct for a bit. What parts of you could accept her?”

“Um, I guess I the part of me that was volunteering at the prison before the pandemic. I have been thinking some about those women this week. A couple of them have life sentences, and several others will be in for decades for pretty terrible crimes. But I worked through my initial shock about the worst things about them, and I was able to see so many beautiful things in the women. With the possible exception of one, they were sincerely regretful of the harm they had caused. They loved the idea of being able to be a force for good, even if only inside the prison. They were dedicated to their own spiritual growth and to supporting others in the prison who also really wanted to change. It was not hard to see, as we spent hours together every week, that they truly were so much more than only their crimes.”

E says, “Yes, I remember you talking through some of this, especially when you found out what some of them had done.”

“Right. I wrestled with it for a while, but I couldn’t brush away their humanity, and their desire to be something better. So it seems like the part that can care about these women and want to support them, that part can also accept my own Regret.”

“I think you also know something about how those women ended up committing those crimes.”

“Oh, absolutely. One talked about growing up in–and running away from–many foster care homes. Others were beaten by parents, neglected, rejected. That’s not an excuse of course for what they did, but it helps explain it.”

“Maybe that part understands you also had contextual reasons that put you in the position you were in. Maybe that part can have a little compassion about that.”

I don’t say anything. It’s not easy to apply that to myself.

“What should we call that part?” E asks me. “The one that can see beyond the bad behavior to the person behind it?”

“For now,” I say, “let’s call her the Prison Volunteer. If we think of something better later, we can change it.”

So we talk for a while about the Prison Volunteer and her capacity to hold both the good and bad of a person at the same time. Perhaps she’s the one who sometimes feels like reaching out to my father.

A bit later, E asks, “And what about Regret, what does she want?”

“Bah, no idea; I don’t talk to her,” I say, rather abruptly.

That makes E go quiet for a moment; it’s her turn to think. “You are very quick to dismiss her, to push her away. It seems like there is some judgment going on?”

“Oh yeah, lots of judgment. That’s why I have been feeling a lot of this last week that I really need to be punished.”

“Interesting,” E says, thoughtfully, “I could be wrong, but I wonder if maybe this part, the one we are calling Regret, maybe she has already been judged, condemned and sentenced…”

“Hm, I don’t know, maybe…”

“It just seems as though maybe you have locked her up, and any time you do actually think about her, you feel the urge to punish her, to punish yourself.”

“Right, yes, that fits,” I agree, after thinking about it.

E looks at me, seriously. “It’s a long sentence, decades already. Is it a life sentence?”

That seems so unfair to me. “Well, I don’t know… but I have been acting like it is, haven’t I?”

“Maybe it’s time to consider commuting the sentence?” she asks.

“Yeah. Or maybe she could come up for parole,” I suggest.

“That’s not a bad idea,” E says. “Different parts could weigh in, say whether they think she is still a threat to the community.”

“She is not a threat to the community,” I assert, quite firmly.

“I bet she’d like to know you think that,” E says. “I bet she’d like to hear anything positive or hopeful you think about her.”

I bet she would. I’m not sure what I’m ready to say to her, but I can tell, I’m inching toward being able to have some kind of conversation.

Time is up though; even 60-minute sessions go too fast. Somehow, I’m going to find a way to hold this for another week. I can do this, I tell myself. I can make room for Trouble Regret.

Woman with dark hair lying back on a white rug, covering her face with her hands in shame or regret.
CREDIT: Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

6 comments

  1. Q. I love this. I’m going through EXACTLY the same thing in my therapy at the moment (just haven’t written about it yet as I’ve fallen behind writing up my sessions).

    Honestly, I cannot tell you how incredibly helpful this is to read!
    I think ‘Wise Woman’ and ‘Prison Volunteer’ are great, I can see why E says she thinks she loves the messages from wise woman. I think I do too!

    I also extend love and empathy to ‘Regret’. My own inner Regret waves to her, with unreserved understanding and acceptance, knowing it’s been a hard journey for her, all these years.

    Thank you for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this comment. It’s so helpful to know that others also struggle with a regret they feel shame about, one that is difficult to bring into the house with everyone else. You really help me feel better by normalizing the experience.

      Liked by 1 person

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