Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Emotional Plateau

A couple of months ago, I had made enough progress in my twice-weekly therapy sessions that my therapist agreed I was ready to cut back to once a week. Since then, the progress has slowed considerably.

Each Wednesday, my therapist opens the session by asking "What are you feeling?" or, sometimes, "How are you feeling?" The answer to the second question is much easier for me. These days, I generally feel pretty good, much better than when I started therapy 13 months ago.

The answer to the first and more often asked question is much more difficult to come by. Truth be told, I don't know if I am feeling all that much. Today, finally, I was able to put it into words to at least describe where I am at.

Because I knew she would ask me that question, I actually thought about it as I climbed the stairs to her second-floor office. What came to mind was a sense of having stagnated or plateaued emotionally. I feel I have gotten to a comfortable place emotionally, much better than I have ever been but still not fully engaged emotionally in my own life.

She talked about the idea of there being a lid on things, one I put in place as a child as a means to protect myself while living in a violent household. We talked about my wanting to become invisible so as to not draw attention and possibly the wrath of an abusive stepfather or stepbrother. I stayed hidden as much as possible in the shadows.

She went to talk about the idea of my childhood ending when I was very young because of the circumstances in the home, and I have an increased sense of that. From at least the age of five until the age of 12, I never had other kids come over to our house to play, and I never went to anyone else's house to play.

As our session unfolded, I recalled an episode from around the time I was five. I had a favorite toy, a sort of scaled version of a car interior: there was a dashboard with windshield, wipers, steering wheel, dashboard, and working radio. I loved playing with it.

One day, an older boy (I think it was my future stepbrother, although I am not sure) took this toy and threw it into the swimming pool of our apartment complex. Without thinking, I went in after it, blindly disregarding the fact that I had not yet learned to swim.

Fortunately, I guess, I also did not yet know how to dive, so I landed fairly close to the edge of the pool when I jumped in and was able to grab the side of the pool, saving myself while the toy sank to the bottom of the pool. Thinking back on it, I think that was the moment when I decided not to let anything (or possibly anyone) matter that much to me again. I disciplined myself not to be ticklish and not to show pain when I was spanked. I got very good at closing myself off.

As we talked, she would ask me from time to time how something made me feel. One time, I surprised myself by saying I felt like I wanted to scream. She said that was a good first step to finally blowing off the lid to my emotional life and suggested I find a place to do just that, somewhere by myself and, hopefully, somewhere that I won't cause an avalanche (the avalanche danger is fairly high at the moment in some of the areas around us).

Sometime in the next few days, I intend to take her advice. It will be a new experience for me, as I don't know that I've ever screamed. Yelled, yes. Screamed, I don't think so.

If this weekend you hear a loud roar or noise off in the distance, don't be too alarmed. It will likely be me screaming as loud as I can muster, in hopes of chipping away the emotional rust and prying loose the lid and maybe letting some light back in.

No comments: