Okay—I’m back. Suitcase still sitting in the corner of my bedroom. Mouse droppings all over my office. River birches flaxen. Dark cool mornings. Silence at night save for coyotes and the occasional logging truck down-shifting out on the road. Ahhhh…home sweet home.
My New York, Hartford, and Chicago area events were all a success, and by that I mean that I felt the love. From high school students at my alma mater, to the women who helped raise me, now in their 70s, to friends I hadn’t seen in 20 years, to the many supportive fans who came out and said hi…it was quite frankly, a love fest. And love fests are a good thing.
But they don’t necessarily cure claustrophobia. As many of you know, I took a stand for myself recently in this regard, knowing that I was going to spend the next little while in elevators and airplanes and subways and buses. Things with doors that close and don’t provide easy answers to opening them. It was getting in my way and I wrote about it here on my blog. In short, I was limiting myself. I was spending hundreds of extra dollars to not have to take small planes or stay in hotels that required an elevator. And when I couldn’t find one, I was walking up and down 15 flights of stairs in business attire, trying not to trip over my boots on lonely, dirty stairwells–and arriving to every meeting in a full sweat. I was carrying around anti-anxiety meds just in case. It was exhausting.
I was embarrassed and fed up and I called on the help of my new friend the wonderful therapist La Belette Rouge to share her wisdom. She told me about EMDR, and after hearing her success story, I promptly scheduled four appointments with a local practitioner. I wasn’t sure if it was working at the time. Though I recalled intense early childhood memories including crying in my crib and what it was like to actually be stuck in the elevator in the John Hancock building at age five. I didn’t do much research before I signed up for the sessions, mostly because I didn’t want to walk in a doubter. I just wanted to get “better.” And I’m happy to report…that I think I did.
Here’s what happened for me: in every re-processing of my traumatic memories with the bi-tonal sounds in my ears and the vibrating paddles in my hands, I was able to see that nothing contains you. You contain you. Life is no better on the outside of where you are. And short of a lifetime in prison, you can usually get out, eventually, from where you are. And when you can’t, I’d hope for the grace to call upon the container that is me, and find solace there.
What I really got to see and feel is the amount of exhaustion that comes with drama, not unlike the driving forces of my book. The payoff to engaging in the drama is thin compared to the freedom of non-reaction. It’s less spiritual (though I’d like it to be moreso) than it simply is self-preservation. It’s easier to sit on an airplane and not be staring at the door wondering when they’re going to close it, thinking about how hard it would be to get them to open it again and let you out. It’s easier to stand in the elevator and think about what the woman next to you is wearing, or how your next appointment is going to go, or what you want for lunch, than invent and indulge a 70s horror film that has you in a blackout, stuck with a birthing woman and an axe murderer. It just is. I spent $500.00 to figure this out. Well worth it. I recommend it highly.
But here’s something else I learned. I’m not particularly nice to myself. In watching those mental movies they ask you to re-live in EMDR as you re-program your mind, I wasn’t often that able to be my own gentle mother. I told myself at every turn to buck up. Suck it up. That there are far worse problems. And guess what: it doesn’t do a damn thing but make matters worse.
Mostly I was okay on this trip. I got into elevators and small planes and subways without incident, and when I started to engage those old patterns of thinking, I was gentle with myself, using the methods they teach you in EMDR. But more than being a spokesperson for those methods…my larger message is to be gentle with yourself. If you need to take the stairs up nine floors, oh well. It’ll be good exercise. If you need to talk the person’s ear off next to you in the airplane, so be it. They’ll survive. Go gentle into that dark night. And call it good.