As most of my friends know, I'm currently training to be a psychotherapist. So all-day classes are filled with exercises ranging from answering questions about how culture affects us to doing mock consultations.
Sunday, 25 January, my mock consultation was with one of my study partners, K, who has some counselling experience. We were to have an initial consultation, do a hypnotherapy screed, and do a post-consultation, so we had to choose a fairly specific problem for the exercise.
Now I could have chosen any of a dozen - fear of spiders would have been the easiest. But the one that came out of my mouth was, "I have a real problem being in the middle of a crowd. I need to be near an exit and/or with my back to the wall. I can't be in the middle of a row or a pew, or I feel really uncomfortable. I can get *really* aggressive if I can't sit at the end. I can do small spaces, no problem. I'm not place claustrophobic; I'm people claustrophobic."
K asked a few questions, including "When do you first remember this starting?" I gave him the answers that I had worked out - being sexually abused and being backed into corners when a parent was angry.
His screed was interesting - and I found it remarkably perceptive that he incorporated the idea that everyone was positively inclined towards me: the visualisation was of a party where everyone was happy to see me. It hadn't occurred to me, obvious though it is, that part of the underlying mentality was that *my initial assumption is that people are hostile* - not neutral, not positive, but negative. That ties into other areas as well: I don't always trust people to let me know when they're upset with me and work things out; I occasionally leap to the worst (not showing up) conclusion when friends run really late.
But that wasn't the big one. That came in the mock post-consultation, when K gently probed past the pat 'why' answers. And out of my mouth came:
"I always felt so trapped in my family. I couldn't even walk out the door without one of them or without having them breathing down my neck, ringing every 5 minutes."
It was a bit like being hit in the solar plexus - and that was when it was only attached to the people claustrophobia.
It turned out that it was more like hitting a sheet of ice along a fracture plane. Cracks are radiating out everywhere, and I'm suddenly aware that what seemed to be solid ground under my feet never was.
I felt shattered Sunday evening; the stillness of Vespers helped a bit, the Tallis Canon helped even further. Monday, I felt tender; that was to be expected. But by Monday evening, I was beginning to understand just how big those cracks were, as I mentioned the breakthrough to Ari towards the end of our conversation.
By Tuesday, my world looked like global warming had hit full force, as I felt like I was standing on a tiny piece of ice with several emperor penguins sitting on eggs on a restless ocean.
Ari and I emailed back and forth quite a lot, and by Wednesday evening, I was pretty sure I'd found the centre of my labyrinth. Follow the thread of every decision I have ever made, large or small, and it ties back to the need for freedom, the fear of being locked in.
I never make a room my own - so I can pack and leave. I go to a church like the Oratory, where I never feel at home - so the door is always ajar and I have one foot out the door, and I don't feel trapped. I fall for/get involved with emotionally unavailable men, so I never, EVER have to close the door behind me and get trapped in a life like the suffocating one my parents had - or that I had growing up. Hmmm. Wonder who the really emotionally unavailable one is there?
So in essence, my need to be free has trapped me in a life that is too small. I must always be ready to pack and leave at a moment's notice.
I may become attached to things, but I never really allow myself to become committed.
*Because it never occurs to me that once a door is closed, and a space is mine, I can OPEN AND CLOSE IT AT WILL, and come home. I'm NOT trapped.*
I've threaded myself to the centre of the labyrinth: from here, everything emanates. Every decision, every action, every fear.
Now I need to find my way out to freedom. I'm tired of living in emotional hotel rooms and out of emotional suitcases. I proved I can walk out of my parents' house with no more than 3 bin bags of clothing. I only needed to do it once; I don't need to spend the rest of my life living there.
It is often said that we become stuck because of an intense inner conflict: I am dying to put down roots, to build a family and to be still; but thinking about growing up in my family still leaves me choking for air and I'm terrified of being trapped.
I think I need to sit in the darkness for a while, holding this, honouring it, knowing it was a way for me to survive. Then, I need to thread my way out, one step at a time, intuitively and in faith.
But the time for being a spore is over; it's time to shed the hard covering and become a seed.
It's time to stop surviving and start living.