Prelude to Willingness (written 2018)
I have been in therapy since my junior year in high school, off and on. Well, more on than off. This incarnation I have been with my therapist for over twelve years. By far the most time I have worked with anyone. Which was great, because it allowed me to start getting real. It brought safety, which was vital for me to be able to separate the shame from specific events from the overreaching and all-encompassing sense of shame I felt constantly. That shame created need to obliterate myself. It created waves of suicidal ideation which left me worn. I felt like a helpless, hopeless, worthless person.
I had little awareness of why I felt so worthless. The memories were shoved down so far. I had learned not to think about them. I had learned to refuse to look. Therefore, I didn’t know the shame belonged to the people in my life, not me.
But that was an awareness I wouldn’t really have until quite recently.
In the meantime, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my early 20s. My deep depressions and frustrating hypomanic episodes were a ready distraction. I knew how to hold on through the depressions. The hypomanic episodes were the worst. When I was in the midst of one I would talk too much, too fast, and share far too much. I would take chances that would normally horrify me. And sleep, what is that? I’d lay down and half-dream for a few hours before the restless energy took hold.
I’d rearrange my furniture, and viciously attack any clutter. I would simplify by throwing things away. Sometimes I would lose things that would later leave me with anger and shame. The worst was my comic book collection. Three long comic book boxes representing most of my discretionary money from Junior year until after I graduated high school.
I had been dragging those comic books around with me since then. They were big and bulky, and I just couldn’t find a good place to store them. They just sat there., glaring at me. They reminded me of how obsessive I had been. They represented hundreds upon hundreds of dollars. Along came the hypomania. I sold the whole collection for $60. I knew they were worth far more. I didn’t care. I just wanted them gone. Add on more win for shame.
Hypomania delighted in torturing me. Leaking stores. Being far less perfect than my usual put together persona I had worked so hard and long to create. I was generally too expansive. I did enough to create a desperate need to not exist. My only way to combat the shame after an episode was to dissociate. It allowed me to hide fro the pain I felt looking at people. The pain of the joking from people I worked with.
So, yeah. It took a few years in therapy to start getting real. Only a few months after we met, I broke down. I was cutting myself in the bathroom at work. My physical health was horrid. I was actively suicidal. I felt I wasn’t making any difference in the world. Without some substantial reason I couldn’t see why I should stay on this planet.
Well, I ended up in a part-day hospital outpatient program. I honestly thought the whole point of the exercise was to prove that I was too far gone. If I could show I had done everything I could they couldn’t blame me for dying.
It didn’t quite work that way. One of the staff there told me she thought I should go to college. I had never tried because I was sure I couldn’t afford it. I also physically couldn’t handle hours on a campus every day.
Still, the suggestion gave me just enough oomph. A reason to stay a little longer and see what happened. While I was there, I met a counselor named Mike. By the time I left the program three months later was invited to join an evening support group.
It took me a month or two to visit the group. The very thought of a support group was intriguing and frightening. I didn’t want to walk into the room alone. Eventually, I did.
That group gave me a purpose. It also pushed all my shame buttons. It was a turning point in my recovery.
For the first time I had to cope with the intense shame I felt on a weekly basis. No matter what I did in group, the fear of being seen and heard was intense. I prepped myself all day, talking myself into going. I then spent the rest of the week battling with the feelings the group provoked. The going-ons in group were the main fodder for my therapy sessions for the longest time.
Without that group, I honestly feel that my time in therapy would have been more putting out fires. That is what therapy always had been in the past. Group forced me to act. Acting, going through the pain rather than putting my head down and running around it, created change.
Change was a mixed blessing. I started before I was ready. I think every step into the unknown begins before we are really ready. I met several people who have become lifelong friends in group.
While in group I thought a great deal about what it takes to effect change. I came up with a presentation I was privileged to be able to present at the partial program. I called it willingness. The idea of going from wanting to want to do something to actually doing it.
Shame held me in one place, never daring to grow or change. Willingness was one of the first steps to looking it in the eye.
I’ll post that next.