I have this tendency to do things on my own. I go to dinner by myself. I go grocery shopping on my own. I walk here or there by myself. I don’t only do activities by myself. I also handle life on my own. I retreat into my own head. Its safe. I’m in control. There are no expectations to deal with other than my own. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone. I don’t have to explain the way I feel: angry, sad, or disappointed.
There are good things about it – I’m more aware of myself; what I need and what I don’t want. There are bad things about it—doing life on my own or by myself is not normal. Mind you, I didn’t come to that realization on my own.
In one of my therapy sessions I was prodded about my childhood, “Who would you talk to if you had a bad day?” I sat there for a few seconds before slowly answering dreading her follow up question. “No one.” She followed up, “Essentially as an eight year old child you learned to soothe yourself?” My response took a little longer than a few seconds this time as I realized the effect of her statement; it really wasn’t a question.
I didn’t answer the question as an eight-year-old; I answered as an almost thirty-year-old adult. Slowly I answered, “Yes, I guess so,” as years of my life replayed. I sat there quietly trying to remember what bad days felt like as a child or a teen. Sadly, I didn’t have bad days because I didn’t realize one could have bad days. I guess those were the days I didn’t feel as happy as the previous day. I guess those were also the days when I felt like crying but didn’t know why or even better when I did know why. The why could range from someone hurt my feelings or I didn’t have the best test score or we lost the game even though I tried so hard.
Yes. I soothed myself, in other words, I did life on my own, by myself. Obviously, I didn’t do it very well. Currently as I sit here at my desk, I think about the times I broke down crying. I couldn’t tell you what straw broke the camel’s back, I could tell you I was due for a good cry. I had to let it out of my system because I was overwhelmed, overburdened, and overexposed to things I couldn’t handle on my own.
Yesterday I had a good bad day. It was one of those days where I wanted to run into my therapist’s office and dump it all on the floor. I needed her to sit with me as I sifted through these puzzle pieces of feelings, unrealistic expectations, and heartbreaking disappointments. I needed her to remind me that what happened was life and although some of those emotions triggered horrible memories, I wasn’t an eight-year-old child or a fifteen-year-old teenager. I was an adult in the world not back in my childhood room unable to wake up from a painful memory. I say I had a good bad day because I fought it: the pull of wanting to recluse into my head, to be alone, to go home and climb into bed and forget there was a world existing outside of my studio apartment in downtown Los Angeles.
You know what I did? I sent a text message. I actually sent a few text messages. The gist of the message was: Pray for me, I’m having a really bad day. I was able to sift through it slowly. My bad day hinged from a bad night in which was supposed to be a constructive conversation turned out to be the gateway of my current feelings. Nothing unkind was said but it didn’t have to be because I heard what wasn’t. I sifted through those feelings and emotions like an adult. Instead of participating in destructive numbing tendencies, I reached out. I calmed down as I sifted through feelings while kind words were messaged to me.
It was a trigger. It was a trigger reverting me back to the painful past. It catapulted me into a wave of painful emotions where I couldn’t find my strength. I couldn’t move my arms and legs into a rhythm out of the riptide. Eventually I stopped. I stopped the deprecating thoughts. I stopped the wanting to run into my therapist office. I stopped just enough to grasp at a moment of clarity.
Purposeful clarity: I’m at the office. I’m nowhere near my childhood home. I’m talking with co-workers. I’m sitting at lunch. I have a car. I have my own apartment. I’m going to therapy. I’m going to therapy on Thursday. For now, you can do this. You can weather this wave until help arrives on Thursday.
The funny thing is helped arrived sooner than Thursday. It arrived in the form of encouraging text messages and a dinner with a kind friend. Because this one time and hopefully not the last time, I decided not to do life on my own.