Well, I decided to practice self-care so I met with a therapist. I am inwardly groaning as I write this out because therapy almost feels like a career for me. I should have an honorary PhD in going to therapy. It has taken a lot of time and effort to find healing and restoration, and I had hoped to be done. This is what this new therapist has observed. The “cognitive stuff” is done. That’s something, right? I absolutely know what is true, and I know how to apply it. That feels like a huge victory. What isn’t done? The leftover trauma. Well, shit.
What does this mean? Recall how I have said that I have a visceral response to hearing my mother’s voice. I’ll even get a migraine within a few minutes of hanging up the phone from a conversation with her. That’s all related to trauma. CBT can’t address this. These are body memories. Telling myself what is true or even knowing what is true won’t stop the release and subsequent cascade of stress hormones. It feels like the perfect time to begin dealing with what I could never reach in the past–these biologically lodged triggers. I want them gone. This therapist specializes in treating trauma and uses EMDR.
Yesterday’s session was my third session. We are finally going to get started on learning some tools now that we are past some of the intake. She gave me a very basic tool before I left called “The Box”. This is something I’ve been doing since I was young. I call it compartmentalization. When something comes to mind and you can’t deal with it at that moment, you need to be able to set it aside until a later time. Some people have a very hard time setting issues aside in their mind, thus, they perseverate and whip themselves up into a nice, foamy lather. If i’m not paying attention to my thoughts and practicing mindfulness, then I am certainly capable of this. Part of practicing mindfulness is paying attention to the flow of your thoughts. Our thoughts are generally not linear; at least mine are not. I think much like this:
Setting: Driving in the car
“There’s nothing good on the radio. This DJ is dumb. Where’s the smart one? I wonder what this DJ looks like? Is he a DJ because he’s really unattractive but has that velvety, rich voice? I wonder what would happen if he did online dating. Ohmigod, I forgot to pay a bill online! My stomach hurts. What if my credit rating goes down? What if I forgot to pay other bills, too? Did I forget to lock the house? Wait…did one of the cats get out? No. She was in the window staring at me when I left. Gross. There was a guy staring at me at Denise’s house when I was swimming over there last summer! Like, he was actually looking over the fence! Was that a neighbor? Does she have a pervy neighbor? Does he peep at night? Do I have a pervy neighbor? I have daughters! What if I do have a pervy neighbor? It’s too bad my dog died. She would eat a pervert’s face off! My dog died…it’s almost the anniversary of her death! I feel sad…::sniff::”
Thoughts are so random, and jump from one strange connection to the next. One word can trigger a new thought which leads to a new connection which leads to a new thought and on and on. So, when my husband asks me what I’m thinking about I usually tell him nothing because how can I explain this? I’m thinking about my dead dog eating the face off of peeping pervs who might live in our neighborhood, but not really because I’m really thinking about ugly DJs having an advantage in the online dating world if it only involved talking on the phone, and I might have forgotten to pay a bill. And, now I feel sad. Oh, and I feel slightly defiled, too.
This entire scenario could have been stopped had I used The Box tool. Notice that as soon as I became anxious at recalling that I forgot to pay a bill, other memories associated with times I felt anxious surfaced. If I were being mindful, I would have noted that I was in the car driving. I could not address the issue of paying a bill at that time. I would have said to myself, “I cannot take care of this right now so I will set it aside by putting it into The Box. When I am able, I will take it out of The Box and devote whatever attention it needs to resolve the issue.” Problem solved. I do not cause myself further anxiety, and I now know that I will take care of the issue later. My amygdala can stop alerting me and go back to a resting state. This is the point of The Box. The Box teaches us that we have control over how we think and what we think about.
You can put good things, bad things, in-the-middle things, or whatever you want in The Box. You design The Box. My box is platinum and covered in sapphires. It has a lock, and I have the only key. To me, it is precious because everything in it, even what I don’t like, is valuable in some way. Some people choose to make a box. I have done this exercise with a few of my children. Children often call it their Worry Box because they have such a hard time letting go of their anxieties and perseverations. So, they decorate a box however they wish, and they write their worries on pieces of paper, leaving them in the box. They are free to come back to their Worry Box and look over them at any time, but, once the worry is in the box, they are to try to stop thinking on that particular thing. It’s in the box, we say. Try to think on something else now. It’s a very good way to introduce psychological flexibility and mindfulness to kids. For some kids, it works brilliantly. For others, it does not.
The Box. This is Tool #1 in teaching your brain to think differently as well as a tool used to teach you to bring yourself to a resting state or baseline.