I spent a great deal of time talking to my Sadness during my latest visit to my therapist. I told him about how I could feel the echo of sadness I’ve explained before. I told him I felt a distant pulsating sadness that I knew was the result of what I’d done, but I couldn’t really feel it. I told him I was scared of true emotion because I wasn’t familiar with them. I didn’t know what would happen, or how I would feel when I truly let myself feel. I told him I wanted to feel emotion though, especially deep empathetic sadness. He believed me because I believed me.
He went to an easel he had next to his chair and with scissors cut three connecting lines in the middle of the paper so that he formed a flap. This turned out to be a door.
What’s on the outside of this door, he asked me. What do you allow people to see?
The only rule I had in doing this was that I couldn’t use words. Anything but words. So on the outside of the door I drew faces of moderate emotion: laughter, annoyance/frustration, surprise; I also drew the superficial – sports, weather, work.
Ok, what’s on the inside?
This time I drew one face showing sadness and crying. I scribbled around it indicating what a chaotic mess it was behind the door.
So what kind of door is this?
It was solid, reinforced steel. Thick. Very thick. Like that of a bank vault. I explained that the door was rusted shut as I drew three large hinges. He asked if I had any tools at my disposal to open the door when I was ready, so I drew my hands, two handles, a crowbar, and three cans of lubricant. Those items symbolized my ability to open the door, I just had to be ready to use them.
My therapist asked if he could add something, and I obliged. He added a small sliding window like those of prison cells in solitary confinement by cutting a small connection of three lines. He did this because I said I had that distant feeling of sadness. I agreed; that distant pang was the result of a small window, a passing glance at the deep empathetic sadness I’m capable of.
That’s when he had me address Sadness behind the door I built. I became hyper-focused on what I was saying, on how I was feeling when I was addressing Sadness. I let my insides spill out some when I spoke to Sadness, saying that I was sorry for keeping it locked away, but I was too afraid to let it out.
I switched chairs and addressed myself as Sadness. I (as Sadness) responded with understanding and patience at first, calmly expressing the need for my release. As I spoke I was less sad, but became slightly annoyed, and ended up saying to other me that I was near the end of my rope, and I didn’t want to be locked away anymore. There wasn’t much time.
As I switched back and forth several times, I could barely hear my therapist making agreeing sounds, or saying “good”, and the like. It was almost muffled. Every time I would switch to me addressing Sadness, I felt heavy again. I felt a burden on my shoulders, I felt a pulling down from within my gut, I felt was going to pull me right through my chair. My therapist said that’s good, that’s emotion. I tried to wipe my shoulders off of the Heavy, but I couldn’t seem to get it off. I was squirming in my chair at that point.
At wrap up, I still felt heavy, but well enough to go home. The door was wrapped up and placed on my therapist’s shelf for another day – perhaps to revisit at a later time.
During the drive home, I couldn’t stop talking to myself, scolding myself for my behaviors. Apologizing to my wife. I felt a strangeness in my chest where my heart was. Like I had to constantly rub at that spot. I rubbed, but nothing happened, the strangeness persisted. I wasn’t sure if I needed to scream or break something. Instead I white-knuckled the steering wheel and tensed my entire body. That didn’t help, but it didn’t make my face hot.
As I compose this, my feet will not stay still, like they have somewhere else to be other than attached to my ankles. The persistent urge to rub at my chest has passed for now, the Heavy has subsided, but I still feel its presence, like it’s laying in wait.
This is entirely new territory for me. I’m almost terrified, definitely anxiety-prone, but still willing to dive deeper into myself. This is the hard work. And here’s the kicker, not only do I know it, but I feel it.