the emergency stage

& so you spend the week coping self-destructively.  after each your appointments at the crime victim center since thanksgiving, G reminds you to do something kind for yourself; you have been doing hard, stressful, overwhelming work & need to allow yourself simple enjoyment.  this week, as you nip pear vodka & orange juice from a plastic soda bottle before you leave the house, you work to convince yourself that for this week, this is the biggest act of self-kindness you can commit: to be slightly giddy & sleepy-eyed as you replace trash liners & wipe fingerprint smudges from glass doors & supervise four men cleaning who mostly do not need your supervision; as you tearfully type progress notes that say absolutely nothing–no significant observationswhile listening to delilah’s night-time radio show; as you sit through practical exams spinning with words like multiple regression and criterion variable(s) & group meetings with partners who do very little & ask many questions; as you fall asleep clutching at blankets & your own limbs, teeth-grinding until your jaw aches.

the truth is, over the course of your first five or six appointments, you’ve come to dread those last moments of your time with G.  you wish she would operationally define self-care, provide examples of nice things you could do for yourself: a bubblebath, a bowl of hot, creamy soup, an afternoon napping on the couch.  but she doesn’t, & so you treat yourself–to big bowls of ice cream, to pasta shaped like cartoon characters drenched in salty orange sauce, to cream-based soups loaded with cheese, to thick slices of bread grilled in butter; to long glances of your naked body in the mirror, your mouth hardened, the corners of your lips tugged down; to teasing pleasure responses from the most wounded parts of your body; to bouquets of sweet words like pathetic, ridiculous, and disgusting; to weekends off when you do not shower or leave the house; to more ice cream.

in the courage to heal, bass & davis (1994) write:

the emergency stage feels like this: you walk out the door to go to work, and you fall on the steps and break your leg.  your spouse tries to drive you to the hospital, but the engine of your car blows up.  you go back to the house to call an ambulance, only to find you’ve locked yourself out.  just as a police car pulls over to give you some help, the big earthquake hits, and your home, your spouse, your broken leg, and the police car all disappear into the yawning chasm. (p. 72)

this passage makes you laugh, which is nice & reminds you that somewhere, buried beneath muddy layers of guilt & shame accumulated for twenty years or more, you are still capable of laughter.  at laughing at yourself, not out of anger or self-loathing or disgust, but self-love.  because it’s ridiculous, terrible, & true–the broken leg, the car, the earthquake–& you know that human beings, whether they are good people or not, should not be forced to endure miserable things or to have the stones of those miserable things strapped to their backs, tied to their ankles, to carry their whole lives.  but it happens.  & it has happened to you.  & sometimes, what can you do but laugh?  because it feels unreal, you are reeling, your head spinning with stars like a cartoon character who’s been punched in the head, & it’s exactly like that–the broken leg, the car, the earthquake–

swimming in & meditating on the same feelings for so long that, like a word you say over & over until it sounds unfamiliar, something you made up, you begin to doubt the authenticity of this pain, the depth of your sorrow.

so you have another bowl of ice cream.  you tell yourself you are lying about everything.  you sink into the nest of blankets & pillows & red-hot self-loathing that you haven’t left all weekend.  exhausted, you lie awake long into the night, grasping tight the childish wish that, as you are spit back into a twelve-day work week, tomorrow will find, finally, that all  this has ever been is a nonsense word all along.

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