an edge to rest against

When sleep eludes me, I use my imagination, become a story-telling mother to my restless mind. One of my most soothing pretendings is to bring back a certain dog friend from the dead, hear him  snoozing once again. Kenny was the perfect gentleman, an elderly black labrador with a gentle but resounding snore the memory of which is enough to make me feel cozy.  He loved to sleep, and in his later years slept as much as a newborn baby, but with far fewer feedings. The thing was, though, that in order to find sleep and settle into his soothing snore, Kenny needed an edge. In the living room, he'd settle himself with several spins and then sink his old backside against the front edge of the couch. In the bedroom, he'd get as close to the side of the bed as he could. Once backed by something solid, he'd place his jowly chin between his black paws and dive immediately into rest.  When I can't find sleep despite the memory of that soporific sound, I find myself contemplating what it means to need an edge to rest against. I bear witness to many stories of restless lives in need of boundaries in my practice as a therapist. Rest in relationships--with one's self or with others--with mushy, moving boundaries is as elusive as quality sleep on a sloping mattress. You cannot be sure of where you are, and so, unsettled, you will constantly be wondering if you are about to fall, steeling your muscles against rolling instead of relaxing into the release you need. Do you have a sense of an edge for yourself? What is your stance toward the glinting sharp solidity of Yes and No?  Do the people in your life know what you prefer, how you feel, and what you truly believe? Do you? You are responsible for your own sweet self and no one else. You are in charge of your own skin, your own bedtime, the depth of your own breath. But this edge of selfhood, the internal locus of control, gets marred and bent or left to starve when we encounter childhood abuse, narcissistic parents, or rigid religious cultures, to name just a few. And we find ourselves hypervigilant , knowing exactly how everyone else in the room feels--but unaware of our own bodies and emotions. We grind our teeth and stamp out any urge to say No to yet another thing someone else wants us to do.  You are responsible for your own dear dear self. What do you know you need to say Yes to today? Which No is begging to be stated lest you suffocate on duty and guilt? The work of growing our edge--building healthy boundaries--creates for us a place to rest and to invite relationship from the center of who we really truly are, not who we think others want us to be. You very well may need someone to help you explore these questions, and this is where the space of fifty minutes once a week with someone who is there for the true you can be beautifully healing. Consider it. For the sake of your own sweet self. 

When sleep eludes me, I use my imagination, become a story-telling mother to my restless mind. One of my most soothing pretendings is to bring back a certain dog friend from the dead, hear him  snoozing once again. Kenny was the perfect gentleman, an elderly black labrador with a gentle but resounding snore the memory of which is enough to make me feel cozy.  He loved to sleep, and in his later years slept as much as a newborn baby, but with far fewer feedings. The thing was, though, that in order to find sleep and settle into his soothing snore, Kenny needed an edge.

In the living room, he'd settle himself with several spins and then sink his old backside against the front edge of the couch. In the bedroom, he'd get as close to the side of the bed as he could. Once backed by something solid, he'd place his jowly chin between his black paws and dive immediately into rest. 

When I can't find sleep despite the memory of that soporific sound, I find myself contemplating what it means to need an edge to rest against. I bear witness to many stories of restless lives in need of boundaries in my practice as a therapist. Rest in relationships--with one's self or with others--with mushy, moving boundaries is as elusive as quality sleep on a sloping mattress. You cannot be sure of where you are, and so, unsettled, you will constantly be wondering if you are about to fall, steeling your muscles against rolling instead of relaxing into the release you need.

Do you have a sense of an edge for yourself? What is your stance toward the glinting sharp solidity of Yes and No?  Do the people in your life know what you prefer, how you feel, and what you truly believe? Do you? You are responsible for your own sweet self and no one else. You are in charge of your own skin, your own bedtime, the depth of your own breath.

But this edge of selfhood, the internal locus of control, gets marred and bent or left to starve when we encounter childhood abuse, narcissistic parents, or rigid religious cultures, to name just a few. And we find ourselves hypervigilant , knowing exactly how everyone else in the room feels--but unaware of our own bodies and emotions. We grind our teeth and stamp out any urge to say No to yet another thing someone else wants us to do. 

You are responsible for your own dear dear self. What do you know you need to say Yes to today? Which No is begging to be stated lest you suffocate on duty and guilt? The work of growing our edge--building healthy boundaries--creates for us a place to rest and to invite relationship from the center of who we really truly are, not who we think others want us to be. You very well may need someone to help you explore these questions, and this is where the space of fifty minutes once a week with someone who is there for the true you can be beautifully healing. Consider it. For the sake of your own sweet self. 

"Yes" to therapy

Some of the hardest work that happens in therapy is allowing ourselves to name and feel what our younger selves needed but lacked. The denial is robust and has all kinds of tactics to keep us from feeling the emptiness, pain, and betrayal we have known.

One of the things I needed was the educated and expert care of a good therapist, and I needed those older and wiser than me to tell me so.

I was in my early twenties and encountering insidious harm. I remember how I crammed my journal into the freezer;  the truth of what I was experiencing written down in black ink on white paper was too much to handle. And as is often the case, the people around me proved expert accomplices in keeping me from the truth. Naming how bad things really are makes our communities uncomfortable, and who likes that? I needed someone who was outside the story I was living, whose well-being was separate from the plot twists it might take, who I could trust to tell me the truth and be there just for me.

I didn’t end up in therapy until it became a requirement of the graduate school program I entered at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. My world did not encourage therapy unless someone had really fallen apart. As my own (unhealthy) way of handling life was that I was never allowed to fall apart, this left me high and dry. I wasn’t allowed to need what I needed.

When I was finally expected by the program to go to therapy, it gave me the best excuse to get what I needed at last. I will never forget how that first session felt. The kind, inquisitive crease between the therapist's brown eyes undid me. She was there for me. It was so much of what I longed for that I cried for the majority of those first fifty minutes. It took many sessions to melt all those words that had been stuffed into the freezer.

This is the time of year when life is beginning to insist upon growth in the buds on trees and the green pushing up through the hard ground. We are craving light and life. It’s too hard to deny our desire for change at this time of year. It’s in the earth, it’s in our bodies, and in our spirits.

So I simply have to write and say, do you want change this spring? Do you want your stories to be heard well? Do you want to allow yourself, finally, to need what in truth you do need? Perhaps you are totally accustomed to handling pain and anxiety on your own. That doesn’t mean you don’t actually deserve the company of a good therapist on your journey. I wish someone had asked me directly, “Don’t you think you deserve and need counseling?” So I would be remiss to not ask you the same. It’s one of the strangest things you can do, to actually let yourself matter enough, to allow yourself that attention of someone who will look at you with kindness and curiosity. It can be the beginning of the flourishing life you desire. It's also true that it's easy for me to write that, and it's incredibly challenging to make that decision. It's even more difficult to follow through, to choose a therapist, make an appointment, and keep it. It'd be easier if everyone was required to get some therapy, as I was. All I can do is add my voice to the voices that say Yes to your need for support, Yes to the truth that you deserve quality attention, and Yes to therapy.