Pressure to “Prove that I Deserve to Live”

I’ve been reading through my journal from the beginning.  These two entries really impressed me as describing a dynamic which I have been coming to know well.  I have called it “keeping going through a blizzard” and “false urgency.”  It will be several years before I recognize that this push is related to the need to “prove that I deserve to live.”

My therapist at that time was Karen Collins, whose work focuses on the body, actually important for someone dealing with trauma, though I had no idea at that time.

From my journal for May 28, 1992

Therapy session.  Got to the necessity of creating safety for myself, and creating supportive structures, so I don’t get pushed into things faster than I want to go — so I don’t spend lots of energy resisting the pushing.  Supportive structures: discovered that using the timer to break my momentum/addiction at the computer (which isn’t good for my health not to mention my life) by allowing myself to work on Ritual Year for 30 minutes and then doing housework for 30 minutes is a supportive structure.  I do in fact enjoy choosing entries and editing them, I love it that editing is so easy on the computer, but I don’t get to enjoy it when I’m pushing myself to finish so fast.  And why do I push myself so hard?  Karen said it’s because I never felt safe enough to explore the whole process.

O. the tree that they tore up and left lying there with its roots exposed [enlarging the main crossroad of town].  I guess it’s dead now, I hope it’s dead.  It makes me so angry that they did that, a nice little maple, it could have been planted somewhere else, or they could have at least dug up a decent sized root ball — such a shame.  And I feel such pain thinking about it so it’s clear that I identify with it.  Uprooted just as the leaves were starting to come out — leaves just unfolding and roots grasping for soil, gasping for water.  Lying there exposed at the public cross road, people walk by and don’t notice, don’t care, don’t help, and it’s helpless to do anything, can’t walk to the river for water, can’t hide its roots in the cool dark soil but must lie there exposed to the merciless heat.  I feel so bad, so sad, I want to help but what can I do?  I have no place to put it, it’s a lot of work to dig a hole that big.  No tree rescue possible.  I’m helpless.  Step one.  I’m helpless and I’m so sad and sorry.  Give it up, let it go, give it back into the hands of the tree deva, it’s just a hair on the head of the total organism, let it go.

Safety, safety for myself.  This journal, this writing is a place of safety that I created for myself.  Keep the roots hidden, in the dark, near the springs of water.  Do not expose it too soon.  Need to let safety be the priority, everything else will come of itself.  Safety is the soil in which psyche can grow.  How do I keep this journal safe?  By editing appropriately, not giving it to people to read too soon, taking out parts I’m not comfortable with etc.  Also things like setting the timer for helping Alice, so I could still have time for yoga.

How can I create safety when the airplanes come?  That’s the hardest.  Music, fans, computer work.  And admitting that I’m powerless.  That’s all I have.  Not much.  A candle in a war zone.

May 29, 1992

Dana & Greg ripped out the cupola yesterday.  I was sitting at the computer trying to finish the corrections to Ritual Year so I could take the printed copy to Jan to read.  When a big piece of board all covered with roofing tar came crashing through and left black stains on the carpet, I realized it was too much and shut down the computer.  I was having too many feelings to be clear about them.  Part of me was really enjoying the destruction, the ripping apart, the opening up, starting to see the trees through the roof, then the sky and clouds, then feeling the rush of fresh air through the house.  Part of me was very upset at the invasion of my house, the dirt falling down inside, the boards sliding down the roof and landing in the perennial bed.  Part of me was denying that there was anything to be upset about and part of me was hard at work on the computer project.  So it felt like a real committee inside, a real jumble of feelings.

I told Karen about all this, and cried for a little.  I also felt angry that I couldn’t just enjoy the little boy glee of destruction.  Then I said I was having trouble with that intense push to finish the book, it was like it was pushing me faster than I want to go.  Sitting at the computer all day is not good for my body, it’s not good for my house, it’s not good for my life, and I don’t even get to enjoy the choosing and editing because I’m in such a hurry to finish.

I said I experienced the pressure as an intense wind, blowing endlessly in one direction, that I could resist it, and spend all my energy resisting, or lie down and spend the rest of my life flattened out.  Karen said something about trying to get to the flowering part of the cycle and forgetting all the rest.  Yes, there’s dormancy underground, and then the seed starts to grow, makes roots, makes stalk, makes leaves, then a bud, and finally a flower.  Then the flower droops and dries, seeds form and fall, and we’re back to dormancy again.  Karen said I had never felt safe enough to experience the whole cycle.  I was surprised that “safety” would be the critical factor, but she’s right.  The pressure to produce something that everyone can see as a valuable accomplishment must be an effort to ward off… what? criticism?  (now I see that it’s really an effort to get to the place where there’s nourishment in the form of positive feedback from outside.  As a child there wasn’t any support for daydreaming, fooling around, playing, woolgathering, doing nothing, etc, yet an artist must spend a long time in these dormant or low key states in order to gather enough energy to push out a work.  I think of that poor tree dying at the crossroads with its roots exposed, a sacrifice to efficiency.)

Comment from March 1993: Actually, I disagree now, it’s not gathering energy so much as allowing the work to form itself that requires a period of “dormancy”.

We worked on the feeling of being pushed by the wind.  Even if it’s pushing me where I want to go (because I do want to complete the book or books) how do I keep it from pushing me faster than I want to go.  I thought about flags: attached to a pole, it can play with the wind, and sails: a boat can use the wind to go in any direction, even tacking upwind is possible.  Then Karen suggested I take up a crawling position, facing the way I wanted to go, feeling the wind at my back.  My rear end felt incredibly vulnerable, I sat right down saying “No, I won’t.”  Then Karen leaned a big pillow against my back and leaned on it a little.  I was surprised that it felt very comfortable.  It felt supportive, not like the wind which could push me off my feet.  I said I needed to change the image, that it was more like a rule book, and I could take the parts I wanted and throw away the rest.  Karen started personifying my parents’ rules, saying things like “who do you think you are”  “you have to produce” etc.  I answered back: “I’m myself — I live by my own rules.”  She said “these are the rules, the way it’s supposed to be.”  I said “No, they are only your rules.”  Finally she said “You’re bad.”  I laughed and said “You can’t use that one to manipulate me any more — I’m bad, and it’s OK to be bad.”  Then she said “I’ll just take my book and leave,” and removed the pressure from the pillow.  I felt bereft, and realized that I needed some positive rules, a supportive structure.  So we discussed how I could create rules and structure that would promote safety in my life.  I suggested rules like: “It’s OK to have fun” each with its counter-rule like: “It’s OK not to have fun.”  Also I realized that using the timer to do 30 minutes at the computer and then 30 minutes of housework, to slow the momentum, was a very wise and clever thing I had done for myself.

Karen suggested I try the crawling position again, with the pillow representing structure that supported/protected my backside.  That felt good.  I realized that I felt safe to explore, to go sideways, to follow a meandering route toward that distant goal, to choose at any time to go somewhere else.

Thinking about it afterward, I realized that by discussing strategies for slowing momentum and creating safety, we had broken up the power of the wind.  It no longer seemed so continuous, blowing forever, but rather something that comes in gusts.  (Karen said something about waiting til the wind died down.  I said this wind is not the wind of nature, it will never die down.  Well of course the feeling of my childhood was always this enormous unending pressure to be somewhere, or someone, other than I was.)  I saw that when I tried to resist it, it was like holding up a sail and then that held the wind in place and I got stuck in a battle of resistance.  (Karen said that resistance was how I survived my childhood.)  But if I saw the wind as coming in gusts, then I could just lie down flat and let it bowl over me, and then get up and go about my business when it was gone.

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