Last night, I had a precious moment with a former inmate that I want to share with you. And it all began with, "You can go f@#$ yourself, Emily!"
Recently I've been working with former inmates in an intensive substance abuse recovery program here in Tucson.
During my introductory presentation, this one particular young man kept interrupting: offering his thoughts, asking questions, and making comments to others in the group. At the end of my talk, he walked up and surprised me with, "You're a Cancer, right?" Impressed, I replied, "Yes, I am." He turned around to his friend and said, "See? I told you she was a Cancer!" He proceeded to explain to me how the full moon was affecting my energy and shared some other astrological insights that I confess I didn't catch because he spoke so fast!
Last night, he came to the group to experience the Drawing Out Process. He spoke at his rapid-fire pace, interrupted others, began thoughts then instantly contradicted them, and occasionally exploded in laughter or made a loud noise, which he explained was meant to jar me out of my focus because it made him uncomfortable.
I learned that he had been diagnosed schizophrenic, is on medication, and has had issues with impulsivity. I also learned that he is wildly intelligent, extremely well-read, and working very hard on himself to clear his mind of the constant, torturous stream of creative ideas. To be clear, the creative ideas weren't torturing him so much as the intense flagellation he inflicted on himself for not following through on them. He has a strong awareness of his own gifts yet an even stronger self-loathing for not living up to his potential.
Oh how well I know the feeling.
I took him through the DrOP, frequently reminding him to close his eyes so that I could better access who was at the root of his struggle. He drew a little stick-figure man inside him who kept tugging on his nerves - literally, "getting on his nerves". Though the little man's named changed 3 times, he finally settled on "Kevin".
Kevin explained that he was flooding the man's mind with ideas to distract him from actually feeling his emotions. This is a common tactic of "Controllers" (one of the 3 character types I've discovered through the DrOP). Controllers often make you over-think and over-work - keeping your mind so pre-occupied you won't feel what's happening in your heart. As with all of the other character types, it's a protective measure - an attempt to protect you from pain.
However, Kevin wasn't protecting this man from pain - his approach was back-firing, and instead he was causing him a great deal of pain.
I guided Kevin to release his need to protect the man in this way, and Kevin gradually disappeared. All the man now felt was a tickle of released energy flowing up his spine. "It feels good," he said.
For the rest of the evening, the man was much calmer, quieter, and no longer interrupted the group. He was supportive and attentive. However, when it came time for us to disperse and say our goodbyes, the man suddenly got very angry, throwing his paper on the ground as he collected his things. Though my words to him were kind, he averted my gaze and exclaimed, "You can go f@#$ yourself, Emily!"
As he stormed for the door, I gently said, "Hey, what's going on?" He turned around and unloaded a blast of anger and f-bombs about "this f@#$ing place" and how much negativity he saw in all the "f#$%ing people" there. This previously calm man was now red-faced and raging. Recognizing what had happened, I asked, "Are you upset because you've had a good feeling while you were in here, and now you're afraid you're going to out there and have a bad feeling?"
Yes. He was.
I stood there and listened as he ranted and raved. Eventually he moved back towards the table and sat down. At one point, he said something, and I answered based on what I thought he had said. He flared and said, "See? You're not listening either! No one really listens to me!" and he clarified what I had misunderstood. He was right. I had jumped to the conclusion that he was referencing something we had talked about before, but he wasn't. I apologized.
For the next hour, he ranted and ranted, and I listened and listened. Slowly, the redness of anger in his eyes dissolved into the redness of pain and sadness, though he wasn't crying, and I felt tears begin to well in my heart. I asked him, "When was the last time you cried?" He looked at me and said, "You're not gonna make me cry!"
Within moments, he was crying.
He cried and talked about the judgments he held towards himself, the judgments he felt from others, and the shame he felt receiving help from people. I asked why he was here in this location/program. He replied, "Because I shot myself twice." He hated himself so much that he didn't understand why others would even care for him. "You're sitting here because you care, and I want to get away from you!" he admitted.
Oh how well I know that feeling, too. And I told him so.
I shared with him the unending love my family had for me when I was in the depths of my self-hatred and turmoil - and how continually generous they were through it all. Their love and patience baffled - even angered - me because I had so little love and patience for myself.
It was getting late. He said he felt badly for unloading on me, commented on how the time, and said I must be tired. I explained that all I was doing was listening: not taking on his pain or trying to fix him - just being fully present with him. That's all.
And, as it turned out, that's all he really needed.
At the end of an hour, the man's eyes were open and bright, his face shone with light, his demeanor was calm, his thoughts were clear and consistent instead of broken and contradictory, he was smiling, and, in his words, he felt "ecstatic".
He said, "This is exactly what I needed. I just needed someone to sit here and listen."
Indeed. Isn't that what all of us need?
What a simple yet incredibly powerful avenue for peace: to allow others to listen to us... and for us to listen to ourselves.
With love and listening,
UPDATE: My apologies to those who've been awaiting the video of my TED talk. The TEDxTucson organizer sent it to me, and we both agreed that the video quality is just not up-to-par. In his words, it "doesn't do you justice". I know some of you would say that doesn't matter, but it matters to me. I would rather share no video at all than one that is fuzzy and incomplete. So we are in the process of rescheduling my talk for another TEDx Tucson event, and I will keep you posted!