Today I have returned from my week-long "intensive" i did for work. This involved spending 144 around the clock hours with 5 other people and doing extremely intense group therapy. Experiential therapy, which is impossible for me to explain. It involved a lot of psychodrama, the acting out of old trauma in individual's lives, lots of role-playing, and generally leaving the participant a trembling, sweating, sobbing mess heap on the floor. It's connected strongly to a person's physical being, and a belief that the physical and the emotional go hand in hand. That your body holds trauma and utilizes it in all sorts of self-defeating ways. Experiential therapy believes that talk-therapy will only get you so far, and that unless you really physically exorcise your trauma, and physically express your anguish, there will be no true healing. Think primal scream therapy. Think physically reliving incest and sexual abuse through role-playing and physically acting out a new outcome.
It will take me weeks to really process what went on there, and I'm sure the reverberations of what I went through and experienced this week will continue to make themselves known in all sorts of wonderful and unexpected ways as I go back to my life. There was a language spoken there, a language of recovery, that I didn't always understand. Every person there was in active recovery, except for me. From extreme eating disorders, to drug and alcohol abuse, to sex addiction that has shattered their life, or some combination of all of those things. Everyone knew my intentions (I was there primarily as a training tool, since this is what my employer does; this week was partly to test whether or not I wanted to stick around), and everyone was still so accepting. It's impossible to convey the unconditional support and acceptance that I both witnessed and felt there.
There was so much pain, laying bare your soul and making yourself utterly and completely vulnerable in front of total strangers. But on the flip side of that comes a closeness and intimacy that is difficult to duplicate or find anywhere else. A real joy had formed in each of our hearts by the end of the week, and a profound love. If I never see any of those people ever again, I'll never forget the gratitude I feel for their sharing their pain, anguish, despair, tears, and trauma with me. For letting me know them so completely and unabashedly.
When I left today the day felt so crisp, so new. Driving my car back through midtown Memphis to my house, the whole city felt fresh and new to me. And I know that in the last week I've felt more compassion than I thought possible, and shed more tears for pain that wasn't mine than I thought possible. And I stood in front of a group of people and let them watch me cry. I never would have thought that was possible. I didn't go as far with my own issues as I would have liked, and there were all kinds of reasons for that (primarily that I don't have near the baggage that those other souls did, and that my employers were the therapists in charge, and frankly, it's not really appropriate for me to work out my issues with them in the same way).
But I can honestly say my life has been changed. In both some big and small ways. This work feels radical to me, and subversive, in the best ways possible. I have a couple of professors from grad school who would probably have a heart attack if they knew how much I love this. How much it blew my mind. I wish everyone could experience it.