My first, post-prison, mandated drug counselor was a seven foot tall man who wore sandals without socks and spoke to me in the third person.
He asked about Meg’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
When I cried exhausted, existential tears of angst, he asked what was hurting Meg’s heart.
The unprofessionalism of bare toenails in a therapeutic setting, these unending blocks of additional wasted time away from my son—I didn’t say.
I was reassigned to Sybil Trelawney, the divination teacher from Harry Potter. She was short with thick glasses and wore a legit chenille throw with a hole cut out for her head, the fringe brushing the ground around her Birkenstocks as she led me to the bathroom to watch me pee in a cup.
Her tiny office was a dark, hot mess of dander and dust. Three lamps with silk boudoir shades illuminated her shadow-box collection of tiny sleeping kittens made of rabbit fur. A real toy poodle slept at her feet. She launched immediately into the indigo of my aura and her failing immune system. She detailed the efficacy of her restorative yoga class and told me she would probably need to retire.
When I brought this scenario to my own therapist, the one I had actually chosen because of her brilliance to keep me grounded and sane, she said a thing so powerful it became part of my foundation.
She told me to take on a journalistic perspective.
She told me to imagine that I had gotten a press-pass into prison, and now, into this weird world. She suggested I take objective notes, gather data. Like a journalist.
So instead of the deafening noise of value judgments obscuring the facts—Unfair! Ugly! Poor me! I’m better than this! Stupid me! I deserve this!—there were just statements.
I went to prison.
I have to satisfy some requirements.
Those requirements might not be enjoyable or useful.
They might even be annoying.
I saw a chenille throw like that at TJ Maxx the other day.
This won’t be forever.
The cool thing about gathering data without judgement is (besides being able to replace exclamation points with periods) that it clears the heavy emotions that come after a statement. The remaining space is quiet, uncharged. For a journalist, facts lead to curiosity, to questions. If there is nothing I can do to change this situation right now:
What can I do to survive this?
How can I thrive despite this?
Is it possible to replace hubris with compassion?
From judgement, through curiosity, to grace.
Shifting my perspective shifted the whole experience. It didn’t make Ms. Trelawny a better counselor, or liberate the justice system from its self-perpetuating blindness. But it did give me the space to answer some of those questions with unexpected solutions, to weather the uncertainty of the situation with less intensity.
I got clear on my expectations rather than irate about my entitlement.
I didn’t have to be such a spaz about it. And that changed everything.
Uncertainty masquerades as catastrophe.
There are so many non-negotiable things in life that, as much as we want to, we can’t get around. We have to go through. Everything from loss, illness, or heartbreak, to traffic, scheduling conflicts, saying no or taking the leap into yes.
You don’t get choices about many things, but you do get to choose how you respond.
You can continue to show up to the practice of embodiment, self care, and an internal storyline that is fact-based and curious, rather than judgemental and victimizing.
At the very least, you will find levity.
At the very best, you will find levity, hilarity, tenacity, strength you didn’t know you had, a great story, and a more polychromatic set of possibilities.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Jeremy Farizky/Pixoto