I worked with the same therapist for nearly twenty years. Every Tuesday, I snuck away from my firm in Miami and raced up to a funky little office in Hollywood so stuffed with books even the coffee table was piled high. Classical music at full volume filled the space to muffle voices on the other side of his thin door. Celebrity gossip magazines littered the battered leather sofa where I waited my turn. After so many years, it felt like a second home.
When I left the practice of law, I made the trip twice a week to attend “group” which is meant to mimic one’s family of origin. At times the sessions were excruciating. Maladaptive patterns were called out in shockingly blunt terms.
The therapist is an extremely bright guy but his issues with women got in the way. Let’s just say, the reviews on him are split down gender lines. The day after the 2016 election, I showed up puffy-eyed and distraught. In his opinion, the results were inevitable.
“Hillary Clinton is a cunt,” he said.
I ended the relationship and haven’t seen him since.
Despite the substantial investment of time and money, I quit therapy with plenty left to process. Five years out, I think I have found a way to heal myself without need of a professional. I feel better now than I ever did. That is not to throw shade on the therapeutic process, I was just done. What am I doing differently? I have taken responsibility. Therapy allowed me to rely on someone else to be “fixed.” I shifted my mindset and commited to my own inner work.
My self-healing formula includes Meditation, Morning pages and Movement. Meditation allows thoughts to bubble up from the subconscious. In the transcendental form, those thoughts are referred to as “stress leaving the body.” Morning pages (i.e., a journal practice) give those thoughts a place to land, a written record of what I really think. After the mental work of meditation and writing, movement grounds me back in my body. I recently added a spoken intention before exercise. Yogis do this at the start of a class, but I think it’s a good idea whenever possible. I want to name something specific to let go of so every work out pulls double duty. Raise my energy, release my pain.
Sometimes it’s not possible to get all three in on a busy day before my family wakes up, but this is the plan and it happens more often than not. Meditation is the only non-negotiable item so I do it shortly after I open my eyes, every day.
According to spiritual leader Eckhardt Tolle, we all store old stuff down deep. He calls it “the painbody,” the reservoir of old wounds that were never healed back when they were first inflicted. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/living-in-presence-with-y_b_753114 Our painbody can be triggered. You can tell your inner bear has been poked when you experience an outsized emotional reaction to something that seems minor to others. Eckhardt believes we can shrink down the pain body by resisting the urge to identify with it. I am not my emotions, I am the awareness behind them. I agree, but my hope is that we can also release old pain through the 3M’s.
I think those lucky few who connected to their bodies early on avoided storing old pain in the first place. What makes me think so? I know someone who appears to have done just that: teacher and co-Founder of Anahata Eco Yoga Retreats, Shayne Cohen. As she explained to our audience on Tell Me All About it (the recording can be found on Instagram @elizabethheise1 on December 11, 2020), she had a pretty tumultuous upbringing. Nonetheless, the difficult emotions did not stagnate in her body to weigh her down later in life. As a girl, she had a serious gymnastics practice. My theory is that regular, strenuous physical movement grounded her in her body and prevented negative feelings from going into deep storage. Today, she is full of joy and spreads it to all who are lucky enough to know her. Side bar: the other two in this photo are also serious perveyors of joy through sound, movement and music. Go check out @_danieljai and @_sunandevi on Instagram. You’re welcome.
Once in a while during rigorous exercise, I feel a surge of emotion and I am moved to tears, usually on a super hard Peloton ride or after a speedwork run. At the start of my exercise, I now set the intention to release emotions. Before I move my body, I announce exactly what I will let go of during that session. I speak it into being, like Tabitha Brown says. (In that first video of hers to go viral, she actually does just that. She acknowledged that her life changed right before her eyes—and it did. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AP1mnFJG0-s. She amazes me.) I am ready to inhabit the beauty of the present moment, just like Tab.
My painbody actually surprised me when it appeared on this recent retreat. With so much yoga, chanting, singing, mud detoxification, hiking—you name it—layers of Covid year stress fell away. All of a sudden, my most deeply buried wound rose to the surface. I had never fully dealt with it and there it was.
It showed up our last full day on a bus bound for the turquoise waters of Bahia de Las Aguilas. During the ride, I enjoyed a long chat with my new friend Dara, an angel of a human who shared so much of herself and listened more intently than any new friend I have ever made. In defense of all other new friends, we had the unique benefit of all this spiritual work plus two uninterrupted hours to leap over the 200 coffee dates it otherwise would have taken us to get to this vulnerable place.
Since I have held nothing back from my weekly stories, I will share this most painful truth with you, dear reader. It still hurts so much that I cried sharing the incident with Dara. It involved my best friend from college. Nice Midwestern girl, fun and silly, we were inseparable. Over the course of our three and a half year friendship, I revealed a few shards of my painful past, but not everything. Just enough to help her understand why I put myself through school, and the reason no one called to check on me or come to visit even though I had plenty of family in California. I curated myself a bit with the belief that if she fully appreciated what damaged goods I was, she wouldn’t want to be my friend. I blamed myself for my parents’ allowing me to tough it out on my own. I held back from our friendship and handled my troubles alone.
For our last year of college, I managed to find us a beautiful beach bungalow I could afford—a minor miracle in itself. The place was itty bitty but it was truly magical. The reflection of waves into our small living room provided moving art on the white walls.
Not long after we moved in, her father told her she had to get a job. She had taken off the prior semester after a bad breakup. He put his foot down after paying the out-of-state tuition bill for incompletes and asked her to start contributing.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You can pick up some shifts at the restaurant. Waiting tables is easy money.”
She was tickled to have some cash of her own for the first time. A mason jar in the living room closet held wads of bills she collected during a few hours of lunch service.
For winter break she had planned to stay a bit and work to buy Christmas gifts and then return home to Kansas. I was already home.
A week after school ended, I came back to an empty apartment. It was in the age before cel phones, so the only number to call was our landline in the living room. I knew she wasn’t at work. All our mutual friends had left town. I scolded myself for being afraid. It annoyed me the way I tried to mother her. I often attempted to take care of her to compensate for befriending someone as unworthy as me.
She didn’t come home that night.
The next day I went to work as usual, worried. Still no sign of her. Our manager said she had cancelled her shift that day.
When I returned home from work, there she was, her back to me, packing a bag.
“Where were you?” I asked.
“I stayed with Chris and Melinda,” she said. Our upstairs landlords. I often worked at night and she had begun socializing with them over the course of the semester.
“My tip money is gone. I think you took it,” she said, staring at me intently.
My mouth fell open but no sound came out. White noise flooded my ears and I thought I might pass out.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” she asked.
I remained motionless, dumbfounded. Time stood still.
“I’m going back to Kansas today, I can’t be here anymore.”
She left shortly afterward. I stayed in town, alone. I tried to get my mind off it by taking over more shifts at the restaurant but I couldn’t focus. My brain rejected any new information—it got stuck on that moment. I felt irretrievably broken.
I bought an $800 ticket to Albuquerque to visit my dad, blowing my financial cushion for the last semester.
When I told him what had happened a wry smile crept across his lips.
“Well, did you?”
I was his A student, his “best kid” as he had so heartbreakingly put it, a compliment that only caused me to feel worse for my siblings and me. He barely acknowledged us and then had the nerve to rank his neglected children. I had fended for myself since my mother left us eight years before. He hadn’t been there for me as a kid but this was his coup de gras. My heart had pumped so hard since my friend had torched my life and he sent it into overdrive. I thought I might go into cardiac arrest right there on his sticky linoleum floor.
I stayed away from my dad and spent the days dreading the return to school. But when the time came to fly back, I convinced myself she would apologize. We would refer to it as that time our friendship almost ended and now we are closer than ever.
When I stepped out of the airport shuttle and stood in front of the blue bungalow, everything had changed. An unfamiliar coldness swirled around this once magical place. The drizzly gray sky chilled the air. Still, I remained hopeful as I unpacked into the drawers in our living room. You never know.
A knock at the clear sliding door startled me. Our landlord Chris. I pulled it open.
“Hi. I will let you out of the lease without penalty. She has found another roommate. I imagine you will want to find another place straightaway, yeah?”
I said nothing.
So many blows had rained down on me, I didn’t even feel this one. After he disappeared down the path, I tossed my duffle on the couch and wheeled my bike out of the bedroom.
Up and down the streets of Isla Vista, I pedaled hard, scanning rental signs for “single needed.” On Sabado Tarde, a ramshackle craftsman with a tangle of bikes out front advertised a good price.
I had avoided having lots of roommates. Noise and unpredictability caused me jaw-clenching anxiety. But at this point, I didn’t care where I lived, just as long as it got me out. Her rejection was so violent, so complete, I had to leave so it didn’t kill me.
One of the five roommates drove me back there in his pickup and I loaded a garbage bag of all my stuff into the flatbed. I felt like a refugee.
I went to class but I couldn’t hear anything. I showed up at work, but I was the worst waitress ever. I dumped an entire chef salad down some lady’s back, soaking her clothes. My skin looked awful.
Several weeks after the move, the phone rang. Usually, no one answered it, but I did this time.
It was her. I left dead air between us.
“Want to ride down to See’s and do homework?”
One of our rituals had been a thirty mile bike ride down to our favorite coffee shop in Santa Barbara where we’d spread out our books, order enormous cups of coffee and listen to acoustic guitar instead of doing our work.
The pleasant memory lit up a corner of the black space in my brain where I had buried the memory of our friendship.
“Sure,” I said, surprising myself.
We arrived at the little store front and went through the motions of unpacking our books. The server set cups down in front of us but neither of us touched it, allowing the liquid to grow cold on the table.
“I didn’t do it.”
Her mouth shook as she peered down into her cup.
“Then why didn’t you get mad at me?” she asked, her expression incredulous. “If anyone had accused me like that…”
“I am not you.”
I never spoke to her again. She, on the other hand, spread the accusation to every one of our mutual friends. I didn’t have it in me to go around defending such a shameful charge so I said nothing. They were of the same mind she was. If you don’t fight back, you must be guilty.
Not if you are so devastated you can barely get through the day. I graduated shortly thereafter and never looked back. I keep in touch with one friend from college—only because he found me after an extensive social media search. I don’t use my maiden name anywhere.
So. That pain hasn’t gone away, it’s been buried a long time. I have made good friends. But I have never had a best friend again. On some level, I haven’t fully trusted anyone since. To be honest, I don’t think I treated her like a best friend either. If she really knew me, she’d have realized I would rather die than do something like that to anyone.
So, how do I heal from this once and for all? I will just keep trying. I meditate to bring up the feelings through the muck of my subconscious. I do my morning pages. Writing long hand gives voice to all the mental noise and takes it out of my body. It’s a chance to actually name what I am holding onto, what I am feeling and why. It’s miraculous really. The subconscious operates like a spider web, trapping and wrapping pain, never to release it unless we do the work to untangle it. This incident came up in my morning pages. As I wrote, I cried and released a little more.
The last step to heal myself is movement with intensity. I know I release pain when I push myself physically. Sobbing works best. My neighbors think I am bananas anyway so it’s fine. I set an intention for my workouts, speak it into the universe that I am letting go of the pain of betrayal. From her, from my parents, from myself. People have treated me poorly and many times I have volunteered for more. My intention is not to do it again. To treat myself with care, every chance I get.
When we figure out what we need and make a plan to execute on it, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.
WRITING PROMPT: Do you have a painful memory to release? Are you ready to do it? Drop me a line, I’m interested.
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