“You came to me like that house – unfinished, a work in progress….”
This half-house is an unfinished house – a beautiful place I visited and told my therapist about. It captured my imagination because it was haunting and mysterious; but it was also full of potential. My therapist picked up on this idea of potential and used it as a wonderful metaphor to describe me; and I think it works also as a metaphor for our therapy*. Her metaphor made me feel safe – adopted, and parented.
But at the same time, when out of her presence, part of me was scared. If something is ‘in progress’ it is changing. If therapy is ‘progressing’ it is ever closer to its end. Progress and loss are tightly bound together for me; change and loss are intertwined. Last weekend my first thought on waking was that things were better than they had been during the previous disastrous and self-destructive weekend. But my very next thought was that progress felt like bleeding out – slowly losing something vital.
“A half-house stands on a hill: but is it an unfinished house, or a ruin? Which are you, and which do you want to be? The problem with trying to preserve that conundrum…….is that the unfinished house – with so much potential – is transmogrifying moment by moment into a ruin, the longer it is left unattended to.”
There is a tension between becoming and decaying, and it’s easy, but also dangerous, to feel torn between the two.
“Where are you now? Another dream; the monster’s running wild inside of me… so lost, I’m faded….” – ‘Faded’ by Alan Walker
When I first saw this image in Alan Walker’s wonderful video for his song ‘Faded’, it reminded me immediately of the ‘half-house on a hill’. Only this building is a ruin, not a work in progress. It is also haunting, but in a very different way. The building is part of the Rummu quarry in Estonia, which was excavated as hard labour by inmates in the two nearby prisons. It has been turned into a breathtakingly unique beach and dive site**, though its waters can be lethal as the lake bed contains remnants of concrete, metal bars and barbed wire.
The song (and the video) took me over for a weekend. My watching and listening both fuelled and were fuelled by, a semi-subconscious attempt at subverting recent progress in my therapy. The lyrics spoke of feeling lost – and I put up no fight to a sense of disconnection from my therapist. No fight to the lack of object constancy represented by the lines “Where are you now? Was it all in my fantasy? Where are you now? Were you only imaginary?”. Part of me wanted that sense of disconnection and separation – it showed that I still needed her, and it also held the promise of reconciliation. A sense of comfort and drawing close after a fight. I hadn’t realised until after that weekend, how close the connection is for me, between love and pain. And how much I need that sense of conflict, to feel alive. Not just because of an addiction to the intensity of feelings; but also because for me, individuating is associated with a struggle. And if I’m not fighting then I fear ‘not being’, or simply ‘being someone else’.
This image of a ruined building illustrated one extreme of the tension I was feeling that weekend. The part of me that was in control was the self-destructive part that almost wanted to feel orphaned and lost; at home among the abandoned buildings. It was the part that saw in the figure in the video, a possible prefiguring of the direction and destination of my therapy – searching for a childhood dream, a safe and perfect home, and finding only a ruin at the end of the road. While that part was in control, another part felt as though I was being held under water. Blocked from surfacing, and blocked from expressing myself in any way, whether in words or in drawing. I’m not sure which came first – the feeling of drowning, or hearing the words in the song, “Where are you now? Atlantis, under the sea…..”. And occasionally, somewhere far deeper than just below the surface, a little voice pleaded with me to ‘fight for us’, but at that point, it was more than I could do.
This building reminded me of myself – the unfinished house – but it also reminded me of a dream. A dream that was a vivid metaphor of the other extreme of the tension I was feeling – a different vision of progress, of ‘becoming’ and of the end-point of therapy.
My mother opened the door to her new house on a hill, and I walked in. I felt puzzled, because she had always hated living in isolated locations, far from other people. Yet she had bought the house specifically because it would be mine one day, and because she knew how much I loved the sense of space, openness, freedom, and a view. In many ways, this was her house, but my space.
The large hallway was empty. She started to lead me through the house, going room by room; pale white walls and wooden floors everywhere; light streaming through the tall windows. Like the hallway, the first room was empty; except for a splash of green colour on the walls, a narrow band around half-way up the wall, all the way around. As if it were wrapping up the room from the inside, with a green ribbon. The next room had a chair, the one after that a table and chair. And as we walked through, each subsequent room had a little more furniture than the last, a few more splashes of pale green, either on the walls or in the furnishings. The rooms became richer without being overly luxurious; more abundant in comfort, in warmth, in depth and personality. They were an ever greater delight, and each one was flooded with light from outside.
The last room was on an upper floor – it was a living room. Deep sofas and cushions to sleep or dream on; bookcases from floor to ceiling; up a step onto a higher level, a grand piano, right next to double glass doors with a view onto the garden. And although it was a living room, alive with everything I could have wanted a room to be, at the same time there was a sense that it wasn’t a room to be lived in. It pointed to something beyond itself.
I walked to stand by the piano and I looked out of the double doors. A terraced garden stretched out before me, sloping down the hill for as far as I could see. It was full – if that word can be used of a garden. It was lush and wild and exotic, rather than neat and ornamental. There were trees and bushes and flowers and a sheer abundance of bright green that went on forever. It felt as though life was out there, and it was beautiful, and overwhelming; exciting, and sad. I started to cry – happiness mixed with something else. My mother put her arms around me and we hugged silently; some part of me was aware of the fact that we hadn’t been close like this, for a very long time.
Some dreams live on in your mind like memories***. Some dreams need no explanation. For me, that dream was another sort of prefiguring – of a very different sort of therapy journey, and a very different kind of ending. One that points beyond itself to life, rather than clinging on to decay.
[*For a long time the image of a house has been a metaphor for me, of therapy. Sometimes, as here, it also acts as a metaphor for me.
**Stunning drone footage of Rummy quarry can be found here on Youtube (particularly for those with a taste for danger, there is footage of diving from the top of the ruined buildings)
***I could find no images to do this dream justice – either images similar to that last room, or to the garden beyond it. The image I have included is the best free image that I could find, but it would almost have been better not to include one at all and, like the garden, to leave it to your imagination. There is almost more wrong with it, than there is right. It it too ‘tidy’, too much of a blank canvas rather than an illustration of a life. But it has light, a piano, and a glimpse of a garden beyond…..]
June 5, 2016 at 11:06 am
This is a beautifully written post, I love the metaphors and imagery you bring to life. It’s a post I will want to read more than once, as there is so much content here to reflect on. I am going through psychotherapy and this resonates so much with me. B.E
June 5, 2016 at 8:08 pm
Thank you so much, that means a lot and I’m so glad you liked it and are finding it useful 🙂 Do you mind me asking how long you have been in psychotherapy and how many sessions you are having? Please don’t worry if you’d rather not say. It’s great to find things that resonate with us, and I have found creativity, metaphor and imagery to be really important in my therapy, and in fact increasingly so the longer I have been in it….Take care!
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June 5, 2016 at 8:58 pm
Of course I don’t mind you asking 😊 Well I’ve had three different clinical psychologists in all- the first was 25 sessions of CBT, pretty much a waste a time (but that was before my abuse memories had bubbled up), then I moved onto another one who was far more experienced and better and I had about 25/30 sessions with her which was more in-depth, she, plus my psychiatrist diagnosed me with BPD at that point and I talked about some of my (relatively mild) abuse memories, then a few months after that ended I had a complete psychiatric breakdown, and started getting flooded with the really severe abuse memories and ended up in hospital. After a suicide attempt I started with a third psychologist and had nearly a year of DBT with her, plus inner child work with my CPN, I made two suicide attempts during that block of therapy as I found it overwhelming so she said I wasn’t safe to do EMDR trauma work which i was gutted about, so I had a break for about 6 months to destabilise though the diagnosis is now incorporating DID as part of it as increasingly alters have come out. I’m about 20 sessions into this block (I’m now back with the experienced psychologist I saw before so it’s been much easier as we know each other so the therapeutic alliance is better this time than ever and I feel very secure with her. They have said because of the complexity of my problems and the DID and severe PTSD they will allow me a year extra of therapy as they think it’s the only way to properly deal with my problems so I feel secure knowing it isn’t going to stop anytime soon. Phew! So that’s the (long) answer lol 😆 How about you? I haven’t had the chance to go back and read your older posts yet as I’m a new follower but will read more when I can. I really like the way you write, keep it up lovely. Writing is so therapeutic I find 💙
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June 6, 2016 at 12:19 pm
Hi lovely, I’ve nominated your blog for this award as I love it 🙂
June 13, 2016 at 9:05 pm
Thank you SO much! It’s an honour, but the main honour is that you read my blog and you like it and take the time to comment – thank you! I have a bit of a ‘view’ when it comes to blog awards, which I just wanted to explain. I wrote my thoughts here: https://lifeinabind.com/2014/07/11/blog-awards-a-few-thoughts-probably-neither-inspiring-nor-influential/ and here https://lifeinabind.com/2014/07/11/blog-awards-postscript-running-for-cover/ . I hope you understand where I’m coming from and please know that I really do appreciate the nomination, even if I don’t feel I can strictly speaking fully take part! x
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June 13, 2016 at 9:09 pm
No worries. I have gone blog award free since I wrote that nomination message to you, so I fully understand your feelings. I do absolutely love your blog, even though I don’t comment on every post I keep them and read them more than once as they resonate so much for me 🙂
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June 13, 2016 at 9:24 pm
Thank you – that’s amazing to know and comments like that keep me going with the writing when it all feels like too much or I am struggling to write! I’m so glad the posts resonate and thank you for all the comments! There is absolutely no need at all to comment on everything – it’s lovely to hear from you at any time, as and when you have time or when something particularly strikes you…. 🙂
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June 11, 2016 at 2:23 pm
A very rich dream and a lovely piece of writing. The process you describe in therapy sounds a bit like approaching a graduation with a cohort of friends who will all say goodbye, not only because they need to go on to whatever is next, but also because they must. Some will be excited about new prospects, some will deal with regret and loss and fear. Some will feel it all. Life, for me, holds moments one might wish to catch in the air and hold for eternity — freeze dry, perpetuate. We are in constant motion whether we like it or not, the endings and beginnings always there. It must be accepted, I think, if only because we cannot hold back the tide of constantly transforming existence.
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June 11, 2016 at 9:07 pm
Thank you so much, I’m glad you liked it! And it’s lovely that the metaphor of graduation is exactly the one that my own therapist uses when we talk about this 🙂 And so you are (again), in most excellent company 😉
June 11, 2016 at 9:10 pm
Also, I really like the additional images you use, thank you – talking of approaching graduation with a cohort of friends chimes exactly with the things I’ve been thinking about recently, to do with parts of me (which I think may be what you are referring to). You are right that those parts are reacting in different ways, and some tend to be more dominant than others. And those moments that you want to hold….I think my challenge is to be really present for them – and not to be distracted even if only (only?!) by the terror of forgetting them….Thank you for your lovely words 🙂
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