“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…..]