I was awake at 3 am. My dog was anxious, whining. Maybe I tapped into his field. Or more likely he tapped into mine. My mind was whirling with everything that’s wrong in my life. Story after story, scenario after scenario, all reinforcing the “truth” that my life was teetering on a precipice. Everything, I was certain, was about to come undone.
I get that some of this can be chalked up to an existential reminder, leaking through to consciousness, that one day, who knows when, death will come to disabuse me of the fantasy that I can hold anything together. All that I’ve created, all my attachments, to my body, my work, my body of work, my loves, will come unravelled. I remember watching my grandma, Beryl, an avid knitter, realize that she made a mistake way back at the start. She would mercilessly unravel the mitten right back to the cuff. Maybe she was rehearsing for her death.
Yeah, but this just felt like something else. I lay there, caught in this morass of anxiety, feeling like a fraud. Mr. Psychotherapist and author of Spiritual Books, helpless, while my mind rubbed my face in doomsday scenarios. Surely I had a few tricks up my sleeve?
I notice that there’s a remake of Ghost Busters coming out. Remember Dan Akroyd invents the technology to identify and then “bust” the ghosts who are haunting the citizens?
By some grace, in this semi-conscious state, I realized that I was being visited by ghosts from the past. This was all a memory—a memory of a time when I really was fucked and was helpless to find my way out. Who ya going to call? What’s the technology to bust these ghosts of the past haunting the present and making me believe that everything is wrong?
My mind told me that I lacked any and all resources to deal with this impending doom. It was doing what a four year old’s mind can’t help but doing when he feels alone, unseen, and without a map forward. When I got that I was in a memory I asked myself what a four year old my need that he didn’t get.
” Bruce, you have food to eat, a woman lying beside you who loves you, resources if you get into trouble, more money in the bank than 95% of the world’s population, food in the fridge. Your body works. As does your mind, (other than not being able to remember the titles of films). You have friends who would be there if you reached out.” I began to settle.” Deep breath. Okay, I’m not actually dying. And there isn’t actually any crisis.
Then I asked myself what the four year old needed when he was undergoing an actual crisis. Duh, he needs comfort. He needs to feel close, like somebody is looking out for him.
The tricky part of this is that we know from attachment theory that if you have an anxious or resistant attachment pattern, it won’t necessarily dawn on you that you are in need of comforting and resourcing. Reaching out in futility for attachment, was, after all, the original source of anxiety. The stage is set as early as the end of year one of life. The pattern established by then is what gets reenacted in adult intimate relationships. You are effectively hooped until you become aware that you learned, as a matter of survival, that reaching out was more painful than not reaching out. When you awaken to it, you see how that attachment pattern played out in all of your adult intimate relationships.
Not only do you not even imagine that you need comfort and that being comforted is within the realm of possibilities as a conscious adult. You actually internalize the judgment that you received when you tried to reach out and were not adequately attuned to. You are bad for being needy. This heaps coals on the fire of anxiety. You need to be resourced, nurtured, and comforted, but a) you expect rejection and b) you are bad for wanting it in the first place.
The way out? When all of this comes to consciousness, one of the first things that comes on line is self-compassion. You feel love for the little guy and girl who didn’t have the resources to find comfort. In my imagination I embraced my little guy and offered compassion instead of judgment. My breath returned. I reached out to feel the skin of my sleeping beloved, who responded by squeezing my hand, even though she was asleep. All was right with the world again. None of the circumstances of my life had changed one iota. I simply heard the stories that my mind was telling me as those of a worried four year old. It’s not that there is anything wrong with this mind, either. It just needs to be recognized as the mind of an under-resourced little guy.