Recently, I have been reading a lot of therapy, counselling skills and psychotherapy books. One that stands out for me uses clear/interesting language to explain a difficult process. This book gives shape and meaning to my own personal journey. “I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” by Terrence Real, is written by a family therapist and covers depression as a silent epidemic, detailing that many men hide behind coping mechanisms to hide from depression, which end up damaging their relationships and the people they love. Each chapter explains the principles and pathways to healing, aiming for resolution, which brings damage to the surface to be restored. His beautiful use of language, compelling case studies and personal offerings make this a joy to read for one’s own personal growth and for the men in your life. In this post, I share some of his precious insights, my own experience with this difficult process through Ceremony and the value in doing this difficult but life-changing work.
This book has given shape and context to my experience, my own battle with a feeling within myself that has been present since childhood, a sense that there was something irrevocably wrong with me, something others did not have wrong with them – something terrifying and powerful. Combining this book with “Transpersonal Medicine,” by G. Frank Lawlis and the concept of “co-conscious entities” (splinter selves that sever off during trauma and remain trapped), I have found that my journey with Forrest Yoga has paralleled the therapeutic process of both the author and his clients.
Real starts by explaining the difference between overtly depressed individuals and covertly depressed individuals. Covertly depressed men (get ready to sit back in your seat) outdistance the pain with medication, addiction, pumping up self-esteem or inflicting their pain on others. The former are paralysed when in the midst of their depression. This distinction, one that I wasn’t aware of, is critically important, as many men do not identify with the definition. In my own life, if I am still long enough, the auto-aggressive disease that is depression turns its head on me. I begin attacking myself, reviewing my life and everything I have ever done wrong, ripping into every trivial detail with a vicious scrutiny. The result is a bitterness laced with both mistrust and hopelessness. I see it in my Yoga students too. One pose gone wrong and the client collapses inwards and is almost unresponsive, some I never see again. A few years ago, before I was able to set this entity aside, I would turn to a few different mechanisms:
-Alcohol to excess, every afternoon and night drinking. It wasn’t an effective night of drinking if I remembered it.
-Excessive exercise and diet tablets, the aggression and contempt turned on my body leading to bouts of bulimia and starvation.
-Yoga. While this may seem like a good thing, it wasn’t. I lived by the Sutras, ate as it said, practised when it said and followed to the letter with a fierce rigidity that found virtue in injury. This was during my Ashtanga days.
If any of these addictions were unavailable or something was in my way I would either fall into the depression and shut down or lash out. From my time at university when this started manifesting, very few people have stayed in touch because of the erratic behaviour I presented. My relationships were suffering as a result of my own covert depression.
When I entered Forrest Teacher training, I was still in the grips of struggling with over-training, numbing out, diet pills and an eating disorder that was hidden and secret. Real states that in order for the depression and its root to come forth, the addictive mechanisms have to be set aside. Once I had set these aside, thanks to the Death Meditation process and Ceremony, I was able to gently tap into what was beneath. Ana Forrest held space for me when I fell to tatters many times on that training saying “You are not breaking down, you’re crying. Breaking down happens to people who don’t cry.” Underneath the addictive layer was a maelstrom of emotion, pain and hurt. As any hero’s quest goes, you have to leave everything behind and face the dragon.
Once the barriers are set aside the work of time travel begins. A person must dig through the past to find the event or dynamic that matches the relationship to himself that has been replicated. Real explains that trauma, whether passive (ignoring a child, neglect or shaming) or active (breaching a boundary in sexual and physical abuse cases) involves a fusion of offender and his victim. A carried feeling from the abuser is planted like a seed in the boy. “I felt the creation of hate in one of the soul’s dark porches, felt it scream out its birth in a black, forbidden ecstasy” (The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy). So, at the moment of victimisation or trauma, a version of the violence is birthed inside the victim. In this birthing, there is a splintering. The trauma has created a boy that is abandoned and a force that is vicious and self-despising.
If trauma becomes depression by appropriating the offender’s energy and perspective and losing the connection of the vulnerable child, then re-establishing empathy for the neglected child and creating distance with the violent force becomes the core of healing. It becomes a process of reintegrating the dismembered parts back into a fully functional mature adult.
“That little boy, what does he want,” Ana whispers in my ear during a lunge backbend.
“I don’t know…”
“What if you stopped struggling and let him join us for a while?” Her hands are warm against my heart. Supporting me like a mother would, and soothing with her voice. When I let her in, my walls melt. My body relaxes and the pose feels instantly effortless, the shaking of exertion gone. The angry force, the one that pushes aside the boy is soothed and almost hypnotised. The boy comes forwards and I start sobbing.
Over the next couple of years, working intensely with Ana and my own process work I have come to feel a connection to these parts. When I encountered them in visualisation exercises, the rage and hurt were an actual fire demon in my mind. It was hungry for violence and lusted to dish out pain, it was the dark force that ate me from the inside. Ana taught me to feed the fire demon in the visualisation, giving it the ones that it wanted to rip apart, and it certainly had an appetite. I began to ask it questions. I asked if it would become part of me, it refused. I asked if it was part of me, it was quiet. I asked if it would help me, it raged and slammed about. This beast needed a serious smack!
The disowned boy was another imaginative personification. For me, he shows up in familiar places from my childhood. Huddled in the corner of the dark bedroom. Hiding under the table. Hiding in the cemetery in the ruins of the kirk. He was the part that was ashamed, convinced that he wasn’t worthy of love and attention, he was also the boy who, at the moment of trauma, was frozen in time and memory. The vulnerable parts of the self must be encouraged, nurtured and protected from the harsh and angry part. I despised the weak part. I despised that it couldn’t cope or fight back. I hated that he had existed and even my language described the different boys that make up the disowned boy, he was dead to me. A lot of this feeling was from an over association with the angry part of me that despised that part. When I finally saw him, sitting there, I knew that I genuinely loved that boy. I began using my meditations to sit with him, to put my arms around him and hold him close. The adult part of me would show him how strong I had become, how skilful and resourceful. I would let him know that he could call on my resources whenever he liked. I used spider medicine to weave a cord of spider-silk through his worlds to mine, a crossing that he could use to climb out and be with me.
My time in Australia brought me to a face off with the harsh child, the aggressor – my fire demon. When I hit my worst, I identify more with the harsh child. My reaction is all destruction and self-mutilation. During a meditation process, I stood up to the raging fire within, in front of it, feeling the heat. I screamed into the fire, “I will not let you push me around any longer, I will not let you invade my thoughts, I will not let you torture my heart, I will not let you drain my energy and keep me from my life, I have a right to live.” To my shock, it responded. In my mind’s eye, the fire retreated to reveal a dragon, small but bright blue. “I was doing this to help you, to protect you,” it said. “Maybe so,” I call back, “But I am older now and you need to be with me.” In its calmer state, we are able to negotiate and sit together. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would still try to rip the boy apart, at least they can be near me but at a distance from one another. Every day has become a mindfulness exercise in choosing to rework the wrong turns I have taken over and over again. My triggers have changed and my mood is significantly more stable. I feel like I am transformed and that maturity has come to my splinter selves who now sit in my mind as co-conscious entities, ones that I can turn to and ask, “what do you think about this?” The abandoned boy is still hurting and he has so much more to tell me, so we work each day at a time on building a self-esteem that is new to us both, knowing that there are more boys in there, frozen in time. A stasis of pain that requires a loving hand to bring to the surface. Each time I work with Ana, she does exactly that. She brings out another piece of me that I didn’t even know was there.
Any man willing to permanently alter the terms of his inner dialogue, the vicious and ravenous part- to transmute the dynamics of the wounded child and the harsh anger inside his own being – seeks nothing less than transformation itself. Such a journey goes beyond recovery. Mine has been a process of Yoga Alchemy. It has been my hero’s quest, my vision quest, and it is not over. I continue my work with Forrest Yoga to go deeper. I encourage any of you that have experienced depression or the grip of addiction to cloud your feelings to begin the journey. Take some Yoga classes and begin the discipline of kindness to your body and mind, in every pose, with every breath. Then, for the best therapy you can get, do the Forrest Yoga Foundation Training. This is a month of therapy that will start you on the path and give you the tools and the support to start your own quest. Read Ana Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine and Terrence Real’s book, I Don’t Want To Talk About It to put yourself of the path to overcoming depression.
“ I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections,
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul,
To the deep emotional self and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time,
Only time can help and patience and a certain repentance,
Long, difficult repentance, realisation of life’s mistakes,
And freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake,
Which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify. “
D.H. Lawrence’s poem, Healing