August 22, 2012

take a deep breath

I have stated before, as a professional, that sometimes people need help that isn't. So it should come as no surprise to you that one of my very favorite therapeutic techniques is not something I learned in school, but rather something my mom taught me when I was just a wee tot. And that, my friends, is taking a deep breath.

Often I will sit with a client who is upset and I will stop the proverbial presses until they agree take deep breaths with me. They'll refuse, or say they can't, and much like my mother did with me when I fell into hysterics on the reg, I wait. I take deep breaths and wait for them to join me. Like magic, they're breathing. It's working. For the moment at least, panic has passed. All thanks to a simple deep breath. It's very effective. I highly suggest it.

I know from experience it's effectiveness because you see, when I stress, I don't breathe. Literally. It's as if I believe things are so fragile even the tiniest gust of wind from within me could make it all come crashing down. If I can just hold it in another second, I think, I will still be in control. In my scariest and most fragile moments I will often find myself physically struggling for air, trying desperately, pitifully to remain in control, unsure of the last time I allowed myself a breath.

Recently I had a not-breathing kind of meltdown while I was at church. In an attempt to not make a scene, I tracked down a friend I knew would be able to handle me, and I calmed down, with her help. She [recognizing that I wasn't] told me to breathe, and I did a little, just enough so I could go back to work at The Well. I took a deep breath and held it, so as to regain control, confirm my composure, and try to keep the whole thing from crashing down again.

Almost immediately when I walked into the other room, this darling little nugget of a girl ran to greet me. I scooped her up, and as she sometimes does when I don't see her for a while, she began to reminisce on our relationship. I like this about her. It's like she remembers she loves me, but a few weeks have passed, so she has to remind herself why. I like it because she's cute and it's fun to listen to her process, but also because as the list of memories she is compiling gets longer, her hugs get tighter and her face gets brighter and it's just about the best and most affirming gift I ever could get.

As she played with my necklace, thoughtfully, she recounted the Valentine she made just for me, the craft box I gave her and what she made with the stuff inside it, her birthday party, how fun it had been, dinner at my house that one time. And then, as if she'd just uncovered the best treasure she could imagine, she pointed to the exact spot on the couch where once, many months ago, she had sobbed, and where together we had taken deep breaths. She said as she pointed, you taught me how to exhale! It caught me a little off guard but I said yes, that was me, and she threw her arms around my neck. Thank you for teaching me, she said in a tiny voice. Now I can do it even when you're not there!

I don't want to get caught up in semantics, but I feel confident I never used the word exhale with a 5 year old. That was her word. And in that moment, holding all my breath in, her word made all the difference. It was like something in Violet's tender little soul knew there was something I'd forgotten, something she needed to teach me right back.

So I exhaled. It took about the rest of the day to do it, but I did. I took a deep breath, exhaled, took another. That night I thought, when I wake up in the morning, I'll do it again. And again after that. I've been breathing ever since, in fact. Breathed my way into signing a lease on a new apartment and through tricky friend stuff and sadness and insecurity. In a couple weeks, I will breathe my way through yet another move. And I'll keep right on breathing after that, too.

Things may be fragile, but in my experience, holding one's breath isn't a very effective method of control. Because, you see, we require air. And I am so thankful, so very desperately grateful, for the people who remind me to breathe. Who give me permission to to quit holding it in, to breathe all over them, and can handle it when I do. Who will sit with me, patiently, presses proverbially stopped, until I agree to exhale.

Because sometimes? Sometimes it's all you can do. Take a deep breath. Then take another.

1 comment:

mdh said...

Beautiful! Love this.