August 7, 2013

take a deep breath

original post here, reposted because today I needed it.

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 to take 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 would fall into hysterics on the reg, I wait. I take deep breaths and wait for them to join me. And before we know it, like magic, they're breathing. It always works. For the moment at least, panic has passed, all thanks to a simple deep breath. It's very effective. I highly recommend it.

I know it's effectiveness from experience because when I stress, I don't breathe. Literally. It's as if I believe things are so fragile that even the tiniest gust from within me could bring it all 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; and unsure of the last time I allowed myself a breath.

Once not long ago, during a particularly frantic time in my life, I had a serious not-breathing moment 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 she helped me calm down. She [recognizing that I wasn't] told me to breathe, and I did a little - just enough so I could go back and work at the food bank like I was supposed to. 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. At least for another hour.

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 a person could ever get.
As she played with my necklace, she recounted the Valentine she made for me, the craft box I gave her and what she made with the stuff inside it, her birthday party, when she had 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.

Things may be fragile, but in my experience, holding one's breath isn't a very effective method of control. Because, you see, we are humans who require air. And I am so thankful, so very desperately grateful, for 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.

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