"For me, facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is deepest and best and ultimately, what is most human within ourselves."
— Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living
It’s the spring of 2000. I’m waiting for my psych outpatient class to begin. I’m reading through a pamphlet titled “Boundaries for Codependents” and it’s getting pretty juicy. It’s all about the lifetime effects on children of alcoholics. The Spiritual Boundary is the first to be broken and the last one to return. Huh. Instant decision: this thing is coming home with me. I quickly jam the paper in the front pocket of my black emergency manual, the binder I was required to create before leaving in-patient a couple weeks ago.
I’m still mad at the male, outpatient therapist who reviewed my case last week and I’m nervously hoping he’s not going to be our instructor today. He had calmly told me that he thought I was going into in-patient solely to get my husband’s attention. Just what I needed: more judgment. I just stared at him with ice daggers, enraged. I’ve been doing EVERYTHING in my power to NOT swallow all medications I have, thank you very much! Not that I would tell him that…or my husband.
What pops into my head is the thought that I’m afraid to be a mother. Ever.
A woman I don’t know arrives to lead the class and immediately puts us to work on an exercise. As people are still taking their seats in the circle, she asks us to close our eyes. Alright, I’m thinking, close eyes…Crack neck…Breathe.
I’m in Decatur, Georgia. It’s a sunny day and my daughter’s an adorable kindergartener. Breathe. So much innocence and potential. Try. To. Concentrate.
The facilitator begins guiding us into a kind of meditation: “Now… I’d like you to relax...and bring to mind…a happy memory. A won-der-ful memory. Think back to a time…a place…that is almost…perfect.”
In my mind’s eye, I’m opening the front door of the Busey-Evans Hall, the all-female dorm I lived in during my second freshman year at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I’m with Rich, a boy from my chemistry class, and we’ve been talking in the basement for hours. I gasp at the sight of the winter’s first snow. WOW! The heavy snowflakes drift slower than I’ve ever seen and the street is a veritable blanket. It’s been snowing for at least a half hour!
Rich, more excited than I am, nudges me out the door from behind and I lead us down the steps and onto the street, as I zip up my coat and put on my mittens. Rich swipes the back of a car with a gloved hand and packs a snowball so lightening-fast that I’m almost nailed in the neck as I stumble out of range, giggling. The beauty of snow-laden, giant elms arcing overhead is stunning. Rich joins me and we silently walk the two short blocks to the quad, taking in the scene of quaint building facades and everything draped white. It’s like a Dickens novel.
The snow is so heavy on our hair and eye lashes and we are more wet than cold. We pass the Language Arts building and turn the corner to head back to Busey when Rich reaches out to hold my hand. This is only the second time we’ve been together outside of class. As we make our way, we can actually hear the snow falling, amidst the crunching and sloshing of our feet. With my hand in his, Rich swings me into an embrace. He kisses me. He’s a great kisser. The hairs on my neck begin to raise, so I begin to peak open my eyes and—“Your EYES ARE OPEN!” I shout. “No, they’re not!” he defends. “YES! They ARE!!”
Back in the outpatient classroom, the facilitator’s voice gently wafts into this scene. “So, here you are,” she says through a smile, “in your perfect moment. Just take in the scene… The smell… The sounds… The sights. Take a picture with your mind’s eye. Seize it!”
In the winter wonderland, I hear Rich, soften, “Ok…Ok…you’re right! I’m sorry.” We slowly lean in again for another kiss, and he wraps me into his 6’2” frame and giant tan parka. I feel fairly dry, now. It’s nice to kiss up!
The woman’s voice returns, briskly leading us out of the meditation. The half-hour session is up and she’s all business, instructing us to add this exercise to our binder, as a tool to combat anxiety. Everyone is getting up to leave the class, but I remain seated. The only thing going through my mind is Holy shit! That really worked!!!