Psychodrama! Or, Happy Birthday, Hope You Like Crying!

Why I spent my birthday weekend trying to get in touch with my inner child through an experiental psychodrama workshop, despite the fact that at least 5 of the words in this sentence make me want to drive a glass shard into my throat.
Publish date:
May 18, 2012
therapy, psychodrama, trauma

I paid 400 dollars to play with crayons.

Here's my two-pronged approach to my mental health: 1) I do whatever I'm told and 2) I don't care if it it's totally stupid.

See, I came into recovery with what they call the "gift of desparation," meaning I was in so much pain, and so afraid for my life, that I was willing to do whatever it took to get better. If jumping up and down on one foot and clucking like a chicken is going to keep me from dying in an alcoholic blackout, just call me Foghorn Leghorn.

So while I am not naturally the sort of person who enjoys holding hands with strangers or talking to an empty chair as if it were my father or getting up at 6 am to meditate in a group of 20 people, these are all things I have done in the service of my healing, which, ugh, is also not a word I like to use. (At one point I was aiming for "normal by 30," but that's starting to look a little unrealistic.)

What I'm trying to explain to you is why I spent my birthday weekend trying to get in touch with my inner child through an experiental psychodrama workshop, despite the fact that at least 5 of the words in this sentence make me want to drive a glass shard into my throat.

HUMOR IS A DEFENSE, I can hear my therapist saying now. Or is that sarcasm? Or irritability? Doesn't matter, they're all defenses, along with gum-chewing in group. Spit it out, mister!

Conceived and developed by Jacob L. Moreno, MD, in the 1930s, psychodrama is an experiental therapeutic technique in which people are assigned roles to be played spontaneously within a dramatic context devised by a therapist in order to understand the behavior of people with whom they have difficult interactions. The idea being that we are able to access our feelings better through action than conversation.

Of course, I found all this stuff out after the fact, because we're talking about the kind of person who used to find unidentified pills on the ground and pop them in her mouth. I'll put whatever in my body, I don't care. It's not like we're friends.

So this is how I ended up in my therapist's office with a group of strange men (my therapist treats a lot of sex addicts) on the beautiful sunny Saturday morning of my birthday, clutching a crayon in my non-dominant hand and drawing a portrait of my inner fucking child.

This would not have looked much better if I'd been allowed to use my right hand.

A word on my relationship to therapy: I hate every second of it.

Sometimes when I tell people I go to therapy 3 times a week, they say things like, "Oh, I'd love to talk about myself that much!" People in my weekly group session often say, in all sincerity, "I'm so happy to be here!" Some people really enjoy their 50 minutes of me time. I do not relate to these people.

My current therapeutic schedule was never intended to last this long. It started as sort of a low-rent outpatient treatment, when I was having a really hard time dealing with the long-delayed aftermath of my sexual trauma. And then I fell apart for awhile.

And now, over 2 years later, I still don't feel strong enough to ease up. But there is nothing fun or relaxing or enjoyable about devoting that much time to picking through the ol' emotional garbage can. At this point, my number one motivator to get better is the beautiful dream of not having to go to therapy so much anymore. It's therapy, you know? If it was awesome, they'd call it ice cream.

The good news is that I don't have to like it, I just have to do it.

In thise case, in two 12-hour chunks last Saturday and Sunday. I showed up in stupid pants, since most group therapy environments have rules about clothing. I'm also never allowed to wear open-toed shoes, because the therapeutic industry kowtows to foot fetishists. Apparently 90 percent of healing is looking like ass while you do it.

I can tell you right now that nothing good is ever happening when a group of adults are sitting in a circle. Not only that, but the first thing the facilitator asked us to do was a meditation in which we were all supposed to close our eyes. Bitch, I don't know these people! That is how you get cut. I don't close my eyes in groups of strange men and I don't let dudes tie me to the bed on a first date. Safety first.

We engaged in a series of mildly crazy warm-up exercises (see: inner child drawing) before getting into the super-crazy portion of the experience -- individualized psychodrama scenes lasting somewhere between 1 and 2 hours.

Basically you pick out a few characters -- Mom and Dad for most of us ("They fuck you up..."), and a composite of my perpetrators for me. Then you write their "lines" down on index cards -- 3 or 4 direct quotations or messages you have received from that person, which will be read by the group member playing that role. So it's like starring in a play that makes you want to kill yourself.

Some people, by grace of their appearance or disposition, got selected to play the same part over and over again -- a neglecting father, an overbearing mother. Just call me America's friendly sister. Oh yeah, and somebody plays your inner child, too.

America's friendly sister

What happened in other people's sessions is confidential, but suffice it to say that watching and acting in one traumatic sexual experience after another for 10 hours a day was as difficult as hearing my rapist's words spoken back to me in my own session. Seriously, every time we had a meal or snack break, I could not eat my feelings fast enough.

As for my own session, it was suprisingly emotional. There's a part of you, of course, self-consciously thinking how stupid the whole thing is, but the other part of you is weeping and blubbering, "I thought it was my fault" over and over again.

My hope going into the experience was that I might be able to access some anger, since my current reaction to things that would make most people angry (see: poor customer service, arguments with the bf) is to totally shut down and cry.

My therapist looooves to speculate about the crazy rage he's convinced is somewhere inside me, but so far it's well-hidden. I'm like, "Where is all this anger you keep talking about? My knee? My elbow? Under my left armpit? I CAN'T FIND IT."

But I really do think that a lot of my self-destructive acting-out is probably related to my total inability to feel and express anger, so I was hoping to get at least like, mildly irritated. Also, when you're angry, they let you hit pillows with a baseball bat, which is inarguably excellent. Since I've seen facilitators actually tell participants to start repeatedly poking at you with the Wiffle bat during a session, I thought the chances were pretty good. I don't know how to express anger in my everyday life, but when some asshole pokes me? I'm only human.

I didn't Where's-Waldo my inner rage during my session, but I did weep uncontrollably for a good portion of it. And later in the day, I got to take a pass at the pillows, which felt just as good as I'd imagined. Maybe I just need to hit things more.

Since 1 am Sunday, when the workshop finally wound down, I've felt alternately serene and like all my skin has been systematically ripped off, leaving me completely exposed to the pinpricks of everyday life. Like people saying "hello" to me. WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT?

I haven't decided yet if my foray into Masterpiece Trauma Theater was helpful, aside from giving me a great excuse to do whatever I wanted for the rest of the week. ("Sorry I wasn't very productive at work today, Jane, but I basically re-enacted my rape over the weekend, so maybe you can cut me some slack. ")

I'm still processing. As my therapist always tells me, recovery is a process, not an event. Which is like, blurgh, can't you just fix me in exchange for this goodly chunk of my paycheck? I do feel, in my calmer moments, that the catharsis I experienced is a glimmer of the relief I hope to feel someday. And by the end of the weekend, when I closed my eyes in the roomful of men-who-were-no-longer-strangers, I even approached peace.

Maybe "normal by 30" isn't so unrealistic after all.