A few weeks ago, as I told a friend about my current plans for the next 18 months, I heard something that I hadn’t heard in a while: “Ryan, you’re ambitious again!” And then she added, “which makes some sense, because it’s exactly three years since you graduated from your MA”. The symbolism of 3 years is significant, because the MA programme itself lasted 3 years. A great part of my 20s was spent studying, and working to pay for my studies. And the comment about my ambition was also significant, because in the past 3 years, this was something that had mostly disappeared from my life, leaving an unexpected and scary vacuum in its place.
Ambition was always a big part of my personality. I was an overachiever, even when I didn’t need to be one, and I was never scared to do whatever it took to get to my goals – always with integrity, of course! Interestingly enough, around the same time my friend told me this, I was also speaking to someone I’d met recently, and telling them about my future plans, when they commented on my ambition as well. Looking back, I still don’t know when or how the ambition stopped, or when the well dried up. I remember feeling strange for many months, having this feeling that something was missing, and yet not really knowing exactly what that was.
My training programme in Dramatherapy was divided into 3 main categories: creative expression (year 1), creative exploration (year 2), and creative integration (year 3). All the modules, assignments, theories, and techniques we learned during that time were a reflection of each of those categories. Year 3 revolved around integration of the psyche, which means being able to identify its many expressions, and exploring ways to in which they can work together and integrate. It involves bringing to consciousness some of the darkest, oldest, and neglected parts of us to help them heal. This is so we can do the same for our clients. “How can you expect your clients to go to their darkest places, if you’re not able to do so yourself?”, tutors would ask us. Which is all well and good in theory, but in practice, it brings with it a great sacrifice: in order to integrate the psyche, one must disrupt it first. One must know what’s in the shadow in order to bring it to the light, and that’s never an easy task.
To disrupt the psyche is to disrupt our very own status quo. The processes by which we have been able to cope through life, and by which we managed to “get it together”. But this is what we all did, and what we all do in Dramatherapy training, with each one of us experiencing it in various different ways. For me, it was literally like going through every single cage I’d carefully kept closed in my psyche throughout my life and opening it. Just like a captive animal that sometimes doesn’t understand they can just run out of the cage, the same happened with me. Some things emerged straight away. Others waited a few months, and others waited a few years. But the past 3 years have been a constant succession of different aspects of my shadow emerging. For clarification, when I mention shadow here, I mention it in the Jungian sense: the shadow is that which is unconscious. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s negative or dangerous – it literally just exists in the darkness.
Throughout this period of time, it was very hard to think of the future. In fact, it was the first time that I was truly able to be in the present. Mainly because many of the truths that I held as absolute about my existence, and life in general, were shattered into many pieces. Health problems, repressed memories, emotional and physical burnouts, were all symptoms and consequences of this process of integration. All that we are is connected, and the body always keeps the score of what happens to us. As I mentioned many posts ago, when we fail to deal with emotional upheaval, the body will act as the ultimate judge and tell us what to do. If we are able to listen.
I don’t know if time can heal, but I do know that time gives us distance. Distance to feel, to run away, to let go, to accept, to find peace. All these things require action. We can’t just sit by and hope that time will heal us. It won’t. Not on its own. We have to do something with it. As the unconscious becomes conscious, it becomes impossible to ignore, and that presents us with plenty of options. Even if it is to just sit and feel the pain. To feel the sadness, and the anger, and the joy, and the ecstasy. We need to choose to feel. Choosing makes it conscious, and helps us integrate the parts of us that are hidden with the parts of us that are on display.
My ambition is only a small part of me that I’m able to feel again, because I had to stop and sit with all the other parts of me that I’d neglected for so long. In many ways, my ambition was always one of my main coping mechanisms. It allowed me to escape many things. And if you think about it, this is the truth about our coping mechanisms: they are patterns we create to save ourselves. They are our very own natural mechanisms of survival and existentialism. Without them, many of us would no longer be here. Granted, coping mechanisms often evolve into destructive patterns, but their origin… their origin is a survival mechanism. The fact that our psyche can block memories in order to protect us from incredibly traumatic events? How fascinating and resourceful is that? In the end, we have all saved ourselves at one point or another in our lives. And the more we know about ourselves, the more we can continue doing it, this time from more conscious and integrated places.