10.01.2012

this is what it feels like

Law school didn't actually teach me all that much about the law.  The basics, sure.  But the thing about lawyering is that you mostly learn by doing - it's the procedural stuff that people pay you for, really, the ability to navigate unnecessarily difficult waters without drowning.  (I mean, don't tell anyone, but... the actual law?  It's all right there, written down in books.  IIIII KNOW.)  It isn't that statutes and regulations are even all that hard to understand - they're just frequently complicated in their interpretation, their execution.  Hence: the lawyers.

So while the law itself was ostensibly the focus of my education, I didn't walk away having memorized, y'know, every case ever.  What I really learned in law school was how to think in a very particular way.  How to contextualize; how to identify and exploit ambiguity; how to anticipate and preempt counterarguments.  I learned to read closely, and then even more closely, to parse every clause with care, because a single word can mean the difference between winning and losing an argument.  (Really: I cringe to think of the number of trees that have given their lives to heated debates over the statutory distinction between "may" and "shall").  I wasn't aware of it happening at the time, but as I look back, I can see it so clearly - the way my brain shifted.  I started out a liberal arts grad who was used to making impassioned arguments that appealed to emotion, goodness, righteousness.  I graduated with the ability to search and destroy, to identify loopholes and widen them until they took on the shape of valid arguments, to craft theories out of something as mundane as comma placement.  This is what it felt like: that law school changed the landscape of my mind.

Something like that is happening again.

Last April my anxiety disorder got so out of control that I finally started therapy.  It was something I had been thinking about for a while, but when my panic and fear reached the point that I was seriously considering never leaving my house again, I finally made the call.  I was incredibly lucky to end up with an amazing therapist on my first try.  She's quite good at appealing to (and out-arguing) my lawyer brain when I'm in stubborn logic mode, which is vital - but she's also right there with me when I talk about signs from the universe or whether or not there's a Grand Plan or people's "energy" or what happens to our souls after we die.  She cites scientific study and Buddhist theology with equal ease.  It's a good combination for me.  But mostly - and this is the crux of her job, really, I suppose - she challenges so many things I have unquestionably believed to be true, and in that questioning an empty space opens wide.  I stare into the darkness of that place.  And slowly, slowly, I begin to shine light into it. 

This is what it feels like: like I'm expanding, unearthing, pushing apart and coming together all at once, amplifying, releasing, drawing my first breath.  Like I'm constructing galaxies in my heart.  For so long I was living in a tiny airless room, concrete walls pressing against my chest, fluorescent lights buzzing in my eyes.  And now, suddenly, there is air.  There is sunlight.  Suddenly I am infinite.

It's a little bit awesome.  No, actually, it's truly awesome - and I mean that in the literal sense, in that I am filled with awe, I am awed.  The world looked one way, and now it looks completely different, and nothing changed but me.  It's exhilarating.  It's also some of the hardest work I've ever done, exhausting, mind-razing work.  There are THINGS in that darkness, things that inhabit darkness for a reason, things that hiss at the light and glare at you with sunken sun-starved eyes and glittering teeth, things that threaten to devour you whole.  Sitting with those things is hard.  Banishing them is harder.  Loving them, taking them into your arms, showing them compassion - that's the hardest thing of all.

(Isn't it always?)

"I feel like I don't have the words for this," I said to my therapist a few weeks ago.  I was frustrated, unable to articulate a feeling, unable to move past it.  "It's like... it's like I'm having to learn a new language to talk to you."  I was grasping, literally, my hands opening and closing around nothing.

She nodded.  "Yes.  I know," she said.  "You're finding your voice." 

She watched as the words sunk in, as my hands finally stilled.

Oh, I thought. 

This is what it feels like.

11 comments:

  1. I'm going to have to write you a letter on this one.

    But for now I'll just say congratulations. :-)

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    1. Oh! A letter! My favorite!!

      Thank you, MC. :) Keeping my eyes peeled...

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  2. the journey from darkness to light...it sounds like you found the right guide....I'm so happy for you.

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    1. Thank you so much. Darkness to light - it's powerful imagery, but it's something I never quite "got" until this last year. What it feels like to be in the light, what it means. Being seen (which is frightening sometimes) but also warmed...

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  3. Jess, we run into people online and we think we have some grasp of who they are, where they've been. But it's such an almost insignificant sliver. This post opened up a whole new understanding of the person behind the avatar and I feel myself gingerly sifting through all I've just read.

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    1. Just trying to keep you on your toes, Suze. :) I know what you mean though - I sometimes think that reading someone's blog is like opening a present very, very sloooowly. I'm always excited to see what's inside, and every entry is another ribbon untied, another piece of tissue paper tossed over the shoulder. And I'm frequently surprised because things change shape as you unwrap them. Which would generally mean that someone is doing a pretty terrible wrapping job, but in this case I think means that my metaphor is falling apart.

      Forgive me, I have a cold, my brain is fuzzy and cannot be trusted to come up with reliable people-badly-wrapped-in-bulky-paper-and-bows imagery. :)

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    2. Well, I quite clearly saw the tissue paper floating to the ground -- aqua -- so whether the metaphor broke down (they tend to do that) or not, for a moment it was quite alive. I think I even heard the crinkle and sigh as it touched down.

      Get plenty of rest, orange juice and sunshine if you possibly can. You belong in a kind light, dear friend.

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  4. Wonderful!! I just started (as in last week) therapy for anxiety. I really hope my experience is like yours. I'm so glad you are finding your voice.

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    1. Oh, that's fantastic! I know people always say stuff like this, but it really is the best thing I've ever done for myself. Sending you lots of calming, non-anxious, bright-torchlight vibes. (And if you ever need a fairly anonymous internet friend to vent to, one who's familiar with the anxious-crazies, I'm here.)

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  5. This wonderful. I'm partial to people finding their voice. It makes me happy. Congrats!

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    1. Thank you Jaime! It is (and always will be, I suppose) a work in progress, but it definitely feels like I'm on the right track. :)

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