No, no, no – I’m not talking about that famous video game where we want to conquer the world. No, that’s not what I mean. My dungeon keeper is someone slightly different but you’ll have to wait a bit to understand until I get to that part of the tale.
See, I had a story. I’m not unique. We all have stories. I can tell you a story about my trip to Costco yesterday. Breakfast stories are always entertaining. Stories within stories are numerous too. Let me tell you about the T.V. show Luke Cage on Netflix. Or did you hear the latest about Rihanna (or my next door neighbor)? We breathe stories every moment of our lives.
But what if you have a secret story, a hidden story? What if that story hurts? What if it keeps gnawing at you and it won’t disappear?
That story lives inside. And that story wants, no, NEEDS to be told. It needs to be heard, and seen.
Maybe you remember some happy stories from when you were a kid. Maybe you remember getting an ‘A’ on a test or drawing a picture that you liked. Didn’t you run to your Mom or Dad all excited because your ‘story’ needed to be shared? Didn’t that feel good?
And those stories that hurt? Maybe someone at school was mean to you. Maybe you felt ashamed that you hadn’t done your homework. If you were lucky, there was someone in your life you could tell.
But, many of us weren’t given that gift of having a listener in our lives. And so much of our unspoken history collected inside of us. And some, or even many of those tales, were seemingly forgotten. You know, like when you throw your excess coins into a bowl or box but then forget that you’ve amassed a small fortune?
Our abandoned stories sure don’t seem like treasures. We may have deigned them simply as waste to be discarded. We cast them into our own personal dungeon – deep below our living room – below the space where our conscious lives carry on.
Then one day, or one week, or one year we begin to live a story that we can’t have imagined. The dungeon is full – no more stories can be hidden. We believe that everything tossed into the dungeon is offal – getting close to it too terrible to contemplate.
Maybe we try to empty the dungeon by throwing this refuse into the garbage cans out back. Again, surprisingly, we discover that no one is coming by to pick up the rubbish.
What to do? Panic mode ensues. The muck is beginning to seep everywhere. My goodness – what if someone sees it? Smells it? What if my secret story spills out into the alleyway? What, what, what to do?
Well, now it’s time to face the Dungeon Keeper. Who is the dungeon keeper? Why does she keep my stories captive? Why do the stories seldom escape? And why do I believe my stories are less than worthy – that they need to be tossed?
It wasn’t until my own self-described sewage became too toxic to survive anymore that I realized the dungeon keeper was my own fear. It was me, living upstairs, who kept the stories hidden.
I needed to release my stories. And who would slay the dungeon keeper? Who would conquer the fear? Who slays the dungeon keeper? Who will be the hero? You may begin to agree with others that I have a split personality when I tell you that it was ME who was able to become the conqueror. The courage within ME overcame the fear within ME.
Courage slays fear, I’ve learned. Well, no – the truth is we’ve always known that courage slays fear but I guess I’d say that that ‘truth’ does not become Truth until we’ve experienced it ourselves.
I became the hero.
I don’t know about you but my imaginary life overlaps with my so-called ‘real’ life. Honestly, when I thought about my pent up stories, I actually could visualize their life in a dungeon.
So, anyway, what does all this talk about dungeons, keepers, trash have to do with therapy anyway? (Yep, two anyways in a sentence is bound to be an object of your admiration, right?)
This long drawn out story is really about my therapist, Anne. No, maybe it’s really about the hero, my courage. No, I think it’s about that space that opened up once the hero came forth and rescued me. No, it’s about….
Let me think about this a bit more, ok?
Well, the metaphor so far has a few characters – all of whom are me, by the way. The trash, the dungeon, the hero, the dragon master, even the trash cans are the roles that I inhabit.
So, what role does my therapist play? Is she the ‘sanitation engineer’ that we so fondly like to name our garbage collectors? Did she help me dispose of the trash?
No. I don’t want to visualize her in that role simply because by the end of the story I realized that what I had considered trash and garbage were really signposts to my deeper self. They needed airing because without coming into the light out of the dungeon they would fester and rot and sicken the entire house.
What she was and continues to be is the torchbearer. When the hero (me) used courage (me) to look for a solution to the trash problem (me), she showed a beacon, a light that guided me.
One of the definitions of torchbearer in the Oxford dictionary is “ A person who leads or inspires others in working towards a valued goal. Yes, I could state that about my Anne, my therapist but how she did that is the magical part of the story.
See, with Anne, I WAS HEARD. I AM HEARD. Being heard, I believe, is the most important part of inner growth and healing.
And though we began this little fable referring to dungeons, I’ll conclude by stating that my forward journey could not have begun without someone listening to ME.
The removal of the treasures (I called them trash earlier) in my dungeon can take a long time. That’s o.k., because unlike real trash which we want to discard as quickly as possible, our ‘trash’ are jewels that need close inspection and renewed appreciation. We discover that these jewels deliver a richness of life that might never have been discovered without someone the hero could show them to.
I’m going to repeat myself: Being heard is a powerful antidote to emotional suffering and is a salve to emotional wounds.
It is a theme that runs through all of the stories I’ll share with you. Whether I’ve struggles with ruptures with my therapist or I’ve felt fear of her or I’ve gained incredible insights with her, I can guarantee you that if I hadn’t felt heard, my inner work with Anne would have not have been fruitful.
Now that you know that the key element, for me, in therapy is the experience of being heard, I can now discuss some of the stumbling blocks that can be put in the path of our inner work.
The work of cleaning out the dungeon can be dirty and challenging. We face steep, slippery steps. Some of the bags to remove seem too heavy. Other debris is difficult to see in the poor light.
The next chapters I’ll begin describing some of those challenges.