I am occasionally asked if I can see a difference in my own life from having been in therapy. A fair question, I think.
Someone who knew me when I was 25 and knows me now would not notice too very many things different about me except that I am heavier, my hair is grey and I am wearing glasses rather than contacts -- all external manifestations of age and the life I have lived. Someone who knew me very well then and now might notice that I am calmer, less prone to sarcasm, more contemplative, warmer, maybe more confident. They would recognize my delight in words and willingness to express opinions, that I have a dry sense of humor. That I am a bit shy and reserved, keep a pretty tight zone of privacy around myself. But on the whole, I would likely seem more relaxed. When we change, for the most part we change in degree, not in kind. So I am still noticeably myself.
The changes I have experienced in my life as the result of a long analysis are interior, and though they shape what others see, are most likely unknown to others. Those inner changes are hard won. The forces against them from my early life were and are fierce and did not go down or stay down without a ferocious fight. Through those hours of talk with my analyst, I began to be able to see the destructive bits and then to be more able to not act on them, to let them go by, like bubbles rising in champagne. I still have moments of feeling like I used to feel,. I am more likely see it, I feel it when it happens and when i do see, I now have the freedom to make choices that do not feed those moments and so they do not grow into hours or days as once they did.
How are the changes sustained? Think about the Netherland and how much of the country is built on land reclaimed from the sea. In order to be able to continue to be able to occupy that land, constant attention is required — pumps must be maintained, all the drainage systems must be kept operational. And so it is with our own territory, those changes, reclaimed from the unconscious. They are sustained by my recognition that I have more and more of the life I want. That I have friends who love me. I have a wonderful husband who has never uttered an "If only you ...". I have kids who have grown into terrific adults. I have work I love. All of those things act powerfully to reward my efforts every day and so every day that change becomes easier to sustain. It is as if I used to be standing in a room facing the corner, believing that I was in a prison from which there was no way out. Working in my own therapy let me know first that there was a way out, then that all I had to do was turn around and walk out the open door and then that the prison was of my own making in the first place.