Cleaning Closets

I am used to it by now.  Someone calls.  They want an appointment.  We meet.  I hear the tip, the tip of the iceberg, that moment that toppled them into seeking professional help.  I tell them who I am, what I can offer them and how I provide it.  They tell me that such sounds good, it is exactly what they are looking for.  We get started.  They settle into therapy.  And then, sure-fire, panic appears.  They tell me that they are not feeling better.  Or, in most cases, they are feeling worse.

By now, I am prepared for this experience.  I even expect it.

Out comes my invented metaphor …the hall closet.

I tell them how they are a mansion.  A grand old extravaganza with large columns and more square footage than they can ever want.  In that mansion is a storage closet filled with emotional junk.  All the stuff that is old and tired.  Used and expired. Somehow, for whatever reason, the pile in this collection has never been cleaned out.  Through the years, we have crammed more and more into the closet, hoping that the door will still close if slammed hard enough.  As long as the aged piles stay hidden away, life is good.  I am no worse for wear.  Or so I think.  We focus on the rest of our house.  Make sure it is spic-and-span.  Ready in a moment’s notice for unexpected company.

But the day comes when the assundry of pushed-aside clutter can no longer be ignored, at least not without a high cost to our emotional, relational and physical health. We have run out of storage space and the door remains ajar, no matter how hard we push.  A stench may begin to seep through our house. Like a relative that has outlasted their welcome, it won’t go away on its own accord.  It is time to clean out that closet.

Intensive psychotherapy, the kind that is designed for long-term, sustainable change, is such a process. We’ve got to pull out the closet’s contents and discover what is really there, what we consciously might have forgotten was there.  Temporarily, as we peruse the now large heap on the floor, it feels worse than it did when it was all squirreled away.  Look at this mess, we sigh.  We are burdened with feelings of disgust, grief, overwhelm and heaviness.  And, what do we do now?  How do we ever get this mishmash cleaned up?  Why did I pull it all out to begin with?  Damn. Can’t I just cram it back in and call it a day?

If we stay with the process, the sorting begins.  What needs to be thrown out?  What can be recycled or given to a new home?  What needs mending or cleaning or given a fresh new look?  After deciding, we organize the keepers before putting them back.  We then have access and efficiency to whatever emotional resources our day-to-day life might need going forward.

As an added bonus, we no longer dread the junk closet.  The one we knew needed our attention someday.  Having finally gotten around to this put-off project, we have freed up energy to devote to full living, to life in the moment.  We can walk down the hallway, past the closet, and breathe easy.  We now have entree to our whole house … nothing to hide .. nothing to be ashamed of.

What a worthwhile venture.  Consider it, if you have not already.  Your mansion of magnitude awaits you.

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