An Interview With Chris Evans

-- Therapist, Denver Primal Center --

"It's near to impossible to be your own therapist
because you're working from those same structures
in your brain that you're trying to change."
-- Chris Evans

Jean: Thinking about doing this interview a couple of days ago, I remembered when I first saw you two and a half years ago. You were living in Evergreen, but you weren't able to drive the short distance from there to Denver alone. You seemed completely dysfunctional at that time. Yet here you are, a couple of years later, driving all the way from Denver to Boston by yourself. How did you come to be that way, and what happened in therapy in two years to turn that around for you?

Chris: Two and a half years ago I was totally dysfunctional. I had gone from being a totally functional, capable person, to the other extreme.

Jean: Were you dysfunctional before you came into primal therapy?

Chris: No, I was so functional that there was an unreality to it. There wasn't anything I couldn't do. I became that way about a year and a half after I came into therapy?

Jean: Why?

Chris: To explain that, I'd have to tell you something about my life prior to primal. I was a person in total terror and didn't know it - I was completely blocked from fear. I just didn't know what was wrong with my life except that I was hearing everyone elses voice except mine. I had so many voices inside my head telling me what to do, who to be, how to say things, how to act; I couldn't hear myself. It was just an entourage of voices booming constantly inside my head. I couldn't feel my body and I wasn't even afraid - I wasn't in touch with myself enough to be afraid . . . except that even though everything was going fine in my life, I wanted to put a hole in my head and let everything drain out.

I started searching around for help, and one day a psychiatrist in Boulder told me to buy The Primal Scream. I went out and bought it. The cover freaked me out. The mouth . . . seeing that, it hit the terror somewhere inside of me. I read the introduction and part of the first chapter and thought, "That's what I have to do." I was real scared starting out. I knew damn well that I was going into a therapy that was only seven or eight years old, and I knew there were risks involved. I knew that not everyone knew what was going to happen, where it was going to lead. There my own way. So I started therapy here the first year it was open, in 1974.

For the first year and a half, the therapists would ask me questions relating to my past and my childhood, but never, during that time, did I mention my mother. Until in group one night in January, 1976 - I said "Mother" for the first time. The next day I became totally dysfunctional.

How I look at it now is that when I was a little girl, everytime I needed my mother, she'd take a cork and put it in a hole. For example, I might say "Mom, I don't know what to do," and her answer might be "Boy, the sky is really blue today," or "Mom, I fell down and hurt my leg." She'd say something like, "Have you seen your sister." Every time I had a need, instead of filling the need, she'd put a cork in it. just corks, corks, corks.

And when I said the word "Mother" that night in group, every cork in me blew out at the same time. And I remember thinking that I had opened the biggest can of worms that I'd ever open in my whole life! Memories started flooding through me. I could remember my mother's face, I could smell her, I could remember being next to her. The memories wouldn't stop.

The next day I was home alone, and all of a sudden I got this incredible rush from my feet to my head, of total adrenaline My hands and legs were crippled. . I was crippled from lack of circulation. I couldn't focus more than six or seven inches in front of me; I couldn't think and I was scared to death. I remember I sat down and started to read the telephone book just to have contact with names, with people. I didn't know what else to do. I had to pull some kind of reality back into me because I kept saying to myself, "I want to die." But it wasn't like "Slit your wrist." or "Jump off a bridge," - I didn't really want to die. That was the feeling that my body was experiencing completely, that I was dying right then.

There was no separation between the feeling and the reality. My entire central nervous system was telling me I was dying.

Jean: Overnight you went under.

Chris: Yes, but in doing the therapy for a year and a half I was in fact leading myself to that point. When I looked at it then I thought, "Oh my God! How in the hell did this happen?" But I look at it now and think, "Why of course!" I was leading myself to that point and that's the way it happened for me. And I could not be left alone after that for fear of dying.

Jean: That was over two years ago. What happened then?

Chris: I spent a year and a half in that state, totally dysfunctional, and never, ever alone. I could function perfectly if someone else was around because they could save me. It didn't matter who it was. It was the presence of another human body that I needed in order to be in contact with reality.

Jean: Sounds like you got no reality from your mother when you were little. . .

Chris: None. And I was really living in that no reality from my mother. So I was never alone for a year and a half. And I was a person who had lived alone, traveled across the country alone, done everything alone. During that year and a half my self esteem and confidence went down the drain; I was ashamed of myself. Towards the end of that year and a half I was thinking, "I'm 26 years old and look at me. Look at all I've done on my own since I've been twelve years old and look at me now. I've got nothing." The thing I did have was my cabin in the mountains. I had to hang on to that.

Jean: That reminds me of something you said when you came to talk to a training group. You said, "A person has to have something to live for, even if it's only their dog. You've got to hang onto something in the present." Now it's making more sense to me, why you'd feel so strongly about that. That's like a bit of reality to hang onto.

Chris: Right. At that time I got the distinct impression around the Center, and from Janov's books, that you in fact gave up everything you had inside yourself, you gave up every defense. Defenses were awful, they kept you from living and there was nothing real about them. The only thing that was real in this world was feelings. And maybe that's where it went wrong.

I know now that you can't take out 18 plugs and not put something back in. You take out a plug and you put something back in. You work back and forth. And because of this attitude I had become distraught, 24 hours a day for a year and a half. Total, complete anxiety. I was lying down and feeling, lying down and feeling. But I look at it now and I know I wasn't feeling. Because I was living in the feeling, the feeling that I shouldn't be alone. And I was also being told that - "No, don't be alone. You might hurt yourself." Now I know that was their feeling.

Jean: But no one really knew any different at that time.

Chris: Right. It wasn't done with any malice or any intent to hurt, and I'm not the only person that went through this. A lot of other people lost things by following this kind of religious ritual - give everything up.

Jean: How did you come out of it?

Chris: Every day for a year and a half I'd been thinking, "There has to be a way out of this." Finally I'd had it. I decided to drive to work on Monday morning. I didn't care if I dropped dead doing it, because I'd be doing what I wanted to do. I'd tried everyone elses way for this long and nothing had worked, and I thought it was time to take matters into my own hands. Going down on the floor wasn't going to do shit for me at that point, I thought.

So I got dressed, got into my car and started driving. I was scared to death. My whole system thought it was going to die. It wasn't the actual driving - but driving the car meant having to be alone. But I made it to work and I drove home. I continued doing this.

I would take a drive in the car by myself, then go for a walk by myself. Then I started going to the grocery store by myself. And I started, little by little, doing things again. The thing was, I was told, and everyone believed it at that time - me included - that you would have enough of the feeling that one day it's going to feel right to do it without effort, without fear.

Bullshit. I was waiting for that day that it felt right. That day never came. And I finally said, "It's not coming and I'm not waiting any longer. I'm taking matters into my own hands and if I'm going to die then I'm going to die."

Jean: So this was in opposition to what the general feeling was at the Center at that time? And did you do this without telling anyone else?

Chris: I told two people that I was going to get in my car that Monday and drive in. And they just about freaked out. They said, "Something's going to happen to you." Then it hit me - "That's their feeling! I have been living out of everyone elses fear for a year and a half just like I responded to my mother's fear." I believed that that was real, that I didn't know anything and they knew it all. And I gave it all to them except for my house in the mountains.

And I didn't give that up, even though they'd say, "Move to Denver." So I was driving, things were happening, and then I had enough separation out of the feeling and I started feeling the feeling. And the feelings were that I almost died at birth. My mom fell down a flight of stairs before I was born. Before that, when she found out she was pregnant, out of her fear she tightened up on me, didn't want me to live. She wanted a boy, and I know she knew I wasn't a boy. My perception of it was that she was trying to kill me. When it was time to get born, she gets drugged up and I think I'm dying because I wasn't getting any oxygen and I was dying and they were freaking out.

All of a sudden help comes in the form of forceps which broke my nose and my jaw. So I get this help that I feel is killing me, and all of a sudden the whole world is against me and I feel I'm going to die. And that's what I started connecting to. My life was in danger, and that's what I was living in. As soon as I said "Mother," I had opened up a floodgate of information that I couldn't process, couldn't do anything with because I had no reality to hang on to. When I went down into the feeling I had nothing to come back up to - I was hearing from others in the present and believing them, "Chris, your life is in danger."

I had given up nearly everything in my life for Primal Therapy. For the next six months I kept going back over and over again to those early scenes. Everything in my whole life traced back to that. And every time I laid down on the floor in that six months I would get a huge chunk of my life. Because I was living again. I was living my life and feeling the feeling. Living my life and feeling the feeling. The very first time I went down on the floor after I started driving it clicked. I went, "Oh my God! Killing yourself and dying is just a feeling. You don't have to do anything about it."

Jean: And you didn't know that til then?

Chris: I didn't know that. I thought in fact I was going to kill myself and that I had to protect myself from myself. I thought that I couldn't listen to myself and I couldn't trust myself because I wasn't to be trusted. And those were the messages I was getting from people around me.

Jean: I remember you rather suddenly stopped "going down" and I think you got a lot of sideways glances for that. Is this when that happened?

Chris: Yes. I started seeing the redundancy of what I was doing. My body started getting to a place where I'd go down and I wouldn't want to go into the feeling. And that puzzled me. I kept thinking, "What am I avoiding here?" Then I remembered a couple of years before when I was told by a couple of people on the staff that I would probably be dysfunctional for the rest of my life. I remember sitting there and thinking, "Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!" Also, I remembered when I read the introduction to The Primal Scream, it was implied that you do this for the rest of your life.

Suddenly, these two pieces that I remembered from years before clicked together. And I went, "Oh my God! Oh my God!" I got this picture of wounds inside of me, wounds that were infected that had been infected my whole life. And when something would trigger me it would fester up the wound, pus - the feeling - would come out. So I thought, "What I've done is cleaned up these wounds, drained them to the best of my ability, and now it's time to start letting them heal instead of digging and trying to get more." Because to me, that was the feeling - trying to get more. Trying to get what I didn't get, trying to be understood like I wasn't understood.

Jean: Your body knew you'd felt enough . . . .

Chris: My body was telling me to cool it for a while ! Then I began to wonder about this technique, this primal therapy. Certainly it's a way of getting access to yourself. And what does having access to yourself have to do with me? Surely I take that information and make it fit to me, I don't fit to it. The only way I could find out was to get up off the floor, so I started doing that.

When something happened, I started taking care of it. When the feeling would come up, I'd sit there and cry or be angry, I didn't go off to a special room. If something hit me, I'd cry. It was as if a whole new world opened up. This is what Janov was saying - that because we didn't get what we needed as children, we lost that ability and that capacity to have access to ourselves, to integrate and to feel.

And I thought, why can't we regain that capacity now, as adults - to be alive, to integrate, to feel. And so I started living and dealing with it and handling it. I couldn't have reached this point without being on the floor for years. But I took all this knowledge, let it integrate into who I was, and decided I didn't want to go into a red room and lie on the floor.

Jean: This seems like a good place to ask you what you see as a major pitfall of primal therapy, after what you have been through.

Chris: The biggest pitfall is stripping someone of all their defenses. If you are totally defended you're going to be like I was before therapy. If you're totally feeling, then you're going to be like I was for that year and a half in therapy - totally dysfunctional. To me, it's not totally feeling or totally defenseless. It's a balance. There are healthy defenses, and defenses are to be respected just as much as the feeling.

Jean: So you see a dismantling of defenses, rather than the original "bust?"

Chris: Yes. You can compare a person to a brick wall. If you want to rebuild, you don't run up against a brick wall with a bulldozer and knock it over. You dismantle the bricks one by one, laying them in another pile and building up something else. You build up as you tear down. With defenses, you let it drop away as the client makes the decision to let it drop. If a person comes in and they're the most defended person in the world, then that's all they've got.

They don't have anything else in their reality. And that's a starting place with someone. You can say, "All you have are these defenses. That's really sad." And you start with what they've got, because every defense has a purpose, a connection. They all connect, they're all interwoven. You don't just tear them out. You have to let people make decisions about what they're going to let go of in their lives. They need to see what they're doing as it's going on. It's not a magical thing we're dealing with, it's their life.

You are who you are. You can say this person plays the piano as a defense because he has a lot of pain. That may be true. But there's a reality to that person playing the piano. There's the pain and there's the reality. There's the past and there's the present, and you don't start by saying the present doesn't exist, the future is a pile of shit, and we're just going to deal with the past. That's splitting you up just as much as the other way was splitting you up. You let the pieces come together. You weave back and forth, back and forth. What I believe is that this is not just a therapy; feeling is a way of life and it's going to continue for the rest of your life.

Jean: Chris, can you describe briefly how you work with clients today because of your own experiences?

Chris: Well, when I see a client, I'm no different from that person, really, except that I've chosen to do this for my work. I've been places inside myself that the client has not. I can be there to give direction. Freud said, "listen to your patients because they're going to tell you how to treat them" And they do. They tell you how to get back to the roots of their neurosis; where it started, where it's gone, why it's there.

So I listen, and if they don't know, I start asking, "What do you think about this?" Even if they say, "I don't know what I need" - that's a beautiful place to start. They're telling you, I don't know what I need. And you don't have to do any tricks, just go in there and listen. Then when I've listened, all I do is feed back to them everything they've said to me - the important parts that you can see connected or disconnected.

Another thing: around the end of the first week I'll ask, "Is there anything you feel you need that you're not getting from me that would benefit you? Even if you don't know that it is in fact what you need, let's try it. This is your life. These are your feelings, and you get to have all of them and you get to exercise your knowledge as soon as it comes through.

You start planting, putting some new seeds in. Doing an intensive with someone is so exhausting for me because I don't just focus on the first week, I am focusing on the first six months. And I put things in that I know they're not able to use yet, but there's a place for them that I know they're going to be able to use down the line.

Jean: Is this a way of shortening the therapy that wasn't available when you started?

Chris: I think it's more effective. You don't just sit there and let someone lie around and blubber endlessly in their pain. The way it was done before was, as soon as a person started crying, they were assumed to be in the feeling and nothing else needed to happen because this magical process was going to take care of it. It doesn't work like that! We're verbal people; we need that part too. We have the intellect as well as the emotion. Someone can get lost in the emotion.

Jean: Sounds as if people who primal on their own for a long time miss a very important part.

Chris: That's right. They miss a very big piece. I feel they make progress up to 1 point, and that's usually when they come here, when they hit that point. You need someone to point things out to you. It's important. It's near to impossible to be your own therapist because you're working from those same structures in your brain that you're trying to change.

Jean: I think a lot of people have been scared of primal precisely because they fear the kind of thing that happened to you.

Chris: Yes, and well they should have been. But the therapy has really evolved since I started.

Jean: I'd like to close by asking you about your own growth. What did you get out of this process?

Chris: Well, I know now that there is no primal in the sky, no primal dream. We live right now. You don't wait to live. That's the choice I got through this therapy. I didn't have that before. I have choices in my life and I have enough trust in myself to make a choice, and to make decisions.

Jean: Making decisions is new for you?

Chris: Oh, all I ever heard was everyone elses voice. I didn't know what I wanted. I didn't even know I existed. To be there for everyone else - that's what I thought I was on this earth for.

Jean: So, trite as it sounds, you got yourself back.

Chris: I got myself back. I got my body back. I got everything back. When I came into therapy I thought I was going to lose my pain, but I didn't. That's like losing half my life. In a sense I was waiting to lose my pain and that's why I kept on feeling. I kept lying down thinking I was going to lose this stuff. And all of a sudden I realized that's who I am, that's my character.

My sympathy, my empathy, my compassion, my love, is from what is inside of me, and that's what was put inside of me. I've resolved a good portion of my pain - I don't live out of pain and I don't live for my pain; it's a part of me. It's like it's sitting on a little shelf, not taking up any space in my body, and there's so much more room to live.

My life has such quality to it now - I can choose my friends, I can choose what I want to give, I can choose what I want to take in. I can choose everything. I'm responsible for my life. And I don't need now what I didn't get. I'm not five any more. I need what I need now, at the age of thirty. I can now make the distinction between those two needs.

Jean: Chris, what I feel from you, what you got from therapy is, "I can."

Chris: Exactly! Exactly! Not only "I can" also, "I am." I do exist and I can.

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