Marie: An Interview

Marie has been a patient at the Denver Primal Center for about two years. She was a nun for nearly 30 years before coming into therapy. She has suffered from arthritis since she was in her teens; it became progressively crippling to the point where she was afraid she would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. It has loosened up now to the extent that she has been riding a bicycle and has been able to create some very intricate and beautiful crochet work.

MARIE: I feel my life was at a crisis when I came into therapy. I was falling apart emotionally and physically, I was so numb and in so much pain and misery that things really looked very black for me. There seemed nothing left in life for me except to become an invalid in a wheelchair and be confined.

After an emotional crisis in 1973, my body seemed not to respond to medication anymore. I was taking as many as 24 bufferin daily, in March 1974, my physician tried gold shots. While on vacation in June, my body suddenly went crazy. I was actually writhing like a snake. My blood count dropped so low that it took 10 blood transfusions to get my body to fight this anemic toxic reaction. My doctor kept saying to me in the months following, "If only I knew what caused this crisis." I feel that it was the intense emotional pain which was driving my body crazy. After several months rest, I tried my part-time job again. In January 1975, I went to make a 30-day retreat. During the past year I had been putting myself through a religious "revival," with the same pressure that I always did everything. The retreat was a strenuous experience, and again my body collapsed. This time it was phlebitis. The doctor on emergency said, "You frighten me." Because of my emotional state, my dependency on pain pills, tranquilizers, etc., he found it very difficult to treat me. As soon as I was over the crisis, this physician flew me back to Boise, Idaho to my rheumatologist, who seemed willing to risk my case. I was a medical puzzle.

It was during this recuperation that I had the opportunity to read The Primal Scream, and I responded to that book as a hope for my life. I knew I was emotionally shattered. Since 1973, everyone had treated me very carefully; I simply was a sick person. But no one knew for much was emotional and how much was physical. My body was becoming more rigid. I was more dependent on medication than ever. It was like life was an extreme effort. About this time I made one last effort with my religious trip, expecting a miracle. Of course, no miracle happened. In the past I had been told so often that I did not face reality. There was even doubt that my physically-crippling pain was really as bad as I made it. But I had no reality. There was no reality for me except pain. I know this now. I used to wonder where I could go for a seminar, a workshop, anything to reach me to face reality, or whatever it was that these people could do to face life and be healthy and cheerful.

So here I was in this physical crisis, and at the same time I was so close to my feelings that they had to treat me with kid gloves so that I wouldn't go into tears at small things. Something in a dinner conversation could bring on a outburst of tears. And no one would know what had been said to hurt me or affect me so much. It wasn't like it was what was happening in the present, but it was a build-up from the past. So it was no secret that I needed special help.

My superior said to me, "If I only knew what to do for you, Sister. You're suffering so much, and I feel so helpless to know how to help you." I said, "If I only knew what to ask for, I would." That is one of the things about belonging to a religious community -- they will try to give you what you need. So when I read The Primal Scream and really felt that the therapy would help me and was convinced about it, my superior responded immediately.

One thing about me is that I have always fought like crazy for things I have been convinced about; it was a catastrophic thing to challenge me. Others felt this for years before I realized it was happening. I was "grasping" so hard and fought like a tiger for my ideas. So here I came up with the idea of primal therapy -- what were they do? They let me come.

MICHAEL: What has therapy meant to you?

MARIE: I have been in therapy 2 years and 30 days. The first and biggest thing it has meant for me is hope -- hope for some life. There was nothing for me but death before -- death in any form you want to put it: shut in, crippled, loneliness, aloneness, confined to a wheelchair, aching body, rejection, unable to participate actively, dependent, etc. All those forms of death were all there was for me. It was all I could see. I was in intense physical pain, extreme body rigidity, and intense depression over the whole state of my life.

Coming to therapy somehow meant hope that something could be changed about my life. I didn't know how it was going to work, but I could tell it would be hard. A minister-psychologist said to me, "You really picked the hardest way to do something for yourself." I had tried a number of other forms of therapy -- spiritual counseling, psychological counseling, living in a new environment with new people, special religious experiences, hypnosis. So I decided it was worth risking the hard way. I really had no choice at this point -- It was either die or come to therapy. So therapy has meant life, hope, and understanding.

The first day of my therapy, when I met my therapist, Jules, was the first time in my life when I felt that someone was understanding me (and this is no discredit to the number of good people who made such efforts to help me over the years). Something about Jules made me feel that he saw behind everything that was tumbling out of my mouth.

What was tumbling out of my mouth was like the fizz on a soda pop, but Jules knew what the ingredients were and he knew where it was coming from. I could feel that, and it was such a good feeling. It supported my determination to do the therapy. It was safe to let things happen. I had the feeling of seeing something that I was grabbing for, that it was possible to get it, and that this time it would not end in disillusionment.

MICHAEL: What was it?

MARIE: It's like life, but it includes freedom and reality -- the freedom to think and be "me." This is perhaps the greatest benefit I have from therapy. First, there was the realization of how my scheduled, enclosed life had affected me so badly, so negatively. Then there were the first occasions when I could choose not to respond with the behavior that I had been taught -- all the things that must be done in order to be good. I have the freedom now to choose whether I want to do those things if they are good for me and not the other way round -- that I do them whether they hurt me or whether I feel good about them or not.

MICHAEL: With your background, that's a big change.

MARIE: Yes, it indicates something very unusual happened, because I was very orderly all my life. As a nun I was terribly rule-bound beyond what was expected. I was significantly strict with myself.

MICHAEL: What has happened in your therapy?

MARIE: I believe the first big thing was adapting to the atmosphere of the therapy. For me, coming from the cloister, that was a tremendous thing. Just the idea of being on the floor, dressing comfortably, the different positions my body got into, the closeness to other people, the language, the swearing and confrontation that is used, the entire atmosphere of the therapy; adapting to that was a tremendous change for me.

This was probably more therapeutic for me than for others coming in; these things hardly touch them at all, for they have been part of their lives since childhood. But for me, it was like another world. I often wonder how I looked, what kind of expression was on my face in response to what I heard and saw.

The feeling I have about the first weeks in therapy is that it was like taking the cap off a tank of liquid under pressure. For the first six months it was like this pressurized substance kept forcing itself out so constantly at any time I would allow it. And there seemed nothing to identify it with. At group when the therapist would stop by to ask, "What's going on with you?" I wouldn't know what to answer. I was crying at the top of my voice, really letting out a lot of steam and pressure. My head was blank. There seemed no necessity to figure out anything, just so much of this horrible pressure to release.

The first three months, there was this big release in my body, too. I even started riding a bicycle! About September I definitely slipped into first line [early infantile or birth feelings -- ed.] My baby cries were violent and desperate. Simultaneously, another patient triggered me into my old pain. My whole body was reacting and I had this big "drop" about the beginning of September. I went to some place where I was unable to feel it -- I didn't know how to feel it. There was a great struggle. I had intense physical pain, my arthritis flared up -- getting from my apartment to the center was most difficult.

It took me at least six months to get back any kind of mobility. It was during these months I experienced so much need. My body was craving to be held and touched. I wanted attention. I wanted hugs. The infant inside me was crying to be picked up and fondled. The feeling was that there was nothing for me. I had so much pain over being wrong for my mother; I experienced deep feelings of loss -- lack -- longing.

I began improving noticeably in my joints so that one night at group in April, 1976 I was able to get up off the floor without the help of a person or a chair. Until now I always needed someone to lift me off the floor. On some days I could make it by a chair. This evening I used only my elbow against the wall for a prop.

Sexual desires and feelings were coming alive, I was pressing my needs upon one therapist and when he wisely refused I was devastated. I dropped again into a pool of infant pain. "I need you to be there for me. I need your attention. You make me feel good. I want you. Hold me." All the things a child wants to say to its mother. I became crippled with pain again. And for several months I made an effort to feel the rejection, frustration, insecurity and fears of "being little."

My body again regressed to pain and crippling. I was again helpless to get off the floor at the center. And I was identifying a great fear with the pain in my knees. I was very aware that much of my problem in walking is the feeling of fear I experienced. It was also certain that there was something frightening about my toilet training as a child, for the bathroom somehow triggered such helplessness and frustration.

It was painful and it was scary. During these months of baby feeling, I often cried "Mama, mein bein!" [Mama, my leg!] These words just came right out of me and since I only spoke German in my first years it was clearly something real. I no longer know the language.

After this second drop, I began to stop my struggle with church, culture and religious life. I had been going to church several times each week and always on Sundays. Now I was experiencing struggle. I would start out for church and by the time I reached Colorado Boulevard I would be in tears. It was just too painful. Easter was about the last service I attended. Contemplating the sufferings of Jesus Christ during Lent was just too much. Because I had such great pain myself I could not endure any more pain touching me. I just couldn't it.

At this time I was noticing that my pain was so much concentrated in my hands. When I would get into these feelings about church, culture and family -- the environment in which I grew up -- it was making my hands hurt. I felt like I was tied up, like a horrible monster was holding me in his clutches. It happened several times so significantly. Then it started getting connected with my religious life.

I had been in therapy long enough to know that one's feelings are true and real. So the first thing I did was to stop making myself go to church. I use the words "making myself" because that is what I was doing. The way I grew up and the way of life I chose both emphasized so much the importance of making oneself comply, with no regard for feelings.

I felt I had the freedom now to stop going to church for the reality was that it was too painful. But my hands were still hurting. I still felt tired and leaving religious life became a serious consideration. I applied for the formal dispensation of my vows in June, 1976. My hands did not shed pain overnight, but I can say they improved with each decision. Freeing myself from binding rules and codes of behavior also freed my body from core tension of a lifetime.

By October I was improving in every way. I was able to walk two full blocks and back without experiencing pain. I looked for a part time job to earn some spending money. It was through this telephone job that I met Dick. This relationship added spark to my life and put a plus on every dimension of my improvement. It also brought up many other feelings in a deeper and more real way. When I met Dick this big need for affection and attention was satisfied, but at the same time, if his visits were too far apart or he couldn't come as often as I wanted, other feelings came up -- I started getting angry.

It was about Christmastime that I began feeling angry. I had never been angry in my whole life; I never had a temper tantrum. I must have been punished the first time, because I never even tried being angry. I always pushed down my ill-feelings for people. I never showed them. I was always nice to everybody.

And here suddenly I just couldn't hold it in any longer. It was there and it just started tumbling out. I got more release in my body through that then with any other feeling. It was at this point when I began to feel that no crisis could make me drop into something I couldn't feel, or attack m;y body so terribly as it had.

Different people have mentioned my angry face since I've been in therapy, but I was unaware of this particular feeling. It was such a pattern for me to be nice. Now almost every feeling focuses in on anger. I am angry because I was never touched and fondled as I needed as an infant. I am angry because all these things happened to me, that I was the victim of that kind of situation.

MICHAEL: How has it been for you to have a relationship with a man?

MARIE: It has been a tremendous experience. It is very hard to put into words. It means so much to me. It is so delightful and precious to know that someone really cares for me. it's not like he is mother or father, sister or brother who have to care because they are mother or father, sister or brother. It is a totally free response on his part to want me or be attracted to me.

And it is a totally free response on my part to be loving him. What I feel most is this sense of freedom. I feel as a free as a little child with him. This freedom is an expression of the relationship. The body satisfaction I experience is new and tremendous. And I have been able to allow myself to have that. So I see the whole relationship as something infinitely precious and important to me.

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