This is the second post in a series I am writing exploring the use of guided affective imagery as a psychotherapeutic device. Each post is/will be, broadly speaking, a free-writing exercise based on my experiences of this technique in my own therapy sessions. The first post in the series can be found here.
The door is open, and I can now see inside the house. There is a corridor – well, a hall I suppose, but it feels more like a corridor, as it’s not particularly homely – stretching out in front of me. It’s a musty brown in colour, though it feels as if I am looking at it through a lens of grey. It doesn’t feel frightening as such, but there is something about it that urges caution in me.
What leads off from it? the voice enquires.
Well. There are three rooms, approximately mirroring the geography of the house in which I grew up. Two doors to the right, and one straight in front of me at the end of the corridor. There are stairs, complete with a turn in the middle, to my left. There, though, the similarities between this…this place and my mother’s home seemingly end. This place is dingy and dilapidated. I wouldn’t say it smells musty as such, but for some reason it certainly feels that way.
I don’t move until the voice tells me to do so. When it speaks, it instructs me to explore the first room, one of the two on the right. I feel reasonably accepting of this, in contrast to how I felt when I encountered the external door I’ve just come through. I proceed.
A…light door greets me. It’s roughly the same bland brown as the walls of the corridor, its floors, its atmosphere. It hangs at a slight angle, evidently not having been used in many years. There are other signs of disrepair – a few cracks and chips in the ancient wood, a colour lost to time. I pity the door. I run my hands up and down its sorry frame, as if trying to comfort it, to show it that it is not deserving of the abandonment it’s suffered. It doesn’t respond, but I feel that it is grateful for my concern. Although it stares at me blankly, emptily, a distant cold gratitude emanates from it.
As I start push it, the door shows itself to be little more than weightless. This surprises me somewhat, even though my initial impression had been of ‘lightness’. My thoughts turn to spoken words.
“It should be heavy,” I tell the man, as the ordinary room in the ordinary building in the ordinary street in a distant but ordinary life blinks unsteadily into view, replacing the door.
He asks why the door should thus be. In that faraway, ordinary, allegedly ‘real’ world, I feel myself resisting the urge to analyse the door too deeply. The man doesn’t like it when I do this, especially when I’m in the world with the house and the doors. The man is right.
I tell him that the door is a boundary, something not to be easily crossed. The man acknowledges this, but points out that as yet I do not know what lurks beyond it – perhaps this will explain some things to me. I close my eyes and the door reappears, forlorn as it ever was. I pick up where I left off, and open it fully.
It is a lamentable place, this room. It is essentially empty, save for one lonely and broken wooden chair. Its floors are bare, showing the concrete on which this house was built, rather than a fitted floor or carpet. No curtains adorn the lone window. The window itself is dirty – brown brown brown, always brown. I tiptoe towards it – making a sound doesn’t seem right in this place – and tilt my head in examination. There is no view from the window, even though the dirt is streaky, intermittent. There is only black.
Is this a prison? I ask the voice. If there is no outside now, am I meant to be trapped here?
You can leave the house at any time, the voice responds. It affects a reassuring tone, but I am not convinced.
Yet I do not fear being here. All I feel is a pity pity pity. A dull ache of pity throughout my body. Everything here is neglected and decayed. It feels wrong. It is unfair for the owner of the house to have left it in this way.
The voice offers me an option on what to do next. I can leave the house for now, or I can explore the next room. I do not think about this. I tell the voice that I will continue.
Curiously, the door into the second room is slightly less neglected than its sibling. It retains something of an antiquated coat of varnish, meaning that it is sports a slightly brighter colour than that empty brown with which I’ve become so familiar. It has less cracks and is less flectional that the other.
I open it, and it responds gently yet quickly. The room appears to be a former dining area, but everything is imbued with a grey hue. At least there is less of that insidious brown, I think. It is not gone entirely, however; on the far left, in front of a window, sits a folded table thus coloured. Compared to other things in this house, it is in fair condition, but it is still old and forgotten. The window behind it, broken, rusty and blackened Venetian blinds hanging limply across its glass, also reveals nothing but blackness beyond its borders. At least the window is clean, though, compared to next door. It shows dirt consistent with having not been washed for years, but not the streaky lines of brown from before.
There are curtains on the window, but they are colourless now. Perhaps once they would be have been beautiful. I wonder if somewhere in its history, this had been a happy room – it isn’t now, but it is not as cold and degraded as the first one. I suppose that once upon a time, someone took care of this place. This makes me pity the first room even more.
I leave, and turn to the final room on this floor. I am surprised to note that its door is already open, revealing a kitchen. This remains consistent with the house in which I grew up, in which my mother still lives, but this kitchen is closer to the one we had when I was a child, rather than the one with whom I am now familiar. I think to the voice that this probably makes sense, and it agrees. I am not surprised when it asks me to describe the room.
The fixtures and fittings are, predictably, that monotonous brown common to the rest of the ground floor. A fridge door hangs off its hinges, revealing nothing but emptiness and a sense of death. There is no food here, but it would have long since rotted had there been.
There is a free-standing cooker. It is rusted, faded and useless. The cupboards are empty; some hang open and twisted. Cold, downtrodden tiles adorn the floor, some of them broken. There is an external door here too, but it seems hidden behind an impenetrable wall. I cannot see it clearly, though I know it is there.
I sigh. The room continues the tradition of nothingness and pathetic decay from the first room. I want to do something to help the ground floor of this house, this sad, sad, lonely house, but as I tell the voice, I feel powerless to do so.
Your pity is legitimate, it tells me, but you should not feel guilty. The dereliction of the house is not of your doing, and your exploration of it serves to help and reassure it.
It pauses…then – distant but commanding as ever – instructs me to return to the hall and look to the stairs. I go to the foot of them, and look upward. I cannot see to the top, and am dismayed by the fact that the stairs change right before my eyes. At first they are faded but carpeted, but then my image of them melds into that of rickety, broken and off-white wooden steps, stretching into apparent infinity. I do not fear the stairs themselves, despite the possible physical danger such an insecure flight might present. But I know there are more rooms up there somewhere in the inverted abyss of the gods of this house. They intimidate me.
Take the first step, says the voice.
As I did upon my entry to the house, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and proceed.
Picture credits: see outgoing links.
Oh what a wonderful post. I felt like I was in there with you, and felt _so_ sorry for the house :o( This is proving to be an excellent series, i can’t wait to read the rest!!
PS I really like the pictures you are adding to posts these days, they really compliment the look of the blog and add even more atmosphere and emotion (sorry!!) to the writing :o)
Aww, thank you Kate 🙂 I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I don’t really know why I’m writing it – I suppose I’m trying to assess its use for me – but if people like the series then that’s the main thing!
I like the pictures too – as you said, they work well with the theme. I hope I’m referencing them correctly though!
I have to admit that I really don’t *get* guided imagery. It may be a failure of imagination on my behalf or it may just be that my mind doesn’t work like that.
Take care of yourself, love you loads xxxxxxxxxx
I completely understand. When my therapist first suggested we try it, I actually laughed in his face. It sounded – and sounds, even now – like an utter crock of shit.
I initially considered it kind of new-agey, but the more I think about it, the more I think it captures the very essence of psychodynamic therapy, because it’s all about exploring the unconscious, psychological projection, yadda yadda.
So anyway, I went along with it in the spirit of trying anything once, and was ‘pleasantly’ – scare quotes because this sort of thing isn’t exactly fun – surprised. I’m not sure I found it therapeutic as such, but I did find it very telling.
Anyway, sending lots of love and (((hugs))) as always ❤
‘liked’ this post and I agree the images add to it. Its just like reading a novel and writing is something you are great at. I think this is a creative way we can work through things. I know its something my therapist has encouraged me to do. I’ve done drawings and paintings and even an art journal exploring a dream I’d had. I know it doesn’t work for everybody as we’ve mulled over before but I for one do think its therapeutic in itself and its helped me emerse myself in my creative self again.
Hope things are good
Ash ❤ xxx
I completely agree about creativity. Mainly, as you say, it’s writing for me – but I do on occasion like mucking about with “art” too (not that anything I do could be classed as such, hence the quote marks. But you know what I mean – creating images and suchlike). I like the idea of an art journal too! Your therapist sounds like (s)he has some good ideas 🙂
I am cynical about the concept of art therapy – but only in the sense that it is not sufficient in and of itself. As an adjunct to more mainstream therapy, I’m sure it can be genuinely helpful.
Anyway, Ash, thanks as always 🙂
I love the way you write here, I do wonder how easy it’d be to use guided imagery, I struggle with this sort of thing but it sounds like it’ll lead somewhere really useful. I’m looking forward to reading the next part, hope you’re ok x x x
Aww, thank you Alice 🙂 I’m glad you like it. Guided imagery is a genuinely strange concept, I think, and it’s weird to actually go through it. It’s not like hypnosis as such (I had experience of that several years ago) – for example, you can ‘leave’ it and go back to reality without it interrupting the exercise – but at times it feels trance-like.
Anyway, part three coming up shortly, I hope 🙂
Thanks again, big (((hugs)))
In case anyone reads these comments at some point in the future and wonders why both ‘Vivid’ and ‘Karen’ comment here as the clear author of this post, it’s because I decided to relinquish complete anonymity. You can read more here.