A Day in a Life: Patient Waiting

From inside the tunnel of self... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
From inside the tunnel of self…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Shortly after I finished college and went to live in Sweden, long suppressed memories began to stir. They came in short bursts, most often as dissociative states. I would suddenly retreat from the world, tunneling down into myself, where I’d view the world as if from inside a telescope.

Such moments could last for a few minutes to a few hours. I had no idea why they happened, but there was something incredibly familiar about them, though fuller memories of my childhood sexual abuse were not to surface for decades. I had never heard of recapitulation nor was I seeing a therapist at the time, but there was a deeper part of me that knew that one day both of those things would become central to my existence.

It was also about that time that I had the clear insight that one day I would have to retreat into a cabin of my own, as I thought of it, and do the deeper inner work that I sensed would one day be necessary.

To combat those disturbing moments of dissociation, I began keeping a list of all the things I would take with me into my cabin. I planned to go for a long time, a year or more. I made lists of foods, water, personal supplies, how much of each I’d need. I made lists of art supplies and writing implements, clothing, bedding, batteries, pots and pans, etc. My cabin was heated by a wood stove, so I stacked wood outside the walls, lining it several feet deep, both for lighting fires as well as insulation during the coldest months. I expected that I would be buried under several feet of snow for months on end, it was Sweden after all.

The lists were long. I’d check them over and over again, adding new things, deleting others that seemed unnecessary. I tried to think of every item I would need and every circumstance I would encounter. I wanted to be sure that I had not forgotten one thing that I would need in my isolated cabin. Whether my imaginings were practical or not didn’t matter; it was a deeper part of me that was making the plans.

Here is the cabin on the mountaintop that I envisioned for myself and drew and painted over and over again... - Detail from painting by Jan Ketchel, 1979
Here is the cabin on the mountaintop that I envisioned for myself and drew and painted over and over again…
– Detail from painting by Jan Ketchel, 1979

My cabin planning became an art piece. I worked on it for months, drawing floor plans, exterior views, picking the perfect mountaintop spot with beautiful views, incorporating it into all my other art works for years to come, getting it just right. Putting the final touches on it, I put it away, for I knew it was not going to become an actuality, at least not then. I would have to wait for the right time, because I was certain that someday I would be going into a cabin of my own, that I would be there for a long time. Once there, I knew I would be ready to finally face my demons, all that tortured and plagued me.

Little did I know that, in a sense, my mental planning would one day prove useful, though the entry into my cabin took a far different route from my early imaginings. In the planning stage, I was establishing a real cabin, but in the reality of my recapitulation, many decades later, I entered a metaphorical cabin, as I personally became the cabin. My own body housed me, protected me, nourished and supported me throughout the three years of my inner journey. It contained everything I needed to do my recapitulation. And just as I had imagined, I did finally face all that had stirred back when I was just a young woman starting out in life. Though I had been granted a taste of what was to come, little did I realize just what it would mean or where it would take me.

I am struck now by the patience of my young self. I seemed to know that when things are ready, they will come. It was a valuable lesson, one that I relearned many times as my recapitulation unfolded. Often I would want to push the process, get it over with as quickly as possible. I remember one day saying to Chuck, “Why don’t we just spend a whole day doing the recapitulation and get it over with once and for all.” Ha! Little did I know that it doesn’t work that way.

There was no point in pushing. Pushing, I learned, only created unnecessary tension and anxiety. Far better to wait. The recapitulations, the memories, came on their own. I didn’t actually have to do anything to trigger them. I had to learn to be available, recognize that I was being prompted, and take the journey that was offered, because that’s what I was being taken on, a journey. My job, if I was to truly get through the memories as quickly as possible, was to consciously let them go through me, in whatever form they came, and learn what I needed to learn from them, both what they offered me in childhood and what they came to teach me again as an adult.

I even envisioned a future happy self! - Detail from a painting by Jan Ketchel, 1979
I even envisioned a future happy self!
– Detail from a painting by Jan Ketchel, 1979

The recapitulation process was invaluable. Painful as it was, I would not trade it for anything. It was the journey my spirit was setting up for me so long ago, letting me know that one day I would indeed be going into a cabin of my own. I just had to wait for the right time, the time when I was ready.

The lesson of patient waiting can be applied to other areas of life as well. If we want something and push for it, it might backfire on us. It might not be the right time or be the right thing for us. But if we wait, if it’s right, it will come and we will be ready for it. This I know.

From my cabin,

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