Have you ever played – or watched someone play – that kind of adventure video game where you collect items and skills and powers as the game meanders on? You, as your character, can only actually see the parts of a structure or landscape that you’ve already explored and mapped, and you can wander around this area as needed. What you can’t see is where you haven’t been. You know that there must be more there, but it appears only as a solid black screen until you – carrying your cartoon torch – have opened this door or walked down that path, thereby adding more “seen” territory to what you’ve already accessed.
I realize that this is exactly how I’ve been feeling about my therapeutic process – and progress. There is territory that I’ve covered, that has become known and familiar; issues and patterns, behaviors and projections, choices good and questionable sparked by my past, my family, and my illness. I know that there continues to be vast black spaces of myself that I haven’t explored; I just haven’t carried the torch of awareness into them yet. I have an idea what these rooms will look like – their shapes, their treasures and tragedies – because of what has come before, what I’ve seen and learned about myself, and from my studies on human psyche and development.
What continues to happen however, and it surprises me every time, is when I begin to penetrate more blackness, and find rooms – issues, histories, motivations, desires – that I had no idea were even there. And those rooms lead on to other rooms, other territories, and completely other vast black spaces, ready for my torch to illuminate them. Rooms I never would have known about if I hadn’t had the urge and courage to continue exploring, continue to pick up skills and knowledge and tools like treasure, and continue to risk pain and uncertainty and whatever fight might come my way.
If I hadn’t found and dealt with some of the haunted forests, hidden pit traps, and killer demons of my childhood, they would still be there; acting on my body and mind. I’d still be overfunctioning, doing too much, bad at boundaries, and probably more sick than I am. I truly believe that searching through and unwinding my religious upbringing, which led to the ways my parents didn’t care for me in my sickest moments, which in turn led to dysfunction and disease…has instead led me down a path of transformation and healing. Not to mention the fact that I would have most likely remained in any number of unhealthy, draining relationships, and wouldn’t have been able to mindfully care for my dad.
This is the wonder and the weight of the therapeutic process, the value of self-exploration. I won’t be a snob and say that you need a therapist to begin examining your life and your choices, although they do come in handy. There are also great books, podcasts, workshops, or just a lot of self-reflection; however you get there is good. After all, growth is growth, exploration is exploration, battling demon wraiths is battling…ahem. Being the best you possible is the goal, how you get there is up to you.
Life is a real world adventure game, and you the hero in it; where we don’t always get multiple chances, the set-backs can be crippling, loved ones can wound, arbitrary rules sometimes apply, and the monsters are real. Wouldn’t you want to find out as much as you can about the landscape, and find as many helpful skills and piles of goodies as possible to help you in your quest? Self-knowledge is both treasure and weapon to help you travel safely, as well as the illumination to light up your territory; it will help you live the most and best life possible, so you can truly say you’ve won.