Chrissy reflects on her powerful experience in Psychodrama group…
I remember my first psychodrama session clearly. It was very small, consisting of only our therapist and two of us. I had binged the night before and I remember feeling so scared, lost and desperate- my eating disorder’s hateful thoughts about my body and the physical pain seemed impossible to escape from. I sat in group crying in sadness about what had happened, and I remember how gently I was spoken to and how I was helped through this fascinating method. Though we did not do a full psychodrama, my therapist asked me to play the role of “my own therapist” and speak to myself as I would speak to someone in my position. The other member of our group played me while I spoke softly to her (in the role of my own therapist). We then swapped roles and I, as myself, got to hear the words I had just spoken but from another person, which were simply: “this is not a relapse, it’s just a stepping stone, you can learn from this.” I remember feeling so comforted by this, as most of the shame I felt from the previous binge was my hateful critical voice telling me that I had “failed” at my recovery.
Psychodrama is a process which has been very helpful to me throughout my recovery. I remember the group started about 6 or 7 months into my treatment, and when I first heard the name of this group I got very excited. Since acting and drama are my primary passions, I was very eager as I thought psychodrama involved showcasing my acting abilities! However, psychodrama isn’t acting, it’s a very real and profound process. Not that acting isn’t, but in a very different way. In psychodrama, I- and others in the group- have the opportunity to explore whatever is troubling them at that time through playing different roles and seeing the situation or struggle through different perspectives. This process, in my experience, greatly helped me gain a more rational and clear perspective on certain situations. I had the chance to explore many of my hardships, such as how to separate the cruel words of my ED from myself, to seeing a conflict from the other’s perspective and gaining a more mature outlook.
What basically happens every week in group is that usually one person will be the “protagonist”. Everyone puts forward what they are struggling with at the time, and the most recurring theme or the struggle that the group identifies with most is worked on in that session. The protagonist then chooses members of the group to re-enact roles of people or objects involved in their struggle, by first playing the roles themselves and then hearing another repeat those same words back to them. For me, I found that watching and participating in other people’s psychodramas gave me the chance to work on myself and gain insight into my own pain- as many of the things that others struggled with I found I had in common. This helped me connect with the group in a profoundly moving way, and I felt safe to open up about painful things I’d held inside me all that time. When I was the protagonist, I found watching others play the “roles” in my situation- whether it was the role of my eating disorder, a person in my life or even a table at a stressful dinner- a very powerful experience. It helped me to see the situation from an objective point of view, and most of all it helped me feel compassionate towards myself.
One of the most powerful moments that I had in psychodrama was when I was struggling with a conflict I’d had with someone in my life. I deeply feared conflict as it brought up a lot of shame and guilt for me. My eating disorder would cloud my head with thoughts that I was a bad person, a bad friend, that I was selfish and responsible for all the other person’s pain and that I would inevitably end up alone and hated by others. These cruel thoughts, which now I see come from my illness, seemed so real and true at the time. I found myself unable to face this person or the situation, as any sort of conflict made me want to run, hide and just avoid the situation. The anxiety and fear that was building up inside me because of this seemed to be getting worse. So I brought it to psychodrama, and I found myself playing the role of the other person in this conflict. The other member of group played me, and then we switched roles. Through hearing my own words being said back to me, I managed to reflect on where these painful thoughts come from and how they held no truth, they just came from a very ingrained dark place. I got the chance to practice setting boundaries which helped me feel more empowered, stronger and more able to face the situation instead of running away. I remember feeling calmer after the session. Gradually after the work that was done in that session, I realized how strong a shift had happened in my head, as I no longer blamed myself for the other’s actions and words. I realized that my ED held such power over me by telling me I was selfish, but even if I was told that- it didn’t mean it was true.
As I said before, probably the biggest thing that psychodrama helped me build was compassion, for others and myself. And that inevitably has been one of the biggest processes in my recovery overall. I always found it hard to see a situation from another perspective when I was knee deep in anxiety or panic. I thought it was impossible to “drag” myself out of overwhelming feelings- and though there is no way to turn feelings off- I’ve been learning through this process and others that there is no need to fear them. There are always different ways to look at things, people and situations- and there is no “right” way. My ED was fueled by self critical and hateful thoughts about myself, but I know at heart that these are not truths, though sometimes they may feel as if they are.
I feel sad that I am leaving psychodrama, especially as I reflect back on all the powerful memories from this group. Whether it was jokingly referring to the group as “drama class”- which my therapist was NOT happy about- or feeling strongly connected to another’s psychodrama process and learning about myself through it, I will always hold this group very closely to my heart. Partly because I had the privilege of being part of it from the very start and seeing how it has ebbed, flowed and transformed overtime, and partly because it’s just a bloody awesome group! I leave the group carrying all the moments of laughing, crying and ever learning with me, and I wish that everyone in it now and all those who join it in future get as much out of it as I did- though I have absolutely no doubt that they will!