Psycare had been running monthly retreats for about ten years now, and Florence suggested that I attend one. Back when I was doing really intense work on Mum (the Revelations chapter) she did suggest I attend, but the initial cost put me off. And when I did express some interest later on, she said that I was doing well on my own and should not go. I wasn’t going to argue with the professionals, and so I shelved the idea for some time.
She suggested it again and still dithered on some things, including the price (yes I had some cash in the bank and I dithered on the price…this is why old habits die hard and why people need therapy) but I think finally it was the OCD that pushed me to go. I told her outright that I would go if it cured me of the OCD and with her customary steady stare she replied that she couldn’t guarantee anything. Which was fair enough. So I went.
It was amazing.
I signed an indemnity form, so I cannot tell you any details, but I can say this – it is a world-class and everyone should go at least once. Seriously. Even if there is nothing wrong with you. I don’t have any kind of financial relationship with Psycare, I don’t get a commission for this, but you should go! It’s that good! Don’t just take it from me – everyone I’ve ever gone on the retreat with has said the same thing, whether or not they have had OCD, or depression, or trauma, or panic disorder or a broken home or whatever.
It would take another book (or at least half of one) to tell you about all my experiences on the retreat, so I won’t. I’ll just give you the highlights. I screamed, I cried (even more than I normally did) I learnt about myself, the human mind, the human soul. I went past death into someplace else. I ate Indonesian fried rice (it was pretty good) I went horse-riding, I drank ginger tea.
I’ll share a couple of experiences with you though. We were doing a worksheet about some parents and child experiences when it happened. It set off something deep inside and when I was asked to finish the worksheet and move on to the next exercise I tore my hands free from Florence’s and began to cry, repeating “I don’t want, I don’t want, I don’t want” over and over.
It was probably exactly because I was in the safe space of the retreat that I let myself go. I began to shake, cry and howl violently. It was like one of my relapses again – in intensity it was probably near that of what I experienced in London. Dr Hudson was pulled away from working on his laptop to attend to me personally, and I had to be moved upstairs to another private room so that I wouldn’t disturb the other participants.
As my screaming intensified I began to feel faint, and my breath came in ragged gasps. I felt like I was going to die. I rolled and writhed on the mat that they provided and as Dr Hudson tapped my shoulders gently he told me to believe that a miracle could happen. Even as my vision swam around me I managed to ask in a quavering whisper “Can I…can I have help from the spirits?” He nodded. I closed my eyes.
I called, and the spirits answered. I didn’t see Jesus, though, or Buddha or Allah or Krishna or whatever it is that other religious folks see. If you’ve read this far what I’m going to say won’t surprise you – I saw images from a Japanese video game.
Not just any game, though – Phantasy Star IV. It was there, in that space between life and death, that I saw it once more…the Elsydeon. The blade of blade, the sword of swords. In the very final scene of the series of games, when the darkness that all the heroes of Algol have been fighting for a thousand years has finally been vanquished, the sword that had kept them safe for so long and been wielded in such faith and resolve shatters. I saw once again the shards of light raining down all around them and Rika’s innocent face as she looks up and says “it’s beautiful.”
I remembered too how that I had sought solace from that those images again and again in the years that had followed my playing of it – my parents’ divorce, the subsequent depression, and everything else that had transpired in the years that followed. Other games and books and friends had come and gone but that scene had remained deep in my being for two decades.
As I lay there with radiance all around me I remembered myself at thirteen, coming home everyday from a terrible school to a horrible home with nothing else to look forwards to except playing video games. But now it appeared that the same blade that had saved all of the Algol solar system – that had saved me! – would be my salvation again.
It didn’t stop there. The experience continued and I shook more and harder and my breath came in short, raw gasps. I saw Florence kneeling at the foot of the stairs and actually looking…worried. I don’t blame her, therapists are human too, and what was going on must have proven disturbing even to a seasoned practitioner such as herself. Amidst the shaking I saw and heard a voice speak to me. “Warrior of Light, beloved daughter. A new sun dawns on Eorzea, with you at its heart.”
And I remembered anew. Another final scene from another game, but this time it was FF14, just after you defeat Ultima Weapon, the final boss of the game. The voice of Hydaelyn, mother goddess of Eorzea, carrying beyond the worlds and into my heart. A blade forged from purest aether, transcending time, distance and reality – sundering shadow not just online but in the depths of my own soul as well.
(Why daughter, you ask? Because I always, ALWAYS play female characters in any MMO (because if I’m putting in more than fifty hours into a game, I’m sure as hell not going to stare at a guy’s ass for all of them!)
Slowly I came out of it. As my breath calmed and the shaking subsided I could see and hear Dr Hudson’s smile as he took himself away. He said something along the lines of how “the spirit can be a great force” and even through the haze that surrounded my consciousness I can remember clearly thinking “Hah, you see! Now even Dr Hudson knows how powerful video games are.”
The day continued on and in the evening we were doing an exercise on forgiveness – pick a person to forgive. I picked my mom – an easy choice, all things considered. Not more than ten seconds into it I felt a sharp pain near my heart. I continued on and the pain intensified – shooting, lancing aches that stole my breath and concentration. Florence shot me a concerned glance from where she was sitting but I soldiered on until we got till the end.
It’s only when I stood up that I was struck with the most powerful panic attack I’ve ever had in my life. My eyes darted from side to side, my breath grew shallow and my entire body tensed and almost caved in upon itself. I can remember the entire room looking at me in shock and surprise as wave upon wave of terror crashed in on me. Every moment and motion seemed infused with a sudden stillness, as if the world was a mirror and it could crack and break at any time. I was so afraid that for moments I couldn’t make a sound, only struggle to breathe.
Once again I felt like I was going to die and this time I managed to say it. “I’m going to die, I’m going to die!” I shrieked. Dr Hudson came over and in his strong and gentle way put his hands on my shoulders. I burst into tears and was guided slowly onto a mat where I could let things settle for a while.
Laying on hands, for real. And all these years I thought it was something only paladins in D&D had.
By the way, all that happened in just one day. I think that should give you an idea of just how intense the retreats were. Though not every day brought the same kind of experiences…probably a good thing, considering the human body can only take so much at once! Two near-death experiences in a day is quite enough, thank you. We wouldn’t want to overdo it.
What else happened? I met lots of other people with their own problems. Yeah, kind of no duh right? Once again I’m not going to give any details (can’t, privacy agreement, which I would abide by even if I didn’t sign it) but it’s humbling and enlightening to see all the kinds of people that are out there.
You know how you think that rich people have it easy? Don’t lie, I know you do. I did. There’s always this thing at the back of your mind, you think to yourself “damn, I bet if I had like 50 million dollars I would be a happy man/woman, I could buy this, and that, and go on holidays, and…” Yeah, you know how it goes. I don’t deny that money helps a great deal in many circumstances (especially if you’re dealing with a crushing mortgage or medical bills) but it is NOT the cure to all ills. Like most things in life, it isn’t so simple. It helps in some ways and can be life-threatening in others. Money can make you do things that you wouldn’t consider otherwise, and some of those things aren’t good.
When Meimei went she met a billionaire and he was downright fucking miserable. I met so many different people, with their own share of problems. Bankers, housewives, preachers, marketing executives, students…we’re all human. We all need help.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Meimei went first. That was great actually. In a lifetime of always being the advance guard she did something before me, which was quite a relief. We did discuss (as we discussed everything) whether or not I should go and she initially said no, I didn’t need to, but the OCD said otherwise, and so I went.
It was life-changing. Perhaps not as much as watching Evangelion, but you know nothing really compares to that. I came back someone else, happier, sadder, wiser, more forgiving. I had gone to the brink and beyond and seen and felt so many things, even more than what I wrote about above.
The blade broke but reformed into something greater. I reached back into the distant past when the troubles had started and even beyond that. Things began to take shape in new and different ways that I had never even considered before.
My body – cast aside in favor of the mind for almost twenty years – began to heal. Finally, all the years and years of repression began to come loose. Among the other things I realized why I had never gotten in touch with my old FF11 buddies. I had to sit on the sidelines as everyone I knew and loved left me. Starting with Allan and Benjamin Qwek, then Yui, then others as well. I had meant to visit Warren Subianto for years but I never did it. Why was I stuck here? Why couldn’t I be like them? I knew the answers but I had never let myself feel the pain before. I cut my friends before they could leave so that I wouldn’t feel the pain of having to say goodbye so many times again.
The first thing I did after coming back was say to my mom that I forgave her completely. For everything and anything. Without reservation, carte blanche. To which she responded by telling me “get well, just get well.” Which she had been saying for well-on seventeen years or so now. Oh well, so close but yet so far.
My OCD was still there, but it was very different. How it’s hard to say. I was still on medication. Things had not resolved the way I wanted them to…but since when had they ever? The road ahead was still long, but I was prepared to walk it, as I had always been.
I took long walks in parks and continued to digest my retreat experiences. I began to read up about psychology even more than I did before. I had previously eschewed self-help books in favor of Serious Academic Texts written by Doctors and Professors. I also realized that I should had done this earlier, but I was so caught up in my academic snobbery (guess who I got that from?) that I never stopped to consider anything that wasn’t peer-reviewed by a professional panel and had had double-blind studies done on it.
Things continued to change. I could see now with even greater clarity how what I called depression and OCD had their roots in events that happened not even before I was born, but before even my parents were born (and possibly even further back than that) Abuse can be multi-generational. The sins of the fathers are truly passed on. (amazingly enough that’s my Mum’s line and not mine)
Among other things, I also read (at least parts of) the Qu’ran, the Bible, the Talmud, the Torah and the sutras. As Dr Kristen at Psycare remarked, “there was quite a lot of searching.” In doing so though, I found that unsurprisingly, everything I had learnt from games and anime tallied quite well with the holy books of yore. There were perhaps less explosions, swordfights and spaceships, but the core content was quite similar.
Don’t be an asshole. Stand up for what’s right. Be compassionate and kind. Forgive.
That last one wasn’t easy. NOT AT ALL. Though I had done a lot of it already, perhaps without knowing.
I would like to report at this point that everything started to change at home, but it didn’t…well, not a lot at least. It was a lot of inertia to go up against. Mum was still the same – that is to say critical, worried, defensive, abrasive and generally not the most pleasant person to be around. But I think even in those days she was getting better. We talked a little bit more about some things. We even managed to go out to eat and buy things semi-regularly. She often seemed pensive and lost in memory, working things out on her own way…slowly.
I devoured the post-retreat readings that Psycare provided, ranging from fields as diverse as science to spirituality to philosophy. I resonated with a lot of it and resolved to implement it – especially the stuff on mindfulness and meditation. But at the same time my rational mind (or was that just my Dad inside me?) rebelled at the audacity of some of their claims.
Law of Attraction? Tapping? Positive thinking? What the hell was this? I was skeptical when Florence had first introduced these things before the retreat and even though I was less skeptical now I was still kind of weirded out. Still, I took everything with a pinch of salt – keep an open mind and all that. And whenever I found the Sedona Method or the theory of pain-bodies too hard to accept, I always reminded myself that I had found renewed life and salvation from a Japanese cartoon, so I shouldn’t be too hard-headed.
I read so much about religion and spirituality that I thought my head would burst at points. My worldview had begun to shift fundamentally. I thought a lot less and felt a lot more. Somehow, somewhere, everything that I was reading now and everything that I had experienced then began to coalesce into a greater whole.
But the time I spent there was life-changing. I had already done ten years worth of therapy, but still, insights continued to flood in. There would be more to do but the doors had opened widened than ever before.