This is the session my clients like best of all. I call it “the movie.” After doing a progressive relaxation (which I will describe at the end of this post), where everyone is truly relaxed in body and mind, I ask my clients to use their incredible imaginations to picture themselves standing outside an obviously abandoned old movie house. Imagine along with me now.
This is a stand-alone movie house. Not one of these multiplex theaters that we are accustomed to. Maybe you have seen one in a small town, or perhaps you have seen pictures of such a movie house. Only one film showed at a time, with perhaps a newsreel before the movie.
The ticket booth is jutting way out onto the sidewalk, and of course, no one is in the ticket booth, as it is in disrepair and obviously has not been in use for a very long time. Imagine now looking beyond the ticket booth and noticing there are still one or two movie posters remaining on the walls. See yourself walking up to a poster and noticing to your amazement that this movie is a movie about you!
Of course you are blown away, positively stunned, and now see yourself trying the entrance door. Much to your delight, the door opens, and you step into a small lobby. The carpet is worn, and the air smells musty, not unexpected due to the many signs of abandonment. In front of you is a double door that you feel certain is the entrance to the auditorium. Picture pushing that door open and seeing that yes, it is the auditorium, and although the seats are still there, the fabric is in tatters.
Use your fine imagination and picture taking a seat. Now notice that the back of the seat in front of you has an unusual small box hanging from the top of that seat. The box has a small lever on its top.
Looking up, you see the movie screen is covered with a thick drapery, so you cannot see if there is a screen there or not.
Since nothing is happening, and because you are curious, you push the lever just a tiny bit, and guess what? The drapery starts to open.
Sure enough, there is a movie screen behind the drapery although it is much smaller than the movie screens you are used to viewing, but a movie screen nonetheless.
Again, nothing is happening, so you push the little lever again, and wow, the credits start to roll, and you are stunned to see that the director, the producer, and the star of the show are all you! You are breathless with anticipation.
Now here comes the fun part, where you get a real-time glance at your incredible tape recorder, your subconscious. I ask you now to remember yourself at eight years old. Make it a happy scene. Go ahead. Try this with me now. See what you were doing. Whom were you with, or were you alone? Indoors outdoors? Day or night?
Now fast-forward. Be twelve years old. Again, make it a happy memory; what were you doing? See yourself clearly.
Now, pick your age just before you ever put a chemical into your body. That’s right, just before, no matter your age. Be as clear as you can be. Because we are going to be doing something very special with this image, this memory. Recall how you felt, how you thought, how you looked. Really concentrate. This, my friend, is your true, authentic self! That’s right. This is the real you before you started artificially altering yourself.
Many clients cry at this point, and these tears come from very conflicting emotions. Part sadness, part anger, and part sweet remembrance. So this is what we do with this image. When we get into bed for the night, we are to take several mindful breaths, reminding ourselves that this is a measurable physical event whereby we are oxygenating our blood to higher levels to start to calm down.
Acknowledge that you can feel your lungs filling. It is one of the few things we can actually feel. At some point, and we do not know when that point comes, it is as if a switch were thrown and we leave consciousness to the state of unconsciousness, where we dream.
Dreams are just images, aren’t they? So now, as you are starting to relax, with your body and mind getting ready to leave consciousness behind, pull up that image of your true, authentic self. It comes and goes and is hard to hold on to, but keep pulling it back. Let it enter your mind as you go to sleep. See your true, authentic self. Let your mind’s eye remember who you are, because it is who you are.
That is why I say that if you do this, you will be recovering while you recover. Yes, you are recovering your true, authentic self in recovery.
The self that is inside you. This is no movie. This is who you are, who you are reclaiming. That’s right. Reclaiming.
How to Do a Progressive Relaxation
First, be in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes because when you close your eyes, you shut out all visualization.
Next, take three of the deepest, slowest inhalations you have ever taken. Understand that you have just taken in two, three, or maybe even four times the amount of oxygen you normally breathe in. Interestingly, whether you breathe deep or shallow, your brain uses 40 percent of the oxygen you take in. That’s right, 40 percent. Your cells absorb oxygen for nourishment, so you just brought in more nourishment.
But that is not all a deep breath does. It also helps to calm you down. Be mindful about this. You are not just sucking in some air through those two holes in the bottom of your nose. You are breathing in life! You can go without food for a while, go without water for a while, go without sleep for a while—oxygen, not even minutes. Brain cells start to die in moments. What you have done is actually a measurable physical event. Your pulse rate is starting to slow, blood pressure a little lower, and oxygen levels higher.
Even in just these few moments, you are starting to feel relaxed. Now imagine this highly oxygenated blood flowing to your face. That’s right, just your face for now. Smooth your forehead because you can. As an example, notice when you are stressed that you scowl, and in doing so, you have brought your eyebrows closer together. So make sure your eyebrows are far apart. Be sure your teeth are not tight together. Focus now on your neck and shoulders receiving this nourishment. Now imagine this relaxation flowing down your upper arms, your forearms, your hands, and even your fingers. Try hard to imagine this because it is true.
Now your upper back and now the smaller muscles in your lower back. Put your attention on relaxing your stomach and your intestines.
Realize that the feeling of relaxation in your arms is the same feeling you are experiencing in your legs. Concentrate on letting go. See if you feel heavier. Some people say they feel lighter. Some say they feel a tingling in their fingertips.
A wonderful benefit of this progressive relaxation is that people fall asleep more relaxed than the usual stresses we take to sleep with us, so they fall asleep more easily and have more pleasant dreams.