I have always had this insane imagination! Seriously, I could play by myself when I was little for hours, just me and my inventiveness. I wrote my first book when I was about 10 years old, called it “Mouse Party” and bound it with cardboard and thread. I was disappointed when The Whitman Publishing Company sent it back to me with a very kind rejection letter, but that didn’t stop me from making up more stories, although it did stop me from further binding them and sending them off!
So, when I learned of the technique of Imagery in DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy), I embraced it like a lifeline.
I first used imagery when I was deep within my grief and I prayed that I would have some relief from the sadness. I was just so broken and sorrowful that nothing seemed to help me. My family wanted to be supportive, but honestly, they were all going through their own grief. I started practicing mindfulness and my niece, Angela Fenn Marino, taught me Yoga Nidra, a practice of wakeful relaxation.
That led to one day when I couldn’t get out of bed, I just lay there and stilled my mind. I focused on how much I loved Tyler. Slowly thoughts immerged of truths that I knew. I knew that Tyler was saved as he had chosen to be baptized at age 11 or so. I knew that Heaven is real and that he would be there. I knew based on my readings of Heaven and Near-Death Experiences based on the Bible (Imagine Heaven by John Burke and Don Piper) that a lot of people see family members in Heaven and that sometimes they even greet us as we reach the Kingdom.
“So, if I know and believe this, why am I so sad?” was a constant question I asked of myself. My logic mind made no impact on the sadness. Along with the sadness I felt a lot of shame for not spending more time with my son. Not only did he live 750 miles away from me, but we were opposites, he more like his father than me and there were fleeting thoughts that someday he would grow out of that and we could have a better relationship. But as Creedence Clearwater Revival says,” Someday never comes.”
It wasn’t that I decided to put Imagery to the test, it just organically came to be as I lay still in my bed and listened to my breath. How might that whole thing have happened? What was it like for Tyler when Jesus called him home? It would have occurred IMMEDIATELY as his head hit the ground. The coroner said he died instantly from the one car accident on an icy road.
From there I pictured my Mom and Dad greeting him and how they all would be happy to see each other again! They would walk him to Jesus who would hug Tyler tightly and tell him that there would be no more pain or worry for him because he was here now and for eternity. All of this played out upon the backdrop of the beautiful scenery that I think Heaven looks like.
I don’t think it was a vision or a prophecy or anything like that- it was my way of imagining, really feeling the things that I know. Think about how beautifully the Psalms are written. I can barely stop my mind from painting the picture as I read them! Who hasn’t dreamed up their own version of resting in the green meadows and peaceful stream of Psalm 23 or the “Tree replanted in Eden” and “always in blossom” of Psalm 1?
The Imagery was so wonderful and powerful that it really changed my thought pattern!
But I was still sad.
When I said that first imagery started organically, I mean to say that I didn’t follow a step by step procedure or even really intend to imagine. But when I learned the Imagery skill in DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy), I believe the Lord opened my mind to the fact that Tyler was saved, in order to show me that there is meaning to my sadness.
I recalled a story Tyler’s wife told me about a hand-written note that Tyler found on his windshield one day as he came out of Home Depot to his car. According to my daughter-in-law, the note said that God loved him and went on to reassure him that God would never let him down. From what I understand it was quite lengthy, at least a few paragraphs, and Tyler took a look around at the nearby cars to see that no one else had been given this note.
It would be a couple months later that Tyler would visit that same Home Depot to purchase a sheet of plexiglass and on his way home he would run off the road and get thrown from his car to be immediately taken up to Heaven.
Often, I have found that as I battle through my grief, by working through behavior therapy I might drill down by checking the facts and looking more closely at my emotions to find that what I feel is not necessarily what “is.” When I started counting the truths about Tyler’s death I found that I had no reason to be sad for him. I was actually sad for myself. The fact is that Tyler is absolutely more than fine in the Father’s arms, but I miss him! And I have no way to tell him that I regret not spending more time with him.
Ahh, there it is- sadness and regret. I felt like NOW I had something to work on- something tangible that I could battle- my feelings of regret and you can see that I am working through DBT to help me deal with that.
Imagery is part of the DBT IMPROVE skill. The next few posts will focus on this, including my own first Imagery exercise next post.