I was working with a client whose closet under the stairs was filled with old cardboard boxes stuffed with papers. I pulled the boxes into his living room. They had the old stuff smell: a musty aroma of something that's been hidden in the dark and away from fresh air for a long time. I could see why my clients avoid this stuff. I felt tired just touching the boxes.
My client had the look of regret. I'm certain part of it was that I convinced him it would be a good idea to go through these boxes and he was feeling resistance. I actually feel a sense of glee going through something that is so obviously clutter. It feels like something really good is happening. I got the sense that my client also felt regret for burying these boxes in his closet. Anything we try and hide from ourselves can never truly be hidden. Part of us that still knows its there.
My client started to shut down at the prospect of going through the contents of the boxes. To set him at ease, I sensed it would be good for him to relax on his couch. So I had him get an iced-tea from his fridge and take a seat on the couch. I put the first box behind me so he wouldn't see its guts. I took out one paper and said, "Let's see about this." It turns out most of the paper was work related from a job he no longer had. He was surprised he had been so apprehensive about going through this.
But then he came across his three of his ex's journals rubber banded together and there was a meltdown. The journals were on his lap and he put his head down on them and he cried. It's hard to see someone get clobbered by a thing as simple as paper and words. But I get it. Emotional memories can be dormant for a long time and when they wake up it can feel like there's hell to pay.
I had my client lay back on his couch, close his eyes and focus on his breathing. He started crying really hard. I felt like the grief that had been living in his heart was escaping like air from an air mattress. I could feel him struggling with it though, like he wanted to hang onto the grief. I started thinking that maybe we're not used to seeing our emotional life and it can be overwhelming to see it in all its glory. So I asked him to keep breathing. That seems to be super helpful when the feelings become too much. I've used it myself many times. When I focus lightly on my breath, it feels like things are happening rather than something difficult is happening to me.
My client got very quiet. He sat up and looked peaceful. He went to his computer and emailed his ex about whether she wanted her old journals.