This article is in memory of David Owen, hypnotherapist, who sadly passed away this week after helping countless people.
I am fascinated by history. If I could do anything in the world, I would invent a time machine and go back (never forwards) to the Tudor era and see what Elizabeth I looked and smelled like. I would solve the Jack the Ripper case by taking a snapshot of him on my Samsung and book a ticket on Titanic, being sure to bring along a few life vests just in case I made some friends and there wasn’t room in my transporter for them. I suppose I would check out Jesus to see what was really going on with the loaves and the fishes and wouldn’t it be great to work out if Stone Henge was ever interesting? Yet, I’d never considered going back just a few years to meet myself.
It turns out though, after only a few sessions of hypnotherapy, that I was being remiss. Every Monday for the last four weeks, I have been transported back in time to my own childhood from the warmth and strange, floating safety of a somewhat squeaky reclining chair on a small commercial estate in Hertfordshire.
It was my Mum who told me to go. She’s become increasingly worried about me after a few tearful and angry phone calls where I predicted my own desolate future and figuratively (and once literally) slapped myself around the face in frustration at my own stupidity. “You need to talk to someone.” Said Mum, her voice strained; her efforts to bring me back to sanity hobbled. Any reassurance she gave me I would deny, any offer of support rejected, any words of kindness and encouragement batted away dismissively with a hopelessly self-indulgent wail.
And so, I turned up for my first session with David Owen the hypnotist feeling very despondent, like a teenager being made to shower. This was a pointless waste of time; therapy of any kind was just self-indulgence. Hypnosis? My eyes rolled so deeply in my skull it’s a wonder they ever came back.
But I went, and thank goodness I did because there was someone who needed my help. I’d forgotten about him years ago. A little boy, with wet pants and itchy legs, crying in a dark room filled with strangers and booming music.
The process of hypnosis differs between different practitioners and the route into each person’s subconscious seems to follow a pattern but it is, by definition, unique in every case. Our minds are all tightly knotted with thoughts, memories and learned behaviours; a forest of brambles, deep pits, small sunlit oases and thickets of poisonous weeds and there are creatures that lurk there and they can be kind and cruel all at once.
In my first session, I chatted through my problems, telling David about the last couple of years and the terrible stress I’d been under and the rock I was carrying around in my stomach. What was it? Disappointment? Fear? Stress? Hatred? I described my feelings. When he asked me to sum up how I saw myself I said I felt ugly and that I was struggling to be the person I had been before. I wanted to forgive people who’d hurt me, crossed me or held me back. I wanted to lose my fear that people were ‘out to get me’. I wanted to be more kind and generous to people. I could feel the tears coming.
It’s become quite a regular thing for me to cry. I cry at adverts and old photographs and I cry when friends tell me they like me. A kind Facebook comment can send me into floods of tears and a cruel or unjust post can leave me raging for hours.
I looked at David and then at my bitten nails and said: “I want to be nice. I want to be happy. I’m scared of being a failure. I don’t want to be me anymore.”
I crumpled inside and my lip wobbled. I swallowed the blubbing back down to my stomach and stretched my face out of a cry. Breathe. Breathe and have some dignity.
I’ve not been proud of myself for a while. I haven’t been as kind as I should have been and I’ve allowed myself to become a little too bitter about certain people who either don’t deserve it or don’t deserve my time. After losing my job at the BBC and going on Big Brother, life has been about survival and front. The old rules don’t apply and I’ve been mixing in circles where you’re only helped if you can repay the good deed back with interest. People only invite you to things if they think you’re worth something to them and even then, they’ll only talk to you if they want to benefit from the association or make a contact they can weaponise. It’s made me feel desolate, empty and bitter and for the first time in my life, I have begun to feel hatred towards other people, even those who are genuine, sincere and generous. Hatred is ugly in other people; in yourself it’s terrifying.
I looked at David and then back to my lap. “I do need someone’s help.”
David fixed me with a penetrating look to which I’m only just becoming accustomed. “You might well do,” he said. “but it might not be who you think.”
He was right. The person I needed was a little boy, hidden far away in the middle of that deep dark forest, trapped in the thickest, blackest part of it all. I won’t patronise you. Obviously, you have guessed from the beginning that the little boy is my younger self. Had I read this article before going to therapy I would have sniggered at it. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer force of the experience I was about to have.
David asked me to close my eyes and then led me down into a sunlit garden, filled with flowers spread around a perfect, flat lawn. I sat on a white bench and felt the warmth of the wood rise into my flesh and the sunlight pressed the warm palm of its hand over my eyes. Suddenly, the marbled colours flashing behind my eyelids parted like clouds and everything was cobalt blue.
And that’s when I found him. The little version of me. Perhaps only 6 years old and, like a quantum-boy, he was in different states and places all at once. There he was petrified by the other children at a disco, wetting himself to the vibrating thrum of the 1990s base music, then crying because he was too frightened to run down a steep hill, then in bed late at night in the dark worrying about who was going to come and find him. What struck me most was how alone he looked and how small. He looked like me but so much more frightened than I remembered being and so deeply unhappy. In hypnosis, you are not – contrary to popular myth – dead to the world and unaware of the process. It’s like a daydream only…thicker and heavier somewhow…a drunken sleep.
Like Scrooge on Christmas eve, I watched the boy crying and an extraordinary feeling of love rushed through me. I desperately wanted to hold him and reassure him.
David’s voice came through from somewhere above me. I shan’t describe his process in detail it wouldn’t be fair or, perhaps even, safe but, to put it simply, I had to imagine being that little boy again and understand what he was feeling and the reasons he was so upset and frightened.
Eventually, David said I could hold him, though in truth I’d been comforting him from the start, first by taking his hand and then by gripping him too me in a tight, fatherly cuddle. He felt small and very hot but I could feel his little body relax and calm down and when I looked at his face nuzzled into my chest, he was smiling. I remember thinking, “This is wonderful. I’m so glad I’ve found this kid and made him feel better.” I was expecting to be taken back to my bench and then lifted in a cloud of sated calm back to the squeaky chair in Hertfordshire but there was more to come.
David spoke softly with an insistent tone. “Now, let him comfort you and give you what you need.”
What I need?
Confused, I looked at the little boy who had climbed from my arms. He was standing in front of me in shorts and a blue t-shirt with sandals on and his hair bleached blonde at the tips by the sunshine. He smiled shyly and then walked over to me and gripped my legs and hugged me. “I like you.” He said in a small, bright voice. “I’m happy I’ll grow up to be you.”
I felt a deep shake inside my chest and heard a low moan. Someone close by was crying.
I touched the crown of his head and we stood there, together, on the street where I’d grown up enjoying the summer heat.
He looked up at me and said, “Thank you for coming back.” I smiled and told him he didn’t need to feel different and strange and scared and that, when he was older, he would do amazing things and he would have lots of friends and wouldn’t be lonely or scared at all. He scrunched his nose at that and didn’t seem convinced. “Well”, I said. “Most of the time.”
And then it was time to go. The little boy started crying again when he heard that and when I moved away from him he began to wail and scream for me to come back. I couldn’t control it though and as he grew smaller and smaller and his voice quieter and quieter I called out to him: “I’ll be back, I promise I’ll be back!” And then he was gone.
David took me back to my garden bench, where the sun was warmer than ever and there were dragonflies whizzing and buzzing around my head and then he counted me out of hypnosis and I blinked and sat up. I brushed my face and realised I’d been crying and David handed me a tissue.
I looked at David, a little bewildered. “Well? How was that?” He asked.
“I need to go back to him.”
So ended our first session. I know, weird right? You might think I need the men in white coats but actually, that experience has left me feeling more relaxed and in control of my own mind than I have for years. Something happened in my head with that little kid. It was like two parts had been separated for far too long but now they were back together like Lyra and her Daemon in Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy and they fitted…they just fitted perfectly and made sense of one another.
I came home feeling a softness in my stomach where the rock had once been. I was calm and there was a longing to be kind to everyone, particularly the people I’d been holding anger towards. I wanted to call people and tell them I loved them.
That’s been the experience every single time and after each session, the feeling of quiet, loving calm and resolve lasts a little longer. I did shout at a man in WH Smith about a sandwich the other day and I’m still prone to a rant. Of course, there are those who annoy me and I wouldn’t want to become some kind of naive rainbow-minded spirit-cloud who can’t see a complete bastard when he meets one, but I am generally more relaxed and forgiving and I feel so much more optimistic about the future.
Hypnosis has worked for me. I had no idea there was a little boy buried in my head who needed my help and I certainly didn’t know he wanted to help me.
Every time I go back to see the little boy, he seems happier and when I leave him now, he’s waving at me with a big snaggle-toothed smile. I can feel him now in my heart and he’s content.
S0 yes. I have travelled through time now and not in some Jules-Verne-esque machine. From a squeaky reclining chair on a commercial estate in Hertfordshire I have been shown my old self and we are close friends again. I feel complete.
I would sooner go and play marbles with him than meet Elizabeth I any day.