Seattle Sober Coach: Breaths Of Joy. Guest Blog from Richard H. Siegel, Ph.D. LMFT

Seattle Sober Coach: Breaths Of Joy.  Guest Blog from Richard H. Siegel, Ph.D. LMFT  1.800.706.0318


Breaths of Joy

by Richard H. Siegel, Ph.D. LMFT


I feel like it is difficult to continue breathing.  I have had difficulty breathing for years.  I always wonder, will I be capable of continuing to breathe?  Is my body capable of continuing to breathe once I am surrounded by other people?  Sometimes I question, if I pass out, will my body be able to breathe on its own?  I concentrate on this all the time.

 And so when you concentrate on your body being able to breathe on its own, how where in your body, how many places in your body can you concentrate on breathing?

In my nose and my neck.

 And so can you describe what it’s like in your neck when you concentrate there?

It’s tight.

 And so when is tight in your neck, is tight like what?

It is like a black choker.  (Pause)  It’s like a rubber band, but flat and black.

 And so what’s the best name to give a black choker, black and flat like that?

A choker necklace.

 And so when it’s like a choker necklace, and it’s black, and flat, and a black rubber choker necklace is very tight in your neck, is there anything else about this black, flat, rubber choker like that in your neck?

 The choker gets tighter when the muscles from the chest get contracted and tight, giving the choker strength to become tighter, choking my breathing.  The choker feels very tight even right now.

 And so as the choker feels very tight right now, when the muscles from the chest get tight, they get tight like what?

Like closed fists.  Like tight, pressed hands placed right at the bottom of the neck, giving the choker strength to become tighter.

 And so what could those tight fists or hands like to do?  What could they want to do?

They want to point to someone, or to some people.  They want to point as if they’re judging them.

 And so, when also concentrating on the nose, what comes to mind about the area of a nose where you can most concentrate on?

It is like my nose is bare and exposed without a nose, so all you see is the bone.

 And when a nose is exposed and bare, it is exposed and bare like what?

It has the shape of a triangle.

 And when it has the shape of a triangle, what kind of a triangle comes to mind about that?

A neon, orange, triangular sign.  Kind of like the ones my father used to place on the road when a car breaks down, serving as a signal or warning to other drivers that a car has broken down ahead.

And so as you can observe and get to know about a neon, orange triangle, is there anything else you can notice about that kind of a triangle?

It has become a pyramid, like the ones in Egypt.  It looks three dimensional, like it’s real. (Pause)  It has a square base and four sides.  It is right in the desert and has a sphinx by its side.  You know, the one that has a human head and an animal body.  But this sculpture, this sphinx, doesn’t have a nose.

 And so taking all the time that time can take, taking the time to get to know about a pyramid and a sphinx like that, is there anything else about that pyramid and sphinx?

I see myself inside the pyramid; and I am looking around at the drawings on the wall, the writings, the symbols. 

 And so when you can see yourself inside the pyramid, is there anything else you can see?

It seems that at one point I was attracted to this culture, their philosophy, and their mysteries.  But as I look around, I realize that is about the dead, not the living.  I feel that if I go deeper into this pyramid all I will find is death, nothing that indicates life.

 And so when you see yourself inside the pyramid, looking around, is there anything else?

I see myself wandering inside this building, looking at the hieroglyphs.  And while I do that, I’m asking myself “what am I doing here?  This is not my people.  This is not my culture and these images are not about my God.  So how did I get here?  Why did I come here?”

 And so when asking yourself these questions, is there anything else?

I don’t like this place, anymore.  I want to leave.  I want to get out.

 And so, as you want to leave, can you get out?

I see myself inside this building, somewhere around the middle.  (Pause) The light is dim and the deeper I go, the darker it gets.  However, there is a light coming down from the top, illuminating my way up. 

 And so when a light comes from the top, illuminating a way up, is there anything else?

I am standing on a precarious elevator, and someone from the top of the pyramid is lifting me up.  It is a man dressed in white who is pulling the ropes that are holding the elevator, until I reach the top of the building

 And then what can happen?

I get out and from here I can see the scenery.  It is sunny and very bright now.  But I am not too comfortable out here. I just came out from a place that was mainly dark with poor lighting and so it’s too bright out here.  I see sand for as far as the eye can see.  But it’s so bright, it’s too bright.

 And when it’s too bright out there, what can happen next?

We slide down from one of the sides of the building.  I am not happy here.  It is too bright and sunny here.  I am a bit angry because all I see is a big, bright light and I want my shade.  It’s just too bright and I need protection from the Sun.

 And so when you need protection from the Sun, what kind of protection would be just the right kind of protection?

A shadow.  (Pause)  The thing that keeps coming to mind is that I want a shadow.

And what kind of shadow would be the right kind of shadow when the Sun is too bright?

I feel angry because I want my little shadow.  It is too bright here and I want my protection, my little shadow.  (Pause)  I’m used to having a little shadow.

 And so, when you need your little shadow, and you’re used to having your little shadow, is there anything else about a little shadow you’re used to having?

I’m used to hiding in a little shadow.

 And so as you’re used to hiding in this little shadow, how long can you have been hiding in this shadow?  And how old can you be some of the first times hiding in this shadow?

I see myself very little, about two or four years old, sitting behind this man’s shadow.

 And anything else?

On my left I have this bright sun.  And to my right I see the figure of a man standing up, facing the sun.  And I can see myself there, sitting down under this man’s shadow.

 And so when you see yourself sitting under this man’s shadow, is there anything else?

The man is not looking at me.  He is looking at the world, facing the sun.  His shadow is very thin and narrow.  I’m sitting on a little chair.  I feel frustrated because I have been conditioned and confined to stay there under his shadow, and he’s not even looking at me.

 And anything else when he’s not even looking at you?

I am not happy in the sun by myself but I’m not happy under this shadow, either.  I feel angry.  (Pause)  The man is my father, and I am there waiting for him to turn around and look at me, but he is looking to the world.  He built a wooden chair for me when I was little.  And I am still sitting down on that little chair, waiting for him. 

 And so, when sitting down on that little chair, waiting for him, is there anything else? 

Sometimes I would wait for so long, I couldn’t breathe and would pass out.  (Pause)  But now, all I see is his back.  I am not moving because the shadow is too narrow for me to move around in this place.  So I am just sitting down, very angry that I have to stay there and he is not looking at me.  I press my hands, making a fist very tight.

 And so what could those hands want to say or do?

They want to point at him.  They want to shout at him.

 And can hands do that?

Yes.  They point to him and say, “Why did you leave me.  Why did you choose traveling and cheating on mom, rather than staying home with us, with me.”  (Pause)  The hands are angry and the choker gets tighter. But I can finally cry, and I tell him how angry I am.

 And so when you can finally cry and tell him how angry you are, then what can happen?

I see my father turning around, facing me.  He sits right next to me so we are both at the same level.  I am about two or four.  I can see myself very angry, pressing my fists.  But I tell him, “why did you leave?  I am tired of waiting for you!”

 And then what happens?

My father grabs my hand and now we are both facing the sun, walking together towards the Sun.  As we are walking, I grow up. 

 And when you’re walking together towards the Sun and you grow up, then what happens?

I don’t need my little shadow anymore.  (Pause)  (Crying) My father takes me by the hand, so I’m no longer in the shadow, but standing next to him.

 And then what can happen?

He walks me down the aisle, where I meet my husband.  He leaves me there with my husband and my daughter.  (Long pause)  And we are all under the sun. 

 And when you’re all under the Sun, then what happens?

I feel happy with my husband and daughter under the sun.  I see myself at four years old, running in the sunlight, catching insects with a net.  (Pause)  She is happy and she breathes in joy.

 Say that a few times again, please.

She breathes in joy, she is running around and she breathes in joy.  She breathes in joy.

 And so when she is running around and she breathes in joy, is there anything else?

I don’t see my father anymore, but four year old doesn’t need him anymore. 

 And so when you don’t see your father anymore, and the four year old doesn’t need him anymore, what can be different for her?

She is happy in the sun and she breathes in joy.

 And so when she is happy, and in the sun, and she breathes in joy, what difference can that make for you?

I can breathe.  I can finally breathe.  I don’t have to think about it anymore.


 As free-association takes us back through a metaphorical history to an autobiographical history, we wind up in the place where the inner child is still stuck: still waiting for her father, sitting in the chair he made for her.  Because the wounded child within often has custody of the adult’s physiology and psyche, as the child waits so long she couldn’t breathe, so too, the adult feels like she can’t breathe, though she cognitively knows she can.  The clue is in “still waiting,” because this is where the child is frozen in time.  She cannot move out of the chair, but in the process, the environment (father) helps her to move forward. Once she moves out of the chair and out of the shadow, she has an opportunity to finally grow up, which she does.  Thus shedding the pathology of the child from the adult’s physiology.

Richard H. Siegel, Ph.D. LMFT
2345 West Hillsboro Boulevard #201
Deerfield Beach, Florida 33442
139 North Country Road #18C
Palm Beach, Florida 33480