When I was in my early twenties, I spent three months in a residential treatment center in a last-ditch effort to heal from depression and bulimia. Among many different treatment modalities, I participated in an experiential therapy that involved a ropes course and other adventure activities.
One day, along with a dozen other frail women, I strapped a backpack full of tennis balls on my back and climbed to the top of a rock wall. It was hard enough to walk on some days; getting to the top with what felt like ten cats clinging to my back took everything I had in me.
It was only when I completed the task, exhausted, that I understood the point of this draining exercise.
Our therapist then instructed us, one by one, to open our backpacks and toss each ball down to the ground, naming each an emotion that had caused us pain.
“This is my shame,” I yelled. “This is my anger. And this is my self-loathing.”
This metaphorical emotional unloading, combined with the energetic release that often follows extreme exertion, brought me a lightness of being that I’d never before experienced.
I had lived my life like the climb up that wall—weighed down by my emotions—and I had a glimpse of what it felt like to be free of them.