Julia attended our Intensive Program. Below is her story in her words.
Dear Judy, Marjorie, and Barbara:
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the exceptional care that was given to me recently. The intensive program for my elevator/claustrophobia was best suited for my situation and was the right time for me to finally face this issue once and for all. I came to all of you fully ready to confront my phobia but in essence was “scared to pieces.” I knew that in order for me to be successful I had to fully embrace the program and fully trust my care-givers, Marjorie Mottola and Barbara Bonder. I had to surrender and give up control to actually gain control of my fear.
I will never forget the first session with Barbara. She was friendly and understanding and had a determined manner. I knew she wanted me to overcome this challenge-we were going to conquer this!
I remember the first rides in the hospital elevator-I cried-not from actual fear, but from the emotion of the fact that I was putting my fear right in front of my face and saying “let me have it”-let me change the conditioned thought that it was not safe to ride in the elevator alone and it will get stuck. In one session, Barbara de-mystified the elevator and locked doors-which in elevators will work for you just like they do for everyone else-it is highly unlikely for anything to go wrong and you know what-a locked door actually opens when you unlock it! My first day was exhausting but I knew I was doing the very right thing at the very right place. My second day with Marjorie-I came in with a low level of anxiety. I felt it all morning and even had a mild panic earlier that morning which I handled well.
My anxiety was just that-anxiety because I knew that because of what I accomplished the day before-that today-if I truly wanted to proceed with my recovery, I would have to face the ultimate moment of being in an elevator alone. I understood it all and met Marjorie not only with some anxiety but with fear. Marjorie is kind, soothing and determined. Again, I knew the hands I was in were trusting, kind, understanding and magnificently competent.
My moment came at the Galleria Mall in the glass elevator. Again, all with manageable small steps-allowing myself to give up control in order to gain control-we proceeded to first ride together. Then Marjorie said that we would get off the elevator and she would sit and watch me from the food court. I was to wait until the elevator was empty and then step in and ride one level and then come back.
So there I stood waiting for the elevator-my ultimate moment. I waited for the elevator to be empty-my first opportunity came and I couldn’t do it. I waited for the next opportunity, and my anxiety was rising because I know that if I can’t do this-which is why I was in the program-then what? So there I stood, letting another empty elevator pass by and another moment still in my conditioned fear-“don’t get in the elevator alone.” Then Marjorie came to me and in a non-judgmental and encouraging, kind voice said to me-“Let’s try this a different way; let’s get in the elevator together and when it empties I will leave and you will stay and ride one level and then come back to the level we are on.” Okay, so I knew this was it. We went in together, and I knew I had seconds before I would do this and I also knew that any pressure was coming from me-so I used my tools-counting backwards was what helped me. The elevator emptied and there I was-in the elevator alone for the first time in my entire life. I counted 100, 99, 98, 97, 96 and like a miracle from heaven, as if this had never happened on this green earth ever before but only for me, the elevator doors opened! I then pushed the button-went back up to the food court level, and, by gosh, it happened again-the doors opened. I stepped out and into the proud arms of Marjorie. I was a bit shaky but not too much, and she then immediately took me back into the elevator for another ride. I needed a little water and when I opened up my mildly carbonated drink, which I forgot was carbonated, it sprayed out onto both of us-quite appropriate-a bit of a christening for my maiden voyage and the beginning of recovery! We both laughed and it really felt great! We then stepped out and sat on a bench-to be proud of my accomplishment. I had never in all of my life been in an elevator alone and here I was at the Galleria and it was done. A lifetime of conditioning and fear seemed to be in that elevator. Now I knew I was going to begin the path of leaving all of that behind- truly magnificent.
When one faces any phobia-you face fear and jubilation at the same time. I was petrified and determined and then relieved by the heavy burden that was lifted-a true “high.” I was taking a piece of my life that essentially was taken from me-I was choosing life instead of fear. The rest of the week I spent in every elevator in White Plains and then on to Stamford, Connecticut and then the Palisades Mall-all the time with two exceptional professionally trained counselors who truly cared and had walked a million miles in my shoes. Each time they let me go a little more-as if giving me roots and wings -each time removing themselves from the situation to allow me independent success. I was, at worst, just sick of elevators by the end, and, at best, so relieved that this burden was lifted. I know how every elevator works, and which ones are fast, which ones slow. My favorite was Fortunoff’s, my least favorite was JC Penney, and I even started to like the service elevator at the hospital!
It was very, very hard work, and I progressed very well—more than I ever thought possible. Each day I set some goals and each day I achieved those goals. This was one of the hardest things I have done thus far in my life.
Am I fully cured? No, but I have continued my practice and what I know for sure is that I CAN GET IN AN ELEVATOR ALONE. It may never be perfect, but I know I won’t ever be at the stage I was when I came into treatment-and that is the biggest relief I could ever have. The program gave me the proper thought process and broke a conditioned thought process that I can continue to work on, using “the tools” to manage the situation instead of avoiding it.
I was truly amazed and awestruck by the whole process-I had read about it and am very well versed about anxiety and phobias. I knew that for me to tackle this hurdle-I simply could not do it alone. I was not going to respond to remote counseling-it was impossible for me to just go into elevators on my own like homework from any counselor-it just was not happening. I had to be brought into the situation-ready and fully surrendering to this tried and true model of exposure therapy. I had to be a believer in order to be an achiever. I had to give up control in order to gain control.
I will never forget my “maiden voyage” and I will continue my work-until riding in elevators does become as “normal” for me as it is for most everyone else.
I want to both applaud and thank all of you on the life-giving work that you all do. As a professional patient care provider, I know and appreciate not only competent but “over the top” care given with compassion and dedication.
I will continue my work on the elevators. Also, I would actually like to consider the Phobia Counselor Training program for myself-I have a minor degree in Psychology and a life experience with overcoming anxiety and phobic behavior. I come into contact with many patients whom I know are dealing with these issues and do not know where to turn. I know that I am in a position of trust to offer them help.
God Bless each and every one of you in the “life-affirming” work that you do.
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