• How NCIS SAVED MY LIFE

    by  • October 8, 2015 • Contact

    As someone who is making a film, and watching films and television to orient, I had the weird discovery that the art form that I sometimes make fun of – television – was actually creating a healing environment for me, something that surprised me in a time of great upheaval.  It has brought me back to center – and back to working on producing JANE and creating a theater piece about healing from trauma – FIRE IN THE HEART.

    81gFD49zWlL._UR267,200_FMJPG_ HOW NCIS SAVED MY LIFE.
    In December 2010, dad fell and hit his head. He died. In April, mom let herself stop eating. She died. In October, my sister’s pancreatic cancer took her and she died. A year later in November my sister in law’s lung cancer won and she stopped breathing. She died. A week later, a truck hit my young and vigorous therapist, on his bicycle. He died.
    One of my beloved nieces, all through our months together at her mom’s death bed, would head to where she went to watch TV and say “off to NCIS”. I had no idea what that meant but was happy to see her have some comfort. I pretty much didn’t cry from December 10, 2010 until, well, now.
    I do counseling for a living, and am trained hospice volunteer; I knew the stages of grief. So I moved from deathwatch to deathwatch, and I coped, waiting to move along the continuum as written: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. People who love me continued to love me. I continued to love them. I worked and even made a piece of significant theater about healing from trauma.
    All the while, I knew I was not okay, seriously not okay, but I couldn’t find words, and, see paragraph one, my therapist was dead. I knew that people were basically trying to help. I practiced loving kindness as best I could so I didn’t snap at those who meant well. Pretty much no form of verbal reassurance helped at all. Particularly difficult were “She/he is in a better place;” “If you try, you can still contact them;” and onerous because it was so obvious and I knew it and only felt shame when they said it, “Everyone dies, it’s part of life.”
    Sometimes I would find a word or two to describe my state. It usually had something to do with feeling that a hole was torn in the middle of the fabric of me. This is pretty esoteric and hard to follow, so people stopped asking how I was. The story I made up, the one I assumed others were thinking, centered around me taking too long to get over it and so the less I said, the better. Another truly horrible thing I learned about loss is that everyone else’s life goes on. So my effective social conditioning kept me keeping on keeping on. And still I didn’t cry.
    By this time, I was going to bed at about seven every night. For a while, I read, but when it became clear I was actually going to read romance novels by the dozens, I embarrassed myself. I decided to try instant video on my ipad. Somewhere in the back of my head, I saw an image of my niece as she disappeared into the darkness and I heard the words “NCIS.” God works in mysterious ways.
    It is now 18 months since the last of the Great Dying, and I have watched all twelve seasons of NCIS, all six seasons of NCIS Los Angeles, and all seasons of NCIS New Orleans. I can honestly say that a television show served as the loom to help weave back parts of me I thought were permanently lost to the void.
    I started with Los Angeles, because, honestly Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J are beautiful to watch. Don’t ever kid yourself -even 60-year-old women appreciate beauty. And then I got caught up in their stories: the man without a family and the one who had a good one, the two cops on their team who were friends falling in love; the woman, older than me, who ran their outfit and was funny and wise; her friendship with her mysterious boss, who seems as shut down as I am.
    Somewhere in that first year, I figured out something important about this seemingly weird and obsessive behavior. I had found a working family for me; a predictable group of people who were still in action, still fighting the good fights, and repaired when they messed up with each other. It took me awhile to figure out the second part of my nightly ritual, something that feels shadowy and somewhat embarrassing. There is a lot of adrenaline on the show, which kicks up my own stress response in a predictable way. With all my deadened feelings, a little kick of hormone, danger, feels good when so little else does.
    Then I turned to watch the original NCIS. And there was Mark Harmon’s Jethro Leroy Gibbs, the perfect character to hold all of my sadness and angst. He’d lost his wife and children to murder. And here is what they do on NCIS that works as trauma therapy – he isn’t particularly getting better. The hole in him remains. He just keeps working to build a bigger life around it. His relationships with other women fail. He builds things in his basement, alone with a shot of whiskey. But he has created a different kind of family at work, people that matter. People who love him. With that one character, one working story, a deeper frozen layer began to heal.
    As a trauma therapist I have know the following, all along, since Before: The healing of trauma demands that I find a coherent narrative, some way to make sense of what has happened to me. I have to find a way to tell my story. Somehow, I must allow the unbearable intolerable intensity out of the deep caverns of “I cannot bear it,” and build enough container inside to tolerate the more familiar world of feelings (I hurt, I am suffering, I am angry) and then into words – or for my clients that do visual art, pictures. Words and pictures bring my awareness up to the high brain, the place that makes coherent patterns. Patterns create the potential for sharing, for coming out of isolation, for healing.
    I am pretty much stuck holding the forces down with all my might. I cannot feel what is there, and I do not have words for it, and if you push me to touch in there, I will go away. The amount of human energy it takes to keep feelings away would probably run a small city for a long time. Gibbs and his “family” on NCIS served as out-picturing of secret, hidden inner me: broken people with their lights on. And I could watch them whenever I needed them.
    And I took anti-anxiety medication. Something I never thought I would do.
    At work, as I listen to the parents of teenagers and traumatized adults, believe me, I am highly aware of the cost of too much screen time…and the overuse of drugs to handle anxiety…and so many of the halfway solutions we have come up with to manage our response to terrible events and lost souls.
    But with one-half Klonopin and three NCIS in a row, I can sleep.
    It’s taken almost two years. As I began to get to the end of the NCIS seasons available, I felt my anxiety increase. What would put the finger in the dike? Was I ready to be on my own?
    It’s been about two months now. I don’t watch three anything in a row anymore. I have somewhat recessistated my succulent garden, which I basically killed during the Great Dying, and that is pretty hard to do. I began a new, highly demanding, art project that pushes me out of bed and back into the world. I took my grandkids to the movies, to family camp, to the beach. Kids can be great for grieving people because they really don’t notice – in a good way.
    I did look up the start dates for the new seasons of NCIS. I have about a month to go before “my family” returns, my predictable family that is still fighting the good fight. Gibbs, who is living with a hole in the very center of the fabric of Self, and still has found a way to love and keep on keeping on.
    Here is all I have to say at this point: Stories save lives. Art saves lives. Words and pictures can be a lifeline through the unbearable, but it doesn’t have to be me who is saying the words or making the art. Thank you NCIS for a life returned to itself.
    Thank you NCIS, and the small screen, for bringing a lost soul back from the river of death, where it seemed she had been consigned to be the boatman, carrying those she loved over and rowing back alone, back and forth back and forth, forever.81gFD49zWlL._UR267,200_FMJPG_

    So here is what I learned from NCIS:

    HOW NCIS SAVED MY LIFE..
    In December 2010, dad fell and hit his head. He died. In April, mom let herself stop eating. She died. In October, my sister’s pancreatic cancer took her and she died. A year later in November my sister in law’s lung cancer won and she stopped breathing. She died. A week later, a truck hit my young and vigorous therapist, on his bicycle. He died.
    One of my beloved nieces, all through our months together at her mom’s death bed, would head to where she went to watch TV and say “off to NCIS”. I had no idea what that meant but was happy to see her have some comfort. I pretty much didn’t cry from December 10, 2010 until, well, now.
    I do counseling for a living, and am trained hospice volunteer; I knew the stages of grief. So I moved from deathwatch to deathwatch, and I coped, waiting to move along the continuum as written: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. People who love me continued to love me. I continued to love them. I worked and even made a piece of significant theater about healing from trauma.
    All the while, I knew I was not okay, seriously not okay, but I couldn’t find words, and, see paragraph one, my therapist was dead. I knew that people were basically trying to help. I practiced loving kindness as best I could so I didn’t snap at those who meant well. Pretty much no form of verbal reassurance helped at all. Particularly difficult were “She/he is in a better place;” “If you try, you can still contact them;” and onerous because it was so obvious and I knew it and only felt shame when they said it, “Everyone dies, it’s part of life.”
    Sometimes I would find a word or two to describe my state. It usually had something to do with feeling that a hole was torn in the middle of the fabric of me. This is pretty esoteric and hard to follow, so people stopped asking how I was. The story I made up, the one I assumed others were thinking, centered around me taking too long to get over it and so the less I said, the better. Another truly horrible thing I learned about loss is that everyone else’s life goes on. So my effective social conditioning kept me keeping on keeping on. And still I didn’t cry.
    By this time, I was going to bed at about seven every night. For a while, I read, but when it became clear I was actually going to read romance novels by the dozens, I embarrassed myself. I decided to try instant video on my ipad. Somewhere in the back of my head, I saw an image of my niece as she disappeared into the darkness and I heard the words “NCIS.” God works in mysterious ways.
    It is now 18 months since the last of the Great Dying, and I have watched all twelve seasons of NCIS, all six seasons of NCIS Los Angeles, and all seasons of NCIS New Orleans. I can honestly say that a television show served as the loom to help weave back parts of me I thought were permanently lost to the void.
    I started with Los Angeles, because, honestly Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J are beautiful to watch. Don’t ever kid yourself -even 60-year-old women appreciate beauty. And then I got caught up in their stories: the man without a family and the one who had a good one, the two cops on their team who were friends falling in love; the woman, older than me, who ran their outfit and was funny and wise; her friendship with her mysterious boss, who seems as shut down as I am.
    Somewhere in that first year, I figured out something important about this seemingly weird and obsessive behavior. I had found a working family for me; a predictable group of people who were still in action, still fighting the good fights, and repaired when they messed up with each other. It took me awhile to figure out the second part of my nightly ritual, something that feels shadowy and somewhat embarrassing. There is a lot of adrenaline on the show, which kicks up my own stress response in a predictable way. With all my deadened feelings, a little kick of hormone, danger, feels good when so little else does.
    Then I turned to watch the original NCIS. And there was Mark Harmon’s Jethro Leroy Gibbs, the perfect character to hold all of my sadness and angst. He’d lost his wife and children to murder. And here is what they do on NCIS that works as trauma therapy – he isn’t particularly getting better. The hole in him remains. He just keeps working to build a bigger life around it. His relationships with other women fail. He builds things in his basement, alone with a shot of whiskey. But he has created a different kind of family at work, people that matter. People who love him. With that one character, one working story, a deeper frozen layer began to heal.
    As a trauma therapist I have know the following, all along, since Before: The healing of trauma demands that I find a coherent narrative, some way to make sense of what has happened to me. I have to find a way to tell my story. Somehow, I must allow the unbearable intolerable intensity out of the deep caverns of “I cannot bear it,” and build enough container inside to tolerate the more familiar world of feelings (I hurt, I am suffering, I a
    I am pretty much stuck holding the forces down with all my might. I cannot feel what is there, and I do not have words for it, and if you push me to touch in there, I will go away. The amount of human energy it takes to keep feelings away would probably run a small city for a long time. Gibbs and his “family” on NCIS served as out-picturing of secret, hidden inner me: broken people with their lights on. And I could watch them whenever I needed them.
    And I took anti-anxiety medication. Something I never thought I would do.
    At work, as I listen to the parents of teenagers and traumatized adults, believe me, I am highly aware of the cost of too much screen time…and the overuse of drugs to handle anxiety…and so many of the halfway solutions we have come up with to manage our response to terrible events and lost souls.
    But with one-half Klonopin and three NCIS in a row, I can sleep.
    It’s taken almost two years. As I began to get to the end of the NCIS seasons available, I felt my anxiety increase. What would put the finger in the dike? Was I ready to be on my own?
    It’s been about two months now. I don’t watch three anything in a row anymore. I have somewhat recessistated my succulent garden, which I basically killed during the Great Dying, and that is pretty hard to do. I began a new, highly demanding, art project that pushes me out of bed and back into the world. I took my grandkids to the movies, to family camp, to the beach. Kids can be great for grieving people because they really don’t notice – in a good way.
    I did look up the start dates for the new seasons of NCIS. I have about a month to go before “my family” returns, my predictable family that is still fighting the good fight. Gibbs, who is living with a hole in the very center of the fabric of Self, and still has found a way to love and keep on keeping on.
    Here is all I have to say at this point: Stories save lives. Art saves lives. Words and pictures can be a lifeline through the unbearable, but it doesn’t have to be me who is saying the words or making the art. Thank you NCIS for a life returned to itself.
    Thank you NCIS, and the small screen, for bringing a lost soul back from the river of death, where it seemed she had been consigned to be the boatman, carrying those she loved over and rowing back alone, back and forth back and forth, forever.

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