“Please sit down because I need to explain to you how I’m feeling,” I begin. “Do you understand why this is a problem? Don’t answer that right now. You can respond when you’ve heard what I have to say.”
Or, “What you said strikes me as utterly illogical,” I begin. “I understand it’s important to you, but I know you can see that your claim that you’re just being logical doesn’t hold up. This is an emotional decision you’ve made. That doesn’t make it wrong, but let me explain what would be logical.”
I was very young when I started having monologue conversations to change the past. I had them with my parents, my friends, and other unfair people. Later, I added occasional imagined conversations with teachers, frequent imagined conversations with recently departed boyfriends or husbands, and as-needed imagined conversations with colleagues.
Any particular conversation about the past might be the result of my frustration that I could not think of what to say at the time of some unfairness or micro-trauma. I would analyze: How could I have changed that conversation? How could I have made the object of my monologue understand why their behavior was so hurtful or unfair? Or how could I have apologized in a way that brought reconciliation and forgiveness?
And then there were the situations I anticipated would not go well, so I would prepare a future response, with the hope that it would make things right (and maybe even result in a fairer—in my mind—outcome). Most of these situations never actually arose.
Sometimes I wrote these declarations down. Of course I did: I’m a writer. I thought of sending them and sometimes did—often, a bad decision. I rehearsed other monologues—too often at 2 AM and then again at 4 AM—only to recognize at 8 AM that there is no monologue that takes place between dream cycles that is going to stand up to the light of day.
A common recommendation that therapists make is to recognize when these monologues are happening—the earlier in the soliloquy, the better—and to tell ourselves “Stop!” Then, we’re coached, think about something calming, such as a nature scene. I still have a mental file for a few of these hillside and seaside images.
In the twenty-first century, the recommendation for nature-scene imagery seems to have morphed into coaching on mindful meditation after the abrupt “Stop!” command: Concentrate on your breath as it comes in through your nose and expands your diaphragm as the air fills your lungs. My reaction to this tends to be tense muscles that embody my conviction that I would rather be doing anything else than visualizing the inside of my nose and throat.
While active mindfulness in the form of cooking, coloring, or hiking (or whatever else someone might do in an utterly focused way) can be helpful in reducing chronic stress, it does not address how to stop the monologues from resuming once dinner is in the oven or I’m driving home from a hike.
A few weeks ago, during one of those 2 AM imagined conversations, an image came into my mind: a wastebasket—wicker, white, wide. Not a recycling basket but one that would have its contents dumped into a larger trash can to be hauled away to a landfill dedicated to ill-advised monologues that should decay with existing methane gases. I crumple up this 2 AM monologue and tosses it in the basket. I acknowledge that the conversation will never happen. And at that point in my scenario, I turn my back and walk away.
I won’t throw away my wicker basket. The monologue detritus that continues to accumulate in my mind will need my attention from time to time so that I toss it where it belongs: on the trash heap of conversations I will never have.