Sometimes I feel guilty for only/mostly writing about the painful things in my life. I am currently in a really wonderful place in my life. Weekends filled with laughter and coffee and book reading and swimming and exploring and our incredible church and just this overwhelming sense of peace. Weeks filled with challenging but inspiring days at work, fun coworkers and the most supportive boss imaginable. I’ve always had a small, tight-knit family but this past year has brought us all even closer. But no matter how great everything is, I still have these black holes that the only way I know how to cope with them is to poke them with a stick and stir them around a little bit. It’s probably the therapist in me. I tell my clients all the time, “We can do hard things”. I tell myself that a lot too.
But that doesn’t mean I WANT to do these hard things. Writing about these wounds is very cathartic – but not until it’s over. I know the science behind this – I do it with clients on a daily basis. Being a children’s trauma therapist I get all of the really difficult cases. When a client and their parent(s) walk into our offices, they are screened at intake for a “trauma”. So I get the kids who have suffered anything from a traumatic car accident/dog bite to extreme physical/sexual/emotional abuse. Sometimes they have all of the above. And they are little children. We play games and get to know each other first – but eventually I ask them to write about the worst and most painful things that have ever happened to them. This is called their Trauma Narrative. Sometimes they hand write it, sometimes they type it, and other times I type it for them. If they are really little (3-4 years old) they draw pictures while we talk about these hard things and read books titled “Uncle Willy’s Tickles” and “Mommy’s Black Eye”. The point of this is that everyone, at some point, does this. They write/draw/create a trauma narrative. It’s often messy and draining and difficult and they NEVER want to do it. They skip appointments, fake illnesses and try to change the subject for an entire hour. It is always hard. Occasionally I’ll get the rare teenage girl who is ready and wanting to write about her experiences, but usually it’s a balancing act between lovingly encouraging and forcing them to complete this part of treatment.
It’s also my absolute favorite part of my job. Because they always come out the other side of this trauma narrative glad they did it. They are so stinking proud of themselves (as they should be) and they share it with a parent or caregiver. They commonly tell me they feel “relieved” and “lighter” and “happier” after they’ve gone through the whole process. They beaten the beast. They’ve taken this awful, horrible, traumatizing, unspeakable thing they’ve lived through and put it on a piece of paper. A tiny little white piece of paper, that sits on a small(ish) desk in a medium-sized office in the middle of a large city that is still pretty small compared to the whole of the world. There is just something so empowering about drawing the big, bad wolf on a tiny piece of paper. Suddenly that big, bad wolf doesn’t look and sound so scary anymore. It doesn’t erase the pain of the experience, but it somehow makes it more manageable. It’s profound. I am so beyond thankful that I have been entrusted with these children’s stories and experiences. They never cease to humble and inspire me. They are the true definition of survivors.
This all brings me to one client in particular. She’s a teenager and she’s been struggling for awhile now. I’ve had to hospitalize her twice now, for suicidal ideation. After her most recent release from the hospital she was in my office, crying talking about how she doesn’t feel like she is getting better. She also told me that she has been cutting herself.
I know all of the “reasons” people cut themselves, on paper. I’ve read the research, I’ve talked about it in class and I’ve heard it from so many clients. But that doesn’t mean I understand it. I know that you can’t see emotional pain like anxiety or depression and sometimes people feel like it’s easier to “see” physical pain – like a cut. For one, it’s a distraction from the emotional pain. Now they can focus on the physical pain. For another thing, they can actually see this physical cut/bruise heal. They can watch it scab over. They can SEE the healing.
I get all that. Or, at least in theory I get it. Until the other day. I was wresting with some of my own pain and this client came into my office and started explaining her fears about not “getting better” and how she was cutting again. And she said, “You know how sometimes you just get so tired of feeling the same pain over and over again? And you would just do anything to feel pain from somewhere else? It’s like that”. And I nodded my head and we talked about it. It wasn’t until later that it hit me that I knew exactly what she was talking about. It’s just that instead of cutting, my coping skill set is a little more developed than hers. I bleed onto a blank page instead of down the bathroom sink.
I’m continually awed at how God is using my pain – my big, bad wolf – for good. Even when it’s hard to see, I know it’s happening. My life right now is enough proof of that. But also, He continues to use my wolf to create in me more empathy and understanding and to give me insight into the pain of others, so I can be a better supporter and encourager. Which is incredibly helpful when you love your job as a trauma therapist.
And just in general as a wannabe-lover-of-all-human-beings.
“Sometimes the day won’t ever end. Sometimes you just throw up your hands. It’s the little things sometimes.
Sometimes the world has just gone dark. Sometimes you’re praying for a spark. It’s the little things sometimes.
But if you lift your eyes, see it in a different light. Just a cloud up in the open sky, let the rain fall away, Cause today is beautiful. ” – David Dunn, Today is Beautiful