Trauma, Grief, Listening, Recovery, Redemption
A couple of weeks ago – right before the trip with my friend visiting remote towns in Eastern Oregon, I wrote this. I remember messaging Kathi and telling her that I was not in a good way emotionally. Kathi knows that I’ve been going through some difficult stuff on the home front as well as the constant advocacy work, and that it has taken its toll on me.
Part of being whole for me is being honest with where I am emotionally and paying attention to what my physical body is telling me. This first requires honesty with myself, and then vulnerability when I tell someone else what is going on. I remember telling her that I think I was going to go and process my thoughts and feelings by writing, and then signed off to start journaling.
When we are at our low points, how do we respond to them? Personally, I could either go into familiar patterns of behavior, doing things that probably aren’t the best in the world. No, I’m not talking about drugs, but sometimes my drug of choice is getting lost on the internet following rabbit trails and neglecting laundry or other responsibilities. Other ways I numb pain might include indulging on sugary treats, chocolate, a glass of wine, etc. I only drink one glass of wine, so going overboard is not a concern to me; however, having a glass of wine to numb pain is not the healthiest choice over the long haul. It’s just a way of avoiding pain.
So, then the question I’m learning to ask myself is: what pain am I avoiding, and why am I avoiding it? Isn’t numbing pain simply prolonging it? Why would I want to prolong pain? What would happen if I moved toward the pain and wrestled with it? What would that look like? Would it last forever? Sometimes I think we might think it is overwhelming, but it probably wouldn’t last forever. At least my experience has told me that, and I’ve had some heartbreaking experiences in my 50+ yrs.
So, there’s a bit of background. And now, the following is what I wrote after messaging on Facebook with Kathi. I was processing what had happened earlier in the day at my physical therapy appointment. Writing everything down helped me to connect with my feelings and finish that work. It should be noted that after I wrote things down, and had another big cry, there was a sense of calm and relief. The heaviness was lifted – the burden was lifted.
Redemptive Gift of Grief
So . . .I’ve been reading a lot of personal stories of abuse – especially regarding women harmed in marriages last week. And I’ve been listening to a great podcast series which has taught me about relationships, intimacy, personal stories, grieving – heavy stuff, yet it is so, so good. But I’ve also noticed my body has been more tense physically in the past week, and I’ve been weepy.
Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s ok to cry and I try not to shut it down, but allow the tears to flow. Sometimes I sit with the pain and try to connect with it and figure out why I’m weepy. Other times I can’t figure out why I’m weepy. So I just move on.
I have chronic back/hip issues and drive an hour away to a great physical therapist (PT). I love the drive because I get to look at the beautiful SE Washington desert and listen to podcasts uninterrupted. The podcast I listened to on this particular trip was on the topic of grief. It was powerful.
I walked into the PT room and was greeted by the PT student, Habakkuk, who has been interning for the last few visits. Habakkuk asked me how I had been doing since the last visit. Habakkuk did most of the work at my previous visit – with Randy, my PT, observing and offering suggestions. So, it made sense that Habakkuk would ask me how I was doing; he was genuinely interested.
My PT, Randy, sat quietly in the corner of the room listening as Habakkuk carefully listened to my physical issues. Habakkuk asked more questions and then had me get on the table face down. At the end of the table is a support for your head so your head is straight when lying face down. The support has an opening for your face so you can breathe (or cry or scream in agony from elbows “massaging” your tender muscles).
So, Habakkuk did his thing checking my range of motion, and proceeded to practice the
torture PT techniques he has learned from Randy, no doubt. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen Habakkuk a few times, so I felt comfortable with him. Randy makes a practice of mentoring young students and teaching them while they practice on us innocent Guinea pigs, but he also has a knack of selecting students who are not only gifted in PT, but are relationally gifted as well, just like Randy.
Randy left the room for a bit while Habakkuk continued with me. As he was working on my back, he asked how long I’ve been suffering these symptoms. I said a long, long time. But then I thought about that response, and added that I’ve been dealing with personal stressors for a long time, too. I shared something very painful and personal with him, and his hand stopped moving. It was still on my back and remained there . . . but still.
Why had his hand stopped moving? Was he understanding the fact that my emotional stressors were contributing to the physical issues I have been having? Maybe. I don’t know. But it was quiet in the room. There was a long silence – maybe it wasn’t really long, but in that silence the only thing that was resonating in my mind was the last thing I had just said to him about the personal pain in my life I was dealing with. With that silence, the heaviness of my struggles came to surface and I realized that yes, these were indeed big issues. The pain was real.
Habakkuk’s hand remained on my back – not moving, but it was still there. That still-present touch on my back said to me, “I am with you. You are not alone. I’m so, so sorry.” There were no words, but I felt at ease and comforted. It was a powerful, sacred moment. I felt his presence with my emotional pain, and then I sensed tears coming. I felt my body tense up, and I wept. I freakin’ wept freely with a student PT’s hand on my back while my PT was out of the room! Who does that? Tears were already falling to the floor – remember my face is still in the head support. But now snot was coming out my nose (which happens anyway when you are in that position on the table), so I asked for some Kleenex which is always on the nearby counter.
Habakkuk’s hand finally left my back and he walked around the table to the other side of the room and handed me a few tissues in one hand, plus more in my other hand, and then put the box on the floor so I could reach them. Dude..that was amazing! Whenever someone asks for Kleenex, give them the whole hook-up. Don’t be stingy!! We don’t want to ask again when we are in that emotional state. I don’t know where Habakkuk learned that, but man, that was awesome. I now had the freedom to cry to my heart’s content without having to worry about tears or snot!
We sat in that silence for a bit. He then quietly and respectfully said he was so sorry. There was more silence, and then he asked if there was anything he could do for me. Wow. Did they teach this at PT school? I don’t think so. He was doing everything for me by just being there with me while I was grieving. I was struck by Habakkuk’s tenderness. I was struck at how I allowed myself to feel pain in front of this unsuspecting PT student, and I didn’t even care. It felt right and it was right.
And then Randy came in the room. He doesn’t miss a thing. He immediately saw the Kleenex on the floor and without missing a beat lightened the mood as he said, “Shoot, I leave the room for a minute and then come back to this?” We all laughed. I explained what happened, but as I did, guess what happened — yep – I once again connected with that pain. Holy moly, what was going on? Round 2? I guess so – I was still in a safe place with safe people.
The weeping faucet turned on again – you know the kind where your chest is uncontrollably moving. At that moment, it seemed like it would go on forever. But I resisted the urge to fight it because I knew that if I didn’t deal with it right the first time, with honor, I would have more opportunities to deal with it later. Remember, I had just listened to a podcast on grieving. Who knew I’d have an opportunity to deal with it so soon! I had changed positions after Randy came in and was now face up on my back. This time my tears weren’t hitting the floor, but going down my cheeks and in my ears! That is certainly a weird feeling.
Meanwhile, Randy massaged the back of my neck and I can’t even remember what Habbakuk was working on, but they both remained present with me and silent while I cried. (I’m not exactly sure how Randy is going to bill my insurance for this, his degree is not in psychology.) Eventually, my breathing evened out. I noticed myself taking deeper breaths, and it felt like my body had surrendered to that pain. I felt the emotional release, and then the peace. Wow. Emotions – this is crazy stuff.
But the sacred place – where you are connected with people who sit with you as you grieve – this is a holy place. In the podcast, it was discussed as a dying-to-self, Gospel-like place. The listener empties him/herself of his/her ideas, agendas, quick fixes, and remains quietly present for someone who is needing a physical body to be with them as they weep. This is truly sacred. They gave me this gift. This is powerful stuff, people!
I’m comforted to know that God is with me and sees each and every tear:
8 You keep track of all my sorrows.[a]
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
Psalm 56:8 New Living Translation (NLT)
Thanks, Habakkuk and Randy. You guys rock!
Also, a special congratulations to Habakuk who graduated a week ago!
Personal note to Habakuk: I know you will be an amazing PT and I am excited to know that will bring so much physical and emotional healing to people you work with. I’m so grateful that our paths crossed and that you gave me this powerful experience that now many can learn from.
Randy, God is truly using you and your people. Thank you for providing the wisdom, the intentional atmosphere, and the safe place.