Originally published at Some Talk of You and Me.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief and of unspeakable love.”
~ Washington Irving
From very early in life, I experienced numerous losses.
As they mounted up, I was not able to grieve them because they were the types of losses we aren’t allowed to name.
I learned to hide the feelings, although I still spoke the words, monotone and unconvincing.
As a consequence, I received little support and much judgment, uninformed advice and derision.
Eventually I hid my grief even from myself.
When I became a psychologist, I told my supervisor,
“I don’t do clients with grief.”
I had a recurring intrusive thought that I might laugh at someone as they cried. My supervisor told me that wasn’t normal.
He asked me about my own experience of grief. I didn’t have any experience, I’d never lost anyone close to me. He could make no sense of it.
Oddly, I never encountered grief clients, they seemed to know to stay away from me. Until one day a lady arrived and told me about her stillborn daughter. I barely made it through the session, welling up with tears and swallowing them down, no urge to laugh at all.
I went home and sobbed.
Eventually I stopped seeing clients.
I struggled with listening to others who had families, love, and safety, feeling ashamed that I didn’t. I resented listening to others when no one was listening to me. It dawned on me that the reason I’d never lost anyone close to me was because I’d never had anyone close to me.
I studied art therapy as a new way to be with clients, but instead I made one of the biggest discoveries of my life. I had complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I was traumatized, I needed to grieve.
How did I spend 15 years as a therapist and not know this?
The reason I couldn’t be with other people’s grief was because I hadn’t been with my own. My losses began at conception and had been so denied by those around me that I began to deny them too.
I was told throughout all of it to cheer up, that all was well, that I was loved and safe. I wasn’t.
I took antidepressants which stopped the tears but left the pain. My grief and loss were not seen or heard, even by me.
For a long time I thought I couldn’t start seeing clients again because I don’t have the happy ending yet. I haven’t fully tapped into my creativity yet and I’m still hiding from love.
How can I help others to heal when I haven’t finished healing myself? How can I inspire others when I feel like a fraud?
Then I read an article by a kindred spirit and realized she was inspiring me and helping me to heal right from within the middle of her story, in the trenches of her own messy struggle. I saw that this is the most powerful place to speak from, not the happy ending but the ongoing struggle that others in the trenches can relate to.
I found a trauma therapist who, through some magical twist of fate, has so many things in common with my own story that I’ve been able to trust her completely. I enrolled in short online courses that involved responding to daily prompts with art and writing.
What emerged was startling, as was the support I received in response to the feelings I expressed there.
Through these avenues, I gave my grief a name. My feelings found a voice, my trauma an outlet. I’m discovering who I am, an identity underneath the loss and struggle.
Soon, I’ll reach out to the broken hearts again, the lost and wounded and oppressed, this time from a place of authenticity and vulnerability.
Our wounds, our sorrow, our trauma and grief, these things are holy. They deserve to be given space, to be seen and heard and held.
They tell us who we are.