Entries in suffering (4)
The traditional view of a therapy is one in which the client struggles to make a deep emotional breakthrough while the therapist remains professional, detached, emotionless. If that's good therapy, then I'm a lousy counselor.
I am often deeply moved by the people who come to see me. They have powerful stories to tell—stories of pain and loss, of courage and hope. Recently, during a session with Bill, his tale took an unexpected turn that caused my eyes to flood and spill over in streams. His real name is not Bill, but he gave me permission to tell you this.
Bill, an African-American man in his 60s, and his wife came to counseling for help with their relationship. During their third session, Bill made reference to something significant that happened to him decades ago. "Tell Tim," his wife encouraged. This is the story he told:
During the 1960s, Bill was working as a volunteer to help register new voters in black communities. One day, he joined two other volunteers, one male and one female, in a small Alabama town. A driver dropped them off down the road from the town's main entrance and reminded them that he would return to the same spot later that day. He would sound the car horn three times to let them know he was waiting.
They completed their work and stood at the edge of town until they heard the three honks, then headed out toward the car. As they walked along the country road, five men stepped out from hiding behind trees. All of the men were white, wearing hoods, and carrying shotguns.
"They forced us into the woods," Bill recounted, his eyes tear-filled and his voice faltering. "They raped the woman while they branded me and the other guy."
"Show him," his wife prompted.
Bill lifted his left sleeve to reveal a rough circled "K" about 4-inches in diameter burned into his bicep. He lifted the other sleeve to reveal an identical scar. He put his hand over his heart, "They put one here, too, before they let us go."
I cried. To this day, I am still processing all the reasons why his story affected me so significantly. I was abhorred by cruel acts of hatred. I was sorrowful over the pain one man suffered—that many others have suffered—just for being black and troubled by my awareness that I understand so little about that suffering. I was inspired by Bill's obvious journey toward forgiveness. And I felt honored that he trusted me with a story that he has barely told anyone these past 40 years.
As I write this, I still feel the emotional effects of that session. It's not a pleasant feeling, but I'm thankful for it. Thankful that God's grace moves in our hearts to create empathy and compassion. Thankful that others have come alongside me in times of my brokenness and pain. Thankful that a client can make me cry.
We live in a world with pain; intense, distant pain of senseless tragedy and heartache. Pain so close it can eat at our soul. We long for safety. We hope for a place to rest.
Pain in the deepest parts of ourselves. We all know it. We all manage it. Or deny it and run as fast as we can. Oh, the things we do with pain.
Pain in those closest to you. Why do we trample over those we love? We diminish their pain because we don’t know how to fix it.
And most times we can’t fix their pain. So we distance ourselves.
Pain in the world. Overwhelming. We either crumble or close our eyes.
So, I say to you:
~ Don’t walk alone.
~ Pay attention - Hear what pain is whispering to you.
~ Rest and Breathe - Sometimes it is too much.
~ Be gentle - Walk slowly and safely into pain. You are on sacred ground.
“Behind every beautiful thing, there's some kind of pain.” ― Bob Dylan
“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.” ― Marcel Proust
A client struggling with the deep darkness of depression sat sobbing in front of me. “Sometimes when I am by myself I wish I had cancer.” It took a lot of courage to say those words out loud and let alone to someone else. She went on to explain that if she had an illness she would have justification for not wanting to get out of bed. This is the reason she cries herself to sleep most nights and if she had a terminal illness she would not have to deal with the shame of depression. She would wake up most mornings and feel guilty because she could not “get it together”. She felt shame for telling friends she was having a bad day without having a reason “why”. If only she had a “reason” then she wouldn’t have to feel badly for feeling badly.
Depression is by far one of the scariest, loneliest, and most painful issues we can deal with. My client is not alone. Without a tangible identifying “reason” to feel bad most people tend to feel guilty that they are struggling. It is easy to point to all of the blessings and good things in life and wonder “what do I have to feel bad about.” Generally depression can be caused by a number of things. Sometimes we can easily identify what is causing our depression such as a traumatic event, a loss, change, loneliness, etc, but other times it may not be so easy to find. Whatever the cause for you or your loved one’s depression there are two important things to remember:
1. Its real. You are not making this up. You are not depressed because you are too weak, or you simply cannot suck it up. Depression is real. It is not your fault you’re struggling with depression, it is a valid mental health concern that can afflict anyone. In fact Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
(link to the statistc http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1ANYMOODDIS_ADULT.shtml).
2. You don’t have to live in the darkness. More than 80% of people struggling with depression do not seek treatment, are you one of them? There is no shame in seeking help, talking with someone who can understand where you are and how to navigate out of it is one of the best things you can do to help yourself. There is hope for your future. Living in the monotony and darkness of depression does not have to rule or end your life. You can live fully and joyfully again!
I spent the weekend with the flu. Not that this is anything that you necessarily wanted to know, but it really is how I spent the last two days. Without describing in detail my symptoms, let me just say that it is very frustrating to deal with continual, annoying, and debilitating pain. Therefore the subject of this blog is suffering. Here are a few things about suffering that this weekend reminded me of:
Pain is a show-stopper. It takes all our energy just to do the basics of life.
Pain is an attention grabber. It’s difficult to focus on anything else.
Pain is a joy-sucker. It’s hard to be happy when we’re in pain.
Pain is a relationship-damper. It’s hard to be loving and other-centered when we are just trying to survive the day.
Pain is a hope-stealer. “When will I get better?” is the unanswerable question.
If you’re dealing with pain – physical, emotional, or relational, it has the tendency to do all the above. The antidote is to reduce life to what really matters: our relationship with God and our relationships with those we truly love. The only steps that were constrictive this weekend were steps taken towards others: my wife, my friends, and God. That’s still the place where meaning is found and joy will continue to come. Don’t let the pain distract you from taking steps that will bring about healing.