What happens in the therapy room is a curious and wondrous thing. I can’t know exactly how it will all unfold. I am on the journey with you, and the future is still a mystery. But we talk about goals and what we want life to be like when we are on the other side of this challenge.
For Susan, (not actual name of client) she came wanting to put her marriage back together, or make the decision to leave. Her marriage had been through some serious challenges and breaches in trust too. She shared her story and we were witness together to the sense of emotional isolation she felt in a marriage with a man who appeared non responsive and shut down from her emotionally. Susan shared many stories of being rejected or ignored by her partner. Together we felt the sorrow of this loss. I didn’t know how this all happened, how her love relationship transformed from happy to lonely, but together we explored the best we could. He was not in my office, only her, and we had a lot to feel, to figure out, and to eventually try to change.
When I first met Susan, our initial consultation was very stirring and profound. I doubt I will ever forget that meeting. She poured out her story, wholeheartedly and without restraint. The past of what Susan had once been victim to many many years ago in her childhood. It brought ache to my heart, moisture to my eyes, and stillness to my mouth. Feeling sort of paralyzed, listen was all I could do, as I heard a story rivaling a war scene, that no one should ever have had to experience, certainly not a young child. When her story was done, I was still without words. I felt some of the words from a recent audiobook I had been listening to come up into my awareness very strongly. “Mindfullness and the Brain: A Professional Training in the Science and Practice of Meditative Awareness” co-taught by Jack Kornfield, PhD and Daniel Siegel, MD.
Jack was sharing about treating trauma, about working with soldiers who had come home from war, and been prisoners of war even. What can we therapists possibly do or say when someone has experienced the unimaginable. Jack advised us therapists to create a little space in our office, a little shelf as an alter of some sort. Jack said put on the little shelf a Buddha, a Star of David, a Cross. Have an alter because this is work that is bigger than our human selves. Following his advice, I had just brought into my office a Buddhist wall hanging item from my house. It’s a female Buddhist symbol. I don’t know who she represents because I haven’t studied Buddhism deeply, but she looked beautiful to me in the store a couple years ago and has had a place in my home decor since then. A couple years ago at a family Passover seder I had hosted, a cousin who enjoys some Buddhist teachings shared his joy “This was my first seder, sitting next to and admiring a Buddha in the room”. Now in my office, the little Buddhist female was on the floor next to the couch, in my little corner clients don’t see, waiting for me to figure out where to place her.
I said to Susan now, having a more spiritual experience than a thinking experience, can I just pray with you for a moment. This was a first. Sometimes, I definitely do pray in my office before or after appointments. Another therapist said to me one day in consultation “Do you know the therapists prayer? Your words, not mine.” Wow, I didn’t know that one. I liked it, and sometimes I have sort of prayed that. I say sort of, because I don’t want to be, nor am I, a medium or psychic. But I have become a very spiritual woman due to my own life story, and I do now live from a place I can best describe as a spirit guided life. My soul informs me and guides me, and that sure has made life more peaceful and dynamic. And I am still totally human Michelle, with all my little fun traits, sense of humor, ridiculously loud laugh, Oye, tender heart, insecurities and shortcomings of my own. I am, as we all are, a human package, a work in progress. And thank God, my life is very good and pleasant, very healthy and lots of fun. And I can remember the past, the pain, devastation, and suffering, from a prior time in my own journey, as I listen to Susan’s memories from her past.
Susan had smiled and was receptive to my request to pray with her. I quickly spit out the story from Jacks audible book about being with soldiers who had suffered unspeakable traumas and I fumbled for the Buddhist girl on the floor. I put it up on my bookcase now, next to my treasured little rock from Israel I brought home on my last trip there, 8 years ago. I told Susan of course where the rock was from, and then I sat back in my chair, took a calming breath, placed my hands on my lap, closed my eyes, and opened my mouth. Words like this poured through, “Dear God, thank you for bringing Susan here today to my office to share her story with me… I am deeply humbled and grateful she has come here and I have been witness to her story…I am sad for all the love she has been denied, the sweet innocent girl she was then, and the lovely grown woman she is now… Dear God, please make this a place of healing, a place where Susan can receive the love and compassion she has been denied, God please fill her and my heart , with love, warmth, grace, and compassion ….and bring guidance here to show us the way for healing. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being with us and guiding us on this journey”.
Since our first meeting we have talked for a couple months about her marriage and her friendships too, and her children, but mostly about her marriage. That is what she came here for. We reference back to the past some, regular doses of love and compassion like a tincture on the wounds from the past that show us partially how we got to here. Love and compassion are powerful tinctures, the best in the world perhaps, and Susan I think, has been feeling more love and compassion for herself. And I have been very fortunate to be a part of it. I have only been a part of it, so much growth happens outside the therapy room.
My faith grows from my work, I am witness to wonderful circumstances that arrive in people’s lives. For Susan, a dear and beloved uncle of both her and her husband came to visit for two weeks. Uncle is a new widow (after 47 years of marriage), and for two weeks he shared his stories of treasuring the love each day you have together. At breakfasts, on car rides, out on tourist excursions, Susan’s husband and her were treated to a two week inspirational talk on valuing your partner. It is so amazing to watch life unfold, and the universe or God send in the helpers we need soon after we ask.
And Susan looks more radiant, and declares new truths of self worth and self respect, and I imagine she is showing up at home differently too. Her husband has been noticing her again, and sharing some heartfelt moments and words. The embers of love are slowly being kindled.
Susan and I have been recently updating some of her language skills to better express herself. And we have been updating her vision, to see more of the subtle goodness her man is trying to show, and less of the critical eye for possibly unintended missed opportunities or communication blunders. I couldn’t know when we first met, things would unfold this way. And I still don’t know if their marriage will fully heal. But things are changing, and Susan has been the brave one, and the vulnerable one.
And I too, am becoming more brave, and more vulnerable. A few months ago, I totally didn’t want to do this blogging that I kept being advised to do. But, how could I ask less of myself than what my clients do with me in our time together. These people that share their story and try on new beliefs and behaviors, change me in the process too. I too push myself out of my comfort zone. Now anyone can read this and get a small intimate glimpse into a therapy room, and into my soul too. I have told my clients “You can’t make everyone like you or approve of you. But you don’t have to let others approval or disapproval keep you from shining your light.” This is me shining my light.