Searching Where You Haven't Looked
I recently found myself feeling a bit unsettled during a therapy session with a client I've worked with for several months. Since we trust each other's instincts I described to him what I was experiencing and suggested that we review what we had just been talking about.
Our recent discussion had been centering around the many current sources of stress in his life. This type of conversation, while usually important, is not necessarily what I call a "conversation unlike any other", which is my gold standard for a quality session. So I suggested we step back to look at the course of our discussions over the past several meetings. This would help us to consider what we had NOT been talking about.
This type of attention was like the rising sun burning away a dense layer of fog as it came to light that we had never talked at a deep-enough level about a very pivotal, painful part of his childhood history. He had previously given me "the story" of this event, but it was one of those practiced summary tales which keep true emotion at a safe distance. That would not do this time. Instead, patient and loving inquiry soon brought us to what I can only think of as his "emotional ground zero", that tender place in a person's history where trauma encodes into the psyche at such a deep level that it effects nearly every choice and perception that happens from that day forward.
Recalling this traumatic event from an emotionally alive place was transformative. Tears which only minutes before seemed nowhere on the horizon now ran down his face. As he reached for tissues we were both entirely present in a healing moment of......well, "honor" is the sentiment that stays with me, the honor of intimately connecting with a man who in turn is connecting with himself in a deep and meaningful way. He remarked with a small laugh that he was amazed how quickly he got to an unresolved wound in his history that he hadn't thought about in years. I smiled and responded with an old story I've often found helpful:
The story is about a man crawling on his hands and knees under a street lamp, searching for a precious jewel he had lost and yearned to reclaim. The poor man beseeched his friends and even passing strangers to join his search, but despite these efforts his jewel remained lost.
Finally the man admitted that maybe he should go search in the darkness rather than continue looking for his jewel underneath the street lamp. When his friends asked why he would do that he told them that he was walking in the darkness when he lost his jewel. "Why have we been spending all this time looking under the street lamp?", the crowd demanded to know, to which the man replied, "because the light is so much better here."
In a similar manner we often hesitate to look for what we have lost in the scary dark places. It feels safer to repeatedly explore terrain we basically already know. But sometimes the smartest thing to do is admit where we have not looked, and go there. Fortunately we don't have to go alone, but we have to ask for help. Family and friends are one potential source of support, as are people who have been in the same situation who can offer their "experience, strength and hope" (which is a popular saying in the many different types of 12-step support groups). Finally, professional assistance is often a very positive step to take. There are many caring and gifted women and men who can help you find what has been lost along the way. Of course, if you're in Atlanta (or willing to connect online or by phone) I invite you to check out my counseling qualifications and background, and let me know if you think it may be helpful for us to walk together awhile.