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How Listening Can Be a Path to Healing

Two months ago, on a bright sunny day, the kind of day when the sun is so bright that it is hard to open your eyes, I stood on the side of the highway, next to my car, looking at the lake in the distance as the sunlight glistened and sparkled off the water. I felt the warm sun on my face as I stood there, looking up at the sky, repeating the words “thank you” over and over and over, as I touched and felt every limb of my body, still very much attached to me. I lost count of the number of times I said thank you, and I became aware I was not alone.

I felt the presence of my father, within me, around me, filling the space with his eternal soul. My father, who died 26 years ago but whose presence in that moment was so strong that I gasped, “Daddy?” And then I heard him reply, “Yes, it’s me. I’m here.” My whole body felt light, like I was floating, with him, in the sky. I have felt him before, but this time was the most powerful, the strongest, the most clear feeling of him being with me. I felt him carrying me and holding me, and above all, protecting me. Which made sense, this feeling of being protected, because 30 minutes earlier, in a split second decision, I had swerved my vehicle out of the path of another vehicle, a decision that saved my life and the life of my daughter who was in the back seat.

In that moment, as I stood there with him, I also felt someone else’s presence. I didn’t know her name, I didn’t know who she was, I’d never met her before, but I had caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye three seconds before she was in a head-on collision, the one I so narrowly escaped. My daughter and I were the last ones to see her alive. Suspended there in time, on the side of the road, she paused with my father and I. I could feel her full of love and peace as she hovered with us, before slipping onwards and upwards, towards whatever comes next.

After the crash, I pulled over and ran to the scene, on autopilot, as I let my intuition combine with my first aid training. Something inside of me told me which vehicle to go to and in what order, who to try and help, and how I should help them. Once the paramedics arrived, the shock started to set in. My body felt cold and shaky, and I couldn’t stop shivering. Technically speaking, I walked away completely and utterly unharmed, but I’ve been coping with the physical and emotional aspects of the accident. My body has been in a heightened state of arousal since then, although it no longer aches with the intensity that it did. My legs are still strangely sore, at night they feel like lead weights on the end of my body, and I have to shake them to try and get rid of the heaviness. The adrenaline has worn off, but I’m left with general anxiety about everything and nothing all at once. I don’t wake four times a night anymore, my hands gripped to the steering wheel in my sleep, my shoulders hunched to my ears, my body clenched, ready to respond and swerve, again. I can sleep without anticipating the impact of the crash or hearing the children crying for help, trapped inside another vehicle. I can drive by the accident site without freezing up, without my breath shortening, without my chest feeling like it is going to cave in.

My confidence in myself is shaken, and as a result, I’ve been saying no a lot, knowing I need time and space to heal. I feel far more sensitive and emotional than before – the solid outer shell of a human that used to be there – just isn’t. I cry all the time now, and at first this made me feel worried – like I was wounded and wouldn’t ever be the same. And I think that last part is true – that I won’t ever be the same. But I’m not so sure that is a bad thing anymore. There feels like there is more of everything inside of me now, everything vibrating at a heightened level of awareness. How can more feeling be bad? When is it bad that we feel our feelings? Isn’t that what they are for? To feel?

I am told all I am experiencing are normal symptoms of post-traumatic stress and that this is part of the recovery process. That it will take time for me to heal. On the bad days, I feel like I am standing on the side of a cliff, unsteady and unsure, nervous as hell, teetering my way along.

This time, I reached out and grabbed a lifeline. I actually used quite a few lifelines, but there is one I reached for that has steadied me more than the others. He’s the guy who stood next to me nine years ago and promised to love me no matter what, and man, that guy wasn’t kidding. Now, he is no emotional genius himself. In fact, he doesn’t say much when it comes to his own feelings. He hasn’t known what to say to me when I call him, text him, or grab his arm, needing to talk. He doesn’t know what to say to me when the tears are rolling down my face and I can’t make them stop. He doesn’t know what to say to me when I forget what I was going to say mid-sentence. He doesn’t know what to say to me when I tell him I’m not doing well.

So he does the only thing that he can do. He makes eye contact with me, and when I speak, he nods his head, or shakes his head, or does whatever is appropriate so I know he can hear me. He just listens. And it occurred to me this week that when you are hurting, when you are dealing with mental health – be it symptoms or a full blown illness, sometimes, all you really need at first, is for someone to listen to you. He doesn’t offer to fix it. He doesn’t try to heal me. He doesn’t tell me to stop feeling so damn much. He doesn’t even try to tell me I’ll feel better soon. He just fucking listens, and let’s me know that he hears me. I am heard. My voice, my truth, is heard.

What has kept me out of the shadows and on my own two feet has been the ability to tell someone – him in this case – the truth. Knowing he is there, ready and willing to listen to my words, every time, no matter what. And I feel this newfound sense of urgency to never stop telling the truth! To be honest, I was getting tired of the old me, anyway. She said she was fine when she really wasn’t. Saying what’s really happening inside me feels so much better. And it is connecting me with an energy stored inside of me that feels very real.

I know I am lucky to have a good listener in my life, and not everyone has someone like him. So I wonder – if someone tells you about something that is hurting them, can you take a deep breath, look them in the eyes, and listen? Can you let them know they are heard? Can your heart meet theirs?

Don’t back up and walk away. Don’t shut down and zone out. The first step you need to take might be pretty simple. If you are fortunate enough to be a trusted person, if you are fortunate enough to be confided in, you might just be that person’s lifeline.

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Thinkstock photo by m-imagephotography