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To Those Who Shamed a Counselor for Wanting to Write a Memoir of Her Trauma

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An open letter to the naysayers,

There is beauty in darkness and in light.

There is brilliance in vulnerable risks.

And by taking a beat, a breath, a blink before you openly take a bite, well that may just save a human heart living outside your box from an ugly world of pain.

• What is PTSD?

I very clearly remember my box. I recall thinking this is the way things should be done. That is unprofessional. She overshared. He needs to toughen up. They didn’t even consider the repercussions, the ripple effect — they’re wrong.

I’m not sure I always went on to tell said person my complaint or disagreement, but I believed it. With all my conviction, on my personal path I believed there was a right and wrong and there was very little room for gray.

Now I live in the gray. And naysayers, I want you to consider the beauty that is gray.

This past week, when a friend was shamefully labeled as “very inappropriate” and “unprofessional” by colleagues, clients and her community for sharing part of her own trauma history, my heart broke and stomach sunk to the floor. My heart has ached since. How had her professional value instantaneously declined as a result of sharing her intention to write?

Some may argue we’ve all experienced trauma. I’m not here for that debate. If we’ve all experienced trauma, we can guarantee it’s been different kinds. That it lives in our bodies with varying degrees of vengeance, crowds our dreams or our days in unsuspecting ways and influences our families, relationships, friendships and world view with permutations ranging from here to the moon. Some of us cope or heal with silence, some with words, some with rage, shame, sadness, guilt, resilience, defiance, dissociation, connection, longing, hiding, rising, teaching, loving or hating.

There is no one path to heal.

So when a counseling professional of more than 20 years — owner of a well-respected, warm and kind counseling center — decided to share online her own intention to write a memoir, I for one was overwhelmed with pride and almost envy for her courage. You see, it can’t be the shiny, sparkly, flashy kind of healing all the time. That’s not the way trauma recovery works. It’s mucky, yucky, heavy, dark, repetitive and relentless some of the time. It can stop you in your tracks when a second before you were brave enough to hop on a roller coaster and zoom ahead.

And when your truth is ugly, your existence can feel lonely.

The venom that came her way was potent enough to stifle her story, to reignite a roaring flame of embarrassment and shame. To remind her of her story — that she is not good enough, strong enough, brave enough to take on her beast. Naysayers, your collective comments and complaints implying the right way to “be” in her community resulted in tears, fear and eventual shutdown.

“It’s sitting in my body. Threw up. Very very apparent I’m not up for this. Just not an area of my life I can handle criticism. Wish I was stronger, but I’m not.”

There will be no memoir.

Listen here, naysayers. Without knowing this phoenix’s story — without her belief in me, my ability to rise and the wisdom she gained wading through the muck — I likely wouldn’t be here. This woman taught me there is beauty in our shadows and in our light. People! This dichotomy makes us human. We all have it. We may not all want to own it and live it out loud, but it’s in there — the shadow.

Here is someone, a woman who is willing to open herself up to a broader audience and say: “Hey, it’s possible to think you’ll never be OK again. It’s possible for that to be your truth and light to illuminate your cracks. I’m here with my nervous voice to tell you grey is OK. Here are my ugly bits, my revolting experiences, my shadows. They’ve crafted me into this boxless human who wishes to connect with you and remind you — you’re not the only one.”

Naysayers, if a professional can’t intelligently offer up some truth — if that makes them less valuable or effective as a clinician — consider all your clients lost to the gray. Consider me and all outside-the-boxers broken and silenced. When you silence her, you leave me alone, floundering in vicious waters, tumbling in the waves, kicking and punching to find the solid floor. When you bite before you breathe, you say we all need to be the same, we all need to heal the same, we all are destined to make the same choices.

How about giving me a little credit? Trust I can choose whether clinician transparency is valuable to me. Trust I can choose to read a memoir and never reach out with anything more than a thank you to its author. Trust my box is not your box, but both are OK. Trust your opinion can be yours, my opinion can be mine and hers can be hers. Trust that you add nothing to aid in our collective healing by passively igniting shame and stating blatant discontent. Consider the wrongness you feel may just be discomfort in our own skin.

I hope she continues to write. I hope, one day, part of her healing can include sharing her experienced words with a community well beyond me. Until then, I’ll honor the fact she doesn’t live in a box. I won’t try to join her. I won’t force others into the abyss. I’ll simply respect her place and breathe in some ease as I realize I’m not the only one who was viscously launched into the sea.

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

Originally published: February 18, 2019
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