Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Hi Michael,
Your insights amaze me here--thank you for opening the horizons for me! I have continued to work with my CPE experience and have learned a lot about it. In this CPE experience, I told about something which I'd never said out loud before--it was about a very frightening experience I had when living on my own, managing a store in Mishawaka. After my break with my family at 16, I was beginning to feel as though I was "making it" and keeping myself safe. My employees thought I was in my mid-20s (although I was only 18) and I was doing a good job running the store and keeping my life in order. But I had almost no experience with men at that time and accepted a stranger's invitation to dinner one night after work. When he took me back to my apartment, he forced his way in and refused to leave. He made advances and I refused, finally he looked me coldly in the eye and said, "I could rape you if I wanted to." Reliving that story--the absolute horror I felt deep inside, the panic that I hadn't created the safe life for myself I thought I'd created, the frightening thought that one decision--or one person--could come into my world and dismantle everything--was really emotion-packed for me. I'd only thought of it once or twice in 25 years and had never said it aloud to anyone. The anger that came up after I shared that story felt like part of that experience...I felt vulnerable, exposed, like I'd made a choice to put myself in danger and let others I didn't know into a place that I probably should have protected.

Over the next several days, I experienced a sense of my own brokenness and vulnerability in a new way. In the past I have worked through things honestly as they came up, but I had never experienced my story--and the many themes I saw there--as a whole. It was overwhelming. And very sad. But I felt divinely supported to be working at this level with myself in this way and found, as I've found before, that healing for me is a process of opening (asking for God's help) and receiving (grace, light, and peace) and that, having received something new about myself, I emerge a little more real and full (like the Velveteen rabbit) from the experience. Going to this place--and being able to really feel the feelings, as opposed to patching myself up with bandages and moving on--made a change in the way I am on the unit. I am more aware of where some of my wounds are and know that there's still a sense of brokenness that exists in me. It feels good to know that. I know others feel the same things, and it seems important for me to know they are a part of me and contribute to the way I understand and connect with others, myself, and God.

I also felt your observation about groups being a challenge for me was right on. I realized in that experience how hard it is for me to trust people beyond a certain point. I had always attributed my independence to my kind of "misfit" or "mystic" approach to life--thinking I seemed to look at life differently and see different things than a lot of people saw. I think this ability to see and think for myself is a benefit of not having a lot of input from others early on, but the liability side is that although I tend to want to minister to those who feel alone and unloved, I have rarely been able to let others into that place within myself. I have consistently turned to God for that. So when I find myself in a group, going anywhere deep and real is new territory for me. I'm not sure I've experienced a sense of "okayness" in a group where I didn't feel like I had some kind of ministry of comfort, direction, or support to offer. (In other words, I think I have seen my role in a group as functional and not something filling, welcoming, or supporting for me personally. I do much better one-on-one, where I think I have a better chance of being understood and the sharing seems safer.)

I was blown away by your response about the man and the family with anger issues! Maybe I WAS feeling their numbness and confusion. I can see so clearly what you describe here. Thank you for opening my eyes to the many ways to experience another's story. This is very important. I wonder if one of the challenges of working with narrative is that not everyone is going to be able to communicate in such a way that it makes objectifying the "problem" possible. Is there a way to help a family like this express their story in a way that they can externalize it? Or is simply being in "the belly of the whale" with them the best we can do?

Thanks again for these wonderful thoughts. :) Katherine


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