It took far longer than I would like it to have taken, for me to understand what real “support” looks like. I’m a rebellious sort, by nature or nurture it’s hard to say, and I have never liked people telling me what to do, think, or say. It’s one of the primary reasons I did not pursue ordination after I graduated from seminary. I couldn’t buy into any one denomination so completely that I felt I could follow their rules and dictates, nor did I want someone telling me how, when and where to live out my faith. (I was ever so idealistic and naive!)
Instead of living under the umbrella of organized religion, I chose as soon as possible to become self-employed. Sometimes I envied people who could cozy up to a group, business or organization and make it their life. It provided structure, guidance, answers to questions that required no thought, or questioning, or finding one’s way through the dark. Going it alone can mean little if any support, unless you make a conscious effort to seek it. As an introvert, I did not and I rarely had time.
Years ago I believed that a “supportive friend” was one with whom I could commiserate; someone who would rally behind me in my anger and frustrations with life. Of course, I would return the favor. I remember the exact day I decided I was done with that kind of support.
In my late twenties, I was working for a small non-profit organization, drowning in politics and drama. Caught in the middle of the fray, I was fired. Understandably stunned, upset and angry, I went home and started calling whoever I thought would understand and see things my way.
After several days on the phone with various friends and co-workers, I came to the conclusion I was not getting what I wanted. In fact, it was making matters worse. Some of the people I was “sharing” with weren’t even really on my side. In fact, I was drowning in pity, judgement and platitudes, and feeling more and more inadequate and flawed by the minute. In that moment, I decided I would never again share my problems with anyone, especially in that way. I was on to something, but it took me many more years to take the step I really needed to take.
I went on to use a different flawed approach, going it alone. Except for my husband, I shared my personal life with no one, unless I was paying for the privilege. That didn’t stop me from listening, supporting and empathizing with the few friends that I did have over the years. By the time I reached fifty, I was crumbling fast. I was burned out. I was carrying a weight so heavy I was practically crawling on my knees.
It wasn’t until the accident, that I finally stumbled upon the real solution. I was no longer on my hands and knees, I was flat-out, face first in the mud. I couldn’t breathe or move, let alone think or feel my way out of the place I was in. Every ounce of security I had once felt, and I admit it was not a ton, had evaporated through my fingers. I could trust no one and nothing, most especially myself.
Immediately after the accident my focus was on my hand. Several times a week my husband drove me to rehab, as I could not drive, and there I received loving care and emotional support from Jane, the physical therapist who worked with me. As look back on it, she did as much for my emotional state as she did my hand; helped me find the courage to keep going and to believe in a positive outcome.
It took two years for my hand to heal enough that I no longer was constantly reminded of the injury by my difficulties with typing, removing jar or gripping the steering wheel of the car. The stiffness and pain was also within an acceptable range. Now, I’ve gotten used to the scars and the way my pinky turns under. I didn’t know that I had yet to face the bigger challenge of PTSD.
Unable to think clearly, leave the house, drive a car, or return to my writing with any sense of purpose or direction, I began to consider seeking help. For what, I really didn’t know. What I knew was that I was terrified to go to sleep at night; that I could not “feel” my feelings; that I was not “in” my body; that I had panic attacks regularly and often over little things. During the day I was riveted to my chair in the living room by fear and immobility. At night, I managed to get myself to sleep by listening to ebooks by such life savers as Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Byron Katie, Brene Brown and so many others. That was my first step in find support and comfort.
As I look back on it now, getting back on my feet has been a step by step process that absolutely required the support of friends and professionals, but friends and professionals who “got me”, who did not offer me platitudes, pity, judgment, opinions, or unasked for advice. What I needed, and what I’ve come to believe everyone needs, is understanding, compassion, wisdom and a willingness to believe in us, when we no longer believe in ourselves. We need people in our lives who reflect back to us our truest self, with love.
What I have also come to accept about myself is that I need support from people who can go deep; who can speak to me in the symbolic language of soul and spirit where I live. Traditional therapy, while I have spent more hours and days engaged in such over my lifetime, has never been particularly helpful, or healing. When I turned to Crystal for help, I turned in the right direction. I’ve learned so incredibly much from working with her and it was possible because she has always seen me as a whole person, body, mind and spirit. She addresses all of my needs while challenging me to step up to the plate.
My dear, wonderful friend Jill also has the capacity to listen to my heart, to challenge my mind and to encourage me to grow and stretch into the center of me. She reflects back to me my real self. These two people, their advice, guidance and counsel provided the foundation for my growing understanding of support. It doesn’t take a dozen friends, it just takes one or two of the right ones and then choosing bit by bit to make oneself vulnerable and open to their love and care.
When you are looking support, look for someone who listens carefully to what you are saying, who can empathize with you and validate your experiences, all the while maintaining enough distance and perspective to offer insight and perspective when asked. Sounds easy and sensible, but hard to find, even in therapists and especially in healthcare professionals. Above all else, TRUST OUR INTUITION.
Often the hardest part about getting back on our feet is taking the first step when we’d rather curl up in a ball and die, to muster up the courage and strength to risk again and again until a support system is established. Not to risk is to stay broken, to continue to hurt, to give up and give in to despair and defeat. The only way out is through, and no one else can do it for us.
Dorothy Sander 2014 copyright
Day #1 – I’m a Coward
Day #2 – The Morning after the Night Before
Day #3 – There are No Words
Day #4 – Coming Full Circle
Day #5 & #6 – Hyped Up and Nowhere to Go
Day #7 – The Body, Mind, Spirit Connection
Day #8 & #9 – A Word About Trauma
Day #10 – Food for Fun
We All Need Support
Holistic Detoxification Process