I recently attended an art therapy training. I expected a sterile presentation on therapeutic sentence stems for client’s to project on.
Instead an artist–in the deepest, profoundest definition of that word–stood before me. Art is Esther Wilhelm’s medium to express her life story, her life story penetrating every line, color, selected item, and word of her pieces.
(Here’s a link to Esther Wilhelm’s story http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WljH6-gBFEg)
Esther’s story was both vulnerable and powerful. Esther apologized for her tears explaining that she could not share her story without her emotions breaking through. I nodded, feeling a kind of of kinship between us, knowing the all-too familiar throat constrictions in the telling of my story, where tears break free as the fear and heartache well up and spill over, still so real.
After we completed our art pieces, Esther asked if anyone wanted to share their “work.” A part of me wanted to be as bold as she was and stand up and share my piece. Esther wondered aloud about therapists’ reluctance in sharing their pieces vs. the earnestness of traumatized people in sharing theirs. Esther spoke of the importance of therapists sharing their works publicly so they could experience what clients experienced. In my head I thought “how true, I do believe that” (FYI I’m pre-licensed–working toward licensure at the masters level).
But I couldn’t share. It felt too vulnerable. I sensed that this was not a place where it was safe to get real. If I were in a room with others who all shared the experience of going through trauma–I would have felt less vulnerable. Their art would express the depth of their pain, heartache. We would all be laying ourselves open to judgment and rejection, yet not judging or rejecting because we were no strangers to the fear of being stigmatized, shamed.
I looked around the room and I did not see a room filled with hurting people. On the other hand maybe there were others struggling with whether or not to share their very private pain. I longed to hear someone among the people I work alongside, share something that I could identify with. I longed to see someone else with tears running down her/his cheeks and know that I was not alone.
As Esther shared her story there were tears in her voice, her eyes, and in my eyes. I felt less alone.
The main reason I don’t step out publicly too often to share my story is that my story is closely linked to my husband’s story. For me to speak my story would lay bare his story. He has already expressed that he does not want anyone at his workplace to know (hence the anonymous blog). There is still such a stigma to suicide, a hidden struggle–and the secrecy surrounding it maintains the struggle–a kind of Catch 22. Keeping something a secret means you can’t get support for it, help for it. You struggle alone. People struggling with suicide are afraid to tell, “What will people think of me?”
As a spouse, I kept my struggle, living with a suicidal spouse a secret for a very long time. It was revealed to our friends and family 11 years into our marriage. It was not an easy revelation–since our secret was “outed” by Dave’s attempt.
But I carried that secret alone too long. It was too heavy a burden to carry alone.
Is there anyone else out there struggling similarly? Do you long to not feel so alone? What’s your story?