“It was like death by 1,000 paper cuts” my client told me as he poured out his story. He went on to tell me about the countless nothings that had really meant everything. The lack of loving gestures where they should have been. Words that could have healed and soothed, but instead stung and cut. An absolute absence of presence, creating a hollowness that reverberated in his heart and echoed in his soul.
My nod was one of both acknowledgement and recognition. So it was in my own life. I have had my share of Big “T” traumas- the death of a biological father and a father of choice, the divorce of my parents, and the prolonged illness and subsequent death of my sister-n-law, for example. In fact. by the time we reach adulthood, most of us have experienced at least one such event. Death or dissolution of a significant relationship, unwanted job loss, a health crisis, terrorist attacks or natural disasters. These are obvious, blatant traumas. Other people recognize them as such. They evoke sympathy, compassion, outreach and an outpouring of support. We understand why we struggle and feel pain; after all, “something” happened.
But nobody comforts us when parts of our souls die. Hallmark does not make a “I’m sorry your spirit got shattered into a million pieces today” card. It happens often without our knowledge, awareness and consent. It’s hidden well below the surface. The wounds begin to wrap around us like cruel barbed wire slashing at us even as we try to break free. Scars start to form out of sight, obscured from view.
Our invisible scars.
The real work for me has been to scour the nooks and crannies of myself to unearth the hundreds of soul losses I had accumulated over the years. To speak them out loud. To honor their sacredness. To grieve their losses. To hurl them into the air with wondrous courage and fearless truth.
I am privileged to help my clients with their own internal excavations. To be a witness to their countless untold hurts. and to validate that the pain was real. That they did not make it up or exaggerate it.
There a millions of ways we experience these woundings. Here are just some of them clients have shared with me:
My family always jokes about me being the screw up. I laugh too to because that’s what is expected. But it’s not funny. It really hurts.
My mother told me when I was 6 to stop eating cheese puffs or I was going to get fat like my sister and nobody likes fat people. So i learned to eat in secret and hide food. I was so ashamed doing this. I feel shame even talking about it 30 years later
After a piano recital where I had played beautifully except for one mistake, my mother said she knew I was going to screw up because I had not practiced hard enough. I wanted her to be proud of me just once and see the joy in doing what I loved.
I was sent to cry in my room whenever I was upset. My father did not want to deal with me unless I was happy and smiling. I felt alone and needed comfort.
As a teenager, I was out of control and my parents did nothing to stop me or intervene in any way. I desperately wanted someone to give a shit about me and reign me in.
My father asked me to move the car into the driveway when I was 13. I did not know how to drive but knew he’d be mad if I said no. I did my best but I ran over our lawn. My Dad started screaming at me in front of everyone that I had ruined the grass and how could I have done such a thing. He did not even ask if I was ok. I was terrified and humiliated.
Do you get it? Do you see? My clients did not die a physical death. Nobody locked them in a dungeon and beat them with chains. There were no obvious, outward marks or bruises. But the inner damage was done. And it was ravaging.
But we tell ourselves it’s no big deal, it didn’t really matter or that we are too sensitive. The great lie of self-preservation. Or we convince ourselves that we have dealt with it and it doesn’t affect us anymore, when all we have really done is buried it so deep in hopes the wreckage will not seep out. But it always does. Always. We have to disconnect from our feelings and our truth. Our psyche becomes a dead zone.
And it is in these moments, these pivotal moments, we make life altering decisions about our value and our worth. About what we deserve in this life. About our enough-ness or lack thereof. About letting people in and asking for help. About receiving. Trusting. Connecting. About how we show up in the world and what we will or will not accept.
So what do we do about this? We come clean. We expose the absolute truth to ourselves and at least one other safe person. But be advised. We need more, deserve more, than someone who is going to say ” Gee, that’s too bad”, or “Just don’t think about it” We need someone who will be moved by the sharing of our secret pain, but at the same time be strong enough to hold it and us. This is the way to heal. The only way, really. Our injuries need to be attended to with nurturing presence. This is what restores our vitality and connection to self.
This is not the easy path, to be clear. It requires courage you may not know you possess. But it’s absolutely necessary if you want a life rich in texture and vibrancy. A life worth living.
And remember beloved, it is far better to be covered in tears than to be covered in shame. The shame of our invisible scars.