There’s a world of difference between grieving and suffering. Novelist Spider Robinson wrote, “Shared pain is halved.” Grieving involves letting go by sharing our pain with trusted others. When we suffer we suffer alone. We recycle the same pain. We don’t just feel it; we relive it. We go back there. We’re afraid to remember but even more afraid to let go. Nobody ever showed us how to. There are many things that you can’t take away from a person without their permission. Pain is amongst them.
In my practice I have the great honor of serving trauma survivors and those in recovery from addictions. I specialize in these two fields because I respect motivated and gutsy people. I love working with people who are resilient and who are willing to do whatever it takes to make their lives more manageable. I have never lost sight of the trust that my clients place in me as they allow me into the most sacred parts of their lives.
I urge every one of my clients to solicit and accept support as they begin the arduous journey through recovery. Before you go walking on that high wire, let’s make sure there’s a net ready to catch you. For as much faith as you may come to have in your counselor, remember that you’re with us for about an hour a week. That leaves 167 hours before your next visit. Professional support is great for those who desire it, but natural support (friends, family, supportive others) is a vital part of the journey. Facing fear alone is at best lonely.
Too many of us are afraid to allow ourselves to be supported. We’re good at caring for others but we find it terrifying to lean on someone else. When we’re afraid to do something, we can come up with a hundred reasons why we shouldn’t do it. We tell ourselves that we don’t want to burden our loved ones. We don’t want to impose. We know that they’re busy and they probably have too much on their plate already. It’s very easy to overlook our hypocrisy in saying these things.
Many of us will go through Hell for the people we love, and the last thing we’d want is for them to worry about being an imposition on us. We’d be hurt if we knew that they needed us but didn’t ask because they know we’re busy. The bottom line is we’re afraid – and it’s okay to be afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is refusing to allow the fear to control us. I know that each of us has courage and I know that it takes more guts to let it out than to hold it in. That being said, there are some realistic concerns to address when we seek support from friends and family.
People don’t need to know the intimate details of your trauma to be an effective support. For most of us, telling our stories to even one person is completely overwhelming. We need to do it in small, incremental steps and with a sense of personal safety and control. The idea of having to explain ourselves or having to tell our story over and over again is debilitating. Many of us are afraid that just hearing our stories will hurt others. We know that they’ll have no idea what to say, or worse they’ll say something well meaning but stupid.
How do we ask for support, then? Well, the three most difficult questions that I ask my clients are these:
How are you?
What do you want?
What do you need?
The more we can answer these questions, the more able we are to ask trusted others to help us meet these needs. How do we ask? Keep it simple. Use as few words as possible and simply ask. Trust your gut feelings (intuition) about who to ask and ask them for what you need. Sometimes we just need to hear that they believe in us, that they love us, that we’re not alone. Don’t explain. Don’t apologize. Ask.
Jim LaPierre LCSW