When Healing is Boring: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
In the course of my work, I stumbled upon it yet again the other day. Three dirty words – thoughts I do my best to avoid writing about whenever I can. However, for the document I had in front of me, I couldn’t avoid it. When you ask for funding, you got to answer the questions the purse-holders pose – even if such writing seems like pulling teeth. I utter these words through gripped teeth: outcome evaluation markers.
In my (many) moments of hesitation and procrastination, I ponder how the guys in our trauma recovery program would answer this question. After all, the program is called Men & Healing. What would they say? What would they make of the question – not only in their reflections of their sexual or physical victimization, but of all the other pain-filled events that marked their lives as well: suicide attempts, relentless depression, addiction, conflict with the law, homelessness, the ambivalence of getting up to see another day.
So join me in this moment of reflection on their courage – let alone my procrastination to try to convince strangers that healing men’s trauma is a worthy endeavour for their foundation’s dollars. Let’s take a moment to examine how we can define men’s healing:
The absence of symptoms is one way we can define men’s healing. If we take the dozens of characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or of complex PTSD, we could say that healing could be shown by the absence of such symptoms. Like after the surgical removal of a tumour, the healing of a survivor is when his tests come back negative.
The notion of reconnection is another option for defining the healing of men. This term is often given to the third and final phase of trauma recovery theory, when the individual can return to the fullness of his or her life no longer needing to self-identify as a victim or survivor. Whether the reconnection is within himself, his family or his community, he can emerge without restriction – free of the confines of his trauma identity.
Testimony – the ability to tell one’s whole story, from beginning to end, without omissions, without dissociating and without any ‘big’ emotions – is another potential framework. Guys in our programme get a session where they can give their testimony to their peers in the circle, which, if completed, is the ticket towards setting their graduation date. Testimony is universal, whether one sees its origins from the ‘rap groups’ of American soldiers coming back from Vietnam, or victim support in the first rape crisis centres for women.
More and more the term resiliency comes up in doing this work. It offers a fuller, more robust expansion of the notion of recovery being the absence of symptoms: not only is the survivor back to a baseline of normality – he is stronger, better, more buoyant in response to life’s challenges. Much like the old laundry soap adage of getting your clothes ‘whiter than white’, resiliency is a value-added notion of healing.
Some survivors of trauma gravitate to the concept of emotional integrity: the living of one’s life with thoughts, feelings and behaviour being all at one. In particular, there are three separate but intertwined steps to this: 1) being fully honest with oneself, 2) taking responsibility for one’s behaviour and feelings and 3) reducing the emotional space between oneself and significant people in one’s life.
If we consider that many traumas are inflicted due to interpersonal violations (childhood abuse, adult assault, torture and so on) and many aspects of these wounds reappear in relationships, then emotional integrity may fully demonstrate the healing process.
‘Walking the sacred path’ is an alternative depiction of healing. While we can say that most of us, most of the time, walk through this world on a ‘survival path’ – working hard to make money, spending money on food and shelter, making the meals and beds and getting the children off to school – then precious few of us spend enough time thinking about why we are on this wondrous planet in the first place. What are our own unique marching orders? What are our true gifts to share with others? If we can not only be aware of this intention, but live it as well, then we are truly on the sacred path.
‘Living the good life’ is yet another choice for metaphor. The source of this stems from work with offenders. An adjunct of restorative justice, the ‘good life’ suggests that if we can provide an offender with critical life resources like employment, housing, emotional support and other needs that reflect respect and meaning and compassion, he or she may well not reoffend. Research is showing this approach pays off in spades. Now think if we all had the opportunities and the payoffs of the good life, how the quality of life would change and how much farther we could realise belonging, non-violence and love.
Lastly, let’s picture for a moment that healing from our wounds could be best described as boring. Think about this: imagine that the horror and suffering and all that is attached to the soul murder one has experienced is now so mundane in recall that the process of reflection elicits no big emotions, no big thoughts: it is what it is, and that is all. Isn’t that what healing is about?
Sure the person can recall what happened (we aren’t talking about forgetting – as if that could be possible!), but with the simple ability to recall life’s trauma and tell it like one is recapping a movie plot line, or the mundane events of yesterday. While they may prefer not to tell this particular story (the big game may be more fun to discuss, or the new accomplishment of one’s child), he or she could talk about it, if they needed to. It just would be boring to them. It would be that simple.
All of these metaphors, I believe, can be useful in working towards a place of healing for men – for all of us, really. The work involved, of course, ain’t easy. But nothing of value in life is.
If all I had to do is use metaphors to answer funding applications, we would be rich beyond belief.
Rick Goodwin is the National Manager of 1in6 Canada, as well as serving in the role of Clinical Supervisor for 1in6, Inc. He conducts training workshops for professionals across Canada and in the USA, and maintains a clinical practice in group trauma treatment program for men with The Men’s Project in Ottawa. He can be reached at [email protected].
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