April 7th 2006

copyright don oddy

~ counselors and therapists ~

make courage your companion and you will continue to succeed in everything you do

Where grief takes us

Itís the hardest times when we loose someone, we feel every emotion in our minds. Every nerve resonates as we come to terms with death and loss. Grief comes in so many forms we are forgetful sometimes how hard others have been struck, how our own world collapses and we are left wanting an end for ourselves. Grief is the hardest of all human journeys.

I know as much about grief as the next person and I am still taken unawares sometimes when I see it in others. Our own grief blinds us to feeling of others as we are consumed and spun around. When we love someone so deeply we cannot imagine life without them, its got to be the hardest and most violent wrench on our hearts.

No one who has experienced that searing pain will ever want to see another suffer every second of torture involved. And the way we humans cope with grief does nothing much to help us deal with our own or any others. We are singularly bad at grieving, even when we have understanding of the process and what we are going through.

Yesterday was a testing time for me. I am ending one of my therapy groups I have attended regularly for about two years. I go to different types of therapy for a number of reasons. In this case for my own well being and in other cases because I have been involved in counselling of one sort or another all my working career. Counselling was never my choice, I was good at helping, supporting and challenging others. It was a by product of commercial operations management some decades ago, where I was usually the one to deal with difficult clever and ordinary people, who could be more productive if only they could get their act together. Years of stuff helped me develop a fairly eclectic approach to helping people to make good their lives.

When we are in therapy of one sort or another, these days we mostly go for one reason, to deal with the problem presented and end up dealing with a whole load of other issues which probably have some bearing on the malady we present. Grief is really one of the primary causes why our worlds can fall apart, it sits inside us and if we never know how to deal with it, it festers and makes us morbid, miserable and self destructive. I know I feel like I have done grief to death to the point where my own was inevitable if I had not found one shred, one strand which made me decide to deal with it. Like anyone who lives long enough we have grief a plenty and we need to work it out or it works us out.

So my last therapy for my particular issue. And as part of the ending, as if a veil is drawn and I can look out to hear more clearly what is going on around me, I was struck by anotherís situation. With skill my counsellor is winding down my involvement and covering major issues and turning points in how I have dealt with the fundamental of getting to grips with my own situation. I suppose its how to make a transition from catastrophe to living an ordinary life without returning to grief stricken self destructive behaviour. And I can see my progress and I can see my ordinariness returning and my well being will be constant if I deal with life on lifeís terms.

And with me is another who have been through every imaginable hardship connected with the human heart. Grief so deep its been buried for many years and like me, has chosen self destructive behaviour to blot out the horror. Death of a loved one, loss of a loved one who has left us, it is the turgid pits of desolation. We do get over it if we know how, yet the loss of love and not being allowed to love back with all the intimacy of contact and sharing can lead any of us to our lowest. We take out our pain on ourselves and in the process most obviously hurt others around us who have no control over our grief. For if we canít get over it, how can they assist. Grief shuts us in and wonít let us out. We cannot feel anything and cannot open our minds to others support. The pain is excruciating.

We can go on for years shutting down pain, we cover up for its easier to bury it so deep we cannot touch that part torn to shreds. Our hearts go cold and we live a colder time. And the breaking down continues as long as we open the door to our grief. They call it denial, I call it hell.

Denial, so necessary when life is unimaginably wrenched away leaves survivors in pain for as long as it takes. We never really get over completely, for we are blessed with memories, to the good and bad over grief. We feel every element over and over as we make sense the destruction experienced. We know it and feel it and we learn from others to hide it with a stiff upper lip and most often a dark silence shrouding our boiling emotions.

And so to this therapy. Where I am saying farewell and most happily moving on to new vistas. My skills as a counsellor have never been lost, I put them aside to help myself and put myself in the hands of others. I had not realised just how much I was using my own knowledge and my own resource to help me through some dark times until now. What became apparent to me, not revelation just a disappointment, that counsellors donít always know what they are doing.

When I engaged in therapy years ago, I knew why and for what reasons. It did not help me get over any of my issues. Getting over and on with life is about living through situations and feeling everything first hand. We cannot speed up our grief, but as sure as anything, if we know what is going on inside our heads, it helps us every day to make sense of our turmoil and absolute sadness at loss. We all have the same depth of feeling and we all take our own good time to get used to harsh times when we are deserted. Nothing prepares us for loss of love and finality. It can take a lifetime to get over profound loss. Or it can take a lifetime to live with it, for we donít really get over it ever. We learn to understand how to live again and build love back into our lives.

And I was struck by an obvious situation of loss in this ending. I have no grief for leaving this therapy or sadness or anything, for it was dealing with a life threatening surface issue and not my deep down grief. I sought oblivion from life and feelings and turned to drink, the easiest and most available drug of choice in this world. It did not touch my grief, it just medicated away the reality of grief. And it took years to get out of it into recovery.

So as I listened outwardly to my companions it was evident beyond doubt how others surface behaviour was being addressed in this therapy and not the reasons underlying. I just asked some questions and with as much sensitivity got quickly to the root of the pain. It was obvious in counselling mode to see why this individual had ended up covering their loss for so long.

And a surge of anger touched me, and it bothers me now, that the issue had not been pulled out long long ago and the person help to understand the context of their problems. So fundamental in all therapy and counselling is the ground work, the history, the circumstances and the patience to work out where a person is in their lives. And the approach of counsellors these days, to segment and deliver solutions and not understand the issues made me realise just how self reliant I have been on knowledge and skill developed over years and years to apply with great clumsiness at first, to myself. Its true when they say physician heal thyself, the physician most likely cannot. For every scrap of knowledge we apply to others is rarely applied to ourselves. And because I had left my counsellors head firmly at the door, and become a client of these services, I had not seen this other persons issue as clearly a counsellor could pick up. And it makes me sad, for years this person has sought oblivion for loss and the reason is clear as day to any who would ask simple questions and speed their understanding of the issues and their reconciliation.

How is it that we develop so narrowly and get good at one thing, only to miss the obvious. As a counsellor in charge of a clients progress, how hard could it have been to help the person beyond the obvious surface issue? And how much more effective would their reconciliation with reality have been these past years I wonder. And at the same time I know its not their job, and I know most likely too much for their liking. It hurts to see hurting people not able to get on and I know its in their time to come to terms.

And to counsellors who applying their learning and go through their own progression, I am certain of their expertise in their speciality, and certain of their ignorance in life. We cannot teach experience and we cannot mend everyone. Yet the obvious so stark in this meeting made me wonder why it had not been addressed.

And certainly the person would have been as reluctant as me to face the grief had it been asked. And now I know it takes years to let it out, I accept the difficulties faced. And still I am resolute that this issue was so evident it makes me wonder at the process we apply to people without real depth of thought and how easy it can be to miss that obvious issue. Counsellors are often just as good as their patients and clients when it comes to understand what is going on.

And as I have often said we need to pick our counsellors and advisors with what wits we have. For there is nothing worse than an educated professional trampling across our universe. Whatever we call they advisors in our lives, we might do well to realise they can take us so far on certain journeys, and no where on others. Counsellors need to know their limits and be open with their clients. So when I look at his revelation experienced about another yesterday, I temper my frustration knowing counsellors are human too. We need experience as well as knowledge to help heal ourselves and others, there is no short cut to Elysium and letting go our grief.

Our capacity to support and process is as good as our experience. And in these fashionable days where counsellors abound we need remind ourselves for their humanness too.

And my knowledge and experience is considerable from life and learning and doing. And its not replaceable or teachable its indeed life itself. Whatever we need and whoever we ask and how they can help is as good as this day and their experience. And when we are laid low and cannot cope, some help is better than none. And as we get back to our reality, we best switch on and use our best judgment to know when counsellors and advisors and friends and family have reached their limits, especially when they donít know it themselves.

There are others a plenty like me, who have gone beyond the pale, who have found a return to ordinary living with every advantage left. We donít live easily, we do live fully and we keep ourselves together. We are fallible, human and prone to mistakes, we donít know it all, like know it alls do.

And for those who feel their pull to counselling, check out your motives with care. For doing good is a far cry from do gooding, doing good gives back choice and reality, do gooders fuck up the world. And we are all capable of this without our own counsellor supporting and challenging our views.

And complacence comes with recognition, so beware the magic sponge of counsel, its like the holy grail, a myth a legend, an imaginary pill, if swallowed it will surely kill.