What is the cost of honesty?
Every survivor of abuse or trauma has to face that question. Honesty is necessary, yet can be traumatic of itself. We can face scorn from family, friends, strangers, medical personnel, even police, if we report with total honesty about our traumas. We can face disbelief from these people. We often have to face the trauma itself over and over again if we report it, whether in therapy, online, or to authorities.
Honesty is excruciatingly difficult.
Honesty is also healing.
I Limp When I Talk
I have often used a metaphor, among support group friends, that psychological therapy is no different than physical therapy. You begin with an injury. It is not healed, or requires more than a stiff upper lip, and a cup of soup, to be mended. You seek help. It may be that one type of therapy works better than another, depending on the nature of the injury and the personality of the patient. After I was injured in a fall in 2011, exercises involving certain equipment caused increased pain without increased function. Ergo, the doctors and physiotherapists and I tried a different path. Today, I walk with only an occasional limp, and rarely require a cane.
That is, metaphorically, my goal in psychological therapy. I’d like to walk, with only a slight limp, and without daily use of a cane.
Yet the stigma still surrounding mental health issues pushes patients into a no-win situation. As in physical therapy, the patient faces a painful journey that can take years. The outside world—peers, family, random strangers on an internet site—push for the quick-be-cured modality of treatment. The patient is caught between the prospect of long-term psychological healing, and the prospect of short-term acceptance and compliments if they “get over it” or “move past it”.
I encountered this with my mother, who remarked that a year of therapy should be “enough” to cope with a cumulative total of some 20-plus years of trauma. Had I walked around on a broken leg for two decades, would she hold that opinion of the (hypothetical) physical therapy? Probably not.
What my mother wanted to hear was, “I’m fine now,” so the ugly business of my therapy could be done, over, and (preferably) forgotten.
My response was silence.
Embracing honesty means that I sometimes limp when I talk.
The Big Lie
There can be no lying if there is going to be healing. You cannot tell a medical doctor, “I’m fine!” and not be caught out if you’re dragging yourself around on crutches. Yet the invisible nature of the psychological and emotional injuries received from abuse mean that we can sing the anthem “I’m fine!” for decades, with our lie undetected.
Until, of course, truth will out. And, in my case, it came out rather like Vesuvius erupting and burying Pompeii. There was quite a lot stored under pressure. It still belches out in hot whirlwinds of emotional pain and flashbacks, burying me in despair. (Read here about dissociative amnesia.)
A recent such eruption strikes so deep to the heart of my childhood traumas that I am left reeling from both the impact and the implications. I am most certainly not fine.
To admit to friends, to my spouse, to anyone, that I can not be “fine”, was as terrifying to me as the flashbacks. Tough it out, stiff upper lip, get a grip, and so forth. Yet what would dishonesty have gotten me? If I had chirped, “I’m fine!” as our society often demands, where would I be this moment?
I have no idea.
I do know, however, what one doctor told me, years ago. “Fine” stands for “fearful, insecure, nervous and emotional”.
What, then, does it mean when we say we’re “fine”?
Are we being honest, in the sense that we’re okay, stable, functional? Or are we being honest in the sense that we’re fearful, insecure, nervous and emotional?
For me, it is the latter. All my early training forbids this honesty.
Honesty leads to healing.
What is “fine” to you? Please comment below on what it means to you to be “fine”!
Images courtesy peggy_marco (modified by author), cafepampas and anttranias, via Pixabay.