Monday, October 26, 2020

Bearing Witness: Petals Hold Flowers and Me


My counselor, Sharon, has a giant pad of sticky notes on an easel in her office. From time to time she hands me a three-tiered box filled with chalk pastels arranged by shades of color: light blue to medium blue to dark blue to navy blue. Then the greens, pinks and yellows.

Sometimes, when I feel stuck emotionally in a counseling session, all I have to do is grab a piece from the chalk pastel box and swipe it across the page. The use of color and movement help me to find emotional opening I need.

One day, I drew a series of short lines from the top to the bottom of the large sheet of paper. Dust fell from the chalk and landed on the easel. Sharon commented on the colors I chose. Each line had a space between it, creating rows.  Between the rows, I began drawing circles to make flowers. I drew short green dashes on each side for the leaves. When I finished the flowers, I paused and sat back to look at them. Sharon said, “Look how the leaves are holding each flower.”

In sessions up to that point, I would often leave Sharon’s office crying, from revisiting trauma from the past. I was so emotional; I couldn’t even get the receipt from the office receptionist. Sometimes it was hard to walk to my car and often took me the rest of the day or even the next to recover. But as Sharon  interpreted my art that day, I felt held. She gave me something to take out of the office that wasn’t painful.

In Sharon’s witness, I experienced a very holy moment. Not only was Sharon bearing witness to my pain and recovery, God was bearing witness too. God brought what I had said together with what I needed. God helped me weave together thought, word, picture, and emotional need into a visual I could take with me.

Seeing my chalk pastel flowers in this way, helped me feel a sense of comfort and affection, a need I had been deprived of in my childhood. When I went home, I got my watercolors and recreated what I had drawn, simple flowers being held.

In psychology, bearing witness involves sharing our experiences with others. Trauma survivors such as myself receive great value, relief, comfort and affirmation when sharing our pain with a trusted person. As we went through the timeline of my life, Sharon listened compassionately, and intently, bearing witness to my reality.

A witness says, “I believe you.” Those three words are very powerful to someone who has just shared a trauma hidden in a family for decades. A witness gives relief, validation that something happened and companionship to transform the recounting of something very difficult. Bearing witness to my trauma, Sharon’s attention and affirmation were like a healing balm in the raw places where my memories had rested.

With the memories out in the open, I had room for new thoughts and ideas. As those new ideas came out in the form of art, Sharon became a different kind of witness for me. In bearing witness, Sharon saw and reflected not only what I was revealing about my past, but also what I was creating as an artist: leaves holding flowers. My hands were drawing what my soul needed. Like a patron at an art museum who walks by a painting and comments on the light, color or perspective, Sharon drew my attention to what was happening in my art, the very thing my soul needed. 

A witness holds us up while we are growing, giving us a steady place to bloom.

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