Sunday, January 2, 2011

Coloring Inside the Lines

I even loved the smell of them - a fresh coloring book and a pack of new crayons.  Not a dent in the tips, not a mark on the page.  Rougher than normal paper.  Kitty cats or princesses outlined in dark black lines.


Do you remember those thick black lines?  The ones that made it easy to color?  When your crayon hit the edge, those black lines helped keep it contained.  Coloring inside the lines.  You could do the same thing yourself if you drew a picture in black crayon, carefully outlining it before you colored it in.

What used to frighten you most as a child?  I had a list: dogs, spiders, toilets flushing, scorpions, gunshots in the night, fire....

But what frightened me the most was the unknown.  As bad as a dog or a spider was, they were a known enemy.

What about a noise in the night?  A nightmare that woke you up but you can't quite remember?  A scratch on the window? It is those unknowns that bring the most fear.  Whatever that noise is, it would be better if you just knew!

Ever tried hiding under the covers?  Maybe in the closet?  Closing your eyes and putting your hands over your ears?  Did that still the pounding of your heart?

Trauma is like fear, I've discovered.  I've tried hiding from it.  I've tried pretending it isn't there.  I've blocked out the sound of it and closed my eyes.

But it lurked like a bogeyman in the dark, filling my imagination, making my heart pound at the slightest memory.

The unknown.

Trauma, much like a bogeyman, is more threatening in the dark, in the unknown.  Do remember how that monster in the corner shrunk down to size (and was likely just your backpack on a pile of toys) once you turned on the light?


Much like that coloring book.  Clearly defined lines outlining the picture.

When I close my eyes and try to hide from trauma, it grows.  The unknown aspects of it frighten me.  The events pile up and grow in my thoughts.

It's scary.

As frightening as it all is, if I can turn on the light, it begins to shrink.  I've learned that being able to talk about traumatic events is much like outlining them in black crayon.  It doesn't change their size, but it contains them.  This, here, is what it is.  It is no bigger than this.  As awful as it is, it is here - contained.

It takes listening.  Good listening.  The permission to speak what is on your mind without condemnation or judgment.  Listening that is not even attempting to get you to see another side.  Just to hear what you heard or saw.

That takes time.  Time and patience.

Few have it.  Maybe more have it than we think, but we don't ask.  Maybe we aren't able to ask.  Not knowing exactly what we need.  Maybe not thinking we are really worth someone taking that time.  Maybe it is too late.  Maybe we want someone to take initiative, to show that they care.  It is hard to open our hearts to someone who doesn't care.  Maybe people are simply too busy to notice.

But having someone listen is like outlining in black crayon.  And there is a certain satisfaction in bringing that line back around to the beginning.  Sitting back and saying, "That is it."  "That is what happened."

It is defined.  As bad as it was, it is defined.  No longer the bogeyman.  No longer unspoken.

It is defined.  Somehow when it is defined, it becomes outside of me.  No longer the unknown under the bed. 

Outlined in thick, black lines.  Manageable.

What can you do to help your friend through trauma?  Listen.

Not just the, "I'm here if you want to talk" type of listening.

Intentional.  "I want to hear the whole story."

Purposeful.  "Do you want to tell me now?"

Without correction or judgement.  Asking questions to clarify or asking for expanding on something is fine, but avoid attempting to change the feeling expressed.

Just listen.

Your job - to help outline the bogeyman.  We'll deal with him later, but first we need to turn on the lights and grab a new box of crayons.

To my new coloring partner - thank-you!

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