When Rose (fictitious name) was eight she experienced unwanted sexual touch at the hands of a carpenter that did some work on her parents’ house. Yesterday I had the privilege of accompanying her on a journey of healing from the effects of this experience.
As I learned from Marshall Rosenberg, originator of Nonviolent Communication, I set up a healing role play. My task – to become the carpenter, and to dig as deep as I could into what it could be like to be him, so I could support Rose in claiming more of herself back.
Rose carried this pain, alone, for years. She needed to be heard, to know that she was gotten, in order to experience relief. So I sat in front of her, imagining being the carpenter, imagining Rose at eight. Looking at her eyes, I took in her pain and allowed my heart to absorb her loss of trust in herself, her pull to contract from showing her full self, her habit of hiding her vulnerability. I listened, as the carpenter, and I reflected until Rose felt fully heard, and was calmer and lighter.
Being heard is not enough. Rose also needed to know that she mattered. As I sat with Rose I overcame my reluctance, as the carpenter, to face what happened, and expanded my heart to allow my body and spirit to touch the horror of knowing that what I had done directly affected Rose’s life to this degree. I shared my grief and let Rose know how much I wanted her to reclaim her full self and be, again, a free spirit. As I shared, Rose could see that her suffering was meaningful, not random. She then remembered and shared additional aspects of her loss, which I took in and integrated. We were moving closer towards connection and healing.
The third level of hurt is endlessly subtle, and often invisible. When we are harmed, it’s tempting to explain the horror to ourselves by perceiving the person whose actions harmed us as less than fully human. This protection comes at the cost of separation. We lose some of our own humanity, too. To heal in full, I have come to believe, requires us to come back to seeing the humanity of the person whose actions so harmed us. That was the gift I was next called to give Rose.
As usual, I didn’t know at the beginning how it would unfold, how I would find the heart of this carpenter in me. I was tasked with loving life, people, Rose, and the carpenter enough to find his humanity underneath his actions. Being and understanding from within the carpenter who had harmed a trusting girl also required abundant faith and total surrender. Faith to throw myself into the experience and to trust that life would provide me the visceral solution to the emotional equation my body was trying to solve in being this man. Surrender to let go sufficiently of figuring it out so that I could recognize the emotional truth when it arose.
This is the point when I get tested, again and again, each time I sit with someone to offer healing. Everything in my practice gets tested: my love, my authenticity, my imagination, my care for everyone, and my willingness to trust what arises. Submitting to life, tiny and significant clues appear along the way to decipher the emotional logic of the action.
I discovered that in my imaginary existence as the carpenter I had formed a bond of exquisite tenderness and special connection with Rose. She was so mature, clear, alive, and real, that she didn’t appear to me as eight. I was shocked to understand that the beauty of our friendship was so magical that at some point I lost track of her age. I deluded myself into imagining us to be equal. And then I couldn’t see a reason not to engage in sexual touch with her, as a celebration of the connection.
This was so unfamiliar, so unbelievable, that trusting the gut sense of truth and offering it to Rose was the ultimate surrender and required inner strength and exacting vulnerability. Even more shocking was the effect on Rose. She had been trying for years to find a human way of making sense of the carpenter’s actions. My story provided an answer that felt resonant for her. As we looked in each other’s eyes, both of us in tears, I knew the connection had been made. My heart, in real life, grew to include one more human experience, and some part of Rose would now be freer.