“My clients are the best of my teachers, and I am forever grateful to them.” – Karen Wennberg
A few months after graduation, I worked up the courage to take a job offer serving a population that is often avoided and forgotten by society. Addiction brings individuals affected to a place where there is little to no self-regard, purpose, caring or connection. They have been victims and perpetrators, acting out of some of the darkest parts of the Shadow. At first I thought, “How could I handle this work? I’m not tough enough. I’m not experienced enough.” And now almost a year later I feel so gratified for having taken the challenge, for I love the work I do as a counselor and art therapist with clients in treatment for addictions. I went face first into confronting my own limiting beliefs of my professional identity. I have learned self-forgiveness for not being perfect, for not knowing, for not being an expert. And oh, how one has to quickly get over the apprehension of confrontation, of self and of clients.
I was reminded, as I had learned in Psychology of Altruism, how critical it is in this field to be vigorously devoted to self-care. Away from work is another world in which I express myself through dancing, arting, laughing, hugging, hiking, sighing, crying, sleeping. If it were not for my absolute devotion to engage in all my passions and needs, then I would not have the strength to handle the pummeling my heart takes. When I hear clients’ vivid retellings of past trauma I have to be careful, very careful not to absorb it. Luckily, I had read (all the way through even!) a textbook in Senior Seminar about Secondary Trauma. I hold space for the heavy burdens of these clients by embodying stillness, openness, and attempt to provide serenity during their difficult journey of recovery.
I have learned what non-judgment truly feels like. I have faced people who have committed some of the more horrific of crimes while under the influence. Sexual offenses, battery, abuse…manslaughter. I sit with them. I be with them. I seek down inside myself past the initial shock and I find a place in which I accept them unconditionally. A place inside my heart that seemed so meager at first, expands and softens. I found a container big enough for all of it: the shame and the trauma, agony, loathing, anger, guilt, confusion, hopelessness. I can present a vessel that is not of me but beyond me. It’s something like empathy but ineffable. I call it Infinite Love. And in there is room for everyone. Space to be, to live again.
My clients are the best of teachers, and I am forever grateful to them.