It's hard to believe that tonight I'll meet my third group of Healing Trauma participants at Lockhart Women's Correctional Facility and begin training my second volunteer facilitator. Time is passing so quickly!
Many beautiful and powerful moments transpired with the second Healing Trauma class. I'll share one of those moments here...
We were doing an exercise on personal boundaries. I asked the women to divide into pairs and stand about 8 feet apart, facing each other and maintaining eye contact. Partner #1 was instructed to silently motion to Partner #2 to begin walking slowly toward her. When Partner #1 felt Partner #2 was close enough for comfort, Partner #1 was to hold up her hand, indicating Partner #2 to stop. We repeated this exercise a couple more times, with Partner #1 turning her body in profile to Partner #2 and then turning her back on Partner #2. Next, the partners switched roles and repeated the exercise from the very beginning. The room filled with random outbursts and nervous giggles as the women discovered things about their personal boundaries —what felt comfortable and, maybe more importantly, what didn't feel comfortable.
Afterwards, we circled up for a group discussion.
"I noticed that I allowed my partner to get closer to me than what felt comfortable because I didn't want to hurt her feelings," one woman said.
"Oh, wow," I uttered, genuinely surprised by her observation. I searched the faces of the other women. More than a few were nodding in agreement. They had experienced this too.
"That's incredible insight to have," I told her. "Now that you've noticed this, how do you think this has played out in the relationships you have in the free world — or even the relationships you've formed in here?"
She slowly shook her head as an epiphany took shape in her mind. "I think this has been the story of my life — always focusing on what other people want or need and ignoring myself."
Tears filled her eyes as she spoke those last words: and ignoring myself.
"What do you think happens when we ignore what we need to feel safe and OK — especially to feel safe and OK in a relationship?" I asked the group.
Another woman spoke up, her eyes unblinking and fixated on the carpet. I imagined she was replaying a scene from the past in her mind. "It can't lead to anything good," she said. "I know that much."
Later, before dismissing class, we did a "checkout circle," with each woman saying one thing she would take from the evening's experience. The women cited things like knowledge, awareness, strength, encouragement, tools. Several cited hope.
As each woman identified what she had gained, my heart threatened to burst right out of my chest. Yes, the hope in the room was downright palpable. I wish you could have seen the expressions on their faces. Each woman was coming to her own understanding about the trauma in her life and how it continued to impact her. And in that self-understanding, they were experiencing new feelings so vital to the healing process — compassion for self and empathy for one another.
Seeds for healing planted.