A wounded healer
TRIGGER WARNING : work-place bullying
I have been working as a trauma counsellor for over eighteen months now and I have come to accept that having not experienced trauma myself I can only imagine how my clients would feel and even then not come close. I have read and studied as much as possible to date. I have attended to clients in the best way I can and done my homework for the next session. I have done self-care and supervision to help me understand to reduce the risk of vicarious trauma.
So you can imagine my surprise when I had my own crack at the office today.
For three months I’ve been booked to attend a training course which was to happen at the corporate office where I’m currently employed as a Change Manager. To start with I kinda rolled my eyes at the prospect, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve started looking forward to it. I’ve been working as a change manager for over 15 years, but while doing the homework I started getting inspired anew.
Then I received a change of venue notification.
My breath was punched from my lungs, I started sweating, my stomach turned and my head started pounding. As I read the details of the new location.
The venue had been changed to a space I am familiar with. It’s a space I worked in for six months and while I was there. I experienced horrific workplace bullying. Among other things, I was screamed at and blanked when I was humiliated in front of external clients. Ultimately I was told two weeks to the end of my probation period, with no explanation, that my services were longer required. I left never to return.
I contacted the Learning and Development department in my current organisation in order to clarify that no one from my previous employer would be teaching the class. They weren’t; but that was no relief. As I spoke I realised that even talking about having to set foot in that building was causing my symptoms to increase. My eyes had started to sting and my voice had a tremor. I realised that even the idea of being in that space made me extremely anxious. Anxiety is not something I’m overly familiar with either from personal experience. My skin started to itch when I was told that the training was expensive and it was too late to cancel.
All I heard was ‘suck it up’.
Logic told me, it was OK. I was a client now, I had the power, I would be OK. I would enjoy the training.
My emotions were laughing at logic.
My counsellor brain checked out.
My reason went for a long walk in the fresh air.
I asked to speak with my manager and we went into his office and closed the door. I was only about three sentences into telling him the change of venue when I lost it. Tears, more sweating, snot and loss of voice. I was able to pull it together only after I heard the words, ‘You don’t have to go’.
Afterwards I realised that over the last couple of years, I have visited a business three doors down and I have always parked in a location far away from the doors and checked the time to make sure the possibility of running into anyone from there is minimal. I had always done this sub consciously.
What happened is not PTSD, but it had certainly triggered trauma memories I didn’t realise I had. I had no idea that those six months of my life had had such a massive impact. I’d always put it down as a nasty time that I would never have to go through again. For that I was glad. The moment I recognised that business name and realised I DID have to go back, it sent a buried memories to my nut-sized amygdala and it flipped flipped and flooded me with fight. I know fight is my go-to after finding a burglar in my house (but that’s a story for another day). I resisted fight as far as a could, but getting a unsympathetic response from Human Resources just set it off again, because that’s what happened before.
Hearing the words ‘You don’t have to go’ went a long way to calming that crazy walnut and helped the hippocampas do it’s thing of taking the memory and reminding me it’s just a memory. It’s not happening now.
I have to confess…I even forgot to do the Five Things…
All the ‘dealing with trauma’, ‘survivor stories’, and ‘the body remembers’ training I have done was meaningless in that moment. Until I went for a walk and took deep breaths.
With fresh air in my lungs and sunlight on my skin I was able to process with the healing power of nature.
Why have I shared this. I shared because I felt it was important to acknowledge that I learn something new about myself everyday. It’s not always some good, like I’m blessed with a great butt (thanks Muv) or that I really don’t like blue cheese that much. The things we learn aren’t always superficial. Sometimes there are deep, wounds we’ve managed to push down the well of our souls in the hope they’ll never resurface. And sometimes something completely innocent digs its up.
Maybe I have even more in common with my clients than I thought I did. I really am a wounded healer.