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Solutions for Life

from Solutions Counseling & EAP by Keri Forbess-McCorquodale, MS, LPC, LMFT, CEAP

Stay in the Room It’s hard to breathe in my office right now. My client is in pain - so much pain that it’s palpable. The air is thicker, heavier. There is so much I want to say: “You will make it through this.” “You are stronger than you know.” “Look back and realize you’ve already dealt with so much that you thought you couldn’t possibly handle. You will handle this too.” And it’s all true. But I don’t say any of that. This client can’t hear those words yet, and it would come off as trite. So we sit. And I let the client cry, saying nothing. But I am here, fully present, with this person who needs me right now. “Staying in the room” is what I refer to as being willing to be with someone even when they are not at their best. I stole it from a movie a few years back. The movie was about relationships and their longevity. When asked how one couple had stayed together so long, the husband said “I always stayed in the room.” Staying in the room means being fully present in the relationship. It’s easy to stay in the room when people are happy and times are good. Not so easy when pain is dripping down the walls. Emotional pain is tough. It’s trickier. Since you can’t see it, you’re never exactly sure what is going on – sometimes what looks like a step backwards is actually the opposite. And vice-versa. Sometimes what appears to others as being “in limbo,” is the first time this person has not

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allowed himself to be forced into making a hasty decision. And what looks like a person “doing great” is actually a person in denial. Conversely, emotional pain is similar to physical pain in some aspects. The healthier you are, the faster you heal. If you were already weak and unstable, your recovery time will be longer. That’s why two people can live through the same experience and have two completely different outcomes. The one who struggles longer and more intensely probably was already struggling on some level. Over the years, I have been allowed to be in the room for some horrible tragedies – children dying, physical and sexual abuse, terminal diagnoses, relationships gone awry. Each has been devastating in its own way. It is just wrong for parents to have to bury a child. It is so hard to wrap your head around how someone could abuse another person. There are no words to fix being told you have six months to live. Hopes, plans, dreams no longer have a home when a marriage dies. It is difficult to stay in the room in these situations. Anyone’s tendency would be to try to find a way out, either physically or psychologically. I’ve had to work hard to stay focused and not let my mind wander to my “to do” list, or excuse myself to get a drink of water, just to take a break from the pain. I can understand why

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this client’s friends and family are finding it hard to be with her. Her pain naturally oozes over to anyone around. So, why “stay in the room?” Plenty of people don’t. Just go to nursing homes and ask how long it has been since many of the residents have had visitors. Many people just decide they are not going to subject themselves to uncomfortable or painful situations. However, I know the power of staying in the room. I know that by staying, and by being with this client in her pain, I am helping her wade through the bogs that could otherwise drown her. Just by being with her, I am sending the message that she is worth another person’s time and energy, and that there is hope. And by being with her, I am increasing the likelihood that I will, at some point, get to say all those things I am thinking that I mentioned in the beginning of this article. I recently had an unexpected death in my family, and the pain of the remaining half of the couple is almost more than I can bear. I am trying to stay in the room as much as possible. I don’t have answers, and I know there are no magic words that can take the pain away. And so I sit. I wonder if there is someone in your life who needs you to be in the room with them as well. I invite you to have a seat, get comfortable, and stay for a while.

April 2015

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