Monday, April 02, 2012


I've missed blogging, more than I even knew myself, and I blamed a lot of things, like the relative ease of Facebook, and the crammed-upness of my calendar, and the dwindling hours in a day (they are getting fewer, aren't they? It can't just be me.) But the thing that I don't blame it on is my work, though I strongly suspect it is the main culprit.

I'm not supposed to complain about my work because when I went to school to be a therapist, we all said words like "rewarding" and "fulfilling" and "it's not about money" with stars in our eyes, but we meant them. I meant it.

And during the first years of my career, starting up, cutting my teeth, hearing stories and giving people direction even when I felt like a kid in a grownup suit, I still meant it. I meant it even more. I felt like I was really helping people. The first time you go home knowing you have categorically saved someone's life, that they are alive at this moment because of you, it's a pretty flush feeling. Your adrenaline gets going in those moments; you push aside your panic, the doubts you may have in your own capabilities, you crash through the outer limits of your physical and mental self, and somehow you become more. You become a bigger, stronger person than you actually are. It is exhausting but you cannot fail, to fail would be unthinkable, so you don't, you win, you win at any cost. When the situation resolves itself, you deflate in a slow whoooooosh, I've actually felt like someone was letting the air out of me while simultaneously draining the colour out of the world and the energy out of the room. But you live for this shaky sense of euphoria and relief and you go home proud.

While I'm technically a self-employed counsellor, I have worked for the past 4 years on a government contract. I work with a specific segment of the population that has experienced severe childhood trauma. I am a crisis counsellor. These are not clients with daddy issues or low self esteem. Every day, I deal with crises. Every day I listen to horrific stories, stories that have made me spend my breaks crying in bathroom stalls and my nights wide awake, afraid of what I might dream. Every day if it's not the 87 year old woman who is sobbing recounting being raped at the age of 6, savagely, repeatedly, then tortured, the left without a family to raise her, then trapped in an abusive marriage as she watched her children be taken away by social services until the day her husband died, leaving her penniless and homeless in her old, crippled age, then it's someone else with a different but equally soul-destroying story and they're looking to me for help. How can they live with this?

That's a question I don't always feel comfortable answering. Sometimes I really don't know. But I value life, and I value healing, and I believe that it can be done.

When I started this job four years ago, I believed that I could save them. Now I'm not sure that I can even save myself. I feel dead inside. Sometimes I get home at midnight and sit in the bath with a bottle of wine and the tears won't even come. I watch the clock because I know I'll have to be up in just a couple of hours to do it all over again. Crises don't hit Monday-Friday, 9-5. Suicides are not a business-hours business.

I feel like a fraud. I feel like no matter how many dragons I slay today, tomorrow there will just be a new herd of them, fiery and relentless.

It's called secondary trauma. I know this. When you're a front line worker getting assaulted by every graphic detail, it saturates you. It becomes you. I am not a rock. I am good at my job because I am sensitive. But how many stories of sodomy and starvation can one person hear? Whatever that number is, I think I reached it awhile back. They are sitting inside of me, like poison. I am rotting.

When you start out, you're all gung-ho about "self-care" , the stuff a therapist does for herself, on behalf of her own sanity. The things that put the spring back in your step. But the ghosts of your clients will follow you home. The sound of draino being gulped, a noose being thrown around a beam, the chair tipping back, the gun hitting the table, the heavy breathing of someone who's just cut into themselves. It's haunting. Saving on person's life feels great. Saving many ...

I don't know.
I don't know anymore.
I don't have words.
And so, I do not write.
A wordless writer,
a novel-less novelist,
a ghost of my former self.