Sara explores the discipline of living vulnerable lives.
Living in the Light
by Sara Hyde
I work in prisons, mostly with women. I work as a group work facilitator and counsellor. This has had a huge impact on my life in a variety of ways. It has enlarged my capacity for being present with extreme human misery. It isn’t a side effect I was expecting. In prison you are working with a population for most of whom life has been a catalogue of pain and suffering, marked by poor attachments, abuse and poverty. But the difference being in prison to most of the rest of my life, is that many of the women I meet will tell you exactly what is going on with them at any given moment: the pain of a child being adopted, the insomnia and nightmares leading up to trial, the agony once detoxed of realising your addiction has meant your whole family have disowned you. One conversation may hold a mix of coercing and dissembling yes, but it’s often shot through with moments of brutal honesty.
Most of the women I’ve worked with have been sexually abused. I sit in counselling supervision with a senior psychotherapist who isn’t afraid to remind us that ‘right now, while we’re sat in this room, there is a child being sexually abused somewhere’. I don’t want to hear that, but it is a true statement. Prison means that I dwell more than I used to in the underbelly of the human psyche and daily discuss and sit with the impact of these truly abhorrent and life-shattering things; which occupy the shadowland of life-shattering crime the person may have committed. I mean it when I say prison has enlarged my capacity for human misery.
What strikes me about the rest of my life, is that it often seems full of shiny, happy, people. I grew up in a church where the only answer to the question ‘how are you?’, was ‘fine’. There was no room to be honest or display anything that might be perceived as weakness, we were all fine – don’t mention the diazepam, the credit card debt, the panic attacks or your hunch about your partner’s affair. No-one’s died, so we must be fine. We are the most medicated, addicted, over-weight and in debt people in history: this doesn’t smack of honesty or profound life-changing community. This tells a story of numbing behaviours that cover our pain, so that we don’t have to be honest with ourselves, let alone anyone else. Is this what life in all its fullness looks like? Is this what the Light of the World was hoping for – deep cracks of shame, papered over with silence, shopping and beer?
I’ve been trying to work out if there are any good kinds of secrets: whether anything hidden is ever healthy, holy or good. I can only think of corporeal things: our vital organs need to be hidden, a foetus in the womb. We are a people called to dwell in the light, to allow the penetrating goodness of God’s light to pierce every aspect of our lives and being. The only choice is to model this way of light-filled life, by being honest about our own wounds, scars, struggles and pain. This isn’t an endorsement to inappropriately spill your guts and life story out to every person you meet. But rather a call to a new level of honesty and depth in every relationship, a crusade to break the walls of pride and shame by being humble enough to own our own stuff. Sticking up a huge WORK IN PROGRESS sign and meaning it.
If we want to let our light shine before people, so that they praise God we must let the light into every part of us – which may be an incredibly difficult and painful thing to do. God has called us from the shadow and into his glorious light because there is something better. Pain is not the whole story. Blame, shame and comparison to others, is not our inheritance.
All the things done in the dark, require us to be brave and bring them into the light so that they can begin a journey of healing and wholeness.
Sara Hyde has worked, lived and loved in areas of deprivation for many years and is involved in analysing how the creative arts speak to the issues found there.
These posts are by guest authors for Fulcrum