I recently partook in a trauma and addictions training. The presenter, Dr. Margaret Nagib, PsyD, Clinical Director at Timberline Knolls, presented various therapeutic interventions she uses with her patients. While all can be powerfully healing, one, in particular, struck me.
We were separated into groups of 4 with a blank piece of paper in front of each participant. Provided with colored markers, we were instructed to write our name and "my life" at the top of the page. Music would play in the background while we filled our blank paper (however we chose) until the music stopped. When the music stopped, we left our papers and rotated to the person on our left's paper. The music resumed and we were to draw. This continued until the rotation brought us back to our original paper.
At the end of the exercise, we processed what had just occurred. How did we feel drawing on someone else's "life" and how did we feel about someone drawing on ours? The answers were varied. Some felt very protective of their page, some felt it was invasive to draw on another's and others viewed it as fun and exciting. What were the things we chose to add? Did we add color, plants, try and decipher what the author intended and complete what might have been unfinished (I'm looking at you naked stick figure.)? The last question was whether or not anyone was upset by what was added. In our particular setting (a room full of mental health providers) everyone reported feeling pleased with the end product. My picture was actually filled with more detail and life at the end (my dog was given a collar and tongue, the airplane given movement and a passenger and stick figures received faces!).
Why am I telling you this? You're most likely not going to re-enact this group activity. The take away was that our life is ours but we daily interact with others who add to our life. Some may have had others contribute pain, trauma, disappointment, abuse, and neglect to their life. We cannot always control what people have added. BUT what is within our jurisdiction is HOW we respond. That's ours and ours alone. We get to decide what we do with the unwanted things that have happened to us. Will we let them define the entire page? Will we let others speak into the harm and help us heal?
We also get to decide if we'll make room for safe people to leave their mark, making life more detailed and rich. And we also have the choice of how we want to imprint the lives of others as well. Will we choose to leave color, beauty, and brightness?