Healing: One twig at a time

The outside world often makes healing from trauma seem like a linear path. You find someone to talk to and you just tell your story. But talking about trauma isn’t easy, and telling your story is almost never linear. Traumatic memory, as I have written about before, is fragmented—and the experience of trauma fragments the actual experience—the feelings, the thoughts, the images. So in retelling it, it often comes back in pieces, not paragraphs.

When you start getting words out it can feel precarious. This past summer I sat by the water where I am spent some time writing on the coast of Maine. That morning it was a fairly calm and the water was sparkling from the sun. An osprey glided by and circled over the cove, and then —splash— it went down and came up with a fish. It’s movements before the fish were elegant and smooth, practically weightless. But the movements after the fish were breathtakingly suspenseful. For what felt like a long time the bird flapped its wings powerfully, trying to remain above the water while trying to keep the fish in its talons. It gained height, lost height. Then it gradually rose higher, but not in one move. With each bit of ascent, the bird flapped hard again, trying to find its balance with the weight of the fish. The new weight and the movement of the fish were a constant struggle for the bird.  Finally getting height and balance, the bird flew towards its nest.

Finding bits of your story has an equally unsettling feeling. You dive in for that bit of memory—it seems shiny and solid like the mackerel— and then you find it’s not so easy to stay above water as you talk about it. You flap madly with your wings trying to hold onto balance. You gain ground, you lose ground. But the work of trying to stay above water, to keep flapping. That is the work. One piece at a time.

Pieces of your story come back one word or fragment at a time. More like line of poetry than like prose. Early on in my work of healing I wrote this poem. It speaks both to the nature of finding one word at a time, and of building your own future with each piece of work that you do. Everything you do in your healing is one twig, and slowly, you are building your own nest you will call home. 

The Osprey ~ Gretchen Schmelzer

Talons gripping the edge of the nest

wings spread, gauging the wind

the young osprey pushes off,



With each practice flight,

the young bird returns to the nest

and places at his mother’s feet,

one twig.


Every evening

in the dark, bright, quiet

of the moonlight the young bird



While his mother,

taking his twig,

builds a nest in

his heart.


So when he flies away

wherever he lands

the young bird

is home.



© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2014