At the Edge of Healing

Where is an edge—a dangerous edge—and where is the trail to the edge and the strength to climb it?
— Annie Dillard

Where is your edge? This is a much better question than any new year’s resolution. Where is your edge? It isn’t about anyone else’s edge—or what’s hot or new. It is your edge. The place where you run up against your self. Where you need to go, but you aren’t sure you can. You aren’t sure you have the strength to climb it.

Truth be told, there are some times in life, and in healing from trauma especially, where finding your edge and sitting there looking at the view, or simply finding shelter right there is all you can really muster. Often you didn’t choose to be at your edge. Most of the time, as it often is, a convergence of things brought you along the trail to your edge. And there are also times when you thought you were going to be climbing, and instead you are simply at your edge. You know it in every fiber of your being. You can’t yet move. Your job right now is to be brave enough to just be at your edge and not change it. Or as Oriah Mountain Dreamer said, not hide it or fade it or fix it. Just be there at your edge and get to know the landscape.

When you are clinging to the side of your mountain it can be annoying to hear about other people’s goals. It can be annoying, especially at this time of year, when people are talking about these wonderful life changes they want to make, or that their biggest problem is gluten or carbs, and all you can do is think to yourself, ‘My goal right now is to not get blown off this dangerous edge. My goal is to be brave enough to stay with this.’  Your brave act is often invisible to those around you. This can be incredibly painful.

And this is why I call my website ‘Emotional Geographic.’ I have been a National Geographic fan since I was six years old and sat in my grandfather’s musty basement reading them for hours. It was my first real contact with exploration and bravery and people doing things that hadn’t yet been done. And there were maps! Maps of places far away and people making the maps of the places they were exploring. I read about people traveling around the world solo in a sailboat, teaching sign language to a gorilla, or going up Everest. Then two years ago in a blizzard where I lost electricity for four days I amused myself by once again reading National Geographics for hours by a battery powered lamp. One thing you notice in the original National Geographics was that there were no journalists; the writers were the explorers. The writing wasn’t perfect, but the observations were great. I read the same ones I had read as a kid, and I was struck by how this narrative of the explorer was missing from the trauma work I was writing and reading about. Yes, people write about trauma all the time.Trauma makes a great story—the terrible things that happened—but the road back is almost never the story. 

Healing from trauma is a reconnaissance mission, and I want there to be a place where the inner explorers who are healing from trauma are honored. I want there to be a place where the work of healing is seen as just as courageous and cool as the expeditions of the National Geographic explorers. Healing is slow and often tedious work. And sometimes the work looks like just staying at your edge. The work can be invisible on the outside.

And the truth is that all of those mountain expeditions were mostly slow and tedious too. When they show an hour an ½ movie of an Everest climb they are cutting out a year of preparation and thousands of hours of climbing. This is also why I think there is a lot to learn about healing from those old geographic expeditions. Those explorers knew a lot about patience, and persistence, focus, will, fortitude, resilience and teamwork. Healing from trauma is an endurance event. It is helpful to learn from anyone who has truly learned how to endure. 

So where is your edge? Are you already there? Is that as far as you want to go right now or can go right now? Trust your gut. There is so much to be learned from just staying at your edge.

And trust yourself if you find yourself climbing. What I have found is that you don’t really choose to start climbing again. When you can climb, you climb. There is a wonderful energy in the world that pulls us toward growth, toward healing. When we clear the path, when the weather changes, when we have the resources, when our inner wisdom knows its time, we generally brush ourselves off and climb, and we keep climbing until we meet our edge again. 

© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2015

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