“Hope” is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all. And sweetest in the Gale is heard and sore must be the storm, that could abash the little Bird that kept so many warm. I’ve heard it in the chillest land and on the strangest Sea, yet, never, in Extremity, It asked a crumb of Me. Emily Dickinson
I read this poem for the first time when I was in 7th grade. I won a poetry contest and the prize was a book of poetry. I still have the book. I remember reading it over and over, looking for poems that spoke to me, had meaning for me and made me feel something. This was the poem that stuck out, above all of the others. It was different from other poems in the book and was different from many of Dickinson’s other poems. So many of her poems were about death and grief. This poem was lighter, it was about promise, it was about perseverance, it was about “Hope”.
I’ve always been drawn to the concept of hope, in poetry, in music, and in books. Although I don’t think that I’m an optimist by birth, I do firmly believe that there is always “Hope” that things can and do get better. This concept of hope is what drew me to the profession of Social Work. For me, Social Work is more of a calling than a profession. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to do something that involved hope. I wanted to do something that involved connecting with people on the deepest level and helping them find that place in their soul that still sings, even when they think it has been silenced. I think that is why Dickinson’s poem spoke to me so prominently when I was younger. Today as a psychotherapist working with clients who have experienced trauma, it still speaks to me. The majority of my clients have been physically and/or sexually abused as children. It is hard to imagine a more horrific crime than an adult abusing an innocent child but my clients don’t have to imagine it. They lived through the unspeakable acts that one human being can do to another. They lived through the terror and confusion experienced by children who can’t understand what is happening to them or why. They lived through feeling unloved and unwanted and wondering what was wrong with them. Now, all grown up, they live with the residuals.
When clients first come to see me, they are usually at the lowest point in their lives. They are in dark despair and their souls have been deeply wounded. They feel as if they can’t go on, can’t take anymore. They feel like it would be better to die than to go on living with the memories, the flashbacks, and the questions that keep running through their heads. They want to understand what happened to them, they want to understand why it happened to them, yet they are terrified of finding out the answers. At that moment in time, when my clients have found enough courage to share their story with me, the only thing that I can give to them is that thing called hope. Hope that they will not always feel so desperate. Hope that the memories and flashbacks can become less intrusive. Hope that the questions can be quieted. Hope that their life can be good, happy and joyful. It takes a long time for most of them to believe me, but they put their faith in me and they keep coming back.
Some might say that I give my clients a false “Hope” because their trauma will always be with them. While that may be true, I have been in the field long enough to witness with my own eyes the transformation that can happen in people. For that reason, the “Hope” that I give to my clients is far from false. I remember the 12 year old girl who came to see me having recently disclosed being sexually abused by her alcoholic step-father. At the age of 14 she testified against him and he went to prison for the rest of his life. She went on to finish high school, and then college and then medical school. She is happily married and living a fulfilling life as a doctor.
I remember the teenager who came to me because she was abused by an older man who was put in a position of trust by his church. At the time she had dropped out of school, was drinking and getting into trouble at home. I worked with her on and off for many years. She bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend, never trusting any of them. Finally she settled down. Today she is the mother to two beautiful children and is a teacher and a music instructor. It is clear that she is one of the best mom’s I’ve ever seen.
I also remember the 30 something woman who came to me having been through many different therapists and hospitalizations. The abuse that she described goes beyond what anyone should ever have to endure or even bear witness to. Her life was filled with flashbacks, dissociation and unmanageable anxiety. Since then, she has adopted two special needs children and home schools them. She is one of the most patient and kind people whom I’ve ever met.
I also remember the 20 something woman who came to me after a divorce from an abusive husband. She had also been abused as a teenager, by the youth minister in her church. At the time she came to see me she couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t work. She had to take a leave of absence from her job because she was unable to function. Today, she is happily married with a step-son and works in a career where she helps children who have been abused or neglected. She continues to receive promotions at work.
All of these clients are just a few of the examples of transformations that I have seen with my own eyes in my over 20 years of experience. I can and do instill “Hope” in my clients because I believe it is real. I have seen it with my own eyes. We read stories all of the time about people who have overcome horrendous experiences and go on to live fulfilling, happy and productive lives. People like Louis Zamperini, the Olympic Runner who spent years as a Japanese POW during WWII. People like Viktor Frankl who was sent to a concentration camp during WWII where the rest of his family, except for one sister, died. People like Oprah Winfrey who overcame years of abuse as a child to become one of the most powerful women in the world.
The most amazing thing about “Hope” is that it is not something that I give to my clients, but something that they find within themselves. Through the coldness and bitterness of life, through the worst of life’s storms, they continue to sing until, eventually, the tune gets louder and stronger. It is then that I remember that “Hope” “never stops – at all”