Thinking Out Loud

The Look on Her Face

Luanne and Trevor have both lived hard lives. Alcoholism, physical abuse and more pervaded their childhoods, forcing them both to be independent before they were ready. Sometimes, readiness is a luxury―you do what you have to do, and it isn’t until many years later, weary, that you can look back in awe at the way things were in your “ordinary” life. That was the case for these two.

Their relationship began with intensity and great passion in a way that neither had previously experienced, despite being married, divorced and having other partners over the years. Now in middle age they discovered each other and something felt different. They seemed to intuitively know the other in a way that was reassuring and emotionally scary.

As they sat facing one other in the counseling office their fear was palpable.  Trying hard to be reassuring of their good intentions, each was careful not to say anything that would be hurtful, yet they needed to talk about the hard stuff, for which they were seeking guidance.

It’s always interesting and instructive for me to observe the face of the listener when their partner is talking. Trevor’s face was riveted on Luanne as she acknowledged her fear of staying close to him. She had ended previous relationships before the other person could hurt her. When she tried to do that with Trevor, the loss was too painful, so she was forcing herself to stay close to him. This meant she had to withstand the fear of him abandoning her, and as she talked about these complicated dynamics in her life Trevor was absorbing the facts and the feelings. The more she talked, the more Trevor relaxed.

Then, I watched Luanne’s face soften, her eyes brighten, her body sink into the chair as tears streamed down her cheeks. She was not really crying, she was emotionally releasing and connecting with herself, and with Trevor.  Luanne was declaring herself, facing her self-defeating behaviors rooted in the past, not serving her well anymore. This vulnerability was bathed in the truth and had an inner strength that allowed Luanne’s walled exterior to crumble before our eyes. Trevor and I were watching it happen.

This was likely a once in a lifetime experience, hard won, awe inspiring and a bit surreal. Yet in witnessing it there was no mistaking its authenticity.  Moments of real truth and experience such as these create a profound internal shift, and all at once we feel different. But in the difference is a familiarity with self that is undeniable and peaceful. Part of this truth is recgnizing that we’ve been given a gift and we have a responsibility to see it through.

Transformative experiences are opportunities. They do not change us in the way we imagine, to something bright and wonderful. They allow us to see what is possible and illuminate a path we can take, where effort is needed and struggles remain, but we’re no longer quite so afraid.



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