In 2003 I was working with a trauma patient. He was about 30 years old. He has Down Syndrome, very limited verbal language, and was being treated for multiple sexual assaults that he had experienced during his lifetime. His mother brought him for therapy to help him with his depression, anger, reverberating trauma, all of which were depicted in drawings and sometimes in his conduct. He was also moody, fearful, and had many of the laundry list of emotions and changes in his personality and conduct that other trauma victims experience, even years after the trauma has ended.
He often used hand gestures to communicate, with a little bit of American Sign Language (ASL) used as well. As is true with many individuals with Down Syndrome, he was familiar with ASL. This greatly expands their communication abilities, at least at the expressive level, and for those who are acquainted with rudimentary ASL, such as myself, this skill enhances our communication.
We had already met several times, and in this session he experienced significant relief from this trauma. I use a method called Thought Field Therapy, which is the first of the energy psychology methods, and uses the body’s natural healing mechanism to release negative feelings that often remain after a trauma. In the session I am about to describe, we were working on some of the worst aspects of the sexual assault traumas he had had. At the end of one treatment, it was easy to see that he felt the effect of the release from his body of the feelings, as his color shifted to a normal rosy color, his eyes brightened, his countenance lifted, and he said, “better.” I asked how he felt (anger, bitter, afraid, etc.) and he said, “good.” Usually his verbal communications were in one or two words.
Then he said, “stick.” Stick? I was not sure I understood him correctly. His mother said, “Yes, he said, ‘stick’.” She and I looked at each other in surprise, but wanted to provide him with what he requested. Where was I going to get a stick? I looked around and saw that I had some plants on my desk, with a stick holding the plants up. I got two sticks, cleaned them off and handed them to him. Then he said, “paper” and “scissors.” I dutifully went and got paper and scissors. Then he asked for tape, as well as some crayons.
He used one sheet of construction paper to cut out two triangles, then taped the two triangles one each on the sticks. He then placed the flat of one hand in front of him vertically (like you do in a high-five, except in front of his chest as if he were going to illustrate something. Then, with his other hand he used the flat of his hand horizontally and moved it toward the vertical hand until they touched. He said “Boom!” Then, he placed his hand on his chest, made a salute, then crossed his hands over his chest which in sign language means “I love you.”
It took him three tries to get me to understand. Now that he had healed from his trauma, he was recognizing the trauma of those who had suffered during 9-11, and by salute, and honoring the firefighters and other first responders, in their pain and suffering, and sending them his love.
He wanted me to send the flags he created with the sticks, paper and tape, and the drawing he made which he taped to the flags, to the firefighters in New York. How in the heck was I going to do that??????? But, that is what he wanted, so I promised I would.
I contacted a friend who lives in New York and asked if he would be able to complete this mission. He said he could, so I sent my patient’s creation. My friend delivered it, along with an explanation from me, to the Fire station near Port Authority…Ladder 59 or something. They had created a display in the subway station of the huge outpouring of drawings sent by others wanting to honor the first responders. They added this drawing and flags of honor to the display, where it remained for many months. I was able to let my patient know that his gift had been gratefully received and added to the display. He was very happy to know that his message and his caring had been received, and he was proud to know that his contribution was on display.
I learned such an important lesson that day. His pain had been enormous and his suffering had lasted for many years. Yet, when he was relieved of the pain, the first thing he did was to honor others who have suffered. Frankly, I had no idea that he was aware of or concerned with 9-11. He certainly was. It wasn’t that I was underestimating him, it just never had occurred to me. Now I am aware that I should discuss current events and national historical events of significance with my patients, as they, too, are affected, but few pay attention to their worries, concerns, and desire to be part of the healing somehow.
I just will never forget that within seconds of his feeling release of his own pain, his first thought was to help others.