Bearing Witness to Suffering and Recovery

I have spent over 25 years huddled up bearing witness to other’s incredible pain caused by pathology. Honestly, I don’t know (and don’t need to know) how many thousands of hours and hundreds of stories I have heard of mind-destroying evil.

I have been called ‘a counselor, a writer, a researcher, a pioneer in pathology’ but really all I am is someone who has bore witness and sat with those who are tormented by someone else’s directed evil. That’s all. I opened my soul and my ears and I listened. I opened my mind to comprehend. I opened my eyes and watched tears fall and hearts break and I just sat there and felt it with others.

There are those who have worked the trenches of Bangladesh with starving children and leprosy-ed adults. I have worked the pathology trenches of those discarded by remorselessness. I have faced my own powerlessness to stop evil or repair intrusive thoughts. I have embraced the not knowing of what to say why evil exists. I have struggled against knowing if a person will succumb to the desire to die and be out of pain.

There are those who sit with the dying in hospice. I sit with those who have died and are still alive. I don’t administer morphine, I administer the balm of being heard. All I bring to anyone is the ability to bear witness and see them, see what happened to them, see their suffering. To say yes, I see you are nearly dead. To say yes, your soul is gashed—I feel it. To say yes, evil blew its devil breath on you, it scorched your edges, but you are still here.

I work the ER of the psyche, the critical care unit of the soul, the rehab unit of the walking wounded who were scourged by what all that is holy calls a seared conscience. I don’t even know why except it’s where God put me and never moved me (and I think I will retire or die, whichever comes first) doing what I do. I am quite sure (and my body confirms it) that I have heard way too much pain for one powerless person to witness.

But that’s what we are all here for—to simply bear witness to the suffering of life. Jesus said “you WILL have tribulation.” He was quite sure of that. And that ‘the poor will always be among us’—which did not mean merely financial, but the poor in spirit – all those who were disheveled from brushes with darkness. That’s what darkness does—it tries to break the spirit because spirit is strongest.

And He also reminds us ‘Blessed are those who are poor in spirit for they shall see God.’ Because where else would God be but bearing witness to real life? Not bearing witness to life’s mountainous experiences but to real life lived in the trenches of pain—the places where everyone else wants to bail—when you can’t rise from your bed, or stop crying, or wanting to kill yourself for loving a psychopath. Yeah, that trench of a life. That’s where you need a witness—someone to say you are bleeding but breathing, out of your mind with pain but conscious, gas lighted but not insane. This bearing witness is simply validating reality. Sharing in someone else’s suffering and being present to it is being present to what really IS….and reality can be quite holy. It is watching each other’s lives and walking each other home—all the way to bearing witness to recovery.

And that’s home—the recovery part. Home is not suffering. Home is recovery.

People ask me how I’ve done this work for so long…how I have managed to bear this much pain with patients over the years, how my own psyche doesn’t collapse from facing evil day in and day out—bearing witness to the monumental amount of darkness in the world. This much I know is true—bearing witness is not just about the suffering because suffering rarely has the last word.

If I have learned anything from thousands of hours of this work and a God that is my wing-Man, it is that I am not only bearing witness to suffering but to the dawn that breaks afterwards. Suffering is not the end of the story. It’s the introduction, it’s the fore word, it’s the prelude, it’s the chapter titles, but it is not the conclusion. Holiness trumps pathology. Light makes darkness recede.

I have lived by Psalm 27:13 which promises that I will not be swallowed up in staring at evil my whole career. It says, “I remain confident of this: I WILL see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” And this too is the bearing witness of your recovery—that the goodness of the Holy is that recovery happens and that we all are here to validate that you are less numb, less distracted, less in flash backs.

Our community of helpers and survivors is here to do just that—simply to bear witness. The path back needs a witness—because we all are just walking each other home—to recovery. Don’t mistake the journey for your destination.

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information).