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  • Tara Ferguson, PhD

Reflections on hurting and helping: Shannon's Story.

Guest blogger, Shannon Roberts CSAC-R, shares a personal story about her journey into the counseling profession. She is a recent graduate from Liberty University’s Professional Counseling Master’s program. Shannon is currently in the process of getting her LPCA, pursuing toward full licensure as a professional counselor. You can learn more about her at her blog here:

I was a senior in high school when I decided I wanted to major in psychology. I had no idea what I would do with that major, but I felt like even though I hadn't experienced much life yet, or really even much hurt yet, hurting people were drawn to me. At the time, I felt like counseling was for hurting people and I could help them. I didn't have a lot of stigmas about mental health. I didn't feel like counseling was just for "crazy people", I felt it was for broken and hurting people. Of which, I believed, was a category every human being fell into.

I don't think at that time I grasped what it meant to truly be hurting and broken.

Now, that being said, I don't think that you have to have personal experience in a subject to be able to have experience in counseling individuals through it. Even if you have lost your dad, that won't necessarily mean that you are the best person to counsel someone who lost their dad. Every circumstance is different. None of us truly understands what someone else's pain was like. We cannot compare our pain to others pain. For some, losing their childhood dog, may be harder than losing their father. I also think, contrary to many beliefs, that you can be a Substance Abuse Counselor without every struggling with substance misuse personally. I think there are benefits both ways. There is a way for your pain to be given a purpose by using what you have gone through to help others with what they are going through. There are also ways to allow your heart to break for what breaks others.

That being said, when I didn't grasp what it meant to go through real hurt myself, I saw many others go through very real hurt that broke my heart. I learned about the reality of human trafficking happening in my own backyard of Tampa, FL at the time. I saw classmates mourn the loss of their siblings and friends in tragic car accidents. I learned of friends who had only experienced trauma in their childhood and were being forced to grow up far too fast.

Then, I got married. Really young. It was a huge change, in a good way. My marriage was even better than I thought it would've been or could've been. But then, a dear friend from high school committed suicide. There was a whirlwind of very complicated emotions that came up for me in the midst of that tragedy. She had been one of the main reasons I chose to go into professional counseling. Being and feeling unequipped to help her as she struggled with suicidal thoughts and ideations in high school, as a friend to her in high school, caused me to want to know more about how I could really help people with these struggles and thoughts in the future. Our friendship had ended tragically among a large miscommunication and misconception that I was not able to clear up. I waited around every turn of big events in my life for a text or a phone call from her. I thought about her often. When I got the news of her death it completely blind-sided me. Granted, I also found out from a friend texting me a link to a Facebook post. I am still at a loss for words to truly describe all that I felt.

I realized in that season that I cared and continue to care more deeply about every relationship I have and have ever had than many others I knew. Many people I confided in did not understand why this would upset me to the degree it did. They questioned, because we were "no longer close" when it happened, because it was "just a friend from high school" or compared this loss of my friend to not measuring up with the loss of their family member at my age. It was like a competition. I learned a lot about the way many people attempt to compare their pain and the harm that can cause.

The truth about me, is that anyone who has confided in me and I in them, will always hold a dear place in my heart, no matter the way our relationship ends or continues. I am a big "lover". I love deeply. I am an advocate. That is me. That is why I chose the profession I did. I've been warned often that it can be hazardous in this profession, but I believe it also makes you more equipped for this profession. Many others have confirmed this to me.

A month passed, I was still deep in grief and then, I got kidney stones. Yes, as a 21-year-old female, I got kidney stones. The doctors decided it was from the flu that gave me intense dehydration on my wedding day[1]. Just a random fun fact for you. (Check the footnotes if you want more on that.)

Then, the month after that, my cousin passed away. He was one of the other large reasons I had chosen to go into professional counseling. My whole life I watched him struggle with many drug addictions and depression. I went to every rehabilitation graduation and heard him and many others share their story and their victories. He made me make promises he "could've never kept himself" and I did them all for him. He set the bar extremely high for me. He had experienced a massive life change after some time in jail and was doing really well. We had gotten closer than we had ever been in his last two years of life as he tried to "make up for lost time". I was again, completely blind-sided in this loss. Had the phone call come, two years prior, I would've almost expected it. He had told me in one of our last conversations that he wanted to come and share his story with our students I was volunteering with and students all around the country, and even the world. I believed him. I looked forward to it. But then, in a situation I still do not know many details of, his story ended. With that, I wish I could say a fire was lit inside of me to help others with substance misuse struggles. That was not the case. I wanted to run, not walk, in the complete opposite direction.

Then my mom's voice popped in my head. In elementary school, I experienced a lot of hurt from other people. In that time, I remember my mom looking me straight in the eyes and saying, "Shannon, you WILL not fall into the trappings of the mindset of the excuse that 'hurting people hurt people'. You will help people; you will not hurt people. You may have been hurt by people, you may be hurting, but you will help people, maybe even those people who have hurt you". She was a strong woman, she still is. She was and still is a declarative woman. She speaks things to you that you just learn to trust as truth.

Today, I'm pursuing my certification as a substance abuse counselor, much to my own surprise. Through this process I have seen a whole other side to the harsh reality of the epidemic of addiction. I have a new perspective on the challenge and hardships individuals go through to, daily, make a choice not to use.

The grief and the loss continued in my story. The grief has seemed to hit closer and closer to home, and seems harder and harder to process. Today, I'm still hurting. The loss of these two individuals from this world still feels fresh and still carries a weight of confusion. The loss of two more individuals 2 years later, often still feels unbearable, unexplainable, and unreasonable.

I read a blog on grief recently titled, "Everyone around you is grieving, Go Easy" by John Pavlovitz. He mentioned wanting to have been able to wear a sign, when he was grieving the loss of his father that read, "I just lost my dad, please go away". I get that. The irony is that when we're grieving that's what we want to tell people, but what we really want is often for them to stay. Just to stay with us or sit with us in our grief. I'm a firm believer that when we can find a purpose to our pain that there can be great healing in that. Purpose in life drives our life.

Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life" has said that, "We are products of our past, but we don't have to be prisoners of it".

Levi Lusko, author of "Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power", has stated that, "What oxygen is to the lungs, hope is to our survival in the world".

I'm hurting. But, I'm choosing to also continue helping. I have chosen to try to see the hurt others are facing when they may seem like the are out to hurt me. (To the point that I annoy my husband when people cut him off in traffic saying things like, "Maybe they just lost their job and they can't focus on anything else but that right now". My favorite excuse is "Maybe their wife is in labor in the back seat screaming at them".)

I have chosen to counsel individuals through their hurt. I have chosen to share with others my story, when I feel it can benefit them, in my life. I have chosen to let people in to my life. I have chosen to do all I can to sit with and be with friends and family who find themselves grieving. I refuse to let any of the hurt I have faced from circumstances, individuals, or myself give me the excuse to hurt other people. I don't need to contribute any more hurt to this already hurting world. I want to speak only words of life instead of words of death that go on to define other's lives in a deadly fashion.

Don't hide your hurt away. Share your story. Allow the hurt you've gone through to help others find their healing.

Extra Reading:

Sources of Quotes mentioned:

Blog: "Everyone Around You Is Grieving. Go Easy".

Books Mentioned:

Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren is a book on purpose that many therapists base their techniques and models of counseling off of.

Through The Eyes Of A Lion, by Levi Lusko is a pain about his story of pain and finding pain as a "passport to get you to place you could never get without it".

[1] *wedding flu: Yeah so, at the end of my rehearsal dinner, the night before my wedding, I got kind of nauseous, and had never (in my life) thrown up before, but started throwing up and stuff. That didn't end. Come 2am of my wedding day I was getting pretty pale and my cousins rushed me to the ER where they pumped me with 3.5 bags of IV fluids in my arm while I sat there in my pink "BRIDE" shirt. Everyone was cheering for me, and I made it to my wedding (just a smidge behind schedule).

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