My first therapist was poetry. Every so often I reflect back looking in the rear view mirror to see how far I’ve come. I often use the analogy of the “rear view mirror” in therapy as inspiration for those I serve who often get stuck in the past. Those for whom the traumas, transgressions, incidents can still leave them paralyzed in the moment. I say the purpose of the “rear view mirror is to allow survivors to see what is behind them in order to move forward. If one is backing up, that is another thing, but more often the “rear view mirror” is used to gain awareness of what is behind us, how close it appears as we journey forward.
Thinking back, I became acquainted with poetry, my first therapist, at a very young age. In some ways I believe it to be my birthright, as my mother wrote verse. Poetry becoming a means of release proved to be not just a means of creative expression, it proved to be a vehicle for survival, literally. Not many people know that my childhood was tumultuous. Today, it is not how I present in the world. I’ve done the healing work through therapy and through building relationships with individuals who have been patient and empathetic, authentic in their kindness and nurturing, as I slowly grew to accept that they were safe for me. Poetry was the common thread during these seasons of my life. As a child, I recall some family members discouraging me from writing, saying things like “Why you write all those sad poems?” Well, because I was sad. As a kid I always found it interesting how adults could see “red flags” and do nothing. Needless to say, as an adult, part of my work has been repairing broken attachment. Poetry has helped me there as well.
So fast forwarding, let me share how my poetry therapist helped me break through even while still being haunted by bogeymen. During college I was still writing and once I transferred from Upsala College to Kean College I became a part of a group called A. T.O.U.C.H. O.F. R.E.A.L.L.I.T.Y. We became very popular and were blessed to tour all throughout the US and parts of Canada. At one of the Kwanzaa Celebrations at our Alma Mater, Kean College, now Kean University, we opened for The Last Poets. This was the beginning of us being mentored by them and having a very rich, personal relationship with Abiodun Oyewole. Poetry, grits, salmon cakes, and for the guys, basketball, was the norm. Poets came from everywhere. Dun’s house was the hub. My therapist opened doors I probably would never have entered into otherwise. The many names, places, the cyphers and vibe parties, truly were more than this inner city girl could ever imagine. I learned not to be as sad; at times I wasn’t sad at all, gifts all found through poetic expression. My worldview changed, and so did my content and context.
From the planet of Brooklyn, a rose indeed grew from the concrete where addiction and abuse were commonplace.
I no longer frequent the poetry scene as I once did. Until recently, I didn’t even write much anymore. If I was honest, I’d say some life transitions are hard to put on paper. Much like when a client must first be resourced, often well resourced, before they can say “it” out loud. “It” is all relative here, “it” changes based on the person and circumstances.
As I entered seminary, a shift occurred, and I felt my voice was taken away. This had nothing to do with religion at all, ironically, I had just released my first gospel poetic CD and was performing regularly. It was even sold in our campus bookstore. A part of me became scared to write, in fear of what I would say. This season laid ground for me to finally get into professional therapy. While verse, metaphor and rhyme were great for making the pain digestible, I was long overdue to deal with “it” outright.
It has been more than 10 years since I walked into that therapist’s office. The amount of repair work and healing I have experienced, both through creative writing and professional therapists, through the years has been beyond valuable. So, why this blog?
Recently I became a filmmaker. I wrote and directed a short film based on a poem written during my more active days on the poetry scene. The amazing thing about this adaptation is that I no longer own a physical copy of the piece. Computers where it was stored, or disk systems able to read the data, are long gone. But, let me tell you how the Spirit works. When I decided to apply for the filmmaking class through the 5 Shorts Project, I felt I knew what piece I was going to write from. Weeks before the deadline, I kept being awakened out of my sleep with stanzas from the piece, “Black Cases.” With my phone nearby I just kept adding what came to my notes. Before I knew it, there it was in its entirety. After submitting to 5 Shorts Project, being accepted within days, George Floyd was murdered and in that instance; I knew why it had to be that piece.
I promise that is not a spoiler!
In closing, wherever you find yourself in your journey of healing, may you explore healthy means of expression. It doesn’t matter whether it is reflected in happy, sad or other emotional tones in between. Nor does it matter if it is shared or archived privately. Just create, write, dance, paint… and get it out of you. And may you also have the courage to walk into a professional therapist/counselor office as that is where the tide can truly shift, and silence can be achieved, even when we are awake. It is where safe space is cultivated, tools are learned and the fullness of one’s voice is spoken and heard without judgement. All of which, allow us to keep our eyes focused ahead, using the “rear view mirror” as it was designed to chart the way forward.
May Your Hope Be Full,
Tamara R. Jackson
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