A NEW BOX OF CRAYONS: Beginning Again and the Trauma Cycle

I’m not going to lie. No matter how old I get I still can’t help getting excited as September rolls around. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in school but I still live my life by an academic calendar. I want nothing more than to spend late August strolling through the aisles of an office supply store, finding the new pens and folders that are going to make this year the year where I finally get totally organized, thus making me a “better” person. Sure, it’s a lot to ask from a folder with a sparkly puppy on it, or a new teal colored sharpie marker, but every year I – and my kindred spirits in the crowds at Staples – really believe that it can be achieved.

The concept of beginning again has been has been ingrained in many of us since childhood. My mother was a teacher, so school supply shopping became my pathway for a fresh start. Her teaching credentials gave us access to a special teacher supply store that for me, was akin to a Dylan’s Candy Bar experience. Everything a kid like me could dream of to make school more exciting was there. But no matter how many cool, puffy stickers they had, the truth for me is there was nothing more amazing than a new box of crayons. Opening up the box and inhaling the waxy, fresh scent; eyeing the array of vibrant colors; the uniformity of the rows; and the picture-perfect points represented endless possibilities. To this day, a new year plus a new box of crayons equals a new me.

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As we begin this new academic year at CANY, I think about all the ‘crayons’ laid out before us: new groups, new clients, new site partners and new staff. CANY serves some of the most traumatized and vulnerable in our city. This year, we will work with women and children affected by domestic and intimate partner violence; veterans and active duty service men and women; youth and adults with developmental disabilities; and youth who have experienced chronic abuse, neglect, violence and poverty.

Because we ended many of our programs in June, our staff has had the privilege of looking at September as a new beginning. But our clients did not get to take a break from their situations or stories. For many, beginning again seems like impossibility. Trauma does not grant breaks or vacations. So it is important for those of us who work in a trauma-informed system to remember how difficult beginnings can be for many of our clients. Although we are beginning a “new” program year, we are in fact joining our clients mid-story, on a non-linear journey.

I do remember. I hold the stories of every child and adult I have worked with. I hold them with great care. I understand that the thought of beginning again can be difficult and fraught with memories and potential triggers, but I also understand that opportunities to begin again or to imagine a new possibility are still worth inviting. Drama therapy makes space for clients to make a choices, step into new roles and explore something different.

In our trauma-informed model, we are mindful as to how we enter a new space with new clients. I have heard time again from our clients that they feel they don’t measure up; that they are not good enough; that they have made too many mistakes; that they are too broken. Yet while their feelings are valid, I don’t believe they don’t measure up. Broken crayons still color and sometimes the bits make more interesting art than the unbroken crayons. This year, I look forward to exploring with our clients the masterpieces that come from the broken bits. Robert Fulghum summarizes my dream best:

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At CANY we empower people to envision new possibilities for themselves and “cover the world with imagination”. We strive offer all the colors in the box – and guide our clients to create new colors.; We offer the chance to begin again and embrace the broken pieces. We believe that every one of our clients has a unique color to offer this world and it is a honor to co-create with them each year.

So while I understand that a trip to Staples will not ultimately make me a better person, bearing witness to my client’s bravery and struggles will. The new box of crayons that I get to open this year, will be filled with colors named Hurt, Pain and Anger. But right next to will be Hope, Joy and Creativity so, I join the CANY community in taking a deep breath and beginning again.

Heidi Blog Photo
Heidi Landis LCAT, RDT-BCT, TEP, CGP

CANY Associate Executive Director

(All images retrieved from the public domain.)

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