I transit the underworld every day in the work I do with severely traumatized clients. If you do this work, it’s helpful to be personally familiar with the terrain. It’s equally important that you have–for the most part–found your own way out and have found your own place and footing in the sunshine. It’s helpful to be able to remember what it feels like to walk as a ghost among disbelievers. To hope to do this work well, you need to be able to hold a dual position and be comfortable with the disequilibrium that comes. I spend my days interacting with ghosts. Often I must appear like a ghost to them, sitting three feet and thirty years away. Often they seem scarcely present at all… most of their bodies might as well be any other part of the room, with all of the distress coming through the fragmented parts that are visible.
The underworld has a logic that is not rational, contextual, or chronological. It’s a landscape shaped by horrors of body memory. Everything is about personal space and safety. For those who have never had a safe place here, the underworld itself provides some comparatively safe accommodations. You can flee into it almost infinitely, but the rent that you pay compounds by the foot. The earliest interventions I do focus on communicating as clearly as I can that I see her. Visibility is important to ghosts. I try to recognize her dual position. I try to extend as much empathy as I can to the inherent distress and contradictions that comes from having a tentative footing between two intolerable worlds. I work to figure out what she needs in order to move safely at all… in order to feel safe enough to become more embodied in this world. For a long time, everything we do is about safety and becoming safely present.
The hard part is that we do much of this while sitting. I can’t carry her. I have no real power in either world. I can’t make this world safe for her. There is a lot I don’t understand about the underworld. I do not control the means of movement here or there. All I can do is offer my sense of spatial awareness and my navigational advice. Sometimes my intuition is wrong or ill-timed. I may help her feel more real, only for her to be visible enough to be revictimized. I cannot keep her safe. I can witness.
I transit the underworld every day in the work I do with severely traumatized clients. It takes a toll. I struggle to maintain my own visibility. Sometimes my clients find their way out. They find their own footing and place in the sunshine. Some of them will become underworld workers too, helping to make other traumatized people feel safer and more real. This might help create spaces for a community of healers to play an important advocacy and protective role for all of us.