How Woodworking is Helping One Trauma Survivor to Heal

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Robert Johnson talks about how a hobby he started to please his wife became an ongoing source of healing from past trauma.

To start from a very beginning. It is necessary to get the whole picture. My childhood was terrible. I experienced family traumas daily, since my dad was violent, and my mother felt that on every part of her body. Day after day, year after year. Until he died. My sister and I, youngsters, most of the things we learned were on our own. We were suited with basics, like food, clothes, but never with good advice, the good road ahead and love. Our mother really wanted, but she wasn’t able.

All grown up, each of us took the life in their hands. In 15 or so, we were outside, finding the purpose, working and making the things better. Some people that became the part of our lives were good, some of them were really bad and we experienced most of the good and bad things up to our twenties. For some people, life is too short to experience that much.

As years, situations and obligations came across, we split. That is normal. But, in normal life circumstances. I was alone and then the real troubles started. I finally got a decent job, had a girlfriend (now my wife) and I relaxed. For the first time in my life. At the time I stopped rushing, my traumas crashed on me with all the power. With help of my wife, I realized that my emotional and psychical well-being is in serious danger, but it took me over a year to accept and go to the doctors. I was diagnosed CPTSD and my battle started.

First 2 years were terrible. Medications, changing doctors, finding the right one. Believe it or not, the most difficult thing in a healing psychological illness is finding the right psychotherapist and psychiatrist. But when you do so, make sure to keep it and do your best to cooperate, listen and be obeying in relation to advice therapy.

After the first 2 years of healing, I felt better. This period is totally individual and that is how happened to me. What was wrong is that I thought I am healed. I rarely visited my doctor and thought I am able to deal with the normal life and have enough strength. My thought was wrong. Don’t remember how much time had passed, but the revealing pictures came back. I knew that I need my therapy, but I also knew I will need something more to keep me up all the time. My wife gave me strength, I couldn’t succeed without it, but woodworking helped me engage myself and discover fun again.

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…woodworking helped me engage myself and discover fun again

The first meeting happened during one fair in my hometown. I never paid attention to local woodworkers, but at the fair they had their booth with pieces and sort of campaign, to draw more attention to the work they do. I approached the booth with my wife, have a small talk and they mentioned there will be free workshops for people who are interested in. It sounded good, but at that time I left my job due to my treatments and my wife was the only one working. My courage and self-esteem were down and all the things I was doing were around and inside the house.

But she didn’t give up. She considered I will feel better if I find something to do and that something is a hobby, not a demanding job. She insisted and took me to that wood workshop. My experiences vary, but only until I become in love with wood. How that happened is very difficult to explain, because the things you usually do in your workshop or making a piece sneeze under your skin and stay there.

This is my experience. It doesn’t mean that you will have the same feelings about woodworking. I fell in love and truly believe that it helped me move forward and has become a part of my healing strategy.

As I mentioned, I started that workshop without my will but wanted to please my wife. And I just went there. Without any expectations nor any emotions. I was a blank piece of paper and my emotions were soaked. The first week of a workshop was very difficult. I wanted to give up, struggled with my concentration and felt lost. I wasn’t able to brush a simple piece and I was devastated. It reminded me of my past. Suddenly, I realized. Every single situation will remind me of my past. The whole life. Why lose opportunities while you can at least enjoy the moment. And the woodworking is just a perfect choice for that.

low self-esteem and faith in myself was a normal state of mind, woodworking helped me step forward to an appreciation and love of myself

I became a wood addict. The process made me an addict. The smells, the equipment, the dirt, the dust. Very simple things, but yet, I wasn’t noticing the details neither enjoyed them. While making a piece the whole process gave me a new meaning: I am not worthless, I can create, and I am capable to make something. Since the low self-esteem and faith in myself was a normal state of mind, woodworking helped me step forward to an appreciation and love of myself.

My course ended and back then I had a new struggle – how to be persistent when bad days come? My instructor and great wood expert noticed that. I needed encouragement and he gave it to me. A small cutter and words of his experience, which I will never forget. I needed them at that moment the most.

Almost every night, woodworking is in my dreams. I was dreaming and still dream of how I make people happy with woodworking. I decided to continue processing wood and soon my new workshop was settled. Basic tools, small place, but very helpful. Sometime during the night, when I wasn’t able to sleep, my workshop was my consolation. All the efforts and will were invested in wood. And wood returned back. Its smell, satisfaction after every piece and feeling that I am worth became the leading star of my everyday life.

I am at the workshop every day. That is what I started doing for a living, also. Years have passed, I am still under therapy and still recovering. Not sure I will ever recover. But I found my passion. Feeling better will not come up tomorrow. Next week neither. Neither next month. It will come slowly after processing many pieces and peeling many crusts. Did I mention that the first time I told my mother and my sister I have CPTSD was in my workshop?