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Thoughts on Healing Poetry and Mental Health | Jim Elsaesser, PPM

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Sometimes, sometimes things are so unbearable.

So heartbreaking,

So difficult.

You can’t imagine how to survive.

 

Despair,

Tears,

Heartache.

Anger, every emotion there is.

 

Stages of grief?

How ridiculous!

Stages? No.

I have them all at once.

 

~ Kristi, Rise Up! Poetry


Several years ago, John Fox and I were having a conversation on the phone. I said something like, “You know, it’s amazing what can happen in a room when people are given permission to simply speak and listen.” John replied, “And there’s a third element to that, Jim…Integration.” When I asked John what he meant he replied, “Integration in that, it’s okay to come home to ourselves.”

 

I have shared that very brief but enlightening conversation many times over the years where John took a kind of clinical term and made it into a kind of story…that it’s okay to come home to ourselves.

 

When I think of Mental Health, I guess I should start by saying that I am not a clinician, but to my mind it seems that many times our Mental Health is diminished by a loss of self that John alluded to. Through our myriad life experiences, we have lost our sense of Self-hood, lost our innate sense of wonder and curiosity, lost our sense of worthiness in who we are—as we are, in a deeply transactional society that is often grounded in appearances. In large segments of our world, we no longer really sing much together, dance much together, even speak much together. But in our poetry gatherings, in our own way, we do.

 

What a joy it is to share Healing Poetry! In previous notes with IPM, I have shared my 10 Non-Negotiable Rules for Writing Poetry. No Apologies for Anything You Write. Have Fun! And…I have forgotten the other 8 Rules so let’s just use those two. Why not? It may seem like a ridiculous thing to share seemingly flippant ‘rules,’ with populations who live with mental health challenges, who have suffered deep wounds from violence and loss. But in the sense of fun, perhaps we can laugh. Perhaps we can feel, again, and put words to paper. We can share. We can continue.


Jim Elsaesser & Nina Tripodi at the DASI Art Installation

Rise Up! Poetry at Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Services in Newton, NJ, is entering its ninth year of meeting weekly. In 2021, my colleague, Nina Tripodi, then DASI Prevention and Education Coordinator, and I began Healing Poetry meetings once per week at Bridgeway Behavioral Health Services. And in August 2023, Terri Grenot, DASI Coordinator of Counseling Services, and I began offering Healing Poetry at the Season of Healing in Sussex, NJ. Pictured here are Nina Tripodi and myself at the DASI Art Installation from April 2023, which Nina and I led. This was art and poetry from DASI clients and was truly a joyful celebration!


It has been a privilege to do this work with so many extraordinary and courageous individuals in the poetry groups. I feel blessed to have participated in the IPM Facilitator Training with my dear PPM friends in Cohort 3! I cherish our time together and know that the good work of Healing Poetry is radiating out into the world as we continue to gather, to speak, to listen, to share our laughter and our tears in our poems, and to share knowing that it is okay to come home to ourselves. It is okay to celebrate our lives and stories in Healing Poetry.

 

The Poem is a Mirror

 

The poem is a mirror revealing my hurt

The poem is a mirror helping to see myself

The poem is a mirror deep in my heart

The poem is a mirror telling me to stop being hard on myself

The poem is a mirror showing how strong I have grown

The poem is a mirror of gratitude


 

Jim Elsaesser is a social worker at Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Intervention Services, (DASI), in Newton, NJ. He facilitates Healing Poetry groups at the RiseUp! Poetry Project at DASI which are Healing Poetry workshops for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. He is a Group Facilitator and Peer Recovery Specialist at DECIDE, a program that works with men who have used violence in their relationships. He has facilitated poetry with the School of Leadership Afghanistan, (SOLA) for several years. His poems have appeared in The Stillwater Review, 2 River View, Seeds, Where Beach Meets Ocean, and The Paterson Literary Review. He is the father of Jessica and Lindsey and lives in Saylorsburg, PA, with his cats, Scout and Tom.

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