The Seattle School’s relational and experiential curriculum is embodied in the Practicum process, which invites students to the beautiful risk of vulnerability and authenticity—rooted in the belief that cultivating vulnerability in ourselves is crucial to fully showing up in relationship and inviting meaningful healing and growth in others. Here, Kayla Rees, a second-year MA in Counseling Psychology student, writes about how showing up in Practicum has invited her to new depths of honesty, vulnerability, and authentic expression of her emotional and embodied realities. This post is part of a new series that reflects on different moments in the student lifecycle at The Seattle School.

Today is a day for a re-assessment of strength.

It began like this: Three months ago, I fell in love. I walked along the Fremont Canal with a man who took my hand and asked me to give him more. I looked into his eyes and knew that he was beginning to understand the weight of all the sexual abuse, abandonment, and fear in my past. I had learned to ask for what I needed: I knew that when I told him not to touch me, he would listen. I was beginning to trust him, and that feeling began to overwhelm my fear, and so I said yes.

I took a leap, and fell in love shortly after. I learned what it was like to express both love and fear within a relationship. I learned that I could hold boundaries, that I had rights to my body, that I could be sad or fearful or grouchy. It was thrilling and nerve-wracking to be met in these things—often even encouraged in honoring my pacing and my body.

Through this process I often reflected on my time during my first year at The Seattle School. After a year of fighting just to be, just as I am, these felt like huge leaps forward.

A year ago, I walked into first-year Practicum and proceeded to be entirely silent for a whole semester. I watched as people around me struggled through their relational dynamics, fighting to understand how they existed in the world around them. Bound by fear, I remained quiet. It took me those first four months to understand the thrill of actually having something to say. An entire semester of speechlessness led to a second semester of creativity and risk. As many of us do, I explored the parts of my story that terrified me, and began speaking truths that had for so long been hidden in the dark.

It took me those first four months to understand the thrill of actually having something to say.

The truths in my body seemed disastrous to me at times. I grew up around suicide, sexual abuse, and fear of death, and at times speaking in Practicum felt like endangering those around me. The truth was simply too much. I had a group that began constantly asking me, Where are you? Suddenly the silence was damaging too. I was afraid that the truth would kill those around me, but I realized that the silence was killing me.

And so I spoke. I told the truth. I spoke it in Practicum, and to my therapist, and to my family, and finally, to my boyfriend. The heaviness of abuse and fear came alive in me as I spoke what I needed. It was terrifying and liberating that I could do this, and to my surprise, he survived it. More than that, he joined me in it. My tears became his tears as I shared the pain of my abuse, and of the abuse that is involved in being a woman in general.

I showed up, and I fell in love—and he didn’t.

It went wonderfully until it didn’t, and I was left with a lot of vulnerability and broken expectations. The strength I had found in showing up, in speaking truth, seemed to diminish. I brought 100 percent and that wasn’t enough…this cannot be how it is supposed to work.

The same day that he broke up with me, I began second-year Practicum. Again, I was reminded of the fearful and silent me who entered Practicum just one year ago. This year, the room saw me weep just minutes into class. Through these few weeks I’ve begun to understand just what it can mean to truly show up. That being strong does not always feel good.

Sometimes being strong means crying through the first day of Practicum, and through singing in Theology, and while selling pastries, and while pulling espresso shots. Sometimes it means shakily handing a bewildered customer a cup of coffee. Sometimes it means saying to your slightly agitated manager, “I need to cry upstairs for about four minutes. I’ll be right back.”

My entire life, I have been taught to hold pain close. I’ve felt the effects of this often through physical pain, but most tangibly it’s been felt in my relationships with those around me. Drowning pain meant sacrificing vulnerability and closeness—two things that I desperately need.

Drowning pain meant sacrificing vulnerability and closeness—two things that I desperately need.

These past few weeks I have learned what it means to show up and hope for vulnerability and closeness. I’ve slept on the couch with my roommate, called my therapist outside of my designated hour, and hugged my (slightly alarmed) coworkers. I’ve cried (and cried and cried) and blessed the tears instead of hating them.

First-year Practicum prepared me for my first safe relationship. I learned not only to ask for what I need, but to demand it. I learned to speak the truth, to know my body, and to protect it.

Fortunately, it also prepared me for the dissolution of this relationship. What felt overwhelming became more bearable every day. I wish I could say I have perfected it, that as the grief came, I welcomed it. This is far from the case, but I can say that most days the tears are okay. I do not hold them with hatred; instead, I allow them to speak the truth of what I’m feeling.

It is with shaky hope that I continue working through the world of sorrow and grief that is heartbreak. To those who have hugged me in the hallways, thank you. I am profoundly lucky to study in a place where the heartbroken can be, just as they are. It is in this place where I will continue showing up, whether it be out of my joy, my hope, my sorrow, or my heartbreak.