A Metaphor on Pain and Suffering
Don Alexander, M.S., BCETS, FAAETS


Once upon a time there was a youth who dreamed dreams of adventure and goodness. He came
from average people who worked hard and made sacrifices for their families. They came from
people who were farmers, who were primarily hill people, who had a strong belief in what was
fair and just and a stubborn propensity for standing up for those beliefs. They had always made
sacrifices, whether it be for their families or the country in which they lived.

The youth was a sensitive and perceptive son, who loved to sit and watch the hawks soaring in
the sky, smell the fresh cut hay and listen to the hounds running on cold nights.

One day, as was his habit, he stopped on the way to school to sit on the roots of a large Oak tree
and watch and listen. Down the road came two men. One reflected the light of the sun like a
knight errant. The other, who seemed to be almost in rags had a dark, moody and sad affect.
Both strode with the air of purpose and had a sense of adventure about them, although the dark
one was scarred and walked with a limp.

They stopped before the youth, who was immediately awed by the bright and shining one who
began to tell him stories of great adventure, sacrifice and honor. On and on he talked and the
youth became a part of the stories and when the stranger left, he was full of wonderment and
could not wait to make his life like this bright and shining stranger. There was a slight hint of a
shadow regarding the dark and silent one but this was quickly pushed aside by the memory of
indestructibility of the bright one.

The youth grew into a young man still dreaming of challenges and adventure. When war came to
his country he quickly went to become a soldier, ready to fulfill his destiny.

On the field of war he saw courage and sacrifice but also cruelty and callousness, sometimes
present in the same individual. Remembering the feeling of confidence and control of the bright
and shining stranger of his youth he strove to maintain this feeling for himself. And when he was
struck down on that chaotic field, in his terror and agony, he changed forever. Then began an
ordeal of struggling against the pain of so much lost. The pain and suffering within the body of
the youth became a tyrant. He returned to the country of his youth and all was changed. Even the
old Oak tree was gone. But the one of dark visage was still there, his scars and appearance too
foreboding to even acknowledge.

The youth frantically searched and sought for the bright one and the return of his dreams but he
searched in vain.

In pain and confusion he walked the roads of his youth and one day he came upon the dark one
who blocked his path. He rushed forward and a violent struggle began between them. From all
around others came to intercede and help but the two struggled on and on until finally the youth,
fatigued by his pain, fell down.
The other stood over him and the youth recognized something very familiar about him. The dark
one, who seemed to now reflect the light of the sun, said, "I came to you as a youth and spoke
with you, but you only heard what you could hear. You now have the mark of pain and suffering
of your experience and you must tell others for they too must face what is really real. They may
not hear you but you must convince them to listen differently."

The metaphor reflects a common theme in our culture; the heroic archetype that represents a
value system based on what is perceived as "right" and doing what is "right." When the "what is
right" is violated and the body and soul is traumatized the person reacts with fear and rage and
the body and soul suffers a deep sense of loss of control. The youth experiences this loss of
control, not only because of his trauma but also because of what he thought was right now seems
like an illusion. The cement that bonded him to his culture and its sense of order crumbles into
nothingness. He frantically tries to recapture it as it was but eventually is confronted with the
reality that he can not. The dark one reminds him and issues a call to him regarding his
responsibility to his humanness to share his story because all will sooner or later face this crisis.

The personal narrative is extremely important to the victim of posttraumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), the finding of one's voice and articulating their story. Even if in the beginning the story
is chaotic, the validation allows for the rebuilding of the illusions of control and that in a real
deep sense they are not illusions at all.