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  • Writer's picturecharlottewhitether

Orange is the New Black Season 2 Episode 9

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

There is one particular scene from Orange is the new Black which I wanted to talk about on this blog. It is from the ninth episode of season two, when Piper (contrary to most other inmates who don't have her privileges) gets furlough to go to her grandmother’s funeral. Piper is in prison for money laundering and criminal conspiracy offences. For context if you haven’t seen the show, Piper has left her comfortable middle class life, fiancée, and business to do her time in prison.

At the funeral some family friends tell Piper, they still see her the person who was always in the newspaper for something, always achieving. They say ‘we still see you as that person…I’m sure you’re anxious to return to that person.’ She replies ‘I’m not actually.’ For me this scene really says something profound about change, and possibly post traumatic growth which I will touch on below. This scene illustrates that we are often wrongly given the message that living a life free of difficult events is the one we should aspire to. That we should follow a well-trodden path of building our material possessions, succeeding, and being productive. But there is often little positive focus on simply bearing difficult life events, or moreover that we might be more rounded, compassionate, wise, and empathic people as the result of what we have experienced. This scene also raises the interesting question of whether we would go back to our previous life if we could. Piper is clear that she wouldn’t go back. She seems to have re-evaluated what is important to her. During this scene she is watching her seemingly lower achieving, eccentric brother, dancing happily with his wife. We are encouraged to wonder if she would have looked at this moment in the same way had she not been in prison. New experiences, however painful, bring new perspectives.

Heraticlus says: ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man.’ Change is certainly inevitable, and if we don’t stop to realise it we can underestimate this. We are often engaged in a different process, that of attempting to keep things the same and becoming overly preoccupied with controlling things. This scene asks us to consider how challenges can also help us realise our resilience, our capacity for change, and engender gratitude in us when life becomes easier. I would argue our capacity to change is one of the most important aspects of being human, and something to value highly. People who face adversity later in life are sometimes at a disadvantage, not having these experiences to draw on. Essentially if we could face that (whatever it is we've gone through) we can face this (our current problems.) Again most people don't take the time to pat themselves on the back for simply coming through it, being alive now, and embracing whatever is to come.

In terms of post traumatic growth, sometimes more significant, traumatic moments happen in our lives. Trauma can be understood as any situation which challenges our core beliefs, usually linked to our sense of safety in the world. When we have experienced trauma we have to recalibrate in order to assimilate this experience, and this recalibration is the tricky process. In doing so we have to make often dramatic changes to the way we see things. We might have to accept the reality that we cannot be safe in this world, we can only find a way to experience fear and work with it. It can take a lot of work, in and out of therapy to regain a sense of safety and security again. Sometimes we need to gain new skills (self defence classes for example) have a different relationship with our bodies, use art and writing, or tell our story in order to make sense of this. My view is that therapy can be an essential part of this too, particularly EMDR, which helps work through painful memories which relate to this change in our core beliefs. The famous book 'The Body Keeps the Score: Mind Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma' (by Bessel Van Der Kolk) approaches this with wonderful openness to how different things work for different people, including drama therapy, constellations, and yoga.

In terms of a clearer definition of post traumatic growth, the following is taken from:

‘Post traumatic growth was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s, and holds that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward.

"People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life," says Tedeschi’

Rather than focus on erasing our painful experiences, we would be better served to be open about them, where we can, in therapy if that feels right. Working with adversity can be a completely different experience to focusing on life goals as we previously understood them. It may not be the life we chose, but it is the examined life, and that in and of itself, I believe, truly means something.

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