Healing, a foreword

My favorite toy growing up was, hands down, my dollhouse. I loved it. Even sitting here as an adult I find comfort in knowing it’s still in my parent’s attic. ‘Make believe’ truly defined my childhood, with my dollhouse as the centerpiece. I loved that I could approach it every day or hour by hour either extending the narrative I had created earlier or completely starting from scratch. I was never stuck in a story I didn’t want.

Which reminds me of the time I once ran away. I honestly cannot tell you what provoked this rebellion, but I went all the way to the back of the yard (take that mom and dad!) and hid under my favorite pine trees. What did I bring with me? Two beloved old books from a garage sale (that I couldn’t yet read on my own) and a notebook. I sat under the trees and pretended to be a stranded professor. I was smart and a survivor and able to do anything because that’s what smart, stranded professors could do. It’s a cute story, but underneath it (just like the dollhouse) packs a message I’ve feared my entire life: my story as is, is not enough. A self deprecating mantra that stated, “To be worthy you must be more than you are.”

To sit inside the understanding that as a child day dreaming was both an escape and a nightmare is unnerving. I was a creative kid. I loved story. I never realized that part of that obsession was because I felt my own narrative was broken and less than. How could I? The problem now is that I’m starting to see a pattern, a cycle of chasing worthiness from the wrong sources, with the wrong tools, for the wrong reasons. And the problem with seeing is, once you see something you cannot unsee it.

The world as we know it right now is in a forced pause as we navigate through quarantine 2020. I like calling it a forced pause because it is truly how I am experiencing the epidemic. You see whether I wanted to acknowledge it or not, I’ve been running for some time. I don’t mean the healthy kind you do for cardio and extra wine on the weekends. I mean running, as fast I could and as far as I could, from the place that I was. You see, if you run hard enough and fast enough you don’t have time to look back. You don’t have time to pay attention to the signs and red flags. Your history of pivoting when shit hits the fan is like muscle memory and you accept it like you always have. You turn a blind eye because you have to. That’s what competitors do to survive. They don’t’ listen to anyone else on the course, they focus on their goal ahead. Getting to the next finish line. Creating the next story because the one you built your life on just fucking crumbled.

Running isn’t always actual movements by the way, but it is always internal decisions. Sometimes running takes the form of hunkering down, ignoring the things around you because you believe surviving demands it. Sometimes running is giving up, letting go of all your ambitions and hope because it’s getting to be too much work to keep holding them up as the world says no. And yes, sometimes running is actually getting up and escaping. No matter what it looks like physically on the outside, I define running as a defense mechanism response to personal trauma and triggers. Running is rough stuff.

As you can imagine, then, a forced pause is a crippling thing to a well accomplished running plan – if accomplishment means distance created from the thing you can’t or aren’t coping with. It forces you to… pause. To stop. And if you can’t focus on the next thing in your fixer upper, if you can’t keep yourself dizzy with activity, if you can’t run after the displaced blame you put somewhere else, you eventually have to experience all the things you were running from. What’s worse is you eventually can’t help but turn around. To see how far you’ve gone (not come). To realize you’re bulldozing your own path into a place never meant to walked . Into a place never meant to be under construction. Into a place never meant to be… yours. And once you turn around, you cannot unsee what we’ve begun to see.

So with all this on my mind and these wounds still newly opened and nowhere near healed, I found myself in contrasting emotions. I found myself relieved to find a moment of peace. I know that sounds utterly ridiculous, peace when all hell has broken loose internally but it was there nonetheless. Like my heart had been beaten up so much by the running it never had a chance to rest. Peace as if the indescribable pain was better than the numbing mechanisms that had been in practice up until this point. Peace as if just maybe the pain had moved from ‘self sabotaging’ pain to ‘self becoming’ pain. Yet in the contrast I admit there was also a lot of shame. Shame I didn’t pay attention to the signs, shame I didn’t have the strength to stay where I was, shame that I wasn’t brave enough or kind enough or wise enough. Shame. Shame. Shame. On repeat.

That’s where I find myself. In contrast. What I’m learning is that maybe healing is a stage of existence, not a step to check off on the ‘to do’ list. And if healing is an entire stage in the human condition, in my current condition, than maybe healing is defined differently than what we’ve tried to make it in the past. I’ve always looked at healing as a place to get to – a mountain to defeat with a constant climb up of glowing reviews and gold stars along the way. An internal fanfare event if you will, with pats on the back and ‘way to go sluggers’. Like when you were in t-ball back in those early years. You could have missed the tee every time and ran the bases backwards, but by golly you’d get a pat on the back at the end anyway. I guess I’ve looked at healing as a place I wasn’t required to try much. I was doing it, ok? I was there in the grief, what more could you actually need of me?

The thing that I’m realizing in this new place, in this place where life is paused and pain is being demanded to be felt, is that healing comes in waves. Sometimes there is peace, sometimes there is shame, and sometimes there is more pain than there was when you started. Healing lives in contrast because it is not stagnant. It’s not something you show up to and get a ‘participating’ trophy for. Healing is a different kind of sport entirely, one that does not happen without surrender to it, without an active willingness to get down into the trenches and dig up the junk you’ve been burying one by one. Healing is a choice.  

I’ve lost a lot of time and gained a lot of bruises viewing healing as something that will just happen along the way. If I say the things and I keep mimicking all the right movements, healing would just occur as a I ran forward into the next chapter. If anything I viewed healing as a distraction, something preventing me from moving forward. It’s excruciating to sit still and become aware that yes you were moving, but forward isn’t exactly what you would call it. Left of center maybe? Backwards possibly? Just not forward.