In my life I seem to continuously cycle through these times when I become swallowed by my wound, engulfed by the density of my own shadow. Like a wave that pulls me under I flail in the current that is stronger than my own will, more compelling than my own inner promptings toward clarity and self-determination, goodness and belonging. I am flung into the dark turmoil of my own pain and unconsciousness. It is so hard at these times to make healthy choices, the things that I once habitually and unconsciously clung to for comfort become again the narcotic impulse to zone out and switch of and numb down the pain of my own pummeling. Despite the fact that I now know these impulses further sicken my body and insult my soul, the overwhelmed child within does who not yet know how not to ask for comfort in these ways and I watch myself reach for the things again and again that are poison to my system, wondering at my lack of will, bemused by the absence of my so diligently fought for self responsibility and control.
At these times I find myself lost in the realm of the wounded child and it is so painful to be there, to feel the ways that I don't as yet know how to parent her, as she pushes away all intimacy, even from within my own self, in an attempt to keep herself safe. Many feelings are present in this state, of blame and shame and despair and utter overwhelm, the not knowing of how to keep walking this life, longing to be annihilated as a perceived end to suffering, as I push away people and reach for impersonal comforts that are not invested in human betrayal and yet which have come to betray my body in such a deeply destructive way as I now grapple with the links between diet, stress and the autoimmune disease I now suffer from.
There have been so many tears cried from this place and an excruciating rage to navigate, as though every emotion I ever chose not to feel is asking for its time now, erupting from the smooth surface of my own suppression. When I am in this place I often brutally tear my own self and my relationship apart, as I fail in that disassociated place to differentiate experiences of pain and isolation from my past with my present reality, and often project the role of antagonist onto those who care the most for me. This is quite an excruciating unraveling of the stability and peace that has been pain stakingly built in the times when I am free from this overwhelmed and overwhelming expression of my own psychological and emotional pain and physical exhaustion. Thankfully these episodes never last too long and I always seem to find my way back to a rhythm that resembles normality.
I feel that one of the survival mechanisms that I have cultivated in my life has been to become so seemingly pleasant and unobjectionable that I would go unnoticed, slip beneath the radar, like a cloak of invisibility, my disguise of obsequiousness. I feel as though a part of me decided to give the world what I felt it was asking of me and to hide the reality of my experience from view, like the glassy surface of a lake reflecting light away from the unseemly depths. It never felt safe enough to be real. I wonder if this is something that many of us learn to do in our world, where the surface of things is given so much more value than the true, more complex experience of our internal realities. I feel that for me it has become a form of self-imposed imprisonment that I grapple to dismantle, a shroud of pretence which might once have kept me safe but which now keeps me isolated. I see how I have fostered within myself a compulsion to try to swallow and subsume my internal need and experience of overwhelm so as not to impose myself on the world that does not feel safe and simultaneously to protect myself from the more brutal and antagonistic aspects of life, striving to render myself invisible, attiring myself in the camouflage of togetherness in the hope that the world might leave me alone.
At this point in my life I can say that there is so much of me that is no longer held in the grip of this suffering, I am proud to have grown over the years the parts of me that know how to make empowering choices. I have found many tools that address and articulate the wound in a way that is life giving and which allow me to rest more deeply into my trust of life and allow me to drop into my body in a more attuned and authentic way, creating space for my own particular incarnation of soul to find it’s strange blooming. However the times still come when despite my best efforts to stay awake and aware, and in a positive parenting relationship with my hurt inner child, there are still those times when I go under and she takes the reins, as the primal fissures tear open and I am again that rabbit in the spotlight, grappling with my own psychic survival, walking again in the darkness of my own shadow lands.
It seems now though, that my body can no longer sustain the child's choice to zone out from the pain that lives inside of me, the cost is now too high and I have children of my own to care for. I cannot curl up in the void for long before one of them comes tugging at my sleeve, asking me in a very real way to action my capacity to activate care and enact my love for them in the daily gestures of tending to the minutiae of our lives.
I give thanks for this, from inside the exhaustion I feel at these times, I see how it has grown me, grown so importantly the part that is witness to the pummeling and can also say yes to the creation of a life of purpose and meaning, of discipline and self belief in order to care for those beyond myself. I see how my wounded child has been offered such a sense of safety in this growing of the inner advocate. I see how my experiences of suffering have led me to become a warrior in the unraveling of its path through the story of my life, the battle to gain insight and perspective from within the impulse to be numb and unfeeling in the face of too much psychic pain has been a salvation to me, it has given me the part of myself that is no longer held in the grip of the wound, the part that can transcend the experience of pain and offer compassion and self awareness to the part that is still held in it’s grasp. This cyclic experience of suffering in my life has begun to gift me with the need to forge a great tenderness within myself, towards my own self. A great forgiveness and capacity to offer care to that which is in pain, to that which feels exiled from the whole, cut off from the nourishing stream of life force that gathers in to itself belonging and place and purpose and connection.
Sometimes this battle to find love and goodness in the microcosm of my life seems so very small and insignificant when placed beside the bigger picture, in a world where there is such a dire need for advocacy for the myriad of other humans who are being wounded and betrayed by life everyday in the world around me. It seems sometimes all I can manage is to stay afloat within my own being, to stay connected to self and to those I love and who love me. I wonder at how the world will ever become a compassionate creature if I cannot extend that quest beyond my own hearth to the suffering of others, but I also trust that that time might one day come, and that even if it doesn't I can at least rest a little in the knowing that I have strived in the ways that I can, to offer care in the face of despair, endeavoring to grow love where there is loathing, and compassion and connection where there is isolation and grief. Even if this work of coming home to myself, of belonging to my own self all the way through, even in the pummeling tide of my own unconsciousness, is all that I can offer the world, perhaps my children will come to understand in a deeper way than I have, what it means to have self love, and how in that self-love they might offer the world, the one that's left at the other side of all of our suffering, a little more of their care.
As a human born to privilege, albeit one who has fallen rather short in the expectations of the capitalist imperative, I feel that sometimes I am only just surviving in my isolation and despair. Not all the time, but sometimes I feel that I have no real place in this world, that I do not really belong, that I exist upon its fringe in a psychological sense, though outwardly I have never endured an overt separation from the herd mentality of the bright and happy, healthy and well adjusted, economically productive persona we are all taught to strive for. It is also true that my children have been raised by a mother who has been immensely preoccupied with surviving her own self protective responses to trauma, the trauma of circumstances and the trauma that ensues from being born sensitive and porous to a world that is often obtuse and harsh. My children have been raised by both the parts of me that have triumphantly learnt how to love, and also by the parts that are as yet still learning what it is to feel safe enough to truly give all of myself to life and to love.
I do understand that in this life I am immensely fortunate and that there are millions of people enduring suffering of a kind that I will never know. I know that I am walking on the shoulders of those whose sacrifice enabled my existence, and that there are those whose experience of life carve a far deeper crevasse through the terrain of suffering and despair than mine ever will. As a white woman, born and raised in a Western Culture there is a part of me that tries to say that I do not have the right to lay any claim to suffering, yet there is another part that recognizes so well that voice of internalized shame, cutting off my escape routes and caging my experience as one unworthy of care. I am moved by the thought of a world compassionate enough to bare witness to all of our stories. Experiences of violence and rape, sexual and emotional abuse, bullying, isolation, stories of trauma, current and ancestral, of mental and physical illness, of natural and human disasters, do not discriminate, they can belong to us all, they do not differentiate between the colour of our skin, our gender, creed or race. Perhaps the current path of our modern world needs to be dismantled from within the dominant culture as well as from without, rather than the passive collusion in the illusion that everything is just fine the way it is.
I feel as though this experience of woundedness is asking me now to say a deeper yes to it’s expression within myself. To absolve myself of a self-imposed illusion of needing to be OK when actually often I am not. I feel that there is treasure in the wound when I cease resisting and say yes to the suffering, to the snot and the tears. What is it asking for? What is it asking me to grow in myself? What is it teaching me about myself and my existence? How does my vulnerability open me to a deeper and more mystical experience of life? How does my suffering grow my capacity to feel compassion for others? What would happen to my suffering if I could accept myself and love myself completely in it? If this experience is an undeniable part of who I am, what might happen if I could meet myself there with the most tender and sensual and receptive and finely sensitive of embraces.
I feel curious about this state of woundedness, as it manifests in the stories of many of us, in it’s myriad forms, and I am curious about the lessons that it nestles in it’s folds, because this self-imposed exile from my frequent perception that I do not wholly belong, to myself, to other, to our dominant cultural paradigm, to the overarching indoctrination of well being, this imperative to keep myself pretty and nice and safe for the world, is no longer serving me. So much of the struggle inherent in my experiences of pain is my own judgment of and resistance to the experience, a belief that it is not Ok to not be Ok! I am curious about how my collusion in this paradigm might be dismantled, having been so intrinsically constructed into my psyche for a lifetime. It is something that I feel is central to the manifestation of the autoimmune condition that I now carry, a situation where my body is attacking itself in a way that feels like an expression of that boundary between self and other. A boundary that seems to be at times one lacking in fluid safety, in a full and honest expression, a porous reciprocity. It is one that feels sometimes to be the site of the inner war to keep oneself safe behind enemy lines, where in the honoring of the hyper-rational, western worldly imperative, one can make an enemy of one’s own self.
I name these things primarily in an attempt to dismantle my own self-imposed mask, my vow of silence in this life, the wall that I have erected to keep myself safe that actually renders me invisible and sometimes excruciatingly isolated. I name it in an attempt to relinquish my shame at being a human that experiences suffering and in that suffering, does not feel cohesive with the glossy surface of our world. Perhaps I am not alone in this experience, I do not know. Perhaps many of us are longing for and indeed are in need of, one another’s courageous vulnerability to reveal itself in order to process the trauma of our collective existence. Perhaps many of us nurse our wounds in silent shame and perhaps our suffering might be eased and our world might be changed, if we were less silent and less ashamed of our fragile humanness and our hungering to belong to something which we might lean into at times, something that is us, but is also greater than us, which is imbued with an ethos of compassion, honesty, generosity and care.
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Words and image © Lucy Pierce 2016