For a really long time I thought that being healed, whole, would mean not feeling much pain anymore. I still catch myself thinking this quite often. At the very least, surely, being a healthy human should mean not experiencing inexplicable bouts of intense sadness, right? I mean, surely I must be doing something wrong if I rock my weepy self to sleep, face glued to a snotty pillowcase, and promptly resume my sobbing the next morning? And surely I am un-whole if life still routinely rocks me with its rush and clamour, and I find myself feeling namelessly anxious throughout the day? Right?
Yeah, if I’m going to wait until life doesn’t hurt anymore to pronounce myself healed I might as well not try.
But first of all, I think that I should backtrack: the word “healed” merits a proper investigation. I speak about healing in my very first post, and even on my home page – but it’s a really vague word. What do I mean by healed? And healed from what? And what does being healed look like, anyway?
Okay, so to begin with: while I often feel broken, and sometimes use that word to describe myself, I do not mean ‘broken’ like a toy would be, or a leg. I am not a utilitarian object, I’m not here to DO a specific thing. Therefore I cannot be broken in that sense. If I don’t react as others do, or if my pain and past trauma clouds my judgement, or if I struggle to convey myself, or if I misunderstand others, this is not because I am broken. It is because I am unique. I have a unique past, unique aches, unique fears, unique talents and a wholly unique soul. There is no one way to be. There is only this odd and beautiful maze that I am walking, in which each choice brings its own challenges.
What I mean by broken, rather, is broken open.
I mean unprotected: as if my vulnerable underbelly is exposed to the world, as if I am holding my throat bare to the ravages of life. And indeed, as if life has ravaged me. I have not stopped functioning, I am no broken toy – in fact I am functioning beautifully, as wounded and terrified and gloriously myself as I will ever be.
I’m only thirty years into this life and so I cannot make any final pronouncements, but it does seem to me that the older I get, the more broken open I become. Everything.Still.Hurts. But it hurts differently. I hurt more coherently, as if with my entire body instead of with separate bits. Instead of reacting blindly to a stimulus, I open. Instead of rolling into a tiny ball, or snarling from a corner, I fling my arms wide open. I have some choice in the matter – not always, sometimes I’m a fiery ball of rage and relived triggers, but every now and then I feel this: Aaaaaaaah – everything hurts. I’m going to let go, right into that pain.
A fun metaphor I like to think about is the fantasy trope of the untrained magician. You know, that young boy or girl who gets discovered, potent with unrealised magical powers, yet with no inkling of how to use them. This young witch is trained, gradually, to direct her anger and her desires into what she wants to accomplish. At the same time, as she gains focus, she becomes increasingly aware of the untapped reserves of power she has always had, yet could never access. Before her training she was reacting rather than responding to stimuli. Becoming more skilled means focusing, but it also means unleashing. It means allowing what wants to come through to break out, because it’s safe to do so: she can hold it. She can hold herself. She knows when she’s about to drown in her own outpouring, she knowns when to step back, and she knows how to release more fully.
So I guess that’s what I mean with healing. I mean bringing the unconscious things, the fears and traumas and desires that have in the past largely determined my actions, into the light. Becoming whole means knowing who I am. I know what I’m working with. I’m still just as vulnerable, life has not become less dangerous. But I am equipped. I get to make choices from a place of self-knowledge, and self-acceptance, instead of from a place of constant threat.
That feels really fucking powerful.
And it’s also a shifting goal post. The more I discover who I am, tap into my own depths and learn how to dance the dance of catch and release, the more I have yet to discover. It feels like an increase in capacity, capacity for joy but certainly also for pain. At the end of the day, perhaps healing is best defined as presence: How much of myself can I bring? How much of this human experience can I show up for, knowing that it will hurt, knowing that it will reward, knowing that I get to decide, moment by moment, what my response will be? Presence means arriving in each moment armed only with surrender. Healing means trusting enough in oneself to be able to do that.
And yes, everything still hurts. More so, even, because my body is becoming more attuned to what’s happening within and around me. The world is bleeding, I feel its profound aches resonating within myself. We are disconnected from each other, from ourselves. To some extent, this is due to our current dysfunctional society. But disconnection is also part and parcel of the human experience. We are not one being floating blissfully into the ether – we are comprised of separate bodies, with hormones and hunger and gravity and the elements each exerting their influence on us. Life chafes. It pushes and pulls. We long to know and to be known fully, but in this life we never will. That is frustrating and painful.
But somehow, above and beyond the pain of it, this experience is something glorious. I am profoundly grateful to be here for it.