recovery

Wounds that don’t heal

IImprisoned Spring by Arthur Hacker (1911)Heartbreak and loss come in many different forms: the death of a loved one, rejection by a lover or spouse, abandonment by a parent.

As a wounded woman, I know what it is to hurt.

I won’t bore you with tales of woe from my childhood, but all was not well at home.

By the time I was a young adult, I had been exposed to some pretty bad stuff, much of it a result of our male-dominated culture (exposure to pornography, sexual predators young and old, and male criticism of my female form and personality).

I was bullied by other girls, all older and bigger than me. I was also bullied by my family.

By the time I was 21 years old, I had what was termed”a serious chip” on my shoulder.

Believe it or not, I was judged harshly because I was not all smiles and compliance all the time.  Because I tried to fight back. Girls shouldn’t do that, don’t you know.

I knew the world was screwed up even when I was young, but I never knew how to express my concern. It festered. It fermented. I didn’t understand my discontent.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I wore a pretty hard, protective shell designed to keep me from getting hurt.

And then I found a church that promised “inner healing.”

Was there a chance that I could be freed from the pain that I worked so hard to keep hidden away?

I found a husband who was supposed to be loving, caring and a positive expression of patriarchy.

I believed that in this relationship, those wounds would finally begin to heal. I was in a safe relationship, a safe place, finally.

I let my guard down and exposed many of my wounds to this man.

I trusted him.

He used his power to control instead of love.

This is not a cautionary tale. I am not advocating the growth of dragon scales as a way to protect oneself. We can never truly love others if we don’t allow them to love us. And no one can love us if we don’t let down our guard.

From a psychological point of view, I am most likely dealing with abandonment issues exacerbated by fear of rejection. In a nutshell, when my father left me and my family when I was 7 years old, it affected me profoundly.

Back in the late 60s, it was not common for parents to divorce. I grew up in what was called a “broken home.” I carried that shame with me everywhere.

Thinking back, when my father was home there was an awful lot of yelling and fighting. I’m pretty sure things got physical. I don’t remember much. I liked the quiet better.

I heard a lot of stories from both of my parents over the subsequent years well into my adolescence when I finally reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I eventually refused to see my father anymore. That estrangement lasted for about two years.

I got pregnant. I got married. I had a baby. I got divorced.

I needed the quiet.

When it wasn’t quiet, when there was conflict and discord, my wounds opened up and all the pain came flooding back.

Here’s the thing: we all have wounds. My wounds are probably nothing compared to someone else’s wounds. That doesn’t matter.

We are talking pain levels here and tolerance for pain.

In life, the good times are supposed to outweigh the bad times.

Everyone suffers. Everyone struggles. Everyone has pain.

The real issue is how much pain and how often. Does the pain ever stop? Are there respites from the pain?

For some people, the answer is “No.”

I didn’t understand the insidious nature of chronic pain until a few years ago after contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite. I ended up one of the small percentage of people who experience long-term symptoms. Mine include chronic fatigue and chronic pain. I know what it is like to live with pain all the time.

The physical bite site, the terrible wound that I had from that tick bite, did heal after three weeks of antibiotics. The cause of the initial wound (about the size of a softball) moved away from the bite site and penetrated deep into my body’s tissues and even my brain. There was no healing.

Too Much Pain

The other day, I woke up and realized that I didn’t have any noticeable pain in my body. I breathed deeply and smiled. What a happy day. I want more pain-free days. Who wouldn’t? I thoroughly enjoyed that day. But such days are rare.

There is more compassion for those who suffer from physical pain than emotional pain in our society.  If someone has a back injury and must take opioids, no one holds it against that person.

For those who suffer loss and are wounded by it (and how can one not be wounded by loss???), healing is supposed to take place over time, but there is an expectation of some conclusion where the person affected finds relief and can move on with no more symptoms of grief.

For most people, grieving a loss takes time and the support of loved ones. In most cases, the pain of the loss lessens until it is merely a memory with occasional bouts of suffering that abate after a day or so.

What happens when grieving doesn’t end? Sometimes the wounds just don’t heal.

What happens to those who never stop feeling profound and unbearable pain?

There are many different endings to this kind of story.

Many can find relief through mental health services: therapy, medications and lifestyle changes. For some people this works.

Some end in the body giving up and the person fading away (yes, people can die from a broken heart). Some end in self-destructive behavior that results in death. Some end in suicide.

For some people the wounds just don’t heal. For some people the pain never stops. The thought of living a life of never ending pain is unbearable.

But wait…

 

Even though many wounds don’t heal, there is hope.

And it starts with taking back one’s power…

2014-05-04 19.24.15

I wouldn’t have seen the double rainbow if I hadn’t gone outside

 

 

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Pain Relievers

painI woke up with one of my raging headaches. It starts at the place where my skull meets the top of my neck in the back. The lymph nodes back there are always sore, but this goes beyond that. This is a deep, throbbing pain that is almost unbearable.

This particular pain episode caused me think about all different kinds of pain and what people do to try to stop their own pain.

I resist taking pain relievers.

I have pain in every joint in my body. This is, according to the experts who practice and specialize in infectious disease medicine, caused by a new-fangled condition called “Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.” How’s that for a mouthful?

This is not a treatise or debate on the validity of such medical conjuring (yes, they magically created another syndrome to explain away patient suffering). This is about pain.

I know that I should take pain relievers every day, several times a day.

I have physical pain in my body all the time.

But I also have emotional pain, psychic pain, relational pain, and social pain. I think I just made up a couple of new pain types, but they help explain what I think about different kinds of pain.

Emotional Pain

Emotional pain is when we feel hurt by the words, attitudes, and behaviors of others, and sometimes even ourselves (negative self-talk anyone?). In my situation, I struggle with the pain of knowing that someone wants to hurt me. I think this is the root of most emotional pain. How do we come to terms with how others treat us when we know that treatment is wrong or hurtful?

Psychic Pain

Psychic pain — not sure this exists. As an introvert, I think about why I become so exhausted when in the company of others. I have wondered whether introverts are empaths, like Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation. She doesn’t read minds, but instead feels what others are feeling. She has a highly-developed empathetic ability. I tune in to the people around me and sense their emotions. It is difficult enough to feel my own pain, but I often feel the pain of others deeply.

Relational Pain

Relational pain is really emotional pain, but I feel that it deserves its own category. I can feel upset or hurt by being unable to pay my bills and not being able to buy my son new school clothes. This is different than what I feel when I know my sister is talking about me behind my back. Relational pain comes from uncomfortable, dysfunctional and broken relationships. Children of divorce struggle with this for the rest of their lives unless their parents are extremely mature and put the kids before their own pain (which is nearly impossible to do — they are trying to grieve and process their own pain).

Social Pain

Social pain is not felt by all people. I honestly believe that there is a large percentage of the population that does not experience this kind of pain. Those concerned about social justice feel social pain. This is, again, brought about by a highly-developed sense of empathy. When I see a homeless person I can actually spend hours thinking about why that person might be homeless, what is wrong with society that we cannot provide basic housing and food for all. Or, as is my case, why a woman who stayed home with the kids for 20 years can be left with no money to hire a lawyer to get support for herself and her children when her husband abandons her. Domestic abuse is a social issue that should cause everyone pain.

So much pain…

How do we deal with so much pain?

I know not everyone experiences high levels of pain in each of the areas above. I know that not everyone sees the suffering of others and feels something. I know that many people can just shrug off pain and suffering, even the kind that they cause.

I honestly wish I could do this sometimes.

With the internet age, the pain of others all around the world is in our faces all the time. Rape, murder, religious persecution and the destruction of entire towns of villages is presented to us every day (ISIS). I read about it on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, online news sites, YouTube, and in the television shows and movies available 24/7 through Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime (cable TV is so yesterday).

Responses to Pain

Like a moth drawn to the flame, I am drawn to the pain of others. I can’t seem to shut out the world and just knit sweaters for my grandchildren. I want to know what is going on and then I want to help fix it.

That is my response to pain. I want to do something. The key word here is “want.” Being unable to do anything about all of the pain and suffering I witness causes its own kind of suffering where I end up feeling a sense of despair. Will things ever get better? I have a cycle.

But other people respond differently. Some merely withdraw and block out the source of the pain.

Some people use substances to numb the pain: drugs, alcohol, food, and so on.

Some people build beautiful and enviable facades. Their sense of superiority and entitlement helps them feel better for a time.

Some people lash out and hurt others.

Some people try to control those around them: they create rules by which all must live.

Most people create a little bubble world where they feel safe:  political bubble, ideological bubble, social bubble, relational bubble, economic bubble. They figure out what world view makes them feel better and stick with it to their dying breath.

Some people self harm: cutting, risk-taking, and ultimately…

Some people just give up completely. Suicide rates are high.

I would posit that most people practice a variety of pain-relieving techniques. I know that I shut down and shut out the world when it all gets to be too much. I enjoy a glass of wine and some coma-inducing desserts. I have my home where most of my personal world exists. I have political beliefs that make me feel comfortable. I have a world view that suits me. Over time, I do feel better and the throbbing pain begins to subside. It doesn’t last for long.

Curing Pain

Something that most of us don’t get to do is find the root cause of the pain in our lives and fix it. Just as I believe most of my physical pain is caused by an ongoing infection and my body’s wacky immune responses, and I know that when I stay on antibiotics I regain a lot of ground and experience a lot less physical pain, I also believe that  other types of pain can be cured, or at least managed effectively.

As a society, however, we seem to be content with merely relieving pain using temporary measures. This doesn’t cure the problem, and it doesn’t help long-term, but it is enough for now.

Just like my raging headache caused me to take a strong pain reliever — and, to be honest, I would have taken something even stronger if I had it in the house — profound emotional, psychic, relational and social pain drives most of us to seek some kind of relief, the faster the better. Instant relief! We cry out for it.

Pain Avoidance

I wouldn't have seen the double rainbow if I hadn't gone outside

I wouldn’t have seen the double rainbow if I hadn’t gone outside. Credit: Michele Haynes. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

I didn’t really address pain avoidance which can halt the healing process if it is the only response to pain or is used long-term. (And my tendency to shut down and withdraw probably fits more appropriately within this category.)

There is an argument for withdrawing for a time in order to heal. We rest our bodies after surgery in order to allow the body to heal. But if the patient remains in this sedentary resting condition long-term, it is more detrimental than beneficial.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What kind of pain are you in, and what do you do to relieve it?

Please feel free to share in the comments.

Peace.

 

 

 

The myth of the “good woman”

I am heading up a project for my school’s honor society. I volunteered to serve in this role because I felt that I could organize the project and, hopefully, inspire other members to join in because of the possibilities it presented. To summarize, we were presented with a variety of themes to research. I invited feedback on the themes and, as a group, we chose the theme that had the most interest. I was thrilled that we chose a theme based on human expression.

As I am on a journey to find my own repressed feminine voice after 27 years of marriage to a man who believes women’s voices are nearly synonymous with the devil’s voice, I had a huge challenge ahead of me in finding what I lost along the way and reintegrating those lost parts of me with the present me. Sounds like crazy psychosocial speak, but it really does make sense.

This morning, with coffee in hand, fighting a horrible headache, I decided to put off taking my online final exam until I feel better. I did not, however, want to just do nothing practical in attacking my long list of things to do for school (writing emails, journaling about Honor Society progress this week, working on grant applications, ordering textbooks, etc.). I decided to begin researching what I consider very important and extremely concerning at the same time: women’s voices in the 21st century.

There is something very wrong. Up here in New England, the young women I attend class with are typically so reserved that they do not speak up much in class. There are a couple in each class that have great ideas and are willing to express them in front of others, but I noticed that those women were either older (meaning, older than 30 or 40) or already very comfortable with self expression (have tattoos, fun-colored hair, many piercings). I am just sharing some observations here.

The rest of the women in class were fairly nondescript, not unattractive, some very attractive (and obviously focused on beauty and fashion, and not ideas), but reluctant to speak up. In classes with a female professor even, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

In my online classes, the guys were more willing to engage in back and forth dialog, and even some debate about ideas while the women would simply make comments, but as soon as there was even a hint of debate, became silent.

All of this leads up to my point. I found a very interesting paper that addresses what the author calls a “silencing paradigm.” From my notes, this is what I took from the first two pages of this paper:

The author, Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant, in her paper, “Listening Past The Lies That Make Us Sick: A Voice-Centered Analysis Of Strength And Depression Among Black Women,” published in Qualitative Sociology, discusses a “silencing paradigm” (392).

“Most provocatively, the silencing paradigm refutes the conceptualization of depression as a unique and pathological state, as portrayed in the medical literature, and instead depicts it as a process and a continuum with deep roots in what are largely considered “normative” conditions of femininity and representations of feminine goodness. Turning to women as guides—in part to remedy the lack of women’s perspectives on their distress in the scholarly literature (Schreiber and Hartrick 2002; Stoppard 2000)—the silencing paradigm has generated novel insights into the onset, experience of, and recovery from depression” (392).

Beauboeuf-Lafontant goes on to define feminine goodness or the feminine norm. It includes surrender to reproductive responsibilities, meeting social expectations, conforming to feminine beauty, political distancing or disenfranchisement, economic issues and much more. What was the most profound to me in my stage of recovery from emotional surrender to this myth of feminine goodness, is how this surrender starts a process of death in parts of a women’s personality over time, and that recovery from depression includes discovery, resurrection, and reintegration of these parts.

I am probably not explaining this well, but it makes so much sense, and deeply touched my own struggle at this point in my life. I have had to reject so much of what I had accepted in the past before I could begin to emerge from my own deep depression following my marital separation.

Men are not aware that they demand conformity to their standards of womanhood. It has always been this way from the beginning of time. This feminine movement away from this has created a real dilemma among women who are struggling to be free. We face rejection by our families, churches, and spouses, and sometimes criticism and rejection by communities, depending on how much focus is placed on conformity.

Women have not been free to become what they want to become, even in the face of the feminist movement.

The paper I mentioned above addresses the silencing paradigm as it particularly manifests in black women, but it is universally applicable to all women’s groups, ethnicities, cultures, and religions, in my opinion.

The good woman, or the feminine ideal, has been destructive to the development of women as people, as individuals, in ways that we are just beginning to measure.

We must begin to question such myths. We must reconsider the idea that women are good if they do this, and bad if they do that. We do not apply such standards to men. Really, we don’t. There are only a handful of behaviors that label a man “bad” in modern society (such as pedophilia, incest, etc.) whereas a woman who allows a nanny to spend more time with her child than she does because the woman has a successful career is still seen in a negative light.

I can’t wait to read more of this paper, and find similar research on the silencing of women’s voices. My journey to discover my own voice leads me to desire the same for other women. I find myself wishing to head off the silencing of young women’s voices somehow. If only they can skip the part where they lose themselves trying to conform to some mythological standard of good womanhood. If only.

Just thought I would share my morning exploration.
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Sorry, forgot to list the source properly (I am using MLA because that is what I have been using all year long).

Works Cited

Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Tamara. “Listening Past The Lies That Make Us Sick: A Voice-Centered Analysis Of Strength And Depression Among Black Women.” Qualitative Sociology 31.4 (2008): 391-406. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 May 2014.

When will we get there?

We all remember fondly the long road trips we took as children with our parents in the station wagon (for us old folks) and mini-vans (for the younger generations) where we couldn’t wait to get THERE.  You know, the place we were going.  The destination.  The reason we were stuck in this vehicle with our family members with no escape.  We might have gotten to stop and buy a souvenir once or twice, and been allowed the requisite number of bathroom breaks and meals, but back in the car we went to sit and sit, staring out the window, wondering what it would be like when we got THERE.

We weren’t in the driver’s seat.  We weren’t even in the FRONT seat.  We were stuck in the back with a bratty younger sister and possibly slightly mean older brother wishing we would just get THERE!

In 2006 when I became very ill with Lyme disease and bartonella, I just wanted to get well.  I lived every moment of my day being sick and wanting to be well.  I took my pills, swallowed massive amounts of supplements, and even tried alternative treatments at one point.  No matter how long I tried I just could not get THERE.  I could not get well.  I could not get my life back.  I could not be the same person I was before getting sick.  I often refer to my former life, before Lyme disease, before having my body and brain taken captive by a spirochete and its common companion bartonella as a previous life.  There was this ME that is no more.  It is gone.  I am a different person, life turned upside down, destroyed, and not really put back together.

On top of being ill I was in a really, really bad marriage.  Lots of control, emotional abuse, complete neglect even while very ill, and then complete abandonment.  He didn’t leave the house (it was his house and I was his wife and those were his children); he just abandoned me.  So there I was at the worst point in my life personally with every part of my life completely messed up, destroyed, gone, and no light at the end of the tunnel.  I kept waiting to get well so that I could get on with my life.  I had registered to start school in 2007 but had a horrible relapse, probably a reinfection.  I was back on the couch full-time getting up only to see that my kids made it to school, then back on the couch.  Up again to order dinner from a local take-out restaurant, and then back on the couch.  I was never going to get well like that.  I sat in the back seat and waited to get THERE.

I did finally receive long-term antibiotics that brought me a lot of progress: I had physical therapy to get me moving again with less pain, learned to take pain relievers properly, and changed my diet.  I made a lot of progress over a 1.5 year period.  I would say I got back to 65% of my former self at my best.  I figure I am about 50-60% now.

The biggest change occurred when I realized that I was never going to be like I was pre-Lyme disease.  My body had been damaged, my brain had been damaged, and my heart had been broken.  Something was happening that began to open my eyes to a new reality:  I could take one step at a time, one day at a time, and make a little progress just as I was.  I didn’t need to get well to move on with my life.  Eureka!  That was it!!!  I realized that I was never going to get THERE, and in a moment my life had new meaning.

My new motto is that it is all about the journey, not the destination.  My goal is to get an associate’s degree and transfer to a four-year university, earn a bachelor’s then a master’s  and finally a doctorate.  I might be 80 years old when I get that doctorate or I might kick the bucket before I can achieve that goal, but I plan to pursue my education for as long as I can, for as long as my eyes can read, my fingers can type, my brain can comprehend, and my heart is beating.

In dealing with healing from physical or mental abuse, from illness or injury, the one thing that has given me hope is that I do not need to arrive anyplace at any particular time.  I will get there when I get there, and that is okay with me (this applies to grieving, too).  It is not about THERE.  It is about the journey, what is outside my window right now, what is inside my heart, what is given to me in this moment to enjoy.

May your journey be filled with wonder and joy!