I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my musings with you every few months. My commitment to mtj and my readers to turn this quarterly column in on time, forces me to pause and reflect on where I am and on what matters. Every few months I take time to stop and think about what I’m learning, what I need to pay more attention to and what I have to share. Pausing to muse, reflect and put pen to paper can be so healing. Taking time to be with ourselves to write, journal and give voice to what moves us, calls to us or demands our attention can be so empowering. How often do you give yourself the gift of writing and reflecting? Might you benefit from doing it more often? I surely would!
Anyway, this month I’ve been thinking a lot about trauma, abuse and fear. I’ve been working with a lot of patients who were traumatized during their developmental years and who have carried the pain, fear and dysfunctional patterns forward into their adult lives. I’ve been helping them recognize and honor the depth of their terror and suffering. And I’ve been visiting the reverberations of their early traumas in their current-day lives.
You see, we often replay what’s familiar, without realizing what we’re doing. So, we tend to recreate past traumas—reliving our pain and suffering again and again. With help and support, we can begin to recognize the patterns, figure out how they started, and learn how to chart a healthier course going forward.
But that healing process requires stepping into the horror, hurt, terror and panic of our past pain. And reliving it enough to feel the emotions we experienced when we were young, vulnerable children, just trying to survive and be loved. Many of us can only visit those overwhelming moments and places in our history if we have someone to partner with us, love us, guide us and support us through the process. It’s too scary and overwhelming to enter the dark cave of trauma alone.
So, in a figurative way, I’ve been walking hand-in-hand through a lot of dark caves lately. In doing so, I’ve been sharing the sadness and fear of many beautiful souls. I’ve been struck by how damaging we can be to one another—how parents can abuse and maim their children for decades. The emerging ego, soul and spirit are sensitive and highly vulnerable to trauma. They can be broken and pushed underground for years. I’ve seen that happen with many of my patients. I’ve visited lots of wounds and grief. But, in walking the caves with my patients, I’ve also observed and experienced the power of love, acceptance and care to heal overwhelming pain, abuse and trauma. I’ve been struck by the resiliency of the human spirit, and by our capacity to create our worlds anew with the dawning of each new day.
In walking through the dark places with my patients, I come face-to-face with my own dark places. I know the pain of early trauma, abuse and challenge. I know what it means to be criticized and shut out for simply being who you are. I’ve lived what it means to recreate the dysfunction of my childhood in my own adult relationships, and I know the horror and pain of continued abuse.
I grew up with a depressed, withholding, attacking and critical mother. And I lived in the shadow of her abuse until the day she died. The abuse occurred between us. But, it also took up residence within me—I carried it with me into other relationships.
I’ve visited and transformed many of my dark places over the years. I toiled with this project for many years. I have read, written, prayed, studied, gone to therapists, made friends with my inner healer and found peace and meaning in giving back and in spiritual pursuits. But I never spoke much about my pain or my healing journey with my parents. My father and I only began to talk about it during the last years of his life. And, as my father lay dying he said to me, “I’m so proud of how much you are doing to help people. You had a lot to overcome. I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job protecting you. I didn’t realize how sick your mom was, or what was really going on. You told me she was ill, but I didn’t really understand what you meant. I wish I had.” He knew. He was sorry, and he didn’t want to leave this earthly life without telling me. He wanted to do what he could to make it right. “Dad, I forgive you,” I said. “It’s over. Everything is fine between us.” And I really meant it.
We all ache inside at times. We all carry pain and suffering with us. We owe it to ourselves to nurture our broken bits, and we owe it to one another to extend our hands in love. Resolve to give yourself the gift of acceptance and love. Pause for a moment to reflect and write. Be gentle and forgiving of yourself for errors and shortfalls. Remember that you are only human. You need self-love to be your best self. Resolve to be there for yourself and to extend yourself to someone else… just a little bit more than you did the day before. In giving, we heal. In loving, you will be renewed.
Eve A. Wood, MD, is clinical associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine. She is the award-winning author of There’s Always Help; There’s Alway’s Hope, 10 Steps to Take Charge of Your Emotional Life, and The Stop Anxiety Now Kit. Eve is also the host of a weekly call-in radio show on www.HayHouseRadio.com. Her therapeutic approach has attracted attention and acclaim from the nation’s leading authorities in the fields of medicine, health and spiritual well-being. For more information about Eve, visit her website at www.drevewood.com.