It’s difficult to understand that each of us process trauma in different ways. My experiences might not match someone else’s.
My head is awhirl with possibilities today. It’s not every day when one can look back on his life and actually see the mileposts marking his journey. Often, when we choose our Paths in life, we have in mind rainbows and butterflies, golden sunlight and warm welcomes from other travelers. This is what we’re led to believe our Paths “should” be… that there is no evil or darkness in the world that cannot be overcome with Love. What would the film “The Wizard of Oz” have been had Dorothy not encountered challenges along the way?
We might use this classic film as a metaphor for the truth of what embarking on a journey entails. We must choose to stay on our Path through thick and thin, holding onto the hope that we will — someday — reach Oz. Those who set out to discover themselves can expect to encounter many forms of darkness on their way into Light. There are no user manuals to tell us how long this might take, or how wounded we might become. There are no “rules,” per se…only our strength, earned wisdom, and eventually, self-discovery.
What does Oz represent? Are we on a path for material gain, or celebrity status, or some other false idol, or does the Emerald City really represent that part of us that is kind, wise, loving, generous? Is Oz an internal destination we strive to reach wherein we finally love ourselves, find our happiness, become the kind of person we’ve always wanted to be?
In my twenties, I set out to overcome tremendous personal trauma and tragedy. My proverbial inner child was grievously wounded, near death. Throughout childhood, I had the role of “adult” thrust onto me even before I knew how to speak. Now, in my fifth decade, I realize that, like in life, a child who is forced into maturity too soon loses the ability to view the world with childlike wonder. We strive to find that child once more, to heal his wounds, care for his injuries, but in doing so, forget to live our life.
We always know what we need, if we choose to listen. I was terribly self-destructive for many years, acting out the hate and spite that my parents lavished onto us, which in turn reflected their own self-loathing and wounded natures. But as children, we are unable to see that. We perceive only pain and tears and suffering, not the reasons why.
In my self-destructiveness, I began to realize that I didn’t have to destroy myself just because my parents could not find their way to loving us. The thought of healing was daunting. Many times I gave up. I allowed distraction to woo me away.
For so many years, I peeled away the layers of my wounded soul. Never did I believe that I would one day find my way into the Light, to Oz. I thought: life is pain and misery, and that’s all you can ever hope for.
I didn’t understand that a wounded spirit manifests its misery through illness. For too long, I thought I was just a person not destined to ever find happiness. Oh, there were moments…but those were too far and few between. At one point, I was suicidal, such was the depths of my depression. It wasn’t until recently that I realized a new term for what I experienced: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
We hear a lot about this in regards to soldiers returning from battle, but not so much in terms of those who have survived acute trauma in other ways. And it’s difficult to understand that each of us process trauma in different ways. My experiences might not match someone else’s, and I might be quick to judge that person as only pretending to be ill. But the forms that trauma takes in each of us are vastly different. Having been an incredibly sensitive child and young man, pain and violence as it was forced on me resulted in adult illness. My psyche was terribly damaged, which in turn impacted my self-worth, self-esteem, and ability to perceive love. I despised myself, and didn’t understand that that’s how trauma manifested in me. I thought I was diseased, that I didn’t deserve happiness, love, or an authentic life.
I made the decision to move deep into the mountains at the end of 2015, because my prior living situation was killing me. I knew that if I didn’t remove myself from the poor living conditions — which is all I felt I deserved — I would die there. I also knew that removing myself was an admission of sorts. It was, finally, an admission that I was sick. I was admitting, if only to myself, that I recognized I was at the end…a realization I’d had several times before.
The way in which I approach healing seems counter intuitive. In order to create a sense of worth, I had to allow myself to sink all the way to the very bottom, to explore the darkness there so that I could better understand how to leave that place. The first time I understood that this was my process was when I overdosed on drugs, an episode that resulted in my first NDE.* That I survived spoke volumes about my desire to live. The second time was when I contracted a near-fatal disease** that caused me to flat-lined twice while in a hospital’s care. Though that wasn’t self-induced like the prior event, it was yet another wake-up call. The third one came last year. So my thoughts were: I will move into the mountains, and if I can’t heal myself there, that’s it. The end. Finis.
When we put intent into the universe, we can rarely expect rainbows and butterflies in return. In fact, many times we find ourselves fleeing from what I call a “crapalanche” of events. Those events make us second-guess our choices…though in reality, the universe has thrown everything it can at us to test our resolve to heal. This might take the form of extreme temptation, liking inviting a buddy who is a recovering alcoholic out for drinks. Or it might place the very types of people who wounded you as a child directly in your way to see how you’ll respond. This in turn triggers our fight-or-flight response. If we choose to flee, those obstacles disappear, but you can be sure they will reappear again soon, and will continue to do so until we choose to get the lesson we’re faced with. For me, it was in the people I met over the first seven months of mountain living. Every single one was an effigy of every person whom I’d ever been traumatized by. That included casual acquaintances, landlords, shopkeepers….everyone. The difference this time was, however, that I recognized them for the first time before they were able to do me harm. I saw through their actions and was able to pair each one with a person from my past.
Around this time, I came across a Facebook post from a woman I didn’t previously know, offering an introductory coaching session by phone. I thought about it for awhile before contacting her…but once I connected with her, I knew I was doing the right thing. That conversation was eye-opening for me, as I was able to verbalize what I had been experiencing and she, through active listening, was able to ask the questions that needed to be addressed. I came away from that call filled with hope and, more importantly, understanding.
From that moment forward, everything changed. I took action to remove myself from the influence of everyone who did not have my best interest at heart. It was amazing to me how quickly my choices changed my perceptions. During this same period, I had been in therapy…which I had been dissatisfied with, so I stopped going. Every decision brought greater and greater clarity.
Today, I reconnected with the coach from several months ago: Maia Macek. In doing so, once again, I was able to understand a number of stunning facts.
- I had come a long way from where I was even eight months ago.
- Sometimes, we need somebody to really hear us and allow us the space and permission to continue the healing process. Maia provided that.
- I had never given up on myself.
- The biggest accomplishment: I realized I had reached my own personal Oz.
Achieving something of such magnitude took more than thirty years. I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to learn it in less time because I didn’t have the tools, the education and understanding, or the resources I needed. Only now, in this moment, am I ready. I’m proud of myself for not giving up (even when I wanted to), for opening myself up to the possibility of healing (even when I thought it would never happen), but most importantly, found the self-love that I desired all along.