In The New Beginning: Healing Magic For The Revolution
CONTENT WARNING: DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, CHILD ABUSE, ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS, DEATH
“When I think about my life in a general way, I visualize walking down a carpet runner, and as I walk, the runner is rolled up behind me. Everything in my past, everyone, every event, every feeling is inside the cylinder of carpet, compressed and inaccessible to me... Having left most everyone in the past, discarding friends, relatives, colleagues, lovers, I have no touchstones to lead me backwards... Memory is proof of our existence even more than the present. Losing those memories is to not exist, or to experience death on a daily basis.”
There once was a grown man who promised his daughter she’d never live long enough to have a vote. He’s dead, and I’ve been a voter for 10 years. Ha! That defiant little girl now lives inside a whole ‘nother person, held safe like a compass in my breast pocket. I eventually discovered that he was actually a fairly intelligent and charismatic man outside of his house, and outside of himself. However, even as a child I could see that inside he was a sad, small man, and also frequently a fucking idiot who said evil things not because they were true, but because he wanted to say them. He spent his life crushing the joy and potential within himself and everyone closest to him, and he only realized in his last 3 years of life that it never had to be that way. My mother gives “not your fault” pep talks, but she needed them most. It wasn’t something I ever internalized the way that she did. I was an angry kid because I already knew everything was bullshit, and I knew it didn’t have to be that way. While knowing it wasn’t my fault didn’t stop me from being wounded by it, it also doesn’t diminish my responsibility to heal those wounds myself, and to not pass them along.
For that one story, I have a hundred others from throughout my 28 years. I know you’ve got yours. The details aren’t important - we are all walking parcels of pieces of our former selves, jumbled into a container of who we’re trying to become. We have our commonly unique pains and memories and traumas that we pass around like infectious communion wafers. We also have our potential, and our power to transform and transcend our bullshit. We create both heaven and hell for ourselves, and for our friends, families, and partners. We have the power to choose which to cultivate.
Healing from our core wounds is not a linear journey, meaning: with the big stuff you never really get to just check a step off the list and think “well that’s done, I’ll never have to revisit that ever again!” Healing is always. It’s constantly choosing a lifetime of nurturing yourself in all the ways someone else failed you. Healing is magic, if you can handle the honesty and shadow work that comes with it. You have to heal to grow. You must heal yourself in order to learn from your own fuck ups, and also to learn from the harm that’s come to you in the fuck ups of others. You’ve got to heal, or you are almost certain to get hurt again, and increasingly likely to hurt someone else. If you want better for yourself, if you want better for the world than what you’ve experienced so far, you’ve got to heal, honey. It takes a lot more than time, but holy shit is it worth it.
I think about the broom from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” scene of Fantasia. The aspiring wizard carries buckets of water as a part of his training (water is an archetypal symbol for emotions and the subconscious). He is doing the foundational grunt work of living and becoming. He sees the skilled old sorcerer working magnificent feats of magic: the result of a lifetime of honest efforts, lessons learned, and hard won self-mastering. The apprentice gets a bold idea - “Hey! I’ll just skip ahead to the fun part!” And so, when the old wizard is out to lunch, he slaps on that pointy hat too big for his head, he snatches up the wand that doesn’t belong to him, and he enchants a broom to carry the buckets of water for him while he plays with the stars. This quickly backfires when he discovers far too late that he has no control over the manifestation of his eagerness: the broom begins flooding the castle and he has no clue how to handle it.
Autopilot is no way to grow, and your trauma will not sort itself out while you busy yourself with less intimidating tasks or more alluring distractions. The apprentice wakes out of his revelry to find the situation overwhelming, and escalating by the minute. Think about this story as an allegory for the work we all must do to know ourselves and master ourselves so that we can create magic together. When we skip ahead without doing our soul work for ourselves first, that is when well-intentioned people hurt themselves and each other.
My father died recently; grieving has been an unconventional process because he's also the reason I was born a survivor with CPTSD. Trying to find peace with him, support my family, and be present as much as I can while staying safe and healthy was a great concept, but I inevitably failed myself a few times in the process. I had a full physical flare-up of my CPTSD symptoms and was debilitated for about a month. For me, relapses include extended periods of intense nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and feeling both manic and physically weak. During these relapses I struggle to eat food or keep it down, and my muscles shrink, particularly in my legs. I sometimes struggle to carry myself around, stairs intimidate me and showers are exhausting. There were days in February when I was in more discomfort than my stage 4 father, as I was caring for him.
In the meantime, I'd also moved, abruptly ended a new romance and the attached friendship and collaborative art projects which I’d been feeling inspired and motivated by, and I let go of a close companionship that had long stopped being reciprocal. Girl, it's a lot! Besides those big hitters, there was a flurry of other stressors and circumstances (like seasonal affective disorder and reliving my father’s habit of being cruel to me on my birthday) creating a perfectly triggering storm that invariably led to my favorite flavor of coping: easy and total self isolation!
I lick my wounds in private. I was conditioned for intense solitude, and so I prefer solitude, particularly when I’m unzipping my duffel bag of damages, trying to make sense of it all. I pluck out bits of shrapnel and examine them under a crooked septum: broken sometime before I was 3. It is a grizzly process. But this rumination is entirely necessary to work through if I intend to move forward without repeating cycles of hurt on myself or others. I have seen what it looks like when you bury your demons. You lock them up in the basement broom cupboard: you shiver and sigh up against the door, grateful for a moment of quiet, relieved to have your back to it, falsely reassuring yourself that it’s all behind you now. The apprentice panicked too - he chopped the broom to bits and locked it back in the closet. How’d that work out? Each splinter twitched to life, grew into its own broom, sprouted two arms with adjoining buckets, and marched onward, filling the castle with spilled subconscious, faster and faster.
Like the apprentice’s enchanted brooms, unsupervised demons will grow in your basement. They will conspire and shape-shift and haunt your whole house (body and mind) and they will run your life in ways you often cannot even recognize until you realize: it’s all a pattern, all connected. People spend lifetimes caught in painful loops, getting hurt, giving hurt. “Hurt people hurt people.” These demons can cause complex harms to those around you, even when your intentions are genuine and optimistic. I’ve seen this happen within myself, my family of origin, my chosen family, my friends, lovers, my friends’ families and partners, and I see it in strangers, in books, on film...it’s blurrier the closer you are to it. Over the course of 3 years I watched a partner run from her unresolved trauma until she began emulating her abuser’s precise behaviors onto me, neither of us realizing it was happening until it was too late. We were underwater and she never learned to swim.
Here’s why I want to talk about it. If we talk about it, we have the chance to transform discomfort into healing and growth. Without communication, without honesty, we only delay facing ourselves, and in the meantime cause more damage to heal from. I’ve had to face the realization that isolation doesn’t actually help me heal like I thought it did - I’m just adjusted to healing that way. Alone is different than isolated, and while I need alone time, I also need connection. We all have an instinctual need to be connected.
It stands to reason that I can learn a lot from anyone who cares enough to be around when life gets Real. I’m also realizing that it doesn’t help anyone else not to have an opportunity to figure out something valuable for themselves in being a part of my life when it’s all upside down. Every time I listen with my heart to someone speak from theirs, I learn something, I heal a little, I sprout a new leaf. So I try to both speak and listen from my heart as much as possible. This creates a ton of mutually juicy "ah-ha" conversations. My friendships all become more trusting, more intimate, more collaborative and interesting.
I want to bring up these things we’re all going through so that we can interrupt dysfunctional cycles and sprout new leaves. I want folks to popularize self work in their daily lives. I want more people to try going beyond self care and do the work of being their own constant art project. Art can be a therapy, and therapy can be an art. Either way the good shit is work, and it is constant. Carry your own buckets and you’ll get to make your own magic.
Once we understand our own magic, we are empowered to collaborate. This is where the true potential of community and family comes into play. We can nourish each other into our fullest selves through creating tangible support systems collectively built to encourage us and hold us accountable. This is why I’m personally not into banishing people for most social transgressions. I’m into individual boundaries. If someone is harmful to your wellbeing, your boundaries should reflect that. If someone is harmful to others who aren’t you, then you might have an opportunity to support that person’s growth, creating fertile ground for healing for everyone involved. A healthier garden.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes speaks of us all being living and growing “creatoras”. It’s so exciting to know that you can grow yourself into a better human being. The grass is greener where you water it. Mr Rogers’ self authored theme goes: “It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive, such a happy feeling, you’re growing inside. It’s such a good feeling to know you’re in tune, such a happy feeling to find you’re in bloom.” That’s a really simple thing to say to mean so much. It doesn’t make all the complications of being a person suddenly perfectly easy and obvious, but growing myself intentionally does bring more calmness, compassion, and higher understandings to everything I touch.
Seeking out other perspectives, working for mutual understanding, and holding space for the worthiness and humanity of those who might let me down is a powerful strength I’ve gained from my Post Traumatic Growth. I’ve finally had some healthier heartbreaks and lower-level disappointments in the past few years, and I’m nurturing connections that have changed shape as we’ve both grown and changed. I’ve found people to make low-damage mistakes with that we can learn from together. It’s giving me a growing perspective on the spectrum and relationship of hurt to harm. I’m learning about self protection without sealing up my heart (more on this, soon). I can withstand some human hurt for the sake of being alive, of being true to my heart, and as somehow conditional to being able to feel all the good stuff, all while defending myself and others from harm whenever possible. Once I heal up enough, I get bold and careless, and the universe bumps me back on my ass real quick. Balance, little one. The sweet spot exists, and it is my hope and firm belief that we can build lasting love in our friendships, romances, and communities in that space. Heal yourself and heal the world.