The Virtue of Healing Childhood Wounds

During this time of political upheaval and chaos, I cannot help but see so many in positions of power – most especially Donald Trump- as The Walking Wounded. Whether it is his inability to lose, his refusal to relinquish power, or his absolute disregard for what is right, in my mind he is the epitome of childhood traumas run amok.  He was emotionally and psychologically abused by his father and now he is the untreated adult; a toddler mentality but with the power to throw the most destructive fits. Trump is the picture of unhealed trauma playing out on our world stage. His blatant unawareness is extremely unattractive. He, along with others in his circle of influence, appears completely disconnected from any whisper of spirit, any basic plea of the heart to look within, to reflect, to acknowledge his own trauma.  I would bet their whole lives are an avoidance of facing their wounds, no matter the trauma they inflict on others.

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In his book The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer tells the story of a man who suffers from a thorn in his body. He goes to great length to avoid bumping this thorn so that he can live as pain-free as possible with the thorn still inside of him.  Of course, this limits his range of motion and emotions, and it also takes an enormous amount of energy to live this way. When life does clash with his thorn, he feels pain and strikes out or doubles down on his efforts to avoid the irritation in the future. I am sure you can guess that the answer to the man’s dilemma was to remove the thorn and live a life of freedom and happiness. But the point of the story is that so many of us have “thorns”, typically born of childhood trauma, that we spend a lifetime trying to avoid, rather than healing.

Perhaps we don’t realize we are living in a way that is designed to avoid our trauma until some habitual behavior- meant to numb us from our painful feelings – becomes addictive and destructive, affecting our mental or physical health or relationships. Or maybe our “thorn” is bumped and it triggers a reaction out of proportion to the actual event.

Maybe we don’t even consciously know that the thorn is there because we have few memories of the original traumas or we hit a wall of emotional numbness when recalling them. The lack of feeling when recalling a painful event is usually due to “splitting”.  The following article describes this phenomenon, and though the author focuses on very sensitive children, I believe that all children are vulnerable to ‘splitting’ when faced with very adverse experiences. https://www.eggshelltherapy.com/a-split-in-our-personality/

 Thankfully, most of us never come close to reaching a level of such widespread destruction as our 45th president. But we harm ourselves every day that we choose to leave the thorn in place. Awareness and acknowledgement of childhood trauma is the first step to healing and most people have at least some unprocessed trauma. Processing the grief and anger are crucial steps to removing the thorn.  Time does not heal all wounds. If left untreated, they can fester, lead to health and relationship problems, addictions – both soft and deadly – and can generally diminish one’s quality of life. If we guard ourselves against feeling our worst pain, we also miss out on our greatest joy, love and connection. Healing our wounds is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and others.

The Wolf at the Door

“The world breaks everyone, and then some become strong at the broken places.”

 -Earnest Hemingway

 

October 31

My husband receives a call from the doctor who has his biopsy results. The small lump at his jawline is not uncommon- the doctor has been optimistic up until now – cavalier even- but it turns out that his is not benign at all. It is a rare cancer of the parotid gland.

We are about to find out that getting a cancer diagnosis causes one to enter the stages of grief. First stop: denial.  How can this be?  He is healthy.  His medical reports have always been perfect. He is active, a young fifty-five and never felt better.   

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I’ve forgotten all about Halloween and now it’s getting dark, the time that little ones will start showing up at our door, looking for treats. We have no candy and are in no mood for visitors. We turn out most of the lights and sit in the near-dark living room, allowing this new reality to sit with us.  We’ve kept the trick-or-treaters at bay, but we are not alone. There is a wolf at the door, and it is Cancer.

I call our daughters and deliver the news.

My husband is very concerned about disrupting mine and the girls’ lives. Always confident, capable and available, he feels he is failing us with this new and shocking title: cancer patient.  Usually such a logical man, this makes little sense. Of course he did not choose this, no one does, and all we care about is him getting better. But the love and protection he has always given us, above and beyond what is expected, is one of the things I love about him. And now I want to protect him, to cure him, to save him. I am simultaneously aware of my inner strength and my mortal limitations.
November 8

It is our 31st wedding anniversary and also the day of my husband’s surgery. The surgeon removes the tumor as well as many lymph nodes in his neck. The doctors call it a neck dissection, but my husband prefers to call it a neck fillet. Even in his current state, he maintains a bit of his sense of humor. I am relieved.  The past week has been emotionally rough to say the least, but we find reasons to laugh too.

 

November 22 

We follow through on our plans to host Thanksgiving dinner at our home.  It is a day of family and food and also of forgetting, for a few minutes at a time, that we are awaiting the next day’s pathology report.
November 23

 We stop at the second floor of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We are fortunate to be just an hour drive away from such a reputable treatment center. We ride the elevator to the second floor.  “Welcome to the land of the fucked”, my husband says as he looks around.

The oncologist is young, impeccably groomed and impossibly thin. He’s also friendly and kind but maintains the necessary level of detachment.  He delivers the pathology report. It has been a successful surgery. No facial nerves were damaged.  But cancer was found in one of the thirty-one lymph nodes that were removed. We discuss treatment options.
November 25

I gather books and food; I read and cook and freeze and clean. My husband makes calls and fills out paperwork. He deals with insurance details and prepares for his leave of absence from work. He is a pilot and I wonder if the radiation from the cockpit has contributed to this misfortune. Friendly skies my ass.  I make a mental note to research this.

We update the people closest to us. We are grateful for their kindness, and for the resources that we have to get through this great challenge as best we can.

 

December 14

Treatment begins. There will be six weeks of daily radiotherapy plus weekly chemotherapy. We have had every discussion, imagined every scenario, asked every question.

The technician brings me back to the room with my husband so I can see the radiotherapy equipment. They place the custom-made mask on his face and lay him down on the table. A giant machine looms above, like something out of Star Trek. The technician is explaining things to me, being both thoughtful and clinical, just like the oncologist.  I glance over at the table again, at my husband strapped down now, and my eyes start to fill. I silently demand of myself not to cry before I look back at the man who has been giving me the low- down on radiation. I cannot make his job harder, I think.  I cannot make any of this any harder.

 

December 25

Our daughters, sons-in-law and baby granddaughters are all gathered at our home. We are genuinely happy, our hearts full. My husband has a few days off from treatment, which feels like a gift.
January 1

One more month of treatment.  It will get progressively more painful from here, affecting his teeth, his mouth, his swallowing. I was made for hard things, but watching a loved one suffer is not one of them. I want to curl up in the fetal position at the thought of his pain, but mostly because of the shadow of uncertainty that Cancer has cast upon his life. I gather my strength though, doing my best to stay in each moment. I recall the words of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now: “Whatever your present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”

Cancer arrived at the end of 2018, unannounced and unwelcome, an intruder in our lives. With all the love and strength and hope we can muster, along with all that modern medicine can offer, I believe we will send Cancer away. I picture my husband and myself, our amazing family, thoughtful friends, and the team of medical personnel, leaning on the door, all of us with all our might. We lock the door.

I believe the new year will bring healing, life, and glorious days.  I will welcome those moments, those days, eagerly, as if I had chosen them. God knows I have.

 

– Dana Laquidara