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finding (my) humanity

April 2, 2012

Lately my feelings about my parents have been shifting, so I have then revisited in my mind the incidents that are the sticking points. And I still feel a lot of grief and anger that is unresolved. Now I’ve started dreaming about the past, which generally is rather nightmarish.

There is some part of me that wants me to write about long-ago events. Most-of-me does not want to do that. Most of me has written about those events at other places, but has deliberately not brought them here. Not just because then my blog is a ‘safe space’ for me, but also because I’ve been accused of staying stuck in my past on purpose. The implication seemed to be that I enjoy it when people condescend to me, or pity me. That I like that better than healing and moving on.

I think that person does not understand the healing process. Healing does not conform to an external time table. I do not control the process. Attempts to ‘move on’ have had mixed success. I saw a bunch of therapists, over a period of about 17 years. I’ve read books. I’ve worked on myself. I’ve talked to friends and others who wanted to help. All of that has done a lot of good, but somehow I never seem to get to the point where I’m past it.

Michael Pollan (and others) says that human beings have neurons in our intestines, and scientists don’t really know why. I’ve been thinking for a while now that some of my digestive issues may be psychosomatic: that I have stuff ‘stuck’ inside of me that wants and needs to come out, and I’ve been refusing to let it out.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m afraid of, but whenever I consider writing here about particular long-ago events, I start sweating in a stinky way, my stomach clenches, my heart rate speeds up, I gasp for air. None of that sounds like I’m ‘over it’, does it? Now I feel tears. Oh look, I’m scratching myself. Suddenly I’m icy cold. I want to jump up from my chair, and run away.

I have a mantra for times like these. “I’m here in Maryland. I’m safe. I never have to go back there, if I don’t want to. I’m hundreds of miles away. It’s 2012. Look out the window and see maple trees and squirrels and songbirds. I have friends and allies here. I’m safe.”

It takes a while before I can feel it working. And if I revisit the topic, I’m right back to the icky place. The particular bad things happened in 1985 and 1990. I don’t think of myself as someone defined by those things, but they certainly continue to impact my life even now. I can’t make them go away. I can’t undo my past.

My uneasy and painful relationships with people who hurt me enough to traumatize me are, I think, why I have such difficulty accepting that I am a human being. No matter how much I identify with trees, rocks, and rivers, none of them will recognize me as one of their own. I enjoy their company partly because I can not understand them — if they are rejecting me, I don’t know it. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.

Wendell Berry said, “it is not natural to be disloyal to one’s own kind.” But who is my own kind? I don’t know.

In Second Nature, Michael Pollan writes:

“Civilization may be part of our problem with respect to nature, but there will be no solution without it. As Wendell Berry has pointed out, it is culture, and certainly not nature, that teaches us to observe and remember, to learn from our mistakes, to share our experiences, and perhaps most important of all, to restrain ourselves.” (pp. 195-196)


“The gardener in nature is that most artificial of creatures, a civilized human being: in control of his appetites, solicitous of nature, self-conscious and responsible, mindful of the past and the future, and at ease with the fundamental ambiguity of his predicament — which is that though he lives in nature, he is no longer strictly of nature. … Nature is apparently indifferent to his fate, and this leaves him free – indeed, obliges him — to make his own way here as best he can.” (p. 196)

I read those passages last night. And they resonated oddly within me because I can’t help but notice that the things Wendell Berry ascribes to culture are things I learned largely from people I was not related to. Same thing with Pollan’s gardener.

Maybe finding myself in (yet another) liminal space means there are things I am uniquely qualified to explore and learn from. After all, precisely because I am not matter-of-fact, I will care passionately about whatever turns up. I will be highly motivated to make use of it in novel ways, in case that helps me heal further. I won’t shrink from what I find, even if it’s my own culpability, or other shortcomings. I’m not trying to impress anybody.

This morning I was heartened to run across this quote by Richard Rodriguez: “There is only one subject: What it feels like to be alive. Nothing is irrelevant. Nothing is typical.”

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