Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Homecoming, healing and escape

“Sadness is an energy we discharge in order to heal. Sadness is painful. We try to avoid it. Discharging sadness releases the energy involved in our emotional pain. To hold it in is to freeze the pain within us. The therapeutic slogan is that grieving is the ‘healing feeling.’” ― John Bradshaw

A COUPLE of nights ago, little miss prickly paws — otherwise known as Shiva — got one of her claws caught in the bedspread. When she tried to leave, she found she was stuck. She tried pulling away to free herself, but the harder she pulled against her snare, the more tightly attached and upset she became.

I hastened to her assistance. First I tried lifting her paw and pulling it forward to detach her, but that only confused and panicked her more, and she just pulled all the harder in the wrong direction. I finally lifted her whole little struggling self up, shifting her forward just enough to release the tension on the fabric, and the bedspread fell away.

She had pulled hard against what had snagged her, but actually moving towards it was the only way out. Remember those little woven Chinese finger traps that we used to play with as kids where the only way out is in? That was Shiva's situation.

Shiva and the bedspread that once trapped her.

I was thinking that life can be like that. 

A woman I know describes the process as leaning into the pain, not in the sense of accepting suffering as your lot in life . . . in fact the direct opposite. It means stopping, turning around and facing what hurts rather than running away from it or burying it, so that you can detach yourself and leave it behind. 

It takes fortitude. I learned how to do it from, among other sources, the work of John Bradshaw, the internationally-famous family systems therapist. I've been a fan of his ever since I accidentally discovered him 30 years or so ago. 

I had absentmindedly turned on the television to whatever channel had been on the night before, and as it happened, PBS was holding one of its annual fund-raisers. As part of it, John was giving a talk in front of a live audience. After not very many minutes I had tears cascading down my cheeks. I thought, "Holy crap! I don't know who this is or what he's talking about exactly, but I'd better find out."

As part of the fundraising drive, PBS was giving his ten-tape series called Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child — this was beforet DVDs — as a premium for a certain donation level. I mailed in a check immediately.

Watching the series was life-changing. His premise is that we remain stuck emotionally at whatever age we sustain damage as children. We may be outwardly adult in age, appearance and even the trappings of life, but parts of our psyche and personality will stay three or five or nine or whatever age we were when we were wounded, and the only way to free ourselves from the hold it has on us is to revisit what happened in a safe, loving, supported, but conscious way. 

Having been a failure-to-thrive infant fathered by an alcoholic, abusive father, born to a suicidal, mentally ill mother who died in a psychiatric institution . . . and abandoned, kidnapped, passed back and forth, sometimes placed with unkind adults all by the age of six, I figured I had my work cut out for me.

Certainly I sought other correctives along the way, but Bradshaw's series pulled it all together for me and made all of it make sense to me — bedrock sense. His series is a step-by-step guide to walking into the pain and leaving it behind.

Just like little Shiva, going towards what's trapping us is often the way out.

The book was a New York Times bestseller. 
Also available as an audio book, but I recommend the DVDs.

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