Hard to have a blog if I don’t write. Duh. Sometimes the most obvious things escape me completely, like the danger of marrying someone with whom you’ve never had an argument. (How can that relationship be real??!!) But I digress. I’m not interested in writing about the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-oh-damn-it’s-an-oncoming-train! that is my marriage to Bob.
I want to write about something I heard in an interview yesterday that may have changed my life. And how sometimes we can be so close to what we need to know, need to do, need to feel and still miss it entirely. (For instance, remembering that I need to write in order to have a blog.)
Dr. Eben Alexander, M.D., neurosurgeon and author of the book, Proof of Heaven, was being interviewed and talking about a depression that came on late in his life when his birth mother was not yet ready to meet him. He had already talked about what science (and moms) knows about what babies pick up, or come to “know” in utero and in the first months of their lives. He spoke about his depression being a result of his birth mother’s exposing an old ‘memory.’ He said, “my first message in life was that I was not wanted.”
I was not surprised by what he said, but in how he said it. The sentence, “I am not wanted,” resonated through me at a very deep level. And, hearing it said in the context he said it and the way that he said it opened up an entirely new way of looking at myself and my life. Not bad for an old Oprah show on the DVR! (Btw: I’ve read Dr. Alexander’s book and I highly recommend it.)
I am a therapist and I’ve done years and years of my own therapy. Due to early and repeated traumas of rejection, abuse and abandonment I needed to help learning how to cope and move forward in my life. I have done the work myself and I have facilitated that work with others. And for the most part the work I have done has been effective.
For instance, I don’t consider myself a trauma victim. I don’t harbor bitterness towards the people who have played their parts in what hurt me. I have a tool box full of coping skills that serve me well, and I have the experience of a personal relationship with G-d, whose Grace carries me through every day. I have learned things like, “life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you;” and “it’s always for the good, even if it doesn’t seem that way yet;” and “forgive everyone, everything–for your sake, not theirs;” and “love everyone, but some must be loved at a considerable distance;” and also,”if you spot it, you got it (meaning that same problem is in you, too).”
HOWEVER, the therapy work has not been so effective that my patterns of attaching to people who will betray, reject and abandon me have stopped (BOB!). So something is missing, something didn’t take. I’ve got more work to do somewhere because Life isn’t random.
There is a capital-I-Intelligence (harmony, order) that underlies every part of creation. For this reason, apple seeds create apple trees, which create apples–oranges will not randomly appear on an apple tree. As such, our choices, our beliefs, our thoughts, words, and actions create a “harmony” unto themselves. Therefore, if I don’t like the “fruit” (results) of my choices then I need to trace that “fruit” back to its “seed,” dig it up and plant a different “seed.”
The “seed” is my thoughts (beliefs), words, and choices (actions) I will find what I need to know to experience life differently. It may be that my experiences change or it may be that I experience the same things differently, the kind of change doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am able to take responsibility for my life, to find my way back to the place inside of me that is connected to all power, all knowing, all presence, and all Love. (The movie, Groundhog Day is a particularly good story about this phenomena.)
Back to Dr. Alexander’s comment and how I have been “so close, but so far away” from finding the “seed” of my repeated experiences of being rejected and abandoned. Dr. Alexander’s first message to his newborn soul is in the present tense, using the negative (what he did not get) “I am not wanted.” My therapy work was done in the past or future tense, “I was abandoned and rejected,” or “I will always be abandoned and rejected,” framing my experience in a declaration of what happened, as opposed to what I didn’t and wouldn’t get. It’s the way therapy works and it was the best it had to offer at the time.
However, I was semantically holding my trauma at a distance (past or future) and looking at what I did get (that I didn’t want or need) instead of facing more directly what I didn’t get (that I needed very badly). This is such a subtle point, and it is so important that it is transformative. Because the semantic difference (crafted by very good and effective cognitive therapy) allowed me to proceed in my life without having to feel all of my feelings. Instead, I’ve been unknowingly carrying them around with me all of these years.
On one hand, by semantically distancing myself from my profoundly sad experiences I was able to summon the energy to do the psychological and emotional work I have done over the years which has gotten me this far. On the other hand, that distance allowed the “seeds” (beliefs) of those experiences to remain in me. Of course, I wasn’t aware of this. And the “seeds” or beliefs I have held all of my life have born the “fruit” of the repetitive experience of …. can you guess? NOT BEING WANTED.
If you’re still with me, hang in there, because there is reason to hope in the midst all of this heartache.
Dr. Alexander understood that he had internalized the message “I am not wanted,” and this is what brought on his depression. He began to live out that message as a belief of his own. As a result he says that he stopped believing in G-d and became deeply depressed in spite of 100% of the rest of his life being full of love and everything he had ever wanted.
His depression was ultimately resolved by nearly dying and having the spiritual experience of being deeply loved and wanted by G-d, hence his book.
Frankly, there had better be an easier way than that to get a healing or we are all sunk.
In the interests of space and time here I’m going to jump ahead and list the steps/stages of a potential healing path without much explanation. I’ll come back to this in my next posts.
The first thing to do is to find those first messages. Take your painful experiences and put them in the present tense and frame them in language that explains what you didn’t get that you needed.
There will be feelings that come with first messages like, “I am not wanted,” and “I am not wanted as a girl,” or “I am not worth being protected,” etc. We need safe places in which to experience those feelings and to allow them to stay as long as is needed for them to pass. (Feelings do pass! But only when we are willing to have them.) We also need tools to be able to experience them as feelings while not acting out in the emotions when our feelings get mixed up with fear. Therapy will be necessary for some, but there is a more effective way to heal yourself–mindfulness meditation. (More and more on this later.)
Then, begin to consider the ways in which those messages are bearing “fruit” in your life. And notice how they may have become your beliefs about yourself. Finally, can you become aware of how even when others are not reflecting those messages and beliefs back to you (i.e., hurting you, betraying you, etc.), that you have learned how to hurt (criticize, reject, abandon, etc.) your true self so precisely that you don’t even realize that you’re doing it?
This is the rest of the work–to find the ways in which we are doing it to ourselves and stop it. Because when I am wanting myself–my real self, with all of its flaws, imperfections, and difficulties–it will be impossible for me to ‘fall in love’ with and marry someone who would ever reject, abandon, and betray me the way Bob or any of my other ‘loved ones’ have done.
This is the work I will do for myself and with G-d’s help, I will help others to do. This is not therapy. This is deeply spiritual work that is done prayerfully with our feelings and in the Silence of our own hearts.
And when I can live free of this kind of pain, struggle, and failure I will thank G-d for Bob for being a selfish, cruel, and heartless fraud, the perfect reflection of how I have (mentally and emotionally) treated myself, until now. Meanwhile, I’ve got some work to do!
Love. Love. Love.
Since this is all very new, I hope it makes some sense. All comments and questions are welcome.