One of my correspondents asked me a really good question:
How can we actually forgive the people who have really hurt us, especially when we’re still suffering from the problems they’ve caused us?
It’s an excellent question for a number of reasons.
First, let’s just take a step back to say that there are many gurus and ‘spiritual guides’ out there who like to promote and encourage something that I call ‘superficial forgiveness’.
Superficial forgiveness is where the person who was hurt hasn’t really processed what occurred to them properly, and still has a lot of emotional unfinished business with the person who hurt them.
Yet, that person is ‘forced’ to ‘get over it’ as quickly as possible, because we live in a society that – at least superficially – is a very big believer in ‘forgive and forget’. It’s part of the overall cultural zombification process that tells us deeper emotions don’t matter, and that keeping up appearances and maintaining polite relations is the most important thing.
So what tends to happen is that when we get seriously or chronically hurt by someone, society encourages us to stuff down the very valid feelings we have of betrayal, anger, sadness and upset, and to move straight into ‘forgive and forget’ before we’re really ready to do that.
And when that happens, we end up in a very hard place where on the outside, we’re operating from that place of ‘superficial forgiveness’, but on the inside we still have a lot of anger and vengeful feelings that simply have never been recognized, and never been properly worked through and processed.
And this is one of the best short-cuts I know of to turning into an emotional zombie, and / or developing some severe mental health issues, and / or becoming chronically ill.
Another important point to make is that we can only forgive something that we've actually acknowledged. For as long as we're in denial about what was truly done, or how we truly felt about it, we can't actually forgive.
So, what’s the solution?
This is what I believe works so much better than ‘superficial forgiveness’.
STEP 1: Acknowledge the hurt that was done to you, and validate your feelings.
Your feelings are subjective. We aren’t talking about an objective judgement of what has really happened here, and you don’t need to worry about ‘proving’ your case against the other person.
What you need to focus on is:
This stage can’t be skipped, and it’s the foundation for being able to really forgive further down the line. Where the hurt was profound, or long-lasting, or the result of an enormous betrayal (as is often the case when we’re talking about the parent-child relationship) – this part of the process can take a very long time.
Like, years, sometimes.
Why does it take so long in these situations? Because usually what happens is that the children of emotionally immature / absent and / or abusive parents aren’t allowed to experience their own feelings in a genuine way.
That’s far too threatening for an emotionally-dysfunctional parent.
So instead, the child is encouraged to view every interaction, thought, and feeling through the parent’s emotional lens, and that’s usually calibrated to make the parent come out looking as good as possible, at the child’s expense.
It’s a subtle, but incredibly effective form of brainwashing that sadly is so, so common in today’s world. And it can take the child years and years to really rid themselves of seeing the world simply as an extension of their own parents, and then to really feel all the things that they were never allowed to feel.
Like hurt, betrayal, sadness, jealousy, fear, and rage at how unfair it all is etc etc.
So dafka, when those people’s true feelings start to defrost, there’s a lot of repressed ‘uck’ that has to work its way out of the system, and be properly processed, before they can look to really forgive.
Another very important factor which can slow the process of real forgiveness up is how much of a threat the person who hurt us still poses. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s so much easier to forgive someone once they’ve passed away, because your subconscious is no longer scared for you to let your guard down around them – they’re dead! They can’t hurt you any more.
But, when people are still in a position of power, or still in a position to harm you in some way, or you still have that fear inside of you that it’s dangerous to come off red-alert around them – you’ll find it much, much harder to forgive them 100%.
So, now we’ve spelled out how crucially important STEP 1: Validate your own feelings really is, we can move on to:
STEP 2: How to really forgive the people who hurt us.
People are built in such a way, that we need to be able to ‘get things off our chest’ in some way, before we can really let go of things. But, when we’re dealing with people who have seriously hurt us, that’s usually impossible.
These people usually lack self-awareness, empathy and compassion to a very large degree, so confronting them with what they did to you will usually only lead to them lashing out, and trying to close you down any way they can.
That’s not going to end well for either of you.
So then, how can you get ‘closure’ without actually speaking to them?
The answer is to sit somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, and to imagine talking to them in your head. Say everything you need to say – repeatedly! Yell, curse, accuse – whatever you need to do to ‘get it off your chest’.
And then, give them the opportunity to respond – still in your head.
Usually, they will start to explain a little about what’s really going on with them, and you’ll start to get some stunning insights into the internal demons the other person is battling.
Again, that doesn’t excuse or justify their bad behavior, but it does explain more of it, and it will help you to understand more about the huge challenges that other person actually has, internally.
If the hurt was huge or chronic, you may well have to repeat this process of ‘talking to them in your head’ a few times over, every time some new emotion, or some new aspect, comes up again in your life, that you have to deal with.
The goal is to get closure, to have your say, and ultimately, to forgive, and I’ve found that visualizing the person in your head, and saying whatever you need to say to them, is the single best way of doing this.
Now, you’re ready for STEP 3: Bring it back to God.
I know that people who come from religious traditions that don’t believe in reincarnation will find what I’m about to say challenging, but everything that happens to us down here is arranged by God, and is connected to fixing us, and our souls, on some level.
We have no idea what we did in a previous life, but if we got sent back down here in 2018, the odds are very good that we were the abusive parent last time round, we were the fraudster and thief, we were the cheating spouse, we were the cold-hearted murderer.
And if we didn’t make amends to our victims during that lifetime, then the only way to pay down and rectify those sins where we hurt other people is to experience the same sort of suffering ourselves.
Does this excuse the people who hurt us?
But, fundamentally, they are just being used as the stick in God’s hand, to rectify some wrong that we ourselves committed in a previous lifetime.
Again, for as long as you haven’t worked through the previous steps of:
You simply won’t be able to get to Step 3, which is where you can really see and internalize and accept that God was behind it all.
And that’s another reason why ‘superficial forgiveness’ is so poisonous and damaging, spiritually, because until and unless we have really worked the hurt through, as described above, we simply won’t be able to internalize that it’s all from God, and all for our good, somehow.
There are no quick fixes with these things, there are no short-cuts.
The people who are telling you to ‘forgive and forget’ are usually dealing with their own massive, and massively suppressed, mental and emotional health issues.
True forgiveness usually takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of inner work, courage and effort, and it’s predicated on first truly understanding what was done to you, and how badly it hurt you. Only then can you move on to really forgiving the other person, and then bringing it all back to God.
But when you finally do reach that stage of forgiving them 100%, it’s the best feeling in the world.
The answer is both absolutely yes, and absolutely not.
Why absolutely yes?
Firstly because so many people today have C-PTSD, whether they know it or not, that having typical C-PTSD reactions to life is really far more normal than most people still realize or understand.
C-PTSD doesn’t just happen when you experience terrible, overt abuse as a child, God forbid. As Pete Walker points out in his excellent book: Complex-PTSD, From Surviving to Thriving, sometimes the hardest cases of C-PTSD occur where no obvious child abuse was happening.
It’s just that the parents were…completely absent. AWOL, emotionally. It was a home, a family, where no-one ever really discussed feelings, where the emphasis was put on keeping up superficial appearances, where children (and everyone else) were always expected to swallow down their true feelings, their true thoughts, and to not rock the boat.
Often, these homes had some sort of tragic or difficult circumstances, or some enormous loss that had been experienced in the past, that had been swept under the rug, and which no-one wanted to talk about or discuss.
So the kids grew up in this hermetically-sealed ‘plastic’ atmosphere where they picked up the very strong unspoken message that having feelings, or trying to express your inner dimension, or talking about anything more than very superficial subjects, was dangerous, somehow, and should be completely avoided.
The best way I can think of to try to put across what happens in these types of homes is via Stromae’s video for ‘Papaoutai’ (‘Where are you, dad?’), in the post below, where the kid is trying so, so hard to pierce through the parent’s ‘plastic’ exterior – but in the end gives up, and becomes an unfeeling robot himself.
THE RISE OF THE SCREEN
Screens compound the problem of emotional neglect and emotional absenteeism, and also cause it. The compound it, because when people feel uncomfortable ‘being them’ around other people, they take refuge behind the screen – the TV, the internet, the text message or tweet.
But of course it also causes the problem, because when a parent is so wrapped up in the SCREEN, they have no time or attention to spare for the kid, who then experiences an emotionally AWOL parent, and in turn grows up with C-PTSD issues caused by emotional neglect.
So, part one is: most people today have some form of C-PTSD, whether they realise or not, and that is what is behind most people’s mental and emotional difficulties today.
So, you’re in good company!
Part Two: Let’s look more at whether someone with C-PTSD can live a ‘normal’ life.
The answer is yes and no.
If you understand that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ for anyone, and that each of us are unique, and that each life will run along it’s unique course, then it stands to reason that you can’t live a ‘normal’ life – and neither can anyone else.
But, if you’re talking more about whether you can still live a fulfilled and satisfying life; and whether you can get to a point where you can diminish the C-PTSD enough to really start enjoying life and being happy, and fulfilling your potential – then the answer is definitely yes.
Again, it’s hard to really go into massive details on a Quora answer, so let’s try to boil things down, to give concrete, solid steps of how to do this, as briefly as possible.
1) GET EDUCATED ABOUT WHAT REALLY CAUSED THE C-PTSD, AND HOW IT’S AFFECTING YOU IN MYRIAD WAYS
The single best way of doing this is to read Pete Walker’s excellent book.
It can be hard reading – and I personally don’t agree with Pete’s approach of keeping hold of his anger against his parents long-term (more on this in a moment) – but Pete does an unparalleled job of explaining the different types of dysfunctional family dynamics that actually cause C-PTSD.
And, he does an excellent job of explaining how most of the ‘melt-downs’ that C-PTSD people have, where they get whooshed back into some very negative and hard-to-deal with states of mind are actually just flashbacks to a child-hood state of mind that was never properly processed.
Pete gives a lot of practical tools to show you how to start processing these ‘undigested’ emotional states, and if you follow his instructions, you will start to see a lot of the C-PTSD symptoms start to abate and diminish in both frequency and intensity.
2) LEARN HOW TO LET GO OF YOUR ANGER AT PARENTS (and the others who hurt you), AND FORGIVE
I can’t stress enough, that stage 2 can only be attempted once you’ve 100% internalized and accepted just how bad it really was for you, as a child, and you’ve validated your childhood emotions and experiences 100%.
If you try to jump to forgiveness before you’ve really bottomed-out how dysfunctional family dynamics and behaviors really caused your issues, and your C-PTSD, you will get stuck in the problem.
There are no short-cuts:
First, face up to what really happened to your ‘inner child’, to your younger self, and make no excuses for the bad behavior that was doled out to. Feel all the upset and anger you need to feel to start to heal, and to ensure that you’ll take care of yourself properly from now on, and give yourself what’s required, emotionally.
Repressed emotions are part and parcel of the C-PTSD.
Once they are released and properly digested and internalized, the triggers that spark them off will start to fade and dissolve – and you’ll find yourself coping with life, and its challenges, in a much healthier, easier way.
And part of doing this is to really feel what you weren’t allowed to feel as a kid, and to experience what was too hard to experience as a kid, and to learn the lessons from it, and to take the steps required to protect yourself going forward.
But - don’t stay in that angry place!
Don’t feel like a victim for the rest of your life, because holding on to all that negativity after you’ve validated it, learned from it, and made the changes you need to protect yourself in the future will only keep you stuck in the past.
And the past is not a place where it’s good for people with C-PTSD to dwell, any more than is absolutely necessary to properly progress through stage 1, above.
OF course, it’s easier said than done to really forgive. Practically, how can we do this?
The first bit of advice is to read another excellent book by Mark Wolynn, called: It didn’t start with you: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. (see the vid above).
This book brings some of the science to explain how trauma, traumatic reactions and responses, can literally be passed down the genes to descendants, via a process called epigenetics.
To give one obvious example, the book explains how the grandchild of holocaust survivors can ‘react’ in the same way as someone who went through the holocaust, even though they may have been born 50 or 60 years after the end of World War II.
The grandkid literally has PTSD, C-PTSD – but they have no conscious memory of where it’s coming from!
And when the trauma is ‘in the genes’, i.e. coded into the body’s DNA, that can make for some hugely overwhelming, monstrous reactions that seem to come out of nowhere – until you really make the links that Wolynn makes in his book.
THE NEXT THING TO DO IS LOOK INTO FINDING A GOOD ONE BRAIN PRACTITIONER IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD.
One brain uses muscle testing to ‘find’ where the trauma is actually being stored in a person’s body, and subconscious, and memories, and can literally get rid of specific segments of it in just one or two sessions.
It’s particularly effective for trauma that occurred before the adult brain really developed (or that you’ve inherited, and thus have no conscious recollection of).
Because the One Brain therapist will muscle test to locate what age the trauma occurred at, and if they can’t find it in your lifetime, they’ll go backwards, up to 7 generations, to see which ancestor’s trauma ‘issue’ you’ve inherited, physically.
I know it sounds weird – Wolynn’s book explains the science in an easy –to-understand way, and I can only tell you that I know of many, many people who it’s helped, to get rid of C-PTSD symptoms and triggers that were very firmly embedded, and making their life miserable.
The One Brain main website is HERE.
I've written a lot about C-PTSD here on the website, and you can see some of the pertinent posts about how to overcome C-PTSD below:
c-ptsd 101: I've got c-ptsd! now what do i do to get rid of it?
c-ptsd 101: how 'inherited trauma' can give you c-ptsd
c-ptsd 101: how to raise emotionally-healthy kids
c-ptsd 101: how to tame the inner critic
Below, is the 'masterlist' I put together for how to tackle C-PTSD across all three levels of body, mind and soul:
TIPS TO TACKLE C-PTSD AT THE BODY LEVEL
The key thing to remember here is that traumatised people are physically very stressed and tense people.
The more primitive parts of their brain is continually sending them messages that the world is a scary, threatening, dangerous place, which means:
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD BODY:
NOTE: If someone experienced any form of physical abuse, then even touch can be a very triggering event for them. In these situations, ‘pet therapy’, or having a safe bond with a dog, horse, or other ‘loving’ animal can be an important first step to desensitising the C-PTSD body to physical touch.
(Click the grey for more details and / or information for how to do each of these things):
Other things to try include:
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD MIND / EMOTIONS
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD SOUL
TO SUM UP:
No-one is normal, so give up on that idea.
But, you can definitely live a happy, fulfilled and emotionally-healthy life, once you learn where the C-PTSD is really coming from, how it’s really affecting you, and to learn the lessons the negative emotions are really coming to teach us.
Validate your own feelings and experiences 100% - and then do your best to forgive the people who hurt you (while still protecting yourself 100%, and staying with a realistic picture of the true circumstances and situations you find yourself in).
If you need more help (and most people do), consider One Brain, to help you get rid of the traumatic memories that may be embedded deep in your subconscious mind, or even, inherited from your ancestors.
It’s not easy, but you will definitely see things move and improve if you stick with it, and just keep picking yourself up every time you fall down.
One of the things that pains me so much is how so many of us are yearning for real connection, real relationships for others, but that is so hard to come by in our increasingly plastic world.
There’s a lot of reasons for this, but you can boil it down to two main ones:
Emotional absenteeism runs in families, and it happens when the parent themselves got locked inside their own heart, because for whatever reason, their own parents never really saw them, never really spoke to them about their own emotional state, never really ventured past that ‘safe’ space of talking down to the kid as a dependent, ‘mini-me’ or nuisance.
I used to get really angry about this, but then I came to realise more and more just how badly these parents are hurting themselves, and in pain. It's so hard to get stuck being ‘plastic people’, who can’t really own their own true feelings, or even really know what their true feelings are, let alone express them.
And if a person can't 'see' their own true feelings, they can't validate anyone else's, especially not their kids'.
With the rise of the screen in our lives – first TV, then video, then computers, and now i-Phones – this emotional absenteeism and emphasis on external appearance has become a rampant epidemic, a plague, destroying so many people’s lives.
Usually, I don’t post up pop videos here on spiritualselfhelp.org, and I certainly don’t post up things that aren’t shmirat eynayim friendly. But this video affected me so strongly – to the point where I literally got heartache and started weeping – that I’m making an exception to that rule.
If you don’t want to see 30 seconds of bare-armed dancing ladies, skip it. But if you’re already used to seeing things like that, then please do watch it.
A picture speaks a thousand words, and this video manages to convey something in 3 ½ minutes that I’ve spent the last four years writing about, here on the blog.
It’s by Stromae, a Belgian singer who lost his father in the Rwandan killings back in the 1990s. It’s in French, and the chorus is: “Where is your father? Tell me, where is your father?”
So many people are missing their parents at the moment. And the worst is when your parent - your loved one - is there right in front of you, and you still can’t really interact with them in any but the most plastic way.
As life seems to be filling up with more and more petty, pointless, bureaucratic rules, and ‘politically correct’ policing of what you can and can’t say, and can and can’t think, I find myself compelled to break more and more of these pointless rules, whenever I can get away with it.
I know, it’s probably not so good, but I was pondering recently why I have a compulsion to cross the road when there’s a red man, dafka, that I never had so strongly in the past. And it came to me that it’s a form of civic protest: I’m protesting the fact that the bureaucrats and PC mob are trying so hard to control every move I make, and every thought I’m trying to think.
Still, it’s probably not a good thing.
I already got caught and let off for talking on my phone in the car (I don’t have a smartphone, just a very basic phone that I put on speaker, but happened to be holding in my hand.) It’s so strange to me, though, because I see people who have their massive smartphones mounted on their car dashboard, or even, in the middle of their steering wheels, and I can’t believe that they aren’t distracting the driver.
Yet massive, talking smartphones that play movies on the dashboard are considered ‘safe’ and ‘legal’, while small phones on speaker you have in your hand are considered ‘unsafe’ and ‘illegal’. I’m not sure why there is a double-standard like this. Either all phone use by drivers is unsafe, or all phone use is OK.
So anyway, it was a Shabbat day in Jerusalem, when the streets are usually pretty quiet and very few people abide by the red man unless they really have to, and I came to a small crossing that led on to a normally busy intersection, that had the red man.
The intersection was deserted, save for an elderly woman in a Fiat Punto, who happened to be waiting at my light. So I looked all around, and took my first step on to the crossing – just as the old woman got the greenlight to drive. I stepped back on to the payment – and she wound down her window and spent a whole minute berating me.
I could see on her face she’d been waiting for an opportunity to berate someone all morning.
“Why?! Why?! Why?!” she screamed at me. “Why are you making me run you over?!”
I mumbled a sorry, but she had no intention of being mollified, and only drove off when she realized the light was about to go red again.
I learnt a lot from that exchange.
The first thing I learned is that people really do only criticize in others what they have a problem with themselves. This old woman clearly also had negative character traits, a problem with waiting patiently, and a difficulty in giving way to other people.
Clear as clear can be.
The second thing I learned is that it wasn’t so much what she said that got my goat – because essentially, she was right, and I was in the wrong.
The problem was totally with how she was saying it.
I understood after the first 10 seconds that she was far more interested in putting me down and venting than she was in pointing out my error for the benefit of humanity.
Again, this is a common issue with people who maintain a façade of being perfect. These people lack empathy and compassion for other people’s flaws and failures because they live in the illusion that they themselves are perfect, ‘good people’, who never do anything wrong.
The third thing I learned is that God wants me to work on my own negative character traits, and particularly the trait of waiting patiently and giving way. Sometimes, it’s so hard to wait at a meaningless red light that takes forever to go green, especially when there are no cars in sight.
But while I chafe at being told what to do by bureaucrats, when God is giving me directions, I do my best to listen. It’s a practice in patience, a test of humility.
And if that’s what’s going on, then I will do my best to try to fight the urge to sprint across the road when the red man appears to slow me down.
Sad to say in 2018, so many of us seem to be having interactions with people who hold themselves out as being ‘untouchable’. Often, they have big degrees, big salaries, big names – and always, always, always, enormously big egos.
Wherever they happen to pop up in life, like the home, the school, the work place, the media, these untouchables have one thing in common: they are allergic to an open and honest sharing of facts and information, and they absolutely hate being challenged or questioned.
They pronounce, and we, the little people, are just meant to bow and nod, and take all of their pronouncements at face value, turn our own brains off, and accept that if the ‘untouchable’ has pronounced it as the truth, then the truth it must be!!
Sadly, (at least, for the untouchables that I cross paths with) I just don’t work like that, or think like that. I’m very happy to learn from other people, and to be exposed to other people’s views and new information. Just, I’d like to deal with facts not dogma, and to be able to evaluate the information being presented properly for myself.
Here on spiritualselfhelp.org, we cover a lot of the subjects that the ‘untouchables’ don’t want anyone questioning or really examining. Like:
I’ve had ‘untouchables’ come after me on all these issues, and more, and the modus operandi is always the same. I go to great lengths to source quotes from scientists themselves, and from peer-reviewed publications themselves, to debunk the topics above, (plus quite a few more…)
The untouchables can’t fault the facts – because it’s all footnoted, sourced and peer-reviewed. So instead, they tell me things like this instead:
“You are misleading people with so much half-baked junk and distortions it would be laughable, if it wasn’t doing so much damage.”
Note the severely disapproving tone. Note, too, the scary threat that I'm ‘destroying and damaging the world’ by daring to disagree. And finally, note the complete lack of any details to really prove or show how exactly what I’ve said is wrong.
This last bit is the key to successfully arguing with untouchables.
As long as you do your homework properly, and as long as you’re sticking to the facts as best you know them, and are willing to admit when you might be wrong, or that your view might need to change in the light of new information, the untouchables can’t really touch you.
I’m very happy to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, and I want to know precisely where I might be wrong about things, because life is a continual learning process that I hope will only stop when I’m dead (ad 120).
So, this is how you confuse the untouchables:
You ask them, humbly, to show you the flaws in your argument, logic, facts or information.
If you really are wrong, they’ll have no problem doing that, and then you’ll learn something new. But if you aren’t?
Then, they will run away as fast as their legs can carry them. But not before they’ve sent you some more gratuitous insults, along the lines of this (taken from a real exchange I had over on Quora with a Chemistry Prof from Canada, who later decided to delete all his comments because clearly, he didn’t come out of it looking exactly like someone who was interested in sharing knowledge or learning new things.)
Michael M. replied to your comment on "HOW FALSE THEORIES ABOUT 'GREENHOUSE GASES' ON VENUS LEAD TO 'CLIMATE CHANGE' SCIENCE ON EARTH...":
Very Trump-like of you. Throw out the lies so thick and fast that no one can keep up. I might point out that pretty much every idea you threw out in that long note had absolutely nothing to back it up except lots of name calling, conspiracy ideas and negativity. Clearly, It doesn’t matter what I might say, you will have a comeback that would require more research and more time and then you’d have another comeback. None of your comebacks need time or energy because you would just refute everything I said anyway whether it was right or wrong. I have more important things to do than deal with a conspiracy theorist like you.
So, don’t be scared of the ‘untouchables’ out there. Go do your homework properly, keep an open mind, keep it respectful and be prepared for some gratuitous insults comparing you to Trump (really, that’s so mild.)
But stick to your guns, and be prepared to argue for truth, justice and sanity.
Because the people who are really interested in those things will listen, and will respond.
And sooner or later, the untouchables will discover that more and more people have discovered the art of thinking for themselves, and that they are effectively out of a job.
This is just a quick post, as while I have so much I’d like to share, finding the words and the time to do it properly is proving a little difficult at the moment.
Just to say, there is a direct correlation between the need to control, and anxiety.
The more anxious a person feels, deep-down, in their soul, the more effort they will put into trying to control their environment, and especially, the people around them.
This comes out in all sorts of ways. The people who are trying to ‘force’ others to vaccinate their children are operating 100% from this paradigm, of feeling a deep inner anxiety and fear, that they are trying to quell by ‘by making the problem go away.’
Another hugely more extreme example of this is dictators, who try and control the masses by tyrannizing them and scaring them.
In our day and age, this plays out more via the unelected bureaucrats who are trying to ‘force’ their opinions of how the world needs to work on the unsuspecting masses, via all sorts of taxes, propaganda and other forms of manipulation and brain-washing.
Again, so much to say on this subject, but the point is this:
That inner, underlying sense of anxiety will only really disappear when people connect their souls back to God, and work on accepting that God is the One who is running the world, not them.
That’s why you find so many of the atheists out there are also the biggest control freaks, and the biggest armchair dictators, trying to close down any conversations, or discussions, or groups that challenge their illusion of being in control of the world.
And of course, it’s also playing out in our own lives, too.
I’m feeling pretty anxious at the moment, as it feels as though the world is a powder-keg, about to explode in a million different ways.
This morning, I was trying to ridiculously micro-manage my poor husband, who really does have the patience of a saint. And then it struck me: I’m acting like a control freak, as a way to try to take my anxiety down and feel ‘safe’ again.
But it really doesn’t work!
Only bringing it back to God, and working on our emuna, or faith, that God is running the world, and that God is really good, and that everything that’s happening right now, it’s for the greater good somehow – that’s the only way to really deal with all the escalating tension happening right now.
I read the following post on SassonMag.com, by writer Varda Branfman, and it blew me away. I asked her permission to re-post it here on Spiritual Self-Help, and she kindly agreed. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Everyone called him “The Biggest Gastroenterologist in Colorado.” I come to him on a referral because I am suffering from intestinal pain, chronic digestive problems, and a persistent low fever.
After looking at my X-ray, Biggest Gastro feels I need to undergo a series of tests to figure out exactly what I have going on in there. He says it is urgent and I must check into the hospital immediately, even though it is the eve of Rosh Hoshanah. My baby is 11 months old and still nursing. She will have to go cold turkey and get weaned overnight onto a bottle.
It all happens so fast as we stand together in front of an x-ray of my colon. Squarely facing us is the problem and the doctor’s firm conviction that something must be done immediately to fight it. He knows exactly how to confront it, and suddenly, we, the very object of his emotional conviction, know absolutely nothing.
He is willing to save me, but it is clear that I must put myself entirely in his hands.Later, I learn that such confidence as he displays is a sure sign that I am straying in the wrong direction.
But his confidence is mesmerizing, and we’ve been numbed out by a feeling of helplessness that something bigger than ourselves is now in progress.
We live several miles from the hospital, and my husband explains to me that he will not be able to walk over to see me for the next three days, two days of Rosh Hashanah and then Shabbos. There is hardly time to say goodbye. We are both in shock. The doctor has intimated that I may be seriously ill. Rosh Hashanah begins in about two hours.
There’s no one to watch our baby if my husband stays with me. The doctor’s words have suddenly plunged us into a drama of life and death, and no one to say, “Wait, don’t put your life in the hands of Biggest Gastro. Don’t leave yourself here. Go find your healing.”
We’ve been led to believe that there is simply no alternative. There are tears in the corners of my eyes. I try to be strong for my husband. And then I find myself alone, dressed in the hospital white gown.
From my symptoms and their examination of my colon, they seem to think that I have one of those big diseases. They are determined to get to the bottom of it and have reeled off the names of a series of tests that will cover all the bases.
I am my body
My body is not working properly, and like any car engine that is making funny noises, we have taken it into the shop. The only difference is: I am my body. I can’t leave it off for a few days, and then come back and get it.
What is done to it, is done to me. Perhaps I have an unusually strong identification with my body. I haven’t quite been able to separate from it.
When it stretches, I stretch. When it feels a wave of well-being, so do I.
On my first visit from the nurse, she announces that I will be eating nothing but cubes of instant broth for at least two days. I look at the ingredients on the silver wrapping. There are written a series of chemicals designed to taste like chicken soup. Sometimes they gave me a bogus vegetable broth with just about all the same chemicals.
I surrender and watch my body get weaker and weaker. I’m being starved so that their tests on my colon don’t have to be so messy. Then, they start drawing blood every few hours and ordering me to take stool samples twice a day. I barely have the strength to walk to the bathroom.
Test after test
Left with my own thoughts for 72 hours, I die slowly from every single possible disease of the digestive system. The nurses are very solicitous, but they don’t have time to chat. They do notice my weakness and order a wheelchair to transport me to the daily X-rays, the Cat Scan, Bone Marrow Test, Colonoscopy, and Gynecological Work-Up. I overhear one of them saying to the other, “She’s so young. I think she’s a young mother.”
Perhaps they are not aware that I am an orthodox Jew and for 72 hours there will be no phone calls or visits because it’s a three day Yom Tov. The second bed in the room is empty, and I am totally alone for most of the time, almost as if I’ve been put on isolation ward.
I enter the hospital with a low-grade fever and stomach pains, the clear result of an inflamed colon. I am being moved and manipulated and rolled over all day long. No one has asked me how I’m feeling and truly waited for the answer.
I am being killed by formalities. The extra blood tests, stool tests, and all the comprehensive tests are ignoring the state of the patient. She is slowly going under.
“There is no pain”
On the second day, they perform the colonoscopy. They give me a local anesthetic which they assert is just a precaution in case it’s painful, and when I scream from the pain, they assure me that there is none. As my screams get louder, their polite assurances turn into a fierce insistence.
What a relief when the Biggest Gastro announces that he’s found what he is looking for—the ulcers in my colon. He is plainly enjoying his expedition into my interior, and he launches a description of the terrain. The cramping I feel is unbearable, and I’m flailing with my arms when the nurse pins me down.
Apologetically, she asks the doctor if it’s possible to remove the probe because the patient is not behaving. And, after a disdainful look in my direction, he complies.
The findings seem conclusive, but they are determined to rule out all the other possibilities. And so the tests go on and on. Each morning for my nine day incarceration, the nurse enters the room, looks on my chart, and cheerfully announces the day’s events.
No strength left to care
I am only a shadow of myself. On Sunday, my husband makes his long-awaited visit with my baby. I am too weak to hold her. I want to respond to her joy at seeing me, but I can only squeeze out a faint smile.
Then I burst into tears as I realize that I don’t even have the strength to care for her.
I should have known. I had already had some experience with this award-winning hospital. It was in this very same hospital that my sweet baby was born.
Together with my husband and our little overnight suitcase, we made our way down to an underground floor of the hospital complex. Our steps echoed in the giant windowless hallway until we came to the massive door with a small sign to the left announcing we were at the right place. We were then buzzed in. It reminded me of the entrance to a nuclear power plant. It all seemed very dangerous and secretive.
Once inside, it continued to be soundless. The nurse led us to the first room on a long corridor with another massive door to open. Inside, there were again no windows in a large room with a hospital bed smack in the middle. Off to the side in the shadows, a few chairs.
And then again, the door closed.
I climbed up on the bed, and for the next nine hours I labored to have my baby. When I looked up at the clock that said 3, it could have been 3 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning. With no natural light, I had lost track of the time.
I was alone with the faithful contractions at regular intervals. Fortunately, I had hired a labor coach who kept reminding me that those contractions were getting me closer and closer to the birth.
From prison to hotel
Once the baby was born, we were taken to the maternity ward up on a higher floor. There were windows and pitchers of ice water on the table. Someone sent me flowers. The hospital became a non-intrusive backdrop to another of life’s major events. It was more of a hotel with meals at the side of the bed and triple occupancy in the rooms.
Thank G-d, I was not there to be healed. All the tests came out normal, and they sent us home after three days. I was a healthy, normal new mother, and the nurses were full of congratulations.
Now they are cold and efficient, as if they are simply there to monitor the mal-functioning machinery.
The fight-back begins
At the bone marrow test, my will to live begins to stir within me. In horror, I watch them drill a little hole into the bone of my hip and extract a bone sample. This time, the anesthetic works, and there is only a numb feeling from my waist down.
It is too late to stop the procedure by the time I find my fighting spirit. As they remove the syringe, I demand to know why they are doing this to me. They don’t have the answer. Without even looking up, they tell me to ask my doctor, as they proceed to clean up the site of the invasion.
I began to see myself as a war zone, being ferreted back and forth from room to room, from test to test, with my body being chipped away bit by bit. They are using the state of the art weaponry— miniature television cameras, chemicals, radiation, and the knife.
And an age-old tactic—slow starvation.
Arousing the sleeping warrior
When I am finally allowed to eat again, I feel some strength returning. It’s very possible that there is some real food content on the tray before me, between the wonder bread and the rubber chicken, between the instant mash potatoes and the red jello. But at least there are some calories here which translate into energy to arouse the sleeping warrior within me.
My doctor is impossible to find, apart from his star appearances every afternoon on the ward rounds as he instructs the student doctors about each case. All the student doctors are wearing white coats, but he has on an impeccable tan suit and tie. He moves with the assurance of an elevated being who has conquered the entire human digestive system.
He explains to me that there is a tendency to developing leukemia in my family since my father succumbed to that disease, and he just wants to make sure with the bone marrow test that I don’t have it.
I don’t want to argue with him that my father’s symptoms were totally different from mine, and that I’ve already endured the colonoscopy which defined my condition as ulcerative colitis.
I have been fighting a losing battle ever since I gave my consent to this hospital stay and signed over full rights to my body and my life. I know that it is useless to argue with the prince of this malevolent kingdom, but still, I dare to say the words, “I want to go home.”
With an explosion of feeling just under the surface, I calmly try to stare him down.
“Oh no, no, we’ve got to rule out the possibility of parasites in the stool tests, and that will take another few days,” is his benevolent reply.
Illness is big business
I am beginning to understand the story. The hospital is getting good money from my insurance policy for each day that I stay on. I am now quite sure that the hospital is not a place of healing, and now I discover that it is really big business. A multi-million dollar business. And this Biggest Gastro is one of the top executives.
He gives me a charming smile. “I’ll try to get you back home before Yom Kippur, but I can’t promise.”
At least, he knows what Yom Kippur is, but does he know what he is doing? All along, he has been acting as if he is doing me the biggest favor in the world, acting as if he is saving my life. He carries himself with a giant helping of self-justification and conviction, as if his chosen work is to save lives. But he is far from saving lives. Even far from healing them.
In his role as doctor, he makes a good living for his family, but does he know how much destruction he leaves in his path?
He prescribes a daily dose of cortisone to control the ulcerative colitis which he claims to be a chronic condition and incurable. When I ask him for some dietary suggestions, he is happy to assure me that I can eat anything with impunity. I just have to keep taking the cortisone.
I don’t have any medical training, but it seems obvious to me that a digestive problem might be exacerbated by eating the wrong foods, that the sensitive lining of my colon might respond well to some foods and be irritated by others.
My other big question has to do with the drug of choice. I once worked in a drug company for about six months. If hospitals are big business, then drugs are even bigger.
Without even reading the little white paper wrapped around the bottle, I know there are side effects to cortisone. With a small amount of research, I learn that the side effects include teeth loss, depression, weight gain, and after 20 years of use, a much higher likelihood of cancer.
When my husband calls the doctor to ask him about the likelihood of cancer, he laughs it off by saying something about twenty years being a long time. Apparently, he’s not very concerned about knocking a few years off my life and saddling me with a host of unsolicited ailments besides the one I have.
Grateful to be alive
It’s Erev Yom Kippur, and I finally leave the hospital about 15 pounds thinner and with big, black circles under my eyes. Our Rabbi forbids me to make the fast. I’ve been de-humanized, but I’m grateful to be alive. And I’ve learned my lesson never to give my body and my life into the safekeeping of “well-meaning” health professionals in big city hospitals.
I leave the bottle of cortisone unopened. I become an avid reader of books on digestion. I learn about the connection between stress and colitis, and between stress and problems with health in general. I discover that colitis and diet are intimately related. The lining of the colon is dramatically affected by the food that passes through there.
Biggest Gastro seems convinced that my illness is something like a wild bronco wrecking havoc in my digestive system. That we must bring in the big guns—a powerful medicine called cortisone—which will tame that bronco.
Let’s try another paradigm. The spastic colon with its internal sores is my friend. It’s me. It’s suffering. It’s trying to tell me something about my lifestyle. I’m under too much stress, and the pint of carob Hagan Daz that I consume just about every other day is too rich for anyone to handle.
I’ve developed a hyper-sensitivity to dairy products. Perhaps I’ve been internalizing certain emotions that I should have been letting out. Maybe it’s the pressure cooker principle. Just so much pressure that’s swallowed, and the top flies off. The colon is my sensitive place. It’s out of commission. Maybe I can nurse it back to health.
Illness is the body’s way of sending us a message about what needs to change
From now on, I’ll be listening to the messages it’s sending me. Maybe this bout with illness is the best thing that’s happened to me. I’ve been alerted that I need to change, even though the doctor assures me that nothing needs to be changed. “Just take this handy little pill, keep eating what you’ve always eaten, keep living like you’ve always lived, you don’t have to change an iota.”
The hospital experience has alienated me from my body. My first mistake was putting my body in their hands. They didn’t realize what a delicate, whole entity I am, how my soul is intertwined with that colon, how sensitive I am to the energy in the room, in the food, in the words that come my way. How I am a sponge, a delicate plant swaying underwater, alive to the currents.
The fact that they would submit their own bodies to the same treatment if some doctor thought it was the preferred course of action, that fact helps them to justify what they did to me.
They are caught in the system, much more deeply ensconced than I am. Their livelihood seems to depend on it.
The experience in the hospital doesn’t teach me how to heal. But it does teach me where healing is not found.Now I begin the process of healing. I allow myself permission to breathe deeply and feel what I need to feel. I won’t tell anyone. I can do it quietly without anyone knowing. I imagine a glacial lake of crystal clear water. I once swam in such a lake, and it is easy for me to return there in my thoughts.
The glacial lake feeds into a stream, and I harness that stream, coax it over in my direction, and guide its flow into my colon. I feel the cool water lapping against the sides of my colon. I even imagine little rainbow fish swimming through the colon in the flow of the healing waters.
I discover that brown rice, sweet potatoes, green vegetables, apple sauce, lemon juice, sesame butter, and rice cakes are friendly food. I drink mineral water, and prepare myself cups of peppermint tea. I lie on the couch with a book even when there are dishes in the sink, or I lie on the floor and let the baby crawl all over me.
I begin to be grateful for my ailing colon, for the message it sent me has begun to transform my life. I am more peaceful, more centered in myself, more alive again to my own dreams and visions.
And, with great amazement and gratitude, my colon responds beautifully to this gentle handling, to the listening ear, to the responsive relationship I’ve put into place. I recover my health and vitality, and begin to feel better than I did even before my “illness” began.
In light of my discoveries about how healing works, I begin to question some other paradigms that I took for granted – and I learn an amazing secret: How to honor my own intuition, listen to internal signals, and awaken to my own inner guidance.
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