How many times in our lives do we say we wish we could start over? Well this last retreat week with Gabor Mate, a renown specialist in addictions and self destructive behavior, has given me exactly that opportunity.
But first let there be a warning, that we might get what we ask for.
After an intensive five days of examining the interior landscape of my life from childhood on, I feel exactly like what one participant described as, ” a new born colt”. The sensation is of just laying on the ground with the placenta kind of half on half torn off.
I am not ready yet to stand, walk let alone run. I have a knowledge that I will be stronger because of the process. I anticipate that I will go farther in my life with a real sense of being present and not dream-living as I call it. But for now I am shaky, weak, hesitant and only sure that I need to protect myself as I integrate that which I have seen of my own narration of lies.
First of all, I had the opportunity to connect deeply with the terror and abject desperation of a childhood that included abuse on all levels that can be named. To re-enter the state of helplessness with the memory of no one to protect me, no one to call out to was horrifying.
However, I had many around me who were what one participant called “psychonauts.” We were there for one another. We were there to witness and silently hold a space for the suffering of what others had gone through. There was no running in with sympathy which I learned is really about shutting the person down who is connecting with his or her pain. There was no hurry up and stop making me witness your distress.
Gabor lead us through a process of connecting deeply with our feelings, speaking our truth and allowing the other individuals around us to receive our truth. To say what you know of your life and to look at the silent flow of tears from the faces of those around you, is the only way to really understand that your grief is not distorted. It helps you to own that which happened to you fully.
Gabor is an irascible genius. His sure handed- way of leading you through the forest and camoflage of the story you have told yourself is a miracle to behold. Dozens of times, he repeated to us: “That is not a feeling”. My favorite moments were when we heard a horrifying story told in a flat, toneless voice with no indication at all about what the story teller was feeling: “The hell you say,” Gabor would exclaim. It brought laughter every time because we ALL totally identified with the speaker’s mind set. How else do you choose to love when you are at the mercy of this adult. You trade off your own right to feel so that you can attach. It is natural. It is normal. And it will destroy the child’s ability to lead a healthy life.
So how did those of us who were abused as babies, abandoned emotionally as children, raised in an atmosphere of lying and tension cope? We made it into a story. The purpose of the narrative was to allow us to attach to our parents so that we could survive. But now we are on our knees with anger and grief. Our lives don’t work. Some were dying; some had tried to kill him or herself. Some used anaesthetic which the society so helpfully encourages to dull the pain.
Now was the time. Some of us could not take living in the lie that what we were experiencing was a “normal” life any longer.
Never in my life have I witnessed so much courage. We sat hours each day feeling our way through the interior blackness and confusion to find our own truth. And all around us waited with loving hearts. No matter how outrageous and unbelievable the narrative was which unfolded, we sat still with it and received it.
What I learned from this process is how strong I am. The choice I made to continue to live and be in the world was heroic. The choice of many of those babies who were drugged, given away to unloving caretakers, left to cry alone in a dark room to keep going was heroic.
Today I am beginning to recover more strength and I am beginning to go out into the world again. But I will never be the robotic, senseless intellectual that I once was.
The curtain has been lifted. And my story has been validated. The shame that I carried for not being loved was huge. Twenty-four people formed a week of truth and now can live in the world with presence and a commitment to feel their own emotions so that they don’t project them on to others. Those who willingly opened to this process are less likely to hurt those around us, to transfer our pain outwardly. It is a new way of being in life. The path is difficult. It takes focus and concentration. The result is that we can finally be genuine, present and loving beings. Because it is a choice that we made at Crazy Camp.
Gabor has taught us how to connect, deeply with what we are feeling in the moment. We are less likely to strike out, to feel superior because we really feel inferior or to hurt ourselves out of inwardly directed anger. We are not done on this journey but we have been taught skills.
I see myself as a colt struggling to get on my feet. But by God I will be running free with such strength as I have never had before in my life. My loving, courageous friends showed me how to be real. They sat with me, received me in their hearts and I know now, I am not alone.
Father flat beneath a slab in California
I am told.
Only rumors, his name never spoken,
I wear him in my body.
Never say it, nameless Shaman.
hidden in my crib, my bed,
from eyes, from school,
waiting for the fading.
And bone deep
I wear his jewelry:
a neck ring restricts my turning vision
the vertebrate tattoed with cracks.
The fury of his hands pulled my sections
I left myself for him.
The fury of his hands
strangled me from my initial form,
jerking my body backwards
incapable of doing any more than going limp
watching my own trailing helpless legs
along the childhood hallways.
As if an afterthought, my collar bone
out of line, unattended under four year clothing
a healed shard, sticks up defiantly.
My reformed nose asymmetric, sculptured to his fist
remade me in the image
of his own abuse:
His father’s touch along his young boy’s body.
I was totem-carved
to his rage.
The family demon spirit renewed
itself in me.
I am the vessel of his wrath
rigid in an unsafe crib,
a baby listening for my maker’s steps,
coming to reshape me to his uses
his passing presence marked in x-rays
as puzzled doctors hold me up
piece for sale at Sopa Under 8 April 7th gala opening