Pema Chondra instructs those who attend her workshops the vital skill of going “under” the story. In her own inimitable way she chuckles as she reminds her students that anything they are feeling; anything they are doing will grow. If a person is practicing a skill it will become ingrained and more powerful.
Six weeks ago, I felt as if it was time to address some of the issues that I have just been pushing down in an exhausting attempt to ignore them. I began therapy again.
For me, going to therapy has a deep taint… I see it as a stain. To admit that I can’t do it alone is a sign of weakness and like some Classical Mythic being, I will have the vultures circle over head. It is a staggering weakness to admit weakness. It is an invitation to shame to admit shame. It is a uniform of the losing team to admit I have been playing injured.
So now, I am walking through the story with the guidance of a skilled therapist. I set myself the task of not being afraid of the fear. And it has been difficult.
For many years I have not cried except for others. A picture of children massacred in Syria will elicit the bleeding grief from my eyes. A television show about those who die alone will immediately trigger the flow of sadness.
But now is the time to go into my story and also to go under it. Once before in my life I connected to the brutality of my own past.
I attended a group session held in Telkwa, B.C. by a group of Catholic nuns who named their methodology Personal Human Relationship Study. We formed a circle and slowly build trust. Exercises helped us to open up the armour that each of us wore on a daily basis.
And as others shared with brave openness, the epiphany struck me. I saw in my mind a picture of an 18 month old child. I was 18 months old when my mentally ill father returned from France with his PTSD and became a dark, explosive and dangerous presence in my life. He went to a psychiatrist and a lot of good that did.
Mere seconds after that image appeared in my mind, the words fell out of my mouth.
“I was so tiny. I didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t my fault.”
I drove an hour home on a Northern isolated highway stripped of the not knowing. When I arrived home, I immediately called my mother. I asked her, “Was I abused? Did my father abuse me?”
She saw the world through her own fractured filter. As a person with Borderline Personality Disorder, she was deeply investing in being the victim. There was no room in the nuclear family for another one.
She told me a story. “I didn’t know,” she said. “I came home and he told me you walked into a door,” she said. “You climbed the car and fell off onto your face is what your father told me,” she said. “I saw him when you were 12 come up behind you when you were doing the dishes and grab your breasts. But that was just playful,” she said.
After that I slid down the wall holding onto the phone and I began to sob. I can’t remember the rest of her words.
I was not yet forty years old but never, once had I connected with a compassionate love with the toddler who was beaten and lay alone in a bed with her bones broken.
How could I deny her empathy and connection? Because I was taught to. Because none of us knew anything. The will to survive comes from bonding with the caregivers. Numbing out; making myself wrong; dissociation worked.
But now the story I live is simply not rich enough in texture and depth to explain the deep well of sadness that I carry with me from the time I wake up until I sleep.
With a loving guide by my side, my intention is to go under the story of my daily narrative and connect to the reality of how I experience life. And as I drive my car, I have Pema Chondra’s lessons to listen to. There is a bigger truth to explore.