This is an edited version of a previous blog ( AKA A hurricane is coming )
“The wound is the place where the light enters you,” Rumi.
It’s July 5th, 2014
I’m on my daily walk; It’s barely dawn; the sun is just coming over the horizon, the golden rays warm my face; the scent in the air this early is so sweet and fresh. Walking is my meditation and sometimes my sanity. I love the early hours before the world stirs as the birds sing louder to bring in the new day. Trees line both sides of the road; they feel like old friends. I am communing with these majestic tall guardians. The hardwood in full summer foliage and the evergreens are vibrant with newly growing life. They are all standing perfectly still on this calm morning.
I feel powerful in my body these days. My heart beats faster as I start walking up a steep hill. I notice Saint John’s Wort. Its dainty yellow flowers have buds with ruby red oil inside. I love exploring the fields and gathering wild herbs for making healing salves. My mind wanders as I think about how much I love my job and the new client I am starting with this week. I turn 52 this month. Life is good.
I heard on the radio that Hurricane Arthur is landing over us early tomorrow morning. My husband is away at work. It’s late afternoon; however calm it felt early this morning, I now hear the waves crashing on the shore. They pick up momentum as the hurricane sends its strength into the ocean ahead of the storm. The hurricane is coming. I start clearing the patio and tie down the BBQ.
It’s late in the evening, and the phone rings; it’s Bernie, my hubby; his voice is reassuring. “Remember Babe, we often get hurricane-force winds; it’s only a category one or less; you will be ok.”
After hanging up, I settle in for a night of restless sleep. It’s 4 am, and I hear the winds howling outside. The roof is cracking; the hurricane clips are working. The clips are galvanized pieces that reinforce the roof-to-wall in case of high winds.
As twilight illuminates the darkness, I see twigs and debris flying around. Crack; I am startled as I look out the window; I see a small apple tree falling over. It’s an hour later, and the rain is coming down in torrential sheets, falling sideways as the wind picks up. I see a flash; shit, the power is out. It’s another hour later; I shiver and put on a sweater. I better go out to the shed and start the generator; I stumble to stay upright as the rain stings my face. I get into the shed; my clothes are now sticking to me. Finally, the acrid smell of gas and the loud deafening noise of the generator is giving me a sense of relief. It is sometimes difficult for me to start, but it brings electricity back into our home. I am tired and chilled to the bone. I’m anxious to get dry and start the furnace; I run back to the house. I am almost to the door. F==k! My boots are slipping! I fall forward and slam hard onto the deck. Most of the force hits my right knee, and I feel excruciating pain—my life changes instantly. Later the surgeon said that my x-ray looked like a hand grenade went off in my knee.
I get back up, limp into the house, dry off, turn on the furnace and put ice on my swelling knees.
After the hurricane, another journey began; this injury would teach me a lesson I had refused to learn up until now.
The first few months after, I stayed positive. I was raised not to complain; “Suck it up, buttercup,” I would hear my mother and brothers often say when I was a child. My dad had a violent temper that could go off without warning. Our mom, my siblings, and I learned to freeze our emotions. We did not shed a tear or complain in our home; there could be dire consequences if we did. The word stoic comes to mind. I looked up the meaning in an oxford dictionary a long time ago, and it describes my whole family—”Stoic-a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.” I have discovered this is not the virtue I once thought.
I struggle silently and rarely ask for help. I manage; for the most part, I keep thinking my knee will get better. The intense pain settles enough to handle, then it swells again, back on crutches. Stoic as ever, no one realizes what a loss this is for me; I smile and suck it up. Over the next year, this becomes my reality. I get tired of people looking at me with pity or asking me every time I am out, “Oh, what happened?” “Your hip, right”? Or worse, “Are you still on crutches?” I am sick of repeatedly explaining the same story to the same people. Don’t they know I am still me? People no longer see or hear me; I have become invisible. I am becoming more reclusive.
Now my elderly mom and her husband have severe health issues. I also have more health issues. My older brother Earl calls and needs to come and speak to me about another brother; this can’t be good.
He has a grim face and watery eyes. “Rick is dying of pancreatic cancer and only has a few of months to live; we need to go and tell mom.”
The Perfect Storm of events pushes me over the edge. I hide that I barely got up some mornings for the next two years. I don’t want to shower or get dressed some days. I numb myself with food and binge-watch TV late into the night. I no longer work; I am angry and bitter; My stoic mask has cracks. I vacillate between two extremes, a victim bitching and moaning to the few who will listen and a stoic frozen shell who smiles on command and “stays positive” for others to feel comfortable. I am good at this game, or so I think.
A friend of mine asks me to go to a retreat. Sharon, an ex-monk whom I knew many years ago, will be facilitating. I am in a car with friends driving to the retreat center. All I can think about is, “what the f**k am I doing. I’d rather be home” We finally pull into the driveway; It looks peaceful, yet I feel out of place and on edge. After introductions, Sharon shares a beautiful talk. We now break up into small groups; I’m with three people, a nun, one other person and Sharon. I sense they are genuine and kind. I am listening politely, though my feelings of frustration inside are growing. I feel so f**king distant from all of this. I cannot relate anymore. Sharon asks a question; I snap! Oh my God, my mouth is opening; I cannot believe what I hear coming out!
“I don’t give a shit anymore. I honestly don’t want to be here! I feel numb, angry and lost. All I know, at this moment, I have no energy left for pretending, platitudes, or politeness! Sometimes I think this is all bullshit.”
My heart is pounding. I had spent too much of my life saying and doing what others thought was right even when it was no longer true for me. I can not hold back anymore, no matter who I am sitting across. I take a breath and slowly look up; I am relieved to see they have tender smiles and seem to have a hint of understanding in their eyes. I feel my body relax a bit; at least I am no longer pretending.
A week after the retreat, I remembered that Sharon told us she was a trained spiritual director. I hesitate to reach out to her because I am embarrassed, but I feel compelled. A few days later, I sent her an email. She agrees!! I ask her why, especially after my spewing and cursing? She replies, “It is why I feel called to; you were so honest in sharing that I know I can work with you.”
It is emotionally painful at times. Sharon does not give me answers; she is helping me find my own. Finally, someone sees who I am underneath the emotional and physical pain and past the cane or crutches. Part of my emotional agony is discovering I still suffer from my childhood conditioning even after years of healing work. It took the Universe, bringing me to my knees to finally look at it. I am ready, to be honest with myself.
So much of my emotional pain comes from my false pride and ego. I refused to surrender to what had happened to me. I was not too fond of the feeling of being so-called weak.
Brene Brown has a definition of vulnerable,
“To be vulnerable, it means to show up and be seen, to ask for what you need, to talk about how your feeling , to have hard converstions”
This is what courage is, the opposite of weak. I still struggle with this at times, but I now understand it only leads to more pain.
Life can change in an instant. What comes next is not always easy. Only after I was willing to ask, accept help, feel, and share my emotions was I able to move through to the other side. Being stoic only made everyone around me feel comfortable, while it hijacked my pain into numbness. Sharon slowly, in time, guides me back to living life again with my physical pain, not despite it.
Hiding my hurt from others was not the strength I once thought it was; it only exacerbated my emotional distress and feelings of isolation. This experience gave me a larger capacity to be with others’ pain without the need to give advice or fix them.
This injury gave me the ability to embrace vulnerability, maybe for the first time in my life. Being human is excepting that I am a combination of light and dark contradictions. I now understand asking for help seen as a weakness is only a myth that can create deep-seated feelings of loneliness and frustration. Finally, once again, for the most part, life is good again.
“Consciously suffer the impact, to become the ground where the sorrows can be held and reworked. These things can be carried with grace. But it can’t be faked. If you go to someone with 99 percent of goodwill and are still caught in 1 percent anger, all they feel is the anger, and it pushes them from reconciliation. The heart has to willingly hold the whole of suffering for it to be transformed.”
― Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, The Laundry