In posts here, here, and here, I have written on the topic of writing and its healing benefits. Today I want to share a cautionary tale with you. Something happened in our family two weeks ago today casting a different light, at least for me, on the subject of memories, writing, and healing.
I am a proponent of the healing benefits of writing because I thoughtI had come close to healing from scars and memories of my past related to my mother’s parenting skills and my ex-husband’s similar abuses. I now know this is only partially true.
The incident bringing this understanding to light occurred in our home and involved our eldest child, a son aged 43. Coincidentally, he is the son of my first marriage and later adopted at age 18, at his request, by my second husband. The details of what happened are not important to my post. However, I will say that Bob and I were stunned at their occurrence.
What is important for you to know is that I was alone here with our son when this happened and mid-point through the incident, I felt as though I had time travelled decades backward. My emotions kicked into high gear, and I immediately found myself wanting to put space between the two of us.
As soon as I did, the incident took on the heat of a glass blower’s furnace, and I felt my emotions accelerate into what felt like a nightmare. I could not be living through this again! And yet I felt as if I were staring at my mother and ex-husband rolled into one.
The reaction I was having to our son’s behavior was familiar to me — a tightness in my chest, shallow breathing, a need for air, a need to close myself off from what was happening. As a child, I would run and close my door and lock it when Mama treated me abusively. With my ex-husband, it was a different story; he was bigger and stronger than I and so I rolled into a fetal position and cried.
Finally, I walked to our entry which prompted our son to leave. And then all of my past emotions and feelings came surging forward and out. I cried the next three hours until my husband returned home.
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What I have learned from this experience is as follows:
- Although this incident brought back unhappy and painful memories, my recovery from them has been quicker. For the past two weeks, my husband and I have talked about what happened but less and less each day. Bob has yet to speak to our son about his actions but will in due course.
- I realize that my emotions were the result of seeing in action what caused my pain before, and I began taking steps to remove myself — standing up from the kitchen table where we sat, walking step-by-step into our kitchen, and then into our entry. I placed myself at a distance from the person hurting me with his words and emotions.
- Initially, I haven’t been able to write here or on my memoir. I realized yesterday I was ready to write again because writing is what brought me far enough to take the steps listed above. This morning the subject of this post came to me, and here I am. Later today I plan to begin work again on rewriting my first draft of my memoir.
- Based on all of this, I have learned that yes, writing is a healing agent from whatever pain, abuse, unhappiness or loss we have experienced. However, not all of those memories disappear. They are a part of who we are forever. They make up our being, the person we have become, for we have learned from them. And yes, like in PTSD and other similar emotional situations, there are triggers which precipitate memories surging back quickly.
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Be cautious as you write to remember we cannot wipe away our memories by writing, but the writing itself with its cathartic nature will teach us how to handle the resurgence of those memories should something or someone trigger them.
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree.
The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity,
covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens.
But it is never gone.”
∼ Rose Kennedy
Nope. They’re never gone. The pain remains. It’s tolerable, but it’s still there. I am so glad you wrote this Sherrey. I applaud you for your bravery and candor. As a PTSD survivor, I still have flashbacks all the time. However, I have learned to soothe myself with a mix of pragmatism and compassion. “It’s not now. It was then. You are okay now. Just breathe…” This sort of thing. I also routinely have emotional dreams which I believe is my mind’s way of slowly healing. Trauma is a tricky thing and I think science has made great strides but there is still a long way to go in understanding how our mine processes it. I am sure your tears were healing. I pray there is also healing between you and your son. Hugs.
Grace, yes, you understand so well. I especially appreciated “It’s not now. It was then. You are okay now. Just breathe…” Thanks for the prayers, the hugs, and for stopping by today.
Sherrey, thank you for writing this. You are so right in saying that the wounds make us what we are and especially what we have learned from them. We do not have to be defined by them as we evolve from them and keep the distance as you managed to do. I too pray that there is healing between you and your son.Rose Kennedy’s quote is wise. The pain may lessen given time, but the wounds nevertheless remain. Healing happens on different levels as evidenced by the ability to write about it and talk with your husband of it. Thank you again.
Hello, Susan — thank you for stopping by today and weighing in with your wisdom. I especially appreciated these words: “We do not have to be defined by them as we evolve from them and keep the distance as you managed to do.” I also appreciate the pryaers.
Hugs to you, Sherrey! Thank you so much for sharing this experience so honestly. I think we all can relate to the disappointment we feel when we find that something we thought we might be “over” suddenly rears up again. You’re so right that the memories remain and continue to affect us, sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways.
How wonderful, though, that your response this time was so much more empowered and aware. Over time, as you continue to practice new responses to the old triggers, the power the memories have over you will continue to gradually diminish despite the memories remaining. You practiced your old responses for a long time and it takes time to rewrite that old programming. Writing about your experiences is a big step but not the only step. Love to you as you continue your healing journey!
Sue, thanks for your gracious words. It was surprising to realize I was reacting to old wounds and memories again. I suppose these reactions are like anything else we’ve done habitually over time — it takes time to relearn not reacting. It was comforting to read your words, “the power the memories have over you will continue to gradually diminish despite the memories remaining.”
For years, I thought I had overcome a very old wound. Instead, what I learned was that I was pushing my pain down very deep where they remained invisible. I don’t know whether or not they are surfacing on their own, or whether I’m growing strong enough to allow them to do so; but, I’m finding I need to talk things out with the other person involved. Only then, do I feel as though I can be free. I need resolution.
Shelley, you make an interesting point. It’s not just the writing but the compassionate audience response that helps us heal. Since Sherrey hasn’t published her story, there are surely more healing benefits to come her way at that time. What do you think about that, Sherrey?
Sue, I definitely agree with your assessment that publication of my book will provide more healing benefits. I sat down today and continued working on a rewrite and actually wrote two new chapters. I believe they were more easily found within me because of what happened and the strength I gained from realizing I stepped back rather than toward the individual hurting me. Before I would have continued to try and “fix” the issue, make the other person happy, be the solver of the problem. But not this time. And in that is a certain freedom. I am hopeful the same will occur when the book is completed and published.
Shelley, welcome and thanks for sharing in the discussion. I agree that we may push things down so deeply that we don’t realize they are still nesting in some still, dark place. Yes, resolution is always the goal, isn’t it? So glad you came by and hope you will again.
I wondered why I wasn’t seeing a lot of the people I was either subscribed to or following. Then, I got something from the WP reader site. “So, that’s where everybody is!” I’ll be visiting more often, now.
I’m glad you received that message, and I’ll look for you more often!
Sherrey, I’m so sorry you had to endure this, but applaud your honesty and openness here. I’m reminded of the saying, “To forgive is to forget.” That’s simply not true. We may forgive, but are intelligent beings and we still remember the pain and hurt. Likewise, with your situation. Healing can come, but you don’t forget. And there are incidents that happen that trigger past memories and hurts.
Love the quote by Rose Kennedy.
Joan, thank you for your encouraging words. I have always felt some degree of guilt in not totally forgiving my ex-husband, even though it was not mine to forgive really. He was the perpetrator of my pain and the cause of my leaving. With my mother, there was forgiveness but no forgetting, unfortunately. But as you said, we are intelligent beings and our minds don’t work that way. Thanks for those reminders.
That’s the problem with PTSD Sherrey, one never knows when will be triggered. It’s ok you’re dealing with it
Sue, thanks for your understanding and support. It always means so much.
Oh, I really feel for you, Sherrey. It’s so awful when they surge up again like that. I hope your writing will continue to give you more and more ability to handle them. xo
Luanne, thank you for your comforting words and encouragement to move ahead. The writing will help — it did this time, and this was my first such experience.
Bravo, Sherrey! While the painful memories can still be triggered, you are not in the same place. You have taken charge by sharing so honestly and taking action sooner. The wound forms a scar that serves as a reminder but doesn’t stop you from moving forward. A brave post, indeed. Wishing you continued healing as you move forward.
Kathy, thank you! As always, you see the best in a situation. I have seen it now, a few days after, in a variety of ways but the ability to move myself away from rather than toward the abusive power and language was stunning on that day and was the genesis for this post. I appreciate your kindness and gracious words, especially the “bravo!”
Your ability to deal with the resurgence of old, painful feelings in a constructive way is as a you say, a cautionary tale but shared with us out of victory, not defeat. Kathy Pooler’s comments are right on target I believe.
Why did we think life would become easier as we became older? I know I did. Life is not called a “crucible” for nothing. It’s good to remember: “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
Marian, thanks so much for sharing in the discussion with your positive input. Yes, through it all with victory and not defeat as before! I appreciate your reminder that life is not called a “crucible” for nothing and also the amazing words, “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” All thoughts to hold onto going forward.
My kids (whatever age) have the ability to hurt me like none other, including any man on the planet so far. It’s made me want to just drop to my knees and stop trying, and when it happened, it launched every regret, every fear, every self-condemnation into a seething accusatory twisted hindsight that felt like I was being emotionally disemboweled.
The only worse place emotionally is when I feel that I’ve been responsible for some hurt or harm that’s impacted one of my kids. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t intentional, or indirectly because of my past inability to protect myself or love myself. I stand there as my accuser and judge, remembering the innocent eyes that they began life with.
I have a son that’s hurt me beyond words. I have another son that has never intentionally hurt me, and is like a rock of kindness and love. Nature? Nurture? Had I been stronger and wiser when I was young, would it have been avoided?
We get older, and what we once knew we could never bear, we find that we can and we have. Life goes on, and I try to balance the pain with acceptance and intentional joy.
Welcome, WritesinPJs! So glad you stopped in and left your comments. I had no real knowledge of PA behavior as you describe it in your blog, and I am amazed at how you’ve lived with it for so long. I was pleased to read your “about” page and find that you’re a C.S. Lewis Christian (good label by the way!) as that must give you the strength to get through the days. Your last paragraph holds much truth and the word “balance” is core to living with PA, I’m sure.
Sherrey, thanks for your encouraging words. It really is strength by strength, but incredibly it was also because for most of the years, I just didn’t see choices. By the time I began to see choices, health issues began closing off many of them.Your post resonated like hearing familiar heart tones that stop you in your tracks. I had to just pause, read, and the post itself was almost like a trigger of an interaction with a son that left me wanting to curl in the fetal position.
I like Mary Gottschalk’s comment about old tapes. I’ve also thought of things that way, but it can feel even deeper; it feels more like something dormant in remission in the marrow of my bones that can flare up ferociously. I often think only Heaven will heal that.
Sherrey … you’ve done all of us a favor with this post. The “old tapes” don’t disappear, no matter how well we think we’ve processed our past.
I’ve been through such an experience lately, where the actions of a “friend” started a very old tape running in my mind. Unfortunately, I took her hurtful action at face value, and it took me months to connect that incident with my growing irritability and defensiveness. I wish I’d read this post last fall!
Mary, I wish I’d written it last fall! Hopefully, going forward it will be helpful to you. I like the words “old tape running in my mind.” Certainly, now that I’ve read your words, that is exactly what happened to me. It is difficult to rise above when we’ve thought all along that everything was behind us and well healed. Trust you are doing better now!
[…] In a recent post, I talked about rewriting the first draft of my memoir. I never imagined this rewrite could bring enjoyment to my writing life, but also the simple act of learning new things delights me. […]
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