Tag Archives: forgiveness

Trauma and Connection: You Need Not Be Alone

When Monica Cassani posted this video (see below) on her wonderful blog, BEYOND MEDS.com today, I was not sure I would watch it, mostly because I often do not have the patience to watch videos, no matter who recommends them. (Sorry about yesterday’s recommendation, an hourlong one no less, but it is vitally important to me and my topic…I still highly recommend it, if you cannot read Anatomy of an Epidemic…). Nevertheless, something about a video on treating trauma, perhaps the face of McElheran on Youtube, perhaps just my mood at the beginning of this day, impelled me to click on the little triangle that started it playing. I was pulled in almost at once. In fact, I was soon in tears, because McElheran may speak to us all, but most importantly she spoke to me…her words on trauma included me, personally, for once.

That she did so, moved me beyond words, because at that moment she validated my own manifold experiences of trauma, which were mostly NOT of potentially mortal events, even if I may have believed them to be so (when paranoid or psychotic). I will embed the video here, so you can watch it now, and come back to my blog post afterwards if you so choose. Or watch it whenever you like. It is — truly! — only 16 minutes long, and very compelling, so do not worry that it will take a lot of time.

Something about what she talks about reminds me that “Nothing human is alien to me…” We are all capable of everything, and anything, given the proper circumstances. Her compassion for human behavior is astonishing and moving beyond words.

I need to say this because no one who “knows me” thinks I am “capable” of things like calling people such vile names as those I called the aides and nurses regularly at YNHPH, or of stripping and defecating and smearing feces without even thinking or considering the consequences… But those are important words: “without thinking” and “without considering the consequences” because they indicate that I was behaving wildly impulsively, as indeed I was. Think about the situation: Six to eight people, some of them security guards (self-professed former police officers) had just violently and brutally assaulted me, thrown me onto a bed, held me down (causing physical pain to the point that I screamed in reaction) and pulled down my pants, giving me three intramuscular injections into the buttocks, then holding me down some more until they felt “safe” to let go…(One of them actually telling me they would press charges for my kicking her in the stomach while she was restraining my knees!)

Once i was freed, I made a dash to get out of the room, wanting to “do laps” around the “square” hallway that gave the Washington Square 2 unit its name. No deal. They physically prevented me from leaving the small single room, that had nothing in it but a hospital bed and tray table. I recoiled, enraged and manically in need of doing something, anything! Suddenly, I felt my bowels engage, roil, want “to go.” But the bathroom was down the hall…No matter, what the F—! Who gives a shit, in fact.

Without thinking a second thought about it, I simply pulled down my pants, squatted, and unloaded on the floor, to not so silent on-lookers astonishment and incredibility. Then I removed my clothing altogether. But another WTF moment seized me, then. The steaming pile of sh-t was there, and suddenly I “knew” what to do with it…and I did not give a sh-t that this meant using my hands or getting it all over me or anything. I just didn’t give a flying femtogram. I do not know why. I didn’t even smell anything. I just picked up handsful of the feces and smeared it across the walls. But not blindly and wildly, no, I was writing something, I remember now, I wrote something on the walls with it, though I do not know what any longer. And I do not think anyone took the time to read it. I do not believe anyone bothered to notice that I was not merely smearing but writing in shit...

The point is, I did this as a response to trauma, small as you might say it was. I felt traumatized. I felt brutalized. And I felt and was out of control as a result. This is not to say that my impulsive behavior served any purpose other than venting rage and sheer revenge at my abusers. It certainly won me no friends and no compassionate understanding from anyone. It could have, someone might have understood it for what it was, and seen that what they were doing to me was in fact brutality and  traumatizing…They had after all diagnosed me with PTSD, so WTF did they think they were doing?

It doesn’t help, frankly, that “Dr Angela” believes that they were “on my side” and “doing their best” and “actually helping me” all along. I do not agree. I do not believe that. I think they were hidebound in their determination to break me, and if they could not see that they were perpetuating harm, they should have.

Okay, okay, okay Pam. Calm down. Calm down. Remember you are practicing forgiveness, not worrying the sore into an infected mess! 8)

This is hard. It is so difficult to forgive and let go of harm that no one admits to having done, one, and two, claims was actually for my own good. To help me!

Bull feathers! I still have exquisite backside piriformis muscle pain when I move in certain ways or even sit down on my right hip. And if I take off a T-shirt with the usual crossed arm movement, it causes agony in my deltoid muscles from the injections they gave me there too.

But forgive and move on, forgive and move on…I need to take a deep breath. Think about other things. Get ready to go out for coffee as I have made a date with an old friend of mine I haven’t seen since that debacle at the Institute of Living last winter. We always have great talks. It will be good to see her!

 

Yes, I will leave this on that note. The fact that I do not isolate myself, but that I have lots of friends and do things to keep myself busy and fulfilled and purposeful in life. Trauma and memories and flashbacks of trauma may still get me, and they get me in the gut a lot, but they haven’t got me completely over a barrel the way they might have. There was a time when I was more isolative and friendless but not any more. Not anymore.

Poem about Forgiveness,Translated into Chinese

TO FORGIVE IS

To begin  要寬恕的實是太多

and there is so much to forgive:  頭一樁要算

for one, your parents, one and two,  你父母那麼偶然的一或二次

out of whose dim haphazard coupling  於幽暗中的契合

you sprang forth roaring, indignantly alive. 你呱呱來臨,憤然降世

For this, whatever else followed, 為此, 為這帶來的一切

innocent and guilty, forgive them.  無意也好作孽也罷,寬恕他們.

If it is day, forgive the sun  若是白天,寬恕太陽

its white radiance blinding the eye;  原宥它的奪目光芒

forgive also the moon for dragging the tides,  亦要寬恕月亮帶來的潮汐

for her secrets, her half heart of darkness;原宥它的弔詭.它的暗晦

whatever the season, forgive it its various  管他冬夏秋春.寬恕季節的多端侵擊

assaults—floods, gales, storms  水患,疾風,暴風雪

of ice—and forgive its changing;  原宥它的更替變易

for its vanishing act, stealing what you love  它的掠奪行徑

and what you hate, indifferent,  把你所愛所恨無情的奪去

forgive time; and likewise forgive its fickle  寬恕時間

consort, memory, which fades  同樣地原宥它的變易不忠,連記憶也不放過

the photographs of all you can’t remember;  以至你把擁有的拍照忘得一乾二淨

forgive forgetting, which is chaste  寬恕失憶

and kinder than you know;  它實是忠貞和比你所認知的仁厚得多

forgive your age and the age you were  寬怒年齡

when happiness was afire in your blood  原宥當年的你,那時幸福在血液沸騰

and joy sang hymns in the trees;  喜樂在樹 叢間高唱聖歌

forgive, too, those trees, which have died;  寬恕那些逝去的樹木

and forgive death for taking them,  原宥奪走它們的死亡

inexorable as God, then forgive God  若感上主不仁,則寬恕上主

His terrible grandeur, His unspeakable原宥祂畏人的堂皇和禁說的名字

Name; forgive, too, the poor devil  亦勿忘寬恕那倒霉的撒旦

for a celestial fall no worse than your own.  他那屬天的失足並不比你的過犯糟糕

When you have forgiven whatever is of earth,  當你把地上天上水裡

of sky, of water, whatever is named,  有名的無名的

whatever remains nameless,  通通寬恕了

forgive, finally, your own sorry self,  最後切記寬恕

clothed in temporary flesh  那包裝在短暫肉體內

the breath and blood of you  血氣正在消亡的

already dying.  悔疚的你

Dying, forgiven, now you begin.  垂死,被寬恕的你,現在要重新開始.

 

 

By Pamela Spiro Wagner, “Divided Minds” 胡思亂想

Chinese Recreation/Translation by Kenneth Leung Sep 3rd 2012, Labour Day Scarborough,  Ontario

 

—————————————–

I received the email below very recently, explaining the poem above. The only thing missing is the translation of the title, which segues on purpose directly into the first line, and so it too is essential. I hope that Jackie’s father might one day provide that title line. Nevertheless, I am thrilled that anyone likes the poem enough to translate it. Thank you so very much, Kenneth Leung. And thank you Jackie, for sharing it with me and allowing me to share it here.

“Hi Pamela,

“I recently picked up your book “Divided Minds” and I couldn’t put it down.  Thank you for sharing your story with the world.  I’m an Occupational Therapist working in community mental health on an ACT team, so I interact regularly with people with schizophrenia.  Your story allowed me to see how difficult it is to first accept a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and then the difficulties of adhering to treatment.  I especially love your poem on forgiveness and shared it with my dad, who translated it into Chinese.  I thought you might be interested in posting it on your blog so Chinese readers can enjoy it.

“Blessings,

“Jackie Leung”

Trauma and Acceptance

 

Snowdrops accept the snow, grow through it, are first to see the spring

These past several weeks have been pure hell for me. In fact, despite some of my “up” posts, these past 18 months have been hell. I have found it nearly impossible to move beyond my experience and the trauma and degradation, the deliberateness with which they were visited upon me by people who should have not only known better but should have…

Wait, I have determined not to go there, not to revisit that dark place in my mind any longer, or not for now, after I can handle it better than I can at the moment. It serves no purpose, one, and two, it only feeds the fever of despair and revenge-seeking, an emotion that can eat you alive if you let it.

It was the notion, the actual feeling of wanting revenge and Dr Angela’s dismay when I said so this morning that brought me up hard against my own deficit of forgiveness, my own inability to accept that which I cannot change. I suddenly understood not only the horrendous feeling that parents must have when a child is murdered, how they must want to see the murderer killed, and how they must want the death penalty for the killer…I felt that much anger for my torturers. And at the very same time, I suddenly saw how useless it was, that nothing could be done, that in fact they would and had “gotten away with it” but that my only recourse was not revenge but to accept it and move on, because not to was to get mired in fury and bitterness and the morass of despair that was weighing on me and driving me nearly to madness every day. I had to stop, I had to stop and find a different way to deal with it, or I would die. Simple as that.

So I considered that family of the murdered child, and I understood that if that killer were executed to serve their revenge fantasies, would it actually bring closure and peace to them? Time after time, that has been promised, and time after time, people have not found peace in the killing of another human being because it never works. Violence to revenge violence cannot relieve the trauma of loss, or make anyone feel less awful. It would be far better for that family, and for me, too, to learn better ways to cope, to breathe through the despair I suppose, or even to work so that others do not go through what they or I have experienced, as long as doing would not reignite the trauma for us.

I am not sure I am ready to do that sort of thing just yet. I do not want to get angry on behalf of anyone else at the moment, for fear that I will only get angry, and anger by itself for its own sake will not help me. But already I speak out about these things, say what happened to me but in my speeches I try to end with words that segue into messages that bring hope to my audience. I could never speak about those traumas without something that would bring it full circle to recovery from trauma or I would leave them in despair and myself as well. As in a poem, you start with darkness but leave with at least the assumption that light is on or just below the horizon, headed in the right direction.

So there I was in Dr Angela’s office, and even though I was sobbing about this trauma that I could not surmount, that was eating me alive, the picture of that angry but grieving family appeared in my mind’s eye, and I realized that I had to find a way to help them, to heal them…and how would I do that? I would, I would, I would…First I would help them stop ruminating about the killing, since rumination is itself a way of making the injury or trauma worse, like continually picking at a scab. I would have them open up to the world and see what is around them, see what remains alive, what has not died. For me, I would look and see what in myself was not violated, what I can do in spite of what they did to me, understand that I still write and draw and paint, that in fact they did not take those things from me.

They hurt me, but they did not kill me. They only degraded my feelings, they only humiliated my feelings, they only frightened me. They made me feel as if they might hurt me when they attacked me and pushed me to the floor. I felt scared but they did not do anything that permanently injured my body or caused irremediable damage to my brain. I am still alive and in fact can still do what I used to do. I only feel hurt, feel traumatized. Feelings are feelings, and while they are not nothing, you can change your feelings. I might not be able to change an injury that led to an amputation or brain damage and I certainly could not if they had killed me.

I need to think about this differently in order to change how I feel. I need to think about what I can do, both constructively and creatively. What I can do about it and what I can do instead of thinking about it day and night. Well, tonight what I can do is prepare my speech for the Farmington Library tomorrow, and pick out the poems I am going to read. And tomorrow I will be cleaning my apartment and then meeting my ride and going to the library early. I won’t have time to brood or ruminate. I will bring my sketchpad and pencils, so I will have something to do while I wait.

One thing I won’t do is leave myself time to think, no, that will not be an option I am going to allow myself. If the Commissioner of Mental Health contacts me after reading the letter and documents I sent her, so be it, I will leave the issue in her hands. But otherwise, the case is closed, at least for now. I have a life to live, and I need to get on with it. If one of those people who deliberately hurt me, just one of them, went home that night with a bad conscience, ashamed of herself, ashamed of herself as a nurse, I am glad. But it may not have happened and in any event I will never know. But i will not brood over it, and I am not going to think about any of it tonight.

One day at a time, just take it one day at a time.

Happiness is….

You know what they say, that happiness is not to be found in how much money you have or in the things you own or can buy, nor even in how many friends surround you or how many people love you. The poem about Richard Cory, upon which Simon and Garfunkel (remember them?) based a once well-known song, just about says it all:

RICHARD CORY

By Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good Morning!” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine — we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

We all know it’s true, both the cautionary tale of Richard Cory, and that money doesn’t buy happiness. At least we know it with the left sides of our brains. Alas, this is still the side that does the intellectual calculations of how many friends or about the nice car we’ll need to have before we will finally be happy. And if we didn’t know it before, all we have to do is listen to the news because nearly every week it seems there is yet another story about a celebrity who seemed to have it all – money, beauty, acclaim, adoring fans – who ended up destroying himself on drugs and alcohol or who committed suicide (“no one had any idea she was so depressed…”) at the height of her career.

But if money and things and friends who love you don’t offer a path to happiness, what does? Is there a map, a guide, an instruction manual, a recipe? One look at the number of books on the market purporting to teach you how to be happy tells me there are lots of people making lots of money trying to tell you they have the secret. And given the number of books they sell, an awful lot of people out there are desperate enough to spring for them. If you have bought any of these books and found their secrets to be The Secret, or even to be one effective secret that worked for you, I would love to hear about it. Truly, I am not being sarcastic. I am a writer, and I believe that writers are for the most part sincere. Not all of them, mind you, but most of them. And so when a writer writes a book promising happiness, I believe that he or she probably believes it. I just don’t happen to think most of  it ends up being effective.

But maybe it’s me, I dunno.

Let me explain. I have had many, many struggles with self-acceptance and self-regard over my lifetime (I am 58 years old at this writing, so you can see that I am far from young) and I assure you that I am far from winning the battle. My self-esteem is very low. So low in fact that I hesitate to say more… But at any rate, when I say my self, I mean my inner self, my soul, my – well, whatever it is that one might want to distinguish from the “self-that-produces,” the working self. What I mean is, I know that I write well, and I am learning to become a better artist as the days go on. But those skills have not fundamentally affected my self-esteem, only my level of confidence. And there’s a big difference between the two. I have a lot more confidence in my abilities than I did years ago, partly due to greater skill and long experience – though only in my writing — and partly due to caring less what others think, because there is less at stake at my age. My self-esteem on the other hand remains utterly unconnected to this, and largely unaffected by it. Whether or not I love or utterly despise myself has little or no bearing at all on whether or not I am able to write or paint or draw well. All it might do is affect what I write well or paint or draw about.

And I can be proud of my poem or essay or my drawing, proud of what I produced, without that having the least effect on how much I fundamentally love or hate myself.

But, and here is the thing: I do not believe that hating or loving yourself matters in the search for happiness. Or at any rate, it is not the sine qua non, the primary requirement before you can be happy. In fact, I think in the happiness department, self-regard is over-rated. It is not that I want other people to feel badly about themselves so much as that oddly enough     I think it has little to do with whether or not one can find happiness.

Maybe I should amend the word happiness to contentment. I do not like the first word all that much, as it smacks of little yellow smilie faces and balloons and other inanities. Happiness is decidedly not inane, but our emphasis on the importance of it has made it seem so. Contentment as a word and concept has been all but forgotten in the rush towards the seemingly bigger motherlode of happiness.

So let’s switch gears and say that we are on the search for contentment, which also is not found in money or friends or in being loved by others. So where do I think you can find contentment? (Clearly I write this with my own agenda in mind…why else write it at all?)

I think contentment – indeed, even happiness – does come from within, and it starts with forgiveness.

Forgiveness? Why that of all things, you ask? It seems like so many other emotions and “emotional acts” should be more important – like loving yourself and others and being compassionate etc. But I assure you that without forgiveness, you can have and be and do none of those.

Kindness and generosity were always supreme values to me, even when I was a child. It hurt me inside to see anyone going without something that I had it in my power to give them. But it was many years before I understood that forgiveness was also a crucial value, that it not only partakes of both compassion and generosity but presupposes both. Not only is forgiveness an act of kindness but it is freely given and therefore an act of extreme generosity. You cannot force forgiveness any more than you can force a “sincere apology” despite what our parents might have thought when they made us “say you are sorry and you better sound like you mean it.”

Okay, so forgiveness is critical for contentment, maybe, but forgive what or whom? And why? First of all, everyone is scarred by their pasts, everyone has baggage from childhood. In fact, while some people had more than less happy childhoods, everyone has bad memories that they cannot shake, that have stayed with them and in effect traumatized them.  Second, scars are simply an unavoidable fact of life. You can’t get through life without them, and childhood I’m afraid is a rough and tumble place where you pick up the bulk of them. Three, who “caused” our childhoods, for most of us? Answer: our parents, or whoever took the place of our parents. That is why our first job is to forgive them. I’m serious, and while we are at it, we have to forgive childhood itself, all of it. It doesn’t matter what happened, or how terrible, it really doesn’t. If you do not forgive it, if you do not forgive everything that happened to you, you cannot let your childhood go and get on with the present, which is where happiness, where contentment lies. Contentment is not in the past, that much we know, and no one knows a single thing about the future. But if you cannot forgive the past, and especially the childhood where you got all those scars you carry around now, you will never move beyond it to experience an undefiled present.

Look, I believe that forgiveness comes from inside the brain, but heals a place in the brain we like to call the heart. And I believe that forgiveness is more healing for the person who forgives than the forgiven. So I wish you could forgive all those people who harmed you too. All the people, relatives, friends, lovers, rapists, molesters, thiefs, betrayers and more…because I truly believe it would be good for you and for your heart. But I think it is essential at a minimum if you want to be happy to forgive your childhood, the entire experience of it, not the individuals or the single events, just the fact that you were a child and had to go through it. Once you can forgive it, you see, you can let it go just as it has and be gone.

After you have forgiven your parents or parent-stand-ins, and your childhood, you are well on your way. Many people would say that this is a step towards self-acceptance here, and that is how you reach happiness, but whether it is or not, is not important to me. In some ways, self-acceptance is not what I am after so much as acceptance of the world, both of the past and of the present. And when I say “acceptance” I mean such utter acceptance of it that you can forgive it. Because only when you can forgive, so I believe, can you really accept the world. And when you can accept and forgive the world both past and present, then you can be happy.

( I realize that I have put my poem below on this blog before, but clearly it belongs here, though it is for a second time. And dang, I do not understand why this program will not allow me to get it single spaced!)

TO FORGIVE IS…

to begin

and there is so much to forgive:

for one, your parents, one and two,

out of whose dim haphazard coupling

you sprang forth roaring, indignantly alive.

For this, whatever else followed,

innocent and guilty, forgive them.

If it is day, forgive the sun

its white radiance blinding the eye;

forgive also the moon for dragging the tides,

for her secrets, her half heart of darkness;

whatever the season, forgive it its various

assaults — floods, gales, storms

of ice — and forgive its changing;

for its vanishing act, stealing what you love

and what you hate, indifferent,

forgive time; and likewise forgive

its fickle consort, memory, which fades

the photographs of all you can’t remember;

forgive forgetting, which is chaste

and kinder than you know;

forgive your age and the age you were

when happiness was afire in your blood

and joy sang hymns in the trees;

forgive, too, those trees, which have died;

and forgive death for taking them,

inexorable as God; then forgive God

His terrible grandeur, His unspeakable

Name; forgive, too, the poor devil

for a celestial fall no worse than your own.

When you have forgiven whatever is of earth,

of sky, of water, whatever is named,

whatever remains nameless,

forgive, finally, your own sorry self,

clothed in temporary flesh,

the breath and blood of you

already dying.

Dying, forgiven, now you begin.