The universe will offer you healing when you’re ready for it. I’ve learned this in remarkable ways over the past ten years, with a mind-blowing offering on January 9th of this year, 2024. Leading up to the 9th, there were a few notable energetic releases, the most powerful being the experience of an odd, significant sensation in my chest that lead to a traumatic memory that I had suppressed around a betrayal. To be clear, a trauma is more than just a memory; there is a physical response that comes with it, like a stupidly fast heartbeat, a jaw drop, gasping, and often difficulty putting a sentence together because the experience is so profound. So, that. On the 9th, my realization came while listening to a podcast–an interview with Alain De Botton on “Diary of a CEO.” I was more than surprised, but I was grateful, because afterward, everything about my life made sense.
To bring you up to speed perhaps, I’ve done almost 30 years of work in therapy which was good because it kept me on the planet. There was a monumental mushroom trip on February 18th, of 2023, where I was able to heal my relationship with my father who had taken his own life in 2004. After this, I figured that I was done, you know, healed and ready to step fully into the world. I had looked after my mother leading up to, and during Covid, while tending my left hip. Though I had always looked after my physical health, this hip was an outlier and was, for some odd reason full of arthritis and bone spurs. After my mother was no longer under my care, I had some time to recover and think; I’m a believer that the body stores difficult energy, and it dawned on me that this hip was a storehouse of the anger I had towards my mother. This was anger that I never displayed to her, but had it bottled-up inside, in my hip, apparently. In November of 2023, I got the hip replaced with something shiny and new, and again, figured that with that energy gone, I had to be ready for the world. Enter De Botton.
Alain De Botton is a Swiss-born author and speaker, and the creator of the “School of Life,” a global organization focused on mental health. If you google De Botton’s books, you’ll find an extensive list that includes much on the subject of love, and also art and Proust. The podcast I listened to on the 9th was about his most recent book entitled, “A Therapeutic Journey,” a somewhat comforting, sensible overview on human pain in the world, and the therapeutic process. I was listening with one ear while doing my hip rehab exercises because, you know, after 30 years of therapy, what could De Botton say that I didn’t already know? Just after minute 28 on the podcast, he described a situation in such a way that I heard with both of my ears, and I stopped my second set of clam shell maneuvers down on my floor. He spoke about childhood and described a textbook situation where a child grows up in a house where there is a suicidal parent. He described the child shutting down normal, stage-appropriate emotions in an effort to keep from “being ripped apart” by the sadness in the house. No child is equipped to withstand exposing their normal, and rightful vulnerability in such an environment, so yes, the shutting down, and often the need to be the joke-teller–to somehow raise the mood. This effort of self-preservation is brilliant in the moment, but if it is not addressed, can lead on into adulthood in such a way that it interferes in any relationships, as it is difficult to really relate with anyone if you haven’t had the benefit of figuring yourself out around caring, attentive parents. Of course, woven in with crummy relationships is the banner of low self-worth; you allow others to shut you down. I paused the podcast. I could feel something big coming.
I was forty-one when my father committed suicide. Also, my siblings are seven, and eight years older than I am and this is important. I think we all considered the suicide as the big focus, although I was the only one who felt drawn to all of the healing work and studying. I wrote a perfect paper on suicide in a course on “Death, Dying, and Bereavement,” in 2011. At De Botton’s description of this childhood scenario, I was reminded that dad had tried to commit suicide in May of 1972. My two siblings were both away at boarding schools, so it was just nine year-old me with my parents in that house. De Botton’s description fit me perfectly.
I remembered that May morning. My mother was teary, but not effusive, and said that she couldn’t wake dad up, and then sent me on the school bus. I remember the ambulance passing us on its’ way to our farm. We never spoke about it afterward. The thing was, I remembered an earlier argument I had with dad. It could have been as much as a year before this. He was in the kitchen, and though he wasn’t one to drink, he was slurring his words with the help of a glass of gin. He was hating his corporate gig; the stress of it was killing him, and he was talking about pulling up stakes and leaving. I was snot-crying, and yelling at him, this father-man who was behaving so oddly. I was standing on the stairs, yelling from the far end of the house, while he was in the kitchen with my mother. What should have happened was that my mother comforted me and helped me to calm down, but there was nothing. I’m pretty sure that that event was the beginning of my self-preservation action.
About four years after dad’s failed attempt, there was a third event for me that I had never before considered as traumatic until De Botton. This event was my mother and I out on the screened-in porch on a summer evening. She mentioned that she “just didn’t want to go on living.” I then went into the living room and yelled at my paternal grandmother–the bringer of so much darkness in our family, and sustained a busted blood vessel in my left eye, and a bleeding nose. None of any of those events were talked about. My mother never ever thought to ask me how I was doing in regards to those brutal moments. She’s going to be eighty-eight this year, so it’s not like she didn’t have time.
I’m not a fool; I’m not expecting to hear my mother tackle anything about my childhood. I suppose my present disappointment is with my siblings. My sister, at least made an effort to comprehend, but earlier this week, there was a social media post from my brother. It was a list involving the tired, old axiom around a generation forgiving the previous one because they “did the best they could.” When I saw the post, I couldn’t speak, and yes, my heart beat at a ridiculous clip. Right there, my brother dismissed everything I had experienced. It was just like saying, “Why don’t you just let it go?” though he wasn’t around for any of it. If someone, doing their best, drives a car over your foot, you’re foot is still broken. I have tried to forgive my mother for all of the avoidance of emotional care, and the inebriated parenting, but to simply say the words doesn’t cut it; you have to believe it with every cell.
The question you might have was how our whole family never once talked with our father about that May event, about the terror he must have felt, the pain he must have been in. There were thirty-two years between that day and his actual death, so it wasn’t like we were rushed for time. I’d like to offer the answer in this quote from Mark Nepo's "The Book of Awakening:"
“Many of us are raised by well-intending parents to be the carriers of their sadness. Often, the one child who is softer than the rest, who is more sensitive than the family is used to, is the one selected to deal with what no one else will deal with. It is an odd fate.”
Nepo goes on and it’s worth the read. You could find it in the book under the chapter title, “A Legacy of Sadness,” and to be clear, I take that word “Legacy” very seriously. My foundational intention for all of my healing work has been to break the cycle; to end the sadness so that my children–two young men now, don’t have to carry this. Yes, I am aware of the science around ancestral trauma and it’s a thing. I love my boys, and want to stop the family train wreck here with me, at least I hope to; Some days are hard. In the collective sense, none of this is a competition around who had the worst trauma, but rather a drawing together to acknowledge the necessity for the healing of it, and the tremendous power in the vulnerability and presence of the deeper self; a result that benefits not only the healer, but the world around her.
Fitting also is a quote from the end of Salinger's lesser-known work, "Seymour; an Introduction,” that helps me remember the sacredness of this work, to be aware of the honour it is to feel so deeply:
“Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next.” I think he is absolutely right.