Healing the Soul

David Richo mentions in his book, How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving that in childhood we need attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing (autonomy) to develop self-esteem and a healthy ego.  These five A’s are the building blocks of our identity and the ones that extend to our adult relationships as we strive to create healthy human connections.  The way we have experienced these five important elements varies within the context of our specific families and of society in general.  Some people receive unconditional love and acceptance and others lack a strong supportive emotional foundation.  Trauma experienced during our formative years can also have a tremendous significance in our ability to create meaningful relationships, whether with ourselves or others.

Historically, social conflicts and the lack of emphasis on self-esteem have also had a strong influence in the formation of an individual’s self-image and development.  bell hooks in her book Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-esteem challenges the notion that “racism” alone is the cause of woes in the lives of African Americans.  She mentions that Black leaders in general have avoided looking at the issue of self-esteem and have solely focused on racism as the only contributing factor to self-sabotage.  They have not realized that “black uplift” and the creation of positive concepts, self-asserted images and community pride are the means to the healing of Black America.  In this sense we can see soul healing as political and resistance strategy.  Nourishing our souls can be part of the search for liberation.  And since the fact remains that many minority groups are constantly struggling for self-definition within the larger US context, what bell hooks affirms can extent to the healing of those communities as well.

So how do we start healing?  Every human being longs to have his or her basic human needs met.  The varying degrees in which our basic human needs were met or unmet by our family, caregivers, teachers, society in general determine the amount of healing work we need to do to create a positive self-image, self-esteem and healthy connections with others.  In any healing process we must first examine our childhoods.  In Nonviolent Parenting (see Peace & Parenting), it is stated that having a “cohesive narrative” that explores the joys and pains of our childhoods and of our formative years will allow us to uncover hidden traumas and to understand what we had experienced.  We can begin to talk and tell our story out loud.  Many triggers in adulthood have their foundations on childhood memories that linger in our subconscious ready to be ignited at a moment’s notice.  As we grow and mature we need to get to a place of self-examination that will allows us to understand why we get triggered the way we do.  This can become liberating when we are able to separate our present situation from the situations that caused the original pain.  Awareness is key!

I have been in a journey to self-recovery for over 9 years.  I am a survivor of incest.  I was raped when I was 6 years old and several degrees of abuse continued until I was 9 years old.  Although I did remember what happened it was never really alive in my body and in my mind until I began dating at age 18 and as I struggled to form healthy, connected relationships in consecutive years.  When I began college, I was exposed to much healing literature, especially from bell hooks.  Through her books and the nature of the classes I was in, I began telling my story.  I began sharing my experiences of childhood trauma and the complexities of feeling love for and hurt by the person that had done this to me.  It was very overwhelming!

After I was able to say out loud what had happened to me, I began creating work both visual and performance that assisted me in the healing process (see My Art and My Dancing).   Through visual art I explored what was in my heart and mind and through dance/performance I explored the remembrances of trauma in body.  I discovered much pain.  I went through a stage in my life in which I felt completely lost, heartbroken and disconnected.  My only refuge was my art, my dancing and school.  I had so much sadness in my heart which later turned into anger.  I am glad that by having outlets like the artistic process, reading and writing, I found safe places to process my deep sense of loss.   I needed to mourn what had happened to me, but also the fact that what was taken away from me I could never get back.  I needed to be able to grieve.  And that is really what we need to do when we are mourning.  We need to allow ourselves to feel the pain, the sadness, the anger and the impotence of not being able to change what happened, but we also need to be able to take care of ourselves in a way that honors our being.  We need to liberate ourselves of being responsible for someone else’s actions.  We didn’t have a choice about what they chose, but we have a choice now about what we do to heal and take care of ourselves.

I think many people are resistant to doing healing work because we are afraid that once we start on that path we will never get out.  We will drown in a state of despair causing further harm.  What we don’t realize is that by not nourishing our souls and not searching for recovery we will ALWAYS stay in a state of crisis.  Although it might be at a subconscious level, whatever trauma we experienced will always surface in one way or another.  If we don’t gain awareness, tell our story, and allow ourselves to mourn we will not be able to rescue our souls from the confinements of trauma.  We will always remain in pain or we will numb ourselves to avoid facing it.  That is why I believe many people suffer from addictions and can’t seem to find a way out.  They don’t think they have another choice.  Recovery can seem too hard, too scary.  And yes it is!  As we go through the healing process we experience many ups and downs yet we discover that day by day life becomes easier.  There is literally light at the end of the tunnel.

In my own recovery I learned that the more I allowed myself to feel, the more I was able to find ways of taking care of myself.  As already mentioned I used my visual and performance art as strategies, but I also searched for community support.  I became part of the AWBW’s Survivors Art Circle in which I not only created art, but was also able to share what I was experiencing in a safe environment.  I realize that the further I got into my recovery the more I searched to belong to communities that enhanced my healing journey.  I surrounded myself with people that provided me with the five A’s David Richo mentioned and with much support, whether they were a few selected family members, my close friends, enlightened teachers or my dance community.  Even in my career, the last three jobs I’ve held have been in organizations that are committed to ending cycles of violence, creating systemic change, having a voice and above all to healing.  A Window Between Worlds (AWBW), Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting CNVEP and CONTRA-TIEMPO Dance Company have carried me through my recovery process.  Being part of ALL of these communities allowed me to receive sustenance as I continued to heal.

Now as my recovery keeps evolving, I am learning other tools that I didn’t get to learn when I was a child.  I know healing from rape has been a huge part of my recovery, but also I’ve engaged in the recovery from other pains from childhood in general.  I was raised by a single mother that did what she could.  In many ways she did everything she knew to take care of me and my brother.  She sacrificed much.  Yet, in the emotional sense I was not fulfilled.  She raised us with conditional love, obedience above all framework and spanking.   I don’t blame her.  She had her own traumas.  She had many unmet needs that had not been addressed at all and that did not allow her to truly connect to us.  Even until now I struggle to create a healthy relationship with her.  As my mother I love her deeply, yet I’ve learned that I need to create healthy boundaries with her, actually with anyone in my life.  Healthy boundaries are part of emotional wellness and many children like me didn’t learn that an early age.  Although it might seem hard at times, part of our healing journey is to re-parent ourselves to create the healthy foundations we did not receive in our formative years.  We need to rewire our brains to thrive as individuals and in our personal connections.  Please see Emotional Intelligence and Peace & Parenting for further learning and for other tools for the recovery journey.

I will continue to record my healing process in my blog under categories Personal and Healing.  Healing and growth never stop!

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