On Healing From My Past

As a person, I am many roles and attributes– husband, brother, son, friend, psychotherapist, gay man, eclectic Pagan, movie lover, writer, sensitive, empathetic, introspective, caring, imaginative, sometimes overly-critical, and many more things. What I also am, though it is not a central identity for me, is someone who survived a relatively/moderately traumatic childhood. (So many people have survived their childhoods, which is nothing to necessarily brag about– though one can if they wish– or be ashamed of. Probably each and every one of us can say we survived at least something during childhood.) This included divorce of my parents before I was five and much uncertainty thereafter, due, in part, to frequent moves and having to adjust to several new schools and living situations.

Shortly after my parents’ divorce, my birth mother gave me up to my father and his second wife, having found herself, through no real fault of her own, overwhelmed and ill-equipped to be a single parent. I’m also convinced she was hoping I would be a duplicate of her older brother, who she idealized while watching him fill in as surrogate spouse to their mother, my grandfather largely away from home as a career Marine during much of her childhood. What my mother got with me, however, was something very different than my stoic yet caring uncle. She didn’t quite know what to make of me when I left toddlerhood. My emotional sensitivity and fascination with her high heeled shoes, long hair, and makeup made her uncomfortable.

Other unpleasant to even very painful difficulties arose after this initial trauma of divorce and later what I experienced as abandonment by my birth mother. However, simultaneously, I was also thrilled to finally go live with my father and the woman I would soon call “Mom.” Being a sensitive gay child on the non-binary spectrum (in my case, identification with feeling partially, but significantly female in a physically male body) became an added challenge. Most of the community I grew up around was quite intolerant of such differences. I was bullied throughout much of school, especially during sixth through eighth grades. I inherited a propensity for an anxious, highly reactive temperament. This, combined with my early personal history, resulted in some pretty serious anxiety (both generalized and OCD) and long bouts of depression throughout adolescence and much of my adulthood. Looking back, there is no doubt that I suffered from PTSD as a child and adolescent as I lived through deep relational disruptions and repeatedly perceived threats to my safety, with a good share of these perceptions based on actual reality.

After many years of effective psychotherapy, particularly a combination of Internal Family Systems work and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and increasingly mindful living, I’m glad to say that I haven’t experienced any clinical depression for almost nine years. I have been fortunate to not require sustained use of prescribed medication, although I did go through some short trials of assorted antidepressants (with misery-inducing side effects resulting each and every time) and long-term use of a benzodiazapine (Klonopin) for the anxiety. However, I was even able to give that drug up completely about seven years ago. Being free of the need for any prescriptions has been a relief, yet I also honor and understand those who find help in maintaining a regimen of psychopharmacological meds. We all must try and do whatever is necessary for our well-being.

The chronic, generalized anxiety and OCD will always be what I contend with to some degree. They are part of my body’s lot in life right along with some other health vulnerabilities, such as high cholesterol and skin that occasionally produces melanomas (only two thus far in twenty-seven years, both in situ/stage one, thank the gods) requiring prompt medical attention. But, my OCD has lessened in intensity enormously, having last been seriously bad for an extended period when I was fifteen years of age. I realize now that the OCD was intensified at the time by assorted stressors, including a reaction to an accumulation of traumas. Now, it’s something I chuckle about and bond with others over as they describe to me the unique little quirks of their own OCD. As for the generalized anxiety, I think it’s debatable whether I actually clinically suffer from it any longer. My day-to-day intense, chronic worrying has largely decreased. Ten years ago, I wasn’t certain I’d ever reach this level of inner peace I feel today. Mind you, I still have quite a ways to go on that front. Finding and living within inner peace most or all of the time is a lifelong effort for so many of us, perhaps even for most save for a very few (like the Dalai Lama, among others). My nature being what it is, I’m still to a certain extent what others would call “high strung.” That and growing up with having to cope with frequent disruptions to my sense of security as a child, I’ll likely always tend towards initially catastrophizing in the face of change or new difficulties. But, I am able to more quickly step away from such negative thinking and feeling, instead of getting stuck and bogged down in it so often like I used to do. I’m confident I function within the average range of the general population when it comes to dealing with uncertainty and life changes, with me being somewhere in “normal range” on the broad bell curve, for what that’s worth. For certain, I’ll never be fully “normal,” whatever the hell that even actually means. Mentally healthy and adjusted, on the other hand, well, I am definitely more that than not and it’s wonderful.

These days, it’s been about maintaining all the healing I’ve done for my psyche/inner system of parts while continuing to release some remaining deep-down pain from my past as I live more and more freely in the present. I’ve manifested most of my life dreams I started having as a young teenager, namely that of having a psychotherapy career, owning my own home in a pleasant neighborhood, and being married to a fabulous, loving man. I continue to live them each day, for however long I’m meant to do so. All I, and we, really have is now. I enjoy building from the wondrous now.

I’m starting to live into another big dream of mine. This simply is to commit to writing more often than not and see wherever that takes me next in this incredible journey called life. If I publish anything I produce, that will be a cherry on the sundae at this point. At least I’m writing and some people are reading it here on my blog, which I’ll do my best to have exist long after I’m gone.

A fact is, we all had, and have, our unique challenges in life, including, for a lot of us, mental health challenges, and often very serious ones. These are nothing to be ashamed of any more than the plethora of medical problems people live with and can finally freely admit to having more often than not– at least compared to when I was younger and when my parents were children. Being human is to be born into a body and mind with so many vulnerabilities and difficulties, arising from enduring tough environments, genetics, the inevitability of aging or some combination thereof. It’s our resiliency, including deep capacity to heal, that gets us through and never ever ceases to amaze me, both that of others and in myself. And it’s in mindfully sharing who we are, how far we’ve come, and whatever we are going through– good, bad, indifferent– that affirms what being alive is all about: connection. Connection– bit by bit– in ourselves to who we are and trusting that is enough. Connection with others and their wonderful, good enough selves, no matter how wounded in body or mind, so long as one’s wounds allow for genuine connection to come through, however limited initially. And, of course, connection with the rest of the world around us, nature, the All.

I used to think I was basically just my wounds and was worthy of so little, anxiously, shamefully, and sadly hiding away from a lot of life. But, I see now how we need not be defined by our wounds or imperfections, none of us. (And those who seem to intractably, pervasively live and act out from just their pain are, well, ultimately the most challenged, but I refuse to give up all hope on even them.) However, out of our efforts to heal from these injuries and foibles, we can find opportunities to derive wisdom and access to more compassion and other virtues, both for ourselves and others. This healing includes releasing shame, particularly the shame of assorted false beliefs that boil down to the thought we somehow only are our wounds or perceived flaws, victims of our worst experiences. Nothing could be further from the truth. As psychologist Richard Schwartz has written extensively about, what we actually are at our core essence, or Self, consists of calmness, courage, creativity, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, and connectedness. And that makes it all the worthwhile to share in this journey called life, finding out, while doing so, that we are all– not just us, alone– imperfect in body and mind but uniquely wonderful, lovable Selves anyway, and always were.

7 thoughts on “On Healing From My Past

  1. Wow! What a beautiful way of expressing what trauma is and how we are able to get to such a loving place within that makes it OK to settle down and hang out for a while. I think time and acceptance of ourselves and all our little quirks and maintaining a sense of humor about it all leads to healing quicker without the side effects of prescription meds or substance use and abuse. The confidence we gain in ourselves and our ability to live life from a different place (depending on and trusting Self) makes this journey much easier and so much more rewarding, something I never thought would be possible. I am very grateful you shared your story and admire your courage for doing so. I think of “kindred spirits” when someone writes something that hits so close to home, especially when that person is someone I’ve come to trust and respect. For me, that says it all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I forgot to mention the picture, yet again. I swear those pictures speak to me as loud as your writing. I am curious if the young lady in the picture is someone you know. I get such a sense of pure joy and wholeness from her and a willingness to welcome the world in, something I would like to be able to do one day with that same sense of abandon. Amazing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is such a lovely pleasure to read your blog. I enjoy your reviews, your musings, your “I’m-getting-my-opinion-out-there” posts. And I love that you intersperse all these with personal essays that open your readers to connect further to the multidimensional you. You are courageous to share your personal experience on your blog, to let people know you in a deeper way that creates heart-to-heart connection.

    You write: “And it’s in mindfully sharing who we are, how far we’ve come, and whatever we are going through– good, bad, indifferent– that affirms what being alive is all about: connection.” I agree. It’s so hard to find that though. Connecting “intellectually” or “socially” isn’t what I mean–that kind of connection happens all the time on social media, blogs, social gatherings, etc. (though even that sort of connection is difficult for many people). It’s the deep connections that so rarely seem to happen–the ones where each makes themself vulnerable to the other by allowing their wounds and their spiritual/emotional healing to be seen and embraced with mutual compassion and care. To me, that’s the cornerstone of any strong relationship, but so many people can’t manage it. Our culture doesn’t foster these kinds of connections because wounds=shame or wounds=loss of respect or wounds=weakness. It’s easier to duck behind the illusion of “normal” (lol as if) and skim over or skirt around the deeper, more intense soul-revealing that would strengthen connection. But that comes at the loss of opportunity for deep connection.

    I admire people who write about their wounds and healing, as you have done here. Putting it out there strips away the protective cloaks we hide behind and opens up the potential for deeper knowing of another person. Hey, if you say it on a blog, you can say it to a person F2F, right?! And perhaps saying it opens the door for the other to take off their cloak as well. And tah-dah, a deep connection begins to form.

    Yes, I think most people have struggles and traumas from their pasts that have shaped them. Some have more intense and complex ones than others, and yours was certainly intense and complex. My heart hurts for your hurt and is also glad that you are healing and growing and becoming ever more your luminous Self.

    I have no clue who the person is who wrote this quote, but I like it and thought I’d share it:
    “We are each on our own journey. Each of us is on our very own adventure; encountering all kinds of challenges, and the choices we make on that adventure will shape us as we go; these choices will stretch us, test us and push us to our limit; and our adventure will make us stronger then we ever know we could be.” ― Aamnah Akram. It ought to be paired with Maya Angelou’s words: “Alone, all alone. Nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone.”

    Thanks for sharing this part of your life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jazz,

      What a beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing the quotes. The first reminds me of the courage we need to move forward. Maya Angelou’s words remind me of how important connection is to a sense of belonging. We don’t always take time to make time for this most important step in our healing process and probably the most important step. Connection and belonging make that journey so much more rewarding.

      Liked by 2 people

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