I am it all when it comes to the process of healing. I am healer. I am healed. And in some ways and some places within, I remain in between the shore and the sea, swimming amongst the waves of healing still. Some wounds take a lifetime of perpetual tending and are prone to flare up occasionally. Others heal but leave a scar. And the rest close over so that we may never even recall that they were there in the first place.
What’s true is that along with loving and hurting, healing is a thread that binds us to each other. It helps us connect. It helps us be more empathic. It helps us accept that we are all the same: at some point broken, then put back together, and as a result, more beautiful than before.
Someone asked me recently how long I thought it would take for her to recover from a messy divorce. It got me thinking about all the things I know and all the things I don’t know about pain and its effects: about the times when we hit the ground from a great height, shatter into a million pieces, and then have to find each piece to recover the puzzle of ourselves.
I do know some things about healing. Some of those things I was taught from a textbook. Most of those things, I learned from breaking and putting myself back together (in other words, how we all go about practising life). And yet, there are many things I will never know still, and that’s okay.
Things I Know:
Speaking kindly to yourself helps. A lot.
The Minister for Internal Criticism and her caucus will have much to say about where you’ve gone wrong and all the ways in which you don’t measure up, could have done better, and are likely to disappoint in the future. Not only can you close that meeting down, but you can refuse to attend in the first place in favour of going gently with some kind words when you need to hear them most.
You get to set the pace, no one else.
Time is a construct that doesn’t apply when it comes to healing. It will occur in its own time, in its own way. It’s more than understandable that, when you’re in pain, you want it over as soon as possible, but the process of recovery can’t be forced, rushed, or fabricated. There is no “normal” timeframe except that which is individual for you.
You get to define what growth looks like for you.
Steps look different for different feet. You get to measure your own according to your own process. Getting out of bed for the first time in a week? Stopped anxiety in its tracks? Forgiven your ex for the burn marks they left on your heart? Forgiven yourself for the mistake you previously thought was unforgivable? Every tiny shift is growth – and it’s yours.
You get to start over as many times as it takes.
The healing process is not linear. You may take as many steps sideways and backwards as you take forwards and you may simply give up on the effort it’s asking from you for the moment. That’s okay. You’re in control and you can start again whenever you need to.
It gets harder before it gets easier.
Speaking of effort, there is no recovery that won’t demand you show up with your full self. And after it demands that of you, it will test all your willingness and push you to your limits. The brain wants to stay with what’s familiar, even if it damages you. So, convincing the brain to let go and choose differently will take every fibre of your resilience muscles (but it’s worth it).
When you want to run, stay.
Stay, though. You must be there in order for healing to reach you. And by there, I mean in your mind, in your body, and in your spirit. Running will only delay the process.
When you want to hide, open up.
Brene Brown talks of shame being unable to survive in the light. The more you refuse to acknowledge your pain, choose not to tell your story, and stay hidden from yourself (and those that love you), the more shame wins. Open up, little by little. You may be very surprised by what’s on the other side.
When you think you’re done, go a little further.
Finish lines can be deceptive. The first one you see may not be the one you need. Keep going.
We must participate.
Because no one else can do it to you or for you. (You know that.)
Forgiveness is the foundation of it all.
And possibly the hardest place to get to. Forgiving others is not for them, it is to free you to find inner peace. Forgiving yourself is the only way to open the door to self-love.
It’s worth it.
Things I Don’t Know:
How long it will take.
I wish I did. I have been on both sides of this question – the questioner and the questioned – but there is never a clear answer, and nor should there be. Placing expectations and limitations on the healing process sets us up for forcing things that shouldn’t be forced and being disappointed when the process doesn’t take shape as we thought it would. We can massage the process and participate willingly, but the remainder of the process needs to flow.
Whether you should go it alone right now or seek company.
I think it’s a bit of both, but only you can know this for yourself. I believe that sharing our story with someone who can receive it with compassion and empathy is incredibly powerful. But I also know that there are places on the path of healing that need to be traversed alone. Working to accept uncomfortable emotions, making meaning out of traumatic events, reaching forgiveness – these, and all versions of healing need quiet reflection, and when we are ready, the hand of someone willing to take our own and walk alongside for some of the way.
Whether being off track is necessary right now or not.
To “do” healing properly, I think we need to expect to mess it up. Sometimes, you need to give up, sit down on the path and refuse to budge to be able to see that the pain of not changing is actually worse than the pain of shifting. Sometimes you need to go backwards to old patterns to be reminded why those patterns don’t work. And sometimes you need to move sideways and try something different to work out if what you’re doing is the best way forward. It’s all okay and we need each step – forward, backward and sideways – to ultimately cross the bridge to healing.
May you give yourself space to learn, know, and respect your own version of healing, whatever that is.