Phoenix Rising

I did not do EMDR at my last session.  My therapist was correct.  My brain caught on very quickly that it was time to “open it up”, so to speak, and every unresolved trauma left came pouring forth  with relentless haste.  I was none too pleased about it, but, at the same time, I wanted to grind it out as soon as possible.

Let’s just get this done! I’m ready, but then again…

There were details emerging that I had forgotten.  I “forgot” them for a reason.  I never wanted to remember them again.  I had to go in my room and collect myself more than a few times.

One of my father’s preferred methods of behavior shaping was torture–animal torture in specific.  He would torture and kill animals in front of me making sure that I understood that the animal was a proxy for me.  If I were to ever disobey or defy him, then what I was witnessing in that moment would be done to me.  Yes, this is brutal and horror-inducing.  It was supposed to be, but my father had no problem doing that.  He had a craving for sadism, and he was very good at planning and carrying out torture in all its forms.  The US government had paid him to do it for years.  He had a gift after all.

Recalling it all in such detail was, needless to say, extremely unpleasant, and that is what was discussed in therapy.  How does one put meaning to the meaningless? Truly, how?! This is why some sorts of trauma–the nihilistic sort–are so hard to come back from.  Watching your parent torture and kill animals in front of you all the while knowing that he would really rather be doing that to you counts as an annihilating sort of trauma.  It breaks you down in a way that few other things can, and the brain can never make sense of it.  It is next to impossible to adaptively process it.  It goes right alongside something like incest.

So, what does one do? How do we adaptively process something so unspeakably horrible? Evil even?

My therapist actually hit a wall in session at this.  Speaking only for myself, I can usually process something if I can add meaning to it.  No matter how horrible, if I can take meaning away from it, then I can adaptively process it.  That is how I’ve managed to make peace and heal from almost everything I’ve experienced–even the trafficking.  But, some of things my father did have languished in a compartment in my mind, untouched, because I did not know what to do with them.  The time has come, and all I have been able to do is circle those memories like a wolf under threat.

During session, as my therapist sat in his chair looking puzzled, the story of a Jewish man came to mind.  He had survived Auschwitz and immigrated to America to begin again.  He lost his entire family.  All of them.  He was completely alone in the world.  He enrolled in medical school as a non-native speaker and became a physician.  He got married.  He had children.  He built a life with everything against him.  Can you imagine the horrors he witnessed? The depth and weight of the grief he carried? Can you imagine having no one to speak to about it? Can you imagine there being no one in the entire world left who knew you? You would be a stranger everywhere you went.  No friends.  No family.  No countrymen.

So, how did he get up again? That is the question I asked in session.  This man.  Many, many people have done what he did.  They overcame insurmountable odds and built something much bigger than they were.  What is that quality? Why even bother? I eventually said, “I think he must have continued on because he had hope.  Why else would a person continue to try if not for hope?”

And that was the moment that my therapist looked at me and said, “Is that why you keep going? In all the absolutely terrible things that your father did to you and made you witness, how did you continue to get up again?”

I had to think about it.  It was hope, yes, but it was something else.  He never broke me, and that is what he had tried to do.  Yes, he did torture me, but I never called him ‘sir’.  I never gave him what he wanted.  And, I always believed that if he was ever successful in breaking me down to a point that I did break, I would get up eventually.  I would resurrect.  He was powerful, but I was somehow more powerful because he could not snuff me out entirely.

And I was right.

And therein lies the meaning to all of the meaningless trauma.

If you are alive and breathing, then you were not completely annihilated.  You were not broken down into nothingness.  You may have seen and experienced things that you worry you won’t ever be able to tell another person lest you traumatize them in the telling.  I understand this.  But, your breath and heartbeat both tell you that you can rise again, and that means more than you might realize.

Your life might look like a pile of ash right now, but sometimes starting over from nothing is exactly what is necessary in order to build something new.  Discovering that you can’t be erased, that you have what it takes, that you are, in fact, a survivor removes the self-doubt that has kept you from getting up and walking an uncertain road.  Once you know, however, what you’re really made of, the uncertainties that lie ahead aren’t nearly so scary because you’ve already been scared.  The future? As uncertain as it is, you know you have what it takes now.

And knowing that you have what it takes to face every uncertainty is worth more than almost anything.  That is how you turn trauma into meaning.  Lead into gold.  That is emotional alchemy.  And that’s how you get up again.

So, keep going no matter where you are in your process.  You might still be dealing with lead.  Just get up.  Start walking.  That is how it begins.  Every story must have a beginning before you get to the middle.  And every narrative has a dénouement and a terrible villain; otherwise, there would be no need for a hero.

And every phoenix needs fire and ash before it rises again.

Keep going.  Make that your mantra.


9 Comments on “Phoenix Rising

  1. Thank you. Thank you for every post you write. It always seems to be what I need to hear.

  2. Ok, I get it, rise up, know you can make it.

    But, yeah there’s it is, a glitch, a scratch on the record.

    I, mentally have this place, I am pretty deep in it now, at the bottom of the pit, if you will. I can look up and see daylight, I can even climb up near the top and see the low hanging fruit that everyone is eating freely but as soon as I let go of one hand to grab the edge and climb out….. at the bottom again.

    I did start EMDR, I got the idea from you and I am grateful for your courage.

    Your an incredible person and I am better for having crossed your path.

    George Monroe

    • Well, I don’t know if this will matter. But, for me, this isn’t about rising or even inspiration because there are times when I am not sure I will make it. I do not feel happy most of the time. I feel afraid for many reasons. But, what is my essential nature? I keep going. It doesn’t matter if I am fearful. It doesn’t matter how I feel. I have to put one foot in front of the other and never give up. Even if I’m afraid. I can’t look to my left. I can’t look to my right. Just one foot in front of the other. Like hiking a switchback. And there are days when I’m almost convinced that my survival was a curse. It feels nightmarish. But, you live to fight another day because that’s your essential self. Because no one gets to steal the best of you and keep it. Not forever. If it’s mine, then I want it back.

      And that is what I do…even when I feel like today might be the day I stop walking. I walk anyway. I was made for something better. Your life will be greater than grief and loss. It will be. Just put one foot in front of the other. Even if you walk alone,in tears. You will not always.

      Even if it feels like you will. Do it anyway. Keep going, George.

  3. It matters.
    Your authenticity is powerful and I feel ashamed as if I cheapen what you share because I haven’t walked where you have.

    I don’t know exactly what but something about what you said or the way you said may have gotten through this grey matter.

    I am always told not to over think but if I can’t connect or make sense of information it does me no good.

    Oh, crap, maybe believing I am talking to someone that I perceive accepts me as I am, I am not sure.

    Shew, am I gushing?

    Your amazing, please never stop telling your story and thank you for your kindness.

    • Maybe it’s validation? I have had that experience before, and it doesn’t have to come from someone who has a matching life experience. Darkness is darkness. I don’t know if you’ve read or seen the Harry Potter films, but there is a scene in which Harry meets Luna. Luna appears to be petting something that isn’t there. That carriages to Hogwarts always pull themselves. But, no, they are actually pulled by Thestrals–equine-like creatures visible only to those who have seen death. Harry, too, can see the Thestrals. Sometimes, when people have experienced a particular kind of suffering, they “see” things in life that are very particularistic, and it’s easy to speak a common language. It’s easy to connect because the common experience is similar even if the actual experiences are not. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it feels intuitively similar to me.

  4. One more thing, if I may. Good grief, I always have one more thing don’t I?

    I know exactly why I can hear what you say. Along with everything else wrong with me I am also a recovering drug addict. In the “Basic Text,” of Narcotics Anonymous, it says “addicts respond to honest sharing.” It is your honesty that I am connecting with. I am gushing now and you deserve it, so many people walk around like powder kegs ready to go off, you can see it in their eyes, you can feel it at times but you are transparent, you have chosen to lay all your cards on the table for the world to and MJ, (can you tell me your first name or make one up, MJ is so impersonal,) that is nothing less than phenomenal, you are a phenomenal person, I admire your honesty, for people in my shoes, you are an inspiration, so I really hope you give yourself a huge dose of credit for what you do by telling your story, I have talked with many people and I can honestly say I have connected with almost none of them because I am so sensitive to defensiveness and rejection or just plane ol b.s. that I retract or write people off, quickly. I don’t get any of that from you, not only will you make it, you have already made it. Your a wonderful person and I am grateful your here and I am grateful your sharing your story.

    Sometimes the things you say have me in tears and that is good for me because I am, I always thought incapable of bonding with any other human but I know I bonded with you when I read your life that you put down for all to read.

    I hold back sometimes, I don’t say what’s on my heart all the time for fear of rejection or inaccuracy, I chose not to hold back because I need you to know how important and valued you are.

    George Monroe

    • You are a very kind person, George. (one of my nicknames is Jules). Do you think it’s possible to move away from the idea that something is wrong with you?

      I used to volunteer at place where it was either “prison or recovery” for men. Most of the men there were addicts, and the criminal justice system is, unfortunately, part of the addiction and mental health pipeline. I met hundreds of men who thought something was wrong with them. But, behind all the shame (and other displays), I found that many of them were inherently good people who were born into very shitty circumstances. They were doing what they could to survive, and they were denied a lot of opportunities at key points in life.

      What I did learn here is that there was no room for “posing”. If someone has the courage to be honest about, well, anything, then I need to have the balls to do the same. Everyone fears rejection. That is one of the most common of human experiences. I think fear of being rejected *for* revealing our true self-expression and then abandoned must be right up there at the top. No one wants to be alone. We need to feel loved and accepted, and we need to be a part of something bigger than we are. We need connection, and it’s hard to feel like that if we feel inherently flawed, damaged, or broken.

      But, you’re not. I am willing to be wrong, but I think your life experiences give you credibility. When the shit hits the fan for someone else, who will know how to clean up shit? You. Who will know how to navigate shit? You. Who will know how to deal with the shitty fallout? You. You are the one to call because YOU get it. You are the strong one. You are the one to call for the battle. George, you are made of stronger stuff than you might realize. You’ve got some major battle wounds right now. But don’t ever forget what you’re made of. You have fought. And, you’ve won. And you’re in a fight right now. And, you’ll win that, too. I know it. I’m not the only courageous one on the field right now…

  5. Dear Jules,
    I’m honored!
    Moving away from the idea that something is wrong with me has been the whole problem 🙂 , Leaning into it and walking through it is what I have avoided all these years. True, I could get by on what amount of mental health I have but why get by when I can grow. One thing being without my wife has done is made my senses heightened. Everything is important now, everything is more clear, more visible. Everything I say, do, don’t do, has weight. Not always but most of the time.
    I am wanting to deal with the stuff I never dealt with. The lack of bonding with my parents turned me into a shell of a man. The physical and sexual abuse from dad, I don’t know what damage it did, mom’s beatings, for one instilled an immense fear of women in me. If it is possible at my age, it would be nice to have someone that I be in love with, love being a verb, not an emotional state that passes and becomes an institution that two people simply abide until the inevitable. That almost sounds like an ancient Chinese poem but I hear it happens on occasion. Not a bad dream, I think.
    If there is anything good in the legacy I leave for my children, I would like it to be as love filled as possible. Not so much so they remember what was great about dad, that’s not it at all, so they can react to the world around them with a good set of tools so I can die in peace when it’s my time.
    Sure, I over think, over analys but the damage is there nonetheless so I may as well deal with it as best I can, it certainly hasn’t gone anywhere.

    P.S. I hope you would tell me if I am being intrusive, the last thing I want to be is a nuisance.

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