The other day I saw a question asked in a brain retraining group on facebook. It was a question I had asked also many times as I was retraining (still do, just not as much). The question was “What is your definition of “healed?” Does it mean a healed person can do anything a normal person can do? ” I had asked and answered this question many times in the past in a similar way. “I don’t suffer anymore.” And of course everyone’s definition of suffering would be different. For me it meant I would no longer be in despair, panicked, wanting to be someone else, isolated. It meant I could live in a home without bodily reactions (I had chronic inflammatory response syndrome),I could eat any food I chose to , I could focus, I could exercise, I could feel strong. I could have peace.
After a bit of thought, I added to my answer. “Even better, my default is not suffering and if the suffering comes (because I am human), I can choose how long I want to stay in it.” This was a very important distinction to make, especially for me. When I began to realize how I could react to the external and internal stressors in life, while changing my body, I aimed for excellence in this. I aimed for a super resilient nervous system that could handle anything life handed me. And for awhile I received exactly this. I found bliss. Life became a smooth extraordinary miracle every step of the way. Any negative was quickly interrupted and reframed, so much so that by default I could not even bring myself to say a negative word. Somehow, my mouth would stop and begin to reframe it to a positive. My practice of self correction had become an automatic habit. My default mode network now began to think in love and light. It was an extraordinary period and one I cherish and speak of fondly. I say often, I began to speak the way Eckhart Tolle does and it felt true and natural, not forced.
But, that’s not sustainable and as I reintegrated into life , mornings started to bring with it thoughts of children. My mind began to conjure up images of a little girl and little boy playing by a sofa as I cooked in the kitchen. My husband would waltz in grateful for another dinner. He was handsome and his eyes sparkled when he saw me. This would be the image on the screen of my mind each morning, along with the thought, “Why?” I would try to interrupt this and talk to the limbic portion of my brain that wanted to send me all this grief after having to let go of this image. After all, I was a brain retrainer and didn’t need to focus my mind’s eye to this scene, I could find the same joy in a blade of grass now, a soft wind, the sun’s warmth.” So, I did what I have done for the past three years, I reframed and cemented this reframing with positive emotions to seal it into my nervous system.
Sometimes, I couldn’t. And I would cry.
And then interrupt.
I have become very in tune with my body and can tell you exactly where ,physically , emotions were trapped , where they came from, what triggered them, the science behind it. I would give myself the lecture of what was happening physiologically. I would explain to myself how my meaning making brain was coming up with a story and I am wired for this kind of negative thinking for evolutionary purposes. I would tell myself the science behind how at 49, it is normal for my brain to make up this story because as a member of a tribe in the past, having been left behind, it was a threat to my survival. My survival is at stake since I have no other tribe members around me. I read more and more about this to affirm to myself that it was all scientifically normal and I had a choice each moment to change the way I was feeling about the images in my mind. I did this to soothe the loss I was feeling, no need to keep it. I had things to do.
As I sit here now I can feel a sharp pain on the right side of my neck going down to my shoulder and around to my arm. Feels like something serious huh? It is. It is a broken heart. Because, I am human.
Last night, I worked with a coach. I am enrolled in a coaching program because I want to share all I have learned in this life to help others out of their own darkness. She asked if anyone wanted to participate as a “coachee” for a demonstration. My hand went up instantly. And I began to speak without thinking mindfully about my words. I told her about how I wanted to have people around me, and I was now 49 in recovery and after finding myself I was really grateful, but I wanted more intimate relationships. I began to create more and more stories and by default I became the observer of my interaction with her every now and then. (I like to think I have a very developed medial prefrontal cortex 😉 , the watchtower of my brain). And she challenged me with the question, “What do you need?” I don’t know” , “I know you can’t fix it”, “I only needed to say aloud that I would like more friends, a partner maybe.”
She continued. “What do you need?”
And just like that my lips began to quiver and tears began to stream down my face.I could feel the emotion moving from the left side of my brain, through my head, into my torso and I cried.
I don’t cry often, and was surprised by it. I had spent three years building resiliency and here I was not interrupting tears .
And I let myself cry, in front of all the other students. I said , “I need permission to grieve.” So, I did, for a bit on this virtual call while my body released like a balloon, my breath became deeper and slower and I my heart slowed down.
I can feel this sharp pain start to release now, as I finish this. The image of the family I didn’t have pops up randomly I will let them, I will keep them here for awhile and I will allow this grief to come in when it wants and leave when it is ready.
So, how do you know when you are healed? It is not a single destination, it is not a point or the end of a race somewhere with a ticker tape parade , people cheering for you, congratulating you, as you go off into the sunset. You are healed from whatever plagues you when you choose to say that you are, accepting both the shadow and the light, loving both, but not clinging to either.