Writing for real

by tamarjacobson

Quote of the day:

The book says, "We might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us." Magnolia.

Validation is key when one has been taught a different reality to the experience. Constant and consistent validation has unlocked the frozen within, and helped it flow out into the open. Sometimes it has been more of a storm than a flow, I must admit, causing my body to react violently with all kinds of physical symptoms. Anxiety and fear accompany me calling out in whispers, and sometimes yelling in my ears making me feel as if I am going deaf. They warn me not to rejoice in this new found freedom: adulthood, maturity, mind of my own. They threaten to kill me by raising my blood pressure to heights the medical doctors raise their eyebrows at. These past two months I am learning to stare directly into the face of my fears. To hold still with them and explore the feelings in my body and brain. Like the cold grip in my chest, or discovering my eyes are wild and exhausted. 

It has been a wild ride. And I am not sure it's over yet. But, for some reason this morning I sense it will be over soon. The storm, I mean.

Then, perhaps, the river of emotion will flow more smoothly, and not alarm me so. For they are my feelings, and they are real. For they were my experiences, and they were real. As a close friend said to me recently, "You don't have to absorb that stuff any longer. Return it to its owner.

This past weekend, I picked up my trusty copy of Alice Miller's, The Truth Will Set You Free, and was reinforced. She writes:

most of us are indeed on our own … but we would benefit tremendously from having someone to talk to about our childhoods particularly when we get older. As our physical strength fades, and we lose our youthful vigor, we are particularly susceptible to flashbacks to a time when we were helpless children. And that may be what makes us cling to a bagful of tablets in much the same way as we clung to our mothers for the help we urgently needed … we need an open door to our own past, an opportunity to take its very beginning seriously.

Indeed, taking myself seriously has been the hardest part for me. I often find myself telling a story about how someone hurt me, and giggling as I describe the events, as if it was funny or trivial. Again, Alice:

Laughter is good for you, but only when there is reason to laugh. Laughing away one's own suffering is a form of fending off pain, a response that can prevent us from seeing and tapping the sources of understanding around us

In fact, taking myself seriously makes me anxious – for, growing up I was laughed at and teased for things I deeply felt or believed in, forcing me to take them underground: like loving my father, feeling spiritual and questioning if there is a God, becoming involved in a youth movement, becoming a yoga instructor, becoming vegetarian … on and on. Nowadays I know that the people who made fun of me had their own denials of pain, blindness to their own childhood fears and traumas. But still it is a challenge to take my own pain seriously. 

As an early childhood teacher educator, I feel an urgency to help teachers understand how children learn to defend themselves from pain. Indeed, lately, I feel that this is my calling – my quest. Recently, I wrote an essay on "spanking," for Asbury Park Press. I was amazed and dismayed to read the comments from people saying that spanking was good for children, and that it had worked for them. In my despair at the unkindness of these comments, I turned again to Alice Miller:

All a beaten child remembers is fear and the faces of angry parents, not why the beating was taking place … the child will assume he had been naughty and merited the punishment. What kind of beneficial pedagogical effect (is there) in that?

So, all those memories we block or deny because they were too painful to bear as children – we continue to hold onto them believing that we must have deserved it. As one of my students wrote to me years ago, at the end of taking my course in applied child development: "You don't have to hurt me to teach me." For her it was a revelation, as she had been hurt emotionally and physically very much as a young child.

Giving up the denial and illusions that have protected me all my life has been the most difficult part of therapy this past year. Embracing my right to my feelings, and validating what I experienced as a young child, while deeply healing, is enormously frightening for me. At the same time it is allowing me to give up being a victim to my life, or a masochist. I am starting to believe, for real, that I no longer have to absorb any hurtful stuff any longer, and can, instead, return it to its rightful owner.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Activist