With COVID-19 disrupting our external worlds, many people are finding a shifting in their internal worlds. Events previously forgotten, like festering wounds quickly bandaged, are now erupting. Sadness, worry, grief and anger that was carefully held down is now painfully rising to the surface. Why is this happening and what should we do about it?
Have you noticed things don’t seem to stay as they were before? They shift. They crack. Every woman over 50 knows what I’m talking about. Looking in the mirror, my hands find a spot by my earlobes and I apply pressure upwards. That’s better. A little more reminiscent of the face I once knew. A decade of struggle magically fades. The methodical etchings of worry float away.
Until I let go. As I slowly release the pressure, the downward drag begins. Every cell in my body is being sucked, nanometer by nanometer, toward the grave. Why can’t things just stay as they once were?
Everything seems a bit lower these days.
Our earnings wobble, as a pandemic sweeps our nation.
The price of gas calls us to fill up our tanks so we can sit in a parking lot with nowhere to go.
The stock market appears to be gasping.
Our energy has come crashing down. Naps are no long luxuries but necessities.
The aspiration of cleaning out the junk drawer is forgotten. So many things to do, so little energy to do them. Time on our hands
Time enough to become aware that parts of our body are no longer where they were before.
Scars and Bruises: We All Have Them
Life wounds us, leaving scars and bruises. Every single one of us carries sore spots that we protect. Aching joints that tell of a past injury. Scars and scar tissue that mar the surface of our skin. No one is exempt.
At 18, I had my appendix removed. A searing pain drove me to a scalpel wielding surgeon. The good doctor brought relief but, in doing so, cut a hole eclipsing most women’s caesarean scars. The average appendix is 4” long. The average baby is around 20”. The incision math didn’t add up. In the recovery days, I did not know the scar was larger than normal as I was yet to reach the age where conversations revolve around body pains and ailments.
That is, I didn’t know the length of my appendix scar was excessive until I made an off-hand comment to the surgeon.
I became immediately aware that I’d touched a nerve in this older, wiser human. My passing remark was an attempt at connection that backfired. This one thread snaking across my abdomen was the only thing we had in common. I had a pain that needed healing and he, with deft scalpel and stitching skill, had delivered relief. This is not the usual grounds on which friendships are forged.
“Nice incision.” My benign comment was met with an instant wall of defence. “I don’t like to work through a key hole,” he snapped. His eyes narrowed and a twitch by his upper lip challenged me to say more.
I felt like I’d thrown down the proverbial gauntlet to start a duel. He was taut and ready to take up the challenge. The problem was, like most of my wayward mitts, it hadn’t been a throw down in an attempt to engage an opponent. It had simply dropped out of my hand. My teenage brain had no reference point that appendix scars weren’t supposed to be bigger than caesarean scars.
At that moment, from my hospital bed, I instantly knew some deep truths about this man before me. His comment revealed far more about him than his penchant to be excessive in how he cut into things. The decades peeled back and I could tell that, for the briefest of seconds, I was no longer facing a learned and competent surgeon. The man before me was a boy, poked at and criticized, by some ghosts in his past. In the pinch of his face and the tension driving his shoulders up, I witnessed the after effects of decades old critical words. I had unknowingly bumped into a gash of his own.
He was ready to defend his skill. Daring me to utter one more word. I smiled an awkward smile and let my raised eyebrows put an end to the conversation. An awkward awareness filled the room between us as we both moved to cover our wounds. Mine was nicely healing. His was poorly stitched and oozing infection in the space between us. “Show me your scar” was not a game he was wanting to play.
I’ve been on the other side of those exchanges. Moments in conversation where something someone says smacks me squarely on an old internal wound. Some passing comment stabs me in the gut. We all learn recovery skills to hide our wounds.
Within a decade, my appendix scar would be swallowed by an even more impressive gargantuan incision. Flesh sliced to give access to muscles that were torn apart from stem to stern. A trail marker left by babies voyaging through my body.
Our bodies carry our stories.
Every scar speaks of pain and healing.
Every facial crease of worry and laughter.
Every sagging jowl of the cells steady surrender to the earth below.
If you live, you will carry scars and not a few bumps and bruises.
Wounds and bruises are meant to heal. The ones inside and ones outside.
Of Hope and Healing
Bruises marking our bodies tell of minor everyday mishaps. It flags a part of our body where our systems need to concentrate healing energy. We bump our knees on the corners of coffee tables. Bang our heads on cupboard doors left open. Bounce our shoulders off corners of walls that are strangely closer than expected. Spreading blue and dissolving into shades of green and yellow until it fades away. The bruise stands as a marker of a place that needs our increased vigilance for a few days until the healing occurs.
On the inside, our bruises seem to take much longer to heal and the proof of healing is far less evident.
Why is This Bothering Me Now?
In the last few weeks I have had clients, in moments of motivation, stumble across things in storage room boxes that have plunged them into grief. “This happened so long ago, why does it still hurt so much?”
Others have life regrets exploding in their minds like popcorn. “How did I get here?” “What’s the point of all this?”
Others are confronted with a nasty side of themselves as they are caged with the same people and can’t escape.
Still others are looking with dread to returning to a job they hate.
I personally have been surprised by the amount of tears that have risen over things I thought I’d dealt with. Bruises not yet healed. Wounds, that need time and space to mend.
The Healing Work of Silence, Solitude and Stillness
We all know we need to pull back in order to recharge. We know we are healthier when we sleep. Nature teaches us through the rotation of days and seasons that everything needs a time to stop producing and recharge. Silence, solitude and stillness are disciplines that have been employed in almost every religion since the beginning of time. We instinctively know spending time away from a chaotic, noisy world is healing for a deep part of us. Whether it’s a cozy corner with a fuzzy blanket, a hidden retreat in the woods, or a quiet drive down the highway, our souls know we need to pull back in order to recharge.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes – even you.”Ann Lamott
Silence, solitude and stillness are called disciplines because the wise among us have discovered, over the centuries, that they work something good in our lives. They are ancient practices that are far from our modern day reality.
Until COVID-19 happened.
But I Didn’t Ask for This!
Many of us have been thrust into varying degrees of silence, solitude and stillness. We never chose this discipline, but the work of this trifecta is becoming evident in our lives. The closets of our past are popping open and hurling things on the floor of our minds that we had thought were better left hidden. There has been an internal shifting.
Have you ever soaked in a tub and discovered bruises you didn’t know you had. The bathtub, it’s one place where we slow down and have time to notice. Where did that mark come from? How long has it been there?
As you are marinating in the tub of life, what bruises from your life are becoming evident to you? Instead of being embarrassed by them or working to push them back down, get curious about the “bruises” you are noticing rising to the surface in your everyday life.
Triggers and Unwanted Behaviours Reveal Opportunities for Growth
Unfinished business, like bruises, shift and rise to the surface when there is time and space for the healing to take place. They can stay pushed down for years as we rush around to establish our careers, raise our babies or turn our house into a home. But what gets pushed down eventually floats to the surface in moments of stillness. Things don’t stay where we put them; especially the things we push down.
Life etches scars and bruises on the surface of our heart that need time and space to heal.
What has been rising for you in these last weeks?
Have you become aware of regrets?
Is the grief of lost relationships and people creeping in on your day?
What is actually derailing your plans? Is it simply a lack of motivation or a bruise that is now demanding to be healed.
What has set you off and you were surprised by your own reaction?
Time heals nothing. It’s what you do with time that does the healing.
If you’ve set out to do a project, like clean out a closet or the science experiments in the fridge, but then find yourself frozen in front of the tv or the pantry, take a moment to do an inventory. What is really standing in my way? Is it a fear over something? Is it a recurring thought? What are the bruises and scars that you are now noticing that need a bit of focussed time and attention to heal? Get curious about them. How long have they been there? How did they get there? What does it say to you? What messages do they say about you?
What Gets Pushed Down Eventually Comes to the Surface
In life, things don’t stay where you left them. Hurts and internal scars that are pushed down slowly make their way to the surface. In fact, the harder you try to push things down, the more force they have when they rise. Like a beach ball pushed deep under the water’s surface, when released, it flies up in your face with surprising force.
As gravity pulls our skin downward, that which has been buried inside seems to rise to the surface.
Cold case files find resolutions. Addictions don’t stay hidden.
In families, secrets that have been hidden for decades are uncovered.
Business that was left unfinished has a way of spilling out of the closet.
You’re Older, Stronger with More Resources. You Have What it Takes to Deal With This Now
The tangible goals you have, like to clean out a closet or master the Konmari folding method may need to be trumped by a need to take time to sort out an internal space. To clear the internal clutter that is crowding out some of the joy in your days. When the past doesn’t stay in the past, taking some time to sort through it will expand the happiness quotient in the days to come. You will experience a lighter self. Your creativity may return. Who knows, you may find the energy to tackle that project it wasn’t allowing you to get to.
Take a moment. Be aware. Stop distracting and avoiding, buffering and appeasing. Stop fighting the silence, the stillness and solitude and press into it.
What can you now move through and deal with that previously you were unaware of or unwilling to deal with? Don’t be scared. You’re older and stronger and a good measure wiser. I firmly believe that the things that tumble back into our minds and memories do so because we now have the time and resources to help them heal and move through them.
When we stop using our energy to mask and bandage, our creative force is renewed.
When you are willing to sit in the pain for a moment, the next moment often opens up to joy. The world is full of joy giving moments that we can miss when our energies are given to protecting our bumps and bruises. Growth can take place in the cracks.
What in your life has shifted?
What unfinished healing has silence, solitude and stillness brought to the surface?
What wounds and bruises have become painfullly evident?
Have the closets of your mind revealed some things that need some going through?
What do you need to do to help yourself take the next step?
Trish White is a counsellor in Saskatoon, SK who tries to spend more time healing wounded hearts than she does fighting the gravitational pull on her face. If you need to talk, I’m here: firstname.lastname@example.org