Monday’s post was a difficult piece to write. I worked through some of my self-doubt/self-hatred while writing my essay for What a Woman is Worth and I was grateful for another opportunity to attack another layer. It’s painful work, but rewarding, because with each lie that is confronted, I become more whole.
As I was writing that piece, I thought about a conversation that I had a few weeks ago. We were talking about being healed from past wounds. They were concerned that because I write about some past events, I am still not healed from them. I appreciate this concern, because I know that it comes from a place of care about me and my emotional well-being, but I don’t know that I ever answered the question, because I’m not entirely sure how to answer it.
In the Church (and outside the Church as well), we talk about emotional healing, but I don’t think that we’re very good at defining it. For a long time, I believed that emotional healing was kind of like what happened when I broke my arm the summer of 1984. For six weeks, I had to wear a big, ugly, plaster cast that went from my wrist up to my armpit. I had to wear a huge garbage bag if I wanted to take a bath. I couldn’t go in the pool all summer. It was itchy and hot and uncomfortable. But when I finally got the cast off, it was over. My arm was kind of shriveled up and weird-looking for a few weeks, but that was it. That injury has never caused me any additional pain, there are no visible scars, the arm that had the break has never been weaker or less functional. It’s basically like it never happened.
And this was what I thought happened when you experienced emotional healing. That painful experience no longer caused any kind of pain. So there wouldn’t be sadness or anger or hurt when you were healed. You wouldn’t talk about the event; memories would fade. It would be like it never happened.
As I was writing my love letter to my body, I realized that I’m not sure that it works that way. At least not all the time.
Some emotional wounds from my past are like that. Arguments, unkind words, moments of being slighted – many of these are over and I don’t think about them. They happened, they hurt, they’re gone. I put in my emotional six weeks and everything turns out just like it was before.
But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. I think of my friend Janet Oberholtzer. She was in an accident that nearly killed her and it left her with noticeable scars and the potential for pain for the rest of her life. At this point, she’s healed. She doesn’t need casts or therapy or canes to walk. Her leg isn’t a mass of bloody wounds or exposed nerves or raw tissue. She has run a full marathon. She wrote a book, she speaks, she encourages. But she still experiences pain from her injury. It took a long time for physical healing to occur. And every day that she sees her leg, she’s reminded of what happened to her.
Sometimes I think emotional healing is a lot more like that. There are some experiences that leave us changed. Who we are now is a result of that pain. It shapes us into someone we wouldn’t be, absent that event.
Healing in those cases is not the same. We may be reminded of those experiences more often than we’d like, and we may still feel pain when we think about them. And that might lead us to believe that we’re not as healed as we should be.
But healing won’t always be identical. Sometimes it can leave us with no pain at all and sometimes there will still be residual hurt. Sometimes it will have no meaningful impact on our lives and sometimes it will change everything. Sometimes it can be overcome in a brief amount of time and sometimes it will take years, even a lifetime.
For me, emotional healing begins to occur when I admit that I’m hurt. Writing about body image issues reminds me that there are some events in my past that hurt me more than I ever want to admit. They might not seem very traumatic to many, but for me, they have informed how I’ve seen myself for a long time, and they have shaped me (literally) into the person that I am now. Writing about some of those hurts allows me to examine them closely so that I’m able to separate out the truth from the lies. I’ve found that there are some ugly messes that are a result of wounding, and sorting through the rubble can be an excruciatingly slow process.
And I’ve discovered that it’s not always a straight line toward healing. Often it’s like a tangled pile of yarn. I may be able to separate out some skeins easily, but others may be knotted together more tightly. Just because I’ve figured out one part of the gnarled mess doesn’t mean that there aren’t other areas that need to be addressed. And as long as those still exist, pain can still be a part of the process.
But as I separate out the threads that are true and those that are false, I begin to get better. I begin to see things more clearly. I can make choices that are healthier for me. I can help someone find their way through the fiber that I’ve untangled, and they can help me with the one that they’ve discovered.
Emotional healing will look different for each person and in each situation. Let’s each approach it with honesty and grace, both for ourselves and for one another.
Do you have any areas where you have questioned whether or not you’ve really been healed from a past pain? How do you know when you’ve experience emotional healing?