In Part 1, I looked at the pain of a child lost in the reality of human frailties. This part is about how survival strategies allow us to continue to function so that we may heal when we have more of what we need (time, support, distance, wisdom etc.). It is also a reminder that others are in pain, too. The conclusion is that love holds the key to our healing. Sadness and love may seem very different. But they are not. They are allies in our growth, each a reminder of the other. And although we may risk the former through the latter, we must somehow find the courage to continue to love completely. Life is empty without it.
Survival strategies are (unconscious) ways of coping with traumatic experiences. Designed to keep us alive and functioning as best we can, they are necessary for a while, but hopefully not for ever. It is important, therefore, to be able to identify them and, where appropriate, release them. One of my survival strategies, as mentioned in Part 1, was my deliberate exposure to emotional triggers. I sought out material – poems and music – which would make me cry. At first glance it seems like a painful course of action, which only reinforced my own sadness. But maybe it was a release; a way for me to process the pain I felt. In doing so, I was probably more able to cope with life at the time, and maintain my connection to my own source of love and joy for longer. This is important because there there was another, more stifling survival strategy at work.
It is hidden in a line near the very end of my book. A line whose significance eluded me for years. It was only a few months ago that I noticed it and saw what it meant; having become visible in the light of the two trauma books I read recently. The line appears in the very last journal entry I wrote in 2003, in the final paragraph (on page 624):
‘I am left with a feeling that everything was a little easier when I thought he hated me.’
That’s how I eventually reset my existence. The disappointment, the sadness, and the silent, secret tears at being handed back and forth between divorced parents, all took their toll. Missing my dad was perhaps the worst of it. I closed up so as not to hurt; and convinced myself over the years that love was not available. That in itself is tragic: that a young boy can love and laugh, then experience his family break apart, and decide at some level that the best strategy is self-protection. I gradually internalised the conviction that it’s better to be on your own. Separate. (There you are, Charles. More evidence for you.) That way you cannot be hurt. But you cannot love either, not truly.
Vulnerability is the hallmark of love. The willingness to love, regardless of the consequences. It speaks to our deepest nature. We are love, and it is our greatest gift. Contraction is not who we are. It is a response to the world; a strategy. One whose purpose is to preserve us so that we may pass through the storm and one day find our way back to our true selves.
Unfortunately, so many of us are hurt at an age when all we want to do is hug the world, hold it tightly, and be held by it. Like my two-year-old son is prone to do with any of his tiny peers. When he does, he sometimes hangs on too long. Some of the kids tire of his attention and closeness, and push him away. Is that what we do with each other? Push each other away, whilst simultaneously retreating into a safe space of isolation?
But look what happens when we withdraw. We affect other people’s lives too. When we are love, they want to be with us, but when we withdraw and close down, we cause them pain. This is a poem my dad wrote in 1978 when I was about ten years old. It shows the story of the divorce from his side. The result is the same for him as it was for me, and undoubtedly for every member of my family. The pain is there, and there is also a feeling that, by necessity, it was born alone.
Divided By Court-Order Distances
Divided by distances,
measured in seconds and minutes
and then by hours and days.
Separated by silences
measured in sleepless nights
and confused days.
Linked occasionally by a telephone line
and always by love.
I miss their day-to-day growing,
their exciting days, their fevered nights, their cries of joy
and their moods of misery
that are shared with everyone
I miss their day-to-day development
their fresh-smelling bodies
gleaming and fragrant after bath-time,
fingernail-cutting, checking behind their ears,
standing over teeth-cleaning,
that contain love and protection,
trust and dependability.
I miss their day-to-day logic
their winning and losing battles of wit,
their displaying mischievous looks of triumph,
and their endearing arrogance in victory.
I miss witnessing
their downward, sulking expressions of failure,
their response to humbling defeats
and their obvious embarrassment over clumsy accidents.
I miss their day-to-day progression
through the blackboard years,
pondering together over homework problems.
I want to be there,
if only to steady the rush of growing,
if only to monitor the intake of knowledge,
if only to soften the blow of failing.
Divided by distances,
laid down by dispassionate legal minds
and separated by the silences
imposed by those distances,
I miss the day-to-day days,
I know I’ve missed
and yet I live with them
knowing they are
The learning from this story might be that it’s easier not to engage, so as not to suffer when the time comes. (If it comes.) But that is not the example I wish to be for a young child who hugs and kisses his world. And anyway, when I look back on my life, I see that love was always seeking a way to express itself. I continued to find myself able to love. Despite any self-preservation strategies, love is always available, always ready to manifest. It knows no other way.
There is further healing, therefore, in remembering and honouring the child I was, and holding him the way I hold my son. It’s in acknowledging our pain, and knowing that it is also carried by others. It’s in understanding the reasons why we disconnect; and in realising that everyone is doing what they can, given the progression of their own lives. And it’s in the ever-present, ever-possible capacity of each and every one of us to love unconditionally, like we did when we first arrived. Love is abundance. It is connection. By connecting with ourselves and each other, we return to (or rediscover) our true nature. A nature which effortlessly brings forth beauty and elation, joy and generosity, compassion and togetherness. Always. Forever.