One of the outstanding things about being raised in the United States is the openness that exists to understanding people who hold a variety of points of views. One of the most difficult things about being raised in the United States is how so many people fear that very same openness. Too often we fail to take the time to look at the world through each other’s eyes. Instead, we fall into our own ways of seeing, which has led at this time in our country (and perhaps around the world), to an increasing amount of fear and divisiveness. Had I understood all of this at the tender age for 24, I might have been more prepared for how it impacted me in my early twenties in a very personal way. Sadly, I didn’t for a long time to come. The result is that this lack of ability to look at things from various perspectives led to yet another serious trauma in my life.
It all reached a critical breaking point when I graduated from Michigan State University and left on my own for California. On that fateful trip to California (please read the post on Fearlessness), from my point of view I was doing whatever it took to further my education so I could become an MFCC counselor. I was taking great risks to manifest my dream and through an unbelievable amount of hard work, that dream was coming true.
For two years while in graduate school I worked anywhere between 60 to 80 hours a week. I was going to school, doing a weekly counseling internship, moving through mounds of homework, and working a job to pay for my expenses. During that time I lived a very meager lifestyle. Though I had first rented a room in a home when I got to California, I found it uncomfortable and cramped over time living with two other women I barely knew in such a small space. For this reason, I decided to find my own place. I found a studio apartment above a garage in downtown San Bernardino in a neighborhood that I later came to understand was cheap because it was not the safest place to live. Still, it is what I could afford and in all honestly, I pretty much kept to myself. I’m not sure anyone even knew I lived there apart from one man who rented a place next to me.
Then, in the second year of my schooling, while coming out of my studio apartment above the garage, I fell down a flight of stairs and hit the cement and knocked myself out. Being young and seemingly invincible I literally crawled up the stairs when I came to and simply passed out on my bed and tried to sleep it off. A few days later, I was in class. Suddenly, everything started to get very strange. I noticed it first when a teacher called on me and for some reason I couldn’t talk very well. I kept scrambling my words. Next I was having difficulty writing and taking notes. I couldn’t seem to get the words in my head out on the page without mixing them up. Not too long after that I looked at the room around me and everything went black except a small circle of light in the middle. (I later found out this is called tunnel vision). Following this I had a serious head ache. Not wanting to interrupt the class, I waited till the class was over. When the class ended I decided I had better walk over to the campus health center. It was a good thing I did.
Immediately upon seeing me the nurse at the health center insisted they take me to the hospital on campus. Apparently they could see what I could not, that my face was droopy, and my right arm was kind of limp. Upon walking into the ER they insisted I admit myself to the hospital. I didn’t understand why. Being stubborn (and in truth afraid), I said I didn’t want to be admitted. I felt I just needed to go home and rest. Then a doctor suddenly came in and sat down with me. Apparently, he was the head of neurology. He looked at me and told me bluntly, “Young lady you are having a stroke. You need to go into the hospital immediately.” Frightened by what he was saying I agreed. I went through a series of tests. When the scans came back, they told me I had a blood clot in my brain. Had I not gone for treatment, that clot might have burst. Then a minor stroke would have become a major stroke and I might not have recovered the way I did.
Despite the stroke I did recover and even graduated with my MFCC Master’s on time with high grades. I had also managed to land two paid internships, which would help me finish off my MFCC hours in about a year so I could get my license (I had already completed over half of them during my schooling). I had even moved, finding a condo to share at a reasonable rate in a better city near my college with a woman I really liked. In short, it seemed as if my life was finally getting better. I even began to date someone for the first time since coming to California two years before. With school ending soon I would even have a lot more free time, because now I would simply be focusing on work.
Naturally, my father and mother were excited and relieved that I had made it through. Before flying out to my graduation my father and I had a conversation on the phone. He wanted to offer me something. He wanted me to take a month long break after my graduation to first spend time with him and my mother touring California, and then to return to Michigan to stay with them for a short while. I was not adverse to this. The problem is I needed to work to keep paying my bills. I was also afraid the two paid counseling internships I was about ready to start, would not be there when I returned. It was then my father then made me an offer.
“How much money did I need to make it through a month?” he asked.
“I would need $600 to pay for two months rent and my car expenses while I am gone,” I replied. “Upon returning to California, I would be starting my internships right away. If you help me cover my basic expenses for two months, that will cover my expenses until I can start to make money again and I should be fine.”
“I will give you the $600 to help you get by if you take the time off,” my father promised me.
Hesitant, I called my two internships. Yes, they both would let me start in a month instead of right away. Reassured, I took the time off to be with my parents. Then nearing the end of the four weeks, the day before I was to take my plane trip back to California, my father sat me down.
“I’m not giving you the money,” he told me. “You need to go back to California, get in your car and drive back home.”
I was shattered.
Instead of doing as my father requested, I called up the friend who had helped me two years earlier before leaving for California (who thankfully still lived in Michigan), and asked for a ride to get me to the airport. I flew back to California, but when I got back there I now found myself completely broke. I could no longer pay my rent to stay in the condo or pay for my car expenses in a month. And, I had barely enough money for food. Too ashamed at the time to tell the people at the internships I had landed what happened to me, I let them both go. That meant I had no money to live on. Not knowing what to do, instead of going back to Michigan, I moved my very few belongings into the trunk of my car and lived inside of it for two weeks, trying to survive, parking overnight wherever I could, while I tried to figure out how to recover. Then, another miracle. I called another college friend of mine who now lived in Seattle, Washington. My friend suggested I drive up there and sleep on the floor of my friend’s one bedroom apartment till I could figure out what to do.
Not too long after going to Seattle, another miracle. After my stroke, for a few short months I had worked a part time job selling cosmetics and skin care at a Jack Lalanne club in the ladies’ restroom. The job hadn’t lasted long, but for some reason the woman who had hired me remembered me. Suddenly, out of the blue she called the roommate who I had shared the condo with to see how I was dong. My roommate shared what had happened and that I was now in Seattle. She gave the woman the phone number of my friend there. (Note: All of this took place before there was such a thing as cell phones, meaning the only way to reach me was through my friend;s landline). She got me on the phone and asked me to come back to California. There I could finish off my MFCC license while living for free with her and her family in one of their spare bedrooms. She would help me out until I found some new paid internships so I could complete my license. Because I had learned I could not complete the license in Washington (since they had different requirements), I agreed to return to California and try to get my MFCC hours done. I drove the 20 hour trip back in one day. In the early morning hours I found Jeanne smiling at me. For the time being I had a temporary home.
How the Above May Apply to You.
At age 15, I had experienced a trauma in my life, but that one was at the hands of a stranger. This time the trauma was different, having come from someone I loved. The gift of this trauma was that upon returning to California, my new internships had me dealing with sexually and physically abused children and teenagers. (My previous internships were much easier, dealing mostly with love and relationship issues). For the next few years all of the people I helped to counsel had been traumatized by people they knew and loved. Obviously, I had been thrown into a profession that would force me on a daily basis to focus on healing in others the very same issues I now had to simultaneously heal within myself.
What did I learn during this time and even much later in my life about how to heal? First of all, it is important to understand that no one heals by becoming judgmental and polarized. Though it is a natural tendency to look for someone to blame (yourself or someone else) it really doesn’t help. Healing does not happen when we are busy finding fault. In my case finding fault was easy to do. I mean the facts were clear. My father had broke his promise to me. It had serious consequences for my life. Clearly, he was to blame for the circumstances I was in right now. The problem with this approach is that finding someone to blame keeps the trauma alive within you while you endlessly obsess over what was done to you and how you were hurt. You can also keep the trauma alive by going into revenge mode, endlessly obsessing and plotting over how you can make the one who hurt you, hurt in return. All this method does is keep you and everyone around in constant trauma depriving you from the happiness and healing that everyone deserves.
Healing also doesn’t happen by pretending nothing has gone wrong. There are a number of ways you can sweep your pain under the rug. For example, you can cover it up with drug, sex, alcohol, and shopping addictions. Or, you can try to deny it and pretend “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” You can even try what is known as a spiritual bypass, where you pretend you have healed it through some spiritual quick fix, when the truth is you are really just trying to use superficial “spiritual” methods to avoid dealing with your pain and hurt. All these methods are like fixing up various aspects of a home, while refusing to acknowledge the termites that are eating up the walls. Though things may look good on the outside, they are crumbling on the inside, meaning eventually, despite your best efforts everything still falls apart.
If these methods won’t work, what methods will? A lot of my life and spiritual practice after my own traumas became dedicated to figuring this out. To start, the number one step you can do to heal is to have compassion for yourself. Acknowledge the hurt. Don’t cover it up. If you are angry, feel the anger. If you were victimized, admit to it. If you are depressed and in pain, come to terms with it. I often say a broken heart is like a broken bone, it takes time to mend. One of the best ways to start to mend, is learning how to sit with the pain carefully through meditation. “Resist not evil,” Jesus was known to say. That means don’t avoid the pain; Jesus is saying go into it. Befriend it. Get to know it. Though body work, mindfulness meditation, or other approaches, become intimate with your pain and what it is trying to reveal to you.
If you can’t go into the pain on your own, then find others who are willing to sit with your pain and help you heal it in a way where you end up feeling valued and loved. Also, stay away from people who try to tell you to “get over it” or “stop being the victim.” Too often what these people are really saying is, “Your pain and trauma makes me feel uncomfortable. Hurry up and deal with it so I don’t have to hear about it.” Worse, they are saying, “Wow, look at me and how much better I am than you because I can ignore your pain and feel superior.” All these approaches do is cause you to stuff your pain, allowing the “termites” to keep eating away the insides of you.
Remember people are victimized. They are hurt, abused, abandoned, betrayed, violated — even worse. When people minimize your pain it is as if they are forcing a drowning person back into the water, instead of giving them a life raft and a boat so they can stop drowning and recover. Yes, at times people who are traumatized loop. They repeat the trauma over and over again. Skilled counselors who know how to work with trauma understand this. They can distinguish between destructive looping (which is like digging yourself into a deeper and deeper hole), and constructive looping (which helps you gain insight into the pain so you can release it and learn the lessons you need to). Skilled counselors also show you how to flood yourself with compassion and rebuild your sense of self and hope in life. Please, find a good trauma counselor and stay away from those who don’t really know how to do this kind of work.
Second, after you have compassion for yourself it is very important to find that same compassion for the person who hurt you. At one point in my life I spent time researching the lives of serial killers and people who were violent and abusive. I was looking to discover how they moved onto the destructive paths they did. And, I was attempting to generate compassion towards them, even if I was deeply disturbed by them. When you generate compassion for someone it is important to understand that they still have karmic consequences for their actions. You also may need to set up and maintain boundaries between yourself and the people who hurt you. Remember you don’t want to allow yourself to be re-wounded. Still, if you were given a choice would you really want the people who hurt you to suffer endlessly? Or, would it serve them better (and you), if they were freed from their own inner turmoil and pain? Then, they would not only be less likely to hurt others, once they were freed from their own inner turmoil, they would even be more likely to move into regret, which could motivate them in return to focus on lifting the suffering of others, including the suffering they caused you.
Finally, I would like to go back to the beginning of this sharing regarding the different ways that people see the world. After generating compassion for myself and also for my father, I was able to more clearly see what was going on that caused the rift between us. To say it another way, I was able to get out of my own way of viewing things and more into how things looked through my father’s eyes. Of course it was easy to look through my eyes. I was after all just a daughter doing her best to create a career for herself. I was doing it with a lot of courage. And, despite horrendous odds, I persevered and even made it through.
But, how did it look through my father’s eyes? That was harder for me to do because for a long time my vision was too clouded by anger and hurt. When I was able to let my own anger and pain go, and see how my father must have seen things, I was very humbled. For the first time, I saw a man who loved me. I felt how it must have been for my father to watch his daughter grow up, and then disappear one night on a fateful trip from Michigan to California, without him even having a chance to say goodbye to her because he was on a vacation at a time when landlines were the only way to contact people. I saw a man who loved his daughter so much he wanted to keep her close to him. When I left for California, I now felt how deeply hurt and discouraged he became. Being a man, I could see how difficult it was for him to talk to me and share his pain. Instead, he turned his hurt into anger and felt the only way he could get his daughter back was resorting to desperate acts of trying to control her. Obviously, this didn’t work.
Seeing through my father’s eyes finally caused me to see through my own eyes differently. Looking at myself, I now saw a daughter who didn’t understand how much her father loved her. I could see how I didn’t know how to talk to my father. In fact, I didn’t even occur to me to try to help him understand how he could still be there in my life, even if we had a lot of distance between us. Worse, I saw how if I could have talked to my dad in a calm and reasonable way, he might have responded completely different than he had.
I could have said something like, “Dad, I see how much you want me back in Michigan with you. I see how afraid you are for me. But, I really am OK. My life is pretty good now. I live in a nice condo with a kind woman. With my new internships I will make pretty good money, even though it doesn’t seem like much to you. I know how to live simply, and what I will be making is enough to pay all my bills and even give me extra. Besides I will make even more money once I finish my hours and get my MFCC license. You see, being an MFCC is like being a doctor. You don’t make much money until you pass your boards. Just graduating from college isn’t good enough. I still have a ways to go. Please remember, I am almost there, Dad. I need one more year at the most. Then I will pass my exams and my income will go up substantially. I know you don’t want to harm me and sabotage my chances for success. I know you want me near you, but I need to keep going. Won’t you help me reach my last hurdle to success? I know you love me, and don’t really want to harm me. That is why I need you to honor your promise and let me go back to California. Finally, I also see that you want me to stay in touch with you more, that you miss me a great deal and this has been hard on you. Is there a way I can stay in better touch with you? Please, let’s work something out. I love you.”
Regretfully, I didn’t have the skills at 24 years of age to talk to my father in this way. And, he didn’t have the skills to talk to me in a more constructive way either. How sad, because so much opportunity for love was lost between us for so long. Instead, both of us fell into the pattern of seeing things through our eyes alone. Especially in the world we live in, this pattern to only understand our own point of view has reached a crisis point. Fortunately, I was able before my father passed away, to have not only healed my own wound, but to have reached a point where I wanted to heal his as well. For many years I prayed that things would heal before it was too late so we could finally experience the love between us. My greatest joy is that we finally did. My father did his best. I did my best. Though we both learned a little too late how to stop seeing things from only our own point of view, at least we accomplished this somewhat at the end.
In conclusion, here is what I can say to you. What are you waiting for? It took me many years to learn the lessons I just shared above. Now that you have read this part of my journey, I hope it will not take you nearly as long. Start now to face your traumas. Reach out to get the help you need to heal them. As much as possible generate compassion towards yourself and those who harmed you. Pray for them to wake up so they can do their own inner healing as well. Most of all, stop seeing things through only your eyes. When you are ready, see through their eyes too. It may be hard at first, but in the end, if you can do it, the journey will be well worth it. And, you will be whole again once more.