Over the month of September, I’ve been exploring what healing means to me, starting with dismantling the idea that healing is a destination. From there, I explored healing as a multi-faceted phenomenon and as a progressive cycle of Underworld journeying.
For this final week on reclaiming healing, I’ve been thinking about how healing is a relationship to myself as well as to my trauma and wounds. It’s about being able to meet myself wherever I am.
Remember in the story of Inanna how the only function of the creatures sent to rescue Inanna from the Underworld was to wail alongside Ereshkigal, empathize with her until she had spent her grief. Then she released Inanna and the two were able to integrate some of the aspects of the other—to heal the split between the Goddess of Heaven and her shadow side.
Pulling away from myself in moments of pain and trying to make the memories or feelings go away only makes things worse. That’s when I get an angry Underworld goddess who tortures me.
Rather, leaning into myself in those moments, greeting the sadness and memories, listening to them the way I might listen to a friend or child—there’s magic in that because relationships are magic.
Relationships are healing.
Especially when trauma has been caused by a relationship, I think the view of healing as relational is particularly important. Trauma needs safety in order to heal, and the more safe I can make my internal world, the more my trauma will be able to tell its story and feel heard and held.
With healing as an internal relationship, the ebbs and flows of the various emotions and memories are an invitation to draw closer to myself, to love myself more, to listen deeper, and to be present.
Suddenly whatever is happening in that moment is exactly what needs to happen. Whether I’m feeling strong and capable in the face of something which used to terrify me or whether I’m cradling myself as I cry after a nightmare, I’m healing in that moment because I’m being with myself.
At the same time, I don’t expect myself to be the sole relational support for my healing. Other healing relationships are important too, including my therapist, my partner, my friends.
The trick is that they can provide an external safety and relationship to support my healing, but I have to, in turn, have that internal relationship in order to actually heal.
Often with relational trauma, that internal relationship has to be built. It starts off as an acquaintance and grows as the relationship is deemed tolerable.
My therapist had to create a holding environment where I could briefly meet with my shadow parts before pushing them away again (going back to the progressive cycle!). I couldn’t tolerate extended contact with myself. That had to be developed up along with my self-compassion, tolerance for pain, and ability to stabilize and anchor to my core.
But the more I got to know myself, the more I came to understand that I was strong enough to be with the intensity of my emotions. I was strong enough to hear the stories of the parts I had tried to bury.
Today, I can invite my difficult parts and emotions to come in, sit down, and drink tea with me.
Not always, of course. I still have moments of trying to push away or “move on” to the point of erasing them. That’s where I know I need more healing–when I don’t feel capable of meeting myself and, as Rumi describes, welcoming all of my emotions as my guides in healing.