reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

Anything…when idolized and leveraged for the sake of control or avoidance…can spin out of control and become addictive and problematic. Even the behaviors and attributes we consider noble and good.”

Matthias Barker, LMHC

Our family is at a new stage of healing. There is a dumpster in the yard. A big one. It’s an eyesore, but this is what healing looks like. Healing isn’t linear, tidy, pretty, or picturesque. There is no Instagram filter that will make it look respectable. There is no pithy quotes, hashtags, or sound clip that makes it fun.

My exhusband has so many gifts. You could scarcely find someone more talented. However, as with many people who have creative genius, there comes a degree or two of madness. For the past three years I have scarcely looked in my garage, attic, basement, or barns. I literally did not have the emotional bandwidth to face the madness. (Do you monitor your emotional bandwidth? Do you notice that when you are operating at full capacity, that everything runs sluggishly?) Remnants of projects never finished, dreams that never got out of the clouds, plans without possibilities—all just shoved everywhere in ever nook and cranny.

Also, as with many people who grew up under communist regimes, who stood in breadlines, whose core memories are doing without basic necessities, there is a tendency to hang onto more than is needed, more than is healthy, a visible sign of the unresolved trauma and fear. What if someday we won’t be able to find xyz? Never mind that it could just be rotting in their own hands because they have not the need for it or the means of using it.

Add to the mad genius and the childhood trauma inflicted by communism, alcoholism. There you have a perfect storm for disordered living out of a disordered mind. (There is a show on Lifetime…)

But now is a time of healing. God has done so much healing in my heart over the past few years and particularly months—although arguably they have been some of the most painful months of my life. But despite everything there is a persistent gratitude in my heart. I think working from that place of gratitude is the only way I would be able to face all that needs to be faced in my home.

As my oldest son carried one thing after another out to the dumpster, he said to me, “This actually feels amazing. This feels so good to be letting all this stuff go.” It really does. This is what healing looks like.

The fruit of the hours you sit on a therapist’s couch are not seen there in the office.

The hundreds of Masses you offered are lived outside the chapel.

The Novena after Novena you prayed in desperation to have clarity, answers, a rescuer, are answered in strange ways.

It happens that one day you realize that the thing you have been avoiding, because you have been living in survival mode for decades, has to be faced. It will not resolve on its own. Although you have carried on because you have to, it is time to lighten the load.

Healing can look like renting that dumpster, having that yard sale, giving away, throwing away, letting go.

It means when the questions arrive that say, “What if?” you boldly look the question back in the face and say, “Yes, indeed. What if?”

What if all the fears come true? What if in unearthing all the hoarded stuff you have to face things you wish with all your heart were not reality? What if in getting rid of stuff you also cut ties with all the excuses holding you back from hard decisions? Healing looks like saying, “I am not going to use that trauma as a justification for continued dysfunction.” It is a rebellious act of faith to say, “I will no longer allow trauma to be my identity.”

There will always be relics of the trauma around—both in my heart and in my physical life. Little things that I wonder whether it is better to burn or save. But, there needn’t be souvenirs of the trauma. I think this is a profound distinction that I am working through everyday. The difference is this: a relic will impart grace, even if it triggers pangs of sadness or regret. It will be like the little blazes painted on trees on a trail to let you know how you can find your way back to grace. Relics are what we use to tell the story of how we were rescued. It’s like sitting down to Passover and recounting the bondage in Egypt. It’s part of the story. You have to tell it.

A souvenir of trauma is more like a cord that connects you to the trauma that you weave and strengthen every time you encounter it. It may trigger pangs of not just sadness (for sorrow is just a non-negotiable part of life), but shame and fear. A souvenir, you know, serves no practical purpose. It just exists to remind you of what you want to forget—that you are broken and that someone did that breaking and you cannot forgive them.

Each little thing I pick up that I consider throwing away or saving, I have to ask, “Is this a relic or a souvenir?” Mostly there are souvenirs and those are leaving—both my heart and my home. God is doing some Spring Cleaning. I am joyfully trashing the tchotchke of my soul. But there are some relics. Some things I will intentionally hold onto as a sign of grace—the way the early Church venerated the True Cross or Paul’s chains. Healing also looks like the courage to hold onto the good and to pray for those through whom the trauma came. It’s a daily Felix Culpa—gratitude not for the evil committed, but for the grace it produced.

But healing isn’t linear. Maybe I am only beginning. Like Grushenka in The Brothers Karamozov, “Perhaps my heart is only getting ready to forgive. I shall struggle with my heart…You see, I’ve grown to love my tears in these five years…Perhaps I only love my resentment…”

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