Today I gird my loins (ironic, huh?) through step three of the suggestions this article has for addressing the negative:
3. Next, identify the specific emotions that arise in you as a result of said thoughts. What do they feel like? Is there tightening in your chest? Is your stomach turning or is there a throbbing sensation in your head? Again, any emotion that causes dis-ease is applicable.
Well, this is going to be hard.
I will start with the easier one for me to discuss, the shame. The shame is like a flush, it is deep and internal. I feel it come from my heart, and it rises into my throat. It weighs heavily in my brain. I met, one night, with a friend who is my mentor, she was trying to find women in the Mormon community that would be a word of mouth conduit for encouraging immunization, specifically the HPV vaccine. I invited a Mormon friend to join us. My friend shared that she had had cervical cancer, and explained that her marriage was to a much older man. The three Mormon women at the table with us, one of whom was a physician, all nodded their heads in agreement… as if to say, of course, he was an older man and obviously slept with someone else. I was dumbstruck that they all went that route, especially the physician. I was so perturbed by that, that I said that I am a survivor too. They all looked a bit perplexed… they were presented with a situation that they could not discount by blaming the older husband… there was a strange silence. That silence was so full of judgement. I can excuse all of them but the physician, she really should have known better (even if she was a Mormon). I remember watching them around the table, after I shared my cervical cancer status, they all cast their eyes away… I was tempted to mention that I was a DES daughter to help them ease whatever it was they were thinking… but I felt that women who were in that position needed to manage their own thoughts about the disease. I felt shame in that instant, and it was coupled with being judged.
On, being judged. In the early 90’s I worked with my mother on a breast and cervical cancer program in our community. It was a nursing model and one that used lay health educators. I recall my mother telling me that women who had cervical cancer either had husbands that were philanderers or who were themselves “loose”. I feel like those who understand that cervical cancer is transmitted this way judge me. I want to start screaming my sexual history (which is really no ones business other than mine). The judgement plays itself out similar to the shame, but it filled with some indignation. I need to want to explain but with a sense that I really should not have to. I feel this in my stomach, I get a horrid stomach ache when I feel judged.
There is a related story in which I would say I felt grace. Six months after my surgery I helped host an event to educate people about HPV and the HPV vaccine. One of the other community partners invited a male survivor. He had an HPV related cancer in his throat. During the social hour before the actual event, I talked to him. He told me he was a survivor, and I looked at him and said “So, am I”. We stared in each others eyes. It was as if we had found a kindred spirit. There was a brief moment of silence. And he then whispered at me, “So, you understand”. I felt grace in that moment. I was spiritually lifted in a way I hadn’t’ been for the 10 months prior. I am so grateful I had that moment.
In terms of the betrayal. I think the hardest think one has to go through might be learning how fallible ones parents are. The anger I feel at my mom and my aunt is fierce and fiery. When I think about how many times my mother felt that she needed to tell me that I needed to be more grateful to my aunt, to understand that she is awful about being nurturing that for her it was a tremendous success. I feel a heat start in my chest. I feel angry that my mother failed to see that I had recognized that, that my aunt felt that somehow she had gone above and beyond the group of friends and stranger that had organized dinners to be delivered to my home. Really, it was on par. I had thanked her as much as I had thanked them, the only thing being that I realized that taking a dinner to family you don’t really know was a generous act. The underlying thought is that if someone you do know is ill, you actually do, in fact, offer to help. After the burning fire of anger and sense of betrayal form in my chest, it moves to my jaw where I begin to clench my teeth as if I am trying to stop myself from yelling.
These usually all come together at the same time, starting with any one, will lead to the others. It feels like a vicious circle. I also feel like I need to get closure. Often when they all come together, I wish for a state of non-being. I do not mean in any way that I want to kill myself, but it is more like wishing that I were not sentient, that I were not here, that I had never been. I hate it when I get to this point, thankfully it is not all that frequent that I get that bad.
My mother has apologized to me (I did demand it), though I got the distinct impression she has no idea what for.
I was at a leadership retreat recently where we did an exercise in which we had to picture us as an 8 or 9 year old. We were to talk to her about how wonderful she was, because it is easier to do that than to tell ourselves. It is much easier and carries a much deeper felt reaction to do this exercise.
Blair, you are an amazingly little girl. You live boldly, you love boldly. You have only made human mistakes, and you should not be ashamed of anything that happens to you because of them. You have an amazingly wonderful gift of learning from your mistakes, quickly and deeply. I see you striving so hard to be a good person, that is a good thing, because it means you are.
You willed always be judged, it is an unfair circumstance that we live in a world where people love to cast judgement. So, remember that you don’t need to do that for them. Go to your tendency to look at yourself, learn from it deeply and honestly as you often do. Move on, don’t let that dampen your spirit. No matter what other may say or think, you are a nice person, you always will be.
People will betray you. It is sad. They will betray you in so many ways. They will leave you without rhyme or reason, they will use sacred confidences and toss them out without thought to any consequences other than their right to do so. They will hurt you physically and emotionally. Don’t let them take away your view that the world is still glorious, that mean-ness and cruelty are the exception not the rule. Don’t let them belittle that you believe there is more good in the world than things dark and sordid.