In life we have those sayings that come down to us, “A stitch in time saves nine”, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!” etc. My wonderful mother had a whole series of china egg cups with sayings printed on them that she purchased in America in the 1950’s.
But some of these sayings are suspect at best. One that really gets to me is, “Time heals!” My life experience would suggest that is a load of rubbish. Time does not necessarily heal. Sure, over time the memories may fade of the pain, sure the feelings may not be as raw, sure our lives may have a lot of other positive energy and circumstance in them now – but time of itself, does not heal.
As a boy of fourteen I was at a boarding school in Charters Towers. I was studying French. My teacher happened to be the Headmaster and generally speaking he was a kind and fatherly figure. But one day, he called upon young Price to stand and read a passage of French from the text book. Now for those who do not know me personally, I stutter. I stutter the English language so you can imagine my attempting to read French. I stood up and began to read, stuttering badly as I was quite nervous. The boys around me began to giggle as Year 9 boys tend to do when in a situation like this. I stuttered more, they giggled more. I attempted to stop but the teacher said, “Keep going!” My eyes began to fill with tears, I was deeply embarrassed – feeling shame wrap its arms around me. I now could not even see the page let alone read the French. So, for the first and only time in my life, I threw down the text book and ran from the room. At the next break, I hid in the library too embarrassed to face my peers.
The following day we had French again. I was sitting there with my head down. The teacher came in. “Mr Price, come out here!” I stood and went to the front of the classroom. The teacher pulled out his leather strap from his bag and in front of the class strapped me six times saying, “Never run out of my class again!”
Thirty years later I thought I had long since moved on from that shame and humiliation. I was seeing a psychologist about a different issue and she asked me to recall incidents from my childhood. Suddenly I found myself recalling what happened to this little 14 year old stuttering boy. Suddenly the tears flowed again, my body shook. I felt that shame and humiliation as if he had been yesterday. Time had not healed.
Luckily for me, the wonderful psychologist got me to talk about the incident and she beautifully reframed it with me. We spoke about it at length and she gave me language and frames to make sense of it and empower and free myself. I have never felt that shame and humiliation since and even recalling this incident now, I feel nothing but a sadness for the school culture at that time. I am healed.
I have many friends in my life who have had similar painful situations and many much worse. A dear friend of mine was separated from his children for many years. Another who was still deeply in love with his wife discovered she was having an affair and she left him taking the children with her. Another, a wonderful gay man never felt accepted by his deeply religious parents for who he is. We all have similar stories and people in our lives.
Yes, as the REM song says, “Everybody hurts!” Pain, loss, rejection, confusion, loss of confidence, betrayal and more are part of life – everybody’s life. Pain, the shadow, is part of the human condition.
But we must not wallow in our pain wrapping ourselves tight with layers of self-pity. I have met too many people, myself included, who have clung to pain, clung to revenge, clung to blame, clung to a victim mentality all the while hoping that this clinging will some how ‘hurt’ the perpetrator or justify your own heavy and hurting heart. Our pain can become almost like a security blanket. Our ego goes into overdrive, “It is their fault!” “It was unfair!” “They are mean miserable bathtubs and they have made my life hell!”
Sure the perpetrator is wrong. The teacher who shamed a small, skinny, hairy, stammering boy in Charters Towers was wrong. There was an enormous power imbalance. I was powerless. I certainly was the victim of an unjust situation.
But for freedom’s wings to grow, strengthen and then reach for the sky and air currents that they were always meant to ride we must do some simple things.
- Face the pain or hurt, anger or fear. Face it simply finding a nobility and small inner strength.
- Look the pain, hurt, anger or fear in the eye. Name it for what it is. “It is not me!” “It does not define me!” “I am infinitely more than what looks back at me!”
- Seek help if you need to, or confide in a friend, or make the page of a journal your friend as you begin to, one little bit at a time, untangle the fishing line mess of emotion linked to the original incident or narrative.
- With their help, step back, be objective, reframe what happened for the beautiful person you are now (and were then too). In this, resist the temptation to underplay your pain or hurt. Name it with honesty and courage.
- Then, take small, practical steps to claim your true self, your true narrative, your innate dignity beyond words. Claim your freedom beyond what happened. Claim your freedom with eyes and heart looking confidently but humbly into the future – your future.
- In doing all of this, that pain, hurt, anger or fear become a manure from which that most beautiful of forests will grow – your freed and dignified you!
By ‘reframe’ I simply mean this. For some thirty years my narrative around what happened to me was that I was a burden. I was broken. I was shame. My stammering defined me. I was a weak, skinny, stammering broken mess, I was not worthy. That frame kept the pain and shame alive deep within me. My reframing led me to step back and truly and honestly see. I am a good person. I was a young boy of integrity that morning in Charters Towers too. It was NOT my fault. I was being true to myself. I was placed into a totally unfair situation with little to no power of it. I was a victim of someone else’s not coping with life. I have strength within me. I am a loving man who often reaches out in compassion to others. Some of my depth of compassion flows from what happened to me as a child and teenager and I have had the courage to nurture those seeds when many may have not.
The teacher who abused me those many years ago was not coping personally as Headmaster of that school. He was out of his depth. He was ‘lashing out’ from his own pain and perception of failure. None of this excuses him, it simply understands him. In this incident, Damien did nothing wrong other than fly from injustice perpetrated upon him. The teacher’s inability to cope placed a burden upon my shoulders that I carried for far too long. But thankfully, life always and I mean ALWAYS sends us healers and friends, angels and brothers and sisters who will walk beside us, allow us to lean in and help us find wings to fly.
No friends, time does not of itself heal – but it does lead us to paths and journeys to an ever deeper and truer self, often born from our pain, if we but find the courage to face and step out, one small step at a time.