This morning, whenever I stop writing, I’m in a place of emptiness. I feel like I have absolutely nothing to write about. I suppose I could see it as the creative void instead of being scared of it. It’s basically the same as meditation. Why am I scared of it? It makes me feel insubstantial, like I’m not really here. I think Krista Tippett says something about that, maybe even in the conversation with Bessel van der Kolk.
Van der Kolk “The big issue for traumatized people is they don’t own themselves any more. Any loud sound, anybody insulting them, hurting them, saying bad things, can hijack them away from themselves. And so what we have learned is that what makes you resilient to trauma is to own yourself fully.” p88
What I see is that what brings me down, what “hijacks” me, is not just someone insulting me. I was thinking that I was getting there (wherever “there” is) when I saw that what I was sad about were things happening out there, and it wasn’t about me the way depression is. But now I’m seeing that I got hijacked by “Hillbilly Elegy.” I am seeing that, as in my childhood, I still feel that it’s my fault when anything bad happens, and it’s me alone who has to take care of it. I can see that the hillbilly book hijacked me because it looks like a difficulty, a culturally engrained group of dysfunctional behaviors, that no “program” can help, and I don’t see anybody who is helping, and that makes me feel like I’m supposed to do it, but I can’t, and so I feel bummed out, helpless, and discouraged.
Brené Brown said something like “remember a time when you thought the obstacles were bigger than you could succeed against, but you managed to.” Going back to the quote I see that it was “coming out from underneath things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath.” p251 I’m interested to see that I seem to see evidence for me being some kind of weakling, unable to beat the odds, instead of seeing that she was talking about surviving things you didn’t think you could survive. Instead of seeing that I actually survived, I see myself getting defeated and running away over and over again. Actually I made most of those “running away” decisions — like going to Europe the year after I graduated from college, going out to California a couple of years later, coming back East — those decisions were made out of desperation. I wanted to find someone who would love me, and I wanted to find some way I could make a livable life for myself.
What I’m remembering, but can’t find the original, had something to do with identifying your strengths that you were able to get through something you didn’t feel you could get through. I couldn’t think of a time when I had done that. What I remember is what Kazantzakis said “Did I win or lose? All I know is I am full of wounds and still on my feet.” I do know that the many times I collapsed and “gave up,” something in me, usually a day later, got me up on my feet again. I call her the tough little drip that just wouldn’t quit.
I remember when I used to see how I got through my life as though I were walking through a blizzard. Somewhere somehow I knew that I couldn’t lay down, though I had forgotten why. I said to myself “Now put your right foot forward, now put your left foot forward…” I remember watering the plants when I was terrified out of my wits by a bad reaction to Paxil, and holding on to the stream of water because I had to hold on to something and that’s all there was.
What Brené Brown actually said was “Think of the last time you did something that you thought was really brave.” p248 I do things I don’t think are brave, just make myself do them, and then other people tell me I’m brave. People tell me that those decisions I made out of desperation were courageous.
Brené Brown: “C.R. Snyder’s work … shows that hope is a function of struggle. … hope is not an emotion. Hope is a cognitive, behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity, when we have relationships that are trustworthy, when people have faith in our ability to get out of a jam.” p250
I’m interested that she doesn’t say you have the faith in your ability, it’s when others can see it. Your belief in yourself is relational.
As I write this, I see that when I saw myself as defeated over and over again, the truth was that I was up against PTSD, a truly huge and undefeatable monster. To be still on my feet is an achievement.
I remember a quote from Rilke that David Whyte reads:
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.
All the quotes, except the one from Kazantzakis (which I’ve memorized), are from Krista Tippett’s new book: Becoming Wise, an inquiry into the mystery and art of living.