My memoir, The River of Forgetting, describes how I recovered memories of abuse and then struggled to believe myself and to reconcile my vision of a loving family with the ugly things my father did and my mother did not prevent. At the end of the book, I muse on the question of healing:
What is healing? Have I found it? It is the absence of negative symptoms—the flashbacks gone, the sense of wrongness about myself replaced by a general sense of rightness. I like where I am and who I am. The closed and fearful parts of me take less space.
I know where my weak spots are. I’ll always be susceptible to the fear that people won’t hear me or won’t believe me. I notice when that feeling comes up and I can talk to Little Jane to let her know I hear the feeling and it’s just a feeling. It may or may not be true that the particular person won’t listen. These core issues are so familiar, they are almost like wild animals that have been tamed. Sometimes I can chuckle at them.
But healing is a lot more than the absence of bad feelings and patterns. It is the positive presence in my life of the joy and solidity that was my birthright. I think I am fortunate to be a person of natural enthusiasm and liveliness. Now these qualities are manifest in my many creative activities, my garden, and walks in nature.
Healing is a sense of connection and wholeness. It’s not every moment that I feel connected to the world of people, trees, and clouds. Even the best mystics seem to get there only part of the time. Rumi, the Persian poet, is eloquent on the absence as well as the presence of “the Beloved”—his muse, love, and God. But I know it is possible and I am going in that direction.
Healing is feeling my story as beautiful despite all the pain and struggle.
Healing is watching my son grow into a man so like my father and so different. It is being open with him and letting him know how his actions affect me. It is being glad to see that he has learned to contain his anger and not poison others with it. There’s something inexpressibly healing about having a man in my family line know the truth and support me in my journey, as my son has done.
Healing is choosing friends who celebrate my being. I have said goodbye to several friends who did not seem able to hear me or who took up all the space with their crises. I have moved away from others who are nice but not able to swim in the depths. Many of my same friends are still with me and I’ve added a few close ones from the worlds of writing and dance.
Healing is a continual unfolding. It is not all done. Over time I feel more of my parents’ love inside of me, while not denying their faults. I continue to gain insights into my life and family.
In the end, healing wasn’t so much about finding clear memories as about believing and trusting myself. It wasn’t so much about reconciling with my parents for what they did, but more about reconciling with the many inner selves who lived to tell the tale.
Reader, what do you think healing is?