Recovering from Our Wounds

Migrant Family
A family of migrant workers fleeing from the drought in Oklahoma camp by the roadside in Blythe, California. (Photo by Dorothea Lange/Getty Images)

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

This quote is attributed to 13th century scholar and poet Rumi. If you wish to understand it in secular terms, change Light to light. Who cares? The point, I think, is if we understand this quote, we understand what it means to be wounded.

One of the first wounds I developed as an adult occurred when I was 18 and came out. Years of internalized conflict had morphed into battle armor against everyone and everything I loved. It wasn’t just that my mother lacked the understanding. I lacked understanding of her misunderstanding. I began seeing a therapist to repair my relationship with her, and with myself.

A few years later, I was gearing up for my move for graduate school. New city, new school, and my first run-in with New York real estate. After noticing a few bumps developing on my scalp, a doctor told me I gave myself shingles due to a lowered immune system from stress. I was given anti-anxiety medication.

A few years after that, I graduated. Also, a six-year relationship imploded as my ex was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (although it was not the reason we broke up). I got a new job working as an online reporter. In my first month at that job, I traveled back to Beijing to visit family, and to bury my grandfather’s ashes. When I returned, my ex and I started looking for separate housing.

The next year, the pressure of juggling fulltime employment and self-producing my first play production took its toll. I had my first encounter with what we would call a nervous breakdown. Couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t stop crying. I wound up calling my mom. I distinctly felt the therapy I started years ago coming back full circle, when she talked to me until I could get up and out of bed.

I describe my life as fortunate, privileged, gratifying, and wholehearted. But I am not an exception. I’ve received a few wounds so far. They are, by no small amount, reflected in my work as a writer. I acquired skills and perceptive lenses that may not have arrived otherwise. My fortune is translated into key factors that every person deserves to have as they examine the wound and prepare for the light.

  1. Dr. Brene Brown, who studies shame and vulnerability, had this to about having a strong support system.

“I’m looking for the person who loves me not despite my vulnerability and imperfection, but because of them. I’m looking for folks who are going to show up and wade through the deep with me, and I think it’s a myth that you should have more than one or two of those.”

I have eternal gratitude for the people in my life. The hardest process, for me, is maintaining my support system the same way we value physical health and financial wealth. The friends of convenience and circumstance, the people who only connect with us when they are in need, and those who are in so much pain and disillusionment, they cause harm to others and to themselves. Sound familiar?

Relationships are circular and reflexive. If someone is not celebrating your sense of love and belonging, bless them, forgive them, and let your time together run its course. Sometimes we have to let go of our dream of a particular relationship in order to find it in reality, just around the corner.

  1. Forgiveness has been written about so much, I feel ill-prepared to give any proper sampling of it. It’s also a highly individualized obstacle course.

What I can say from personal experience, is that self-care improves as we make progress in this arena. What I can also say about it is forgiving others goes hand-in-hand with forgiving our own temporary shortcomings. The faults we see in others are nothing more than reflections of our own self-criticism.

When we see the best in others, we elevate the room. Whether they are open to your blessings or not has no bearing your conviction.

  1. Physician and author James Maskalyk said during this year’s Wanderlust, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes practiced.”

After I moved out of the apartment I shared with my ex, I became hyperaware of the people who helped me transition to the next chapter of my life. It’s a small blessing that can come from losing your old, misguided support system. I began practicing gratitude on a daily basis, focusing on people and circumstances I’ve taken for granted.

A friend of mine had an open room in Sunset Park, one that was big enough for a yoga mat. Back then, I struggled with too much body image issues to take classes. I hated running and didn’t want to pay for a gym membership. I started practicing through YouTube videos and iPhone apps.

And yes, I did write more. I do think there is a correlation between productivity and practice. Once I diffused and unlearned some of the difficult processes programmed by my past, I had more energy to focus on writing (as if that wasn’t hard enough).

In the coming-of-age HBO show “Girls,” there’s a scene where an argument between two best friends dissolves into a one-sentence jousting match.

“You’re the wound!”

You’re the wound!”

“No, you’re the wound!”

Imagine if those two girls had taken a different tack.

“You’re the light!”

You’re the lights!”

“No, you’re the light!”

I’m still hoping the series ends this way.

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