Life Lessons from facing our trauma

I have been anxiously (of course) waiting to post something about my past few days at the Gabor Mate conference I attended in Vancouver.  It was a vulnerable, moving experience that will help me move forward in my process to become whole.  My mind swims with thoughts, connections and questions.  Sometimes I tire of this swimmingness and feel like I might drown in the questions, but none-the-less I am working to sift through it all and find my answers, my truth, my authenticity I long ago abandoned in a desperate move to preserve the attachment I could feel slipping through my inner child’s fingers.

One nagging wonder I have pondered as I walk around the fog of uncertainty in my brain is, in its most basic form, “Now WTF do I do?!” or the more teacher-y question of “What’s next?”

I thought I would not pussy-foot about and go right to the source, so I have sent Dr. Mate a more eloquent version of this inquiry and thought it was a good place to “show and tell” with you, my readers, some of my take away from his Compassionate Inquiry philosophy.  The email is below, in italics are some of my anecdotes that were not included in the original email but for your benefit (or confusion):

Dear Gabor,
I just returned from your Compassionate Inquiry workshop in Vancouver. Your ability to hold everyone emotionally in a room of over 400 people astounds me. Even more so because I am the teacher who asked you (on Day 1) about “Compassion Fatigue”. Your response was helpful for my teacher-brain.  To paraphrase your words, “There is no such thing as compassion fatigue…we can give an endless outflow of compassion to others but the important piece is, in order to sustain this, we must have an inflow of compassion to ourselves!” (He also noted some scientific studies about rats and compassion – but when I realized he was speaking directly to me and making eye-contact I completely gapped out in a state of awe and stage fright, as 450 people and 3 video cameras rolled on) Ah-ha! Right! There’s that self-care/self-love thing again…thank-you for reframing it for me and reminding me that what I am doing for myself is what is needed right now.

However, after asking you my question from a teaching perspective (and an attempt at self-preservation to not entirely expose myself in front of hundreds of strangers) (Gabor invited, but never pressured, several audience members who asked personal questions to join him on stage so he could go deeper with them, often digging into childhood events that had framed their perception of the world they live in) I am still left wondering on a more personal level. As a child, many of my emotional (and some physical) needs were unmet by my family of origin, which brought me to your work. Yes I am a teacher, but after 11 years of dedication and sacrifice (of self and health) I am currently in my 4th month of a medical leave for migraines, chronic pain and anxiety (and facing what I now recognize as vices/addictions/adaptations).   (Gabor likens addictions and other behaviours to what he calls “adaptations” which are an attempt to deal with a problem.”  Yes, I am showing myself compassion to take the time I wasn’t given as a child to now meet my needs and find my truth. But I am at an impasse about something.

Through the support of my Counsellor and IBP (Integrative Body Psychotherapy), I found the courage to share, with a (family member), what I had recently connected with my chronic neck pain and a traumatic childhood event. I was able to tell (this person) that I believed my chronic neck pain was connected to an incident when I was about 8 years old. (This person) remembers that event very well – as we had discussed it in another context just before my son was born (7 years ago). I explained I believed the pain stemmed from (this person’s) enraged reaction of grabbing me by my hair with both hands and shaking me violently and screaming at me. (This person) did not let me go when I pleaded. And only did so when I finally peed my pants all over the carpet – which also angered (them), but made (them) stop. This event made me feel violated, afraid, weak and unloved. I know there were other incidents like this one. but I have difficulty recalling them. Realizing I’ve repressed them with yet another endeavour to self-preserve. I thought my body would “stop saying no” with the chronic pain and migraines once I received (this person’s) very vulnerable and authentic response to my realization, but it has not.  So I wonder, how do I proceed?

I am still feeling the neck pain, some days, more than ever – it has actually intensified. The migraines still come but not as often. And the anxiety is like an extra limb that has become part of my body – always there to some degree – sometimes its calm and still, other times it’s waving and yelling “what about me?!” (I know, I know! Superego how ’bout you shut the front door!”) What I mean by proceed, is what do I do now? Now that I have faced a truth and shared it – the story has been validated by the very people who created it (myself and (this person). How do I continue to heal, especially when I feel more physical pain than before?

With much gratitude,

So there it is, I still have work to do.  I have some new layers to work with and apply to my process.  I was never under the guise (or maybe I was a little bit – what do you expect from a person who still believes a tiny bit in unicorns – I do sometimes hope for a magic bullet quick fix) that I would be healed from just one truthful encounter and I know full well the path to healing is complex in its fragile onion-like membranes and yet simple when you apply presence.  I do know I need to stay the course, be present in each step I take, whether it is forward or (more frustratingly) backward.  I only hope I can continue to be authentic to myself and meet my own needs.  Dr Mate may never be able to respond to my query, as the sheer volume of correspondence he receives, may not allow him to do so.  He may well have already given me the answer and I just have not made the connection yet, as I synthesize all the information still.  For now, I will operate based on the biggest takeaway I could carry, which was written in my own big block letters at the top of my notebook within the first hour of the 2-day workshop ” THE BIGGEST GIFT I CAN GIVE MY SON IS MY OWN HEALTH.”


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