A week or so after completing the first Dark Heart webinar I met a person who, it gradually became clear, had come into my life to help me with some “healing wanting to happen.” Shortly after we met I suggested, “I’m guessing we have ‘dad stuff’ to do together.”
Interestingly, this person was a woman. Her response was, “What makes you think that? Is it because I’ve talked a lot about my mom and mentioned nothing about my dad?” My response to her was, “No. It’s because when I look at your face what I see are my dad’s eyes.” Nevertheless, I really did think it was her dad stuff and her stuff only that was our work, since she was a woman and I have more than 30 years of working with women projecting dad – good and bad – onto me.
But her eyes should have served as a serious wake-up call for me. Sure enough, several months later, after developing a very warm, social, heartful connection – bam! – Delaney reenacted and triggered the very same core wound that my dad perpetrated more than 60 years earlier when I was four years old – leaving me wide open, innocent and abandoned on the corner of Salem and Carlisle Streets in New Haven, Connecticut. He remained AWOL for the next 20 years.
It’s All for the Best
I’d long ago come to an intellectual understanding that my dad abandoning the family was the best possible thing a WW II veteran with severe PTSD could have managed. Had he stayed, his inability to control his violent temper – he’d already begun beating my mother – would have eventually ended up getting turned on me. I would have most likely taken that violence and transferred it out into the world and perpetrated it upon others, operating in ways that would have almost certainly ended up with me in prison. As it was, I barely escaped several close encounters with the “justice” system.
But that authentic intellectual realization was only a piece of the healing puzzle. Delaney showed up late offering some of the emotional pieces (I tend to face emotional pain very reluctantly, if at all).
It took about two months in the wake of Delaney’s precipitous flight for me to emotionally work through the grief, initially catalyzed by her, but soon threading to and through many connections involving significant people from my past. And of course, at the bottom of that grief tenderloin lay dear old dad.
Grief Will Out
Finishing unfinished business very often involves grieving ungrieved losses. Ungrieved losses often involve traumatic experiences. Inhibitor neurons shut down excitatory neurons recording traumatic experiences and encapsulate them in the neural network, holding hostage much valuable neural real estate – real estate that could be put to much better use by the immune system, for example, or in strengthening impulse control circuitry, or by improving many aspects of Executive Function. Early unresolved trauma, grief and loss seems to have a high correlation with the patients who show up years later in the Kaiser Permanente ACE study.
Having worked in grief for more than a quarter of a century, it has become crystal clear to me that “grief will out.” That is, provided the slightest opening, opportunity or invitation, the healing impulse will sneak a neuron out of a “dissociation capsule” holding a traumatic memory. That neural fiber, freed from inhibitors, will then begin firing as it begins making connections sufficient to waken conscious awareness. And once one trauma-holding neuron gets out, it will often signal and connect with a slew of others – neurons that originally fired together become wired together, holding memories of ungrieved loss piled upon ungrieved loss. (Interestingly, such memories will often surface in darkened movie theatres – an American emporium to unexpressed grief. But we are never crying for the characters on the screen. The tears are always for the losses in our own lives).
So, it isn’t for other people that we do our best to take on the work of finishing unfinished business, or that Step Number 8 in Twelve Step Programs encourages us to identify people we have harmed and begin making amends. It’s for ourselves; for doing the often painful work required to reclaim valuable lost neural resources. We need to reclaim those resources to help us develop strength of heart. Without strength of heart, it becomes very difficult to consistently offer a “Yes” answer to the Big Brain Question. And sometimes we may have to absolutely hit bottom before we become ready to take on such work. From the bottom, even the most painful explorations can begin to look attractive, a place that many of us have had to start from on the long road back to the original wisdom we were born with.
P.S. Jeanne and I are ourselves a bit more tempered after the last offering and are once again ready to reprise the online Embracing Mother’s Dark Heart webinar for a limited number of people.
Here’s Carl Jung speaking from the past about our offering: “If you imagine (a mother) who is brave enough to withdraw all her projections, then you get (a woman) who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a … woman lives in the ‘House of the Gathering.’ (She) knows that whatever is wrong in the world lives in herself, and if (she) only learns to deal with (her) own shadow (she) has done something very real for the world.”
Click here to find out more information about the upcoming offering.