(As I was writing this post, I received news that one of the dear women who had been through the program at Destiny Haven women’s rehab where I volunteer and where we attend church passed away from a drug overdose yesterday. My heart goes out to her family, and the other girls currently doing the program at Destiny.)
Not much blogging going on lately. I have a note from home that says I’ve I’ve been working in a real job six hours a day six days a week for the last couple of weeks, and will be for the next few, whilst my boss takes leave in Scotland. Having less hours in the day to sit around and ruminate certainly does affect my blogging volume. If it weren’t for my friends who guest posted, and your loyalty, this blog may have lost momentum altogether, so thank you for sticking by me.
There is one other thing. A few weeks ago, I did an online course with pastor and writer Kathy Escobar and counsellor Phyllis Mathis called Walking Wounded, designed to help people hurt by the church to initiate a healing process where their hurt feelings and theological confusion are concerned. I went in pretty much thinking I would be observing and giving a review at the end. But this thing happened. It initiated a healing process where my hurt feelings and theological confusion were concerned. In fact, it came at a time when I had been in process for quite a long time, and where I was ready for change. I’d been holding on to my old feelings of indignation – and writing about them – for way too long. Once I was in the course, it occurred to me the reason why I was still in the “I’m so mad at the church” phase was because I hadn’t really imagined there would be anything beyond it. I didn’t know what I’d take up in its place once I put it all down. And I was terribly afraid that if I stopped being angry and writing passionate posts about my experiences that it would mean the same as being silenced – that the ones who did the things that hurt me and others, and who still do those things, would win. But whilst I was in the course, I found something that I didn’t expect -not just a place to dump, not just a debrief, and not just others who felt the same. I found a glimmer of something I might be able to replace my anger with, literally a glimmer, like looking in a muddy puddle and seeing the glint of something shiny.
It can be different. It doesn’t have to be like it was. I don’t have to go back.
In the cancer survivorship courses I used to run (and which I’ll be running again soon, so watch this space) we used to talk about the two kinds of frustration concerning the state of normal. One is the kind you have when you’ve had cancer and you just want it all to be over so you, and all the things that have been disrupted by the illness and the treatment can just go back to the way they were before any of it happened. And two, there is the kind you have when you realise things can never go back to the way they were before, and what you need is a new normal.
For me, post-cancer, I needed a new normal. Everything I knew about the world and the things that could happen to people had changed. I had changed. I was braver, stronger, weaker and far more anxious than ever I had been. My extremes had been way stretched out on either side. I was more confident than ever, I was more afraid than ever. My old normal was redundant. And I was angry about that. I had new information about the world, and my innocence was lost. I was traumatised, and could never go back to believing if you did all the right things and prayed and trusted God that nothing bad would happen. I had to find a new way to be, and I didn’t know what it was.
Some people, however, have cancer, and it changes nothing about them. It happens, they do what they have to do, and when it’s all over, they never speak of it again, and some would never know they were ever sick. The old normal is reinstated after the disruption, nothing is learned and nothing is lost. And good for them, I say.
For the ones who lose everything including themselves when they have cancer, we as support people work to help them instate a vision of what we would probably call a new normal. It’s usually called something else, something that has become a bit of a cliche and lost it’s meaning somewhat. Hope. A vision for the way things can be, when whatever the hell this thing I’m doing now is over. A new normal to replace to old one that was lost, and must be lost, before we can go forward. A place where I can use my imagination to fantasise, and my brain to plan, the way things might be someday whilst I’m stuck between my past and the future.
Hope is a thing to wrap around yourself when the guilt and shame of past trauma threatens to overwhelm you, and the fear and anxiety about the future seems to be all you have to look forward to.
My own trauma – not just about church, but about all the pretty crappy things that have happened to us – is healing now. In its place, there is a growing vision of what life can be in the future. In the meantime, I’ve got hope to hold on to. Hope is familiar and strange all at the same time – it looks like the past, but it also looks like the future. Hope is a place of rest and comfort, but also a place of challenge and excitement. It pulls you in for a cuddle, but pokes you in the ribs when its time to get up and get out there. Hope honours the memory of what was, while at the same time never making you feel guilty because you can’t ever revisit the past again.
Hope is what we need when we know there is no turning back.
I need a new normal. And I’m ready to begin.
For more information on Walking Wounded, please visit the Live It To The Full website here.
For more information about women’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation, please contact Destiny Haven.
I recommend the NSW Cancer Councils program Living Well After Cancer for cancer survivors transitioning out of the treatment phase of cancer, and seeking a new normal. (Australian/NSW residents only).
Read my post Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer on my new website of the same name. Your own comments and feedback most welcome.