With Understanding Comes a Whole New Perspective

“You can’t change the past but, with understanding, you can sometimes draw the poison out of it.”~Carlo Gebler

 It never crossed my mind there could be a difference between knowing and understanding something.  Now that I understand that, the depression is lifting, the light seems brighter, brain fog is clearing; yes, there is a difference between knowing and understanding.

I spent 50 years knowing I had been abused sexually, emotionally, and physically as a child, and then, too, as an adult. I ruminated on the details, the perpetrators, the scenes, and the dialogue–data stored permanently in my mind. That’s what knowledge is.

So, one wonders, or at least I did, if I know all these things, no repressed memories to unearth, then why can’t I move on? I’ve confronted some offenders via letters and phone calls, and I even wrote a memoir. Certainly, those things should empower me, lessen or eliminate the symptoms (i.e., low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, PTSD) that a victim of childhood abuse and sexual assault endure.

So how does understanding differ from knowing? Knowing is processed in the mind–that place where all the data is stored to ruminate on. Understanding takes longer to process, and it occurs in the brain. It not only needs all that “knowing” data gathered from personal experiences and education, but it needs your interest to break down, conceptualize, and analyze what you know.

In writing my memoir, like so many memoirists, I tried to make sense of my experiences and to understand them. I don’t think many of us come out the other side “healed” or feeling dramatically different (other than it’s enormously helpful to find out we aren’t alone in our experiences). I believed that writing what I know would bring understanding. I was wrong. I needed to reach much deeper, beyond the who, what when and where, and focus on what I didn’t care about when I wrote or ruminated: the Why. Why did these people commit a heinous crime against a child?

Understanding doesn’t mean to condone or forgive. It means drawing some of the poison out of the pain. The light just might shine a little brighter.

The Healing Touch of Animals

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I live in a large city fraught with homelessness. Many years ago, when I first moved to Portland, Oregon, those living in destitute conditions stationed themselves along one main street called Burnside. But over time, the increasing numbers of impoverished have been pushed to every boundary of the city. They panhandle at freeway exits, outside of stores; they mingle in the hub of our big-city sidewalks and sleep in cardboard boxes under the freeway overpasses. Although I’ve grown conditioned to the presence of the down-and-out, I have not become desensitized or unaffected.

There are many ways I could go with a topic about the homeless, but my focus now is on what often catches my attention: the large numbers of them who have animals accompanying them. I’ve seen snakes, ferrets, and rats wrapped around necks, slung over shoulders, and even a bird sitting atop a head that had no desire to fly away. These kinds of pets do seem practical because they can easily be tucked away inside a jacket if necessary. But what about all the dogs I see sidled up to so many of these folks? And not just  Pit Bulls or German Shepherds which, understandably, would be good for protection. But now I’ve seen Chihuahuas, Shitzus, and Dachshunds. What that tells me is that animals are needed for plain old companionship. And who needs the unconditional love that animals provide more than the disadvantaged? Animals keep these sometimes emotionally fragile people connected, even when they have every reason to disconnect from any hope for their future. So often the homeless are snubbed, sneered at, and mistreated. I wonder if, once they have an animal at their side, or in their lap, if they occasionally get asked, “What’s his name?” by someone delivering a pat to the dog’s head, and maybe, eventually, “What’s your name?”

Service animals have been invaluable in assisting the handicapped for decades (i.e., Guide Dogs for the Blind), but now there is proof that animals are extremely beneficial for mental health, too. They are used in therapist offices and mental health centers to calm people suffering from anxiety and PTSD.  In every abuse support group that I’ve been in, members discuss their pets–and we all seemed to have one or yearn for one.

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Portland, OR January 2017

Children who have been abused benefit greatly when given a pet. The animal can facilitate self-esteem and a sense of responsibility. Parents often don’t want to get their child a pet because they end up being the ones who end up taking care of it. They need to remember: pets don’t teach responsibility–they do. Pets are an excellent vehicle for learning. They bring comfort and are non-judgmental. A hurting child may learn to trust first through a pet.

We are in the dead of winter here in Portland with record snowfall–a foot of the white stuff fell overnight, and it’s still falling. I’m constantly thinking about the homeless–we’ve had four die in the last couple of weeks from exposure. I wonder if they had a dog to huddle with at the end . . .

 

Each New Year Marks a Time to Start Over

new-year-chapter-one-typewriterNew Year’s Resolutions are like diets–once the reality sets in that it’s not going to last, and that you can’t make it a lifestyle, you QUIT. That’s why I don’t make resolutions anymore. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t look forward with anticipation to significant changes each New Year. For me, one who enters the Fall season with dread as holiday decorations go up in stores way too early, there is an impending sense of doom. I know full well that the ugly monster (depression) will rear its ugly head and nearly suck the life out of me. Like many people, the holidays hold memories of loss, grief, and just downright darkness. You can’t pray it away, exercise it away, meditate it away; and I know first hand, no amount of food will make it go away. Trying to resist depression only makes it worse. So, I sit with it as best I can. I used to believe it would never go away. I would ruminate about all kinds of solutions–which would have been a big mistake. I know now that, with time and patience, it does go away. (Not completely, of course, since loss and grief tend to linger, sometimes infinitely.)

So, January 1 is my time of renewal. Holidays are packed up, memories of loss and grief diminish. I fill my crockpots with healthy home-made soups. And boy do we need them during the freezing temps we’re having in the Pacific Northwest! I got out my yoga videos and meditation tapes. I’m already thinking about Spring.

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