I came home yesterday after four days spent in hospital following my breast cancer surgery. Due to my deeply entrenched Post Traumatic Stress condition it was a huge feat of courage to undergo this procedure. I knew the suffering I was up for and the retriggering of the old pain of other hospitalisations and emergencies both personal and familial. And I put myself in the centre of the flames and was burned in order to have the cancer removed from my left breast. Sadly I lost two of my sentinel nodes. The sentinels are the guardians of the lymphatic system helping to drain toxins through the lymph and now I have lost a few of those, just for purposes of pathology. My body had gone through a loss.
The second day following the operation was the darkest day which is often the case, the general anaesthetic has separated us for a time from the trauma and shock of surgery which then begins to reverberate. I had had a very fitful night’s sleep, lots of traumatic memory, disappointment that family did not come to support me, and so much sadness. On Friday evening and Saturday morning it rose up like an avalanche and I was blessed that two angels were sent to my side. One was an attending nurse, the other a Pastoral Carer who was able to touch me in the place of great grief with presence and love.
She spoke to me of her own hospital trauma. Of how disconnected from her own gut she had become to the extent that she had developed a intestinal blockage and in a deeply distressed and depressed state was attended to by another angel in human skin. This set her upon the Pastoral Care path and an even deeper path of personal exploration. We had much to speak of and connected as two soul’s who had known both suffering and the sweetness of being responded to with empathy and love.
The second response I experienced while in pain (which was not just physical but emotional too) was just being offered drugs. Of course some pain medication was necessary at times but my deep experience was that really the pain was actually worse when I was not being attended to in a loving way by myself or others.
It was interesting to me that during these few days I was listening to random songs on my phone and came across The Verve’s song The Drugs Don’t Work. It is about what happens when someone who is self medicating does not turn inward to really address the emotional pain they and in time the drugs not only stop working for them but make the pain worse.
I was reminded of the many times I used to visit my now dead older sister in the care home, she would be crying out in emotional pain and they would rush to her side with meds. The way I used to deal with my sister’s emotional distress was to sit by her side and just be present, hold her hand.
There are wounded places inside of us and of others longing for our love and attention. These places do not need to be silenced but need to be heard. They need to be responded to with love, empathy, compassion and care. Their twisted up tightness needs to be unravelled. My feeling is that when we just seek to take the pain away we actually end up driving it deeper inside. I watch lately how my body responds to those who approach me with the intention of “fixing”. Lacking the ability to be present with their own pain they quickly leap onto mine with all kinds of advice or solutions.
This happened with a old school friend I hadn’t seen in years ten days before my surgery. She contacted me telling me the angels had sent her to my side, she wanted to have a cup of coffee with me and pull me up the mountain. I went along to the meeting keeping an open heart but with some alarm bells ringing inwardly. What poured out was the very difficult journey of her own life, of hurts he had undergone, of the ways she wanted to get back at her ex partner. I just listened quietly for a while before saying “how sad”, after a little while she was in tears. Her grandiose ‘front’ had fallen down.
She looked down at her hands and said to me “I don’t know why I am crying.”
“I think you have held these tears inside for years” I said. “I think you responded to my pain because you know what it’s like to be alone and struggling and that is why you came here today.” She cried for a while longer .
She then told me “I’ve learned a big lesson today”.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Humility”, she replied.
Humility isn’t about disgrace or lowliness. It comes from the word “humus” which means earth. It’s about being close to the earth or ground of our being, of other’s being.
It is the place and base from which we touch the immediacy of our experience and suffering and relate to it on a level playing field.
It is the place from which we connect and respond from gut and heart.
It is the place where we reach out and connect to ourselves and others. A place of reality.
It is a place we must not forsake, seeking to fly away for when we really touch the ground we have the ability to transform what hurts us and extract its healing balm, transforming the pain and suffering through a tender heartfelt presence. Through this approach we develop the ability to respond, rather than react and through this response bring peace to a place where there is turmoil.