Childhood trauma and grief has lifelong impacts. We can hide from the pain, but the unconscious mind has a remarkable habit of keeping score.
No Bellyful Laughs Here
Last night i dreamt my belly was full of translucent eels and tapeworms. They were feeding off the healthy parts of my gut, writhing and wriggling, fighting for space and nutrients, a herculean struggle to win the right to feed.
When the parasites found no more goodness in my gut, they moved to my heart.
I can’t say I blame them for moving away from my gut. It is a very inhospitable space. My 20 year journey with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and leaky gut has left my little belly weak and scarred. It’s done its job to the best of its abilities, but it’s had a rough ride.
At least in my heart there is constant motion and an unquenchable thirst for life. Despite all the pain.
Diving into Pain
Over the past few years, I’ve been diving into my pain and really taking ownership of my emotions. It’s not that noble of an endeavour, at this point. It’s more like self preservation. A ‘do or die’ initiative, where my body has put me on notice. While I ignored the mental and emotional symptoms for 20-odd years, I can’t ignore the physical symptoms. When my gut no longer functions, or my skin is covered in an inexplicable rash – I have to ask ‘what emotion is at play?’.
Here’s the truth: the emotion is a deep-seated, long-ignored grief.
When I was 16 years old, my mother died suddenly. It was an entirely unexpected death, one that decimated my sense of place in the world. I remember waking up the day after she died and knowing that things would never be the same. That everything was different now. I was in so much agony, yet didn’t know how to express it. I didn’t even know if I was allowed to express it. I thought that I needed to keep doing my life as if nothing had changed.
So, that’s what I did. I goose stepped through life order, precision and rigidity. I controlled situations so I would know exactly what to expect. I powered through, relying on strength for my survival. For a very long time, this tactic worked. I excelled and succeeded … until I was too exhausted to try anymore.
A Motherless Daughter: 28-Years Running
I didn’t know it then, but I was running from my grief. The parasites from my dream were already living in my belly. I just didn’t know it yet. It took a few more serious personal blows to realize just how impactful repressed grief can be.
This year, I started Gabor Mate’s course called Compassionate Inquiry. So far, I’m only about six weeks in. In these six weeks, the course has already changed my life. I have been on a path of self discovery for almost 10 years now, and many revelations and changes have taken place. I would have never guessed that Compassionate Inquiry could be such a game changer.
It’s not the course material on its own that is changing my life. It’s how it applies to the month of September.
To me, September is a very uncomfortable month. Perhaps the most uncomfortable month.
My mother died 28 years ago on September 20th. My long term partner broke up with me days shy of this anniversary, just about 4 years ago.
Both these significant life changes took place right when the weather changes in Eastern Ontario. Overnight, we experience a shift from warm days and nights to cooler days and nights. Even if my conscious mind keeps on trucking, this change in the weather stops my body in its tracks.
My body is far wiser than I ever gave it credit for. For so long I thought it was uncooperative and annoying. It stops me with undeniable symptoms – anything from unrelenting diarrhea to crazy inflamed rashes to extreme exhaustion. My body sensed the change in weather and REMEMBERS the trauma.
Compassionate Inquiry : A Balm for the Soul
This is the first year that when these symptoms arise, I actually inquire about what they mean. Instead of feeling inconvenienced or irritated, I accept the symptoms as a message from my subconscious: you’ve denied your grief for long enough. It’s time to feel.
I credit Compassionate Inquiry for this change in my approach. The method asks that I stop and sit with emotions as they arise. It asks that I make myself fully present to emotion, to engage it like an old friend. To listen to its stories, just like you would with a friend you hadn’t seen in so, so long.
This year, I realized that the level of grief I’ve repressed is profound. This grief feels like a space with no edges, just darkness that bleeds into infinity. It feels inescapable and raw and unrelenting.
Over the years, my grief has been accompanied by a strange itching over my lungs and belly. This year, the itching is accompanied by hives like I’ve never seen before. These aren’t red and inflamed and superficial. They are a series of tiny mounds emerging from deep inside my being.
While I have no scientific proof, all I can think is: this is the grief. It’s finally boiling to the surface. Now that I’ve finally made space for grief, and it has SO MUCH to say.
You Can’t Fight the Subconscious
I’ve decided that the dream about the tapeworms is a dream about my emotions.
I expect you’ll be amused that it took me a whole blog post to realise that. But that’s the thing about repressed emotions: they aren’t obvious. They are unconscious. They fight to get our attention in any way they can.
Those tapeworms simply wanted me to acknowledge that my own grief is eating me alive, from the inside out. It is taking over my being one organ at a time. That dream prompted me to reflect on the tapeworms so I’d weigh the impact of my subconscious patterns.
How blessed we are to have such wisdom in our bodies. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I wish the itch would go away. At least I know where it’s coming from.