Jul 06 | CPE Journal #19: July 4th

This week was much better than some of my last few. I got a chance to sing some Gregorian chant for “Halo” – who loved it – and today I stood with “Voice,” who wailed through dreadful pain waiting to be taken to Radiology to have fluid drained from a lung. I also sat with a First Nations person who told me about piecing a broken life back together after finally beginning to address the terrible things that happened at residential school.

My supervisor recommended a book that I actually had at home but hadn’t read yet. It’s about toxic shame, and I’ve seen myself in its pages way too many times. I’ve been exploring the identity I carried for years as a child and beginning to take it apart, piece by piece. I don’t blame anyone for escaping work like this. I feel like I’ve hit an apex of personal discovery and while things are looking massively up for the future – for probably the first time I’m beginning to actually love myself as I am – this has been some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. It’s so much easier to run away from what you think is lying beneath your waves. Last night I met with someone who’s been going through some really difficult struggles, and I found that as we spoke I began to illustrate what I saw in my mind: a vast ocean with unseen depths. Some of us imagine a giant monster like the Kraken will be let loose if we allow ourselves to travel too deep, and so we shun personal work and challenges, too afraid of the grief, anger, and baggage beneath those waves. We pushed it down there hoping to drown it during childhood and maybe beyond that, and we’ve long forgotten what it looks like, because we were never given tools as children to fully comprehend it, like a monster under the bed – so much more terrifying because our imaginations can conceive of more terrifying things than we’ve ever seen with our own eyes.

This fear of our unknown depths is a great tragedy, because it means we are essentially afraid of ourselves. Such fear is driven by a great schism within the self. Do we really think that our inner core is so monstrous that it should remain beneath in darkness “where it belongs”? This to me is actually a form of sin – not something that God condemns with angry judgement but that God laments with weeping. The God who said, “Do not fear; I have redeemed you” did not create a monster. Your own inner splitting has crafted a lie. There are no monsters beneath this ocean – only the pain, fear, grief, rage, and shame that has driven you to this self-distancing.

Pain, fear, grief, and rage that were avoided during childhood were likely avoided for the purposes of the inner strength of children. Children are labeled as weak and helpless, but in some ways they are among the strongest of us all. In order to survive, they will go to vast lengths to protect their own fragility. A child growing up in a household of abuse cannot comprehend caregivers that are broken or unstable because that would pose a great threat to the child’s coping skills. Instead, the child says, “I must be bad to make my parents this way.” This alternative is controllable. A child can re-gain a sense of autonomy if she believes that she has some control over the abuse, which in her mind she can have by altering her behaviour. Over time, of course, this sense of not measuring up becomes a part of her role, her identity. She believes that is worth nothing but abuse, shame, and torment. Her brain’s survival tactic has now become a terrible illness – like an addiction which provides temporary relief from one’s inner depths but only at the cost of shackling someone to it.

God is not a dualist. God does not ask you to tear yourself along the dotted line! God gave you the depths, and it’s from all depths that life emerges. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth – and life comes out of Chaos. I think of Chaos as the first element. Those of the Abrahamic faiths celebrate God’s creation out of Chaos, and Christians celebrate Jesus walking on the water, either rendering Chaos impotent or, I think, passing through without fear, recognizing its power and becoming one with it. Jesus was not afraid of the monsters that lay beneath – because there are none. He embraced pain, fear, grief, and rage, and shone the light on them. They are only minnows beneath the surface, or dust bunnies under the bed.

I have seen the minnows that I thought were once a Kraken, and rejoiced. Although only Christ can walk on the surface of the world’s chaos, I have walked on top of my own – toward a voice that said, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”

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