My sister headed off last week to walk the Camino, she’s started in the south of France and is walking to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. For her, it really is a pilgrimage and not just a chance to post a selfie on social media. Five years ago, this week, she lost her sixteen year old son Jude, to a brain tumour and is struggling with the loss more this year, than when he died. The truth is, she hasn't fully grieved her loss and is trying to find some way to work through it and so, she thought that walking the Camino would help, and something she felt she had to do.
Around the time he died, I was going through a very rough patch too which went on for some time. It was the culmination of all the traumatic events that had happened in my life and they came back to haunt me in one crashing blow. One day, I was sitting thinking about all that had happened and feeling sorry for myself and asking the usual, 'Why me?' 'Why did I have to go through so much?', wallowing in self-pity and then, another thought struck me. I thought, 'Well, why not me? Yes, why not me? What is so special about me that I should I be exempt from suffering? And, if not me, then, who?’ Could I point a finger at anyone and say, 'No, give my suffering and pain to them'. And I couldn't because as much as we might feel there are some who do deserve to suffer, (like the Tories) no-one really knows what is going on in anyone else’s life or what burdens they may have to carry so, why not me? And that was a big turning point.
There is a lot written on the subject of trauma and forgiveness and it is often said that, in order to move on from past traumas, we have to forgive. I’ll be honest, I always had difficulty with this and I know others who think the same. I’ve forgiven no one for what they have done to me but what I have come to realise is that it is not those who have injured us that we have to forgive, it is ourselves. This was another step forward for me, to forgive myself for having allowed myself to be vulnerable or for putting myself into a situation where others could use or take advantage of me. I did not always have control over the events or situations and often, my biggest fault was naivety, believing people to be friends when they were anything but. In forgiving myself however, I have been able to make peace with the past and move on and the days or sitting feeling sorry for myself or ruminating on the why’s and wherefores are now over.
They say, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and I have to admit, it was touch and go with that one for a while but in watching my nephew and my sister struggle and fight for his life, how could I throw my life away so, I soldiered on through the pain, like my sister is doing now, soldiering on across northern Spain. And that is all you can do with that kind of pain and sorrow. If it is something that happened in the past, there is absolutely nothing we can do to change it. All we can do is sit with the pain, grieve our losses and eventually, we move on or at least, find a way to live with it.
I now have a full understanding of how and why things happened the way they did and the part I played in it. That is another important step on the road to making peace with myself, being able to look back and admit to how I contributed to some of those events. I don’t mean that I consciously sought pain or suffering but because I wasn’t acting with full consciousness, it was almost inevitable that I would attract the wrong type of person into my life. I had a victim mentality and may as well have been walking around with a large sign above me saying, ‘use and abuse’.
Growing up in Northern Ireland and being brought up Catholic, didn’t help either as both those things feed into the victim mentality.
I’m reading a book at the moment by Dr Gabor Maté. It’s called When the Body Says No and it is about pyschoneuroimmuno(endocrino)logy(try saying that after a few beers!) It details how stress is linked to cancer and how there are similar patterns of personality/behaviour in a lot of cancer patients. They are usually people who can’t say no and who insist in taking care of everybody and everything. Then, they end up ill with cancer and when their past is delved into, there is usually a history of abuse of some kind, usually in childhood, where they were unable to express their emotions in a healthy way, especially anger and remained that way into adulthood and so they are still operating from a place of sub-consciousness.
I thought this was interesting, especially this week, when it was announced that Willie Frazer had died from cancer which he had been battling for some time. Willie Frazer was the founder of FAIR – Families Acting for Innocent Relatives – and was full of hate and anger. His anger was understandable; he lost not only his father but several other family members at the hands of the IRA. He could not make peace with the past or let it go, and it may have cost him his health and his life.
Also, on the news this week, was the result of a government consultation on plans to deal with the legacy of the Troubles where it was revealed that a majority opposed an amnesty for veterans. I have to say, I was very disappointed to hear this. There has been a lot of suffering in Northern Ireland and anyone who lost a family member or friend in the Troubles has my deepest sympathy. But, you cannot change the past and if you have lost someone, how can you ever really get justice? You can’t bring them back.
But, there are still a lot of people here with the victim mentality who won’t let the past go. They wear their suffering where everyone can see it, they are victims, they keep dragging it up, like the scab on an old wound, they can’t or won’t leave it alone, picking at it and picking at it, never giving it time to heal. Each side, claiming victimhood, at the hands of the other.
There are very few of us who get a free pass through life and don’t have challenges, pain or loss to deal with at some point. We can piss and moan about it forever and a day but it won’t change anything. In the end, there is little that can be done other than to sit with the pain, face it and deal with it, cry, go for a long walk, find a way that works for you to get through it because you have to go through it, there is no way around and if you don’t deal with it, it may be waiting for you further down the road or it may be quietly eating at you, in other ways.
Thankfully, I have now come out the other side of my ‘pain’, and while it was a tough road, I can look back now and see that it was both a learning experience and a period of great personal and spiritual growth and I would never have fully grown up without facing that pain and dealing with it. I still have no forgiveness for those who were instrumental in contributing to my suffering but I can see now how nasty, weak and pathetic they really are. I’m not angry at them because I don’t have the energy to sustain that kind of anger and they’ve taken up enough of my time and energy and they’re not getting any more. Actually, not only am I not angry, I don’t really feel much of anything for them, they just don’t really matter and maybe that’s the best place to be. Maybe that is forgiveness?