Yesterday we had a Q&A webinar for the Growing Humankindness membership community, where we explored the ‘map of healing:’ getting a general sense of how we heal from food compulsions.
Getting a map of the healing process is helpful for a couple of reasons:
- It orients us and lowers anxiety
- It gives us a sense of where we’ve been and where we’re headed
- And it helps us make sense of our experiences
This understanding gives us a better handle on what’s going on inside and how to support ourselves. But knowing the map of healing is not the same thing as healing itself.
Why we can’t move ourselves up the mountain
It took me many years to understand this. As someone who’s earnest and willing to work hard, I thought I could make healing happen through my good intentions, willingness, and desire to heal.
This is often true for us highly sensitive, highly conscientious beings. We mean so well!
When we get a map, we may think it’s simply a matter of ‘moving ourselves up the mountain,’ of getting from point A to B until the healing is complete.
It’s a top down approach of, “Ok, this is what’s needed. So I’ll just follow the steps and work hard until I see the results I want.”
I remember researcher and author Brené Brown talking about how she showed up at her therapist’s office with an excel spreadsheet of all the things she wanted to achieve in her therapy – a list that came from her research of whole hearted living.
I smile when I hear that story, because a part of me also carried around an inner checklist. She’s the part of me that thought if I worked really hard, I could move myself up the mountain and create a ‘healed me.’
Healing is an unfolding process, not something we create
You might have this part inside, too. I imagine we all do, to one degree or another!
Our world is full of well meaning advice of, “Do X, Y, and Z and you can make this happen” – whether ‘this’ is financial success, relational success, or weight loss.
And doesn’t matter if this list is about ‘inner’ or ‘outer ‘healing – whether we’re wanting more self compassion or less overeating. When we come to these ideas from a top down approach, we’re trying to make our healing happen.
My beloved mentors in developmental psychology and relational neuroscience – as well as the mystics and poets – all point to this truth: that healing is a developmental process, an unfolding mystery, not something we manufacture or create.
How healing unfolds + the impact of trauma
Healing occurs in the body and nervous system, in the heart and spirit, in the mind and soul. On a neurobiological level, underneath most food compulsions we find undigested and unintegrated trauma.
Everything in our biology and in our spirituality yearns for the light. We yearn to become and to unfold, to rest in our wholeness.
Trauma disrupts this sense of our wholeness and remains in our nervous system, waiting until there is sufficient safety and support for the trauma to arise and be held. As this trauma heals, our development unfolds.
Protectors – like overeating – begin to fall away. We see things about ourselves that we didn’t see before. Something in us begins to crack and soften.
We have access to a wider range of our feelings. We see things from a broader perspective rather than either/or and black or white.
This process is organic within us – as my mentor Dr. Neufeld says, when the conditions are there, development is spontaneous – and is not something we can force or make happen. It’s not something we do or fix.
Our role in the healing process
When this idea sinks in, so much pressure is taken off our shoulders. We’re not in charge of nor can we create our healing.
In fact, you’re not carrying your healing; your healing is carrying you.
While we’re not in charge of our healing, we do have a crucial role to play. If I had to describe it in words, it’s a surrendering to this healing process: to rest in and allow it to carry us.
In my experience, this surrender is not a one time thing, but something we do over and over. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re open to healing, and at other times we’re trying to ‘take it over’ again!
This ebb and flow is not something to criticize ourselves over, but a sign of the vulnerability we face in healing.
Often, when I’m trying to be in charge, it’s because I’m in pain – I’m facing something really vulnerable or am feeling frustrated at the havoc of my wounds and the challenges they create in my daily life.
In these moments, we can offer ourselves warmth, support, and respect.
We breathe. We cry with loved ones or a therapist. We cuddle our pets. We feel the ache. We soften, and find that place of surrender again.
There are other ways we can support our healing process, and I’ll be writing about these in upcoming newsletters.
For now, I’ll close with this beloved poem, Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. This poem never fails to help me breathe a bit easier and surrender a bit more to the healing that holds and carries me.
As beloved writer and chaplain Kate Braestrup writes about Wild Geese in her book on prayer, “you can just allow your body to arrange itself in surrender and allow yourself to yield before all that is vast, incomprehensible, and stronger by far than your own soft self.
You can listen to Mary Oliver reading this poem herself here. And I’m off to the woods with my dogs, where I hope to watch the geese soar in the fading evening light. I will think of you, and all of us, on this grand homecoming of healing.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.