It’s been said that scars are battle wounds. Marks of survival. They’re what you’re left with following a struggle of some kind, indicating you’ve made it out the other side. Just like everyone, I have some visible scars, like the proof of a particularly nasty bout of chicken pox at the age of four – a large pockmark on the bridge of my nose, causing much ridiculing at school and never fully made invisible with time. I have an insect-shaped mark on my ribs, where the stitches following the removal of a deeply embedded mole opened up one night, necessitating five more stitches in the same place. I have scars on my left forearm from self-harming in my twenties (and unfortunately, additional ones added last year). I have many scars, none of which I attempt to conceal or hide. Not unlike my tattoos, they have become a part of me, part of my skin suit. They are familiar; they are my badges of honor, though some have taken longer than others to accept.
And then, of course, there are the scars we can’t see: the psychological wounds that cut deeper than any razor mishap or knife accident. Psychological wounds are the ones that never truly go away, not entirely, and while they end up shaping who we are, scar by scar, year after year, these are the ones that need tending; the ones that require attention so the scar tissue doesn’t harden and build upon itself, hardening us.
It’s ironic that love often inflicts the harshest wounds, or rather, the death of love, when the heart gets trampled and when ferocious anger replaces ardent passion; when betrayal occurs. These are the ingredients for the deepest-cutting scars. Relationship demise brings with it a whole host of emotions and subsequent baggage. Losing anything, even if it was toxic and rife with poison, creates a mark, a divot, a void where something which once was, is no longer.
As I very briefly touched upon in Sometimes it Lasts in Love, there are five stages one goes through, in no particular order, when dealing with grief and loss: Retreat/Isolation, Anger, Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance. At the time I wrote that article, it was too soon after my own relationship’s implosion for me to expand much past simply listing these stages, for I was feeling all of the things, all at once, but not really feeling anything. If that makes sense. From the reading and research I’d done, this appeared to be normal. In the blink of an eye three months have passed and I am able to identify which stages I have moved through (Depression, Bargaining and Acceptance), which ones were particularly difficult (Anger), and which one remains (Retreat/Isolation).
Typically, the Retreat/Isolation stage (often accompanied by Depression), involves withdrawing from friends and family and going into self-seclusion. As I write this article, I am sitting deep in the woods of Northern British Columbia, quite literally in the Retreat/Isolation stage of loss. I am at a remote and secluded hunting cabin on a writing retreat with two of my best friends. We have been here a week now and aside from the obvious (Writing! Writing! Writing!), our days are comprised of deriving great pleasure and satisfaction from the simple things like chopping wood and making a campfire, upon which we cook and around which we take turns "workshopping" our writing at night. We’re sharing many stories, much laughter and just as many tears. We drink wine and whiskey in the afternoon as we sit in our outdoor ‘office’ typing away on our laptops in silence; creating, storytelling, purging the things which have pained us. Exchanging the noise and chaos of city life (and just life) for the peace, simplicity and beauty of nature, is doing wonders for the soul; disengaging with the distractions and negative energy, while getting reacquainted with ourselves and the things we love, cherish, and deem most important. Here, everything is debased and deconstructed. Simple. It’s actually the natural flow. This retreat has been a tonic at just the time when I needed to find peace and solace; when I needed true emotional and geographic quiet to hear my inner voice once again and to accept the reality of how things went down. And to let go.
Letting go and moving on is one of the hardest things in life. We hold onto that which we know, that which is comfortable and familiar and safe…even when it is harmful to us. The unknown is scary and unsettling; it’s daunting to force our way up the stream, against the current. But, hey, fish do it all the time.
On one of our first mornings here, one of the girlfriends on this retreat posted the following on social media, and it’s quite timely given I’m writing this article, and thus, speaks to me deeply:
Note to self:
None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.
I’ve been teaching myself to let go. Taking what I can from past experience, learning the lessons, and then giving myself permission to be released from it. I used to be really good at this. Fearless, ballsy – unapologetically so. It’s easy to lose sight of oneself when shit hits the fan and life hands you lemons without the gin. It happened to me, but I’m clawing my way back because really, I have no choice. You guys – I’ve fucking missed me.
Hanging on to old hurts, antagonizing the scars so they promise never to heal is no way to live. Everyone has had a tough road at some point in his or her journey; no one gets a free pass. We all have our “stuff”, and we’re constantly thrown curveballs and challenges. That won’t change. So stop blaming, stop being a victim and own your mistakes, your history, and your choices. Ultimately, at the end of the day, everyone is just trying to get through their own shit.
People often pick a certain date and decide that on that date, they are going to begin something (or end something): a diet, a new way of living, an exercise routine, a course. A relationship. I didn’t necessarily pick the date of my re-emergence, my (second) coming (out) – it kind of chose me.
The Summer Solstice is a time of renewal, purification and healing. In many ancient cultures, it marked a celebration of the feminine energy, the ‘yin forces’, fertility. It still does, but modern culture doesn’t necessarily observe these nods and reasons for celebration. This year, I gathered my closest girlfriends – all strong, all incredibly smart, inspiring, and resilient. And all in need of some healing and renewing in one way or another. No one got out of late 2014/early 2015 unscathed, it would seem. I wanted to use the Solstice as a reminder that we are empowered and resilient and stop neglecting ourselves. A few weeks before the Solstice, I felt an energy shift within myself, as well as in the air around me; I saw it also in my closest friend’s auras. Shit was happening. The “good 2015” that had been promised by the seers and healers just might be a thing. And it has been, so it would seem.
I’m home now in Vancouver and my body is viscerally reacting in a negative way to being back in the city; to having left the quiet and the simplicity of the forest. Something happened up north – it changed me, I know for the better. I felt such happiness, such wild abandon while there, and what I fear most is losing that. Falling back into old (bad) habits and having it all be for naught. I don’t want to allow the noise and distractions of what came before to pervade my thoughts and reintegrate themselves. Isn’t that what we are all afraid of when we experience something profound and then have to go back to “real life”? Aren’t we all afraid of failing ourselves in making these life lessons our new life narrative?
The city, the mundane day-to-day trials of life, the personal drama, the 9-5 job…they all infiltrate you, dull you, jade you, ultimately distract and disconnect you from yourself and others. Your inner voice gets drowned out and is often silenced, while we become deafened by all the things that just.don’t.fucking.matter. I realize just how deafened and silenced I had become.
I have liked being able to hear clearly: myself, the world around me, the words and thoughts and needs of my closest friends. Up North, I felt like I was a lightning rod – a conduit for all things positive and creative and productive. I can’t lose that.
One thing I realized while on this trip is that many of the things (and people) upon which I had placed time, importance and energy, aren’t actually the things that matter most to me. But we get trained and goddamn if we don’t drink that Kool-Aid, because we all want to drink something, believe in something, feel something. But it’s really only when things fall apart – everything is stripped away and deconstructed – that we’re finally able to find the clarity to rebuild anew. Basically, you see that so much of what you thought you knew, felt and cared about, was horseshit.
I had a moment, on our second day at the cabin, where I went for a short walk to a clearing. I stood, face turned skywards, feeling the sun on my face and I tuned in to the sounds around me: the calls of the birds and the rustling of the leaves in the crowns of the aspen trees high above my head. Very suddenly, I felt tears streaming down my face, but I didn’t feel sad. I felt a purging and subsequent cleansing, of so much sadness, grief, hurt and anger. It made me light-headed and disoriented. When I returned to camp, one of my girlfriends, witnessing this scene, hugged me hard for a full 5 minutes. I’d had a powerful experience.
As I type the final lines of this piece, I look down at my left forearm, see the series of small slices bearing the marks of struggle, both internal and external, most of them faded now and made shiny mauve with the healing hands of time, and while I was made to feel shame and embarrassment over these marks, I now look at my right arm and hand. They are full of bright red, angry looking wounds: impressive and deep. But these are not wounds of self-loathing. These are not wounds made by the hand of another or some other tragic calamity. They are marks of unknown toughness, acquired by using my hands, my limbs, my strength. Chopping that motherfucking wood. Chopping wood so we would have fire, and heat, and protection, and food. They hurt and they ooze and they make my otherwise attractive hands look rugged and well worn. I look at both of my arms, both of my hands and I smile with pride and a deep-seated sense of satisfaction.
This is how and when I finally learned to let go.