Read this poem below and notice how it settles with you.
“I am still learning
How to go back & reread
My own chapters
Without feeling like I
Want to set all of my pages
- E. V. Rogina
To me, E.V. Rogina’s words heartbreakingly hit the mark in how truly challenging it is to hold our stories with kind regard. If given the chance, many of us would choose to burn away so much of our histories.
As we age, it’s especially easy to look at our past selves with some sort of chuckling embarrassment that is subtly tinged with shame. This is notable when you’ve put yourself out there on social media. Scrolling through previous pictures and captions that depicted who you were years and years ago can really make us cringe.
And then there are the things that you rarely discuss publicly: the trauma’s, the hurts, the hang-ups.
When I read that poem, I think of how hard it is to not want to “set fire” to the terrible parts of our stories. Past sexual abuse. The reality that you and your family aren’t close anymore, or at least not once you look under the surface. An abysmal end to a relationship that you’re ashamed even started in the first place. Substance misuse or disordered eating. The list goes on of the things we are too ashamed to talk about and wish we could just burn away.
It’s so distressing to even look at those parts of ourselves sometimes. On a good day we can’t bear it. On a bad day, it successfully convinces why we are not good, disgusting, and pathetic
In many ways, that convincing lie is used, ironically, to protect us. If we hate ourselves and the memory strongly enough, we trick ourselves into thinking that maybe we can avoid it ever happening again in the future. That logic makes sense, sort of, but never really pans out.
We actually need to wade through those dark and scary places in order to truly see what went wrong and how to engage our lives more effectively in the future.
But can you hear how dangerously close that gets to looking at how we are unworthy and despicable?
I worked with a woman for a long time who was unable to look at her past sexual abuse. She thought that if we touched on how she was abused by a female perpetrator, it would confirm that she was somehow unsafe to all of the women around her. So she kept the memories locked away, tightly bound within her soul, simultaneously keeping the healing power of women at a distance because she was terrified she would inevitably harm them, too. It took months to be able to unravel the memories, this lie, and to begin to engage the truth that women are meant to intimately know and heal one another, but that her experience took that truth and warped it into a predatory lie. We had to take time to understand that closeness with other women is good, risky, and sacred.
This example, truthfully, is an over-simplification. I’ve worked with other women who have survived sexual abuse who did not ingest that same shaming message.
Our stories preceding the trauma always inform how we interpret harm.
I would ask you to consider the darker parts of your story and to look for what you have always thought to be true. Did that memory teach you that men are not to be trusted? Or that you always have to rely on yourself? Or that people only get close to one day hurt you? These are convincing statements that are also completely false. Yet to untangle them, to not burn them to a crisp, takes time, energy, and compassion.
Can you take a moment to simply ponder that maybe you interpreted your history in a way that was meant to protect you but now keeps you in a cage? What seems so true in your past pains? Could you begin to wonder if that ‘truth’ might actually be false, or at least not the whole story?
Another woman I worked with struggled to let go of the internal belief that she was disgusting. Like a common refrain, we found ourselves continuing to return to this thought that she wasn’t worth loving and had to earn her place in every setting. As we continued to untangle her belief, she realized something critical: belonging in her family meant that she had to be a performer. If she let herself stop striving and worked to accept herself just the way she was, she wouldn’t belong in her family culture anymore. And yet, her heart ached for rest and peace.
What does your heart ache for?
Acceptance? Belonging? Rest? Joy? Intimacy? Curiosity?
Take a moment to notice that you feel ambivalently about inviting this sensation into your life. To change is to risk, and to risk is to invite the unknown.
Will you be brave today?