Peace, Perfect Peace?
It suits the powerful not to know what people’s lives are really like, so they use all means available to them to make the people they are responsible for, and failing, also ‘not know’ the reality of their rulers’ dangerous incompetence or simple indifference. We call this general state of affairs denial and it is what we are seeing, of course, on the political stage here in the UK right now.
It is also something that goes on in our own lives. It’s possible, as I am finding, to live most of one’s life in a state of denial about the pain of the past, telling ourselves that bad things didn’t happen, that we were being over-sensitive about the contempt our parents held us in, that they really were joking when they laughed about our hair, our choice of clothes, and dismissed our dreams and aspirations, if we dared share them at all. So we learned to put on a state of mind that kept us well below the high tide line of what we might reasonably expect of ourselves.
We try not to expect, or aspire to, too much, especially, perhaps, as we grow older. We have grown used to anticipating failure in every area of life, so why change now? At the same time, we live with contradiction in the need to at least appear to be the person others, or we ourselves, would like to have been. We live in denial, forever trying to cover up our inner nakedness, the emptiness that is the mark of emotional abandonment in early life.
This re-clothing gets harder as you get older, of course. There is less and less of an incentive to put on a brave face, not to deal with the inner pain, or rage, or sense of loss, or abandonment, all of which you have carried for decades. But the trouble with ageing is that as time progresses you are left increasingly alone with yourself, even if you are part of a community, or have a family, or a partner still living. The things that used to keep you awake at night are not the ones that do so now. You believed in a future. The ones that now keep you awake have acquired an acuity, a sharpness of relief because you have had most of the future and a good deal of it has been spent suppressing a kind of inner rage while telling yourself, perhaps, that, as a person of faith, you are somehow experiencing peace. You are determined that you should experience peace, but you are not. You cannot make peace happen.
For those of us who have experienced trauma or abuse in early life, where will this peace that we so badly need, especially as we grow older, be found? Or, more to the point, what does it actually feel like?
When I revisit the trauma and abuse of the past, and try to understand it better, I find I have to allow for the black hole the cosmic ‘worm’ to draw me into itself so that I can better understand the context of the trauma and abuse. By that I mean the wider story, the story of the person or group doing the abuse, why they needed to work out their pain on others. I do this, not for myself, since I would far rather let matters be and continue to manage my triggers and associations without putting myself through any more of them, especially given my age, but I must allow the ‘cosmic worm’ to do its work, to make its presence felt, for the sake of those who may benefit from what I am learning by allowing myself, even at this late stage, to journey into it, in order to be able to help them with their spiritual journey in the context of the trauma they, or people known to them, may have suffered. Where there is trauma or abuse, there is always a spiritual journey.
The spiritual, in the context of abuse, is most often worked out through inner anger. In the “Why?” that is directed not only at the abuser, but at the One deemed to have allowed the abuse. There will often be understandable denial in this area as well. Why should we give the One who appears to allow such things and is even indifferent to them, any emotional space at all? And yet it is to that One that our necessary anger should be directed and often is, whether we acknowledge it or not.
I say should because the anger needs to be acknowledged and not denied or allowed to remain internalised. Anger allows us to see things for what they really are. It clears the air so that we can hold accountable those who have harmed us, even if they are no longer living. Anger has a cleansing effect. It empowers and gives voice to the kind of protest that transforms, as we are seeing in the context of the protests going on around us in our society, all of them relating to abuse of some kind, be it of the environment or of human beings. But anger that is carried within becomes toxic if it is not allowed to move on, if its course is blocked. So what are we to do with this terrifying energy? An energy that we have denied ourselves perhaps for a life-time.
I believe that managing the intensity of the anger we feel as a result of emotional abuse consists in allowing the force of this energy to be directed to the only place where transformation is possible, to the only place where forgiveness and real healing are possible.
Human beings cannot forgive grave injustices on their own. They cannot absorb and then forgive unwarranted suffering out of some inner reserve of strength that they have at their disposal. When we are having our flashbacks, or remembering again the event that triggers the ptsd, there is not the means for forgiveness. Perhaps forgiveness is not even warranted. And yet, as some exceptional human beings have shown, forgiveness is the only way forward, the only way through the ‘worm’, the anger vortex, that could destroy us.
But given where we are right now, forgiveness is probably not something we even wish for, let alone feel capable of feeling or offering. So only one thing remains and that is the will to determine the course that the anger must take if it is not to turn back on itself and destroy us. I would even dare to push the analogy further and suggest that the necessary anger that makes us truthful in regard to the past, and especially in regard to trauma and abuse, flows in a pre-ordained direction, like a river or stream that must, sooner or later, empty itself into the sea. I call the sea the all-embracing love of a God who is passionate about justice and truth in regard to the trauma and abuse we have experienced. The passion, our passion to have been heard at the time the abuse took place, and God’s passionate anger, combine in paradox, in a peace which passes all understanding.