Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On healing, dog bites, and vodka

After a year or two like my last year or two, the word ‘healing’ gets thrown around a whole lot. After you get divorced, people say “You’ve got to give yourself time to heal” as often as they say “What happened?”, and almost as much as they say “Well, his loss.” And for a while there, you thought you were doing really well at this whole ‘healing’ thing. I mean, you were happy, you weren’t hurting a whole shit load, and you were getting on with your life. Or so you thought.  


When The Ex moved out, I went straight into party mode. I mean, literally. He moved out on the Saturday, and I went to Park Acoustics on the Sunday, and I barely stopped partying until I came to Cape Town. That’s almost a year and a half of solid, epic party insanity. But when everything in my life really began falling apart (you’d think that losing my best friend and safe place would be the worst that could happen. Apparently not.), I realised that I needed a change and a chance to really examine what had gone wrong in my life, and that’s why I came to Cape Town. Filled with fear and dread, I packed it all in and shipped what was left of my life across the country… ‘To heal’, I told everyone. 

I seemed to have this idea that coming here would just be a continuation of my post-divorce life with the sea in the background, instead of Ponte, and with my mama thrown into the mix. Turns out, there’s a whole lot more to ‘healing’ than that. 

Since I got here, there has been a fair amount of partying, but nothing like what I’m used to. It’s true what they say about the pace of Jozi, guys. It’s insane. Jozi-ites work faster, drive faster, and party faster. We’re on another level entirely. What most people here call an epic night, is what I would have called ‘pretty cool’ before.* Although, I’ll grant you, even my friends in Jozi seem to be of the opinion that I take epic partying to another level. Nonetheless, there hasn’t been much of that since I got here. 

I have, however, taken introspection to another level. (It seems that I’m the kind of person who does things to the extreme. How did I not know this about myself before?) I’ve examined The Things That Happened To Me down to the tiniest detail, and analysed them to obscurity. And therein lies the healing, for me at least. Just this morning, I was writing furiously in my journal about discovering NEW magic, NEW wonder and NEW adventure. About discarding my expectations and past experiences of the above, and finding new and unique ways of finding things that make me believe again. These are the things I miss about myself - the childlike way I saw the world, and how I loved it recklessly. Since The Things happened, I’ve not seen the world that way. I became excessively (see?!) cynical about life, and more so about love. It didn’t stop me from loving recklessly, but even that recklessness became destructive, leading to even more cynicism. Great. Anyone got a muzzle for this vicious circle? 

Anyway, a thought spewed out onto the page, and it struck me. In fact, it glared at me first, and then slapped me a few times, to make sure I got the point. (Sometimes I don‘t process things until I‘ve written them down. And occasionally, thoughts force me to pay attention like this, instead of just zooming by). This particular one went like this: ‘Just because I don’t see things with child-like wonder anymore, doesn’t mean there isn’t wonder to be seen. I’ve been so wrapped up in not being who I used to be that I just haven’t seen it.’ Not being who I used to be. That’s an interesting one. I think it’s a two-fold issue: 
1. I’ve spent the last year and a half making a point of not being who I used to be. The angry girl, the unhappy girl, the fat girl, the girl who needed a man, the girl whose dad died, the stuck girl… That’s who I was before, and I was trying my damndest to shed those versions of me, because I didn’t want them to define me any longer. The trouble, of course, is that in my determination to shed the labels, I missed a crucial step… REdefinig myself. It’s not all bad, though… In my avoidance of dealing with what had defined me, and why, I learnt to really live in the present.** 
2. More recently - since I came to Cape Town and slowed the pace a little - I’ve grieved for who I used to be. The angry girl, and the party girl. In all my ‘I’m not The Things That Happened To Me’, I didn’t really deal with those Things. I was too busy trying to survive and keep going; I was using all my energy keeping up the appearance of being alright. And I was hard on myself when I couldn’t keep it up. But now that I’ve had no distractions from any of that - no sand to bury my head in - I’ve taken a long, hard look, and I AM dealing with it all. I’ve allowed myself - with much gnashing of teeth and wailing - to acknowledge all the shitty Things, and start processing them. The Fears. The Guilt. The Loss. (You’d think that I’d recognise grief, but it took me a while to realise that that’s what I was doing). I’ve grieved for the recent version of me, because I was happy. I just wasn’t healing. 

Guys, they don’t tell you this at school, but… Healing fucking HURTS. We all seem to think that it’s light and sunshine and roses, because how can anything hurt more than the things that have broken you, right? Well, guess what? IT FUCKING DOES. 
When you think about an injury, is it just the initial injury that hurts, or does the healing process contain pain too? When I was bitten by my dog, it hurt like a motherfucker when his tooth was actually IN my hand, and as he ripped it out. But did it stop hurting once I’d been to the doctor? Um… NO. It hurt like hell for weeks after that. Throbbing pain that kept me awake at night, and resulted in pharmaceutical companies making a few more bob out of me and my stupid dog. Once the pain eased up, it was still there, itching and stinging. The skin started to knit, but if I waggled my thumb, it all opened up again and bled and oozed and stung, and I’d have to start all over again. The tetanus shot and antibiotics made me feel like a very nauseous, angry zombie for 2 weeks, and the rabies shots bruised and itched along with the rest. And years later, it still aches in a certain kind of cold. 

The same concept applies to emotional pain, and heartbreak. If my heartbreak had been physical, it would most certainly have gotten infected and probably turned septic, because I just left it and hoped it would go away. Pouring vodka on a stab wound, like they do in the movies, doesn’t actually fix it. The stab victim - usually on the run because Hollywood - eventually ends up getting it seen to by a professional, and they put gauze on it, and he gets medication for it, and it hurts when he moves. Vodka might keep it clean-ish, but it doesn’t stitch it up, and it still stings like hell. Think of how the tough guy ALWAYS winces when he pours half a bottle of liquor on his wound. 

All I did for a very long time was pour vodka onto my wounds. (Literally, sometimes. So many empty Smirnoff bottles in my recent memory. Vodka is great, but not very helpful.) But I think that, perhaps, the skin and bone of my raw, infected wounds are starting to knit, finally. They will reopen from time to time, and bleed and ooze all over my life, because I’m not laying in traction until it’s all better. I’m living in spite of my pain. I’m living because of it. But, Goddammit, I’m living! And there will be scars. That’s what happens when you get ripped open and your insides are set on fire. But the scars won’t define me, either. I have to wear them for the rest of my life, but they don’t have to be ugly. I’ll never be the girl I was before, but that’s ok. Even stalagmites grow, no matter how slowly.

*I am not referring to partying in town, mind you. I haven’t done much of that, but I suspect even that couldn’t keep up to the insanity I’m used to.
** For the most part. There was a romantic element that took up all my ‘what-ifs’, but those are as pointless as nipples on a chest plate, so we’ll let that one slide.

Also, you might be interested to know that Cape Town - or Table Mountain in particular - is one of the healing vortices on the planet. That’s why so many people are drawn here when they need to heal. The Universe, right?