Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When Do We Actually Heal?

On a healing journey, when do we actually heal?

While talking to a friend yesterday, she related to me some of the most painful incidences in her life. The physical and mental abuse she endured in her relationship. I listened to her with understanding because I know in many ways what she has been through. And, I can only pray for her that she will come out of it in due time.

In presentations I have given on Native Women and healing, I speak about identifying what has hurt me in the past, confronting what has hurt me, and then letting it go. Forgiving the past. Healing those memories, or more specifically, those cells that carry those traumatic memories.

Not everyone knows that I suffer from a form of Social Anxiety Disorder that stems from childhood incidences of abuse. Particularly from physical and mental abuse from a teacher when I was in the second grade.

My family had just moved to the reservation in 1969. After spending an idyllic summer playing in the countryside of my mother's home. The time arrived for my first day in school. All kids are anxious about the first day, especially when they are new to the district. Being only seven, I had no idea what was in store for me.

The second grade teacher, I was assigned to, was an elderly white woman. She had been teaching on the reservation for years, I'm certain. Probably retired from there, as well. I don't know what it was about me that caught her attention but it seemed from the start, she sought to humiliate me.

I often felt like I was on trial for a crime I didn't even know I had committed. There were times when she would make me stand up in class to answer her. The questions made no sense to me so I often gave her answers which she found unsatisfactory. Her response to "my mistakes" were to shame me and put me down in front of all my classmates. And what made it so bad was that my classmates reveled in my humiliation and laughed at my torture.

As the days continued on, I became more resistant. I did not want to go to school. I fought and cried and begged my parents not to send me into class. It didn't work.

I found myself in the middle of a nightmare that continued for months.

When I refused to respond for this teacher, she would then come over to my desk and drag me out of it and force me to stand up. Often times she hit me with anything that was handy, books were most often her choice.

Then I had to stand in front of the class once again, sobbing my humiliation and hurt, while they laughed openly at me. I had no defenders come to my rescue. And the ultimate betrayal in all of this was that most of my classmates were also my relatives.

I don't know what finally got through to my mother, maybe one of the students from the other classes said something to her. But she came to my class with me one day and confronted the teacher. Whatever this teacher had said to my mother must have set her off because the next thing I know, my mom was chasing her around and around her desk.

I can still see that clearly in my mind.

My parents removed me from that school immediately. But by then, the months I had spent in that teacher's company had left a mark on my spirit.

Children are resilient and heal quickly, they say. I believe that is true for most part. Yet, there is still healing that must occur with the hurt inflicted upon us as children. Many of us adults are still carrying around such hurt that is not healed.

I avoid almost any situation that resembles having to stand up in front of a classroom to be ridiculed. Even the most innocent social interaction sets me on an edge where I don't care to be. So instead of welcoming such interaction, I flee, much to the consternation of friends, colleagues, and relatives.

So, over the years, I realized that in order to heal that part of me, which is that child that still carries those memories, I had to confront those fears and anxieties. I forced myself to stand up in front of classrooms by becoming a teacher myself. Only I am hopefully, one who is more considerate of the young spirits in my charge.

The other thing I have done is to become a performance artist of the spoken word. The poetry I create and read to others is based on the hurt, the healing, and the spiritual relationships we have to one another and to the Earth and the Sky.

And, of course, I write.

And I champion those whom I feel need my support. Especially the children. Since I am also a mother of four intelligent, sensitive souls.

I am still learning to heal myself.