I was once profoundly involved in knowing someone that I can only describe as akin to a shipwreck. I’ll never go into specific details in an open-access medium like this blog with anyone’s personal details other than my own, but I tend to walk a treacherous line anyway given I write memoirs — and even heavily-autobiographical fiction, if I’m honest — so I have no problem with analyzing the fundamental tendencies of the human condition based on case studies of people I really know. Most of the time, these “people I know” tend to be myself, so usually I’m not betraying anyone’s trust in me other than perhaps my own.
When it comes to others’ personal demons, though, I’ve always been happy to play guardian. I will never divulge the secrets that were given to me in confidence or critique a person openly in public writing (I learned that lesson years ago) that I wouldn’t have the guts to say to them to their face. But the beauty of the written word is that it can be as specific or as vague as you want.
So, nosy curious people (and you know who you are), no, I’m not going to specify who this shipwreck was or why he was such a shipwreck. But take my word for it; he was a wounded soul, and as much as it sucks for me to say it, it was at the time an irrevocable wound. Personally, I believe we can all heal from anything (or else why would I set up such a blog?), but it all starts with a personal desire to overcome our demons.
Why the psychobabble? you may ask, and that’s fair. What does overcoming personal baggage have to do with healing from a stroke, say, or a heart attack?
Because whether physical or mental, traumatic injury is traumatic injury. The sad part is that significant injuries are oftentimes not visible, so people put less credence into putting attention on the kind they can’t see.
It’s kind of like why we eat a bunch of junk or why people smoke or do other damaging things. We rationally know it’s killing our bodies, but as long as we’re still alive and feel relatively fine, we continue to do it. We’re not great judges of the long-term effects of our behaviors, and as long as something isn’t staring us straight in the face, we avoid dealing with it.
I admit, as well, that these invisible injuries can also be convenient in the sense that as long as you want to ignore them, you can. And will.
But the problem with procrastination and burying inconvenient truths — sweeping them under the counter, if you will — is that once you decide it may be time to look under that gleaming surface that deceives everyone else, you’re looking at a nauseous accumulation of gunk and tumor-like growths of nastiness.
[Quick aside. My mom yells at me all the time for not washing dishes immediately because sauces and whatnot tend to crust over and become ten times more difficult to remove once you’ve let them sit for too long. “It’s effortless!” she always says with a swift wipe of the sponge. “Just do it right away.”]
I’m not saying you need to spend hours every day staring into a metaphorical mirror to analyze your flaws. But self-awareness is exactly the bare minimum you have to do to even remotely get started getting better.
The reason I brought up the shipwreck person is because his most resistant, most frustrating quality that was the root of all his problems (yes, all) was his lack of inner humility. It takes a certain amount of honesty and personal integrity to step back and truly analyze your own behavior. He had enough of it to know that he had issues — a veritable cop-out in the end, as we all “have issues” but as long as they remain nameless they’re still unresolved, but like a shipwreck left alone too long, all that pressure and time built up the grime and the parasites that inevitably spark the decay process.
It always gets worse before it gets better. (But it will never get better without your participation.)
Sometimes the truths you discover will shock you. They’ll sometimes hurt. And other times, you’ll realize they’re really not as bad as you thought, and you learn to accept some — but not all.
In the end, I truly realized that it was not in my place to save and protect him from his demons. Trying to not only sabotaged my own ability to sustain my own happiness (after all, misery does love company), but stressed me out way more than it did him. And no one ought to worry about fixing your baggage more than you do (apparently the most suicides in the medical field are within the psychiatry field, naturally). You can only be saved if you want to be. So I removed myself from the situation — very late, but of course better late than never.
I’ve found that actually, I quite like to help people recover and heal from whatever it is they suffer from; that’s why I began this blog in the first place. But I can’t do the work for you, so we must understand that there’s an unwritten contract between us that I will give you as much input as I can to help you get better, but that you must take that advice and implement it.
One of the attributes of animal intelligence is self-awareness: Dolphins recognize themselves in the mirror, and that’s one of the myriad reasons humans understand that these are animals of advanced thinking. Similarly, those of us who are well developed and truly interested in our own self betterment often get behind the mirror and ponder our own strengths and weaknesses. Be careful with the former; it’s easy to shed a flattering light on ourselves, yet blindingly horrific to step under a fluorescent one that brings forth all our imperfections.
You can only work on what you know is not working, so be honest with yourself and do some heavy reflection. I know personally that I should truly practice what I preach and be CIMTing as much as I can, typing with both hands every day, and not abuse my body in the socially accepted ways. I have my weaknesses too; rest assured.
It’s not easy to be so candid with yourself, but we certainly need to be.
To our healing,