I’m certain I’ll offend some by stating this: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s apparent inability to leave a teen-aged affront in her dead past seems a sad testimony of how psychology fails to help people. The fact she is a “doctor” should indicate some skill at healing, but the only nursing involved seemed to be the nursing of a grudge.
We all have traumas in our past. Some are worse than others. As a writer I used to hang around with other “sensitive artists”, and we could become absurdly competitive about which one of us had suffered the most. Then, in California in 1983, I met a Cambodian woman who had been through the nightmare of Pol Pot, and a further nightmare involving pirates, as a “boat person” escaping Indochina’s horror and fleeing to the United States, and, after hearing her tales, the worst traumas I had ever endured paled in comparison. I even felt a little sheepish about ever having called my pains “trauma”.
Yet traumas we have been through, both major and minor, are bound to effect us. This is only natural, for we learn through our experiences: “Once burned, twice shy.” Our successes are only the result of a great many failures. Even as I now write, these words are part of a rough draft I will later go over, and improve upon. It would be a sad thing if the rough draft could not be improved upon, and instead indicated “trauma” that would burden me for the rest of my life.
While I recognize Justice Kavanaugh strenuously asserts Dr. Ford’s recollection is a false memory, and that he never did what she “remembers”, I’ll mention that even if he was guilty of inappropriate groping as a teenager (and many of us were) it should not be held against him for the rest of his life. Nor should Dr. Ford be permanently scarred by the discomfort of unwelcome advances. Considering the society of that time tended to mock abstinence (AIDS didn’t become a major concern until later in the 1980’s), and considering adolescents are not known for a lack of social clumsiness, the goofs of youth should be expected, and forgiven, if not forgotten.
The question then becomes how we “get over” the traumas of our past.
The most natural thing to do is to forget about it. For example, as we learned to walk we experienced the trauma of losing our balance and sitting down hard. After a brief spell of bawling we forgot about it. The lesson was learned, and became part of our “experience.” This natural process allows us to do many things without thinking. For example, there have been many times I’ve driven long distances with an engaging conversationalist, so engrossed in the conversation I hardly remember the drive at all. The simple fact I didn’t crash into anyone (or a tree) demonstrates that my learned “experience” was able to do the driving, even as my consciousness was elsewhere. In this example the action of driving was “unconscious.”
Psychologists ask the question, “What is driving you?” There is the assumption that our past traumas make up our current identity. The reason that we turn left or turn right in life is that we are avoiding past pains. (Some focus more on pleasure, as a motive, but pleasure can be seen as avoiding-pain.)
In spiritual terms the same dynamic can be seen as our frustrated or gratified desires. What are desires? Well, some things attract us and some things repel us, due to “impressions” we gather. Some things impress us positively and some things impress us negatively. (There is actually a word for these impressions: “Sanskaras.” A sanskara is a sort of sub-sub-atomic particle of mind, and collected sanskaras make up sub-atomic particles of energy, which make up material atoms.)
Because psychologists have an awareness we are “driven” by things that we don’t even think about, they have a tendency to root about in the backs of our minds, seeking what motivates us. Our subconscious mind is an interesting place to explore, but unfortunately some investigative psychologists are clumsy, even brutal, and often their efforts to “fix” us are not helpful.
For example, when a person is troubled, some psychologists simply zap the brain. The idea is that the brain needs to forget, so electricity is used. Such psychologists like to justify their zapping by pointing at what they see as “positive results”, though they have no idea what they are doing. I have always felt that “electric shock therapy” is the equivalent of giving a malfunctioning TV a whack. If the picture improves it does not make the whacker an electrician, (and sometimes the whack breaks the TV).
Drugs are the same sort of thing. More harm than good has come of trying to deal with troubled people with pills, whether the “cure” is doctor-prescribed or self-medication, although some forms of self-medication, (such as Churchill’s cigars), are not entirely ruinous. (After all, he was over ninety when he retired from politics.)
A third form of foolishness, which I myself was very involved with, involves rooting about in the past, when you should be facing the future by attending to the present. There were times I would have benefited more by simply going out and getting a job, but instead avoided getting a job by thinking deeply about the psychological roots of my dreads and desires (when my desire was to hide in my mother’s basement). In such cases I was seeking in the wrong direction; the cure lay out in the fresh air, but I stayed stuck, thinking the cure lay in “psychology.”
Psychology should free people who are stuck. A great irony is that some psychologists prosper by keeping people stuck on a sort of treadmill of problem-causing thought, because some psychologists stand to gain more by advising people to sign up for fifty-two psychological sessions than they would gain by advising the person to go get a job.
The greatest irony is when a psychologist does this to themselves. I am not saying Dr. Ford did this, but her peer-reviewed paper on self-hypnosis and creating false-memory does suggest the possibility of her being overly inward. (The expressed idea suggests that, if you are controlled by a real memory of a past trauma, you can escape that control by using self-hypnosis to create the new control of a false memory.) The danger of such inwardness is that, rather than going out into the fresh air and interacting with real people in reality, one stays stuck in the musty halls of academia, diddling with old ideas attempting to make something new out of fossils. Rather than the fresh outlooks of another’s view one instead is stuck with their same old mind’s same old views, and one reviews, and re-reviews, and re-re-reviews…
In my own life I called this becoming “ingrown”. I tended to fall prey to it because writers do withdraw a lot, and do look inward a lot. Also I often found other people’s minds very boring, even disgusting, and would want to run away and be a yogi on some mountaintop far away, in a beautiful landscape. However sitting around without the input of other minds gradually made me bored, even disgusted, with my own mind, as I became “ingrown.” Eventually I’d be driven to come down from the hills and rejoin the human race.
Not that I’ve ever completely conformed to the world’s boring ways. In some ways I am still as imaginative as I was in first grade. In first grade I always found “Show-and-Tell” tremendously dull, and would attempt to liven things up a bit with sheer balderdash, (which I suppose could be called an example of “False Memory Syndrome”).
When I was young school was a bore
And so I said, “A dinosaur
Came walking through my yard today.”
The time was “Show and Tell”. I told.
The teacher didn’t have to scold.
My neighbor coughed and scoffed, “He lied!
There was no dinosaur outside!”
“He lied! He lied!” The taunting burned.
“He lied! He lied!” The taunt returned
In midnight flames that made me mad.
So I went mad, and didn’t care.
From the blackboard’s deep despair
The window’s view would lure my eyes
To peek to see how moved my lies.
Did you know angel’s paint the skies?
I wrote the above poem when I was twenty, and deeply involved with “getting in touch with my feelings” through men’s groups and sessions with psychologists. As I recall, I did a lot of weeping and wailing about how teachers abused me and tried to make me sensible, rather than appreciating that I was a sensitive poet.
What did this accomplish? Well, I certainly felt a lot better. Originally no one had wanted to read my poems, so I felt unheard, but “therapy” let me feel heard.
(Of course, if I had paid people as much to read my poems as I paid the therapist, they might have read my poems. But I didn’t want to pay people, I wanted people to pay me, to read my poems).
In any case, once I felt better I was more likely to stop sulking, and more likely to go out into the world and begin interacting. That was what all the weeping and wailing was good for. It didn’t really accomplish anything, but it put me in the “mood” to accomplish something.
Of course, some therapists didn’t really approve of me feeling so much better, as it would lessen their income if I was “cured”, and some might therefore start saying things that lessened my confidence. When I objected they could then state my “hostility” towards them was a sign of “resistance”, and that more therapy was needed. When I objected further it was a sign of “denial”. The interactions became a sort of downward spiral, and by the time I told the psychologists to “shove it where the sun don’t shine” I stood accused of all sorts of “subconscious sabotage”, no longer felt all that good about myself, and was back to sulking.
Besides wasting a lot of time and money, psychology taught me a lot of jargon I could use to describe the inner workings of my poetic side, and also let me see “feelings” were something more than a sign I was immature wuss. “Feelings” were a sort of sixth sense, able to “feel out” situations, and grasp the “shape” things were in, before the intellect could even begin to find the words to describe the same situation.
In some ways that difference between “feelings” and intellect is the boundary between poetry and prose. Poetry grapples with indistinct shapes, with gestalts and Jungian symbols, whereas prose is more scientific and precise. Poetry, at its finest, (for example in the case of Shakespeare), has an adroit capacity to comprehend the subconscious that puts an ordinary psychologist to shame. Poetry playfully toys with what psychologists struggle to grasp, and too often mishandle. Once I became aware of this psychology seemed far less interesting to me. To be honest, my psychological knowledge felt more like a ball and chain than like wings. I longed to dismiss it, but it lurked like a post-traumatic ghoul in the back of my mind.
At this point (age twenty-one) I had “got religion”, (though I was not affiliated with any church), and had renounced the hippy concept of free sex and free drugs. I became rabidly anti-drugs , and grimly prudish. I felt that the natural consequence of sex was a baby, and I therefore should not have sex unless I was prepared to support the mother and child. I did not merely talk the talk, but walked the walk, and women seemed to sense they were “safe” with me. This resulted in situations I did not enjoy at all.
At that time I held the simplistic view that women sought three things in a man. They wanted financial security, sexual gratification, and the emotional sensitivity of heart-to-heart talks. As a writer I was dirt poor, which was strike one. My spiritual discipline made me avoid sexual gratification, which was strike two. But my poetic understanding (and complimentary understanding of psychobabble), allowed me to have heart-to-heart talks. With certain women this hit a home-run, for though their husbands were rich and very good in bed, they had the sensitivity of brass knuckles, and their wives had a deep longing to talk about mushy stuff that made their husbands gag. They found me a wonderful adjunct to their lives.
I didn’t like it. I felt like a sort of effeminate hairdresser, a man women felt safe to be close to because he wasn’t as threatening as a vibrant and viral man. In fact at this point in my life various homosexual men (and I knew many, in the world of writers), informed me their “gaydar” told them I was “gay”. I told them I wasn’t, and told them (and a few women) that the one thing I could never understand about women is why on earth such beautiful bodies would want to lay down with something as unlovely as a man.
It was tiresome, but for the most part I could handle women who made me be a sort of adjunct to their marriages to other men. This was largely because these woman also had the sensitivity of brass knuckles, when it came to being the slightest bit sensitive to what men care about. Having heart-to-heart talks with such women made me aware they really weren’t all that attractive. They may have felt heard when we talked, but I felt increasingly unheard and increasingly lonely.
It was when my loneliness was at a crescendo that I met a married woman who could hear me. It struck me as a most remarkable thing, to be heard, without having to pay the price a psychologist charges.
To cut a long story short, I fell in love with her, which spoiled everything. I couldn’t live up to the high standards of my spiritual discipline, and was fed up with being a hairdresser, but she didn’t want to be more than a friend. Emotionally, it was devastating.
When you had troubles I was there.
When I had troubles, what?
When I was in my direst need
I found your doors were shut.
Unrequited love is not a healthy situation to remain in, when your constitution cannot withstand it, so I hit the road and never returned.
Was this a trauma? Yes. Did the memory pursue me even as I ran away? Yes. Did it haunt me? Yes. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford does not have a monopoly on the trauma of heartache.
What’s more, whereas Dr. Ford claims she was grievously wounded by a man trying to have his way with her, I assert a man can be just as grievously wounded when he doesn’t have his way. Many women have the sensitivity of brass knuckles, when it comes to unrequited love.
But one more question should be asked: Did I get over it? Yes.
Ask me why I’ve dropped my ax
And wear the fondest smile.
Ask me why the wood’s unsplit
For just a little while.
I now recall a girl I knew
Who had such lovely ways
That it is like I’m wrapped in warmth
Recalling her these days;
But when we split my mood was dark
For she was not for me
And if there’d been a clipper ship
I would have gone to sea.
Like Frenchmen in their legions far,
Far from friendly homes
I’ve known the skies that lack a star
To guide the man who roams.
Where some may slay a dragon’s wrath
And hope to win the fair
I had no hope; the foe I fought
Was my complete despair.
Without the path that leads one home
Or guiding star above
My only hope in hopelessness
Was, “God made life for love.”
Even though I couldn’t see
Examples this was true,
And wandered on without a dawn
Or midnight moonlight-blue,
And even though I saw all hope
As something of a sham
Like salmon to the springs of birth
My dreaming spirit swam,
And there, by clearest water’s spring,
I saw, when I began,
I had no dreams or hopes on earth.
I simply was a man.
I saw my hope of ownership
Had blinded me to light,
And that to lose that single hope
Had closed the lids of night.
Then, opening my eyes, I saw
Past greed and past desire,
And saw what’s true and beautiful
One always will admire.
Unplucked or picked, the rose must wilt
But beauty it revealed
Will ever be, unless my lids
Know sleep, and all’s concealed.
And that is why my face is softened
With this dreamy smile
Musing on the ways that were
For just a little while.
The ability to smile about something that once made you grimace is a sign you have “gotten over it.” It involves more than merely erasing a memory, or repressing it. It involves digesting and assimilating experience, and moving from innocence to maturity.
This still doesn’t answer the question, “How does it happen?” The simple answer is to say, “I don’t know how it happens; it just happens.” It is like a cut on your finger. We do not really know how it heals; it just heals.
The confidence that a wound will heal, given time, goes a long way towards relieving the pain, because for many the pain involves a lot of baseless worry that they are forever maimed when they aren’t, especially when they feel worse than they have ever felt before. This confidence is also called “faith”, and even atheist doctors know how important faith can be in the healing process.
But simple answers aren’t enough for me; I’m like a doctor who isn’t satisfied with the knowledge a cut will heal, and who wants to know more about the process, and if there is any way to speed the process. Therefore I am always poking about in my past, and listening to the stories others tell, looking for clues concerning how people “get over” heartaches. If you are at all inquisitive you can learn surprising things about the most dull-seeming people, and the adversity they have overcome, if you only ask.
Hearing the testimony of people who have survived what you are going through seems important, though it may be the last thing a suffering person wants to hear. When you have just hit your thumb with a hammer it does you little good to hear another say, “I did that once.” It can even make you mad. You are hurting and they aren’t, and you don’t want to hear about how they don’t hurt. That’s flipping obvious, because it your thumb that just got crunched; not theirs. There are times it is wisest for onlookers to simply keep quiet and do nothing, (unless they happen to have some Novocaine handy.)
Just as one may hop about for a while after hitting their thumb, there seems to be a sort of emotional equivalent. To a degree people need to rave, or have a good cry, or shiver with fright, as their emotions “feel out” what they have been through. I suppose at this point it is best for onlookers to reserve judgement, and just sympathetically listen.
Then, just as a day later one may gingerly flex and touch their sore thumb to see how the process of healing is proceeding, people seem to have a need to revive a past trauma. This can get boring, if you have already heard the sad tale thirty-six times, and I suppose one can be forgiven if one stops reserving judgement, at this point. It is at this point your testimony is more likely to be heard, if not accepted and assimilated.
Recently I’ve been going through old notebooks dating from my time as a drifter, looking for times I showed signs of maturing a little. I want to write a book about those times, but don’t want it to be a depressing collection of gripes, for, although those were hard times, I learned a lot, and I now smile, recalling my hardships. I didn’t smile so much back then, for I had no idea better days lay ahead, but one reason the future held better days was because I was well taught by the School Of Hard Knocks. I have a feeling that, if I was able to testify about how I was taught, the tales might be eagerly read by youth in similar situations today, and they might gain some sort of uplift.
Back then I often camped during the summer, either where there was no fee, or at campgrounds where the fee was small, and one spring, after I moved out to a campground, I saw a spell of terrible luck give way to a period of such beneficence that I looked up at the sky and just said, “Thank You.” It was as if I was being rewarded for getting through the winter.
My routine was simple. If I couldn’t find day-labor I would return to the campground and write, chain-smoking and sipping coffee mixed with thick, powdered milk (which enabled me to avoid the bother of eating), deeply engrossed in my thoughts. For some reason many seemed to find the sight of a man chain-smoking at a typewriter at a picnic table irresistible, and they’d come strolling over and attempt to start a conversation. I usually found them a distraction, and I wasn’t very welcoming.
Often they would ask, “What are you writing?”
I might gruffly reply, “That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
While this did end their nosy interest in my writing, many refused to be discouraged. They would laugh and sit down and change the subject to the weather, or the advantages of their camper over my pup tent, and with a sigh I’d light another cigarette and sit back to see what God had brought to my table.
On a couple of occasions I was somewhat startled by the sequences of fascinating people who appeared out of the blue, day after day. It seemed so contrived that I again glanced up to the sky. If I ever get around to writing a book people will think I am making it all up, especially when it was a sequence of truly kind people, after a winter without many crumbs of kindness in sight.
For now I’ll just describe one kind person, a woman who in some ways uplifted my attitude permanently.
I was not all that happy to see her approaching my table out of the corner of my eye, and tried to look very busy and focused on the page. It was a day I had devoted to writing, after making some decent money (for a bum) with day-labor the day before, and it furthermore was the time of day when I usually did my best writing; mid-morning, when the campground quieted down after many left, and before the day grew hot and the desert winds grew gusty and flapped my papers about. As she arrived at the picnic table she asked, “Do you mind if I join you?”
I gave her my stone-face, and responded, “Looks like you already have.”
“This is true,” she laughed, and sat down across the table, and continued, without much of a pause, “So, what’s your story?”
I did a quick evaluation. She wasn’t looking at the typewriter, so that wasn’t the story she was curious about. She was about my age, and reasonably good looking, considering she wore no make-up and her hair was tousled, yet I had zero sense she was considering any sort of sexual advance. The frankness and friendliness in her eyes was that of a sister I never knew I had, and we quickly fell into a long and comfortable conversation. It was all about me, for when I asked her about herself she deftly steered the talk back to me. I never learned where she was from or where she was going, nor heard even a tale about what she’d experienced in life, yet she struck me as wise. Around lunchtime she walked back to her car (which was already packed) and drove off and I never saw her again. Yet I felt on a different level.
She was blunt, in a disarming way, and seemed to have no fear of asking me if there was some woman behind my destitution. I was equally honest in return, and told her I had a whole harem of women, in my memory, but in real life I had given up on women. I confessed that over the years I’d met three I’d wanted to marry, but they had the good sense to lose me, and I’d concluded I was a complete fool, concerning women, and marriage was now out of the question. I said chasing woman is the normal behavior of a lusty, young man, but once a man passes thirty such behavior increasingly looked like the behavior of a dirty, old man. I’d had my three chances, and three strikes meant I was out. I was too old.
These were lines I’d spoken so many times to so many strangers that I knew them by rote. She wasn’t buying it. She casually said, “Oh, you’re not too old, although I’ll admit…” she looked thoughtfully to the side, pausing before smiling at me and continuing, “….you’d be difficult to train.”
I remember smiling broadly, and shaking my head at her nerve. I admired the way she felt free to make statements people usually waltz around making. Later on she said something I had to scribble down in a notebook, telling her “I’m going to use that in a poem.”
I had been telling her what I fool I was, and how I was completely incapable of telling the difference between a good woman and a facade-witch. She wanted to know what a facade-witch was, and I explained it was a Norse demon that, from the front, resembles a beautiful woman, which always tries to face you, for from the rear it looks like a hollow shell, lacking any heart or guts. I added I’d met a girl like that, who only needed to smile and nod at me, and I was completely convinced she understood and agreed, though she did not agree at all. I continued that I had told the girl I didn’t believe in short-term relationships, and the girl had smiled and nodded when I said there must be “100% commitment.” I explained I thought I had found my soul-mate. Then I bitterly laughed, “It wasn’t two months before that girl announced, ‘I’m not 100% committed any more.’ ”
“Actually,” the stranger responded from across the picnic table, “You are lucky she left if she loved you so little.”
“You are lucky she left
If she loved you so little.”
So spoke the wise one I met on the trail.
I knew she was right
But my laughter was brittle.
Humor is humble when loving seems frail.
I thought and then answered,
“But she could say this:
‘I’m glad he is gone if he wouldn’t pursue.'”
She cocked her brow
As if I were amiss,
“Which one left whom?”
“I haven’t a clue.” 1986
Not only did this stranger give me a good first line for a poem, but she also gave me a totally different way of viewing the same situation. I went from “I am the victim of a facade-witch” to “I am lucky.”
Which returns me to an earlier point, which was that one should avoid being too ingrown, and instead should seek the fresh air of other’s views. That is why we don’t have a single eye like a cyclops. Having two eyes gives us a third view, called “depth perception”.
And perhaps it is when we start to view life with the depth perception we gain from other’s views that we find we are able to “get over it.”