Recoil Embrace

October 26, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography

I’m not sure how old I was when I recognized that the person I was seeing or talking with was, or had been, damaged.  I differentiated between those that were “normal” and those exhibiting the existence of deep distress.  I recoiled from suffering.

It would be a while before I’d realize that these were brothers and sisters, folks whose insides felt familiar.  My compulsion to withdraw from these people was directly related to my being able to so easily see in them what I strove to not experience in myself or reveal to others.

At the same time I wanted to understand these darkest places inside a human.  Mental illness was familiar to me.  Close relatives had committed suicide, had been institutionalized and had exhibited deeply awry frames of reference.  While I strove to avoid contact with people I met that were intimate with this darkness, I drew it, studied it, read about it and wrote about it.  This was when I was in high school.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, I often hitchhiked around the country.  Road culture was filled with both an intoxicating optimism and the physically and mentally awry.  Traveling around the country by car, I picked up hitchhikers.  The wounded were everywhere.

In college I wrestled with getting my degree in psychology and becoming a clinician.  Two things stopped me.  While I felt a deep desire to positively intervene in the lives of people, I felt an abhorrence of people’s pain.  It felt too familiar.  Nevertheless, for a short time I practiced psychotherapy.  I then discovered that I was jealous of the attention I would give other people, attention I worked hard to not give myself.  I still preferred not to embrace that which was wounded inside me.

I’m not a young man anymore.  I’m not as frightened as often as I used to be.  Death has been transforming from an ogre to a friend.  To a degree, I feel like I’ve given up the battle to create distance between myself and pain.  The walking wounded seem almost everywhere I look.  They scare me less.  Part of my willingness to embrace their pain is my having chosen to be aware of, and embrace, my own.


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