My Greatest Gift (January 2023)
As I tend to do a lot, I’ve put a bit of a spin on the suggested topic this month. The question/prompt was “What gifts do you bring to Harcourt and to the wider Guelph community?” But when I first read it, the question jumped out at me as “What are the greatest gifts you’ve been given?”
And my answer to that question may be surprising. The greatest gifts I have been given are the abuse and trauma I have experienced, and the long, “dark night of the soul” journey I had to go through as a means of dealing with that abuse and trauma.
For those who don’t know the details of that story, here’s a summary …
On Easter weekend, 2012, I was admitted to Guelph General Hospital, under Form 1 (suicide watch) and suffering from PTSD. I was severely dehydrated and malnourished, and I had been living a life of hyper-vigilance, not eating, and rarely sleeping. It was the end of a very emotionally/verbally abusive relationship with a man who had chipped away at my self-esteem for the preceding three years, little by little, until only a shell of my former self remained. The doctors wanted to admit me to Homewood, but I refused. My perfectionistic self would not allow myself the ‘luxury’ of time off work, and complete attention to self. I did, however, agree to out-patient status, and spent a lot of time on my healing. First I had to deal with abuse itself, and the feeling and emotions I had as a result. Anger, fear, bitterness, and an underlying sense of shame. I did a lot of work and, with the help of some incredible people and programs at Homewood, I found my way out of the darkness.
“You have to let your darkness shape your journey to the place of healing.
You have to go deeper than your mood, far beneath your emotion,
and down into the underworld of the very meaning of your life.”
Thomas Moore, Dark Night of the Soul
Had I been told, even a year or so ago, how I would answer the “What are the greatest gifts …” question, I would have found it very difficult to believe. But things were a lot different, a year or so ago. At that time, I was just starting to understand what Judith Orloff meant when she said, “The things we’re ashamed of turn out to be the greatest gifts we have to give.” I was just starting to grasp the concept of our soul purpose being connected to our most difficult experiences in this life. And I hadn’t yet even considered the possibility that this would serve as my direct connection to so many, in our community and beyond, who have also experienced abuse and trauma in one form or another.
Had I not gone through trauma and abuse, I would not have been presented with that dark night of the soul journey. And had I not persevered through that journey, I would not have been able to look at my past experiences from a completely new perspective, thereby gaining the insight and clarity—and, yes, the confidence—required to help others do the same.
I can’t begin to articulate how life-giving it is to me, and how grateful I feel, when people I have worked with reach out to me to tell me about the experience of sharing their story. Here are a few examples:
“Through the process of writing my story I experienced a vulnerability I hadn't known existed. By having the courage to push through my barriers and dissolve the fear that held me in a state of never being enough. I found myself in a space where healing occurs, spiritual growth emerges and empowerment begins.”
“There was something really powerful and freeing about owning my story and letting it go. Through the process of writing I also accepted myself as good enough, and that in itself is a gift all its own.”
“This journey of digging deep and sinking in has been utterly transformative—allowing old wounds to see the light of day and finally heal.”
Gloria Steinem once said, “The final stage of healing is using what happens to you to help other people.” One of the most powerful and poignant examples of that came from a writer in one of my most recent anthologies, who wrote to tell me about what he has been doing since the book was published:
“I have been handing them out to customers, and recently sat down with the son of one of my customers, who is dealing with crystal meth at the moment. He wants to get together again as I think he sees hope at the end of the tunnel, and is ready to tackle his demons head on! Only because of you, and gathering these stories of hope, are people realizing they can do it too! What an amazing gift you are allowing to be shared with those who need it so badly! You have set a spark in me that I’m ready to work on full steam ahead. Feet to the ground, and out there just to be an ear, to share my struggle with addiction, and to offer hope.”
I totally agree with Gabor Maté, who said, “Our most painful emotions point us to our greatest possibilities.” I am grateful to have experienced the pain that I did. It truly has become my greatest gift, and I am beyond grateful to be able to pass that gift on to as many others as I can.