On my mantel, I have constructed what I refer to as the “Voices altar.” ((I use the word altar, though it is probably more correctly called a shrine, but the word shrine calls up images of men in fezzes on tricycles, which is not what I’m going for here.)) It is a place to remember gratitude and connectedness, not to worship. I have arranged images of people whose voices have gotten me through, convinced me I was not the only one like me when I felt most alone, and essentially collectively saved my life. Call them part of the pantheon in my personal mythology.
I won’t go into who all is represented, but the crowd includes both Henry Miller and Fred Rogers, so it’s an interesting bunch.
D.H. Lawrence is included. In high school I read The Rainbow, Women in Love, and of course, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Lawrence’s books may have been the first place I got the message that sensuality and sexuality could be reveled in without shame, guilt, or fear. That they might be celebrated instead of denigrated. That they are part and parcel of spirituality, and that spirituality is a different beast than religion. That life itself is to be celebrated instead of tolerated or suffered until one gains entrance to “a better place.”
So, thank you D.H. Lawrence.
Holly Gray at Don’t Call Me Sibyl is also grateful and writes in An Open Letter to D.H. Lawrence:
But your bird inspires me and awakens the feral in me, reminding me of the wild thing I once was and can be again. The ropes that hold me down are merely the ghosts of ropes that dissolved long ago. My illusions are all that oppress me now.
I was grateful to run across that post while skimming over Dr. Kathleen Young’s July 2010 Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. The theme was Independence.
What I have been wondering is how to gain independence from the tyrannical need to be “independent.” From the outside this “independence” easily appears strong, sure, and self-sufficient. From the inside, one can romanticize one’s life and identify with D.H. Lawrence’s Baby Tortoise ((Remember, sometimes tortoises help tortoises, too.)):
Voiceless little bird,
Resting your head half out of your wimple
In the slow dignity of your eternal pause.
Alone, with no sense of being alone,
And hence six times more solitary;
Fulfilled of the slow passion of pitching through
Your little round house in the midst of chaos.
Over the garden earth,
Over the edge of all things.
With your tail tucked a little on one side
Like a gentleman in a long-skirted coat.
All life carried on your shoulder,
If you look closer, however, you see the independence is brittle. It is brittle because it is fear, not independence. When one learns certain lessons early in life, one learns it is less painful just to turn inward and become an absolutely self-sustaining emotional unit. Like many coping mechanisms, this works brilliantly when needed, but later becomes unhelpful and extremely difficult to shake.
When I first heard about it, I thought Biosphere 2 was an inspiring, beautiful concept. But rather than succeed as a hermetically-sealed self-sufficient paradise, that project demonstrated how quickly such a system can poison itself and become infested.
The child who learns not to get attached to people and that emotions and needs get her into trouble becomes the woman who insists upon being dropped off at the emergency room by herself, calls no one to come when she learns she will have surgery, and recovers from the operation alone except for one friend bringing pajamas and books to the hospital, another fetching her home, and another bringing a load of groceries and drugs the first night.
Such habitual defenses are so difficult to shake precisely because they are rightly owed a spot on the Voices altar. Donald Kalsched writes of an inner Protector/Persecutor as part of what he calls the archetypal self-care system. The Protector aspect devises the defense strategies, and the Persecutor aspect attacks and blames the self when it goes beyond defenses and gets hurt:
It functions, if we can imagine its inner rationale, as a kind of inner “Jewish Defense League” (whose slogan, after the Holocaust, reads “never Again!”). “Never again,” says our tyrannical caretaker, will the traumatized personal spirit of this child suffer this badly! Never again will it be this helpless in the face of cruel reality….before this happens I will disperse it into fragments [dissociation], or encapsulate it and soothe it with fantasy [schizoid withdrawal], or numb it with intoxicating substances [addiction], or persecute it to keep it from hoping for life in this world [depression]….In this way I will preserve what is left of this prematurely amputated childhood — of an innocence that has suffered too much too soon!”
Despite the otherwise well-intentioned nature of our Protector/Persecutor, there is a tragedy lurking in these archetypal defenses. And here we come to the crux of the problem for the traumatized individual and simultaneously the crux of the problem for the psychotherapist trying to help. This incipient tragedy results from the fact that the Protector/Persecutor is not educable. The primitive defense does not learn anything about realistic danger as the child grows up. It functions on the magical level of consciousness with the same level of awareness it had when the original trauma or traumas occurred.
And so the question is: how does one convince an uneducable part of oneself that is about as trusting as a feral cat to open up and connect fully with people when the nature of the world and everything in it is impermanence? The trouble is finding the middle place of being with between grasping and rejecting ((i.e. grasping at not-grasping)). With every loss, disappointment, or betrayal the Protector/Persecutor picks up another beam of evidence with which to beat you and then build walls.
Kalsched says the answer is grief.
Those in the know say blog posts should be brief.