The Loneliness of the Wounded
One time when I was 12 or 13, I went to the local ice cream place by myself, sat at the counter, and ordered a hot fudge sundae. I went by myself because I wanted the ice cream and no friend was available to go with me. Two old men were sitting across the restaurant in the booths, and they commented on the fact that I was alone, and they picked up my tab.
The sundae cost $1.25. I remember because I got $1.50 for my allowance and loved that I could go to Bergsons, buy a triple treat sundae, and still have enough money to leave a tip. I felt both happy and embarrassed, leaving the restaurant that day. None of my other friends would have taken themselves out for a sundae. I was different, and not in a cool, liberated way. In more of an aching, confused, quiet way. I went next door to the drugstore to buy peanut M&M’s and a Baby Ruth bar with the money I still magically had.
My weirdness had been pointed out. I’d sat at the counter, spoon in hand, and had publicly fed my hunger all by myself even though 12-year-old girls usually travelled in packs. The two old men maybe thought I had no friends, maybe they saw someone painfully alone and wanted to give her something.
I am so used to doing things by myself. I have driven across the country 8 times, in full control of the radio. I go on long walks alone. I go to movies alone. I eat alone. If someone asks to walk with me, I almost always say no. I cherish my quiet time, the control I have over my experience.
I’m not sure I would be this way if I wasn’t adopted. I think part of my brain has been negotiating with the loss of the mother since I was a baby, but I didn’t have any idea about this until my coping mechanisms wore through and out and, at 50, suddenly motherloss and its effect on my body/mind was all I could think about.
When an animal has a wound, it goes off by itself so it can feel safe. The dictionary definition of licking your wounds reads “If you say that someone is licking their wounds, you mean that they are recovering after being defeated or made to feel ashamed or unhappy.” This behavior is so ingrained in me that I get physically ill if I don’t have what I consider adequate alone time. I think I will lose my mind if I am surrounded by people 24/7. How can I lick my wounds when others are calling me into the present moment? I need to hide so I can sink back into trauma and remember who I am; I need to sink back into trauma so I can feel safe. (To be clear, for me trauma doesn’t feel like trauma, whatever that even means—ambulance lights flashing—it feels like swimming in unnamed sadness or grief or depression.)
Do you see the problem?
In my next life, I’m not going to think I am different. In my next life, I’m not going to need to tend to an inner crying that no one but me can hear. In my next life, I’m going to be understood by others and by myself. In my next life, I’ll be part of a pack.
I went on a date the other day and I frustrated the guy because I led with adoption. He was like, Why are you talking about something that happened so long ago? and I was like, If you are going to hang out with me, you need to understand the nature of my wound so you can understand me.
Leading with the wound isn’t always that relational. It can feel relational, as in, look, I’m sharing my deepest self with you, but it can create even more walls than those that exist naturally, as in, See how different I am from you? I’m damaged. I need special care.
The thing is, I do need special care. I have separation anxiety. If we go on a date and have a nice time, the alarms have a freak show in my head. Liking someone is the worst. There’s so much to deal with now: the fear of loss, the bone knowledge of what separation feels like. And because I’ve done some work on healing, I want to tell you about this. I want to lay my cards on the table. I want to be transparent.
But transparent isn’t always hot.
I bet Barbie and Ken Doll don’t lead with their wounds. I bet they talk about the weather and kitchen cabinets and dogs. Then they go off into the dark and get it on. Maybe after two years of this Barbie whispers to Ken that she has a problem with food. She tells him that in order to have a 2-inch waist, she chews each bite 100 times and then doesn’t swallow. She tells him about her napkin trick. Maybe Ken hugs her tiny deformed self more tightly. “I know,” he says. “I do it, too.” He pulls a damp napkin out of his pocket and shows her the burger he had for dinner. She touches his hard chest. “I know,” she says. “I watch you. I see you.” They get married and live happily ever after. They fell in love and then they wounded.
I am trying to learn moderation with how I present my wound to the world and to myself. We put those bizarre plastic cones on a dog’s head because a wound doesn’t heal if it doesn’t have some time where it goes undisturbed. I am trying to put a cone on my own head. It’s not about ignoring the wound or saying that it doesn’t exist. It’s about not consistently sticking my finger in it to see if it’s still there, to remember the pain, to keep it just as it always was so my body can feel familiar to me.
While I believe it’s essential to tell your story in a way that feels complete and cohesive, championing the wound and always walking into a room wound first is about refusing to change. To be terrified of facing yet another loss.
I am trying to learn how to tolerate being with other people for longer periods of time. I am working in 2-minute increments. I’m like an addict. I can’t wait for you to leave the room so I can focus on my wound. The thing is, on my deathbed, I don’t want it just to be me and this thing that I carry that happened to me, that I didn’t even cause. I want to be surrounded by people who love me, people whom I love. The price of love, of community, is my willingness to focus on things outside of myself.
It’s a high price. There’s so much control when I am alone. Other people really mess with my need to heal.
Clearly I need to think about what I believe healing looks like. Just because my mother disappeared and my body didn’t ever learn the deep lesson of mother-child-DNA-compatible eye contact, the rooting action of you are mine, I am yours, and this world is exactly where you are supposed to be, it doesn’t mean I have to be busted forever. It means that I need to learn how to train my brain to think differently. I need to learn how to step out of looping thoughts that I don’t even know I have because they are buried in my preverbal experiences, in the part of my brain that feeds me chemicals and keeps me in a state of fight or flight but doesn’t have the words to tell me why.
I have such an odd life. I live like a gypsy. No home of my own. I move around a lot. Having a wound takes resources that other people put into a new car or a stable future. Self-care when you are crying inside is like being a new mother without having anyone around to help you with your upset baby. The fatigue feels like something has sucked the marrow right out of your bones. And you live like this. Caffeine helps. Sugar. Drugs. Binge watching shows. You are dragged deeper and deeper into your alone life because tending to a wound is all-consuming and often you can’t bear to hear the suffering of others because your own suffering feels, at times. too great for you to handle. And so you isolate more. Life is easier when the only radio station you have to listen to is your own.
It’s also really lonely.
Some priests and nuns intentionally wound themselves, I believe, to feel closer to God. Wounds can work in our favor. They can wake us up. A thorn’s scratch draws blood and lets us see the secrets of the inside.
It’s important to keep in mind that the thorn is not the point. The wound is not the point. The point is to feel connected to source, to the deep, nearly unbearable joy truly feeling alive can bring to a body.
To your body.