Okay, sorry, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity for some quality alliteration. This post is, however, about how the process of healing is damn painful… and how that’s completely normal. Yet, some things, some types of pain are probably not normal along the path. So, I am going to try to talk a little bit about that as well. The whole thing, will be done through the analogy of a healing tattoo because I am currently going through that healing process and it started me thinking about how the process of my tattoo healing is a lot like the process of healing from emotional wounds.
The beginning/the wounding:
It goes without saying that the wounding process is traumatic. In the case of both getting a tattoo and being emotionally wounded, there are lasting physical effects. One, of course, is hopefully a bit more of a beautiful and chosen wound. The other, unfortunately, isn’t always so beautiful and is certainly not chosen. The healing goes the same, though.
Phase One of Healing: Exposing the Wound
For a while after we are wounded it is natural to protect the wound. Keep the bad things out. But, eventually, that isn’t healthy anymore because it also keeps the bad things in, which, for an open wound like a tattoo means possible infection. The same can apply to emotional wounds. We work so hard to keep ourselves safe from the bad things that sometimes we don’t consider how we are also keeping all of that toxicity in as well. The only way to let it out is to take the step, be vulnerable, expose the wound.
With the tattoo, obviously, this is a bit more literal. We take the saran wrap off, let it get some air. Give it a good wash with a nice clear soap. Emotional wounds aren’t so easy. They take time to expose. It’s much, much more difficult to be emotionally vulnerable, to let ourselves be emotionally exposed. Undoubtedly, it takes finding the right person to be a witness to that exposure. Someone to see our wounds and understand what kind of healing we are going through. For a lot of people that can be found in friendships, family, a therapist. Some people aren’t ever able to find that safe person, so they continue to keep their wounds covered, waiting, hoping it doesn’t get infected.
Speaking of infection, I think this does happen in both physical and emotional wounds. If I expose my tattoo but fail to care for it properly, it might still get infected. I basically let the bad stuff fester. The same applies to emotional wounds; that’s why it is so important to let the right person in. As many of you know, I’m currently questioning whether or not I’ve let the right person in… I’m leaning toward, perhaps not. I think that relationship became infected. And I think it has caused my original wounds to become infected as well. The solution remains the same: tend to the wound.
Phase Two of Healing: Tending to the Wound
If the wound is coming along as it should be we are left with some subphases: the painful phase, the persistently on the mind phase (the itchy phase), and the peeling away of the unnecessary bits phase. All of these things come about as we tend to our wounds, whether they have been infected by the bad stuff (germs or negative people) or they are healing appropriately.
In the painful phase of the emotional wound it is that vulnerability that causes the pain. The not knowing if you’ve done the right thing by being open and exposed. The risk of someone possibly hurting you again. It is both painful and brave. At this point, there is an open wound that still needs protecting. This is your heart and your self. Be gentle in this phase. This is the same for the healing tattoo. It is an open wound, literally. There isn’t anything that can be done except to keep it clean, to protect it from any foreign invaders.
The persistently on the mind phase for the emotional wound is when things get worse before they get better. This is the triggered by everything phase. It is the flashbacks and nightmares increasing phase. This phase is where hope seems like a stranger. It is the phase where the darkness threatens to take over. It is the guilt phase and the shame phase. It’s the everything makes me irritable phase. In this regard, I think the tattoo, the physical wound is easier to deal with. It is itchy. It is annoying. But, I can just put some aquaphor/vaseline/lotion on it and it, for the most part stops annoying me until the skin has soaked it all up. Because emotional wounds and physical wounds are like that, once they are in this phase they naturally seek out and soak up the good stuff. They need nurturance. They need nourishment. Even with this nourishment, however, the peeling away will still happen.
In the emotional wound, this peeling away looks like shedding the shame, the guilt, the pain, the need for punishment, the cognitive distortions, etc. It looks like learning how to mindfully approach our thought spirals, our recursive wormholes. It’s when we stop judging ourselves. It’s when we learn how to fight back against the inner critic. It’s when that nurturance and nourishment finally starts to make a difference, when we finally start moving toward feeling whole again. But, the peeling away must happen first. Naturally, this peeling away with the physical wound, the tattoo is quite literal. The skin peels. It is disgusting. It is not a pretty phase. It is just something that has to be endured, knowing that the reward of a beautifully healed tattoo will be the result. There is a similar rainbow at the end of the dark emotional healing tunnel as well. At least, that’s what I hope.
Phase Three of Healing: Reaching the End of the Tunnel
In the healing of the emotional wound, it seems like this place is a place of myth. It is a unicorn, a dragon, a chimera. It’s something we hope for but can maybe never actually conceptualize. It’s something we have to count on others to remind us actually exists. This place, to me, is a new kind of normal. Because, like after getting a tattoo, you won’t ever be the same person you were before. You just become a different version of you. Presumably, a stronger, healthier version. I wish I could say I knew more about this phase, but I don’t. It’s still something of a mystery to me but I do have hope. I hope that it exists. I hope that there is another side.
As for the tattoo, I can say for sure that there is another side. The tattoo, the physical wound heals. It responds to the care and nurturance it has been given for weeks. It feels like the skin that was there before but it is new skin, it is newly colored. It is beautifully transformed. And that, my friends, is what I hope the other side of emotional healing also looks like: being beautifully transformed.
I know each and every one of you has your own story. I know that you are all probably healing from your own unique struggles. I know that maybe you aren’t yet to the healing phase. Wherever you are, I hope you find some hope in knowing that, no matter what, that possibility does exist. It is possible to be beautifully transformed. Just, maybe, it is going to take a lot of hard work. It may take learning how to trust yourself enough to do the healing. It may take learning how to trust another to share in the responsibility. There may be setbacks. But, setbacks only hold us back as long as we let them. And, I believe that each of us is capable of doing this whole healing thing.