October 19, 2015
By Reggie Marra, MA, IMC, ACC
I intentionally began writing a healing narrative in 2012 as part of a project with nine colleagues. The opening sentence from my October 2012 draft read:
“My current work with healing explores my parents’ and sister’s respective dyings and deaths, the violent deaths of several students and classmates, my ongoing struggle to do the work that calls me in a financially sustainable way, and the ripple effects of having both my hips replaced in 2003 at the age of 49.”
Just under two months after I wrote that I learned that my marriage was ending, and by May 12, 2013, while that opening sentence was still true, the sentence that followed it now read:
“On November 24, 2012 I learned that my just-over-13-year marriage was ending, and that my desire to stay, work, and grow together into a deeper relationship will not be fulfilled. Now, the relationship with the woman I deeply loved, and in whose eyes and embrace I’d felt fully seen and loved, continues to dissolve; our house is for sale, our savings are scarce, my current work and income are barely sufficient for basic expenses, and uncertainty about where and how I will live envelops me. In my darkest moments, grief, regret, failure, guilt, anger, shame, doubt, fear, dread and questions of identity and purpose are my constant companions.”
As you might imagine, “my current work with healing” shifted a bit.
In her essay, “Composing a Life,” Mary Catherine Bateson writes that “most people can tell a version [of their life story] that emphasizes the continuities in their lives, to make a single story that goes in a clear direction. But [they] can also tell their life stories as if they were following on this statement: ‘After lots of surprises and choices, or interruptions and disappointments, I have arrived someplace I could never have anticipated.’ Every one of us has a preference for one of these versions, but if we try, we can produce both.” (p. 42)
Whether we experience our lives as continuous or discontinuous, we can notice the continuities and discontinuities within either experience and compose a story that emphasizes one or the other, or a little of each. So it is with our healing narratives. What is it that we choose to emphasize in order to heal? How do we honor what feel are the clear directions, and what we interpret as interruptions and disappointments, on our paths to healing?
As my own narrative unfolded I wrote: “This current, particular grief invites me into an increasingly humble, vulnerable and connected way of being in all my relationships – family, friends, colleagues and clients. It’s one thing to know that I – we all – suffer, and quite another to embody the bio-psycho-social-spiritual symptoms of loss, guilt, fear, shame, anger, uncertainty and regret,” which invited me to write: “My own healing process allows me to sit with a deeper sense of attunement to, and the delicate vulnerability of, others in my life, and to better co-create and hold the safe container of relationship within which we meet.”
Bateson is clear that “The choice you make affects what you can do next” (p. 43). The particular narrative we choose at this time both emerges from and helps create our perspective, so it’s important to explore the extent to which we are aware of our current view, and how we are impacting it with the story we tell. Bateson’s core message is her advocacy for multiple versions of our stories, with different emphases and contexts: “… what I want to emphasize are the advantages of choosing a particular interpretation at a particular point in time, and the even greater advantage of using multiple interpretations.” (p. 48)
Not quite two years into my healing, this sentence felt right: “At times, as I write, I feel stuck and confused – and at times, increasingly clear. I feel untethered; I have doubt. I trust some things and am uncertain about what I know. I want to be done with it as I move through it.” Confusion and clarity, trust and uncertainty: while my healing process felt directional and continuous, discontinuities were palpable – and healing involves both.
Recent, but by no means final, sentences in my unfolding include: “Thirty-three months have passed since I learned my marriage was ending; thirty-one since my first scribblings here; twenty-four since I moved from our house; and twenty-three since the judge granted the divorce. In the past twelve months I’ve accepted multiple invitations to do work that integrates my love of writing, poetry, education, coaching and healing. I have an abiding friendship with my former spouse and a solid relationship with my stepson. I’m in a relationship. My friends are as wonderfully present, goofy and grave as ever. I laugh often and deeply. Nothing is certain or guaranteed. I continue to heal.”
These excerpts from a longer, ongoing narrative represent one version I am writing toward healing. I know less helpful versions are possible, and I’m sure more helpful versions that I’ve yet to live into exist as well.
– Mary Catherine Bateson. “Composing a Life.” in Charles Simpkinson and Anne Simpkinson’s Sacred Stories: A Celebration of the Power of Stories to Transform and Heal (1993). A shorter version of this essay is available here.