Lucky. That’s how, at 18 years old, I described being raped at knifepoint by an intruder in my very first apartment. Lucky. A lot of women get raped and murdered, I told myself. I’m still alive, so I have no right to feel sorry for myself, to be angry. Thirty years later, debilitating migraine headaches that found no relief with modern and alternative medicine, led me to read Unlearn Your Pain. I got angry at my rapist for the very first time. I screamed, “You have no right to touch me!” over and over until decades of pain erupted like an exploding volcano. I imagined my neighbor and I kicking his crumbling ass to the ground in the narrow courtyard of the apartment building. I finished the story with the police arresting him. I began to heal a wound I never even knew I had.

I don’t remember ever thinking I deserved to feel compassion for myself, no matter how bad the situation. There was always someone who had it worse than I did. This caused me to take care of everyone else and put everyone’s needs before mine. This personality trait, a toxic concoction brewed from an upbringing I now think must be the most common of my generation: 60s & 70s girls reared by 50s moms. My mother loved me, something I never doubted. But I also could not reveal myself emotionally to her without having her judge me. So instead of letting things out, from very early on, I began to catalogue an extensive library of fear and shame and trauma deep in my subconscious, completely without my knowledge. Just deal and keep smiling. Throughout my life, this trait earned me all kinds of praise, “She’s so strong…She’s so nice…She can handle ANYTHING.” No one ever saw me upset, or angry, or grumpy or rude.”

I did everything I could to ignore my body and brain’s attempts to get my attention. It wasn’t just chronic migraines. My back went into spasms during a bad marriage. I doubled over in abdominal pain for 9 months under the subordination of a terrible boss. The day I was set to start my field work for my master’s of geology, traversing a 14-thousand-foot volcano alone, both my knees collapsed beneath me. I just kept going but never connected the dots; never understood what these symptoms signified.

That is, until three months of crippling pain forced me to dissect my very soul. What I found was that the person in my life who was doing me the most harm, the person who held the key to my chronic pain and the only one who could unlock the mystery of my anguish, was me. The realization of how much pain I had caused myself now layered upon me a heavy blanket of sadness and grief. To heal, I needed to allow myself to feel; to feel the grief as it welled up and flowed out of me, and to feel the anger. Not only did I have anger towards the rapist, but towards my mother; and to myself. I found that to heal, I would literally have to divide myself in half. On one side, I would have to express anger toward A PART OF ME — for 40 years of utter neglect of my emotional needs. This anger came quickly, boiled up unexpectedly, and gave me an instant feeling of healing from physical symptoms in my chest and head. My migraines have all but subsided. Healing the other part of me is more difficult and ultimately more important. It is the painstaking process of rebuilding a broken relationship. It is the reconnecting with someone I abandoned long ago. And it is the learning — maybe for the first time — to be a loving and compassionate caretaker of myself.

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