Serendipity has been a reoccurring theme running through my last few posts, so I guess it’s high time I stepped back and listened to what the universe is trying to tell me. What I initially thought was simply a benign feeling of lethargy has in fact morphed into a debilitating sense of apathy. Being a very passionate person, I tend to swing from one preoccupation to another—my mood fluctuates from maniac obsession to waning interest. Lately, I’ve been feeling very out of sorts; what I would label as rootless or rudderless. Having just worked through a prolonged period of introspection, I’ve become a prisoner of the present, unable to envision what I would like the next chapter of my life to look like. Don’t get me wrong—as a recovering alcoholic, I recognize the value in only focusing on today and not projecting too far into the future, but in practice, having a game plan for tomorrow does provide us with a sense of security.
This brings me back to the idea of serendipity. Our family has just returned from a holiday abroad, where we had the opportunity to celebrate my in-laws’ golden wedding anniversary. While we were on holiday, my father-in-law took me aside and told me that he had bought me a book that he thought would be helpful, or comforting, as I’m coming to terms with sexual abuse that I experienced in my childhood. The book is called “The Wounded Healer”, written by Father Henri Nouwen. The premise of the book is that before we can be of service to others, we must first recognize the suffering in our own hearts.
The arrival of this book has been so serendipitous because I appear to have gotten stuck halfway through the process described by Father Nouwen. After six months of intensive self-reflection, I am finally becoming “at peace” with the trauma from my childhood, but I haven't been able to use this self-awareness, or acceptance, as a bridge to empathize with the suffering in others. One of the greatest tragedies of childhood sexual abuse is that it creates a bubble of shame that isolates the child, adolescent, and later adult, from those around him/her. The older I get, the more I realize that my happiness does not lie in material objects or personal accomplishments, but rather in my ability to make authentic connections with those around me I care most about.
As I’m working my way through Nouwen’s book, I’m realizing that my debilitating apathy as of late, may be a symptom of what Nouwen refers to as the plague of the “existential man”. I’ve been spending so much time in my head that I have lost my connection to others, and more importantly, it is this connection established through our shared suffering and joy that makes our conception of a past and, in my case, a future possible. In the words of Father Nouwen: “Only when man feels himself responsible for the future can he have hope or despair, but when he thinks of himself as the passive victim…his motivation falters and he starts drifting from one moment to the next, making life a long row of chained incidents and accidents.”
For me, the way to move passed my apathy may lie in action and connection. I’ve already made the shift in my mind from “victim” of childhood sexual abuse to “survivor” of childhood sexual abuse. It’s now time turn my attention away from my own suffering and start to identify with the commonality of suffering we all share. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about what “my” next chapter should look like, and start asking what does “our” next chapter look like!