Monday, June 16, 2008

Traumatic Awakenings

To be alone is one of the greatest evils for a person.
William James

I've always appreciated James' idea of loneliness as a threat to the human being.  We don't give it much thought through the societal bedlam and over-scheduled lives.  Many of us are constantly surrounded by both people and stimuli- auditory, visual, olfactory.  Yet, is it possible to be lonely even when you are with others?  Is it possible to be woefully alone while surrounded by friends? I say, indeed, it is. In fact, I believe this state of existential loneliness happens often in societies where disingenuous, superficial relationships flourish in commonplace. We rarely pause long enough to build the types of authentic and circumspect relationships necessary to avert loneliness- Martin Buber's idea of the "I-Thou" relationship. More importantly, many rarely journey inward to build the most important relationship of all- the relationship with the self.  Loneliness is a way of life in 21st Century Western culture, and the cost may be far too high.

James Lynch, PhD, professor of psychiatry and author of the book, The Broken Heart, asserts that loneliness is one of the leading causes of premature death in society.  The idea that chemical perturbations- the evolution of cellular regulation- incites emotional responses such as love, anger, fear, and loneliness set the stage for modern medicine.  Lynch disagrees with the Cartesian model that the language of emotion is separate from the body. Instead, he posits, the somatic reaction to stress, or loneliness, or grief is the body's way of communicating its suffering.   He asserts that some physical illnesses- cellular dysphoria- occur as a direct result of our bodies' failure to connect with others - and frankly, our true selves: "Because we do tell people to hide their suffering, their vulnerability and loneliness, and so they also hide their beauty...when you wall off your capacity to feel pain, you also diminish your capacity to feel pleasure."

Lynch extrapolates the result: narcissism.  Narcissism, he counters, means no self, no authentic self. These are people who are most likely to suffer heart disease, high blood pressure, and other chronic illnesses according to Lynch.  They cannot feel, really feel, their feelings at all. They do not know themselves, and they have no boundaries between themselves and the world. Narcissists get stuck in their suffering because they are wholly incapable of seeking out meaning; the eventual result being deriving joy even amidst pain. These types of individuals- very lonely individuals- are the least likely to awaken after a trauma- the least likely to recognize that fulfillment and pathos coexist throughout the human experience. Lynch says he has the scientific evidence to back his postulations.  

And I would further ask: How can we be in a real relationship with another if we are not in real relationship, first, with ourselves?  The longest journey is the journey inward. It may begin in loneliness, but it will most certainly end in knowing the self better than ever.  And the reward for this may be the gain of genuine, sustaining relationships and connectedness that enable us to truly be with others- and ourselves- during our short time on this earth.

"Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold."
W.B. Yeats

(Art entitled "Loneliness" by Santosh Gupta)


Kara Chipoletti Jones of GriefAndCreativity dot com said...

It is sooooo interesting that I should read this on your blog today.

Yesterday I spent what seemed like blissful hours in the park alone, but surrounded by joyful people, and I took in the sun and their laughter and the breeze and felt truly at home in my body and heart.

Then a person showed up, sitting a little ways away from me, with their child. This is someone who had previously been a bit critical of my work in the grief realm. Sort of one of the "talking about death might kill you" group.

And we connected briefly and in a very kind way. But then a cascade of events happened in my mind. The other person said something like, "You seem to have turned a corner". And I laughed realizing that the other person saw my bliss and now thought I was finally "over" the grief and was trying to praise my "turning a corner".

The cascade of this play in my head continued with me answering, saying, "Yes, I have turned a corner. I came to a place where I can fully breath in bliss and truly feel it, be present with it. Just like I can be with grief. I used to think all things were *possible*. But now I know that all things are *happening* at the same time. Joy, grief, laughing, tears, soul crushing trauma, heart elating love. All at the same time. Once I accepted that, well, then I found I could sit and be PRESENT with anyone. A mother crushed in the first weeks of grief after the death of a child. Or the blissful folks at the park. They are one in the same."

Of course because this was all played out in my head, the other person totally got it and I totally got it and everything was perfectly perfect for that moment.

And then a car honked, and some kids came by, and the wind blew, and someone stopped by to say hello and the fleeting moment moved on to the next Present moment.

Anyway...for whatever reason, I feel that reading your entry here today is affirmation for the reality of that play out.

Just thank you.
And love you muchly!

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. It's interesting isn't it...that those are all "present" but only one or three emerge in congruence. Accessing those others, after such a tragedy, takes time. But is it there. It is there.

I cant wait til September!

MISS you both.

CLC said...

Thank you so much for commenting on my blog a little while back. I felt so honored since I knew your name from the MISS foundation. I have read through some of your blog entries and I am so wowed by you (is that even a word?) I just find it so amazing that you have accomplished so much as a result of the passing of your baby girl. She would be so proud of you, I am sure. You have done so much good for other mothers, and I truly appreciate it.

I found your entry about antidepressants particularly interesting. My therapist had been pushing them since the first month, and I never understood why. I felt as if I was grieving as any person would. Around 5 months, I was feeling somewhat desperate and agreed to give them a try. I am going to go off of them. I was never convinced I needed them, and I don't like the numbing of my pain. I feel like my grief is my last connection to my daughter, and I want to feel every part of it. Your post reinforced some of these feelings, so thanks.

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore said...

I am so very, very sorry for your profound and indescribable loss. Be sure that you have good social support around you and talk with your therapist about your plans. I hope the therapist understands the uniqueness of parental grief and has been adequately trained to work with grieving moms and dads. If so, they should be able to- given other variables- provide an alternate tx plan that is best for you while considering your wishes. This is *your* experience- your pain- and I hope you have others surrounding you who will respect where you are in that journey.

I hold you and your precious girl in my heart...

Dr J

Maria said...

"That which is to give light must endure burning."
Dr. Viktor Frankl
That's the one I like best!


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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