Tales of a Wounded Healer by Mariah Fenton Gladis
It's not often I get to review a book written by someone I actually know. The last time was back in aught-six, when I reviewed my uncle Ron's book, Faster, Smarter Digital Photography, which he co-wrote with M. David Stone (and which all you photo buffs should run out and buy right now). This book is by his wife, my aunt Mariah and is, needless to say, a little different.
The book wasn't what I thought it would be. What I thought it would be was an account of Mariah's life, especially her struggles with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. You see, nearly thirty years ago, she was given two years to live. Even now, most of those with ALS only survive three to five years, so to come this far is an extraordinary feat. Indeed, she does go into detail about how she discovered that she had the disease, and what course it put her life on. (As a note, there's one passage where she describes my uncle Ron's reaction to hearing the diagnosis - "Pack your bags, we're leaving. You're not dying and we have a life to live." My overriding thought at that point - "Damn, my family rocks.")
But this book isn't about my aunt, or her own personal struggles. In fact, once she gets through giving us her CV of Trauma, as it were, we don't really hear that much more about it unless it's germane to the topic she's addressing. Which, as you read on, makes a lot of sense.
Mariah is a therapist, specializing in Gestalt Therapy - a kind of active, experiential therapy method that postulates that the mind and the body are inextricably interconnected. Healing cannot take place simply by talking about it - there must be thought and feeling and emotion and movement involved. As near as I can tell, which is why I put the Wiki link down there, in case I screwed it up. This woman, who has been dealt a hand that, let's face it, has the potential to be utterly crushing, has spent her life making sure that other people are able to be healed. In learning to face the Bad Shit in her life, she's been able to help others face the Bad Shit in theirs through what she calls "Exact Moments of Healing."
"Bad Shit," by the way, is my term. It saves space.
Before I go on, let me come clean on this much: I have never been to therapy, counseling, or anything of that nature. So anything I think I know about what goes on there is purely speculation.
One of the biggest views of people going into therapy is that there is something Wrong with them. Something that must be, somehow, fixed. In this book, Mariah takes the opposite position - the people who come to her are not people who have problems that must be eliminated. They are people who are trying to be better, but can't. Because, and this is a kicker, your problems can't be eliminated. Not ever.
We're all, in some way, broken. We've all been hurt, blocked, abused, kicked, pushed and shoved to one degree or another. Some of us more, some of us less, and usually not in ways that we entirely understand. And as much as these life experiences suck ass, they're part of who we are. They've made us who we are, for good or for ill. The problem comes when we cannot fully understand these traumas for what they were. We don't know how to deal with them, so they block us up and mess with our heads.
What I got from reading this book is that the way to become free of these psychological millstones is to confront them, understand them and accept them. Fold them into your life, give them their due, and then - and this is important - don't let them keep you from being who you want to be.
Now, this is really, really, really hard. Gods know it's hard. Most of us never get that chance to look our demons right in the eye and say, "I know you. And I accept you. Now sit down and shut up." The idea of Perfect Moments of Healing is that, through counseling, these opportunities can be created. In her workshops, Mariah has re-created the people and situations that generated the traumas that held her subjects down. She goes into great detail about a variety of different cases, and they're all powerful. With the help of her groups and her students, she's allowed people to confront the horrors of war, abusive adults, indifferent parents and crumbling marriages, and given them a chance to unburden themselves of the shadowy terrors that had been keeping them from enjoying their lives.
An interesting facet of her therapy is the focus on self-love. No, not that kind, you gutter-brains. The other kind. The really, really hard kind, where you look at yourself, bumps, love handles and all, and say, "I love who you are."
Damn, I got finger cramps just typing that.
But it's important to her therapeutic method that her subjects understand that they are indeed worthy of being loved by others, as that is probably one of the most basic needs a human being has. People who've been abused or traumatized or just plain on the pokey end of the Stick of Life have a hard time understanding that, so she reinforces the idea again and again through the book. Maybe, if you're really lucky, it'll sink in. I still have some work to do....
For those of us who aren't so fortunate as to be able to have Mariah figure out how to stitch us back together, she does offer good news - a Perfect Moment of Healing is available to you outside of the therapist's office. By remaining aware of how you're feeling, what you're thinking and what you want to become, you can find moments in life to come face-to-face with your personal traumas and accept them for what they were - something bad that happened to you a long time ago. Something that does not need to define who you are now.
These moments aren't easy to come by, I reckon, and if you have some real hard-core Issues in your past, a professional is still the best way to go. But there are always chances out there. I've taken a few myself, from time to time.
One time, inside Chris' brain....So to speak.
"Okay, here's the situation. Now what do we want to do?"
"Run like hell."
"And we're not going to do it because...?"
"Right. Now let's get in there."
"Shut up, trust me. Get in there."
Anyway, enough of my babbling. I'm probably mangling what is a very interesting, insightful and thought-provoking book. And I'm not just saying that because the author is Family. I'm saying it because it did make me think, and it'll continue to do so. I saw myself in there a couple of times, and I reckon you will too....
"You get to travel through this lifetime once. Although the way can unfold, and the terrain can change dramatically, by chance or by choice, to me what matters most is that the road you choose be one where your heart and soul feel a belonging, and the freedom to reach and breathe."
- Mariah Fenton-Gladis, Tales of a Wounded Healer
Tales of a Wounded Healer on Amazon.com
The Pennsylvania Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy and Training
ALS/Lou Gehrig's Disease