by Shelley Wiart
I knew I was in need of a break and spiritual maintenance in mid-May when my trauma rash reappeared on my legs. It is an invisible rash that causes me to itch uncontrollably at night. I lay in bed with tingling skin, mostly concentrated on my legs, and I itch until my skin bleeds.
The last time it appeared was May 2017 after visiting my brother in Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Hospital in the intensive care unit. The disease of alcoholism — a disease of disappointment and despair — was threatening to claim him. I sat at the foot of his bed, my hand gently placed on his leg, unable to hold his hand, because both of his arms were in restraints due to a previous incident of him ripping out his IV’s during a seizure. With my back to the watchful eyes of his dedicated ICU nurse, I wept, and whispered promises. I reflected on our childhood, both of us adopted from birth, and I made a commitment to honor his life, and to live in my truth.
He survived, went onto detox and rehabilitation, and now lives in Vancouver. This past month my brother relapsed amidst the triggers of the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing. I was mentally preparing for it since late-March because I knew this pandemic was going to prey on our most vulnerable souls — the ones with a history of mental illness and addiction. The unstable social conditions of Covid-19 has created a relapse vortex: months of social isolation, uncertainty, stress, fear and a lack of mental health supports. I struggle with how to support him, and I fear the worst-case scenario — that he may die alone with no one by his side.
My recovered codependent self knows that I cannot save anyone from his or her disease, but I have relapsed as well. I know I need to attend Al-anon meetings again and share my truths with a group of people that carry similar burdens. I accept that recovery is a life-long process of bruised knees. A teeter totter of prayers given in states of desperation and gratitude. A powerful act of self-love that heals my ancestors and future generations.
The last time my skin rash caused me sleepless nights I attempted to cure it with Western medicine. My family physician told me he could not prescribe medication for a rash he could not see. I knew it was psychosomatic manifestation of my trauma — a boiling up to the surface of all the pain I had supressed. My trauma skin needed a spiritual balm to ease my suffering. I had reached a point where my spirit knew it was time for rebirth.
My last spiritual rebirth, summer of 2017, I wrote my way out of my trauma skin. Myself, my three daughters, and my husband drove from Lloydminster, Alberta to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories to visit my family for six weeks. Every morning at 5 am I sat on the eleventh floor balcony of our condo in Northern Heights overlooking the Great Slave Lake. I witnessed vibrant pink and orange sunrises that were the spiritual backdrop of my transformation, as I bled out onto the page. I wrote one thousand pages of loss and trauma, pain and pettiness, turmoil and frustration, anger and forgiveness to heal that little girl inside of me that was itching to get out.
It was a hard, wordy labor with each sentence exploding like a truth bomb on the page. I was in the trenches of my own trauma: it was ugly, dirty, full of anguish and suffering, and I struggled with the courage to stay in that battle. But every morning when my three girls woke up and found me on the balcony writing, I knew I was healing myself for them. I forced myself to excavate the trauma from my body. I was either, metaphysically, gagging for air, or curled up in a ball crying like a wounded animal. Healing myself has been my bravest act of love, and my legacy for my three daughters.
My brother’s near death experience acted as my spiritual springboard and forced me to question how I was living my personal truth. Was I doing what I wanted to do in life? Was I living my values? How did I want my daughters and family to remember me? Was I doing everything in my power to lead an exemplary life? What was my legacy? The ultimate question that guided me on this rebirth was, how may I serve?
I needed that uninterrupted time to examine my beliefs, the stories that I told myself about my family, my childhood trauma, my relationships and lack of trust, and my codependency with my brother. I needed to heal myself before I could help anyone else.
Spiritual rebirth requires a deep soul search. You need to explore and challenge your current story, slow down and halt the momentum of the beliefs that do not serve you, the bad habits that prevent you from reaching your full potential, and seek a new vision for your life. It requires you to transforms your suffering, and seek a vision of how to use it to live in service of others.
In his novel, The Art of Living: Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now (2017) Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh states, “Many of us want to do something to help the world suffer less. We see so much violence, poverty and environmental destruction around us. But if we’re not peaceful, if we don’t have enough compassion, we can’t do much to help. We ourselves are the center. We must reduce the suffering in ourselves first because we represent the world. Peace, compassion, and well being begin with ourselves. When we can reconcile with ourselves and embrace and transform our suffering, we are also taking care of the world. When we can reconcile with ourselves and embrace and transform our suffering, we are also taking care of the world. Do not think that you and the world are two separate things. Anything you do for yourself, you are also doing for the world.”
Maybe that is what Mother Nature intended for us when she unleashed the corona virus. She is giving us a global time out. She wants us to contemplate all the ways we have misused and abused Mother Earth, and to reflect on how we disrespected the sacred laws of balance. She is giving us the time and the courage to examine our corrupt global systems. The interconnected systems of oppression: colonization (the of process of settling among and establishing control over the Indigenous peoples of an area) linked to capitalism (land exploitation and extraction) and white supremacy (the genocide of BIPOC peoples globally). All things are interconnected in the web of life — it is not a coincidence that the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement are occurring at the same time in history. This pandemic rebirth is disrupting systems of whiteness, as a means of creating balance, and birthing forth a more inclusive and equitable future for everyone.
In the words of Audrey Lordes, “The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Around the globe it is time for Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC), especially women with our sacred connection to birth, to infuse our spirit, ceremony, cultural practices, cultural wisdom and world views into colonial spaces in order to bring balance back to the world. This pandemic is a portal to a new world — one that honours BIPOC’s sacred knowledge and spiritual ties to Mother Earth.