Healing Is Not a Linear Process, or Learning How To Keep Living With These Gaping Wounds

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A friend told me in one of our chats months ago, “Healing is not a linear process.” And it was one of those lines you hear and immediately jot down (uh, “jot down” virtually) in the Notes app. I think the reason it particularly resonated with me is because I’ve only recently begun dealing with my grief from a break-up, and as such, my healing, as well as healing from my journey through depression and suicidal ideation.

If we all grieve in different ways — some of us turn to dark humor, others to delving into their work or hobbies, or creative endeavors, still others turn to familial relationships or friendships to help them navigate the murky waters, or an all-of-the-above approach, and still more, of course, don’t deal with it at all — then it follows that we all heal in different ways, too.

Although I should note, there are the classic five stages of grief given to us by Kübler-Ross, which implies that grief is linear (affecting us stage-by-stage), so wouldn’t it follow that healing is linear, that maybe healing has some sort of equivalent five stages? Or that healing is itself one of the stages of grieving (acceptance)? But I go back to what I picked up from Lori Gottlieb’s book, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, from grief psychologist William Worden, who replaced the idea of stages with the idea of “tasks of mourning.” Instead of thinking of grief as something to work through, and to ultimately vanquish as it were, Worden argues that instead, the tasks aim to integrate loss into our life.

Because also baked into those Kübler-Ross stages is the idea of achieving some sort of closure, but Gottlieb warns, closure often leads to muting the pain, and if you mute the pain, you inevitably mute the joy, too.

Healing is necessarily attached to grief, because even to get relief from pain, we often need to go through pain, but I think it would also be more beneficial to think of it as Worden’s task integration, keeping in mind that it is not a linear process. In fact, as I’m thinking through this (which is how I do these musings, I neve come to the white Notepad with fully formed thoughts!), learning to integrate loss into our lives, and still keep living, sure sounds like healing to me!

But what does it precisely mean that healing is not linear? I think it means that even though we think of time as linear — we’re born, and then age year after year until we grow older and older, and then die — we don’t actually experience life in a linear fashion. After all, we have those pesky brains that are constantly thinking about the past, holding memories of our past selves, and we are constantly thinking about the future, forming potentialities of our future selves, and we sort of hop around on that “timeline.” We’re perpetual time machine … machines.

Yeah, but doesn’t “time heal all wounds?” Perhaps, but only in the sense of time being a holistic blob we live within and not the static linear process we think of it as.

I see the key point of healing as learning to keep living without the wounds overtaking one’s existence, just as one learns, as I did (and it’s still a work-in-progress) to handle negative thoughts and keep living without it spiraling into a depression, or worse, suicidal thoughts.

As we move from moment to moment in this amorphous time blob, it’s not actually like that adage of “when one door opens, another door closes” because we’re living in like a demented funhouse of mirrors, distorting us and our perception of reality, and all the doors are open. Some doors we walk through are familiar, some are new, and some maybe indicate an “end,” and some may indicate a “beginning,” but where they are on the “line” doesn’t make any discernible sense necessarily.

Melanie Mogensen, who was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, in her own blog post on the matter put it better than I can when she said, “Many times, in my health journey I thought I was coming to the end, only to realize it wasn’t actually the end — it was the start of a new beginning.”

Heck, I don’t even think time is an arc, like the Martin Luther King Jr. quote about how the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That’s a nice sentiment, but time is neither linear nor an arc, and so, healing is neither linear nor an arc. We progress, regress, remain static, and permutation in between. And there is certainly no guarantee that the arc bends toward our preferred moral outcomes.

So, maybe healing is part embracing the grief, part embracing our place in the amorphous time blob, and part knowing that if we are willing to confront grief and gracious enough to accept healing, then we will get there eventually, however we end up getting there.

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