December 16, 2018

This is how we Heal when there is no Closure.


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The police won’t find whoever assaulted me.

I noticed the window looked funny when I got home after work.

But I paid it no mind, thinking maybe the beach breeze had slammed it down, breaking the lock in the process. It was the middle of summer so the night was sweltering and I was tired. Plus, my landlord was away on holiday.

I thought to myself, “This can wait until the morning to fix.” I had already been sleeping with the window open all week, given the heat. Ah, the joys of living without air conditioning. So I plopped into bed, too hot to even put on pajama bottoms. Ah, the joys of living alone.

I literally didn’t see what came next because it was dark and I was asleep: all of a sudden, I was punched awake.

Through the shadows, fists repeatedly hit my head and right arm. This hurt. This wasn’t a dream—it was a real-life nightmare.

In a daze, I pushed whatever-it-was off me and strained to find my attacker. A hooded figure crashed into the corner of my room, looking back at me with eyes I couldn’t see. It finally registered that this was all wrong—and I screamed.

The primal wail was enough to set us both in motion. I ran out the front door and dropped. He escaped out the broken window and fled. That f*cking window. I knew something was wrong with it, and I’d chosen to ignore it. Ah, the joys of living in a “nice neighborhood where sh*t like this doesn’t happen.”

I felt naive. Stupid, even. And yes, I know it could have been so much worse.

There is no suspect nor enough evidence to convict one. The only other chance of closing the case is if the assailant comes forward, which is unlikely. In the most optimistic circumstances, the case might be solved. But the trauma won’t be.

Trauma cannot be solved. It is survived.

My only ways forward are to heal and strengthen. I have to learn how to live without knowing who, why, and how. Therefore, closure from outside myself is unattainable. Yet I’ve found that internal closure offers a true liberation that external closure cannot.

It turns out, what happened to me really happened for me.

This is not to say I don’t feel violated—I do. Trauma is trauma, and whatever the cause, it’s hard to bear.

When we feel violated, we want to know what, or who, will make us feel safe again. Perhaps it’s the human condition to crave closure. We feel we need an answer to move on. But we also cannot depend on someone or something else to solve it. Doing so will inevitably let us down.

Dr. Seth Meyers explains in his article about our culture’s misguided need for closure that “anyone seeking closure related to a traumatic event must understand that the very concept of reaching an emotional state of closure is one that is probably faulty.” Dr. Meyers posits that the way to get closure is to stop trying to get it. He notes that people can expect to carry elements of trauma with them, but with time and insight, the intensity of those elements will lessen.

By working through acceptance, we can feel our way into recovery rather than achieve it.

Just after it happened, I tried to achieve closure through outside means. I installed security cameras and the local police promised increased patrols. But those weren’t answers enough to make me feel safe. So what do we do when some answers, externally sourced, are not enough?

We must remember: we are enough.

Which is why finding a safe place within ourselves is more fulfilling than any sense of closure because it can be returned to time and again. So-called answers may change with time and space, but we are our own consistent source of safety. And resolution feels different than refuge.

Resolutions are safe answers. Refuge is a safe place.

True refuge is a space without walls, floors, ceilings, or doors. Those protectors are fallible. My home was broken into, and I was beaten. Home, a place where I thought I was safe, proved not to be. I did not see it coming, and I have not seen it resolved. Where else do I have to turn but inward?

We are our own true refuge. Whether we seek closure from a violent crime, being ghosted, an untimely death, or any other of life’s cliff-hangers, chances are getting an answer will not be nearly as gratifying as being an answer.

Our attachment to needing closure is just that—an attachment. We must detach ourselves from the idea that proverbial doors must be closed in order to allow others to open. When the detective told me the only fingerprints they could identify on the window were mine and none from the gloved perpetrator, that wasn’t enough to make me feel like the mystery would be solved. So I needed to detach myself from the hope of finding who did it. Like a storm, my mind raged but, like a broken window, my heart remained open.

Pema Chödrön said: “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.” This mindset allows us to detach from the atmosphere of life and observe the turbulence.

Although, what if we could make it rain?

Pun intended: I’m actually referring to the practice known by the acronym R.A.I.N. founded by Dr. Tara Brach. In her book True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart, Dr. Brach offers sample meditations for the following steps:

>> Recognize what is happening
>> Allow the experience to be what it is
>> Investigate it with care
>> Nurture with self-compassion

This process actualizes true refuge.

Dr. Brach illustrates how this process “directly deconditions the habitual ways in which [we] resist [our] moment-to-moment experience.”

Note: there is no “close the case” step. R.A.I.N. allows us to wash away the conditioned desire to obtain closure. Indeed it opens the floodgates of loving-kindness, allowing us to surf the ocean of true refuge.

In her TED talk “12 truths I learned from life and writing,” Anne Lamott states: “There is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way unless you are waiting for an organ…it’s an inside job.” This rings true on many levels. As a post-liver transplant nurse, I know it viscerally—I see it in my patients every day. Now, as an Elephant Academy apprentice, I feel it spiritually—I see it in my writing every day.

This is not to say I’ve found my true refuge or even come close to finishing the aforementioned “inside job.” But by reframing what closure looks like, I found closure on, well, needing closure.

In opening ourselves to the true refuge within each of us by recognizing, allowing, investigating, and nurturing, we can let go and just be. And isn’t that the goal? To personify the adage, “it is what it is?” Transmute it to, “I am what I am.” And know that that is enough.

We are enough. Truly.


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