When we help each other heal, we help heal ourselves, as well . . .
“A hero is one that heals their own wounds and then shows others how to do the same”
Hi, my name is Marie.
I’ve been on a journey through healing & transformation (mostly through: PTSD, OCD, grief, loss, depression & anxiety - I describe it in some detail here below) . . . Of course, I don’t expect too many will actually read the whole thing, as it’s quite extensive. But, if anyone is interested, it’s there for you. :)
It’s taken me a long time (I mean like decades) to get to a place where I actually started healing. And I’ve learned a lot along the way (like that true healing is just that, a journey. And that journey is unique to every individual).
I also learned that forgiveness is a key factor (especially forgiveness for ourselves. That was the real struggle). But one of the most important things I learned is that, Love (true, unconditional & universal Love) is and must be at the core of the healing (Love for ourselves and others). Because, when we help each other heal, we also help to heal ourselves.
This Love & forgiveness for ourselves is, I think one of the most difficult things to learn (and achieve) for many of us. That’s why this has been such a long journey for me. But I now know that, when we are able to get to this place, that is when the real healing begins. And on this next phase of the journey, we not only heal, but begin a transformation process, like the butterfly who has cocooned itself and eventually emerges in a different form.
Like that butterfly, I had essentially built a cocoon around myself for about 20 years in an attempt to protect myself. And, in a sort of reversal effect, I had lost (or given up) my wings. But I feel that I am now finally beginning to work my way out of that self-imposed prison and I can already feel a transformation beginning to take shape.
What exactly that will be, I do not yet know. But
that is why I am here: to share my journey (both so far and as it continues to evolve) in the hopes that it may help someone else on their own journey.
MY JOURNEY . . . SO FAR:
Age 7 to 8:
Growing up our home environment was very chaotic. My parents had an arranged marriage. They were two people who never should have even met, much less married. They were totally different and hated each other. So there was a lot of yelling and slamming of doors (and even some physical altercations) in our home.
My father brought us to America from our homeland in the Former Jugoslavia when I was two years old. And when I was about seven years old, my mother started threatening my father with divorce. At one point, I guess when it looked like she might actually do it, I guess my father thought he had to do something drastic. So his “solution” was to take me (as collateral, I guess) back to our homeland in the hopes that she might change her mind. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was basically kidnapping me. He told me we were going on a vacation, just the two of us. Since I was so young and he was my father, I trusted him.
At first, when we got there, we stayed at nice hotels, ate at nice restaurants and went to the opera, theater, symphony, etc.
But then, when the money ran out and he had to go look for work, we began searching out and staying with various relatives. He would take me to what looked like a party or big gathering and then sneak out as someone else was keeping me occupied. Then he would leave me with all these various “relatives.”
Although they were supposedly my relatives, they were strangers to me and I couldn’t understand why my father would leave me and sneak out without saying good bye.
Eventually our welcome ran out and we ran out of relatives and friends to stay with. Then my dad left me at a Catholic orphanage while he went to the city to look for work because I guess I would have been in the way (And yes, the old image of abusive and harsh nuns was very tue there). I don’t know how long exactly I was there. It may have been two weeks or two months. But I remember sitting at the base of the steps by the front door watching as parents or guardians came to collect other children who were there (I guess I wasn’t the only one “in the way”) or as some got adopted. As the days went by, I began to wonder if my dad (or anyone) was ever going to come for me.
I actually ran away a couple of times in the night and somehow managed to find the motel where my father was staying, but he brought me back each time. One time, after he dropped me off, as he was walking away again and seven nuns were trying to hold me back, I somehow managed to break free from all of them and run to my father. I managed to be successful in gaining another day spent with him, at the end of which I remember him taking me to an outdoor restaurant (where I had the best liver & onions - the food there had so much more and better flavor than in the U.S.)! . . . Alas, when it was over, I was back at the orphanage again.
Not all of it was bad. The orphanage I was at was in the beautiful & scenic medieval town of Dubrovnik (made somewhat famous now because it's been the site used for the Game of Thrones Kings Landing location). And I had a lot of fun while I was left with my great aunt Sofia in a small, quaint village, where I actually got to go to school for a while and made some friends. My aunt and I got to be quite close and really love each other. But eventually she told my farther that, as much as she loved me and loved having me there, “a young girl needs her father” and she refused to let him leave me there any longer. Unfortunately, I think that was when I ended up in the orphanage.
So I’m sure that, since I was at that impressionable age, I probably developed some ideas about myself and my role in the world (i.e. not good enough, in the way, not lovable, not worthy, and a big one that I’m sure was a factor in the man I ended up marrying was that I was not as important as work or career or whatever - or whoever - else).
As much as I’m sure all of this has permeated and affected my life and my choices, decisions and actions, this is not what I am currently trying to heal from (or, at least, not the most prevalent one). The “big one” has to do with a traumatic event that happened in 2001 which left me with profound grief and PTS (post traumatic stress) . . .
Age 9 to 12:
When I was a child, I went through bouts of deep depression. At my darkest time I felt like it was the end and I actually saw a long, dark tunnel with just a spec of light at the other end, which was quickly receding. I knew with absolute certainty that, if that spec of light went out, I was done and it was all over. In my despair & desperation, I remember calling out with the faintest voice, “help.” I didn’t know who or what I was calling out to. But, as soon as I said that, the spec of light suddenly stopped. And then slowly it began to grow bigger.
During this time, my mother, at a complete loss for what to do to help me (after trying everything she could think of), did something very courageous (and possibly very risky). She told me, “I’ve done all I can. I don’t know what else to do anymore. It’s up to you now. You are the only one who can help yourself.” This was also very risky because, in my state of mind at that time, I could have easily taken that to mean that she had given up on me and that there was no hope left. I am eternally grateful to her for having the courage to make such a risky decision!
Soon after, she took me to the local pet shelter to pick out a dog. After walking up and down all the various rooms and isles, there was a little female dog who looked just as sad and hopeless asked I felt at the time and I immediately felt a connection with her. But there was another dog who, every time I walked by, would jump up and down with the greatest joy and enthusiasm. After a long debate within myself, I reluctantly decided to go with the joyous little guy, thinking that’s what I needed then. It was an extremely tough and heartbreaking decision because I knew exactly how that other little dog was feeling and what she must be going through. And I didn’t want to leave her there in her despair and hopelessness. But that other little guy just wouldn’t give up and I really needed that.
Eventually, I did pull out of my depression and I know for an absolute fact that it was due to what I now call “my holy trinity”: my mom, my dog & that tiny spec of light.
Age 17 to 21 (The Lost Years):
I call this period "The Lost Years" because there were a couple of events that were a blur and I will explain . . . When I was about 17 or 18 years old, a friend of mine went to a concert where we met a couple of young guys. We got high with them (supposedly it was just "weed" that they gave us, but I had had it before and I know there was something else in this one because everything that happened after until the next morning was as if I was in a dream). Basically, they brought us back to their place and raped us.
Another incident happen when I was between 18 and 20 or so (I really can't remember exactly) . . . A woman I worked with (who had just started and only worked there for a short period befriended me and told me about a friend of hers that I had to meet. Being young and naïve, I agreed. We met him one evening after work at a restaurant in Sausalito, across the bridge from my where I lived & worked in San Francisco. She told me this man was rich and could tell me how I, too, can become rich & successful. She said not to worry about anything that evening, that I didn't have to bring any money with. He would pay for dinner and drinks and "everything." So I went and met him. The first thing he did was order us drinks. Now, I was no lush, but I came from a culture that could "hold it's liquor." In fact, my father used to give us shots of whiskey or vodka when we had a sore throat to "kill the bad stuff." So, I could handle myself around alcohol. Anyway, right after he had ordered the drinks, my "friend" said she needed to go to the bathroom and asked if I could go with her, which I did. When we returned, our drinks were on the table and I started drinking from mine. And shortly after things got very blurry. I don't even remember eating dinner. I just remember getting into a nice car with the two of them and the driver started driving what seemed like further into Marine County, north of San Francisco. I must have totally passed out for the rest of the trip because the next think I remember is getting out of the car and them leading me into a building that looked like a lodge or something. When we entered, a woman behind the desk asked the man if he wanted "the usual room?" He said he did and we were led into a room with a sauna and benches with towels folded on them. My "friend" and the man disrobed and got into the sauna. Everything was still very blurry and, just like the other incident after the concert, seemed like a vague dream. I just remember "my friend" saying something about that, if I wanted, I could wrap one of the towels around me. I don't remember doing that. The next thing I do vaguely remember is laying flat on my chest on one of the benches next to the sauna on my with a towel wrapped around me and the man massaging me. I remember him saying something about that he was just going to open the towel a little bit so he could give me a better massage. And that's the last thing I remember until the next morning, when I was drowsily getting out of the car in front of my apartment. I vaguely remember my roommates being frantic when I got into the apartment, asking where I had been. When I told them I couldn't remember most of it and what little I could, they said we should call the police, but I think I didn't want to, for some reason. At least I don't remember us calling them or the police showing up.
I don't know if it's a blessing that I don't remember most of either of these incidents or not. Although I think I vaguely recalled more of the one after the concert with the two young guys, it's the second one, which I don't remember exactly what happened, that scares me more. I've thought about going through regression therapy or hypnosis to try to find out, but I'm not sure I want to know. I do know that the woman who befriended me at work practiced Voodoo (or at least I think it was Voodoo or it might have been Hoodoo). So, yeah. I'm really scared to find out what exactly did happen because I'm pretty sure that man she brought me to was also a practitioner. I don't know if they perhaps needed a virgin (or who they thought was a virgin) for some kind of ritual or something. If that is what it was, it was not a ritual that required a blood sacrifice, or I would not be here.
Compared to the prior events, this decade was basically uneventful, except for meeting moving out on my own, meeting my husband, and getting married in 2001.
2001 to Present:
I’ve been on a personal journey of healing & transformation. And part of what I’ve learned along the way is that when we help others heal, we help to heal ourselves.
So I am sharing my story in the hopes that it may in some way help someone else who may be on a similar journey of their own. Or that it may inspire someone who may perhaps be having difficulty knowing how or where to start to embark on their own journey of healing and transformation because I know firsthand how challenging it can be.
When I was young, I felt like I was very confident and independent. And I thought I knew exactly who I was and what my purpose in life was.
Then about 2001 I had a devastatingly traumatic experience. Although it didn’t involve an actual physical death, for all intents and purposes, I was suddenly dealing with what I later discovered was essentially not just one but two deaths.
It involved the betrayal by someone very close to me, someone who supposedly loved and cared for me. So it was the death of that person (or the person I thought I knew). But also it was, in a very real way, my own death (or the death of the person I was, or I thought I was).
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was going through a profound grieving process and I was left with PTS (Post Traumatic Stress). I went to therapy counseling for a couple of years only to be told by the counselor and many people close to me (including the person who betrayed me) who supposedly love and care about me, that I “should be over it by now.”
It’s taken me since then to go through this grieving process, coupled with the PTS. And, if I have learned anything else, its that it is a journey and each of our journeys is unique and different.
I used to blame myself (for so many things - decisions I made, decisions I didn’t make and actions I took or didn’t take). And, yes, I blamed myself for not being able to “get over it.”
Then one day, as if something suddenly clicked in place, I realized that I would never be able to heal or “get over it” as long as I continued to blame myself. I had been told that I needed to forgive. But what I wasn’t told and had to discover for myself on this journey is that before I could forgive anyone else, I had to learn to forgive myself.
And this has been the most difficult part of my journey. I’m still not quite there, by an means, but I have come a long way and learned a great deal. And two other things I’ve learned are, one: that every thing that has happened, every decision I made, every action I took, every action I didn’t take have all been a part of my journey to healing and necessary for the transformation that I am beginning to be aware is taking place. The other lesson I learned is that I should be proud of myself for all that I have learned and survived.
I have mentioned a transformation a couple of times and this is, I have come to realize, an inevitable part of my healing journey. You see, I’ve learned (and come to terms with) the fact that I will never get back to where I was before this all happened. I will never be that same person I was (whether she really was confident and independent or not). That person truly is dead and gone forever. And this is what I had been grieving for so long. I felt like my life had been stolen from me. As if I didn’t just die, but the person I was had been murdered (and by someone who was so close to me and supposedly loved me). In fact, I’m my view, it was almost like on of those murder/suicides you hear about on the news, when a family member kills a spouse or children and then themselves. Because, like I mentioned earlier, I had been grieving two deaths (mine and the person I thought I knew and loved me).
As with all profound grieving, my long grieving process went through various stages. Usually one of the first stages is denial and/or withdrawal, where we sometimes tend to create an alternate reality or try to separate ourselves from reality. In my case it was more like I created a sort of cocoon where I could exist safe & separate from the world and the reality of my situation. In my “safe little cocoon” I existed in a sort of limbo state (not really dead but not truly alive, either, but somewhere in between). Sometimes I was confused, most of the time I was just plain numb. But always I was “safe” as long as I remained there, or so I felt (the only thing I felt, really, at the time). There were times that I thought of “moving on” from my limbo state, but that meant one of two things: either I move on by making a choice to rejoin “the living” or I make the choice to move on to a real, physical death (yes, my mind did go there, if not my spirit, thank goodness). So, there I remained in that limbo state in my cocoon for many years!
In fact, I still feel like I haven’t quite “broken through” that cocoon and moved on from that limbo state. But, as if by design, the Universe seems to have been sending me messages in various forms, lately. Or maybe it has been all along but I just haven’t been receptive to them or, for whatever reason, able to recognize or even notice them. But, for some reason, recently I seem to be noticing things that are too much of a coincidence to be random or unrelated somehow.
This leads me to an epiphany I recently had when I saw a greeting card with a quote that said: “Just when the caterpillar thought her life was over, she became a butterfly” . . . In fact, I’ve been coming across butterfly references, images, etc. quite a bit suddenly (or at least suddenly as far as I can recall). But it can’t be a coincidence that, in my effort to cope with the trauma, I had essentially created a “protective “ cocoon and suddenly I’m getting inundated with butterfly symbols.
So I started doing some research about butterflies, both the spiritual symbolism and about the actual physiology of real butterflies. As many people know, butterflies symbolically represent rebirth or new life. And I learned that physiologically what happens to the caterpillar after it cocoons itself is that a process begins during which most of the caterpillars body and organs are completely dissolved in preparation to transform into a butterfly. That again mirrors what happened to me - I felt like my whole life & world had suddenly “dissolved.” But, even after the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly is complete, it still has to remain in the cocoon for a period of time to prepare for the strength it will need to break through its cocoon and fly away. And, when the time is close and it is ready, the butterfly then gets signals to begin the process of releasing itself.
Perhaps that is similar to why my journey (and my time in my “cocoon”) has taken so long. Maybe, along my journey, what I endured and what I learned was necessary in order to make me strong enough to break free of my self-made prison (which essentially is what my “safe” little cocoon became, even if it did serve to protect me at one time) and to prepare me for my new life. And, just maybe, all these butterfly messages I’ve started to receive are a sign (or my signals) that I’m approaching my time to release myself and fly.
I actually used to have flying dreams quite often before my traumatic event. They were always extremely elating and when I felt the most joyous and free. But I have not had a single flying dream since the trauma. So, perhaps the “time to fly” is again approaching for me. Who knows. Like I said, I’m still not done on my journey and I have no idea how much longer it will be, but I choose to believe that, if I use what I’ve learned on the journey and remain open and aware, I will continue to receive and recognize signs and messages to guide me along the rest of the way.
Sorry, this has sort of turned into a book, hasn’t it? But then, I am a writer, among other things, and I always have been. That is, at least one thing that has managed to survive, even after my “death.” And I am very grateful for that.
BTW, that is another lesson I have learned, the importance of gratitude. Gratitude and kindness, including to ourselves. Those are, in fact, the most profound and valuable of all the lessons, even more so than forgiveness. Because, when we incorporate gratitude and kindness into our lives, our whole being changes to a state of mind conducive & crucial to healing.
And I am very grateful for this journey and all of the lessons. And I will endeavor to keep that in mind and remain grateful and kind, including to myself
I hope this helps someone out there who may be on a similar journey (even if it’s a completely different situation or circumstances . . .
Many Blessings to you on your journey, no matter what stage it may be in.
Learning, Healing & Awakening (and sharing the journey).
Every student is a teacher, every teacher a student - Marie Jankovic
I’ve been searching for a way to heal myself and I’ve found that kindness is the best way. - Lady Gaga
Matter is Energy... Energy is Light... We are all Light Beings - Albert Einstein
Confusion is the first step to (or sign of) Enlightenment - Marie Jankovic