Not Healing, Remodeling. Heathen Community in a therapeutic context
The Heathen community can be a really powerful tool for healing emotional and physical wounds, but it is not a tool that we always take advantage of, or wield particularly well.
I am not a healer. I have to be very clear about this. My training is not, and never has been directed towards healing. I have a background that equips me to speak with a fair degree of knowledge on the ways to disable, and destroy the human body, and its core functions. I am equally skilled and practiced in the arts of preventing traumatic and medical issues from causing disability and destruction of the human body and its core functions. This collection of skills together is about life saving and stabilizing, it is not about healing. That is beyond my scope, and skill.
Healing actually mostly happens right away. Minor injuries actually heal in a pretty much one step process, the damage being cleaned up and healthy tissue replacing the damaged tissue. Anything beyond minor wounds works differently. Clot, cleanup, heal, and remodel is the path that we follow.
I don’t do healing, I remodel like a son of a bitch though. I am one, so it sort of goes with the territory.
For physical and mental injuries, shock gets you through the bad five minutes, and if people like me do their job, doesn’t kill you within the hour. Now comes the clot and clean, the inflammatory process, the awareness of pain and violation. At this point, if you have resources that your own training, philosophy, or practice have given you, they can make a real difference in your ability to deal with this bit.
Healing; is overrated. Healing lays down scar tissue to fill in the blanks you lost good tissue in. Then it stops. Healing is done now, you have filler in the holes in you, and what comes next will hurt, and will largely be up to you.
Remodeling. Is the long painful process of tearing your scar tissue apart a piece at a time, to heal that particular bit properly, with actual functional tissue to replace the scar tissue. Think of it like tear the muscle once by accident; then tear it a bit at a time over the next six months to get back to as close to 100% as you can get. Or avoid the pain, and stay weak and at risk of reinjury.
In the mental and emotional world, this process works……..the exact same, sadly. We have these things called coping mechanisms; they are the outer signs of our scar tissues. Like scar tissues, they have got to go, or we will be crippled. Like scar tissue, there is no easy way, no quick way to get rid of it. You tear yourself a little bit at a time, and strive to heal that particular bit correctly.
The closest activity I have training in is minesweeping. Oh yes, nothing like being taught field expedient mine sweeping to let you know that if you really ever need to use this, you are in deep trouble. We leave it to the Combat Engineers in the physical world, but in the mental healing work we have to do, the mines are in our head, and there, we must do the work ourselves, but not necessarily unassisted.
The triggers: Coping mechanisms usually form up around our triggers to keep us from blowing ourselves up. This is good, but really not the place to stop, it is the place to start, and it is harder and less successful alone. You need to talk, a lot.
To talk you need to feel safe. I don’t mean feel safe in the “No one is judging you, agape love for all” peace love and joy that frankly makes you even more reluctant to share the deeply ugly festering internal wounds, and all the filth that builds up in the capsules we form around them. You need to feel the other kind of safe. The kind of safe that you feel when you can look a person dead in the eye and tell the most shameful truth coldly, watch them react, and then literally fly off the handle with all the fear and rage you have been bottling up inside. The kind of safe you can feel when you are able to let go your own controls on yourself because the people around can literally be trusted with the secrets you are pouring out, and to make sure, by force if necessary, that you do yourself and others no harm when you are letting out what is bottled in.
This is where your actual flesh and blood heathen community makes a difference. At sumbel or just over a drink together, this is where you can be naked in the spiritual and mental sense without shame. This is where you can submit your wound to the community, and let them collectively set their hands and minds to helping you lay down new pathways, healthier pathways around the damage. To begin to rebuild the areas that were too broken to function, too dangerous to leave festering.
Like a minefield, this is something that takes a long time to clear. You move one button at a time, one trigger at a time, and it isn’t perfect. Some you learn to leave alone because they are not worth messing with, or will not resolve with the tools you have….yet. Keep checking, that one changes sometimes without notice.
You can do this on your own, but when you need your own strength most is when your wounds, and all the self hating corruption that fills them weakens you most. Your community can take some of that burden from you, and can give back to you some of the strength you have offered them freely in other times.
In their eyes you can see how they have weighed your deeds, your choices, your experience, and in a very heathen sense, your worth. A strong community can be an agent that will allow you to speak those things you dare not admit to yourself, can show you how to put down the coping mechanisms that are slowly destroying you (but without which you wouldn’t have survived).
I am not a healer, but I am good at remodeling. If you didn’t die when you were broken, then you have within you the capacity to win back yourself. Not the who you were, but the who you can be when you have grown strong again in the broken places.
When we die, and face our ancestors, we will be naked save for the scars of your struggles. By those scars, and the way you bear them, you will be known. Our gods, from Odin to Tyr, bear their scars openly, for it is the scars both inside and out that are the testament to our will, to our love and commitment to those we struggle on for. When you stand naked but for your scars before your community, or before your ancestors, you can do so with the knowledge that you will see their pride in you reflecting back the glory they see, not the broken thing you think yourself.
This is healing done right, this is Heathen remodeling, and it can work. What it requires is a community that accepts that the world holds more things in it than you want to accept. The fact that someone else has experienced horror in something you have only known safety in is not a threat to you, nor does it change your experience. Someone who has the knowledge of dangers you have not thought about is not ruining your life, they are helping you to keep your world bright by opening your eyes to threats you would be happier to avoid. Take that as a gift, and offer one in return.
Fear and shame are the enemies of healing, and the killers of men and women. Fear of knowledge is unworthy of a heathen. The first line of the Hamaval tells us to look long and hard before we enter a room, for dangers may lurk anywhere. Bad things happen, know this, accept this, enjoy life more for the fact that you are paying attention to make sure as few bad things as possible happen to you and yours.
Fear of letting ugly realities intrude into our comfort zone causes people to lash out with shame at those who would answer our questions honestly, and share as we asked, of themselves. This is unworthy, and cowardly. This is victim blaming, victim shaming, and abuse motivated by cowardice.
A community that is strong grows strong because the people in it fear nothing so long as they are together. A community that is truly strong chooses to stand with its members in their trials not out of obligation, but out of desire.
The magic of sumbel and of Heathen community in general is that those who dare to share their struggles with you share as well the glory of their triumph. To be allowed to share such struggles is an honour, and to be able to share your strength with one who has spent all they own of their own is to know that you have given a gift without equal. A gift for a gift is our way, and that feather weight you lend to the scales may mean little to you, but you may well find out what it meant to another when you have need, and they are there to give back what THEY feel your gift was worth.
Remodelling is about tearing up scars, a bit at a time, and replacing them with something stronger, something healthier. Remodelling is about shedding coping mechanisms because you have dealt with the thing that was going to kill you right now, and no longer need the coping mechanism that was just hurting you badly instead. Remodelling hurts, but leaves us stronger.
Nothing is free. A gift for a gift is our way. If you value your community, if you value the people in it, you will learn how to be there for them, how to aid them in their struggles, and in turn, how to prepare yourself for your own. We grow stronger together, and those who can face their community with perfect trust in imperfect people will know they have found one true place to stand, one true thing that will not fail them.
We can get this right, we can be the single most powerful tool for helping each other grow hale, whole and together; or we can lash out to defend our comfort zone. Each community will judge for itself where their honour is to be found.
John T Mainer