The 14th "Secret" or sharing about my book, Trauma and the Golden Lady, is perhaps the most intimate and fundamental. This underlies and permeates all my writing, clinical work and personal life. It is my belief that every life moment, from first to last, is a time and space for meaning and purpose in life and for life. Each human being is a unique gift in life, a precious gift, to be lived as such, to the best of one's ability. Faith in a Gift-giver enables one to remain humble, appreciative of our gift of self and willfully acting towards the impossible dream, one might say; that is, always trying to perfect our self while realizing fully well we will never obtain this goal in our earthly life.
What an ideal! Some might say a fantasy, others a ridiculous or crazy idea. I must admit and truly believe that my longstanding and continuing upholding of this philosophical and spiritual belief is "never" (and, as those that know me know, I infrequently use that negative word) easy. I constantly battle in my mind and with my emotions with the never-ending dilemma of how to see self-as-gift when there exists illness, hatred, hypocracy, evil and other such things. Here is where, I believe, I may most identify with Sylvia Plath. Oh, how I believe she experienced this dilemma. The brilliant psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, spoke of this most fundamental life dilemma, as also containing the solution: "Man' Search For Meaning." He ought to know about the hurt and anguish of life, the deep challenges to our existence! He lost most of his family at Auswitz and suffered there, too.
Yes, I uphold a belief that suicide is an act that is unhealthy and "against" living with and as gift. While this belief is common sense to many, others view it as rigid, authoritarian, intrusive, and even selfish. Yes, as person, therapist and suicidology, this is the line I have drawn, but there is a caveat, a point that many may not see or may assume otherwise. Yes, I judge the act, but I neither judge nor condemn the actor. It is not my place to do so. As I hope is clear in my book, I uphold a love of Sylvia Plath. Yes, I am saddened by her death and death by suicide, but I also "feel" for the many hurts and troubles and burdens she bore. She faced a true life dilemma. May her eternal rest be one of true peace and contentment, that which she truly sought and most of us seek. May she be with God, Love, forever!
Here is another Book Secret of "Trauma and the Golden Lady:"
The role of "culture," as a macro-environment in which Sylvia Plath lived, is an important part of "Trauma and the Golden Lady." Sylvia was deeply influenced by her ethnicity, her environment, the political climate, global happenings and conflict, and her local, more intimate environment of community, friends, classmates, teachers, mentors, boyfriends, etc. Although to some extent this is true of us all, few probably ponder its significance. Sylvia, seemingly as with all things, became hyper-focused on these, as they related to her and the world. My book attempts to help the reader see how important these were for her, a part of her, always with her, at times in a pestering way. Take for example, war or global conflict. Sylvia seemed much more than just aware and concerned about this. She seemed to anguish about it, feel the pain, artistically be touched by it within her mind, heart and soul. It was as if she were living it out within her, feeling like a wounded soldier. Truly a very deep empathy and, as I suggest regarding her trauma history, this deep empathy mixed with some features of Posttraumatic Stress, making it stronger.
From my writing, I invite the reader to ponder her or his own relationship with their unique cultural identity and the world with and within they live; that is, their being-in-the-world. This relationship, I do believe, is essential for our well being.
June 7,1950 was the day Sylvia Plath graduated from high school. It was truly a happy and joyful day for her and her family. All focused on her accomplishment and looked forward to her future success. She was headed to Smith College that coming fall! Happy, happy, happy! Her companion "anxiety" remained with her, but, overall, all looked promising.
I invite you to read my book and read and reflect on the "book secrets" I've released in my blogs. I welcome your comments and discussion. Trauma and the Golden Lady awaits you. If you'd like to hear me discuss the book, tune in to the podcast of my WCAI interview with Mindy Todd of The Point, March 21, 2017.
I'm excited to share my gifts with you.
Secret 12 from "Trauma and the Golden Lady" relates to my connection of mother and home to Sylvia's connection with her mother and home. I had no conscious thought and made no conscious connection to this similarity throughout my writing, but I know, in hindsight, it was an everpresent fact and influence. Indeed, this mother and home empathic bond likely tempered any urge by me to critique or judge Aurelia and her influence on Sylvia. It is not that I failed to see her problems or sought to temper them, but rather saw her imperfections with a "there but for the grace of God" perspective; hopefully, "lovingly," as I speak of the word in my first chapter. Mother and home, my mother and home influence, helped me try to be tender, caring, nonjudgmental, sensitive, as a way of opening up to authentic understanding. Blaming, accusing, becoming embittered or angry, hating, passing judgment, condemning, all impede understanding; indeed, these prevent authentic understanding. Without really understanding and appreciating home and mother, I believe, one misses an essential part of who Sylvia Plath was, how she lived her life and why she committed suicide. Like Sylvia, my relationship with my mother bears closeness and influence. While Sylvia's father's illness and death led to increased attachment to mother, it was my father's work away from home that increased my connectedness. Home became a place of increased importance, obligation, responsibility, nurturance, and security. As with Sylvia, in a curious way, such a "one-parent influence" seemed to increase the urge for independence. As much as one feels the attraction to home and mother, one seeks, perhaps stronger than usual, to move apart from it, to become one's unique self, living out a unique destiny. Due to such a developed bond with mother and home, the "maternal," I believe, becomes a strong part of one's personality and influences one's life. For example, I have no doubt it has helped me effectively help women who were abused or neglected. Sylvia brought the maternal into her relationship with Ted and influenced her decision-making, even in a negative way, such as with her decision to die. I could write forever about this mother-home connection, as well as the differences between my life and Sylvia's. I leave it to the reader to reflect on this. I would welcome future dialogue about this.
Book Secret 11 from my writing of "Trauma and the Golden Lady" is about my own connection or relatedness to trauma, as learned before and during the writing. Also, it's an intimate confession. Writing this book, very much like my working in psychotherapy, helped me to look to myself and learn about me and trauma. Some may think that a psychotherapist with expertise in trauma work had always been attuned to trauma. Not so! My understanding of myself and of trauma developed over time, very gradually, and continues to do so. About 30 years ago, when I began my clinical work with persons who had a history of trauma and were detrimentally affected by it, I was an ignorant, naive, neophyte, newly hatched, licensed social worker. Although psssionate, hard working and eager to learn, I had almost no knowledge about Posttraumatic Stress. There had been no courses in school related to trauma, no lectures. When I evaluated a client and assessed her or his needs, I didn't even ask about their trauma history and noted it only if they voluntarily mentioned it as a presented problem. Indeed, even more disturbing to me as a USN Veteran, I didn't even ask about military service. I had a lot to learn and yet I thought I already knew a lot. How haughty and over-confident I was! Personally, what became quite surprising to me was that I didn't even know my own trauma history. For example, it was only after several years of working with trauma that I realized I too had had a traumatic experience; in fact, a prolonged one, during my childhood. Around grade 7 and 8 or so, I used to ride my bike several miles to town to go to the dentist and afterwards ride home. I loved the freedom of riding on my own. What I didn't remember and "chose" to forget, though, was what happened in between the bike ride to and fro. I would remain frozen in the dentist chair, mouth opened as wide as possible (as instructed), listening to the ugly buzzing sound of the dentist's drill. I was frozen in fear. I was waiting for the shock of pain I had come to know would follow with the drilling of the cavity. No, there was no novacane, no numbing, no anesthesia. I would have no idea that any such aid was available until my military service. Then, suddenly and painfully, it came. I had been waiting for the dentist to hit the nerve, because then I knew the tooth would be filled and the drilling would end, at least for that day. It was a traumatic experience, one that perhaps most would also "choose to forget" to avoid facing the ugly reality of what was. I've come to wonder about my dentist. Why didn't he use or at least offer anesthesia? Was it preference not to use it? The perverted side of me, the skeptic and cynic, questions if it might have been more ugly, perhaps sadistic. Regardless, it was trauma. It affected me and, amazingly, helped me. When I use this example with clients as being "someone" who experienced trauma "normally," this often facilitates our therapeutic work. And, no, I'm not afraid of the dentist today. Yes, perhaps there is some residual, anticipatory anxiety, but, with novacane, I actually view my trips to the dentist, while not loved, as opportunities to rest my body after a busy day of clinical work, rest my head. Trauma may lead to transformation and, in this case it did for me. As I discovered personally, it takes self-awareness, knowledge, understanding, will, and action to change.
iAnother insight, a "secret" I discovered in writing "Trauma and the Golden Lady," is the likely connection of "secondary posttraumatic stress" to Ted Hughes and the life of Sylvia Plath. I do believe this profoundly affected Ted and, consequently, affected Sylvia and Ted's relationship with her and others. It's no coincidence that the image I've selected to preface this blog is of my metaphorical pink sock monkey trying to lift a heavy stone. Persons I've met and worked with in therapy who grew up with parents with PTSD (diagnosed as such, or not), work hard and anguish to be a healthy self and connect with others. For them, something is missing or lacking. In their development, there may be at least a "passive neglect" within the home and parental environment, or perhaps abuse or even domestic violence. The self-absorbed style of the parent with PTSD impairs their ability to optimally parent or teach and/or love their children. These children find themselves without adequate support , direction, guidance, and attention. They, as it seems did Ted and Gerald Hughes, seem to instinctively seek to compensate for this loss by prematurely becoming independent and seeking to find their own attention and satisfaction. Self-gratifying acts often soothes the hurt of what is lost or missing. These acts bring pleasure and help the child feel good, for a brief time. Unless successfully healed or resolved, however, this narcissistic need may become insatiable. As with Ted, such hurt children become strongly centered on their need to care for their self. In a curious way, they may also become viewed erroneously by others as strong and secure, an attractive source for comfort and stability. These children with Secondary Posttraumatic Stress have learned how to survive and act independently, by and for their self. Acting and living intimately, with and for others, however, may be quite the challenging mountain to climb, something not learned, not taught, not internalized. Without significant and healthy intimacy during development, learning to act and be intimate later on, one may argue, will likely mean getting help from healthy others, such as professionals. They must first come to know and understand what was lost, then grieve, and then heal. It means having to learn to be intimate. It means shedding an ego that had needed to be exaggerated to survive and compensate in growing up and developing a more humble, less anxious and more open one. Thanks to this insight and understanding, I'm finding and developing a more effective way to help others who need to learn to heal after trauma and secondary PTS. Viewing Ted Hughes' family has helped me greatly. Never thought this would be the case. Wow!
Another "Secret" I wish to share with you about "Trauma and the Golden Lady" is the purpose within the purpose of the book. As stated before, this is a biography, the told story of Sylvia Plath. Indeed, what's unique is that it's a biography with a focus, a focus on the impact of trauma on her and in her life. Along with telling the story, I seek to invite the reader to reflect on their self from the life of Plath-understand, learn and use what is learned for self-improvement, growth, to avoid Plath's pitfalls and appreciate her gifts and talents, as they discover and develop their own in life. But something even more intimate came about for the reader as I wrote Trauma and the Golden Lady. What I didn't realize I was doing, at least not as clearly as I later discovered, is asking the reader to become as intimate with Sylvia as I seek to be in psychotherapy (at least to some significant degree). I wrote to invite the reader to put their self in the shoes of Sylvia and think and feel as she. What I noticed in reading her words is that, perhaps indicative of her life problems, all seemed disjointed, confusing, fragmented, more like puzzle pieces of Sylvia. Strong moods, sharp words, descriptions of persons, places or things. My writing, as with my therapeutic work, is an attempt to help the reader put her words to life in an integrated fashion, put at least some of the puzzle pieces together in a way that would help her come alive and walk along with you and you with her. Of course, perfection is not possible. It's not just saying (as she did) how she felt or what she thought that I wish you to be with, but also to show you how her thoughts-feelings-acrtions developed and were lived-out, for better and worse - her lived-out story , her phenomenal world, including her culture. Showing the cultural context in which she lived from 1932 to 1963 gives the reader, I hope, an even greater understanding of what may have both facilitated and impeded Sylvia's development towards well-being. Some of the feedback I've already received from others who have read my book, especially those who have suffered some of what Sylvia did, tell me that this more intimate purpose is accomplished. I hear from readers:
"You hit the nail on the head. That's how someone feels when they feel like that."
"I couldn't put the book down. didn"t want the book to end."
"I've read many book about Plath and this was my favorite."
"Sylvia herself was calling you to write this."
I treasure the reader's response as much as I treasure that from my clients. No greater gift have I received about my life work.
I'd very much appreciate your feedback about my book and it's Purpose within the purpose. Enjoy!
Another amazing "Secret" of my writing "Trauma and the Golden Lady" is my newly found appreciation of poetry. As stated in the book, early in my life I had developed a negative regard for poetry. I couldn't understand it, viewed it as odd and disjointed, never read it, couldn't write it. I just ignored it, avoided it, a lot like we tend to do with trauma. It was never a part of my life. Through my research for the book, however, I found myself having to read it, looking to understand, even experimenting with letting myself be free and creative and write a few lines. The brief statements at the beginning of many of the chapters are my imperfect, yet inspired words from my clients and my clinical work. It's the best I'm able to be "poetic" at this time and in no way to be interpreted as poem-writing on my part, as I would fail miserably at such a deeply learned art, as manifested by Sylvia, her husband or her daughter. These statements, thanks to my work about (and perhaps with) Sylvia, reflect my now new-found "trying" to express my self from deep within, from and with my spirit and soul. It's a bit of my expressing who I am and what I've experienced. I do believe this is what Sylvia sought and used to struggle to do. What a gift this has become for me. I guess I have Sylvia to thank for this.