"Physiological healing is the restoration of damaged living tissue...to normal function. It is the process by which the cells in the body regenerate and repair to reduce the size of a damaged or necrotic area. Healing incorporates both the removal of necrotic tissue (demolition), and the replacement of this tissue. The replacement can happen in two ways: by regeneration: the necrotic cells are replaced by the same tissue as was originally there, and by repair: injured tissue is replaced with scar tissue. Most organs will heal using a mixture of both mechanisms."
Physical healing seems pretty cut and dried, doesn't it? I remember shattering my elbow back in my late teens and the process of healing; reconstruction of my elbow by an incredible surgeon, the healing of the incision and bone and then physical therapy to restore range of motion. Yes, it healed and we knew when that healing had taken place because I had nearly full use of my arm again. It took many months, but healing was accomplished. Sure, I have a scar, but it's mostly covered up so it has never bothered me much. Thankfully, I was young and healthy and healed rather quickly.
Just a few days ago I did what happens to every woman at some point in their lives...usually multiple times, actually. Most woman I know have a scar of some sort on their pinky finger from a glass cut. That's right; you stick your hand into the glass along with the sponge and get to washin'. Unfortunately, sometimes the glass gives way and shards of glass bite into that slippy, wet flesh leaving a lovely incision. Ouch! The resultant first aid and then favoring of the injury reminded me again of how long it takes the body to heal. Especially if you continue to use the injured appendage. It is most difficult to continue life without using your right pinky finger, y'know? It will sport a lovely scar, of course, but that's to be expected. A reminder not to shove my hand down into a glass again...for a while, anyway.
Quite a few parallels can be drawn between physical and emotional healing, it would seem. First aid to the injured site, favoring the wound so it doesn't cause pain or get re-injured and slowly using the body part again to build up strength could easily be applied to a broken heart and depressed spirit. The distinct difference is that you cannot see the injuries, the bleeding. Many times I have thought that if only we could see the psychological wounds on our physical bodies, others would be both shocked and amazed that the injured are still functioning in any capacity. In my mind, I visualize zombie-like wounds, re-injured scars, and bodily trauma; emotional wounding can be so penetrating and life-altering. Unfortunately, those carrying those hurts are still expected to move through their lives as though nothing happened. Can't you just get over it already?
So, how does healing happen? I believe we can take some cues from the medical profession on how to deal with emotional hurt and facilitate healing. Just spend some time in a hospital and you will quickly see how a healing environment functions:
We are all familiar with the rolling carts with the equipment to check blood pressure, temperature and other vitals. Every couple of hours a smiling medical assistant arrives in your room to check your vitals and records them accordingly. When someone is healing from emotional pain, short and regular check-ins are so beneficial to ensure the hurting soul knows someone cares. Being left alone is alright, but not for too long - the hurting need to know that they are not forgotten or abandoned in their grief and pain.
The one directing the path towards healing usually stops by for a scheduled visit in the hospital. They bring answers, information and a look towards the future that is so beneficial for the hurting person. When the path is clear, it allows everyone involved to feel like they are contributing towards healing. Knowing that the pain is not going to last forever and that someone truly cares and is working towards restoring health is paramount to the healing process.
Your Own Nurse
The one that's there sluggin' it out in the dark hours, always on-call and available, wanting to make things as comfortable as possible - that's your own assigned nurse, right? Push that button and here they come with fresh ice chips, medication and compassionate healing in their touch and words. Quiet confidence and experience are the hallmarks of a efficient and effective nurse. The emotionally hurting person needs those around them that are completely invested to showing love and compassion in this way.
Slowly and tenderly helping the convalescing out of bed and coaxing them for a walk around the nurse's station is the beginning to complete health once again. Gently walking beside the emotionally grieving while they stretch their legs back to normalcy is an honor and privilege, but these helping souls must be prepared for two steps forward and one step back; memories, thought triggers and tears, as well as anger, discomfort and depression may be taking those walks with you. Healers must, with G-d's help, be prepared with listening ears, caring compassion, empathy and a willingness to bear the burden of another.
A safe, clean and comfortable place is required for healthy healing. Being surrounded by those that are upbeat, truthful, wise and compassionate is necessary for both physical and emotional injuries. Resentment, bitterness and judgment are poisons to healing, and inevitably lead to more emotional injury. A place of healing must be cleansed of these toxins prior to admission of the injured for help.
In the absence of the above, the emotionally hurting often do things out of their need for survival. Unfortunately, some of these behaviors not only inhibit healthy healing, but may prolong unhealthy patterns bringing more pain later on.
I've fallen victim to this mentality, as well as many others. Just bury the past and move on through busyness. This event over here, that obligation over there...an over-full calendar and a never ending do-list leads to distraction and avoidance of the ongoing pain. Shove it all out of your mind and somehow believe that it will all go away. Might I suggest that this does not work? When faced with issues at a later date, what the injured discovers is resentment and perhaps even bitterness that has developed in the gathering of dust. Eventually, consequences for ignored issues may include anger, blame-shifting and unhealthy pride.
Back-filling a hole is sometimes necessary and good in terms of construction, but not when it involves emotional holes in one's heart. Trying to replace that which has been lost with another seldom, if ever, is a healthy approach, and eventually causes problems for all involved. Best to just deal with the pain of loss and grief in a healthy way (letting yourself move through the phases of grief) rather than involve someone else where the potential of hurt is high.
Pretending things aren't as hurtful as they are, denying any emotional response, proclaiming a distinct lack of care of the situation and insisting on silence on the part of others is unhealthy and dishonest. Don't lie to yourself or others - admit your pain and hurt and deal with it in a healthy way; talk about it, accept your own emotions and responses and share with those around you how you need each other. To humble yourself in this way is good and right, and may even bring healing to those around you that may be suffering, as well. Do yourself and others a favor by modelling healthy and honest behaviors that facilitate healing.
You cannot deal with a physical injury through these avoidance behaviors, unless you want infection or worse. Why do we think that these ways of dealing with emotional hurts are healing and beneficial? Appearances are not everything and eventually the hurts show themselves evident.
"...healing is the restoration of damaged living tissue...to normal function."
Yes - normal, healthy function. I pray that we all are able to heal from our hurts in this way. There is so much hurt in the world, as many of us as possible need to be healthy and whole in order to tend to those that are experiencing pain and heartache. It is my belief that this is the only way we fulfill the command to love our G-d and love our neighbors as ourselves - by serving and loving the hurting in our lives.
I posted this song once before, but it was so appropriate for this post I had to include it again.
Come and let the healing begin...for us all.