Walking wounded

You just never know when you’ll get a blast from the past.

This morning I had an interesting request in my in-box. A PR guy asked to friend me on one of my social networks. Now, on it’s face, this isn’t that remarkable. I spent almost a decade in the trenches as a reporter before embarking on my new life as a blogger here and on my syndicated site The Sin City Siren. So either way, the PR folks find me. But this particular PR guy and I have some professional history.

Back in the day, I did a story and several follow-ups about a controversial piece of real estate here in the valley. There were environmental concerns; political concerns; a deep history of the site…and on and on. The initial story was the culmination of about five years of research, interviews, time with experts, and all the blood, sweat, and tears of investigative journalism that lines the cat box a week later. But this story I wrote, well, I’m guessing it made for a bad day for this PR guy involved. His client, among many other businesses mentioned in the piece, didn’t really come off looking that great.

Eh, that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes, right?

Well, in my experience the answer is mostly yes. Most of the time even when their interests aren’t shown in a great light, most PR folks know this is just how it goes sometimes. And I had worked with this guy before and knew him to be professional and well-respected. He was a nice guy. So, I expected a phone call with some light, obligatory complaining. (It’s his job to stick up for his client, after all.) I did not expect a phone call where he ended up shouting at me and “banning” me from access to his client for any future interviews. Wow! Really?! To say this was a gross over-reaction is, well, putting it mildly. There really wasn’t any reason to get that bent out of shape. The story was printed. I was rolling on to new assignments. It’s over. Let it go.

I left my last journalism job five years ago. So I’m guessing it’s been at least that long, if not longer, since I’ve talked with this guy. And the last interactions I had with him were just an escalation of his anger about my coverage of his client in subsequent follow-up articles. So, you can see why I was feeling a bit confused and amused this morning when I found his friend request in my in-box.

Now, I’m not so naive to think that friend requests in this age of social media always mean actual friendship. In fact, you often have to assume that they may come with strings or baggage of various degrees, especially when it comes to professional contacts and colleagues. Most likely, this person is just beefing up his contacts. Or perhaps he’s gearing up for some campaign or media blitz and wants to have a lot of media contacts getting his updates. Who knows? I certainly don’t. I haven’t seen or talked to this guy in years! I’d like to think that in the case of this PR contact, that time has nullified any anger he felt about the stories I wrote. I was doing my job. He was doing his job. No worries.

But this request did get me thinking about the idea of old wounds. How long does it take to heal old slights? Does time really heal all wounds?

We all have things in our past that are more messy and less easy to forgive. What if it took PR guy five years to forgive me for what he perceived as personal attacks on his client? What if he’s been carrying around a grudge long after I was out of the business and long after my stories are even on anyone’s radar? I’m not saying he was. (For the record, my guess is he was glad to see me leave journalism and didn’t give me a second thought after that.) But I’m using this scenario as an example of the kinds of grudges and wounds we all hold on to. If it can take years for someone to forgive a perceived slight at work, how long can it take to forgive the big stuff that shakes us to our very core? Of course, the answer to that is a variable. It depends on the person and the damage (real or imagined).

Just because the PR guy scenario tickled me, I put something on my facebook about it with some quip about whether or not time does heal all wounds. I was surprised to see two fairly serious responses. And neither one held a half-full outlook. Now, two people is not a lot and I would never suggest that it is representational of all people. But it did get me thinking that there are a lot more of us walking around with invisible emotional wounds than we realize. Maybe I just get so busy in my own life and my own problems that I forget to lift my head and notice what it is those around me are trying to conceal. Really, we are all concealing lots of things — from a dissatisfaction with our appearance to deep childhood trauma to wishing we were brave enough to take the leap on what scares us.

Because I write about a lot of emotional things, people often feel comfortable confiding in me. One of my posts last week brought up a lot of things for a lot of people, as I learned from so many messages, emails, and conversations. My wish when I talk about painful issues like sexual abuse, is that it is cathartic and helpful for others. And that I can share the hope that we all have an innate ability to not only survive, but walk through our pain and get to the other side where we can experience a wealth of positive emotions that we deserve to have in our lives. But I also understand that everyone has their own road to travel. It takes what it takes to get there. And those wounds don’t always heal completely. Even for myself, there are aspects about my childhood that still trouble me.

We all have wounds. And we all have to walk through life with them. Or do we?

Perhaps we should try and have more compassion for others and for ourselves. I’ve written before about how I struggle with forgiving myself even the smallest things. And that is certainly a part of the journey toward healing old wounds. Yes, we often have to consider if we want to forgive others, too. But I am beginning to think that is a smaller part than the forgiveness and care we must first give ourselves. After all, how can we forgive others if we never forgive ourselves? As a survivor of sexual abuse, one of the biggest parts of my healing journey was to finally forgive myself for being a victim. It wasn’t my fault that I was vulnerable, powerless, and a child. But I was still angry with myself and I couldn’t move on until I forgave myself the weaknesses that I had in that situation.

But we also have to think about whether or not it is worthy of our time to keep hanging on to old wounds. In my opinion, some things just aren’t worth it. Like my scenario with PR guy. Why bother being mad after all this time? What does it help? And what does it hurt in yourself to keep holding on to old things like that? But it’s worth considering about the bigger stuff, too. How long do we maintain a wound? How long do we keep it fresh and full of rage, frustration, sadness, and depression? Because I think there comes a point in our own healing journey when we have to decide, enough is enough, even on the big stuff. After all, once the trauma ends, who is it really that is doing the upkeep on the old wounds? Long after the abuser has left the building, it turns out to be none other than ourselves. It becomes familiar and almost a crutch.

At the same time, I’m not saying that just because time has gone by that means that old hurts should just magically go away. And I’m certainly not saying that the only reason why old wounds still hurt us is because we let them. It’s far more complicated than that, of course. When someone has hurt you deeply, that takes time to heal, if it ever can. And it takes work — sometimes a lot of work — to process everything that needs to be processed in order to move on from an old wound. Sometimes we need to learn new things. Sometimes we need to meet new people or trusted advisers to guide us through what needs to happen. Sometimes we need action from the other person or people. Sometimes we need to grow. Sometimes it really just takes time.

All I know is, we need to try and stop wasting time on grudges or old wounds that don’t really warrant it. Aren’t we all busy enough? Don’t we have enough to think about? And in the meantime, I think we could all do with more compassion toward one another. After all, you never know if the person you are talking to has some deep wounds they are working through. (Believe me, judging from some of the emails I get, you’d be surprised how well some people hide their pain.)

Maybe we could all take a cue from PR guy: Extend the olive branch, whether it’s to someone else or just ourselves. We deserve it.

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