“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. ” -Ernest Hemingway
Warning: I will be talking about blood and scalpels in this post, so if you’re squeamish, avert your eyes.
A couple of weeks ago I had a community nursing clinical at the Wound Center for a local hospital. I was able to observe as people with diabetic wounds, pressure ulcers, and boils received treatment.
Unfortunately, the rate of type 2 diabetes is ever increasing, and with it comes an increase in wounds resulting from nerve damage. Healing is then impaired because diabetics tend to have poor circulation in their extremities, and recovering tissues need good blood supplies bringing in adequate amounts of oxygen.
The diabetic patients I saw on this particular day at the wound center had wounds on their feet. In several cases, the patients had injured themselves by stepping on something sharp, but it took them days to realize it, and by then they had developed significant open sores.
Because diabetic patients with wounds like these aren’t getting good blood flow to the area, tissues become necrotic and die. Necrotic tissue cannot be restored, and increases the risk for infection, so it must be cut away. In both patients, the doctor cut away any blackened, dead tissue until he reached the margins of healthy tissue. But then, interestingly, the doctor would continue cutting with his scalpel, into the healthy, pink, exposed tissue.
If an observer was watching the doctor and didn’t know what the doctor was doing, he might be horrified. Why make the patient’s wound worse and cause more bleeding? The reason for this practice was to enhance blood flow to the damaged area. By cutting into healthy tissue on the edges of the wound, more blood was allowed to enter, bringing in life-giving oxygen to help promote healing.
It sounds paradoxical…injure the patient to heal the patient.
I have found this same paradox to be present and true in our emotional lives. When we experience disappointment, grief, or trauma, even microtraumas, it is easy and instinctual to hunker down, close ourselves off, and resist any further pain. We want safety, and we often try to just stop feeling anything, because those feelings can be scary and they can hurt like hell.
But, to find our way through those things that initially hurt us, and to gain long-lasting healing, we have to dig back into those wounds, unpleasant as it may be. Wounds around our hearts can get hard and crusty over time. Sometimes we learn to protect ourselves by adding layer after layer of distractions, bad habits, and blame of others over those wounds to avoid feeling the rawness that lies underneath. The problem is, all those layers are necrotic, and they are a fertile breeding ground for bitterness, resentment, fear, and hatred.
We are going to get hurt in life. It’s inevitable and is a part of being human. What takes extreme courage is to allow for sacred wounds. I think sacred wounds are those that we self-inflict, or allow others to inflict upon us, as a healthy means to pursue healing. Sacred wounding happens when we take a scalpel (maybe through therapy, or bodywork, or introspection, or meditation, or The Work, or tapping, or countless other modalities) and begin to cut away at the tough exteriors that we’ve built up around our hearts.
Slicing anywhere near old emotional wounds is brutal, but when done with safe people in safe spaces, it can be transforming. Life and love, that are always within our deepest, truest selves, are suddenly able to start seeping out. They bring energy to those places within us that are struggling to breathe, struggling to survive. And those places start to vibrate once again, and begin functioning as they were intended. Over time, streams of life are flowing through those old wounds, where once it was stagnated in a toxic environment.
I once had several emotional wounds that I believed would never heal. They were just too deep, too infected, too complex. I was terrified of any scalpel that offered to cut away the hard callouses that I had built up to protect myself. Fortunately, I’ve learned that the Universe is a good physician. It brings the sacred wounding I need when I need it, and the result has been more healing than I could have ever imagined. Sometimes I still resist sacred wounding, fearful of the ensuing pain from whatever scalpel is being laid to me. But when I can summon just a small amount of courage, and lean into the discomfort, I only gain more life, an increased ability to love, and the flood of light into the deepest, darkest, most hidden places of myself.