Healing Takes Time, And Healing Is Painful

This morning, as Donald Trump left the White House for (*knocks on wood*) the last time, it was snowing outside. Just a light sprinkling of little sugar flakes, sticking to some surfaces but not to others. And then as he took off, the sun poked through for a moment — a patch of blue sky amid the gray. Half the sky is turbid gray gunmetal. The other half a cornflower blue.

Which feels about right to me.

I kinda thought this day would come and I’d just be pure elation. Blue sky for miles! It’d be Champagne corks-a-poppin’ and mimosas, it’d be hooting and hollering, just 100% unrefined, uncut bliss. Electric schadenfreude. Freedom glee. But it’s not all that. It’s not all the way there. I’m also sort of sad, and exhausted, and feeling a little frizzled out. Don’t get me wrong. I’m also happy as fuck. Fuck that guy. We’ve been trapped in the man’s mind for four years, all part of a human centipede chain connecting to his mouth, which is also his asshole, as he steadily forced us all to contend with his hot piping bullshit. Him being plugged into social media like he was meant we never had to wonder what he was thinking, because there he sat, on his golden toilet, petulantly rage-tweeting his every hateful, lackwit impulse right into our skulls. You could mute him, block him, but someone would screengrab it and show it to you. Or the media would unceremoniously just grab whatever false, inane claim he made and use it as their headline without context or clarity. We lived inside his head. It’s nice to have broken out. We beat him. We cracked open his forehead, kicked past the curtain of his naughahyde flesh, and ran for the goddamn hills. We won. Let’s run.

So, yeah, I’m happy. It’s good to see Biden rise to meet the challenge. Day one, he’s showing up with a laundry list of priorities and plans, and further, actual actions to start turning this big-ass ship around. That takes time, but he’s doing it, and I commend him. I also feel bad for him, because what a fucking shitpile he’s going to have to clean up. (Not to mention the smell he’s going to have to get out of the White House. Hamberders, body dye, and exuded human greases. Shudder.)

But I’m also just feeling fucked up, and on examination, I think that’s pretty normal, and I wanted to talk about it — because maybe you’re feeling that way, too.

I feel like a hollowed-out pumpkin. A jack-o-lantern with the candle blown out– my eyes wide, my grin manic, but my middle all empty. And in retrospect, how could we not feel that way? We have been in a war for four years. We’ve been fighting misinformation, disinformation, and cruelty in every direction. We’ve secured considerable political victories at every election since, but their sweetness never lasted long because some new fuckery was always on its way in, a rolling sewage wave crashing down on our beaches.

The parade doesn’t come the day you win the war.

The parade comes later.

Day you win the war, you lay on the sand, you look up at the sky.

You laugh, maybe. You probably cry. You curl up and kick at the ground. You go through it — you go through all those emotions, round and round, a carousel of feelings whirling too fast inside you.

Because here’s the thing:

We’re traumatized as a nation.

We’re experiencing a sociological, widespread version of a complex trauma reaction from chronic exposure to feeling… under assault, to feeling captive. And please be aware, that whatever it is I’m feeling is going to be felt a thousand times worse by those who were truly in Trump’s crosshairs: anybody not white and male and of some wealth. He fostered an environment of hate and restriction against transgender and non-binary Americans. He pushed the racial divide, especially for Black Americans, who are literally standing in the sights of police weapons. He mocked disability. He increased wealth disparity and punished the poor. And his threat against women was profound, too — they were his targets, his prey, his tools. Grab them by the — well. He was a bigoted, rapey piece of shit who should be rotting in an oubliette somewhere.

He stole so much from us. He stole our peace of mind. He stole lives, jobs, a sense of hope, he stole some of our actual democracy — he basically opened the castle gates to COVID-19, which further came in and stole friends and loved ones, it stole work, it stole productivity, it stole our sense of self, it stole our time and our sense of time. He has taken so much.

And now he’s gone. Gone from the White House, soon gone from the presidency. Taking all that he stole with him, carrying it away with him, the fucking loser.

And I think it’s okay to feel fucked up about that. Not sad he’s gone, of course. Fuck him. Fuck his feelings, as sure as he fucked ours. I just mean it’s okay to feel weird. This is healing. We haven’t had that chance to heal yet. It hasn’t begun until… arguably, right now. And healing is rarely comfortable. It’s a good thing, healing — but it’s not a pure thing, a perfect thing. It’s stitches, it’s resetting of bone, it’s relearning how to walk, it’s a limb in a cast, it’s the itch of cells rejoining. It’s uncomfortable. It hurts. It feels strange. That, I suspect, is where we’re at right now. At the point just past trauma’s last mile marker, and onto the healing road. But healing takes time, and healing is painful.

We’re still in COVID-19. We’re still at the cusp of true, dangerous climatic change. We’re still going to contend with all the demons Trump released. We’re still pickling in GOP treachery and the stain of the insurrection they incited. Many of us still have family members whose rational minds are literally lost to this guy, to FOX, to the GOP. So, it’s okay to feel fucked up. To feel sad and angry and not just happy. To be clear, it’s also okay to feel happy, because for real, fuck that fucking loser. It can be all of those things. We can hold many emotions in us. They often compete.

That’s what makes us whole, and human.

You still might wake up anxious.

You still might feel uncertain.

You still can feel happy one minute, and angry the next.

That’s trauma. That’s loss. That’s healing.

We’ll be okay, I hope.

But we’ve learned a lot, I think, about how… well, everything is a garden. Democracy is a garden. Empathy is a garden. Civilization is a garden. And gardens do not just grow on their own — there are invasive species that can take root, there are thieves looking to steal the fruits, the fence can rot, the wind can blow. All of this requires cultivation and curation. It requires a collective effort and if there’s one huge positive, it’s that we figured that out. Trump is gone because of all of you (and Stacey Abrams gets special note, here). He’s gone because our democracy held — barely. It’s the classic American situation: we get ourselves in a bind, plunging the plane toward the ground and then at the last minute we figure out how to pull up on the stick. It’s not a great way to be, but we did it, we made it. And at the risk of continuing to mix my metaphors (settle down, it’s a blog, you’re not paying for it), the garden will grow anew, and it will require our effort to keep it going and growing. We must commit ourselves to that vigilance, to stewardship over this country and its democracy.

That’s how we heal, too.

But committing, and recommitting, to that fight.

That’s how we fight the trauma, I think. By acknowledging it, seeing that it’s real, by mourning what was lost — and then getting to work, the constant work, the diligent work.

Walking that healing road.

Anyway, thanks all for being here, still, and for enduring… whatever this is. It’s hard not to be angry and raaaaar all the time, but I tried to do it in a way that was… at least funny and entertaining, if nothing else. It’s been a hard row to hoe and I appreciate you all doing it with me. We’ll keep walking this road, together, I hope. And finally we can maybe talk about something else for a little while.

34 responses to “Healing Takes Time, And Healing Is Painful”

  1. This is perfect, Chuck. Thank you.
    I’m looking forward to the day that I’m finally able to release the 4+ years of tension built up in my shoulders and stop wondering what cruel, stupid thing awaits around every corner.

  2. Yes, this … and so much more. It is a garden – and there are a hell of a lot of weeds – and a few poisonous snakes yet to be removed. Trump is gone! Yeay! The pandemic uncovered major flaws in Wisconsin’s outdated unemployment system. It needs upgrades, more staff. The Democratic Governor called a special session of the GOP legislature to address the problem yesterday – and they gaveled in and gaveled out. Trump may be gone – but the heartless obstructionism remains. The gerrymandering. The lies. The family and friends lost not to COVID, but to a poisonous reality they’ve absorbed, leaving us no choice but to disconnect from them because their attitudes and ideals actually harm us. Today is a celebration. Tomorrow … tomorrow we rebuild our stamina as best we can to continue the fight. Like putting out a giant fire – there are hot spots that need to be watched everywhere …

    • Also from Wisconsin, and I relate to this so hard. This last election and how we’ve handled COVID really showed me some dark realities about this state. Things I always knew, but I don’t think I really realized just how deep the cruel side of conservatism really ran in this area. (Waukesha Country, by the way, as red as it gets.)

      All this has made me look at my whole life in a new light. The fact that our school boards were full of “school choice” proponents and what that means and why everything was underfunded and why the teachers weren’t qualified (one causing a massive chemistry accident that sent people to the hospital). Why I can’t even have a rational conversation about politics with family. Why the default social experience has been hate, close-mindedness, bullying and verbal abuse, some of which I’ve had to work to un-do in myself.

      There’s also a lot I like about my state: the parks, the climate (I like snow), the custard stands on every corner and most people are fairly polite on a day-to-day basis. But for some reason, we also love our radicalized conservatism. McCarthyism came from Wisconsin, after all. We haven’t left that behind, and I can’t figure out why.

      • I hear you. I’m in Dane County which is as blue as it gets – and it frustrates us to no end because we are simply unable to understand other people in our state and we feel horribly isolated – an island just trying to survive.

  3. Thanks for this. One thing that’s come from this for me is seeing the tapestry – the wyrd – and everyone’s little stitch around mine and how we all hold this damn thing up together. I appreciate your words and your humor-your stitch. Despite all the broken threads, we’re still here.

  4. Thank you. This is exactly me, and I was feeling kind of bad that I’m not more exuberant and happy today. I feel a bit better now.

  5. Excellent words, Chuck. Expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously isn’t easy, and it won’t be easy to do the work. But we need to do it. Our lives depend on ir.

  6. Anyone who have left an abusive home faces this fucked up fog. I wanna do a scalding soak and prune up for a while. Still in a little simmer until someone is held accountable. Not sure how much longer I can be around the Christians in my bubble who bought into his brainwash con for their bucks and ratings.

  7. Hi Chuck. I have an autistic son. He hardly ever talks, and then just the occasional Yes or No in response to questions. Today, out of the blue, he smiled and said: “We have a new president.”

  8. Thank you, thank you. You put into words why I still feel a bit . . . clenched. I expected to feel a sense of release and I guess I do, a bit. Maybe like a tightly bunched up bud in your garden, I don’t feel quite ready to unfurl. It’s still winter. But spring will come, I hope.

  9. Thank you. I’ve been feeling guilty because, in addition to joy/relief/happiness that Trump is gone.. I’ve been feeling exhausted and worn out and dejected, and a little lost.
    I’m not a politician, and I don’t want to spend this much energy on politics. I’m a divorce lawyer, a publisher/editor, writer, wife, daughter, sister, friend… and THAT is what I want to spend my time and energy focussing on. I’ve voted for years; some years my candidate wins and some years my candidate loses… but after the election I’ve been able to resume my life. I’m not criticizing others for being wrapped up in politics, but that’s not what I want to do. Yet it’s what I’ve been forced to do, most of the last 4 years.
    And now I’m tired. Relieved, but tired. And feeling weird. Yes, that’s a good description.
    I usually enjoy your posts, but I think this is the first time I’ve commented. This post really spoke to me.

    • This is the thing I learned surviving the Harper Years in Canada: I don’t get to not pay attention to politics. Ever again.

      The Harper Years were an eight-year-long, quieter, more insistent and insidious version of these past four in the States. We’re still digging out from under that, six years on. And there are people up here who insist we resume travelling down the now-Trumpist road. We are tired, and we still don’t get to stop.

      We just don’t.

      But, still…this was a win. Celebrate and keep going.

  10. Perfect read on what I’m (and I’m sure many others are) feeling. And for the other commenters, hugs and hopes for a better world soon.

    This: “…should be rotting in an oubliette somewhere”. Yes, a little place of forgetting. But we can’t forget, because there will be another who isn’t as outwardly awful, but is truly, intelligently evil. And we can end up teetering again – and maybe even fall the next time.

    But “After the rain, there’s a golden sky, and the clear silver song of the lark”. We won’t be walking alone.

    And… I get my first jab of the Moderna vaccine tomorrow! (Yes, I’m an old.)

    Forward, not back. And build better.

    Thanks, Chuck. And that you to all you word-nerds. {{{hugs}}}

  11. That’s a great piece, Chuck. Plus, I learned some new words — oubliette, that’s a nice one, and naughahyde. At first I thought that was upholstery made from some mythical, Lord-of-the-Rings critter.

    Anyways, I think you captured how many, both inside and outside the USA, were feeling. From Canada, your country often looked like a death friend who was entering a death spiral of delusion and self-destruction. Thank heavens the people managed to pull her out of it.

  12. Thank you, Chuck. Your post did a really great job of rounding up why today feels so odd. I’m sharing the link to your blog widely today because I know quite a few people who might find your post comforting.

    May we all hold one another up and work together to finish weeding the garden and driving out the poisonous snakes (to use another commenter’s apt description).

  13. Excellent commentary. I wish you were in my writers forum WE PAW Bloggers group on Facebook. It’s longer than the maximum word limit, but this is exactly the kind of writing our “Write to Cope” ezine prompt calls for. Well penned.

  14. As usual Chuck you speak my mind. I appreciate your passion and analysis and outrage. I, myself, feel like I’m reeling after the last 4 years. Why oh why do we seem doomed to swing between extremes? In a way, I think Trump has opened up wounds, exposed them to scrutiny, and maybe, just maybe we’ll be able to learn something and move forward — fix things, get better — that’s the true way of healing. There’s more work to do. We have an opportunity now which we can’t squander, to uproot and cast out evil, which is necessary, but to do it in a spirit of concern for each other with all our differences, to seek to live in harmony with the earth. We have an opportunity to achieve balance.

  15. I was surprised at the sense of RELIEF that I felt when both Biden and Harris were officially sworn in. I feel like I can move forward now without this large, hulking SHIT SHADOW over my shoulder. Does it mean it’ll be easy? No. Will there be other shadows? Of course. But at least we have a compassionate human being at the helm of our country. And for the first time in a long time, I feel HOPEFUL.

  16. Thank you, Chuck. I woke up this morning and tuned in the inauguration and found myself sobbing in places. Felt happy and totally miserable at the same time. So much damage, do much loss. But as always, you’re insights and thoughts and incredible way of expressing them made me understand I’m not alone in this huge bowl of soupy shit.

  17. There is a shit ton of work to do, but right now I am focused on the wonderful little images that came out of the inauguration – my daughter seeing a woman become the Vice-President of the U.S., the way Jill Biden holds her husbands hand and gives him that little thumb rub of affection, the wonderful poem Amanda Gorman wrote and read, the Pledge of Allegiance in ASL as well as spoken word, J.Lo’s performance, and simply the breadth of inclusion in this administration. It is pomp and circumstance, but it speaks of unity and hope. Hope that the needed work CAN be done.

  18. I woke up this morning and thought, ‘Well, that was dumb and pointless. Back to writing.’ Calling anything “pointless” I think speaks to how hurt I am underneath that thought.

    I’ve long since said America is going to have to learn how to heal after a leaving a four-year-long abusive relationship. And millions of people had to be dragged out of it kicking and screaming. I’ve left abusive relationships and that’s exactly what this feels like, it’s exactly what you described: relief yet emptiness. A sense of “huh, now what?”

    The other point I’m worried about long term is the psychological effects of watching the country fall apart so quickly and so easily. Almost permanently. It was close, it was so close. There’s some residual paranoia that comes from that, wondering what the next threat will be and how fast this new shiny thing will destroy us all (Twitter, looking at you).

    Anyway, here’s to hoping we can all heal and get our sanity back.

  19. Chuck I’m an Australian and I have watched the last four years in the US with a fascinated horror. This piece today is as powerful a piece of writing as I have ever read.

  20. Yesterday, I laughed and cried. I’ve never felt that way on Inauguration Day. Heck, that was probably only the second inauguration I’ve watched from beginning to end. Trauma and healing. Your words were what I needed today. Thank you.

  21. Thank you. Your blog has been the best of the many emotional floaties (the deluxe models with cup-holders) that have made the despair, anger and helplessness of the last four years more tolerable.

    You shored us up, you helped stabilized our punch-drunk psyches, and you made us laugh — the essentials. That kind of gift, man, that generosity of spirit, all your love labor… I call it grace, that unearned thing that comes out of nowhere when you need it most.

    Especially through this last grueling year, your words, your thoughts, have been emotional gold. At one point, most mornings I’d wake up and go straight to your Twitter to find out what was happening and what you’d said that would help burn off some of the crazy, the poisonous fog of lies and betrayals. I think, though, that you helped me most when Biden won, and then — wow, was that joy ever flattened immediately. It was the most important win that I, for one, couldn’t celebrate because almost immediately it was over-shadowed by more gut-punch bullshit lies, traitorous, treacherous shit. That time period, between when the race was officially called for Biden and when he was sworn in, were pure misery.

    Joy was in such short supply, because joy requires an undefended heart. But do that a couple times and get a right hook out of nowhere and oof, one learns pretty quickly to stay guarded. It will take a while, like you said (and to paraphrase you) to get right again. The trauma may be over, but the body doesn’t immediately trust that this is so. You said that last time, it says. And the time before. And the time before that.

    It’s like having been mugged on a regular basis for the last four years. My body says to me, Fuck you, man — nope. Uhn uh. But it’ll get there, in time.

    I hope you’ll forgive me for going on. Feel free to delete this, of course — I won’t be offended at all.

    Much and many, Wendig, as always.

  22. yes, yes, yes, yes! thank you, Chuck, for sharing your thoughts. I’ve been sitting with feeling traumatized and broken, knowing I won’t stay there, but it feels important to acknowledge those feelings. It’ll probably be a long time before I can (hopefully) synthesize it all. I like what you wrote about the parade comes later.

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