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The Past Has a Way of Fighting Back

Owen Thomas Explores the Impact of Our Past

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I stood in the shower of a house I didn’t own, in a home of a man, I barely knew, shaking uncontrollably.

I had found Chris through a house sitting website and had been away for a month. It was my first attempt at living on my own again. Medical expenses were too high to afford rent – so house sitting had been a good option. Chris had called me the day before to inform me of his heart attack on the last morning of his holiday to Alice Springs. He’d been lucky a delayed start home saved him. Paramedics found him in his hotel, as opposed to dead – 200 kilometres down the road in the middle of outback South Australia.

Whether his death had awoken something in me to this day, I don’t know. All I could say was “I could have killed us all!”

When I was just 18, and in the last months of high school, I had my licence. Saturday afternoon, two of my close friends and one of their girlfriends, and I had gone out for a drive. We were in my Mother’s car –  a little Honda Civic. There was a culture of fast driving. Being one of the newer kids in the school, the need to be accepted was pretty high on my list. I had rolled the car, on a dirt road, doing thirty kilometres per hour,  in the bush on the outskirts of Perth Western Australia. I was lucky I injured no-one. What most people don’t know is that 2 minutes before I was doing 160km/h, on the same dirt road, with trees either side, with four friends in the car. Death would have been unavoidable.

In the effort to deal with the events of the day and get us back to safety, I had suppressed the trauma. It came fighting back it twenty-one years later.

My sister and I, when we still lived at home, would go for a walk with our Mother around the neighbourhood. We found that that was only one side of our Mother we could walk – the right. If we walked on the left, she would be continually bumping into us as she had a slight limp, which caused her to wobble. We named it “The Patsey walk” after my great aunt, who had a similar walk.

My grandmother had polio when she was a child, with the help of an adoption, dedicated new parents, and some radicle alternative treatments she had recovered and lived a full life. Five children later a migration and ageing body the polio braces did return.

We had noticed our mothers walk and realised there might be a genetic weakness, and repeatedly attempted to have out Mother do something about it. It was a fruitless battle. Now 30 years later, her left side completely collapsed, having trouble holding her head up, she sees the physiotherapist three times a week. It is the same side that collapsed on my grandmother. It helps, but time and age will beat her.

My Mother’s terror of anything medical would be her undoing. She broke her arm as a three-year-old and been sent off to recover. Her five-year-old brother had died on the operating table having his tonsils out. Her younger sister, as a teenager, received massive amounts of shock treatment, to deal with her depression after her father had left the family. My aunt was never the same. My Mother has good reasons to be scared of the medical fraternity. However, she has paid the price for past avoidance. 

I have a friend who has a habit of speeding or parking and not paying. He thinks it is just revenue raising by the government. It in part probably is – but doesn’t change the fact they want their money. What happens next? He gets the first notification and doesn’t pay the fine. The reminder comes, about a month later, with the cost of the original fine, with an extra penalty for not paying on time. He does not pay that one. A second reminder – again with an extra on top of the additional reminder fee. This will continue until it ends up in court – he gets the court costs and a licence suspension for 12 months.

When our past comes fighting back, there are more often then not there are gradual increases warnings or signs. Like our parking fine, there seems to be a gradual increase in intensity. Physical weakness may show up as a slight hobble. We may feel anxious about going into particular environments for no apparent reason. It is a good idea to pay attention to the small things.

My father was a minister of religion—a vocation when a church member was interested in pursuing. In my late teens, the church we belonged to went through a significant doctrinal crisis that rocks the very foundations of the church. The confrontation was around one of the churches core fundamental beliefs. It threatened the very its existence and Raison d’être. Jobs where threatened, careers ended, and membership numbers dropped significantly; Compromising the financial footing of the church.

The impasse occurred whilst I was studying to be a minister, giving me access to additional material around the doctrine and all points of the discussion.

It seemed quite evident to me the church founders had made an error of judgment. Let us change our view and move on. That would not be the case. I was young and had the flexibility and strength of the adaption of youth. I had not developed the rusted-on believes that can come with age.

The most shocking discovery in my research was that it was not the first time this crisis had occurred. It had happened at least three other times in the churches 140+ year history. At least every generation of believers had confronted the same problem. On each occasion with greater intensity. The only result had been expulsion and ostracisation for those who criticised the status quo. This time because of the advances in communication, the information went around the globe. The impact was enormous. The church lost is fire, passion, and the drivers of conviction; it would take generations to recover. They lost the ability to grow and change and adapt to a new world, and all it had to offer. When the past comes fighting back, it can come back with a vengeance.

“The iniquity of the fathers being visited on the children to the third and the fourth generation” is a concept that anyone family with the Abrahamic Religious traditions will be familiar. Recent research is showing that smoking will affect the grandchildren more than it will the children of a parent. Our, and our ancestorial trauma and health concerns affect us all.

“We ride in chariots forged by our ancestors”, is a quote often recited by my Mother.

Mark Wolynn, in his book “It, Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle”. Tells the story of a 19-year-old, straight-A student, whose life began spiralling out of control. He had woken up in the middle of the night freezing and shivering out of control, with a strange dreading fear of falling back to sleep. A fruitless search for answers for both traditional and not traditional healers brought no results. The discovery of Wolynn and a version of “Family Constellation Therapy” final began the process of recovery. He discovered an unknown uncle who at 19 had frozen to death as a linesman in Canada. Who after a long struggle, had succumbed to Hypothermia. A situation where you have to fight the bodies natural desire to sleep in the final stages before death. The past does indeed fight back well into the future.

So what to do about it. If the past is going to fight back, how can we prepare ourselves and pay attention to the whispering of our hearts, so our lives can be as rich and rewarding as we may wish?

  • First, be willing to change and to see the world through different eyes. To realise that our view is not perfect, we see through a glass darkly.
  • Take time out to meditate or pray if that is part of your tradition. A time of reflection on our behaviours and life will bring rich rewards if we are prepared to hear them. Mediation allows the brain to rest and allows unconscious material to come to the surface to be discovered and resolved.
  • Have someone outside your world, with whom you can regularly talk about what is going on in your life. Some excellent professions can help here. Have more than one. It is your life no one person knows it all
  • Pay attention to your conversation. What do you really talk about… what emotions are often spoken about in your speech. What characteristics of other people annoy you? What judgements do you make about other people? There was a lot more going on when you were concerned about how toilet paper is hung in your bathroom. Small things matter and reveal a lot more given time.
  • Pain and imbalance are the bodies language learn to read it.
  • Develop an attitude of wonder and exploration about your own being and life. You will make discoveries about parts of yourself that to date have remained unknown. They can make life richer.
  • Create a culture of prevention in your life and those around you.
  • Have a great team of people to support your life. See your General Practitioner and get regular checkups.
  • Learn to take the best that your culture has to offer, but don’t be afraid to examine what other cultures have to contribute to your life. Human beings have been living on this planet for a long time. We have always looked to answer and solve the big questions. Why are we here and how do we overcome suffering and deal with pain. Most importantly, how we can live a long time and create a meaningful life.

I have often thought that there is a beautiful gem of an idea in the Catholic Churches belief in the confessional. Whilst I believe there can be some significant problems caused by some Catholic beliefs. The idea of that it is OK, and it is encouraged as part of their faith, to talk regularly about the failures in our life is a good one. The fact that is is a confidential space opens it up to security and safety. Of course, like everything else, it will depend on the talents and wisdom of the person on the other side for the confessional box.

Complementary medicine or alternative traditional medicines have as one of their core values prevention is better. Sun Tzu, the tremendous military strategists says the best war to have is one avoided. 

Some traditional medicine practitioners historically paid to keep the clients well, and if they fell ill were treated without cost. The great benefit of complementary medicine is that it treats the whole person. Health modalities are developed around the belief that the mind-body and spirit are all link and affect each other. This creates opportunities for discussions about several area’s of your life.. .not just the pain in your back, or why hayfever is terrible this year.

I have found it fascinating that without me saying anything my Chinese Medicine practitioners, whilst taking my pulses, will ask me “Why are you angry?” Or, “you seem to be hanging on to something that is not serving you now”, and at times “I see you have a new romantic interest”. All without me saying anything. Different question will produce different results.

Anthropologists who study the mythic structure of stories and storytellers, such as Joseph Campbell, write of the classic hero’s journey. The hero/heroine, is confronted with the Nemesis early in the film and is defeated but survives. They can go on a journey of self-discovery. Here they learn new skills, attitudes and gain confidence. When the past – their Nemesis comes fighting back, they are prepared and defeat the enemy.

If we learn to act on our suffering as early as well and see it as an opportunity to grow and learn things about ourselves – We turn a weakness to a strength. Both Sigmund Freud and Robert Greene suggest we do the following

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength”Sigmund Freud

“Do not struggle against your vulnerabilities or try to repress them but put them into play. Learn to transform them into power”Robert Greene.

Pain is inevitable in life – suffering is a choice. The past will come fighting back regardless we can choose what attitude and interpretation we find in each event. We can take early warnings, act, grow, change, use it to leverage our life forward in ways hitherto unknown. There is an opportunity in all events, it may not be the one we want, but it is the one we have. Who knows what you can do with it?

Sometimes the past is a present, it calls us to be something more than we have been. Our future past is today’s present. Prevention is best. Let us act today on that little niggle in the back of our minds – it may just change or save your life.

We are all going to die, lets us live fully.

Resources & Books To Consider.

Radical Healing” – Rudolph Ballentine, MD

“It Didn’t Start With You” – Mark Wolynn

The Daily Stoic” – Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Image by Peter H from Pixabay


Written By Owen Thomas


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