Smoothing the Rock

You guys, I love a good metaphor. They really help me understand things that might be otherwise totally beyond comprehension for me. When I first started this blog, I wrote a post about trauma and PTSD and the NICU, and the metaphor my therapist gave us for understanding how we process trauma and move forward. She talked about how trauma is like a rock, and you’re stuck with it, like, it’s superglued to your soul and you can’t get rid of it–its weight will be with you forever. But over time, you can smooth down its rough edges, so it doesn’t cut you up all the time anymore.

Well, I’ve been doing a lot of smoothing of my cancer rock lately. I hadn’t done much to try to sand it down until recently, because, frankly, my rock was still growing as I went through treatment. It was still a hot river of lava, oozing out from the volcano that is Mt. Cancer, still growing larger. But treatment is over, and Pele is quiet again, quiet enough for me to be able survey the new landscape and start the work of taking that rough, scratchy volcanic rock and polishing it down.

A big part of that for me is figuring out what damage the volcano has done, and what remains. There are little islands of my psyche that I keep finding that the lava didn’t destroy–my dark, inappropriate sense of humor; my begrudging respect for Ernest Hemingway; my love of all things Wes Anderson. A deep and abiding love for my husband. A hatred of injustice. My right breast. Those are the victories, the neighborhoods spared as the lava flowed down a ravine instead of into a cul de sac of homes.

But the many pieces of me that the lava destroyed must also be acknowledged, and then mourned, in order to allow me to rebuild. I can’t just live in those tiny islands that remain, as beautiful as they are. Smoothing down the scratchy volcanic rock is hard work, exhausting work, but necessary work.

How do I do it? Well, there’s a lot of allowing myself to feel again, which means a lot of tears. Water can cut through rock over time, and break it down into soil where new seeds can grow. I write about it, and I talk to friends, some who understand too well, and some I hope will never have to understand. Their listening, and yours, helps tremendously. And when I don’t have the energy to work on the rocks anymore, I retreat to one of my islands. I hug my kids. I re-read an old favorite book. I binge watch a TV show. I bake too many muffins and give them to the oncology nurses.

My hands are pretty torn up from all the rock-smoothing I’m doing right now. But in the end, I know it’ll be worth it. The new me that I will build from the islands that remain of the old me, and on the new landscape that has formed, will be different than the old me, but she’ll be just as lovely. And just as good at metaphors.