We recently finished up Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy (you can hear an interview with the author on NPR’s Fresh Air). In this book, Grealy accounts her bout with cancer and how the surgeries took their toll on how she looked physically.
Grealy writes about how being in the hospital made her special, made her stand out, be the star. People paid attention to her. When her 2 1/2 years of chemo were over, her mother asked her if she was happy. She put on a brave face and said she was but when she reflects on it, she wasn’t happy that her moment of stardom was over.
She writes, “As hard as it was to admit this to myself, I was afraid of it ending, of everything changing. I wouldn’t be special anymore; no one would love me. Without the arena of chemotherapy in which to prove myself, how would anyone know I was worthy of love?” (136)
I wonder how many of us feel that way with our own traumatic experiences. I’ll be honest about this. When I found out I had cancer, I was sad. But it also felt really, really good to know that my family rallied around me. It was nice to get virtual hugs and support here.
When I write about the abuse I went through, the poverty we lived in, and the various events that litter my life, it feels good to hear readers give me support.
Would I want to live through any of that again? No. But there is also some part of me that equates trauma with love. If I’m hurting, I get loved more. It’s not a conscious thought but I feel more love when I’m hurting. People remember to tell you more then.
During my last surgery for cancer, I felt like a fraud. We catch my cancer early, before it can spread. I’m relatively well off compared to people who have to do chemo and radiation. I have chunks of skin taken out (which can be traumatic) but it is nothing like chemo. Whenever I wrote about it, it was double-edged. I wanted the support but I felt horrible – feeling like I was milking this thing for more than it was worth. Or, maybe more appropriately, more than I was worth.
I don’t want to be a victim or a survivor or any other word/language that is associated with someone who has dealt with large levels of trauma in his/her life. I am, though. I have. And trying to find love outside of that is always a challenge. I’m not sure what non-traumatic love feels like.