Creative Cancer 2: Denial: The Body Never Lies

In the summer of 2008, I was in a bookshop, looking for a book about the connections between diet and cancer. I'd recently been diagnosed and wanted to support my treatment (chemo, radiation, herceptin, tamoxifen) with holistic healing methods too. Scanning the titles before me, my attention was snagged by a stand of books over by the wall, that had nothing to do with cancer.

But it was like a scene in a movie. The title of one book on the stand, which I could barely read from where I was, seemed to expand to ten times its size, to jump up and down and emit a siren call across the space that separated us: ‘Look at me, look at me! Buy me, buy me!'

As I took a step towards it, I felt inside myself a shrinking back. But I took another. And another, growing increasingly conscious in the slowed-down time of two contrary movements inside me, one urging me to turn around and leave the store, the other impelling me forward.

I chose the second, walking on, eyes fastened now on the title: The Body Never Lies. As I picked it up, I notice my hands were trembling and wondered why.

I turned it over and read the following, among a few paragraphs of text: “A child's emotional traumas, repressed humiliation, and bottled rage can later manifest themselves as serious adult health problems.” A sentence that made me, there and then in the bookshop, begin to cry.

Tears of understanding, of relief.

The Body Never Lies

The book, by the famous psychotherapist, Alice Miller, who died last month. was the answer to a question I'd always been asking. But also, simultaneously, had never fully allowed.

I was familiar with Miller's work around the “wounded child” who lives within into adulthood. I had even written about it once, knowing it was relevant to me.

Not until that morning though, led by my cancer, had I really taken it in. As I mopped up my tears and moved towards the cashpoint, I knew that the time had come, that the time was long overdue, for me to do something about it.

Making Sense of Suffering

For many years, until she realised that he was unqualified, Alice Miller recommended the work of the Swiss psychotherapist J.K. Stettbacher, author of Making Sense of Suffering, as being most effective in connecting and dealing with pain experienced in childhood.

While she (and others) since expressed concerns that the “primal method” Stettbacher recommended is open to abuse by therapists and can result in side effects, all are agreed that there is much merit in the method when used as a useful structure for self-exploration.

We once, as children, put in place to protect ourselves. It is the denial, not the events that happened so long ago, that is now dangerous to the adult.

The work, in Miller's words, is “to correct our blindness, to resolve the consequences of old injuries, to access the truth and restore the crucial contact with the child in us — so that we can regain those parts of our consciousness that were alienated from us for so long.”

This is not wallowing in the past. This is inviting what exists inside us, here and now, into the light of conscious awareness.

We see what it is creating in our lives. We choose another way.

Being true to its truth in us is what allows us to let it go. Denying it, it grows and festers.

Again, Miller writes eloquently of how art operates in the life of an artist who hasn't told themselves the truth about their own experiences. In her book, The Drama of The Gifted Child, she says: ‘A well-known musician, for instance, can assure an interviewer that he has forgiven his father for his brutal upbringing, because in spite of it – or maybe even because of it – he has become successful. The interviewer is delighted with the musician’s admirable moral position. His fans are delighted, too, and his record business goes well.

‘But all this success, even in combination with religion, doesn’t help him overcome his childhood fears. Otherwise he would not be compelled in his shows to repeat unconsciously the traumas of his childhood; all his gestures and body stances on stage seem to depict scenes in which a child is being frightened by sexual molestation and violence.

‘The musician seems to be trying to unsuccessfully to discharge his fear, using music and body language to display what were quite possibly the actions of a molesting father. But as long as he insists on denying and not feeling the truth, this effort must be undertaken repeatedly. [And]…as long as he believes that his father did him no harm, he is likely to remain in danger of repeating his father’s deeds.’

Miller here points to the real importance of understanding our hurt, pain and woundings if we are to develop creative intelligence in our lives, as well as our work. We are all creating, all the time, both consciously and unconsciously. When we deny our pain, what we create – unintentionally but most emphatically – is chaos. We become ‘crazy-makers',  piling up suffering for ourselves and others, without knowing how or why these things keep happening ‘to’ us.

This unconscious locus within us – what we don’t know we don’t know – is highly creative. And highly destructive.