“Where did I go wrong, I lost a friend, somewhere along in the bitterness; and I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life.”
By Cortland Pfeffer
In Shamanism, we believe that when we go through a trauma, we lose a part of our soul. It is believed we do this for protection. For instance, if you were about to crash in a plane, the last thing you want to remember is how that felt on impact. So that part of your soul is lost. Due to the trauma and the lost part of our soul, we lose part of our most true selves. This can be retrieved in what is known as soul retrieval.
If you look at it scientifically, the part of our brain that shuts down during a trauma is the Hippocampus. This is the part of the brain involved in memory. It is our Brains way of protecting us from the entire recall of the trauma.
What is stress to one person may not be stressful to the next. We are all born with an innate temperament. Highly sensitive people are more prone to trauma.
We may not recall the trauma due to this shutdown, but our neurochemistry is changed. This leads to hyper vigilance, anxiety, and lasts for a lifetime. It will lead to addiction of all kinds. Eating disorders, gambling, over consuming, drug abuse and more.
In western culture and medicine, we try to treat this with medicines that only make us numb. For instance Prozac’s main ingredient is fluoride. Fluoride makes you apathetic. Your problems do not go away, you just do not care about them.
In Shamanism, there is a practice called soul retrieval. Instead of medicines, we retrieve the lost part of the soul. That is the most true way to heal from trauma. The following is an example of soul retrieval:
I wake up. It is blurry. I am in a room with machines going off. There is a curtain. It is blue. There are people talking. I can see them talking. I look over to my right. My mom is there. She’s crying. Not just crying but sobbing. There are a lot of people in blue. They are talking. None of them talk to me.
After a while I am up. Now I remember. I am supposed to be dead. Why am I here? Am I dead? Is this real?
I am alive. I had tried to kill myself the night before by taking every pill in the house; I spent the next day being forced to drink charcoal and throwing up for hours.
But why are all the doctors in my room in the middle of the night?
I learned later that what had happened was I had 3rd degree heart block in the night.
Third-degree heart block limits the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. This type of heart block may cause fatigue (tiredness), dizziness, and fainting. Third-degree heart block requires prompt treatment because it can be fatal.
I was 17 years old. I was now remembering and I am angry that I am alive. I yell at my mother, because that is what I did. She loved and loved; she took on all of my anger and pain and I used her as an emotional punching bag. That was her life growing up and that is her life again. So I screamed at her, “Get out of here!!”
She cried more and she took it, as she always did. She always returned love.
I pass out again.
I wake up the next day. In walks this guy. He has blue on. He has brown hair, normal length with a beard. I am watching this guy thinking to myself, “Do not even say anything or I am going to punch you.”
“Hi, I am Tom. I will be the nurse working with you today.”
Ok that’s it, I am going to hit him. I do not say a word.
“Ok I will be here if you need anything. I have a menu here if you want to order food.”
I am not going to eat; I throw the menu away.
The food comes in daily and I do not eat. I think I am angry, but I know now that was not the case.
Day after day this guy says “Hi, how are you? Can I help with anything?” He does his work and I ignore him. My mom is by my side every day as I lash out at her. Tom doesn’t judge me for yelling at her. He does not say a word about it. He talks to my mom because she was an RN as well so she was asking him questions. I didn’t care. I wanted to punch them both was the thought in my mind.
I kept yelling at my mom, but my god I didn’t want her to leave that room. She never did leave. That was her way. A love that cannot be matched by anyone, anywhere, and it was given to me. I may have had hard times, but I had that. I had her. I had a love that everyone should experience as my core. It is what allows me to overcome everything. I would not trade it for anything.
It has been four days at this point. My mom has brought me a sweatshirt. My favorite team, The Minnesota Twins, sweatshirt. I loved baseball and I loved that sweatshirt. My mom knew this. I was going to ask her to bring it, but it was already there. Every time I looked, she was there. She was in tears, but she was there.
I wore the shirt. In comes this Tom guy. He won’t go away. I guess it is his job. But it’s others jobs, too. But they aren’t dumb enough to ask me how I am doing every day. My anger pushes them away as it is supposed to. This idiot Tom doesn’t seem to get it.
“Oh you like baseball? Me too. The Twins are my favorite team, too. Do you think they were better in 1991 or 1987?” (Those were the two years that they won the World Series). I was 11 and 15 when they won and they were moments I will always remember as a child.
I speak. I cannot let this go. “Yeah I like baseball. I think they were better in 1991.”
Tom starts talking to me about baseball, the ins and outs of the sport. I start to give one word answers that become two or three word answers. Then they become sentences.
Tom then says, “I know you haven’t been eating a lot and your mom says you’re a picky eater. Do you think I can make you a special order? I know they say you can’t have a burger yet, but I think I can make sure you get one if you’ll eat it.”
“Ok,” is what I say.
I eat the burger.
The next day. I am actually waiting for Tom to come. Some other lady walks in the room. I am thinking to myself, “where is that idiot who keeps talking to me? What the heck. This is stupid. Where is that corny dude?”
I ask my mom, “where is Tom?”
He has a day off.
“Whatever, he’s a moron anyways.” I say.
Tom is back after 2 days off. I won’t admit it, but I am excited to see him and I have been waiting for him to come back.
“Well you are starting to feel better it looks like we can take you off some of these machines.”
I am eating now and Tom helps me fill out the menu and helps me to understand what is happening.
The psychiatrist from the hospital comes down and I refuse to talk. Tom then walks in.
“I heard you didn’t talk to the doctor. It is really important so they know what to do to help you.”
I have learned to trust this moron. I think he has my best interest in mind. He is on my side. He got me a burger, he likes baseball, and he actually notices me and what I like. He takes time and has taken an interest in me. IN ME. He actually seems to care even though I think he is a corny moron. He is on my side. So I talk to the doctor.
Then I get the news that they want me to go to a psychiatric floor in the hospital. There is no way I am doing that. I am going to get up and leave. No No No No No.
Then Tom comes in and speaks to me. “I need to talk to you about this. You know, if you do not go willingly, they may force you to go and then you have no say in it; you could end up being here even longer that way. You said you hate it at home anyways. Think of it as a vacation. You get to go talk to people, to play games. They have a ping pong table and you said you like ping pong. ”
Tom knew I liked ping pong and no one else did because no one else had asked. No one else noticed my sweatshirt, talked baseball, or knew I liked hamburgers. No one else went against the hospital rules and got me a burger. No one else talked to me as a person. So, if he says it is ok, I believe him. I say, “Ok I will go.”
He says, “Great I will walk up there with you. But first I have a surprise.”
In walks Tony Oliva, a retired Twins all star, (who missed the hall of fame by 1 vote in 2014,) with a baseball bat from the world series. He talks baseball with me and Tom for an hour. He signs a bat and gives it to me.
Tom found him visiting someone else in the hospital and went out of his way and bothered him until he would come. Tom did this on his breaks and his off time.
I, being a 17 year old Twins fanatic, thought this was heaven. Baseball was my favorite sport. This was the best thing ever. I smiled. My mom said, “That is the first time I have seen him smile in months” as she sobbed. It is like in her soul, she knew at that point I was going to be ok.
I walked up with Tom to the adolescent psych ward. As I walked I had my bat in my hand. When I opened the doors, my new life was about to begin. It was not the end for me, but the beginning.
I had the idea right. I had to kill myself, but not literally. I needed to kill my false self. That is how you heal.
I walked through those doors. The doors opened and it was the beginning of a long, painful journey. It was the opening to the beginning. Tom was my shepherd . I was the lost sheep.
I never would have made it through those doors without Tom.
It all started with him being present and saying hi. Him noticing things, building a relationship, going out of his way, and not always following the rules. Being invested in me. He had a wife and kids and he had a life, but in that hospital, he made me a priority. For the time I was with him, in that room, at those moments I was the most important thing in the world. When he left, I am sure he moved on. But for the time he was with me, he was focused completely on me. He was not distracted or thinking of other things. He was present completely with me. Before that, he was just there. Saying Hi.
I heard people say Tony Oliva got me to go up there; that he saved my life. While that was great, and it made my day, truth is, I was going with Tom regardless. Tom is the one that saved my life. What happened in those doors is another story for another day.
You think that you save someone’s life like you see on TV or the movies like this:
Someone is on fire; burning in the building. The fireman rushes in to save him. The fireman has all his armor on and has been trained well. He is ready for this and pulls him out of the building.
But it does not really go like that. Sometimes people are burning and dying inside. We do nothing. We let them burn. We all do. We are too caught up in our own lives.
You do not save a life by running into a burning building. You save a life by saying hi.
May you all be someone’s Tom today.