Tuesday, January 03, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0040 - Hostility

In retrospect, there were many ways in which I could have reduced hostility and the resultant harm that inevitably comes from experiences of hostility, either directed outwards towards others or directed from others towards me. I’m not sure such experiences in my life are a contributing cause for my colorectal cancer, but I am sure that living with as little hostility as possible has to be beneficial to one’s health.

So, I’ve chosen to postpone investigating guided imagery until I’ve had further consultations with staff at the Grand River Regional Cancer Centre. Instead, being a verbal guy anyway, I’ve decided to focus my immediate attention on the gentle art of verbal self-defence (see Suzette Haden Elgin’s books, one being Staying Well With the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense).

I’ve already written about arguing with oneself and the means by which we can deflate hostility which we might wittingly or unwittingly direct inwards towards ourselves.

What I haven’t written about in any detail is how the mere fact of writing a journal of both facts and feelings about my experience with cancer is itself therapeutic. All of these things are connected, according to Elgin. Our struggle with language, our commitment to use metaphors consciously, our willingness to debate both external and internal voices – all of these boosts the immune system. And, of course, we know that anything which boosts the immune system is bound to be beneficial to the cancer patient.

Coping with cancer invariably involves feelings of hostility and anger, denial and distraction, blame and fear. Writing about such feelings prevents them from worming their way into our physical structures and doing additional damage to what the cancer itself has already done. So the very act of writing journal entries is a kind of gentle verbal self-defence.

For those who don’t have a comfort level with writing a diary, Elgin suggests some “training wheels” like the following hostility template:


When ___________________________________________ today,
I felt ________________________, because _____________________.

For example, I might use this template to write “When I was told that surgery may cause irreparable harm to urinary and sexual function today, I felt an incredible sense of loss and despair, because nowhere in my research had anyone written that I should expect incontinence or impotence.”

Something happens in doing these kinds of exercises, something soothing and energizing at the same time. Writing about feelings isn’t just about venting. It’s about linking aspects of reality with the emotional life. In the case of the example above, the when clause refers to a verifiable fact. It happened and anybody that was there can verify the fact. The because clause is also a verifiable fact of reality, although here I am speaking about something which I alone have discovered in my research. As long as I am honest, then we have a second fact-based clause. The I felt is the only part of this tripartite template which references the internal life. But most observers should be able to observe the coherence of my internal feelings with my outer behaviour. In other words, it isn’t entirely subjective.

There is a useful discipline here. By creating a linkage between objective reality and subjective reality, I have disabled the inchoate expression of unhelpful and destructive emotions. There is nothing wrong with expressing one’s emotions, but the discipline is about grounding those emotions in observable, objective reality. We move from hostility towards healing.

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