(When Nicki was a baby, when she was sick we would give her medicine. And there were shots, and suppositories, and things we rubbed on her chest, and dropped in her ears…and pills or fluids we fed to her. “Mouth Medicine” we called it. And she repeated that as “Medicine Mouse.” I loved that, and later, when she was worrying about something bad that had happened to her weeks before, I told her this story:)
Once there was a baby bird, innocent and trusting, surrounded by peace in the egg. And loved in infancy: sheltered, nurtured, fed, cooed over, fed delicious worms. But then on first flight, he didn’t do well, and his parents and siblings and all of the other birds mocked him, told him he was a disappointment. That he wasn’t smart, or handsome, or good enough. When he finally learned to fly he wobbled, and banged into a branch and said: “I never want to hit that branch again!” and got himself a bag, and put the branch in the bag.
“Ah! Now I’m safe!” he said. And he enjoyed flying…for a while. Then he hit another branch and said “ah hah! I’ll just put that branch in my bag as well!” and did so. And didn’t notice that although he would never hit that branch again, the bag was getting heavy, and he couldn’t fly quite as high.
And started bumping into tree trunks. And would peel off the bark and put it in the bag. And then after a while the bag grew so heavy he couldn’t fly at all.
“Well…I can run!” he reasoned. And did so, and for a time he ran, hauling the bag, and everything was fine. Until he tripped over a root. Dug up the root and put it in the now-burgeoning bag. And while he felt “safer” the bag was now so heavy that he couldn’t run. Then he tripped over a rock, and put that in the bag too. And then couldn’t walk. And then couldn’t crawl.
And lay trembling on the forest floor, clinging to the bag that held everything that could hurt him. Safe. But helpless.
In the forest there was a cute little rodent who was a healer, and everyone called him Medicine Mouse. And Medicine Mouse traveled through the grass and the ferns and the rocks and by the streams and the gullies looking for people to help. And came across his friend the bird, trembling in the dirt waiting to be found and eaten.
“What’s wrong?” Medicine Mouse asked. And his friend Mr. Bird told him.
“Hmmmm…” Medicine Mouse said, stroking his chin (as doctors do.) “Hmmm…does it hurt when I do THIS?” and tugged at the bag, and Mr. Bird shrieked.
“I NEED my bag of roots and branches and bark and rocks!” he said. “They keep me safe!”
“Hmmm…” Medicine Mouse replied. And said “I can see that this is serious. We need to operate at once: you need a bagectomy.”
And Medicine Mouse fed Mr. Bird a root that helped him sleep, and as he did the wise mouse took the bag out of Mr. Bird’s hand, and buried it. And while Mr. Bird was drowsy, Medicine Mouse whispered in his ear: “You don’t need to carry the roots and bark and branches and rocks any more. They do not protect you. Knowing that they exist is useful, but it is even better to just seek the clear sky. The space between the trees. Fly free.”
And when Mr. Bird awakened, he was afraid at first that he had lost his bag. And for a while, even had what Medicine Mouse called a “phantom bag”, as if he still carried it. But that faded as well, and when he flapped his wings and flew, he joyfully discovered that the forest wasn’t a bad place after all. That the sky was not a strange and frightening place, so long as he paid attention.
In fact…it was his home.
The story you tell about your life determines the results you get. I knew that in coaching. And I came to understand that the same thing is true on a cultural level. That you can stop an individual by scrambling their sense of self. And you can do the same thing to a people if you erase their memories of who they are, and implant lies.
“It never happened. And if it did…you deserved it. Just get over it” the abusers and their allies whisper.
And until you have truth, you cling to your wounds, and you cannot fly.