My media pick for this month’s adventure theme was Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s film adaptation of John Krakauer’s book by the same name. This is an incredible film – moving, with amazing scenery and a stunning performance by Emile Hirsch. I’m going to forewarn you now – in true review fashion – that I am discussing major plot points in this post and if you want to experience this story fresh, read no further.
In other words, **SPOILER ALERT!**
Lisa Kelley of IMDB did a lovely job of summarizing this film:
“Based on a true story. After graduating from Emory University, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska to live in the wilderness. Along the way, Christopher encounters a series of characters who shape his life.” (Site Link)
One more time for safety – **SPOILER ALERT!**
Okay, you’ve been warned – if you’re still here, you are ready to hear the whole story. This sounds like and adventure story from the description, and from some of the amazing quotes from John Krakauer’s book, like this one:
But it’s not an adventure story, at least not in my mind – it’s the story of a bright, beautiful, usually kind, severely traumatized young man trying to outrun his own pain.
Like the rest of us, he couldn’t.
Chris grew up in a violent household, where his parents pretended to be married, hiding the fact that his dad was already married to another woman. This family looked perfect from the outside, and so did Chris. A graduate of Emory, with Harvard Law potentially in his future, wealthy, handsome, incredibly athletic with an amazing gift of physicality, he practically glowed.
Instead of saying to his family “I’m not going to Harvard, I’m going to Alaska on a vision quest and will be out of touch,” he had the post office in Georgia hold all of his mail (1992, no internet yet), took off, destroyed all his ID and cash, buried his car in the Arizona desert, adopted the name Alex Supertramp, and had the post office return all mail to sender two months after he left.
This is not someone driven by a passion for adventure.
To me, this was someone so desperate to escape the trauma caused by other human beings that he fled to the wilderness to be alone and dull the pain by forcing himself to be in survival mode at all times.
Chris died in Alaska, the victim of a series of tragic events too depressing to describe. He was 24.
I have no idea if my unhealed trauma theory is correct, but it certainly felt like it. Watching this bright soul suffer and die alone was devastating. I imagine what it would have been like had he spent some of that $24,000 on therapy instead; that same amazing passion and thirst for raw experience, with a healed heart driving it, would have been unstoppable.
His death feels like a terrible loss to me, and the moment the movie ended (well, the moment I stopped weeping, it was a little while after), I knew what I wanted to share for this post.
Wherever you go – even if you make it to Alaska – you take yourself with you. All of the terrible wounds inside go right along with you through that endlessly changing horizon.
The only way out of that pain is through it. I promise, it is easier to go through it than to run, and the other side feels so amazing it is nearly indescribable.
Sometimes, though, it is hard to recognize the wound. If you’ve been in pain since you were a small child, it’s hard to know there’s anything wrong or that a whole different emotional landscape available to you.
I’d like to share with you Martha Beck’s short list of questions to help identify if you are suffering from an unhealed emotional wound. She published this in Finding Your Own North Star, and my answers to this quiz in 2002 convinced me to go to therapy and get help.
Honestly, it would be worth going through coach training and certification purely for the privilege of being able to share this with you.
TESTING FOR EMOTIONAL WOUNDS
Answer each of the following questions as honesty as possible. Please note that the “Yes” and “No” responses are not always in the same column. If you are reluctant to answer the questions, or if you feel you’re being tricked into revealing something you’d rather not, the game is already up: You probably have an emotional wound.
N Y Do people ever tell you that you seem arrogant, cold, aloof, or distant?
Y N Is there at least one person who really understands almost all your feelings?
N Y Is there anything you do compulsively, even though you wish you could stop?
N Y Do you feel exhausted and irritable after being with a group of friends for a few hours?
N Y Do you often seek solitude to “recover” from interactions with social groups?
Y N Do you feel comfortable crying in front of the person/people you love most?
Y N Do you talk about your feelings at least once a week to at least one other person?
N Y Are there any events in your life you would not be willing to talk about to anyone?
Y N Do you regularly engage in activities that allow you to express your feelings (writing in a journal, singing along with emotional music, acting, weeping at emotional movies, etc.)?
N Y Do you have strange or unexpected emotional reactions, such as feeling shame when you are praised, relief when you fail, or anxiety when you are loved?
N Y Do you have any “dark” secrets?
Y N When someone makes you angry, do you tell him or her how upset you are?
N Y Are you lonely even—or especially—when you are with other people?
Y N Are you comfortable being touched affectionately by the people you love most?
N Y Are you only comfortable being touched by a sexual partner, or does all touch seem sexual to you?
Y N When you get good news, are there people you’d call just to share your happiness?
N Y Do you pride yourself on never being upset or angry?
N Y Would you rather “stuff” your anger than cause conflict by standing up for yourself?
Y N Are you comfortable verbally expressing your love for family and friends?
N Y On a typical day, do you laugh—genuinely, not out of politeness—less than five times?
N Y Do you laugh at inappropriate times, such as when you hear bad news or when someone else is expressing anger?
N Y Do you often cry without knowing the reason why?
Count the number of responses in column 1 and column 2. Getting more than three column 2 responses indicates a probable emotional wound.
TREATING AN EMOTIONAL WOUND
Once it’s been diagnosed, fixing the damage from emotional wounds is surprisingly simple. I said simple, not easy. The steps are pretty straightforward, but they’re guaranteed to scare you, and they may be briefly but intensely painful.
-Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star, Chapter 7: Soul Shrapnel, Three Rivers Press, New York.
If you find that you do have an emotional wound, please, please consider speaking with a therapist. They are your best bet for finding the requisite sane, compassionate witness to hear your whole truth and help you accept the compassion they offer. I consider this to be like having surgery – it’s worth finding a reputable professional with a fantastic track record to help you.
You do not have to suffer. Trauma is healable. It’s easier to heal it than to live with it.
Please, share this freely – you never know who might need to read it. Thank you.