Tonight I spoke with a newish friend about how I have been feeling grief, sadness, and depression related to my family. After decades of trying every possible means of healing my family relationships, my relationships to those relationships, and my family members themselves, I have given up. Or more accurately, I have chosen to stop trying. Or perhaps even more accurately, I am trying to choose to stop trying. (Aye there’s the rub – by nature, I am relentless.)

They are who they are, and they do what they do, and there is a whole lot of toxic, convoluted, twisted shit in there, which is literally dangerous to my health – in particular because I am healing from cancer, and there is profound mind-body connection, in both directions: focusing on the positive/healthy stuff and not allowing in the negative/unhealthy stuff.

With my sister, this letting-go translates into zero contact. With my father, it now translates into nominal contact, like sending a gift by mail or sending an occasional note. With my mom, it translates into regular contact but significantly more emotional distance and less trust and heart-to-heart shares than in the past.

All of which makes me very sad. All of which leaves me feeling deep grief.

Since last night, I have been feeling low-energy and depressed about this matter, which was triggered by a charged interaction with my mom last night. My friend asked me something along the lines of what my game plan was for dealing with the emotions. I told him that it had become clear to me that I must return to my writing – that writing is as essential to my spiritual/emotional health as brushing my teeth is to my physical health. I also told him that I would seek out a counselor to help me process through my feelings. Therapy, I believe, is another important component of spiritual hygiene.

“But what are you going to do after you do your healing through writing and therapy?” my friend pressed. “Are you going to get into contact with your dad again? If you do, you will start the cycle all over.”

My friend continued to assert that I had only one of two options – being in contact with my dad, having developed some kind of immune response to my dad’s poison, or cutting off contact entirely. Contact/no contact. Black and white.

My friend also pressured me to make a firm decision now, to cut out my father completely, once and for all, never opening that door of possibility again. He said that I needed to choose myself now, ie put myself and my health first – an assertion that I liked. He also, however, said that I needed to cut out my dad not only for my own sake, but for the sake of those in my life who love me. I did not entirely understand or inquire about the implications of that statement – was it so that those who love me would not have their hearts break watching me suffer, or was it so that those who love me would not themselves have to cope with the inconvenience of grief and sadness, through association with me? (And if the latter, was there an implicit threat of possible abandonment by this friend, if I were to continue grappling with such a complicated, deep, and lifelong issue?)

I know my friend was trying to help me. He has been in a very demanding job situation recently, working long hours and weekends, so I particularly valued that he was all gung-ho about diving into the conversation, getting his hands dirty, helping me out. That said, the way he went about it left me even more stressed out than I was before. I felt kind of like a train was coming at me. He was trying to fix things for me, and in doing so, he was making some off-base assumptions about the core tension with my family and the reason my family was toxic to me. He was advising me, more than asking questions and exploring with me. In doing so, he was oversimplifying extraordinarily twisted and complex realities.

My heart physically started hurting, which frightened me, and I had to ask him to stop. “It’s too much,” I said.

I think my friend was trying to figure out how to make the grief and sadness disappear, once and for all. He saw the solution as my making a decision about family interactions and sticking to that decision. But life and relationships and healing are so much more nuanced and involved than that.

For me, writing and therapy are in and of themselves the medicine, the healing, the decision, the solution, and the evolution. As I said to my friend, “I was always going somewhere. The goal was healing and transformation. But after decades of trying, the river is not flowing. It is stuck, because they are stuck. It’s like there is a damn in the river. I have to free it up to flow again, by writing.”

In other words, my mom, dad, and sister, and my relationships with each of them, will not evolve as I had hoped. And Life itself, as well as healing and transformation, require movement, flow, a central organizing principle, a direction. Through writing and therapy, I can tell the whole story, share my vision, release my frustrations. And there is a magic to writing: I release to the Universe what is inside me, and it transmutes into something glorious. People connect to the writing, and it comes to life in ways I never could have imagined.

Writing simultaneously grounds me in my reality and frees me from its grip.

Perhaps grief, sadness, and occasional depression will be my lifelong companions. I am ok with that. I am also ok with feelings like anger, which people also try to shove down to the nether regions of their souls. The question is, what am I doing with those feelings?

The problem with writing is that it is time-consuming and energy-consuming. When healing from cancer and running a company, both time and energy are in short supply. Add to the mix that healing holistically from cancer takes a tremendous amount of financial resources, given that neither the government nor health insurance companies support holistic medicine, and I end up feeling like the proverbial hamster running on the wheel nonstop.

The thing is, I absolutely have to write – both poetry (which I refer to as pre-songs) and prose. It is essential to my soul and to my ability to live an awake and meaningful life, which in turn are essential to my wellness. That is to say, I may not be able to make the proverbial horse drink water, but I can document the extent to which I cajoled it to do so and chronicle how I felt when it abjectly refused to drink, despite all my machinations. Somehow, when I write about my life in such a raw, open, and honest way, I am released from the grip of circumstance, and an alchemy takes place – transforming suffering into an expression of beauty and love.

And that, in and of itself, is powerful medicine.