Picking at Scabs Prevents Any Sort of Healing
I read somewhere about a man in Texas who was cheated by a group of men. I believe it was over a few hundred dollars but I can’t quite remember (and an exhaustive search on the internet gleaned no results, so maybe I just heard it). Regardless of the amount, the man’s sense of injury and injustice was so heavily defined, he spent the rest of his life and all of his fortune chasing these men down. He managed to get each one arrested but in the process, lost his family, his property and everything he had achieved up to the point of the theft.
The very definition of a Pyrrhic victory.
Binge-watching Cobra Kai on YouTube Red the other day while marinating in NyQuil, it hit me. This story of Johnny Lawrence and Daniel Larusso is a tale of arrested development, an inability to get over the past, and the repeating cycles we have in our lives. As I spent five plus hours reliving their rivalry, with both men dealing with a legacy of bullying and trials and victory or defeat, the fact that I am their age was not the only similarity.
Like Johnny, there is a portion of myself still stuck in the ’80s, that time when I came of age. The music is still the most badass, the ideas of masculine toughness still reside in my bones, the feelings of some sorts of injustices done to me still simmering just behind my eyes. The reminder of the successes of those who done me wrong and went on to thrive, burn like the billboard of Daniel does Johnny. Likewise, I am like Daniel, still riding high on a legacy of achievements long past, holding onto the past with a fevered grip yet unable to stop myself from unlearning all the valuable lessons that make me who I am.
When I watch Johnny look at a room full of kids signed up to learn his brands of karate and bemoan that they’re all “a bunch of pussies,” I get that. While I’m doing my best to unlearn that paradigm, I laugh because it’s true in my 1980s infused eyes. Yet, like Johnny, I do see the essential humanity in these weak but angry losers and question the wisdom of refusing to adjust my behavior to meet their demands.
On the better side of my nature, like Daniel, I struggle to remember the lessons my mentors taught me about balance and the values of hard work without recognition, allowing the past its place without having it take over my entire brain space.
I was never the bully that Johnny was and I was never the weak nerd that Daniel was but the amalgam of the two finds some sort of psychic purchase in my own assessment of self.
I remember, when I was fretting about my relationship with Alice (for something a bit more detailed, check out Peculiar Journeys Ep. 31), that I had incredibly itchy legs. Like, psychosomatically itchy. No lotion could quell the itch. And, at one point, I scratched a bloody divot in my left leg about seven inches long that stayed scabbed up for almost two years later. I felt like maybe I had cancer because the fucking thing simply would not fully heal. I knew I was likely picking and scratching at it at night but it seemed kind of ridiculous that it stayed for so long.
One day, I decided that the scab was indicative of my not getting over the anxieties of being with Alice. I went and culled every picture, every piece of memorabilia, everything that might inadvertently remind of that time. I got rid of the very notion that the relationship had ever existed. I moved on in some ways.
And the fucking scratch on my leg healed.
Let’s say, for shits and giggles, that a young woman gets into a car accident. She was driving and hit a patch of black ice, spun out of control, flipped her car and smashed her head up against the windshield hard enough to cause multiple lacerations on her scalp and a serious concussion. She is trapped in her up-turned vehicle for two hours until paramedics can pull her out. This is bound to cause some serious trauma. Certainly no one is to blame but the trauma exists nonetheless.
As the years pass, she still suffers from this experience. She can’t get in cars without feeling a sense of extreme panic. She won’t fly in planes. Subway? No way. Her entire life becomes an adjustment for her feelings of unsafety, of impending disaster, of the potential of losing control of that which she should be able to control. She lives in a near constant state of fear.
Her feelings are completely normal and understandable. They make sense. She is certainly not crazy but it is obvious that if she wants to continue to live what most call a normal American life, she needs to ultimately get over it. She needs to move beyond it. Yes, there are automobiles everywhere and the sight of them trigger her raw emotional pain. “Get over it” seems flip and unhelpful but “get over it” is exactly what she needs to do to function (unless she moves to a remote corner of Montana and buys a horse and wagon.) “Get over it” feels dismissive of the trauma but it is clear and specific language that offers a pathway to recovery. A goal. To move past the trauma. To let it go and live.
On the other side of town, another young woman is at an office party or a work function and a male colleague makes a pass. Perhaps a grotesquely specific one that renders her speechless and feeling diminished and helpless. She feels her powerlessness in a male-dominated business in a way that she had, up to that point, pretended to not mind, to not really see, to perhaps justify as “that’s just the way it is.” She goes to HR but is reminded “Human Resources” is soft language for “Corporate Damage Control” and receives nothing but platitudes and suggestions that she dress less provocatively. If she presses the issue, she’s labeled and ostracized. She lives in a state of constant anxiety and a nagging, unrelenting sense of injustice and fear.
As the years pass, she still suffers from this experience. The sight of men in power suits and ties, laughing over drinks, is a sinister reminder. Much of her life is adjusted to meet the demands of her trauma. The helplessness turns to anger and she feels angry all the time. She drinks too much but only alone where she cannot be unguarded around men. She starts to wear more provocative clothing just daring other men to pull the same demeaning shit on her again. Her every day becomes a referendum on this one experience magnified to see that specific act everywhere and in every interaction.
She is not crazy or wrong to feel this way. But, in order to begin to live a life without this trauma lording over her every moment, she has to “get over it.” She has to find a way, through counseling or mentorship or karate or fucking yoga, to move past the past. To unring the bell. It doesn’t help her to understand that this unwanted sexual advance is somehow less egregious than if he had actual grabbed her ass and certainly less offensive than if he had forced himself on her. Pointing that out only serves to minimize her own personal damage. Yet, despite the contextual truth, she still needs to find some way out of the existential woods.
My buddy (and fellow Ape contributor) Mike Vinopal, works for an organization that slogans “It’s OK to not be OK,” and I agree with that. I also believe that if that is the total sum up of the experience of trauma, there’s something missing.
“It’s OK to not be OK… but it’s not OK to accept it and stay that way.”
In Cobra Kai, both Johnny and Daniel deal with this concept in the slow recognition that both characters have as they try to recapture and resolve the rivalry that defined them. Daniel has to relearn the lessons he was taught by teaching them to another, and Johnny has to struggle with the boy he was as he trains the 2018 version of Daniel. Both characters are trying to evolve — to be better men than they currently have become rather than settling for the men they are. Unsurprisingly, only one gets it. But that’s why there will be a second season.
Scabs are the body’s way of healing a wound. If you continue to pick at that scab, it will never heal and become a scar. Scars are the body’s way of saying you survived the injury. The skin of a scar is denser and thicker than the skin surrounding it. Scabs signal that you aren’t done healing. Scars are a sign that you survived the wound.
I read somewhere about that man in Texas who, to make himself feel whole, destroyed his entire life picking at that scab.