Compassion’s Hand

10944714_10204463028509298_3566351049749476418_nToday we celebrate 1000 Voices for Compassion. #1000Speak means a wide variety of compassion posts are flooding the internet. Please indulge! I’m a small part of the wave, but proud to be so. I’m also thrilled that I’m turning a small, though significant, corner in my life. I’ve blogged before about abuse, self-acceptance, depression, and thankfulness, all worthwhile topics, but today it’s all about compassion. More specifically, I have news to share concerning self-compassion.

Confession #1: I’ve returned to therapy. It’s long since I’ve allowed the word hope to appear in my posts because, truthfully, it wasn’t within me. But now maybe, just maybe…

“It wasn’t your fault.”

But if…if I’d done something, if I’d tried harder…

“You should be proud of all you’ve made it through.”

But all I did was survive…

And there I go again. I hang my head and disparage myself for minimizing what was trauma, abuse, and unspeakable before chiding myself for shedding a tear as if it were an extra period at the end of a memory. Now, I sit at the keyboard, seek to write a post on compassion, and believe I must convince everyone how together I am.

I’m not together.

Confession#2: At a point in my life when I thought I was reassembling the pieces I had a breakdown. A bad one this time. Late October.

Sound familiar? Have you been there? Depression? Anxiety? The desire to do yourself harm? The inability, despite all that, to be kind to yourself? Mental abuse? Physical abuse? Sexual abuse? Self-love withdrawn?

No compassion.

I’ve been in that place far longer than I care to admit. Years. Decades. It started as a child and the damage done left me vulnerable and ill-prepared for the hurts that came later. And so it went.

Compassion must start with the self, but at the same time I hope that this stumbling, zig-zagging journey might become a little straighter for someone else.

Which leads me to…

Confession #3: I’ve taken positives steps to healing, but not always in the right order. Basically, it’s as if I attempted to set a broken leg with physical therapy.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

My journey began with anti-depressants. They work for many people, but they didn’t work for me. My experiences were horrid and scary. I’ve lost count of all the meds tried between 1999 and 2010, but I remember the side effects: tremors, dizziness, nausea, violent stomach sickness, rapid descent towards suicide, and eventually many of those combined with the pneumonia that landed me in the hospital for three weeks. That last episode was the last straw for me.

I vowed to become mentally healthy without drugs.

My efforts began with walking since my damaged lungs (from Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis) wouldn’t allow anything more vigorous. I learned about meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. The healthy lifestyle was working and I even overcame depressive episodes on several occasions, but a trigger sent me into a downward spiral.

What happened?

What happened was that I’d never faced the more traumatic events from my distant past and how they’d rendered me socially handicapped in the present. For instance, because of certain childhood incidents it became difficult to trust anyone. When forced to trust my anxiety levels exploded, suspicion ruled my thoughts, and I’d isolate myself.

It wasn’t enough to say, “Yeah, I’m over all that, it’s behind me, and I forgive everyone involved.” I’d never looked it all in the face, put it in perspective, and sought to fix the damage. Sure, I’d forgiven—everyone except me.

The elephant (past) in the middle of the living room is still an elephant even if you leave the room and refuse to deal with it. While you’re busy distracting yourself your brain is still wondering, How the hell am I going to get that elephant out of my living room?

When I read The Mindful Way through Depression (2007) back in 2013 it said as much, though I misinterpreted. “This is why we can react so negatively to unhappiness: our experience is not one simply of sadness, but is colored powerfully by reawakened feelings of deficiency or inadequacy. What may make these reactivated thinking patterns most damaging is that we often don’t realize they are memories at all. We feel not good enough now without being aware that is a thinking pattern from the past that is evoking the feeling” (38).

Mindfulness, it seems to this novice, is more about the present, the NOW. I, unfortunately, tried to use it like smoke and mirrors to avoid the elephant in the next room.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

I’ve just read Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha (2003) by Tara Brach, Ph.D. (recommended by my therapist). She writes, “Neuropsychology tells us that traumatic abuse causes lasting changes by affecting our physiology, nervous system and brain chemistry” (109). Further, “While the affect of fear itself lasts but a few seconds, the emotion of fear persists for as long as the affect continues to be stimulated by fearful thoughts and memories” (166). Compassion for the self, the central topic of this post, enters our lives later. “We often distance ourselves from emotional pain—our vulnerability, anger, jealousy, fear—by covering it over with self-judgment.”

Thus, I’m making the painful journey to the past so I can leave it in the past, heal for the future, and enjoy the NOW. The book further advocates meditation, mindfulness, and yoga, all avenues I was pursuing before the past caught up with me. At the same time, the book (and, I hear, subsequent books) teaches self-compassion and lovingkindness, recognizing our basic goodness, and how we’re all interconnected.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne

It’s all heady stuff and despite all my highlighting, margin notes, and flags I’ve got a long ways to go before I grasp it all. I’m still like the patient who’s just taken their first steps beyond the hospital bed. The weather here has been kind recently so I’ve walked a few times/week. I even took a trip down the Bitterroot Valley recently.

Confession #4: There’s hope within me once again, despite my fighting hard to push it away. The dark place, the infinite sadness, the “trance” (as Dr. Brach calls it) had locked it out of my mind.

Please, don’t lose your hope. Instead, find your road to self-compassion. If my road interests you then, please, keep checking in because I’ll continue providing updates on my progress.

It’s my sincere hope (another hope) that if you’re someone suffering, someone lost, or someone giving up that you’ll give yourself another chance to forgive the wonderful person within you. Awaken. This is your time. Find your path. It’s possible. Give yourself the gift of compassion that you might give it to others.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

Photo: CA Hawthorne. With Misha.

Start with one and widen your reach.

As Dr. Brach writes, “Realizing the truth of belonging, that we are all suffering and awakening together on the path, is the most powerful antidote to personal feelings of unworthiness” (303).

I can do this. You can do this. WE can do this.

13 Replies to “Compassion’s Hand”

  1. Pingback: Compassion’s Hand | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. I love your post. It shows why it can be so hard to get over some of our past traumas. I’ve been to enough groups to know that my traumas were relatively mild, but they exist, and I’ ve got trust issues, too. Healing will happen. It will, dammit!

    • You’re obviously as determined as me. We should have given up long ago, but we haven’t. Trust issues are maddening because they touch all aspects of our lives. I know that one will be tough for me to get over, but I’m determined to find a way. To each of us our traumas are more than enough of a hill to climb, but make the climb you will!

  3. Christina what a journey you are on. You are an amazing person for sharing your battle. I hope you are taking one day at a time and mostly that you have peace of mind. When my anxiety rules that is the one thing I wish I could control. The quieting of all my thoughts and fears. Slowly I am learning. Here’s to a happy healthy 2015 for you my friend.

  4. Thank you for sharing your wide-open, vulnerable heart. I’m familiar with depression and anxiety and what a toll it can take (as well as the meds). I’m so glad to hear you are back in therapy, giving it another go and that you are on a journey of self-compassion. (that’s what my #1000Speak post was about too.) I will keep checking back and will share too. Keep being brave…

    • Thank you for reading. I’m familiar with your post…read it just over an hour ago and shared on Twitter. Truly believing I’m enough…it’s amazing how difficult that is, but I’m giving it another go. Your comment is further reminder that there are others out there and that’s so important because depression wants us to be alone. Thank you again.

    • Thank you, Tamara. My jaw slackened a bit when I read your comment because I too write poetry and fantasy. I published a book of poetry last May and continue to post poems regularly. The fantasy thus far remains more of a sideline. 2014 was also my first NaNoWriMo. I find I adore 1000 Voices as much for those I meet as for the message.

  5. Mental illness, whether caused by trauma or genetics, is so often misunderstood by those who have never experienced it. For some, medications can help, but they are just the beginning. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the authors of The Mindful Way Through Depression has written other books on mindfulness that I’ve appreciated. I hope that your post makes others more compassionate toward those afflicted with depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental illness. I know that I need to be more mindful of those who believe that one can “just snap out of it.” Such phrases, I believe, come from a place of fear, which can often feel like or lead to anger. I try to remember that many of the people who say such things do so because of fear for me, or fear that they or their loved ones may find themselves in such a predicament. Others may simply be tired of hearing me talk about such things, and I need to respect that and give them a break!

    • I don’t know if I’ll inspire sympathy for those who suffer, but that please me were it to happen. I dearly hope that those who suffer will know they aren’t alone. I have no idea if I have a genetic predisposition, but given my parents it’s certainly possible. The trauma, on the other hand, is undeniable. My goal, to lead a healthier life, remains, regardless. I agree that mental illness is both misunderstood and feared, for I, too, have found myself in both those places.

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