Today 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 Self-love withdrawn?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.