Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mindful Self-Compassion

"One of the anomalies of wounded human nature is that we do not accept the very answer we seek when it is given because we have become so accustomed to pain and confusion" [i]

In the midst of self-loathing, doubt, and frustration over the many "whys" in life, I was sent pages of a book that contained the quote above. For a moment my world stopped and I was quiet because someone, somewhere had felt the same way I did and took the time to acknowledge this feeling of comfortable discomfort. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that all the frustration I was experiencing was human and normal.

Lately I have found myself repeatedly thinking about the role self compassion and forgiveness plays in basic living. Time and again I find others talking about how important both compassion and forgiveness are, but as parts of specific circumstances and not an everyday practice. Post car crash I've spent a lot of time arguing with myself over whether I should be allowed to ask for help with my anxiety/emotional response. On one hand, I've had anxiety all my life and the accident was my fault. On the other hand, it was a traumatic event and were it anyone else I would tell them that it's natural to be anxious and to need support. Suddenly I find myself once again arguing over whether it's "okay" to be self-compassionate.

Unfortunately, blaming myself and ignoring the emotional need for healing comes easily to me. I can remind myself that it was an accident, that these things happen, and that it is okay to go on living, showing myself compassion for the lost car, missed work days, and the physical healing I have to do. When it comes to the emotional side, I forget all about self-care and accept anxiety and fear as natural consequences that I deserve. I use the excuse of "deserving" to feel horrible as a way to stay stuck in the pain and suffering that I have grown accustomed to.

For the first day back at work, I accepted the panicked feelings and chest pain as "necessary" and "normal." I'm told, however, that coming into work and feeling as if I'm having a heart attack is not a normal thing. I pushed through, never even acknowledging that it was hard for me. By day two I was becoming weary of the constant state of anxiety. I knew I couldn't go on like that, but I still couldn't fathom asking for help. Today will be day three back at work and I'm not sure what to expect, but since I haven't yet changed my approach, I don't think much of my reaction will change.

I know I will feel  like the world is ending for those few seconds I pass the turn off to the road I crashed on. I can't imagine actually turning down that road and driving past that red light. Driving into work I will probably freak at the slightest hint of a possible collision, as I have been doing for days. I may get teary-eyed at the most random times and find myself unable to handle the stress of managing five teenage girls at the same time. I will manage to come in, act "as if," run the shift without incident and then go home. On the way home I will probably make up for not eating most of the day by stopping for fast food- something that up until last weekend I had managed to stay away from in order to live a healthier life.  All of this is unable to change until I decide to change it.

I know the answer I seek is trusting in my support network and healing rituals. I know I'm capable of the prayer, conversation, and allowance to feel that is necessary to start healing. I even know that I can trust in that network because lately I've been attempting to use it. It's embarrassing to admit, but the truth is that up until recently I didn't really have one. I had a therapist, wife, and family that I could sometimes go to. I had a friend here and there, but I didn't really trust in the fact that they would accept me in times of need. Now I have friends, co-workers, and professionals I can trust to guide, help, accept, and witness my time of need. Accepting this as an answer means accepting that maybe I don't  have to suffer in order to live.

As someone who has gone through developmental and complex trauma, living a life without suffering is inconceivable. As a mental health worker who fully believes in the potential of all people to live life to their fullest potential, continuing to live with suffering is inconceivable. It is the profound conundrum that is my life. One thing I know for sure is that I have the power to change my suffering into splendor.

In order to start on that path to change I have to find the compassion within me to let go and move on from the things I "should have" done. I will start by attempting to be kind to myself and acknowledge that right now some things are hard for me and that's OK. Just saying the phrase "this is hard" and breathing in and out is a positive change. I will attempt to take it one moment at a time and recommit to self-care and compassion anytime I notice myself judging or criticizing.

While this may sound simple to some, it really isn't. Acknowledging my flaws and being mindful of them is something that is extremely hard to do. Being mindful in quiet meditation is hard enough, but living mindfulness is even more challenging. Distractions will come and that will be okay because the point of mindfulness is to bring yourself back to the moment. And if the moment isn't suffering that's STILL mindfulness. It's not about being mindful of just your suffering and what you want to change, but being mindful of your whole being. I will set the intention to be compassionate towards myself today and I will make an effort to stay mindful of how I treat myself throughout the day.

Healing isn't about major breakthroughs and accomplishments, it's about living each day a little better than the last.

[i] Groeschel, B. J. (1984). Spiritual passages: the psychology of spiritual development "for those who seek". New York: Crossroad.

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