A while back, I realized that I’d been beating myself up about my feelings, responses and attitudes around some changes in my life. My fiance’ had commented that I seemed unhappy and irritable. Being a crabby, unpleasant, complaining person isn’t who I am, or what I’ve ever expected of myself. I’ve always been the one with the smile and light that made others feel better. While I know intellectually that we can only take so much without also taking time for respite and repair, my belief was that I was an icon of strength and patience, even in the face of a long cumulative list of difficult and unpleasant life events, struggles, fearful times, deaths and letting go of old hopes and dreams.
This irritable, anxious person wasn’t the ‘me’ I thought I was, and if this was who I’d become, I didn’t like ME anymore. Trying to be as compassionate to myself as I would to another, I reminded myself that, yes, I’ve lived through some difficult times– divorce, personal illness, financial betrayal–and hit the repeat cycle. We’ve all been there to some degree. I prided myself (and others conveyed) that I was living though these passages with grace, mostly. No wild crazy parties, just a few new pair of shoes; well maybe more than a few. I chose the other direction and took time to reflect, to save, to continue in my fourth career, to explore new volunteer interests, meet new friends and worked hard to develop additional income streams in order to survive. I thought I was going to make it emotionally and financially. Life was still my oyster.
Then along came the last three years. Tthough productive and filled with much love and satisfaction, they were also full of sadness: My auto accident and resulting health issues, Mom’s death, being unable to travel for her funeral or help my family through that time, was devastating. The lack of interest and attention from my physician, who was terrified of the legal system and refused to do auto accidents, meant that my closed head trauma was never diagnosed, and I got weaker. It was demoralizing. My heart hurt as I became too ill and immune compromised to see my grandson when he was born or help my daughter with my grandchildren.
I’ve always been a positive, loving person with a deeply contemplative side. I found myself closing up and withdrawing, even from my fiance’ and closest friends. My focus was on getting stronger and improving my health, but looking back, I’m not sure I was going about it in the optimal way… but I was determined to improve. Then, just as my health began to get better, I took on an immense family responsibility that became the block on the top that toppled my tower.
Overwhelmed, I often found myself sitting and staring, wondering how I’d become so lonely, unmotivated and confused. I felt inadequate to my work and family responsibilities. Grief over my lost sense of inner joy, low energy, lost feelings of graciousness, gratitude and generosity, brought me to the abyss, staring despair in the face.
The paradox was that this was a time in my life when I had every reason to be happy and excited as we were planning our wedding and new life together. My health was better and I was able to spend time with my daughter, grandchildren and friends.
On one particularly bad day, I realized that changing how I felt was all up to me. No one else was determining my responses, feelings or actions–only me. No one was criticizing me. I was pressuring and beating up on my self. I was sitting in the middle of my grief, anger and angst. Knowing that I could choose my responses and feelings didn’t seem to keep me from jumping up and down on my own back with no slack. I’d let myself get into this pit, and as far as I could see, I was the only one in charge, so, I had to get me out!
In the midst of this self flagellation, I remembered Thomas Moore’s book, ‘Care of the Soul’. He writes about the perception- in this culture particularly- of believing that we have to be happy. Yet, we’re fragile and often confused creatures who feel things, sometimes deeply, and also feel- if we allow ourselves- things we don’t like such as fear, sadness, grief and anger in addition to our joys. He suggests that when we sit with those unpleasant feelings and allow them to be, rather than forcing ourselves to be social, happy, clever people, whatever the expectation might be, that we deepen. Richard Rohr also talks about learning to be comfortable with paradox and mystery, about the pain or ‘initiation’ of life, and how we choose to frame it and live with it. ..
“…people were usually marked on their body too, like Jacob being wounded on his hip by the angel. The remaining wound tells us that we have gone the distance and completed the necessary cycle. “I can take it, and I am not a victim, but renewed” is the message. ”
In the long run, deepening and embracing helps us to become more soulful and content. I’m pretty sure that when I’m content with myself, I’m happier and of much more use to myself and the rest of the world. Trite, but true. There are sunny days and dark valleys and times of testing. Sometimes we forget that. I did. Especially on the dark days, I began to challenge myself to notice the many small gifts and to remember them with gratefulness. Then I practiced smiling and sending light to the grocery store clerks, the man who mows my yard, the gas station clerks, strangers in the store. In time, it became easier and easier to do, and felt better than being hurt, angry, critical. In time, I could feel my light and my joy growing.
I’m glad to be on the other side for now, to be feeling grateful, and gracious and generous. My cup is more than half full, and I am thankful for those who loved me, challenged me, listened, were patient with me, and who held my hand.
After a long time of letting myself feel whatever I felt, of resting, journalling, crying, laughing, walking and letting it all go–I realised that I’m better and I’m loved, like the old Velveteen Rabbit. Sometimes we need reminders about who we really are and that love is absolutely necessary.