A reminder for when we are lonely…
This is an absolutely beautiful poem written by a fellow blogger, Wendy Strohm, inspired by the 12 steps. Enjoy!
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
This is Holy Week. For many Christians, it is a time of reflection and solemness about the amazing sacrifice that Jesus paid for our sins. I will make it personal, since I know all of my readers are not Christian…I am reflective this week about the amazing sacrifice that Jesus paid for my sins. I respect other religions, but I know in my own life, that because I am not perfect, filled with shame and guilt about so many things, I just need a Savior. That’s just me. I didn’t know that I could have a real relationship with Jesus, or that He even wanted to have a real relationship with me until about two years ago. I didn’t even know what that meant, and it’s still very hard to explain. But the more I get to know who Jesus was, specifically through His word (The Bible), the more I love Him…and I not only Love Him, I just simply like the guy. I really wish more people knew the real person of Jesus…or at least would be willing to try.
I spend a lot of time with many people in 12 step groups who have been religiously abused, confused about their Higher Power, or have been let down by Christianity and religion for one reason or another. It saddens me because many of these people may never open their hearts to Jesus. Many people have this judgmental, overbearing view of God and they want to be free of that. Any mention of Jesus or God is a joke for them. They want to know where in the world was this Jesus when they were going through their challenges? This is understandable. The God they know demands perfection and imposes severe punishment for being bad. But the Truth is that the heart of Jesus is compassionate, loving and pure. Sure, we all strive to do the best that we can, and make good decisions, but we all miss the mark. There are consequences for our actions, but not necessarily punishments. I have learned that God loves me no matter who I am or what I was, or who I will become. Perhaps it’s explained better by Henry Halley:
“Walking with God does not mean that we are without sin. We have sinned in the past, and we still have sin in our nature. It is not by virtue of our sinlessness that we have fellowship, a relationship, with God, but because of Christ’s death for our sin.”
I had this discussion with some fellow 12 steppers last summer at a 12 step conference I attended. Many of my fellow travelers believe in a Higher Power, but confessed their disgust with religion…specifically Christianity. Their personal journeys have put them in contact with Christians that have judged them and condemned them without mercy. I literally “laughed out loud” when one of my fellow travelers told me,
This one Christian was coming down on me so hard for some stuff I did that I finally told the person, “Look, don’t you know that Jesus hung out with hookers??!!”
Of course this person was referring to Jesus’ friendship with Mary Magdalene. Perhaps I wouldn’t have used that choice of words, but I could totally understand what my fellow traveler was saying. The real person of Jesus was compassionate and loving to those who society did not deem worthy of compassion and love.
And that’s just the kind of Christian I want to be.
Halley, Henry H. (2008-09-09). Halley’s Bible Handbook with the New International Version (Kindle Locations 13839-13840). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
By the way, I almost titled this post, “Jesus Hung Out With Hookers,” but I’m too much of a wimp! <3
Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret. -Miguel Angel Ruiz
I am just recovering from a bad cold and sinus infection. There were lots of things on my mind to write, but I couldn’t manage to make it to the computer to type it up. I really hate being sick. I know, I know, who likes being sick? But for a person that is already super hard on herself and extremely judgmental, when I’m sick, I’m even more hard on myself and judgmental. Lots of negative self-talk going on last week. Lots of emotional inebriation. However, I am grateful that however bad I thought things were last week, they were not as bad as they have been in the past.
I’m celebrating two years in emotional 12-step recovery this month, and its probably fitting that I had this experience of sickness and then reflection about my emotional and spiritual journey. It’s no secret as to the 12 step fellowships that I belong, Codependents Anonymous and Adult Children of Alcoholics. I have no shame about this. These programs have changed my life in so many ways. They have opened my heart up to receive so much love and healing. They have given me so much better perspective for my past and hope for my future. Working these programs has been tricky though. When you are recovering from a substance, you stay away from that substance. But how in the world do you measure emotional recovery? I’m not saying one is easier than the other, but I think that in both cases, you just have to keep showing up…or in recovery language: keep coming back.
There is still so much I don’t understand about my life, but the great thing about being in 12 step recovery is that I know I have a life. That I’m not just some feather floating in the wind. That I belong here and have a purpose here. Whatever that purpose may be.
I may never understand everything fully. But I know there is a Higher Power who Loves me and understands it all.
12 Step recovery has also taught me that it’s okay to have days when you’re sick and can’t do everything. It’s okay to take care of myself. I still need practice on not judging myself and being hard on myself, but 12 step has also taught me “progress not perfection.”
Nothing is perfect, not even recovery. There are lots of rules and guidelines; however, how we heal is ultimately up to us. There are people and trusted counselors and friends that can give us advice along the way, but our emotional recovery is all about us and what we feel is right. We must trust ourselves in this process.
“Where is that written contract you signed before birth promising that you’d be perfect, that you’d never fail, and that your life would go absolutely the way you want it to?” -Kristin Neff
Some people call it the devil, negativity, a Gremlin, or the little guy with the pitchfork. I’ve even heard someone refer to it as Norman, Gollum, or the negative committee that meets in your head. I’ve referred to it as Gazoo in my essay The Shrink Who Killed Gazoo. What am I talking about? It’s that part of ourselves that we all have (if you say you don’t have it, I’m sorry, you’re lying) that blocks our self compassion. It’s that part of ourselves that knows every bad thing we’ve ever done; knows every place where we have fallen short, knows every imperfection, and doesn’t hesitate to bring those things to our attention…usually at the most inopportune times. It’s that part of ourselves that tells us we can’t when we try to believe that we can. It’s that part of ourselves that tells us told you so when we fall or fail. And it’s that part of ourselves that tells us that we are not deserving of compassion…and especially not self compassion, when we are at our worst and especially when we are the only ones to blame for our situation.
It’s sneaky too. It knows how and when to attack us and the points of attack as well. Sometimes it uses others to do its dirty work. But most of the time, it’s an inner critical voice that we’ve probably had with us since we were little. It’s not going anywhere. It’s not leaving us without a fight. It has been around too long. And even when we think it’s gone, it resurrects itself, creeps back up and devises a new strategy of attack.
Some people can ignore it. Some people speak positive words to crumble it. But I think mine is so sneaky and manipulative, the only thing I can do is pay attention, listen, acknowledge, and then tell it to its face that its a liar.
I know the truth.
Do you ever get an uneasy feeling in your spirit? As if you are not in line with the Universe…not in balance? I’ve come to realize that it is usually during these times when I need to step up the self compassion. This is because the imbalance is caused by the judgmental, shameful, guilt-filled messages that Gazoo (or whatever you want to call it) is giving me. It is important to recognize what is going on within your mind, body, and spirit during these times. In my experience, this is the only way to stop the negativity in its tracks and knock it out with compassion.
The great thing about self-compassion is that we don’t have to wait for anyone or anything external to give it to us. Besides, sometimes Gazoo acts so quickly, I don’t have time to call anyone for help!
If I am able to recognize when Gazoo is rearing his silly little head, then I can quickly (sometimes quickly) battle it out. The interesting thing is that in the past that negativity, Gazoo, or whatever you want to call it would always win out because there was nothing within me to counter it. Now, there is beauty, love, understanding, friendship, truth, and self compassion.
Gazoo doesn’t stand a chance against the depth of compassion I have for myself.
A few days before last New Year’s Eve, I was trying to update an app on my iPhone, but my phone was running low on memory. I took a look at the apps I still had on my phone that I wasn’t using, when I came across an app I hadn’t used in awhile. I’ve even mentioned this app on my blog before. It’s called Thought Diary. The app is designed to help with reframing negative or ineffectual thoughts and behaviors. When an unfavorable thought comes up, you record the situation, what you’re thinking about the situation, and the percentage you believe it. Then you record the “thinking error,” (i.e. black and white thinking), come up with a new thought to replace the old thought and record the percentage you believe the new thought. So for example, at that time, I could have been thinking that I was a loser for not having a date for New Year’s Eve (which was kind of true at the time). I would record the situation – no date for New Year’s Eve; the feeling – I’m a loser; how much I believe it – 80%; the thinking error – black and white thinking; the new thought – Even though I don’t have a date for New Year’s Eve, I get to spend it at home with someone I love, my mom…and the cat, and I’m grateful for that; how much I believe the new thought – 90%.
What I really loved about this app was how it brought those stinky feelings to the surface and really forced me to transform my thinking. I also loved how the app requires you to come up with a new thought, but then rate how much you believe it. So you still come up with a new thought, but if you’re not completely feeling the new thought, you can say so…it respects how you feel in the moment.
So what in the world does this have to do with self compassion, you may wonder. Well, I used this app a lot when my last relationship ended back at the end of 2011. Many of the thoughts and feelings about that situation were still stored within this app. When I was deciding whether or not to keep this app on my phone, I found myself going through them. Here are a few excerpts from entries over a two week period during that time:
Still haven’t heard from him. Trying to move on.
I feel myself shutting down. Isolation sounds really good right now.
Can’t stop crying.
Going through love withdrawal. Sad about it. Want to stay home from work today and sleep.
Don’t want to get out of bed and face the day.
Struggling with concentration, battling the anger I feel about him.
And there is much more that I won’t share here. My heart ached for myself as I read these words. I was really, truly hurt back then. But even though I was obviously hurting, I’m pretty sure I gave myself no compassion. In fact, I can recall being pretty judgmental and harsh, calling myself pathetic, ridiculous, desperate, and thinking that I really needed to get over this guy…quick.
As I remembered the likeliness of how harsh I had been to myself back then, I thought,
If I would have known then what I know now…I would have given myself more compassion.
If these words had been written by someone other than me, I would have given that person compassion and loving words. Sometimes you have to step outside of yourself to give yourself compassion.
If you are continually judging and criticizing yourself while trying to be kind to others, you are drawing artificial boundaries and distinctions that only lead to feelings of separation and isolation. -Kristin Neff
Now perhaps someone somewhere thinks that those entries from my diary are pathetic and that I needed to get over it. But one thing I have learned is that we need to be our own best advocate for our own emotional well being. As I read those pain-filled words, I wanted to reach back and hug myself, and tell myself that although I hurt right now, that I wouldn’t hurt forever. I wanted to remind myself of my beautiful qualities and that I would someday find a special guy who appreciates those qualities.
But the truth is that I cannot get those moments back. However, I can make a living amends to myself:
From this point on, I will give myself compassion when I am in pain by first trusting that I am in pain and then believing that I am worthy of compassion through any kind of pain. And when I find it difficult to do this, I can step outside of myself and give myself compassion as I am giving it to a beautiful, deserving friend.
I haven’t been in the best of moods lately. I’m facing so many difficult feelings and emotions that I have long denied. And I’m just sitting with these emotions. No where to run or hide. The problem is that I’m having a hard time reframing and replacing my negative emotions with positive emotions. I began the year (as so many others do) with such hope and practical ideas to carry out my goals for the year. But now it appears that I have run out of steam. Inadequate. I feel like such a loser. I’m internalizing every negative thing and in the process, I am feeling unloved and afraid.
Now with all that being said, I don’t want to feel this way. I want to feel strong, healthy and secure in myself. I know the truth about myself. I know that I am wonderful beautiful, and loved. I just don’t feel that way right now and I can understand why. These past 3 years have been difficult for me for many reasons, filled with loss, disappointment, and frustration. And although there have been plenty of times I have wanted to just give up, I have kept going.
What you have just witnessed is an internal/external dialogue that started out with me being down on myself and ended with me being kind to myself. This is what is called, self-compassion. I think that learning how to have compassion for ourselves is an essential part of giving compassion to others. This is not a foreign concept. Everyone knows that we must love ourselves before we can really show love to others. But loving ourselves is one thing. Being kind and compassionate to ourselves is a unique component within the idea of self love.
“We have to find compassion and embrace the darkness inside of us in order to understand it, and ultimately to transcend it.” -Debbie Ford (from The Shadow Effect)
Last month, I took a look at the concept of compassion and showing compassion to others. This month, I will explore the concept of self-compassion and what it actually means to be kind and compassionate to ourselves. It takes a little bit more than taking yourself out for a spa day…although this helps!
I hope that you enjoy my insights this month.
A friend of mine recently lost her dad. Having experienced the loss of my own father several years ago, I could share my pain with her. And not just that I lost someone that I love, but the added phenomena of being an adult daughter, losing a father that although wasn’t perfect, loved me and continually provided for me. I could share with her the specifics of my story in dealing with the arrangements, the difficulty of seeing my dad lowered in the ground, and the assurance (according to mine and my friend’s beliefs) that my dad’s spirit is eternally alive. I also offered to be my friend’s emotional “punching bag” if she ever wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of dealing with family and just deal with her grief in a most raw fashion. This would include screaming, cursing, yelling, asking God why and being angry at God and everyone else.
This, my friends…is compassion.
Here is a weekend challenge for you:
Meditate, reflect, or think about some of the worst pain you have experienced, whether it be emotional, physical, social or spiritual. Think of someone in your life who is currently going through a similar experience. Have you lost a loved one, have you been bullied, abused, or treated unfairly? Or, were you the one who made the mistake and are now suffering the consequences of it? Have you lied, cheated, or stole and now you’re in the midst of making amends? Have you lost it all because of bad decisions?
Do you still remember the feelings you felt going through all of it?
For example, say you went through a divorce several years ago and you know someone is having challenges in their current relationship or marriage that could possibly go in that direction (this is only if you know, don’t snoop). Reach out to that person.
But try NOT to do it like this:
Hey friend, I know that your relationship is going down the drain, so I wanted to give you some advice because I know how it is.
Rather, say something like this:
Hey friend, it seems like you have been having some challenges lately. Wanna talk about it?
If yes, and they share their story, listen. Try to actively listen and note the points of connection. Then share your story. Don’t give advice, just share…just connect.
If no, just tell them,
Well if you ever need a compassionate and loving ear, I’m here for you. And I’m not just saying the words because they sound good, I am truly here for you if you need me.
Do you get my drift here? The purpose of this exercise is to activate your compassion gene.
Now be careful. There’s a thin line between activating your compassion gene and activating your sympathy gene or your caretaking/codependency gene, or even your judgmental gene.
You are not trying to pity the person, fix their problem, or show that you are better than them. You are trying to show them compassion.
Compassion in action!
“Compassion literally means ‘to suffer with,’ which implies a basic mutuality in the experience of suffering. The emotion of compassion springs from the recognition that the human experience is imperfect.” -Kristin Neff
I don’t know anyone who wants to suffer. But the plain truth is that suffering is an element of every person’s life. I don’t know anyone who is immune to some kind of suffering, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual and everything in between. For some reason though I think that many of us get caught up in this idea that we are not the “ones” who are suffering. That we have it all together. That we are better than or more perfect than others who just happen to be suffering.
That’s crap. The beauty of the above statement from Kristin Neff’s book, Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind is that those of us who are compassionate people are aware that this life isn’t perfect on any level. We are conscious of the fact that all of humanity is fallible in many ways, no matter how smart we may think we are.
I think most people get this. But at the same time, we are out to prove that we make the smart choices and that we always do the right things. For example, I have recently confessed several mistakes to my mom, for which she looks at me with this puzzled, disappointed look, shakes her head and says,
I thought you would have known better. I thought you were smarter than that. I had no idea you were so confused.
These days I’m usually able to let comments like these go fairly quickly. But they still hurt. They remind me of my imperfection, and that people “like me” aren’t allowed to make mistakes…specifically “stupid mistakes.”
But what does compassion look like in these instances??
Having compassion means that we share on every level of our suffering…or if you don’t like the word “suffering,” it means that we share and connect on every level of our imperfection. It’s not feeling sorry for another person or saying, oh I would have never made that choice; and it sure as hell isn’t telling someone that they had no idea how confused you were. It’s spending time with someone in their pain, long enough and deep enough for it to touch something within you. It’s about meeting vulnerability with more vulnerability. It’s about showing your heart, not your intellect to another person who is hurting.
With compassion, we have to let go of our egos and let go of everything that we think we should be…and just be.
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12: 6-8 (TNIV)
One of the most interesting aspects of my own personal self discovery has been learning about my spiritual gifts. It amazed me to know that my Creator gave me certain gifts and these gifts, although given to others, are packaged especially for me and significant to my own world and those in it.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on the topic of spiritual gifts*, but the way I see it is that spiritual gifts are different from talents. A talent can be something that you do, or learn to do and you either naturally do it well or develop the ability to do it well. For example, I have a talent for writing. I’m not the best writer, and I’m not the worst writer, I just have a talent for it, among many other talents such as playing the flute, etc.
A spiritual gift goes a bit deeper as it uses the talent in a way that enhances the lives of others. So I may use my talent for writing in a way that helps others or I may use my ability to play the flute as a way of healing others. Consequently, many people may have different talents, but it is how you use those talents that brings forth your spiritual gifts.
Just like I won’t pretend to be an expert on spiritual gifts, I won’t pretend to be a Bible scholar, but I think in the case of the verse I quoted above, the apostle Paul was talking specifically about using our gifts in the Christian church. In my own reflections, I don’t like to limit the use of spiritual gifts, or I don’t think of spiritual gifts as only active within the church. I think they are at work all around us and through us for the greater good of all humanity.
A few years ago I did a few spiritual gifts inventories and I determined that my most prevalent spiritual gift is “Mercy.” A synonym for the word mercy is compassion. Prior to discovering or understanding this most precious gift given to me specially by my Creator, the name of my blog had been Michele’s blog. Shortly thereafter, I changed the name of my blog to what it is now, Words of Compassion, Creativity & Knowledge. After learning of this beautiful gift of compassion that I had been given by God, I had to share it with the world. I believed that God was prompting me to share my compassion and other gifts with others, and so the new name for my blog emerged through the gifts I had been given.
I may discuss the other two gifts (creativity and knowledge) at a later time, but this month, I was very much prompted to talk about this idea of mercy or compassion…what it means; what it looks like; and who it is directed to.
Probably the most thought provoking element of this month’s discussion is how we show compassion to ourselves.
It has been awhile since I’ve really spent time within a specific topic, so I am looking forward to diving into this topic for the remainder of the month (and maybe a little bit into next month as well). I hope you enjoy my insights.
*If you want more information about your spiritual gifts or you wish to do a spiritual gifts inventory to find out what they are, there is a wonderful website you can visit called: Gifted2Serve – Online Spiritual Gifts Inventory. Enjoy!