“True ambition is not what we thought it was. True ambition is the profound desire to live usefully
and walk humbly under the grace of God.” -Bill W.
I just ended a 7-year relationship with a doctoral program.
At the beginning of this year, I received the most amazing news. The dissertation research project that I had poured my heart and soul into since 2009 since I began writing the dissertation had received IRB approval. I had been in the doctoral program since 2006. For those who aren’t familiar with research at the University level, this is the pinnacle achievement prior to being able to collect data and move forward with entering the scholarly realms. This means that I have created a research study that is ethically sound and worthy of exploration.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Amadeus. In my essay, “Music and Beer, (p. 60)” I talk at length about being taken to see that movie by my music teacher when I was a young child, and how the movie began my love affair with classical music and my adoration of the brilliant composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. To this day, I feel love anytime I hear any of Mozart’s music or play one of his pieces on my flute. I have told family members that I want Mozart’s Requiem in D minor (the “unfinished” death mass featured at the end of the movie) played at my memorial service after I die. Yes, my love of the man, his music, and the movie Amadeus is intense.
As a child, seeing that movie, I could only process the music, the wild interpretations of the man, Mozart, his flamboyance, arrogance, brilliance, and genius. But there was a bigger picture to this movie that I did not discover until I became an adult.
Although certified as one of my favorite movies of all time, it had been awhile since I really sat down and watched Amadeus all the way through. I recently decided to revisit this movie, popping in the DVD with popcorn and peach pop; a southside Chicago girl’s only way to visit the streets of Vienna–city of musicians. Once again, I became obsessed. But surprisingly enough, not with the man, Mozart, or the music, but with the underlying emotional and psychological themes that I was unable to extract from the movie as a child.
With all of its historical accuracy, the movie, Amadeus is largely a work of fiction. Based on the play by Peter Shaffer, the movie bears the name “Amadeus,” but Mozart is not necessarily the main character. It is Antonio Salieri; a part fictional, part nonfictional representation of Vienna’s court composer and Mozart’s “nemesis,” who is at the forefront of the movie (and the play–I recently saw the play as well, and it was a wondrous event). Salieri despises Mozart for his brilliance, genius, and his ability to compose the most “miraculous” of musical works with what seems like little effort. This composer-envy (albeit one-sided) builds throughout the movie and ultimately turns into complete hatred toward Mozart on the part of Salieri; for Salieri believes that Mozart is “God’s muse” and that his music is the very “voice of God.” Salieri only just wants to be a great composer, praying to God to “enter him” to create one piece of true music.
It was a battle between “mediocrity” and excellence.
But here’s the truth. Salieri was a good composer. He was just unable to recognize his own worth and his own beauty as a composer, because he was wrapped up in his comparison with Mozart.
Comparison. Thief of joy. (paraphrased quote by Theodore Roosevelt)
This is something that we are all guilty of doing.
The character of Salieri felt that there was this intense competition with Mozart and constantly compared himself…and this whole competition and comparison took place in Salieri’s head. It ultimately crippled and consumed him, and led him to the point of emotional destruction.
I started to reflect. How many times have I been so wrapped up in what others are doing; what they look like; what their accomplishments are; what their lives look like; how their lives are progressing?
This analysis of this movie is not new. But revisiting this movie as an adult put my own personal struggle with comparison into perspective. As mentioned before, the character of Salieri was a fine composer in his own way; he had his own unique style, and for goodness sake he was blessed by God to know music! How many people do not even know how to write one note? As I was watching his destruction unfold, I thought,
What a pity. If Salieri could have just focused on his own authenticity, instead of his own perceived inadequacy, he could have been great.
Damn. Sometimes it takes awhile for the light bulb to come on, and sometimes it comes on like a flash. I said to myself,
Michele, if you could just focus on your own authenticity, instead of your own perceived inadequacy, then you can be great.
And there it is.
What’s funny is at that at the top of my goal list of things to let go of for 2014 is comparison. Be careful what you wish for. You never know what route your Higher Power may take to get you to where you need to go.
Beautiful – excellent of its kind. wonderful; very pleasing or satisfying.
I never knew that I didn’t know who I was. Or maybe I always knew, but there was so much emotional junk that needed to be removed for me to finally embrace who I am. As I have been on this path of emotional recovery and healing, I have discovered who I am. I am continually discovering who I am. The challenge I have found on this journey to my true-self, is acceptance. Since I have been in denial about my authenticity for so long, the challenge is loving myself and having the courage to share that authenticity with others.
This process of self-discovery has been a definite bumpy road. It has not and is not easy. Part of the reason is because I have had to accept the imperfect, less than the best parts of me as a path to learning that is a part of me as well. My ideal self makes all the right decisions, doesn’t make mistakes, performs at the top of her game, and is good all the time. But discovering who I am has not been just about discovering the good parts. It has been about learning and trekking slowly toward accepting my weaknesses and areas of growth. It’s about accepting the places that do not look so good along with the parts that look great and realizing it makes an awesome package.
This authenticity…the integration of the good and the bad, yes, I have come to the conclusion is quite beautiful.
The word beautiful – I believe is an active process. At first glance, something beautiful means that it is pleasing to the 5 senses; specifically what is pleasing in front of the eyes. While that may be a part of it, I believe that there are quite a few not so beautiful moments that lead a person, place or thing to being beautiful.
Beautiful has been my theme for 2013 because I have finally “seen it” within myself. I believe that I am beautiful…even if it is not affirmed or confirmed by anyone else.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. -Helen Keller
There have been several not so beautiful moments or feelings that I have had to peel away. And in doing so, I have had a glimpse of my beautiful core. And now that I’ve seen it, I have something to reach for and remember on those days when external forces try to overshadow my beauty.
My hope is that everyone get that same glimpse of “beautiful” within themselves as we go forward to a new year. Thank you to everyone who has been with me, continued with me, and are just starting with me on this journey. I look forward to more “beautiful” to come.
“Remember, the two-legged and the four-legged are made by the same creator. We are relatives.” -Cloud Dancing (from Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman)
“No creature is undeserving of love. God reminds us of that.” –Today’s Gift from Hazelden
It had been a long week. For various reasons, I was feeling especially lonely and disconnected. That’s kind of how the holidays have been for me. In and out of gratitude, comparison, joy, depression, back again to thankfulness, reflection, and back to hopelessness. Earlier in the week, I had spent time with my best friend, lost hope in what I thought was a promising romance, and learned of an upcoming publication success. The ups and downs of life. Nothing new. I came home Friday night, wanting to share my disappointments and successes with someone in my house. But there were more pressing issues that the people in my house had to share with me. I listened. I responded. I reacted. I worked: took out the garbage, started the car, brought water to my mom, washed the dishes, unstopped the toilet, swept the kitchen, fed the cat. I was needed. I started to wonder, if I didn’t come home, would anyone really miss me? Perhaps if the dishes started piling up. I don’t know. I wanted to run away. Perhaps starting over in another town would be good.
Okay, with the pity party over, I basically felt unappreciated, and codependently unable to ask for what I needed.
Of course the people who live with you are supposed to know what you need!
So Saturday, I slept. All day. My all day slumber was probably 50% depression, 30% exhaustion, 10% disappointment, and 10% guilt and shame for feeling the depression, exhaustion, and disappointment. Got up…ate…slept some more. I was checking out. Every time I felt a hint of emotional pain, I would turn over and sleep some more. It’s not the most evolved way of dealing with feelings, but it’s all I had yesterday. It was the best I could do. Toward the end of the evening, I emerged for a bit and spent time with my family…who were still quite self-focused. I watched a movie and then made a decision to not do this same thing again today. Sunday, I would get up, get dressed and go to church. Yes. Having somewhere to go will help.
That’s where the funny part comes in…
I woke up early this morning feeling the same sadness and hopelessness that I felt yesterday. I said, forget it. Maybe I need just one more day of slumber. It’s freezing outside anyway. I’m just going to turn over and go back to sleep.
The moment I turned over, there was my cat, Samson, on my bed, looking intently at something by his paw. He kept poking and poking at it. I thought it was a bug. But then, I saw the four legs…then the little tail…
It was a mouse!!
A dead mouse. The cold temperatures in Chicago have led those little mousey guys into our warm home. We have an old house and there are lots of cracks and crevices that those little guys sneak through. And my 10 year old cat, being the great mouser he is, caught that little guy, and brought him to his mama.
Disgusting yes. But two things happened here. Be careful what you wish for. Just a few days earlier, I had felt unappreciated. Here, my cat was showing me that not only did he appreciate me, that he loved me enough to bring me his prey to share.
The other thing that happened here was that I was so freaked out and disgusted by this dead mouse in my bed, that I was fully awake and no longer going to turn over and drown in my sorrows. If I was going to cry it out, I was going to cry it out among others. In church community. So I went to church, then took myself to breakfast. And then on to one of my favorite places…as I write this…I am at the library.
My problems unsolved, still feeling rather lonely, but among the living. Fulfilling my purpose through writing these words.
And it humbles me to think that God used two 4-legged creatures to communicate His message to me today:
You are Loved
Get your butt up and show that Love to others.
And so it is.
Dorothy: I just have to take it one day at a time.
Rose: Of course you do! If you take them two at a time, you’d be constantly changing your underwear. (Quote from an episode of The Golden Girls where Dorothy seeks treatment for a gambling problem)
I would like to consider myself a faithful 12 stepper, but honestly, there are times when I want to throw “one day at a time” out of the window. I hate uncertainty. I’m not sure if there is anyone who really likes it, but there are people that embrace living in the moment, looking at life as an exciting adventure; not knowing what’s going to happen from one moment to the next. But I have to admit…I strongly dislike living that way.
My hatred of uncertainty often leads me to NOT live in the moment. I worry about what’s going to happen in the next hour, day, week, year, 10 years! I know I have learned much of this from my mom. I often joke with her because she is usually planning (or worrying about) what she is having for dinner before she has finished breakfast!
Some people have the gift of planning and preparation and of course there is nothing wrong with this. But I think my disdain for uncertainty goes beyond preparedness. I want to control future pain. Or better yet, I want to control the level, the intensity, or I want to completely avoid possible future pain.
Sounds a little crazy right? Worrying about and wanting to control the outcome of something that may or may not happen? It usually makes me crazy.
As with many of my issues, I have to travel back to my childhood to understand. Uncertainty was my enemy as a child. Not knowing what was going to happen from one day to the next was the norm in my house. There were times that things would be going nice and calm and then out of nowhere we would get a call that my dad had been found drunk and passed out somewhere. My mom and I never knew what was going to happen from one day to the next because of my dad’s drinking. It wasn’t always about dad, but there always seemed to be some kind of drama that would unexpectedly show its ugly head.
Uncertainty of course is a part of life; however, as a child, it is difficult to process. The only thing I knew was that one day, I would get “control” of uncertainty. I would eventually learn how to control the outcome of things that happened in my life.
I had never thought of myself as a controlling person prior to entering recovery from codependency. When I found out that “control” was one of the patterns/characteristics of codependency, I said to myself, “now that’s one problem I don’t have!” But as time went on, I realized my control issues centered more on controlling situations, outcomes, and feelings more than actually controlling others. This desperate need to control what is going to happen…or what could possibly happen…or what I may possibly feel because of what could possibly happen…blocks me from living one day at a time.
I have read on more than one occasion that “control is an illusion.”
Even when we think we have control, we really don’t. The truth is that our Higher Power is in control. The only thing we can really do is trust that all is well and there is a divine purpose for everything.
And I am absolutely certain that letting go of the control illusion is one of the hardest things to do.
I made a recent difficult discovery about myself. My spiritual and emotional journey led me to a place that I did not want to visit. This issue may be at the core…or at least close to the core of many of the other issues I’ve discussed on this blog. I’ve recently realized that I have an overwhelming sense of inferiority.
inferior – less important, valuable, or worthy (dictionary.com)
I’ve talked before about my feelings of inadequacy…not being good enough. But I’ve never really explored a deeper issue…the feeling of actually being “less than.”
The reason I say that my feelings of inferiority are “overwhelming” is because these feelings reach so many aspects of my life. Whether it is professionally or personally, there are areas of my being that feel less valuable as compared to others. I suspect that part of it may be from filtered cultural messages, although I rarely blame any difficulties I have on my race. But the fact is that there are racial and social disparities that exist because of this country’s imperfect past. Being a woman factors into this as well.
However, I choose to look at my gender and race as a part of the whole issue, integrated with other mixed messages I received growing up. If I chose to believe that my feelings of inferiority are solely because of my race, why is it that I sometimes feel inferior to other African Americans?
So the bigger issue is most likely a failure on my part to recognize my own inherent worth.
I may have talked about this before, but I used to think that gaining more and more education would somehow make my worth increase and those feelings of inferiority decrease. As I completed each degree, I longed to be able to say these words:
I belong here.
Wherever “here” is. Whether it is in a certain professional or personal relationship, I wanted to feel like I belonged…that I was important…that I was valuable.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am neither ashamed nor do I have any regrets for going as far as I have in my education. I believe that this was set in motion to fulfill a specific purpose in my life and in the lives of those around me. But the interesting thing is that it wasn’t until I was faced with the possibility of not finishing my doctorate that I began to examine and reflect upon what would happen if I never finished and the dream floated away.
On the personal level, I have often felt that I am “less than” in love and friendship relationships. So-called “friends” have treated me like crap because I perceived their lives as being so much more important than mine. And I don’t even want to think about how my feelings of being less valuable have played out in romantic relationships. Moreover, my belief in “social norms” has conditioned me to feel that my current life status is less important than others. So basically those with traditional families (husband, wife, children) are more important that my situation (single, no human children, caring for elderly parent).
I can go on and on about the reasons why I have these feelings of inferiority. There is nothing or no one to blame…only an understanding of what is. But is there a cure or a resolution, or even a program I can work through to get past it?
I will share some insights I have about this in part 2. Stay tuned…
Now that I am learning to love myself, I do not need to please everyone. -Rokelle Lerner (From Affirmations for Adult Children of Alcoholics)
Sometimes I feel that my heart is so filled with love that it’s going to burst. I have so much love to give. And just so you know, I’m not just talking about romantic love. Although most of us yearn for that special kind of love (including me), the concept of love is so much bigger than romance. Going through the recovery process has broken down many walls and opened my heart to know what love truly is and what it truly is not. My emotional journey has filled my heart with so much love, specifically a love for myself that I never knew existed before. At times I’m so filled up, that I just can’t help to share it with others.
I came to the conclusion that the only way to receive the kind of love that I want is to give the kind of love I want to receive. Whether this means showing love to my mom, friends, family, or the cat, I have to be the love I want. But as I have tried to give and “be” this love, I have made a very discouraging discovery:
Some people just don’t want to accept the love I have to give.
This is not a judgment, just an experience. There are parts of my heart that are still difficult to open, so I am understanding of the reasons why others are not able to accept my love. It just makes me sad when my love and compassion are right in front of you, and you refuse to open your heart just a little bit to let it shine through.
The challenge is to not meet a closed heart with another closed heart. I’m learning that if I show love to one person and they cannot receive it, there are others who need it and will be happy to receive it. And if I feel there is no person on Earth that will receive this heart filled with love, I know that God happily receives and cherishes every piece of it.
“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
“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.