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It was the hurdle I needed to open up to the possibility of healing.
Before that moment of allowing self-compassion, I was closed to healing.
It was too scary, too unsafe, too much for me. I needed to open up to the idea that I wasn’t a terrible person, wasting my life, being degenerate, awful, lazy, and any of those other words my shame likes to fling at me.
I had to open up to the idea that I was human, in pain and struggling, and that I was worthy of love and merely trying to be alive in the human experience, like every other human.
Compassion is a tough one for many of us to swallow—the voice in our head of self-judgment (shame), denying our innate lovable humanity, can be so loud.
Our culture encourages this lack of humanity, demonizing oneself and others, always ready, it seems, with a bar to measure ourselves against one another. Who is worthy of care, attention, acceptance, and love—and who isn’t?
It took a dramatic and painful act for me to finally believe I was worthy of compassion. Thirteen years ago, 23 weeks into pregnancy, after weeks of illness and alarming experiences, I lost my little girl—and almost myself.
The violent, earth-shaking grief was like nothing I had experienced before. For months, I couldn’t close my eyes. My body would overtake me with panic and fear, and I thought I was dying every time I wasn’t awake.
I stayed up night after night playing solitaire and listening to Buddhist talks—the only way I could get through the night. By day, I would go to my demanding job in a sea of anxiety, sleep deprivation, and a haunted state of panic.
My three-year-old son was grieving too, but we didn’t know how to be in this grief together. I didn’t know how to hold him because I didn’t know how to hold myself.
My husband closed down, overwhelmed by it all, another chasm of grief that had opened up too quickly after losing his father. My husband and I were like two bubbles floating in the same space but unable to come together.
When we have learned to deal with pain alone, as many of us have, the only place it feels safe to be in pain is when we are alone. But this further alienates and separates us from the things that would help us heal: love, being held, acceptance, and togetherness.
We didn’t know how to deal with grief. In this culture, a lot of people don’t. We push through it. We make food for people in the days after, without realizing it takes months, years, to move through the undulating experience of grief.
We avoid people in grief because we don’t know what to say or do, in case it activates them, not realizing that for so many in the throes of grief, to talk about their loved one is what they yearn for more than anything.
The feeling that life is different now. We are living in a different world from those around us. We are separate, in our own bubble, trying desperately to save our sanity, usually by some hardcore suppression.
But of course, the body knows that it doesn’t work like that. We can’t suppress grief. We can’t escape it. The only way out is through—surrounded by love and support and acceptance and connection. To be supported and loved through grief is the only way we can hope to be with it and come out not unchanged—because grief will always change us—but not damaged by wrestling with it.
But this is not how we have learned in this culture, in this moment in time, to be with emotions and other people’s emotions.
My family tried to help me, of course. And they were there in so many ways. But we were all lost then—all dealing with our things, our pains.
I came to self-compassion because my shame and grief filled my body with hateful thoughts about myself in the months that followed after losing my baby girl:
>> Perhaps I was to blame for this?
>> Maybe I had lost her because of something I had done?
>> Why couldn’t I get over this quicker?
>> Why did I have to leave that meeting because of an urgent need to cry?
>> Why couldn’t I be a better mother in this critical moment?
I was lost in a torturous, sleepless sea of grief and fear and shame. One day, it suddenly occurred that all of this judgment I was piling on to myself made no logical sense. I wasn’t some arch-criminal responsible for epic crimes against humanity. I was a young woman struggling to get my life together and live as good as a person could be.
My life was shattered by grief. Were my self-judgments valid?
Perhaps the piece that pushed me over the edge was this almost film-like memory I had of remembering when I had to say goodbye to my daughter—I promised her that I would be a better person.
And it struck me, this image of a broken-hearted woman, having to say goodbye to the child she had nurtured for all of these months inside of her, and all she could say was she would be better.
How horribly sad that made me feel.
It was in that moment, when I had a clear vision about what I was doing to myself, that I allowed a crack to appear in the wall of judgment, a slither of piercing, loving light broke through, and that is what saved my life.
I had to accept that I was worthy of love, even in a tiny way at first, even if it was only opening myself up to the possibility that I was worthy of compassion.
It wasn’t a quick fix. My healing continues and always will. But it was a defining moment—that piercing moment of allowing compassion in for myself in the same way I would willingly, eagerly, offer others compassion.
Compassion is an offering that we can give ourselves to know that underneath all of the experiences and mistakes, the mess and the chaos, there is a good human being within who wants to be fully alive, expressed, and living in the best way possible.