Cultivating Compassion for the Self: My “Second Wind”

woman looking outside window
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

It feels as if this beautiful, old home has been closed up forever. The windows have been nailed shut, barely allowing sunlight to pierce through, shattering fractals of light on the sheets that were haphazardly thrown, in haste, on the furniture years ago. It has been easy for me to become wrapped up in the problems of today, burying the past with my sadness and grief. By buttoning things up tightly, I had become more rigid, allowing this stuffy and dark place within me to expand until it nearly engulfed me completely. Perhaps, I felt that by uncovering joy, I would somehow be “giving in” and surrendering to the hurt that “erased me” in the first place.

Wasn’t it here, in this old home, where I twirled effortlessly as a small child, giggling, as I dizzily dropped to the wooden floors? Stepping into this space, I can nearly smell the apple pies my Grandmother cooked each Thanksgiving when she visited. The faint smell of leaves burning outside comes to mind as does the feeling of donning a new, fuzzy sweater to wear outside in the cool, crisp Autumn air. There is no other time of year that pulls me back to the place of my childhood than the beginning of Fall. As I begin to embrace myself wholly, memories flood my being, filling me with a sense of home.

Healing the trauma in my life, in large part, has been a process of stripping the sheets from the furniture and taking the boards off of the windows to let the light flood in. Trauma will keep you trapped in one room, even crammed into the corner of it. I could tell you every tiny detail of the room I was caged in for so long, because I spent hours ruminating in that suffocating space. I was the master there, until I became a slave to the emotions that evolved as a result of being caged for so long. It was only in the desperation to free myself from the despair and stagnation, that I began chipping away at the cell, exposing light amid the crumbling structures I had so hastily built in an effort to protect myself.

For years, like many others, I did my best to avoid feeling pain by continuously distracting myself, often engaging with people or pursuits that were unhealthy, even damaging. I was creating chaos, or at minimum accepting it in my life, because I felt if I surrendered and sat still with the pain, it might just swallow me whole. There were times I believed if I gave the pain in my life the space it needed to breathe, I might end up endlessly sobbing. My pain felt, to me, like the water behind a dam, and I feared that the act of acknowledging it would mean an irreversible break, causing immense flooding. Perhaps, I would not recover. Thus, the untouched pain in my life continued to expand until it became intolerable.

I found myself in an insufferable space, locked up by my memories, pain, and fear for years. Only one room of my old home was accessible to me, and I remained there, justifying the paralysis and stagnation as years passed by. Even though there was definitely validity to the trauma I experienced, I admit now that I had developed a very narrow focus that ultimately was harming me the most. I was unwilling to “let go” of a space that paradoxically felt both “safe” and “deadly” at the same time. At one point in my life, this confining space kept me safe and my fears more manageable, while years later, it has served to suffocate me, stunting my growth as well. I took this shell of safety with me to work and also into relationships, which limited my ability to truly relate to others. It took years of suffering to learn that the light in my life was every bit as relevant as the darkness. Although there is still so much in life that troubles me, I’m now able to let in the light while “letting go” of the reigns that I’ve been holding so tightly. This flexibility is necessary to provide me with the balance needed not only grow, but also to experience more joy in my life.

As I heal, I find myself uncovering joy in a variety of areas in my life. Even with those individuals that I can no longer have in my life, I acknowledge the love and light we shared between one another. I feel grateful for our memories and feel tasked to not discount the love, joy, or light associated with them, even if certain of the memories are extremely painful. I want to recall the joy experienced in these now fractured relationships, not just the darkness. There have been too many memories that I devalued and brushed aside on the basis that they were heavy with pain. I no longer want to erase any part of my life, no matter how painful, because I have discovered that I have learned from each experience, even those where I have felt shame, embarrassment, or desperation. Time has taught me to appreciate the many layers of my life of which are complex, rich, and even fragrant. I feel compelled to rip the sheets off the furniture and strip the boards from the windows, breaking the seal to allow in the crisp, Autumn air. In doing so, the memories continue to flood in, filling me with the depth and beauty of the wondrous life I have lived that I have often ignored and buried. I now am finding myself ,more often than not, embracing the memories that are met with longing and a deep sense of appreciation.

Standing in this space, I feel one of life’s greatest accomplishment is the act of self love and forgiveness. We are bound to ourselves, unable to escape, and thus must learn to truly love and accept ourselves.

Opening the windows wider, there is so much to see and to feel. It is painful and beautiful, and yet, not one fraction of this life should be discounted. It all counts, even if you have lost people that you have loved along the way. I let so many pieces of myself “leave” when others went away, often valuing their existence over my own. At times, I felt the pain would consume me, and yet I am still here, not only opening the windows, but leaning out a bit more into the cold and damp air, breathing in the scent of wet leaves as if to say: “Give me more of this life”.

There are certain fractured relationships in my life that exist primarily because some people who I love, are not only caged in a room, but backed into a closet. I do not know what is in their mind or in their heart as I can only see the chaos surrounding them. There has been drug use, dishonesty, and withholding information. These people I had to walk away from because I no longer could “relate” to them. They seemed to have walked away from themselves and I honestly do not know who they are anymore. However, I have decided to honor their place in my life anyhow. Just because they are no longer with me does not mean they did not bring my light at some point along my journey. I’m hopeful one day they will heal, but because I love myself, I see the value in having strong boundaries until they are ready to connect in healthier ways..

I am, however, opening up and allowing the love and light back in to fill the spaces that sat in darkness for so long. I won’t define my worth any longer by someone who left me. Instead, I will honor the light that was once there and the memory of it. I am doing so in order to cultivate more compassion for myself. Often, I blamed myself for other leaving when perhaps it was their time to go. I clung to those who left, placing my worth and esteem with them. When they walked away, I felt myself leaving and there were years I left myself over and over again. I felt lost and abandoned. I was left alone in that small, suffocating room and these were the darkest days of my life.

I must have wanted to truly heal, because I began saying it out loud and often. I knew I had endured a lot of loss in my lifetime: never knowing my real father, never having children, a divorce due to my spouse “coming out”, a failed engagement from an abusive relationship, a loss of an entire family due to substance use (my sister and her kids), loss of employment, loss of my health (became disabled as of last year), and current loss of independence (living with someone). I am even struggling right now with a loss of fifty pounds due to difficulty swallowing both food and liquids. All of these losses were devastating and truly stripped me of so much and yet, I still desire self love and the possibility of healing. I look back at my life and I can see times of clarity where it is obvious that healing is an endeavor that I am destined to embrace.

I’ve learned throughout the process that cultivating compassion and allowing light in from both the past and present is instrumental to healing. This also involves a fair amount of self forgiveness. I became aware over time that the ineffective coping mechanisms that were caging me were not my identity, but were employed in effort to protect me from pain. Because pain is a process to “go through” and not to avoid, my attempt to escape it became messy. This, at times, caused confusion and self loathing because I identified with my coping mechanisms and felt “bound to them”. Now that I am a step or two away from that mindset, I can forgive myself for the suffering I endured.

As I let go of so much of which I was holding so tightly to me, there is room to remember the light and joy in my life. I also find myself being flooded with memories that were made with  loved ones who still remain distant. I had pushed these memories away and had buried them in order to protect me from pain. But in my healing, I am able to embrace the memories as part of my experience of which I gained valuable experience. These memories, even if painful, at times, are now weaved into my very fiber and I wholly embrace them as they helped shape who I am today. I no longer look back at “my mess” and feel ashamed, instead I honor the hard work and pain I processed in order to become more whole.

I am just me, imperfect and full of flaws. I realize the more I cultivate compassion in my life, the more joy unfolds. I’m letting go of all the labels I have worn, placed by friends, family, co-workers, etc. and recreating myself with self compassion and love. This endeavor was always an option, I just chose to avoid the pain in my life that I had to acknowledge in order to arrive here. I’m glad I kept pushing. I still have so much more work ahead of me, but cultivating self compassion by allowing joy in my life may just be the “second wind” needed to travel onward!!

 

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