As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. Do you have life lessons that would have helped you through a difficult time? Share those with The Band as you write a letter to your younger self.
Dear 14-year-old Me,
I'm writing you this letter from the future. I know, right? Pretty awesome. The future is pretty cool! No flying cars though.
I'm writing you this letter - specifically to YOU, 14-year-old-self - because I think you really need a hug.
When The Band here announced this month's world tour, at first I felt like I wanted to write a "everything gets better!" letter to you. Then I went to visit my therapist this week, and she asked me about our childhood. She wanted to know what lay behind the self-destructive behavior we had.
I sighed. You know why: it was just so much. More importantly, I just didn't want to go there.
I know you don't want to go there. You don't want to remember the pain, the suffering, the loneliness, the sense of just not being good enough.
Neither do I.
But you know what, babe? I am going to go there.
Because we were lonely.
Because we were scared.
Because we were just a child.
And because our past shapes our present and our future selves.
Believe me, I wish it didn't. I wish I could say that I am where I am, who I am today, despite that past. That I don't 'let' our past define who I am or what I do.
After my therapist visit this week though, I've been humbled. That insecurity, that pain, that loneliness? It's still there. The memories do not go away.
I'm not saying this to make you feel even more desperate. I know you've been binging in secret, trying to throw up. I know you've been trying to cut yourself, to help dull the emotional anguish inside. And babe, I know the incredibly mean voice you've developed when you speak to yourself. It makes me so sad to know that you believed those lies in your head.
You are NOT ugly.
You are NOT worthless.
You would be sorely missed if you were gone.
You ARE loved, even if your parents don't know the best way to show that. Even though they hurt you, and make you believe otherwise. You ARE loved.
Now, let me tell you this.
I love YOU. I love ME.
I am here, right now, sitting next to you. I am giving you the biggest, the best, the longest, and the warmest, most sincere hug you have ever received. I want you to feel how much I care about you, and just how sorry I am that you had to be the parent from such a young age.
I can't write that without crying. I can't write that without imagining our daughter (!!!) being five or six or seven and having to bear all that shit on her tiny, innocent, and beautiful shoulders. My heart aches when I remember the loneliness.
Now that I am embracing you, I want you to feel that I know all this, all of you, and I love you. You are not alone. And you do not have to do this alone.
Please, feel the compassion I am offering you. Feel the love, and let down that strong exterior. I am here now. You don't have to pretend it's all okay, you don't have to be afraid that I'll pull the rug of security from under your feet. Together we are stable.
Together we can cry. It's okay to be sad about the loss of a childhood. It's such a precious thing to lose. Admitting that we lost it - it is hard. But you know what? It wasn't your fault. You were just a child. There was nothing you could have done.
The only thing we can do is be compassionate, and be forgiving.
Through forgiveness, and through acknowledgement, we're offering our baby girl the childhood we didn't have. I am doing my darnedest to work on my own issues, to continue to grow in love and in peace, to make sure our sweetheart knows she is loved. That she can trust in us to make everything okay. So that she can be the child.
With all the love in the world,
Your 29-year-old self.
I doubt that the gentleman who said that to me knew what he was actually saying about my life.
It happened in Walmart a couple of days ago. I was standing in a line that wasn't moving because the cashier was too busy conversing (with her hands) with the customer she should have been checking out.
The next line over was moving, slowly but surely.
I've noticed that whichever line I am standing in just happens to be the slowest in the store; yet it never fails that if I move to another line, it instantly becomes the slowest moving line in the store. So, I stayed my happy ass right where it was, thinking murderous thoughts about this cashier who wasn't doing her job.
I stood there, trying to smile (or at least trying not to erupt in blind rage at this damned cashier) because I might be the only NA Basic Text that someone ever sees.
And what would it say about 12-step recovery if me and my NA tattoo were standing there acting like a fucking donkey in public, when in reality I am powerless over cashiers who aren't doing their jobs?
I'd gone in to pick up water hoses, because when you live in an RV and the water hose explodes, there is no flushing the toilet.
There I stood, holding my water hoses, for all this time; while the cashier talked with her hands instead of doing her job. I watched the people around me because people fascinate me.
In that next line over, I noticed a mature man and his wife. He was on oxygen; she was on the phone, asking the person on the other end, "Didn't you check Facebook?" The man was holding three items, waiting patiently and trying to smile, just as I was.
Some time later, my line still hadn't moved. The guy on oxygen had finally gotten to the register and placed his stuff on the conveyor. He looked over at me and told me to cut in front of him. He said to me: "You've carried that burden long enough."
Could he see into my soul? Could he read my thoughts?
Here I was, trying to at least act spiritual and appear to have all this patience, while in my mind I was dismembering the cashier and removing her hide.
I almost cried, y'all. And not because my arms were that tired from holding those water hoses.
Because this man had spoken such a great truth about my life before I found NA, and before I found The Band.
I had carried the burdens of: losing a parent as a teenager; being an addict; being a survivor of domestic abuse; a modern woman's struggle with body image; the list could go on indefinitely.
This man, with his act of kindness and his innocent words, had triggered an avalanche of emotions, mostly good ones.
Gratitude, for starters.
Gratitude for this man's act of kindness. Gratitude for the ways my life is different today. Gratitude that I don't carry those same burdens today.
This man, and his random act of kindness, changed my perspective and my attitude. The weird hours I'll be working this weekend, those annoying questions I'm answering about the eighth step of Narcotics Anonymous, that dumbass cashier who was using her hands for conversation instead of her job - all of these worries just fell away.
I am grateful to that man today. (We'll see how long this gratitude lasts. I'm only human, after all.)
He reminded me that today, I don't have good days or bad days. What I have are days; what makes a day "good" or "bad" is my attitude about it.
He reminded me of all the burdens I carried for so long, those burdens that I don't carry any more. He reminded me that when I do have a burden today I don't have to carry it alone.
He reminded me that "We are none of us alone. We are all connected."
I carried my burdens long enough. I don't have to carry them alone anymore.
If that man only knew how profound his words were, how profound their effect on me.
Thank you, sir, for your random act of kindness. Thank you for giving me an attitude adjustment. Thank you for helping me have a "good" day.
Up to 1% of the population has been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
This is the beginning of her story.
Today, I am processing.
I'm going back and rereading the information packets I gleaned from the hospital. I'm trying not to retrace the time line of abuse and neglect, but I stumbled upon a feeling I did not expect.
I feel compassion for my mother. She was abused and chose flight to escape that reality. I see the pattern clearly and I understand that she did not know how to heal. She escaped her abuser by marrying a guy who neglected her and pleased himself.
She became pregnant to try to satisfy her desire for unconditional love. She became pregnant again in hopes that the second child would give her the unconditional love she craved, since the first child needed too much from her.
I am the first child.
I do love her unconditionally, I just don't understand her. I needed her as a baby and she could not be there for me because of her own wounds.
This is where my story begins.
She wouldn't be happy that I'm ready to tell it. She wouldn't agree that this is the path I need to take to "get over it." She hasn't dealt with her own abuse. She doesn't know how long I've looked for these answers, this journey of self discovery.
She has three daughters, all of us survivors to the best of our abilities. All of us seeking to undo the damage done, to release ourselves from our own personal hell.
All of us diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder.
I have Dissociative Identity Disorder: I fractured into seven alters that I know of. My younger sister fractured as well. The youngest had the support she needed to overcome her obstacles. She suffers, but fights like hell to maintain a happy and healthy life.
I'm sorry, Mom, it's time to tell my story.
Empathy - the intellectual identification of the thoughts, feelings, or state of another person; capacity to understand another person's point of view or the result of such understanding.
It looks so simple when pulled from the dictionary, but in practice? It's one of the most difficult emotions to truly feel.
We say it a lot ... "I know how you feel" ... and by definition that is empathy, but do we really know how someone else feels? Can we ever?
I have a long-time blogging friend who has led a rather sheltered and privileged life. Now in her 30's, she owns her own home, is an attorney, purchases $200 sunglasses, $180 jeans and carries a $300+ pocketbook, and can often be found on her iPhone or passing some time reading her Nook.
Don't get me wrong, she has worked hard to get to where she is professionally. Yes, she's had a few breaks along the way - breaks that are seldom offered to those whose families are not high up on the socioeconomic ladder - but that doesn't diminish her work to get to where she is.
Recently, she found herself in a waiting room with a group of people whose path she doesn't normally cross - people who depend on medical services offered in spite of their inability to pay for them. People who were wearing dirty, clearly second or third hand jackets and holey shoes. In that moment, she felt (her words) "a strange combination of elitist-ism and embarrassment."
I think what she really felt was empathy.
I know, you're asking yourself how in the world someone whose socioeconomic status is well above those wearing dirty, clearly second or third hand jackets and holey shoes could feel anything but sorry for them, or superior to them, but stay with me here.
I've been one of those people. I've spent chilly November nights sleeping in a car at a Wisconsin rest stop because I had nowhere else to go. I've had to stand in line at a food bank so that I could feed my son. I've worked a non-union, factory job for minimum wage, robbing Peter to pay Paul.
I've also lived in a 1/2-million dollar home and had to report a six-figure income to the IRS.
I've been fortunate to see, and more importantly feel, both sides of the proverbial tracks. When living out of my car at the Wisconsin Rest Stop? I felt embarrassment - embarrassment that I am certain felt very much like the embarrassment my blogging friend felt.
Yes, it came from a different direction in my case, but that feeling? It's the same for both of us.
So often we look at people - read their stories - and think, "I just can't identify with that." I think we can.
I think if we dig through our life experiences, we have the ability to experience empathy - to really understand another person's point of view (different than our own) by understanding the feelings associated with the experience.
We don't have to agree with everyone to have empathy. We don't have to have the same story to feel empathy. We just need to have experienced the same feelings, and be willing to open our minds and hearts to a different point of view, whether we agree with it or not.
Sympathy. We all know how to do that.
Somebody's child dies, we go to their house and take food, we attend the funeral, we feel sympathy for them. We feel sorry for them. We may even pity them and think to ourselves, surely this can't happen to us. But we're removed from their feelings. The pain is so huge, we don't even WANT to try to understand it. So we sympathize.
Do you know how to EMPATHIZE, though? Sometimes having empathy for someone is easy and natural. I, for example, could naturally empathize with that person whose child died. I've been there. I KNOW how it feels. I can actually put myself in their shoes and feel the pain and trauma of what they are going through. Hell, I don't have to put myself in their shoes, mine fit just fine and have the same pain. For someone, though, whose husband was killed in a car accident, I am naturally unable to empathize. I've never been there - never had to wear those shoes.
But what I CAN do is try.
I'm going to imagine that MY husband was killed. I have 2 kids at home and now I have to think about going back to work because I stayed home with the kids. I have to try to explain to everyone who asks what happened. I have to teach our children about their Daddy. How do I feel? Do I get over it quickly? Do I stop crying after a month? Do I need my friends more than ever to try to feel like I'm normal and not a leper who has lost an arm? What do I need? Think about it. Put yourself in their position - as hard as it is - it will make you a better friend.
We are all quick to make a hasty judgement of how we should respond to a situation. In a world of all-things-instant, we want an instant response. Sympathy is easy. Unfortunately, it typically comes across as pity. And nobody wants to be pitied. Do you? I know I don't.
So for our February venue and exercise, let's try to learn to be more empathetic towards others. Let's do a few things to work on not making quick and rash emotional judgments and step back, think and THEN move forward.
Empathy is really hard to put into words. It's such an abstract and uncomfortable thing to do if it's not natural. But taking time to feel more than sympathetic for someone and saying the traditional "I'm sorry" makes you a better friend. Sympathy is fine, but empathy is better and it leads to having compassion -- and compassion is contagious. If you're compassionate and empathetic towards others, people will see it and want it. They'll want to be compassionate and empathetic just like you. It creates a cycle that everyone wants to be a part of.
Once you start being empathetic towards others, you'll become that way towards yourself. You'll find peace within because you're understanding and listening and looking deeper before acting. So in turn, by practicing empathy towards others, you're being kind to yourself.
Go forth, Pranksters and rock some empathy!
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