I don’t know about you, but I’m still processing the two lists that formed the core of the last two blogs—and I wrote them! There is no “light and breezy” way to name what we have endured and how it impacts us. It’s abuse. That means it’s ugly and it leaves a mark.
Today I want to share a few of the ways I have put myself back together and grown into more than I was before this nightmare began. I live a good life. Yes, it is a diminished life. I lost a great deal and live with many challenges because of the never-ending impact of PTSD. But my life also is much richer because I chose to live the rest of my life differently. You can do this too, in your own way. This blog will help you begin.
The most important piece of this task for me was to act with love towards myself. Some of my long-term readers have heard this before. Others wish I would stop talking about it! But I have to talk about it. It’s the piece I’m most sure is necessary, but I also know it’s scary and unfamiliar to most of us. So, I’m going to list the various ways I communicate what this means, so you have options to engage it.
Love yourself the way you love others in your life—with that same patience, compassion, acceptance, trust, affirmation, forgiveness, joy, creativity, and humour that you give others
Participate fully in your Maker’s love for you instead of scorning it or thinking you know better. You don’t. Love yourself the way your Maker does. It insults your Maker to do less than that.
Loving yourself begins with accepting yourself exactly the way you are in that moment, no matter what is “missing”, “in process”, “present and accounted for”, “disaster zone”, and “unknown”. As Popeye the Sailor sang “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.”
Don’t look for someone else to love you so that you won’t have to do it yourself. That never ends well.
Being afraid of what is lurking within you is only ended by coming close to it and seeing that it won’t kill you after all. Instead it can trigger the compassion you need so desperately to give yourself.
Who would you be if you asked yourself what you owed yourself in this situation or that decision, or this opportunity? Who would you be if you made your needs a priority?
Who would be if your life mattered as much as everyone else’s? Because it does and until you hold that truth as sacred, you will not heal.If you are someone who tries to do the right thing, please start asking what the right thing is for you, for your life, for you needs, for your dreams.
These are the various ways I use to engage the idea of loving myself. Pick one and work with it. I truly believe that we don’t get anywhere without doing this. In working with clients whose adult children turn against their mother and favour their father post-discovery, #4 on this list is critical. Often women get stuck there and flounder in recovery because their husband’s and their children’s love for them no longer sustains them. It’s a devastating experience of unimaginable cruelty and the only antidote is to roll up your sleeves and give that love to yourself even though you never had to before. But we can get stuck like deer caught in the headlights of this terrible injustice. What you would never do to anyone (never mind your own family) is what they are doing to you. And even though you don’t want a new life without their love and support, you will go under if you don’t step in and save yourself with your own powerful love, acceptance, and sense of self. I’m drawing attention to this because it is the single most common and most powerful suffering that my clients endure. In my conversations, every week that passes has this story in it, over and over again. These women deserve better. And they have to give it to themselves.
Finally, in the face of an abuse-denying treatment industry and its colluding religious recovery groups, loving yourself is kryptonite. It is what disempowers their manipulative tactics used to keep you taking responsibility for and accepting an unequally yoked relationship. And if loving yourself ruins that plan, how can that plan be the right plan for you?
What follows is my simple exercise for practical self-acceptance and self-love.
Coming Close to Yourself with Acceptance and Compassion
Make an appointment with yourself, even if it’s not possible until children are in bed.
Find a comfortable place. It might be a chair, your bed, the grass, the deck, etc.
Do a cycle of mindfulness breathing to gather and ground yourself (breathe in through the nose to the count of five, and exhale through your mouth to the count of seven. Repeat five times.)
State your intention. If it is helpful use this statement: I intend to draw close to whatever is keeping me from loving myself. What I fear, I will uncover. What is true, I will discover. In drawing close, I will bring only compassion with me. Nothing else. Only compassion.
Place one hand on your belly, where our emotions gather.
Lay your hand there in the manner and intent with which you would touch a child or pet in order to comfort and assure that child or pet of safety in your presence and love.
Pay attention to the content of emotion held there.
Feel whatever may surface: fear, loneliness, shame, suffering, anger, grief, etc.
Recognize each feeling and name it.
Give yourself the compassion you would show anyone else in that moment. Give it.
Affirm what you have found there saying something like: I accept that these feelings are a part of me. I try not to get stuck in them, but they are always there. The more I ignore them or fight myself about them, the more power they have to limit my ability to live my life with healing. So I accept that in addition to all the great things that are me, these things are also me. I accept myself exactly as I am right now. I choose to give myself compassion and understanding so that I can be whole again.
Place your other hand over your heart as a sign that you are connecting the source of your compassion to the place of your need. You complete the circuit so that the energy can flow through you to its destination.
I like to say as I do this: I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment. And I choose to love myself as I have loved others.
Wait with yourself while this happens.
When you feel you have done this, do another cycle of mindfulness breathing as described above.
Finish this exercise with a statement like: I accept myself. I am participating in loving myself so that I can be whole and free to live differently because of it.
Rest in this outcome.
Set an appointment with yourself to do this again and put it on your calendar.
Resume your life when you are ready.
As you begin to accept yourself and give yourselves some of the gifts of compassion, generosity, patience, understanding, forgiveness, trust, etc. that you freely others, you will ground yourself in this life and achieve a sense of balance and perspective that may have been lacking.
Another trick I learned was to create bridges from the present to the future, because the PTSD symptom of a foreshortened future (#8 on last week’s “impact” list) is still one I regularly must address. Building bridges to the future meant that I took my life seriously and made a commitment to being in it for a while longer. This task is about honoring my life as a real and lasting presence in the world.
Building Bridges to Your Future
Use your phone/device calendar and enter everything you can. For me, this meant:
booking the next hair appointment before I left the salon
setting coffee dates with people
entering administrative dates like quarterly tax payments, renewing licences, etc.
putting concert or entertainment dates in the calendar
noting important birthdays to remember
putting financial goals into “time”
entering blog subscriber goals
reviewing life goals conversation appointments
special events or conferences to remember
writing dates—yes the discipline of a weekly blog is part of how I do this
and more, etc.
In doing this I was anchoring my life in the future with specific things. This helped me to see myself in that future and reminded me of the many relationships that were real, lasting and important to me. It made note of my interests and my goals in life.
I realize this may sound pathetic, but a big piece of my trauma was in the experience of becoming invisible. I had not mattered to the person I trusted and loved with my whole life—my feelings were not even on the radar when he chose to act with contempt and cruelty toward my presence in his life. Further, in the aftermath of discovery there were others who disappeared me and stepped away from my life. The treatment industry also professionalized the contempt and cruelty of men called sex addicts by designing a whole model to re-express it. Since I didn’t recognize the life I was in, it was truly like I had become invisible. Using my device calendar said I was not invisible and moved me safely along a manageable interaction with others and with the normal administration of life. It built bridges for me into my own future, working against the PTSD symptom of the foreshortened future.
Inside this practice is also the gift of having things to look forward to. I have found that I need this desperately. So much of my life is harder than it was, and so much of my life is easier than it was. But I still need something to look forward to. So, make sure you put things into your calendar that give that to you, as well. Even if it’s just a matinee movie on your own, make it matter and build the bridge you need to get there.
On our healing journey, we often chaff at the unremarkable and tedious pieces of how we get better. That’s why so many women spend thousands and thousands of dollars on treatment programs and slick resources and staff certified and licensed in the fine art of doing nothing and making it look like something. But the things I’ve described here are things you can give yourself for free. And I’m a cheap date if you want to debrief on your healing journey or have become “stuck” and some help getting out of the mud. But the primary commitment you need to make is to yourself. That’s a life-changing act of self-love that begins a new life that is worth living.
Are you interested in making that commitment? Are you ready to make it? It will change everything.
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