Learning to look up

For most of my life, I’ve walked with my head down.  Mostly as a preventative for tripping, but also due to a lack of confidence.  Lack of confidence in my ability to walk, lack of connection to the ground beneath my feet, lack of having any awareness in my feet, for that matter.  But also just for a plain, good old-fashioned dosage of self-deprecation.  If I looked down, maybe no one would take notice of me.  No one would make fun of me, and I wouldn’t be able to see the stares of people as I transitioned from my ugly duckling phase into the body of a pretty lady.  First seeing stares of disgust, and then stares of desire, both energies that I felt equally uncomfortable with.

I thought that maybe if I hunched enough, I could just disappear.  And in one sense I did disappear.  I disappeared into the space behind my eyes.  Looking at the ground, I withdrew into myself.  Into my thoughts, my daydreams, my emotions.  My fantasies for what my life could be like instead of what my life actually was like.  The space behind my eyes was a magical world, full of endless possibilities, not limited by my physical body when it experienced so many injuries, so many months on crutches.  Not limited by my emotional body, which kept me guarded from people, from relationships, from life.  In the space behind my eyes I was free.  I was strong.  I was so very different from the person who I saw when I looked into a mirror.  From the person who I felt that others saw in me.  So I just avoided looking.  I looked down, I looked away, I avoided making eye contact with my true self out of fear of what I might find there.

Until I came here.  Until I had a moment, where, in an instant so suddenly felt that my head snapped, I finally learned to look up.  When I finally wanted to look up.  When I finally felt grounded enough to trust my feet to hold me and to feel their way through space.  To trust them to guide me wherever I need to go.  To take the time to look at my present surroundings and to enjoy each moment.  Each moment of safety.  Each moment of beauty and of life.  Each moment of enjoying that I am a part of each enjoyable moment that I experience.  Slowly moving, drinking everything in with my eyes as I watch the sepia tones of sunset dance off leaves my size as they curl their protective arms overhead.

I feel like most of my life has been a journey towards learning to look up.  Towards learning to look myself in the face, in the soul, in the eyes. No more looking at the ground, Lauren, waiting to trip, scared to fall. I finally have the courage to face my life head on.  Head up.  Eyes forward.

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Be Kind to Yourself

Recently in the blog, I’ve been exploring the idea of forgiveness.  Of forgiving yourself, and of forgiving the people who’ve hurt you.  Here’s something to keep in mind as you struggle with the issue of self-judgment:

“My beloved child

Break your heart no longer.

Each time you judge yourself you break your own heart.

You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring of your vitality…

Let go.

And breathe – into the the goodness that you are.”

Post that above your bathroom mirror, so that every time you see yourself, you’ll view yourself with kindness.

Check out my new blog!

Hey everyone!  So before I go any further, I want to let you know that I will DEFINITELY continue to update this blog, but I wanted to share with you a link to my new blog.  This blog is (I like to think) a little more humorous, and more geared to my life after my experience of abuse, and is more about finding my sense of humor once more, and teaching yoga in my current location of Costa Rica. Check it out and let me know what you think!  Hope you enjoy!

http://searchfortheperhaps.wordpress.com/about/

Forgiveness

I spoke in an earlier blog about the need to forgive yourself.  In terms of healing, forgiving yourself is the most important thing.  As I spoke of already, the biggest challenge and most radical change we can make sometimes is just to love ourselves.  So if you haven’t already read those blog posts, I recommend you start there.  If you have, or if you are exploring the idea of forgiving someone else, read on.

If you’re anything like me, you were raised in a conservative church atmosphere that preached forgiveness as a necessity to being a good Christian.  Growing up, I was taught that I am required to forgive someone, no matter what they did.  No matter how they wronged me, or how sick and messed up they are.  In this version of forgiveness, I was told that it was my job to tell that person that I forgave them, and then it was their decision whether or not to accept my forgiveness.  That view was then supported by my abusers.

“You have to forgive me, or otherwise you’re a bad person,” my brother would say after he’d hurt me.  No wonder I viewed forgiveness as a terrible, horrible thing.  Forgiveness was essentially a license awarded to my abusers that allowed them to continue hurting me with a cleansed conscience.  No wonder I, for the longest time, refused to forgive.

Well guess what?  I’ve got a bone to pick with that type of forgiveness.  Maybe I wanted to explore my confused views about forgiveness.  Maybe I wanted to know if that’s really all there was to this big, overused, misunderstood word, “forgiveness.”  I couldn’t shake the feeling that some people really found peace through the action of forgiveness though, so I had to look into it.

The following is what I discovered in my search for forgiveness:

The most important was the radical idea that forgiveness is not for someone else.  It’s not so that my abuser’s conscience can be assuaged.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that I give someone permission to hurt me again, permission to be in my life again, or permission to do anything at all, honestly.  Forgiveness is for myself.  Forgiveness is a way to let go of the past a little bit, to find some peace, some release.  It’s something I will never let my brother know that I’ve done.  I will probably never tell him that I forgive him.  Because again, my forgiveness is not something for him to accept, it’s something for me to let go.

Forgiveness is not easy.  It’s NOT required.  And honestly, if you’d like, you can go your entire life without ever forgiving someone or some situation.  But that’s not how I want to live.  I feel like if I cling to something my entire life, whatever it is, a bitter thought, a tragic flashback, my childhood abuse, anything negative, that I will allow that negativity to permanently have control over my life.  And I don’t want that.  I choose to take control over my own life.

But forgiveness didn’t come naturally.  Like I said, I had to forgive myself first.  I had to find healing within my own life first, compassion for my situation, kindness to my body, mind, and soul.  I had to go through counseling, support groups, yoga therapy, travel halfway across the country, start dating again, read countless self help books, and talk to what seems like a hundred other survivors before I could even consider the idea of forgiveness.

So what made me finally decide to forgive my abuser?  It was the blinding knowledge that I knew he couldn’t defeat me.  The realization, again after years of healing, that what he did to me would not control the rest of my life, because I wouldn’t allow it.  It will not ruin the rest of my life either, because I refuse to let hurt and bitterness govern the rest of my days on this planet.  I am confident now that my life from here on out will be ruled by love, by compassion, by my ability to set boundaries and stick to them, and by my ability to recognize red flags and avoid allowing negative influences into my life again.

Ultimately, forgiveness is my way to finally, finally, be free from his control over my life.  Forgiveness does not mean that my brother is back in my life.  It does not mean that I will ever allow him to hurt me again, because I most certainly will not.  It doesn’t mean that I trust him, that I’ll talk to him all the time.  In terms of outward manifestation, my decision to forgive him will not change how our relationship of hardly seeing each other or ever communicating works.  But that’s okay.

Because I have forgiven myself.  I have forgiven him.  And the feeling is one of beautiful, sweet release.  My life is now completely my own.

The truth about abuse

Here’s a quote I stumbled across when reading “Into the Wild,” by John Krakauer.  It’s not actually from that book, but it’s in the perspective of a man reflecting on a son’s estranged relationship with his father.  For me, it sums up nicely (if it’s really possible to use that word in this type of situation) the true feelings that come with being abused:

“He is mad about being small when you were big, but no, that’s not it, he is mad about being helpless when you were powerful, but no, not that either, he is mad about being contingent when you were necessary, not quite it, he is insane because when he loved you, you didn’t notice.” (From “The Dead Father”).

It’s not the fact that his father was in control, powerful.  It’s the fact that the father didn’t care, didn’t even notice or take note of the suffering that he was causing his child.  It is this lack of true attention, the lack of kind attention, that is the hardest for me to come to terms with in my own story of abuse.  I just wanted someone to notice that I was being hurt, someone to validate me, someone to look at me with kindness and to forgive the broken creature that they found in me.

Ignoring life, ignoring the truth, ignoring the suffering of others, is one of the most dangerous and heartbreaking aspects of humanity.  Or at least in my life.

Battling Loneliness

I’ve written before about how to finding an antidote to loneliness, but now I wanted to pass along a few ideas of my own about the subject.  I especially like to write about this topic around the holidays (ie Valentine’s Day), because I feel like it’s when many people  feel the loneliest.  Or feel like a “failure” because they maybe don’t have a romantic partner to buy them flowers and a card.  You are not alone, even though you may be feeling lonely right now.  Here are some different activities that I’ve been able to think up that can help you get to know some new friends, and maybe eventually a special someone.  Instead of viewing “Single’s Awareness Day” as something you’ve somehow failed at, take the day as a challenge to put yourself out there again.

First and most importantly, do what you love.  It sounds cheesy, but if you are out and about doing what you love, chances are you’ll meet other people who are doing what you love as well.  That’s just a piece of general advice, but here are a few more specifics:

Volunteer.  That’s right, get out and help your community.  Some great places that always need volunteers include animal shelters, local hospitals, museums, churches, community tree-planting/clean up projects, Habitat for Humanity, wildlife sanctuaries, local parks, community gardens, food pantries, homeless shelters, retirement homes, local libraries.  Find something that sounds interesting and start getting involved.  Even if it’s only for an hour or 2 a month.  Get out there and give back.  I’ve found when I’m connecting with people or places in need, and other volunteers who enjoy helping out, I feel a lot better about myself.  I feel like I have a mission in my community, and I’ve met some of my best friends by getting involved in local organizations.

Get involved in the arts community.  If you are at all interested in theater, art, ballet, etc., then start going to see shows!  There are community theater organizations, poetry slams at coffeehouses, live music all over the place, at bars, restaurants, music venues and more.  Even if it’s just you, go to an upcoming art show, join a museum as a member and start going to the different events.  The arts community is a small world, and eventually you start seeing the same people.  Familiarity makes it a lot easier to build friendships.

Become a regular somewhere.  Whether it’s a restaurant, coffee shop, bookstore, bar, wherever.  Go there on a regular basis and eventually people will start to recognize you.  You can make new friends and have interesting conversations.  This is a great way to make new connections.

If you have a dog, take them to the dog park.  You’ll meet other dog friendly people, loving pet owners, and people who just like to go outside in beautiful weather and enjoy the sunshine.

Join a gym.  Or a yoga studio.  Or a crossfit class, the mallwalkers, or just start going on a regular schedule of runs through your favorite park.  Even if you just go to a gym and do 15 min of walking on the treadmill, you’ll eventually start to recognize people, talk to people, hang out with people.  Start going to yoga workshops, meditation workshops, or any other workshops around town.  Sometimes different gyms have groups that meet up to play basketball a few times a week during lunch as well.

Take a class.  Take a class at the local university or community college.  Take something that sounds interesting.  Whether it’s formal or informal, you can meet people for study groups and get to know people who share common interests.

Join a meet-up group.  This is a great way to meet people who share common interests.  You can participate in groups that are just for social purposes, groups that like to play board games, hike, rock-climb, groups based around certain age groups, etc.

Join a religious organization.  If you’re religious, get involved in whatever religious community you believe in.  Whether it’s a synagogue, mosque, church, ashram, buddhist temple, or anything else.  Get out there and start meeting people who believe the same things as you!

Join a book club or writing group.   A lot of local libraries have book clubs, or local bookstores.  Check in the classifieds section for writing groups.  Start attending lectures at book festivals, or at a nearby university.  Expand your mind and your social network at the same time.

The point is, the possibilities to end loneliness are out there, you just have to put on your confidence pants and go take advantage of them!  It can be scary and intimidating to start tackling your loneliness, because at first you might have to go places by yourself, but what you can gain and discover in the process is completely worth it.  So go on, try something new.  Ultimately, the best advice I can give is to find something that makes you feel fulfilled, hopeful, helpful, and happy.  You’re bound to make new friends when you’ve got your own inner light shining out your eyes for all the world to see.

And hey, the worst that can happen is that you don’t like the activity you tried first.  In that case, you can just try something else.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, after all 🙂

 

Fresh Start

New Year’s resolutions.  For many I feel like it’s simply an exercise in dieting: lose weight, don’t eat this, don’t eat that, shed the holiday fat, miraculously become a new person.  As if during that 10 second countdown on New Year’s Eve before the clock strikes 12 or the ball drops, your life will change completely.

And maybe, for those lucky few, their life really does change.  Good for them.

But perhaps we put too much pressure on ourselves.  Too much pressure to say, this year I will forget about what happened, move on, “be healed.”  Especially in this day and age, we expect to see results fast; to be able to measure them with rulers and goals, awards and achievements.  When it comes to healing though, our bodies and minds may not quite work that way.  We can’t force ourselves to be “over something.”  We can’t snap our fingers, wave our wands, and forget.

But we can’t give up either.

This year I challenge you.  I don’t challenge you to force yourselves or to reach enlightened, nirvana like healing.  I challenge you to be kind to yourself.  To accept yourself for exactly who you are now, in this moment.  To see your beautiful flaws that only make you human and to forgive yourself for them.  To forgive yourself for what happened to you when you were younger.  This year, I challenge you not to change yourself, just to change how you view yourself.

It’s easy to get caught up in the new year – new you, you’re not good enough, rush.

But this year, become radical enough to love yourself.