I have spent an awful lot of time in my life trying to reconcile some pretty impossible conflicts.
It all started when I was very young.
I grew up in a religious system which was very fond of emphasizing Just How Bad We All Are. How we are all born into this world as terrible, wretched sinners, and how everything about us is offensive to God and makes God very angry, and how all that we deserve is to be eternally punished by God. But maybe, if we grovel and abase ourselves enough, God will grudgingly agree not to smite us down from the heavens-but only if we agree to remember in every second that we really do deserve the smiting, and never ever dare to think of ourselves as anything better than the sniveling worms we truly are.
(I know that I tend to exaggerate a lot in the interests of humor, but I’m actually not exaggerating this. See: Why I No Longer Participate In Organized Religion)
And at the same time that I was under constant bombardment by this dogma, I was also being told that I was supposed to love God, and do everything for God, and want to spend all of my time with God.
Um, I don’t think so.
It never made sense to me, why I should want to have anything to do with a being that was reported to hate me so much, but because I wanted to be A Good Girl, and I wanted people to like me and approve of me, and I certainly wanted God to like and approve of me, I did my best to follow this convoluted system, which pretty much boiled down to agreeing to lose my mind.
It’s probably not a coincidence then, that from then on I always seemed to find myself in situations where who I was and what I wanted never measured up to The Way I Was Supposed To Be-from not wanting to have a professional career, to the fact that I was born female, instead of male.
Well, I couldn’t fundamentally change who I was-I couldn’t not be female, or not want what I really did want-so instead, I came up with a brilliant alternative:
I decided that if I could figure out some way to suffer “enough”, then I would have paid some kind of cosmic price, and then I would be free to live in whatever way I wanted.
Or in other words, I must never be too happy.
I don’t need to describe the multitude of ways I’ve found to punish myself over the years. We all know them. And this self-hatred, in whatever form it took, eventually became my drug of choice, the substance I would turn to whenever life got too intense for me to handle.
Well, that has kind of become a problem for me lately, because of my intense commitment to personal and spiritual growth. Because right now I am happy, and I am living exactly the way I want to. And so now I am anxiously waiting for some supernatural force to come and collect on my promise of constant suffering, and force me to “pay” for this happiness in some way.
I’ve been laboring under so much anxiety lately-it feels like trying to hold back the ocean with my pinkie. And then, in the middle of trying not to drown under another anxious wave, I got it.
Whenever I have felt this anxiety before, I have always thought, “Oh, if I could just figure out a way to change myself or be different, I would feel better.” That has been the way that I continued this legacy of self-hatred.
But today, for whatever reason, a brand new thought slipped into my head, and I got it. The way for me to change or be different has nothing to do with figuring out how to earn more money, or losing weight, or turning myself into some kind of Stepford Wife.
The way for me to feel better depended only on one thing: in this moment, when I felt like I was drowning under the weight of all that anxiety, what was I going to do? Was I going to try and soothe myself by going down the old, familiar path of committing mental violence against myself, of trying to hate and abuse myself into feeling better, of trying to satisfy some kind of imagined angry deity by eviscerating myself on my mental altar?
Or was I going to consider the possibility that there might be another way to do this?
I’ve gotta tell ya, turning away from my old pattern of thinking is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my entire life.
And I’m choosing to do it anyway.
I’m choosing kindness to myself, instead of self-hatred.
And I feel like I’m going to explode out of my body with anxiety.
I’m choosing to be gentle with myself, instead of telling myself just how much I suck.
And I feel like I just might drown in any moment.
Moment by moment, I’m choosing another way. THAT is how I’m changing this.
It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done.
Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk says
Good for you! I made that decision for myself years ago. For me it was liberating and not that hard, because I realized I was loving and compassionate to other people but not to myself. How dumb was that? I do think my nonjudgmental attitude towards others was the key for me. Anyway, hang in there and let us know how it goes.
Oh, Jenny. You’re at the tipping point, where all the work you’ve done is going to pull you over to the other side. And trying out feeling something different is oh-so-weird. Brava for hanging in there, and allowing those new thoughts to surface. Pretty soon the old ones won’t have the same power over you, cuz you’ve got yours back. Baby steps, in every moment.
It is the hardest work you’ve ever done, and now that you’re doing it, your work with others will take on that wisdom as well, from experience.
Lynne Morrell says
Becoming self loving is a challenging focus especially when you were brain washed to believe that being self loving is a sin. I wasn’t raised with fire and brim stone…but, I had my early years in classrooms filled with unloving nuns who seemed to want to crush anything that was about self love.
Great idea if you think about it. All the “religious” freaks from way back when, got together and had a conference asking each other how to best get control back from the masses back. Some dude (because women were NOT invited!) said “I know, lets take away self love…that will really crush the people and bend them to our will!”
And history was made….
All I can say is…you are a brave babe Jenny…always have been…always will be!
Square Peg says
“… we are all born into this world as terrible, wretched sinners, and how everything about us is offensive to God and makes God very angry, and how all that we deserve is to be eternally punished by God.”
That sounds just like my mother, except that I *also* had to eat her cooking.
Seriously, great post. Have you been reading “Living in the Light” by Shakti Gawain? This is the kind of transformation she writes about.
Also, consider treating yourself as you would treat a dear friend or someone whom you might mentor. If your best friend found herself in the perfect relationship with the ideal job, would you tell her that something bad will happen to her? Or would you say, “I’m so happy for you! You deserve it more than anyone else I know. Can your husband teach my husband how to do the dishes and the laundry?” Etc.
Good luck. And you *do* deserve it!