The Power of Healing

Growing up I struggled with a darkness inside of me. I was born free-spirited and strong-willed. (Trust me, my mom tells me this all the time AND warns me about my son Noah because apparently he has my personality.) Anyway... I didn't grow up in a horrible home. I actually grew up in a very loving home. I never met my biological father (he's somewhere in east bumble frig -- wherever that is) but my Daddy has been there ever since I could remember. When he asked my mom to marry him, he also asked me if he could be my daddy. I had a wonderful dad, beautiful mom, and two adorable (sometimes annoying) little sisters. I was very lucky to have such a beautiful family growing up but yet I still had my struggles.

As adults, we don't always realize how much our childhood affects and shapes who we are when we grow older and yet it has a huge impact. This goes without blame, regret, or passing judgement on what occurred or what was while I was younger but there were some things I had to go through that forced me to grow up a little faster sometimes. I often times felt like I needed to hold the world together and if I didn't then it was going to fall apart, so I spent a lot of time suppressing my emotions. I struggled with trying to make sense of the world as I grew up and faced some painful experiences. By the time I entered high school, I'm pretty sure I was an emotional wreck. I was often manic, impulsive, dramatic, and irrational. I looked for love in all the wrong places. When I was treated poorly, I thought it was because I deserved it and I was unworthy. I allowed myself to be treated with disrespect and flippancy. I despised myself. I hated everything about myself. I craved for someone to love me but yet I hated the very person I was. I abused my body. I abused my mind.

I ran off and got married when I was 18 years old. My husband was in the Marine Corps so we got stationed in Okinawa, Japan and I ran with him to live there for three years. Over there I suffered some of the worst days of my life. I was lonely. I had no confidence to get out into the world and explore. My husband would work 12-13 hour shifts and I would lock myself in my apartment all day long, needy and afraid. When my husband would come home, we'd fight because I was unhappy. I self-medicated with cigarettes, alcohol, and anxiety medications because I didn't know what else to do. I didn't love myself enough to do much of anything. I didn't have my friends. I didn't have my family. I didn't have anyone else but me and I didn't like me.

For almost two years I woke up from terrifying nightmares, screaming out loud, shaking violently, and scaring my husband in the middle of the night. I would toss and turn frantically from how horrifying my nightmares felt and when I would wake up, the pain still wouldn't go away. My thoughts dove to a dark, black, gaping hole that spun around in circles and I was sinking further into it with no way out. My mind was never at ease. My mind was in constant pain and bitterness. I felt sick. I felt mentally ill. I felt physically ill. I felt like I was dying.

One of my dearest friends, a soul sister of sorts, had given me the book "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert right before I left to move to Japan. I kept it on my shelf for a while until one day, while locked in my cave, I picked it up. It took me quite a long time to read it but every time I picked it up it slowly began to heal my soul. I slowly began to learn to love myself... One of the most powerful lessons I learned from that book shaped how I began to control my life and I would like to share an excerpt from the book here:

"...I can choose my thoughts.

This last concept is a radically new idea for me. Richard from Texas brought it to my attention recently, when I was complaining about my inability to stop brooding. He said, "Groceries, you need to learn how to select your thoughts jus the same way you select what clothes you're gonna wear every day. This is a power you can cultivate. If you want to control things in your life so bad, work on the mind. That's the only thing you should be trying to control. Drop everything else but that. Because if your can't learn to master your thinking, you're in deep trouble forever."

On first glance, this seems a nearly impossible task. Control your thoughts? Instead of the other way around? But imagine if you could? This is not about repression or denial. Repression and denial set up elaborate games to pretend that negative thoughts and feelings are not occurring. What Richard is talking about is instead admitting to the existence of negative thoughts, understanding where they came from and why the arrived, and then -- with great forgiveness and fortitude -- dismissing them. This is a practice that fits hand-in-glove with any psychological work you do during therapy. You can use the shrink'f office to understand why you have these destructive thoughts in the first place; you can use spiritual exercises to help overcome them. It's a sacrifice to let them go, of course. It's a loss of old habits, comforting old grudges and familiar vignettes. Of course this all takes practice and effort. It's not a teaching that you can hear once and then expect to master immediately. It's constant vigilance and I want to do it. I need to do it, for my strength. Devo farmi le ossa is how they say it in Italian. "I need to make my bones."

So I've started being vigilant about watching my thoughts all day, and monitoring them. I repeat this vow about 700 times a day: "I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore". The first time I heard myself say thin, my inner ear perked up at the word "harbor, " which is a noun as well as a verb. A harbor, of course is a place of refuge, a port of entry. I pictured the harbor of my mind -- a little beat-up, perhaps a little storm-worn, but well situated and with a nice depth. The harbor of my mind is an open bay, the only access to the island of my Self (which is a young and volcanic island, yes, but fertile and promising). This island has been through some wars, it is true, but it is now committed to peace , under a new leader (me) who has instituted new policies to protect the place. And now-- let the word go out across the seven seas -- there are much, much stricter laws on the books about who may enter this harbor.

You may not come here anymore with your hard and abusive thoughts, with your plague ships of thoughts, with your slave ships of thoughts, with your warships of thoughts -- all these will be turned away. Likewise, any thoughts that are willed with angry or starving exiles, with malcontents and pamphleteers, mutineers and violent assassins, desperate prostitutes, pimps and seditious stowaways -- you may not come here anymore, either. Cannibalistic thoughts, for obvious reasons, will no longer be received. Even missionaries will be screened carefully, for sincerity. This is a peaceful harbor, the entryway to a fine and proud island that is only now beginning to cultivate tranquillity. If you can abide by these new laws, my dear thoughts, then you are welcome in my mind -- otherwise, I shall turn you all back toward the sea from whence you came.

That is my mission, and it will never end."

- Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

It really was the most powerful thing I had ever read in my entire life. Something snapped in me and I began to practice dismissing my negative thoughts. I began therapy with a counselor, group therapy with a women's trauma group, and marriage counseling. I started feeling more confident as time grew on so I started running, taking yoga classes, journaling, painting, reading, singing, walking along the beach, etc... Slowly but surely I started to feel what it felt like to love myself and take care of myself and it all started with my thoughts.

When people think of healing, we often think of doctors and medication but what if healing is so much deeper than that? What if healing is not just the food that we eat or the amount of exercise we do each day? What if healing starts with love. Not just any love, but self-love. Might that be the foundation for healing and beginning to live a healthy and fulfilling life?

I am not saying that it is easy to love yourself because I know first hand how hard it is but when you can forgive yourself for any mistakes you've made or forgive yourself for things that are not even your fault to begin with, it is the most liberating experience you will ever go through. You are worthy. You are strong. You will get through this. It is a hard journey but it is achievable and it will make all the difference in the world. Healing begins with loving yourself and you deserve to love yourself with all you've got!

Has there ever been a time that you truly struggled with your self-worth? Is it something you are struggling with now? What has helped you or encouraged you to find your own strength and begin to love yourself? Please share... I'd love to hear your stories.

Comments

Anonymous
Comment as Anonymous change
Habits for the Soul
Habits for the Soul
I'm glad you found this useful and I want you to know that you are worth it. You can get through this and more! It is not always an easy journey and at times it may seem daunting but there is always a place where you will rise again. Sometimes we feel like we need to get rid of our pain in order to heal. Instead I'd like you to think of "how can I be with my pain?". Sometimes when we allow ourselves to feel that pain, we release a lot of our suppressed emotions simply by allowing ourselves to acknowledge that we truly are in pain and that may become the start of your healing.
Anonymous
Anonymous
Struggling now with this, but this article helped a lot.