Cross-posted with Recovering The Body.
Today I have a guest-post about self-compassion running on Jill Salahub’s very cool site, A Thousand Shades of Gray. I love following Jill everywhere—on Facebook, in her emails that arrive so often. Jill is a sister on the trail of questions we’re asking together. Thanks for including my work in this wonderful group of essays you’re collecting.
One lesson I’ve learned this year: hurting people I love is inescapable. Unless I decide not to have relationships.
I really don’t see myself as a hermit.
I’ve hurt a few people I love recently. Earlier this year I committed series of acts that gave another person tremendous feelings of hurt. Just yesterday I found out from one of my best friends that I’ve been saying some things that I had no idea were hurting her.
The first hurt is an example of making choices in the service of myself, my own best interests, that just happened to hurt another person. I knew they were going to hurt this person. I avoided taking the actions because I knew it would cause great pain. Day by day, if I were going to stay sober, I had to take the actions, and I was appalled to watch the pain happening, like waves rolling into the shore.
For some weeks I sat at the window watching the waves rolling by, my heart squeezing in empathy and doubt.
I second- (and third-, and fourth-) guessed myself. I didn’t turn back.
In the second example, I found out I’d hurt my friend yesterday only because I’d taken the risk of telling her something she’d said just that minute that had hurt me.
Her hurtful speech had occurred in conversation yesterday. But it turned out that, when I rolled over and showed my belly (when I, in Brené Brown’s parlance that Oprah is now making universal, “became vulnerable”), she bared her teeth and let me know I’d been saying things that had hurt her feelings for a while. And then when I yelped in surprise and pain, she rolled over onto her back. And there we were, two puppies on our backs in the dirt, paws waving in the air, yelping our hurt.
After rolling back up onto our feet and talking about it, we were able to chase each other and play again, as our dogs do on our morning walks.
“I’m being vulnerable here!” I said. “I have to practice what I read about!! I can’t just read it and not DO IT, right?”
(You’re such a loudmouth, my mind says.)
“If we can’t tell each other these things,” she said, “who can we tell?” A space in my chest opened in gratitude for a friend who is willing to engage in honest conflict. Not many are.
Still, I walked away yesterday morning with my throat choked up. Interesting that it was my throat. Was my body trying to squeeze the words I’d said back inside me? Trying to keep myself from ever speaking again?
Or was it just that the throat is the locus of the voice, and this is where the hurts had occurred—with our voices?
I’m learning that the body and mind are in conversation. They’re one, they’re intertwined somehow, and I’m beginning to think that the way they’re intertwined is through this conversation, a kind of discourse. What kind of discourse is it? How is it conducted? These are some of the questions I’ve been asking lately.
The mind tries to force the body to walk away calmly and get on with the day. The body is able to cooperate only so far before rebelling with some action: butterflies in the stomach; pain in the head; fatigue in the flesh. Choking in the throat.
When the mind ignores these statements by the body and tries to push the body through, the body protests in a louder voice. Nausea, inability to eat; cluster headache, chronic daily headache, migraine; chronic fatigue syndrome. An inability to speak up, a silencing of the body’s voice in critical situations. Such as true relationship.
Craving to drink, smoke, use something.
So the mind and body engage in a struggle for domination.
Dr. Sally Gadow, a Ph.D. nurse and leading scholar in health care ethics and the phenomenology of the body, writes about this struggle in a fascinating paper, “Body and Self: A Dialectic.” This paper itself (my friend pointed out yesterday) is an academic paper, so its expression is in the language of the mind, the intellect, and Gadow herself offers this caveat inside the paper. But I think what Gadow enacts in it is an effort to respect and give voice to the body.
To report from the body, which has long been one of my projects.
The struggle for domination is the second of four levels of development Gadow says have to take place if the body and mind are to transcend their “dualism,” their two-ness, and begin to work together as one to express each other’s interests. In this second level, “the two are not only distinct but opposed—each alternately master and slave.”
The second stage describes addiction.
The transcendence describes sobriety. Freedom from slavery.
Yesterday, driving home with my throat choked up, I thought about self-compassion. My mother trained me early to feel compassion for the pain of others. Hurting someone else without knowing it is one of my worst fears in sobriety. I used to numb this fear, as well as the reality that I’d hurt other people, with drugs.
“How will I know I’ve hurt you if you don’t tell me?” I asked my friend.
“You’re right,” she said.
The question underneath the choking is, Does my friend really love me?
Doubt rises up. If you’re going to get her to love you, my mind tells my body, you have to fucking SHUT UP.
(And stop swearing so much!! She said I swear too much.)
But anyone who knows me know my language can be strong, fierce. Is it just who I am?
To make things right, I know I have to change my behavior. But do I need to change myself?
Do I need to change to be loved?—an old, old compulsion.