Sometimes people write to me with awful stories about things they’ve been through that would break your heart- childhood abuse, neglect, abandonment, violence at the hands of other people, feelings of being powerless, worthless or invisible. Is that fair, when there are people who start out in a loving environment with every advantage, and two parents who want nothing more than to nurture their tender hearts and natural curiosity? Of course not, it’s not a level playing field. We’re given what we’re given, and our power lies in how we decide to respond.
“Why me?” is not where it’s at. Why not you? Why not any of us? Life is full of the kind of knifing heartbreak that can bring you to your knees without warning, and it’s also full of the kind of beauty that can rob you of breath and language and everything but awe and gratitude. If things are good in your world, cherish the people who are gifts to you and share the gifts you’ve been given. If things are not so easy, or have not been good in your world, my heart goes out to you. Sometimes it can be very dark and confusing and alienating and lonely. Sometimes you go through the kind of grief that makes it hard to imagine the muscles in your face will ever make their way into a smile again.
Here’s the thing–everyone has pain, and everyone suffers. Talk to people if you don’t believe me, even the ones whose lives look perfect on the outside. The only way to avoid pain in this world is to detach to such a degree, I don’t know what the point is of being here at all. Some people have more pain than others. Some people have endured loss that makes it hard to breathe, or put one foot in front of the other. You can look back on your life and make a list of all the things that have gone wrong, and of all the people who’ve disappointed you, or abandoned you or betrayed you. You can take your list and use it to explain why you are the way you are. I did it myself for years, so believe me, I get the desire to make it someone else’s fault. Blame lets you off the hook, you don’t have to work on yourself, you can just sit there in your anger and your righteousness and point fingers. It gets old. Also, if you’re over twenty-five, it’s time to stop, and even that is kind of late.
Your life is yours. Whatever has happened, has happened. You could also decide to look back on your life and make a list of all the people who taught you about love. Maybe you had a great teacher who cared, who saw something in you. Maybe you found solace in certain books, or when you went for long walks by yourself. Maybe you learned something about beauty from being out in nature. Maybe your best friend has been like a rock of hope and loyalty in your life. You could make a different kind of list, and use it to explain why you are the way you are. Why, against all odds, you believe in yourself. How it is that you know how to love, even though the people who were meant to love you when you arrived here, didn’t have the tools to do it. You could pick different moments to highlight.
Healing is hard; it requires your willingness to be brave and to look unflinchingly at any patterns, habits, and stories you might be carrying around with you that are keeping you stuck. It means you take those fingers you’ve been pointing at other people, and you point them back at yourself, but not in an aggressive, unforgiving way, in a kind and curious one. You take your power back. You don’t give it to the people with whom you’re angry anymore, you unhook your journey from theirs. You embark on something new, but first you have to go back and make sure you understand what happened. You go back with compassion for yourself and mourn the loss of whatever it is that was taken from you–your childhood, your innocence, your belief that people could be good and loving and trustworthy. You look at that stuff and you grieve for what it is that’s been lost to you, but after you’ve spent yourself, after you’ve examined your pain, and let it wash over you and through you, you pick yourself up. Now you understand your tendencies. Now you know yourself. You don’t have to live in your past unless you keep feeding it.
Your present is full of potential, and believe me, there can be beauty in it, and love and joy and laughter. You can use your pain, your understanding, your insight, your compassion, to help other people who are still stuck and suffering. If you want to feel that your life has meaning and value, find a way to help someone else. It’s the most fulfilling thing I know. You can shine a light, offer a hand, a shoulder, an ear, your kindness, and in that way, you help them, and you make your suffering a thing of value. It meant something, it was worth something; it made you who you are, but not in a way that closes you, not anymore. There’s beauty in that. We’ve all felt alone in this thing at times, but we aren’t.
Sending you love,
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