Leave Yourself Alone

At the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the nineteen eighties, I received a card from death and dying
advocate, Ondrea Levine. On the front, it says, “Treasure Yourself.” Inside it says, “Love is the optimum strategy for healing.” I know this, I’ve said it many times, but I still find it difficult to see myself as a treasure, worthy of love and respect from other people and most importantly, from me. That sentiment doesn’t stay with me even though I look at the card every day.

I often wonder why I’m so kind to other people and so mean to myself. What will it take to convince me that I’m okay? I was beating myself up one afternoon which is unfortunately a common pastime. I can’t remember why or what it was about, which is telling in itself, but I must have done something very bad. Why else would I be so self-abusive? I was scolding myself about making a mess of things, when I stopped a moment and realized, “If someone else were treating me like this, I’d call the police.”

So what’s so terrible about me that I need to constantly rebuke myself? When I review my life, I don’t see any criminal behavior that deserves punishment. For the most part, I’ve been a loving person who shows up for her friends and encourages them when they need
it. I’ve faced my trials with as much courage as I can muster. I’ve made mistakes, of course, but they were never deliberate and when I do something hurtful out of ignorance, I apologize and learn the lesson.

I was in a workshop with Ms. Levine and her husband, Stephen, when he described healing as “touching with love that which has been touched by fear.” He asked us to stop hurting ourselves because we were fine exactly as we are. That was a hard concept to
digest. We were over one hundred people and for two days, Stephen kept saying, “When are you going to have mercy on yourselves?” When I looked around, it appeared that everyone knew exactly what he was talking about, like I did. But doing it was a whole different story.

I don’t think that thrashing ourselves is a human trait. I think it’s a learned pattern that had been lodged so deeply into our thinking for so long, it’s hard to find the roots. We try to figure out why it’s there, but if we practice forgiveness instead of finding fault, if we can just leave ourselves alone, the “why” of it doesn’t matter. What matters is recognizing the hurtful behavior, finding compassion and softening
our attitude toward ourselves. Motivational speaker, Louise Hay, said, “You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

As a writer, I interpret that angry, demeaning voice as my inner critic, an ogre who whispers in my ear and takes great pains to coerce me into feeling badly about myself and what I’m creating. He or she, depending on how you see it, is relentless about proving that you are inadequate and always will be. A friend of mine was
inconsolable after he read William Styron’s brilliant novel, Sophie’s Choice. The story line, the characters, the dialogue and the politics were so authentic, he was too intimidated to pick up his own pen. When I suggested he use that book for inspiration to write his own, he said, “Why bother? Styron just did it perfectly. What’s left to say? The last thing the world needs is one more bad book cluttering the marketplace.”

He denied himself the opportunity to use that book as a green light instead of a stop sign. In her Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling describes a prison called Azkaban that doesn’t have doors or locks. It doesn’t need them. The jailers are what she calls “Dementors,” foul wraith-like creatures that hover in the ethers, draining the prisoners of all hope and happiness, leaving them paralyzed with despair.

Like the Dementors, the voice that eats you alive has one main objective – to discourage you from doing anything that will bring you pleasure or fulfillment. It’s a punisher, but pain doesn’t deserve punishment. It deserves compassion so you can find the gumption
to get up and start again. Maybe you’ll succeed the next time and maybe you won’t. Either way, life will become a gentler place if you soothe yourself when you fall down, pluck up your courage and lend yourself a helping hand. I heard a wise woman say, “When I lost my husband, we were living in a remote place with no people around so I had to learn to hold my own hand.”

I believe that healing, the thing that we took birth for, may take a lifetime commitment but it is within our grasp. We don’t have to wait to begin. All we have to do is leave ourselves alone and remember that we are absolutely fine, just the way we are. Then the real work can begin.