Holding Your Own Hand

“When my husband
Stephen died, I was living in a remote place with no people around so I had tlearn to hold my own hand.”

                                                                             – – – Ondrea Levine

Loss shows up in an abundance of different ways. A partner walks out on you. A close friend betrays your trust. You get fired from your job. Your favorite white blouse goes missing. Your partner cheats on you. Your dog breathes his last breath. A loved one becomes ill and dies. Whatever the loss, it hurts, and when you find yourself alone
with your pain, you have to figure out how to hold your own hand as you walk the rocky path of healing your heart.

I was five when my great Aunt Ruth passed away. I loved her so much, I believed that the two large moles, one on her forehead, one on the right side of her chin, were beauty marks. To me, she was that beautiful and I looked at my face in the mirror each morning, hoping that a mole would show up on my forehead.

Aunt Ruth lived with us and every day, she and I took a walk to the neighborhood market where she bought me a piece of chocolate and we put a dime in the slot of a cardboard square for “The March of Dimes.” She went to the hospital from time to time but I had no  idea why because no one told me she had cancer. I was seven when she passed away and I was filled with sorrow and emptiness. After my mother told me that my beloved aunt was gone, she went to her bedroom and closed the door. I don’t remember what my father did, but neither of my parents asked me how I felt. On the day of the funeral, I told them I wanted to go but they said I was too young. I watched them walk out of the house dressed in black and they left me behind with a depth of sorrow I didn’t understand. I had to find a way to cope so I hid my aunt’s red suitcase in my closet, I rubbed her Jergen’s Lotion on my hands and I climbed into her bed so I could inhale her smell. That was my childhood version of holding my own hand.

While the above is a powerful example of the need for self-soothing, the little things also show up as wounds that need healing. However small, they deserve our loving kindness. Here’s an example of something that sounds so insignificant, it almost embarrasses me to
write it, but at the time it mattered in my heart and mind, and it needed my attention.

I was twenty and I’d been married for several years to the wrong person but that’s a different story. We were living in England at the time, managing a denim store in Brighton. I was young and insecure, I had judgments about my body and I remember rummaging through
the latest arrivals of jeans when I found a pair of bell bottoms that fit me perfectly. I thought they made me look slim and I took them home and put them in my dresser. The next morning when I got up, I opened the drawer where I had tucked the jeans away and they were gone. I called the shop where the “wrong person” was serving customers.  

“What did you do with my jeans?” I asked him.

“We were out of stock and someone wanted them,” he said. “I sold them. You have plenty of jeans.”

As petty and unimportant as this sounds, I felt anger, I felt betrayed, and then I began to feel loss. My husband didn’t understand how important those jeans were to my self-esteem and if I tried to explain, I knew he would make fun of me. I felt betrayed andI had to find a way to soothe myself. We lived in an apartment in a crescent at the end of a long street and I climbed a huge elm tree, sat on a thick branch and cried for a while. I watched people walking underneath me, they never looked up and saw me, and the safety of the tree and the scent of the leaves soothed me.  acknowledging my emotions and allowing them to be real. I was holding my own hand.

There are as many ways to calm ourselves and heal our pain as there are creative paths.  Listening to music, deep breathing,
painting, dancing and writing soothe us, anything that forces us to dig deep into the center of our spirits to have compassion for ourselves and heal our hearts. In his poem, “Servant to Servants,” Robert Frost wrote: “The only way out is always through.” That’s how we get to the other side. No matter how chaotic and dramatic the situation, if you stay with your feelings and not abandon yourself, you’ll be able to heal your wound.

I’ve found that the most important way to hold my own hand is to leave myself alone and feel my feelings, whatever they are. However insignificant they seem. It’s important to not attach shame
to an already painful situation. Listen to yourself, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing. Look at yourself, even if you don’t like what you’re seeing. Feel the pain, even when you want to run away. Stop judging yourself for judging yourself. When a betrayal or a tragedy happens, people gather round for a while but the time comes when they go back to their homes and to their lives. When no one is there for you, just grab your hand, hold onto it, and take the ride. When
you’re at the helm of your feelings, if you can gentle yourself along and treat yourself with kindness, you’ll feel seen, heard, soothed and perfectly safe.