Radical Self-Acceptance

Journal Date: Saturday, December 19, 2020 2:45pm

I’m at home, in my room right now. I just got back from a walk around the neighborhood.

As I walked, I listened to Tara Brach’s book, Radical Self-Acceptance. (And cried).

It was an emotional experience.

It’s been so hard for me to have compassion for myself.

But that wasn’t even the most painful part.

I found myself even having compassion for people like my mom.

I found it co-existed there with all the anger and resentment and everything else I feel toward her.

It doesn’t take that away, and it doesn’t change my decision not to have any contact with her.

But I was able to see how frustrating and full of pain her own life had been. And how that continues. And how most of it is due to Abuelita, to her own mother. For no other reason than Abuelita’s own pain…

And I could see how difficult it must have been for mom to have me as a daughter.

Not through any fault of my own, really—I’m not buying into that anymore.

But I saw how likely it was that Abuelita was putting an extraordinary amount of pressure on my mom back then to dominate and control me, just the way that she had done to my mom.

I can even see how I may have appeared to my mom—maybe I really was the greatest source of her misery, the way she made it seem. I’m sure she suffered from her mother’s constant criticisms about not controlling me or punishing me enough.

It must have been hard having that woman around her, constantly criticizing, shaming and rejecting her.

And yet…

That still doesn’t absolve her of what she did to me.

It doesn’t mean that she had no choice.

She was in pain, she suffered,sure; but that doesn’t mean that there was no possibility for her to have had compassion for me, her daughter.

She still had eyes to see me cry, ears to hear my grief; and she chose to turn away from it.

She chose to add fuel to the flames, to kick me when I was down, and to abandon her own child completely.

I have done many stupid and foolish things, but—I know that it is possible to refrain from abuse, at the very minimum. And to even feel compassion and care.

I know, because I could do it for my mom, despite everything.

There’s no reason for her not to have been able to do the same for me, despite her many challenges.

So that was one of the first times I cried.

The second time was as I listened to Brach tell a story of a woman who was dying of AIDS, and the priest who was trying to comfort her, to no avail.

Brach tells us:

“The priest saw a framed picture of a pretty girl on the dresser.

‘Who is this?’ he asked.

The woman brightened.

‘She’s my daughter, the one beautiful thing in my life.’

‘And would you help her if she was in trouble or made a mistake, would you forgive her?  Would you still love her?’

‘Of course I would!” cried the woman. ‘I would do anything for her. Why do you ask such a question?’

‘Because I want you to know,’ said the priest, ‘that God has a picture of you on his dresser.’”

Brach continues, “You might find that as you’re listening, that if you can just invoke a certain image, maybe an image of someone that you really know and trust loves you, that just the remembering of that person opens the heart a little.”

Hearing that story was very painful for me.

I had no one’s image to invoke; there was no one out there I could trust ever loved me (I ended up just thinking of my dog, Beso).

And the way the story was told, how it was so naturally just assumed that the mother loves her daughter, “would do anything for her…”

How that is just so normal, such a matter-of-fact, assumed feeling that she would have towards her daughter… well, it really highlighted how abnormal my own experience was. How much of a loss it truly was. 

That it’s not just me being “too sensitive” or “overly emotional” about the way I was treated. No, it’s perfectly normal for me to have been upset about such a loss.

It’s perfectly normal for me to have suffered deeply for the lack of all the love and care I never received.

That has always been a major component of my pain that has gone unacknowledged.

I’ve always been told by everyone else in my family that “everything’s fine” and that I’m upset in any way, it’s because there’s something wrong with me.

I have had no right to grieve.

I have not even been allowed to tend to my wounds, because I was only further punished for even recognizing their existence.

I have been barred from any compassion, or any semblance of basic human dignity.

Unwilling to care for me, they denied me the right to even care for myself.

I was to have nothing. To be completely bereft was the only outcome they would accept for me.

And in their eyes, this was good and right and just. It was only what I deserved: nothing.

You Are Free to Go

Journal Date: Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The past nine months that I’ve been living here with my parents has been an opportunity to revisit all of the same dynamics of my childhood, only this time, with the eyes of an adult.

It’s been difficult, it also, in some strange way, very healing.

Because I see that all the ways that I adapted make sense.

I’ve seen that all of the things I have hated so much about my personality have their roots in what my family demanded of me then, and still do now.

And it’s not that I am irredeemably fucked up or “bad” or crazy or any of these things they have always demanded I believe about myself.

It’s that I needed to act a certain way to survive.

The truth is that I truly was in a very difficult, dangerous situation, and I just did what I had to do to get by and make it through to the next day.

Now that I see this, I’m finding that I’m able to have infinitely more compassion for myself and who I have been.

One of the things I’ve hated most about myself has been how shy, shut down and awkward I have been for most of my life.

I have punished myself relentlessly for this. I have beat myself up mercilessly for how “weird” I am. I’ve never forgiven myself for not being “normal.”

This has been one of the greatest sources of distress for me for years and years.

I’ve accused myself of all the same things my mother did in response. Fundamentally flawed, fucked up, irredeemably WRONG, hopeless and “a lost cause.” I was not okay, I would never be okay, and this was why.

Now that I know better, I can see this as the trauma response that it was.

I was constantly stuck in a “freeze” response. 

I was always shut down, frozen, unable to move, unable to speak, God forbid I try to “be myself” (that would be completely out of the question).

Well, now I know that it’s not that I’m just “wrong.”

These things make sense.

It wasn’t safe for me to “be myself.”

It was hardly safe to even just be

I was attacked constantly, regardless of what I did. Nothing was ever acceptable.

I was terrified of opening my mouth, and of the punishment and humiliation that would inevitably ensue.

And I’m not exaggerating, either. I wish I was. It really was that bad.

I’ve just been lying to myself about it all these years.

I haven’t wanted to face the truth about what I have been living.

But it’s time now.

Lying about this isn’t serving me anymore.

Maybe I needed to in the past to survive, but not anymore. Now it’s just keeping me stuck, and I’m ready to move on.

“There is no lariat snare around your ankle stretching from way back there to here. You are free to go. It may not have turned out to be a ‘happily ever after,’ but most certainly there is now a fresh ‘once upon a time’ waiting for you from this day forward.” 

–from Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with The Wolves

We are often confused about what we must do to begin holding ourselves and others accountable.

We have this idea that in order to create change, we must prove how someone has been wrong and demand immediate punishment.

This is a roadblock to our change. This is what blocks us from being better people.

When we know that we will punish ourselves, or be punished, in a way that is unforgiving and without mercy, we become unwilling to look at ourselves and the ways in which we may have caused harm.

Instead, we cling to denial. We push away anything that would make us stop and pause to examine our behavior, for fear of the pain or destruction to self this would entail.

Compassion is NOT an avoidance of accountability. It is the the PRECURSOR to accountability.

When we are able to look at the ways in which we have harmed ourselves or others in a way that accepts the context of where we were at, that acknowledge our full humanity and the limitations of our perception, only then we have the capacity to do better.

You can create space for your full complexity to exist, even while acknowleging ways in which harm was done.

No one is ever entirely good or bad. No thing exists in a vacuum.

When we hold each other tenderly, it creates space for change. It nurtures accountability. It is a source of continual growth & evolution.

Today, you can practice seeing without rushing to judgement. You can practice understanding with care & concern. You can practice seeking justice without demanding destruction.

Justice without mercy is not justice. Accountability requires faith in our shared humanity. Let’s do this with care & concern, from today forward.