Soundtrack to a breaking heart

music

Trigger warnings: depression, abuse, suicide, lots of emotions

I am a musician at heart. I took many years of classical piano lessons, which taught me how to feel each note and appreciate each dynamic chord. Speaking of the word chord, I find the various definitions of the word to be incredibly fitting. According to dictionary.com (n.d.), one definition for chord is: “a combination of usually three or more musical tones sounded simultaneously.” Right below this definition on the website is the following definition: “an emotional response, [especially] one of sympathy.” Music and emotions are synonymous. You can’t have music without emotions. And emotions can be explored and interpreted with the aid of music. There is a reason that music therapy can “promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, [and] promote physical rehabilitation” (American Music Therapy Association, 1998-2018). Simply put: music is powerful.

For this very reason, a lot of people have playlists for different moods or occasions. Whether we are in love, heartbroken, feeling festive, or even just going to the gym, there’s a song for that. I personally have a playlist with a simple name: Heartbreak. It’s frustrating how frequently I turn back to this playlist. Maybe it’s bad luck to keep it on my phone, but it’s easier than recreating it every time I need to lose myself in some melancholy tunes. The songs represent some of the most painful moments in my life. They bring back memories of heartache, but also bring comfort and reminders that life isn’t as hopeless as I may think right this minute. Since they have been such a big part of me for so long now, I thought I would share them. There are so many feeling and emotions associated with each song, but I did my best to categorize their message. I have so much in common with people experiencing various types of heartbreak. Each of these songs are dedicated to you. I see you.


To the used and abused

Christina Perri: Jar of Hearts (2011)

I know I can’t take one more step towards you

‘Cause all that’s waiting is regret

Don’t you know I’m not your ghost anymore

You lost the love I loved the most

 

I learned to live half alive

And now you want me one more time

 

And who do you think you are?

Running ‘round leaving scars

Collecting your jar of hearts

And tearing love apart

You’re gonna catch a cold

From the ice inside your soul

So don’t come back for me

Who do you think you are?

 

I hear you’re asking all around

If I am anywhere to be found

But I have grown too strong

To ever fall back in your arms

 

And it took so long just to feel alright

Remember how to put back the light in my eyes

I wish I had missed the first time that we kissed

‘Cause you broke all your promises

And now you’re back

You don’t get to get me back

 

I don’t know which is more difficult: getting out of a mentally/emotionally/physically abusive relationship or staying out of one. It takes a special kind of person to use and abuse another human being. Thankfully, I have never been physically abused, but I have been to hell and back with emotional and mental abuse. I have been taken advantage of. I have been stabbed in the back. I have been used for my generosity and forgiving nature. And in spite of that, my abusers have had the audacity to request I stay with them. They make empty promises with their fingers crossed behind their back.

This song brings tears to my eyes for a number of reasons. The lines “who do you think you are? Runnin’ round leaving scars, collecting your jar of hearts” is a reminder that abusers don’t stop at one. If they have beaten you down, chances are they have beaten down others before you and will beat down others after you. That is a person to get away from. Don’t go back. On the other hand, I love the defiant strength that builds throughout the song. The rose colored glasses are off. The game is over. Find that inner strength and don’t go back to that life. You are strong! You are a beautiful soul! Don’t stand for abuse of any kind.


To those with regrets

Britton Buchanan: Where You Come From (2018)

I trade guts for glory
I trade love for pain
I trade my tomorrows
If you just say my name
This spoon and this needle
This blood in my veins
I’m an innocent victim
On a runaway train


But it’s time to let go
It’s time to break free
From these sins that I hold
And this blood that I bleed
Don’t say goodbye
You don’t have to hold on
The place where you come from is gone

This. I love this. It’s okay to set your regrets free. We’ve all made mistakes. We all have actions we wish we could undo, words we wish we could unsay, and pictures with 90’s hairstyles we wish we could burn (for those born in the 90’s or later….shut up…your time is coming). I get chills when I hear the line “Don’t say goodbye – you don’t have to hold on.” Give yourself permission to let go. Give yourself the go ahead to stop beating yourself up about things you can’t go back and change. Regret, guilt, personal grudges…they accomplish nothing except cause you pain. We can never move forward if we are constantly looking back. If you did things you regret (who hasn’t?), the present is your opportunity to change for the better, to shed that old self, and take the first step into the rest of your life. Don’t let past mistakes keep you from experience the life staring you in the face right now. My cousin recently reminded me of a brilliant Bob Ross quote: “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents” (n.d.). Each happy accident opens new doors and offers opportunities to learn humility or practice forgiveness. Acknowledge those experiences and move on, rather than focusing on them and holding on. You’ve got this.


To the fighters

Julia Brennan: Inner Demons (2016)

They say don’t let them in

Close your eyes and clear your thoughts again

When I’m all alone, they show up on their own

‘Cause inner demons fight their battles with fire

Inner demons don’t play by the rules

They say, “Just push them down, just fight them harder

Why would you give up on it so soon?”

 

So angels, angels please just keep on fighting

Angels don’t give up on me today

The demons they are there; they just keep fighting

Cause inner demons just won’t go away

So angels please, hear my prayer

Life is pain, life’s not fair

So angels please; please stay here

Take the pain; take the fear

 

They say it won’t be hard; they can’t see the battles in my heart

But when I turn away

The demons seem to stay

Cause inner demons don’t play well with angels

They cheat and lie and steal and break and bruise

Angels, please protect me from these rebels

This is a battle I don’t want to lose

 

What I absolutely love about this song is how it brings to life the fact that it’s so difficult for others to understand what people with mental illnesses go through. It’s easy to stand on the outside looking in and say “do this” or “do that,” without an appreciate for the emotional and mental anguish happening under the surface. I see this song as a cry to the outsiders to have compassion and acknowledge that my behaviors and mental struggles are not always a choice. No one would choose to live this way or fight such darkness. When people tell me repeatedly that I worry too much, that I’m overreacting, or that I’m being irrational, I want to shout, “give me a little credit!!” I know all that. But telling me that is not going to change the fact that the chemical imbalance in my brain makes it impossible at times to rationalize my way through a situation. It’s not always helpful to point out to us how irrational I am being. Rather, please acknowledge that I am trying and appreciate that sometimes all I need is a quiet companion on my journey to find clarity within my far from simple reality.


To the homesick

Lindsey Sterling (feat. Andrew McMahon): Something Wild (2016)

You had your maps drawn
You had other plans
To hang your hopes on
Every road they led you down felt so wrong
So you found another way

You’ve got a big heart
The way you see the world
It got you this far
You might have some bruises
And a few of scars
But you know you’re gonna be okay


Even though you’re scared
You’re stronger than you know

If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding
Caught in all, the stars are hiding
That’s when something wild calls you home, home
If you face the fear that keeps you frozen
Chase the sky into the ocean
That’s when something wild calls you home, home

 

My best friend shared this song with me shortly after I moved out of state. I’d never lived more than a few miles away from where I grew up, so moving 700 miles away was a bit of a system shock. I made this somewhat rash decision after having my heart ripped out by my ex-husband. Over the last couple years since the move, I have learned that there are different types of homesickness. There is the homesickness in which you yearn for the people you love. There is the homesickness in which you want to find your way back to a place of peace, security, and belonging. There is the homesickness in which you just want to feel safe in someone’s arms. All those things are home to me: people I love, peace, security, belonging, and safety in someone’s physical embrace. There are days when I still am scared to be so far away from home. My heart, or rather my heartbreak, led me on this adventure, for better or for worse. Someday I hope to experience less homesickness. Until that time, I listen to this song and remind myself that home is always closer than I think and that I am strong enough to find my way back at any time.


To the broken

Danny Gokey: Tell Your Heart to Beat Again (2014)

You’re shattered

Like you’ve never been before

The life you knew

In a thousand pieces on the floor

And words fall short in times like these

When the world drives you to your knees

You think you’re never gonna get back

To the you that used to be

 

Tell your heart to beat again

Close your eyes and breathe it in

Let the shadows fall away

Step into the light of grace

Yesterday’s a closing door

You don’t live there anymore

Say goodbye to where you’ve been

And tell your heart to beat again

 

This is a song my sister shared with me at a time I so desperately needed to hear it. Not long before, I had been over at a good friend’s house. It was actually the friend who found out about and informed me of my husband’s on-going affair, so our friendship was both strained and immeasurably strong. I could not determine whether or not I hated her for bearing the news that ruined my life or loved her for telling me what no one else could or would. Either way, no one else saw into my pain quite like she did. I remember standing in her kitchen, then leaning against the wall, sliding to the floor, and crying my heart out on the cold tile. This was only days after the bomb had dropped. I had reacted with little emotion up until that point – I had been too numb and in shock. I remember telling her I had no idea what I was going to do. I remember the feelings of complete and utter hopelessness, loneliness, and brokenness. Then this song came along, perfectly describing the state of my life. It certainly didn’t fix things – nothing could fix things – but it brought some element of piece. I’m not the only one who has been crushed beyond recognition. I’m not the only one who has survived. I’m not the only one who has started to rebuild again.


To the actors

Christina Perri: Human (2014)

 I can hold my breath
I can bite my tongue
I can stay awake for days
If that’s what you want
Be your number one

I can fake a smile
I can force a laugh
I can dance and play the part
If that’s what you ask
Give you all I am


I can turn it on
Be a good machine
I can hold the weight of worlds
If that’s what you need
Be your everything

 

But I’m only human
And I bleed when I fall down
I’m only human
And I crash and I break down
Your words in my head, knives in my heart
You build me up and then I fall apart
‘Cause I’m only human

 

This song speaks to me on so many levels. I am an actor. I can be whoever anyone needs or wants me to be. At some point, though, something must give. Even the best actors can only keep up their façade for so long before they break. For my kindred spirits out there, it’s okay to let others know that we have chinks in our armor too. It’s okay to remind others that we can’t be strong for everyone else. It’s okay to give ourselves permission to not be perfect. “I can hold the weight of world if that’s what you need” – but I shouldn’t have to bear that weight. It’s difficult when so many of us, myself included, have set a precedent for strength and reliability. Those are invaluable traits, but not if it means sacrificing ourselves in the process. We matter too. Be what others need you to be within reason. Don’t forget about yourself. Don’t forget that you are made of flesh and bone and human brokenness just like anyone else. Sometimes we have to let ourselves be weak so someone else can bear the weight of our world for a bit.


To the betrayed

Demi Lovato: Stone Cold (2015)

 Stone cold

You see me standing

But I’m dying on the floor

Stone cold

Stone cold

Maybe if I don’t cry

I won’t feel anymore

 

Stone cold

Baby

God knows I try to feel

Happy for you

Know that I am

Even if I can’t understand

I’ll take the pain

Give me the truth

Me and my heart

We’ll make it through

If happy is her

I’m happy for you

 

Stone cold

You’re dancing with her

While I’m staring at my phone

Stone cold

Stone cold

I was your amber, but now

She’s your shade of gold

 

God knows I try to feel

Happy for you

Know that I am

Even if I can’t understand

I’ll take the pain

Give me the truth

Me and my heart

We’ll make it through

If happy is her

I’m happy for you

 

Don’t wanna be stone cold

I wish I could mean this

But here’s my goodbye

Oh, I’m happy for you

 

So many emotions with this one. This song tears my heart out all over again every time I hear it. This was another song shared with me after I found out about my ex’s affair and betrayal. The line “I was your amber, but now she’s your shade of gold” is obviously one that cut me to the core. It took my name and slapped me in the face. Setting that aside, my interpretation of this song might be different from someone else’s. Some people might see this woman as a push over. A door mat. She’s standing by and letting some other chick steal her man. And that is probably all true. However, I see an underlying theme of forgiveness. Instead of getting angry, she let’s go and puts his happiness before hers. That is what I tend to do, whether it is healthy or not. In the end, I believe that mentality is what made it so “easy” to forgive his sins against me. I also recently told my new ex-husband that I genuinely hope he finds happiness and that his dreams do come true. I don’t see the point of holding grudges or wishing misfortune upon someone who has wronged me in any way. As with any grudge, it will do me more harm than the other person. For me, this song represents the pain and agony that goes with betrayal, along with the bittersweet relief that goes with forgiveness. Let go of the hate and bitterness so that you may see all the love that is out there waiting for you.


For the survivors

Brian & Jenn Johnson: You’re Gonna Be Okay (2017)

I know you’re trying hard to just be strong

And it’s a fight just to keep it together

I know you think that you are too far gone

But hope is never lost

Hold on, don’t let go

 

Just take one step closer

Put one foot in front of the other

You’ll get through this

Just follow the light in the darkness

You’re gonna be okay

 

I know your heart is heavy from those nights

But just remember that you are a fighter

You never know just what tomorrow holds

And you’re stronger than you know

 

When the night is closing in

Don’t give up and don’t give in

This won’t last, and it’s not the end

It’s not the end

You’re gonna be okay

 

Where do I even begin with this one? Depression is real. Depression is scary. As someone who has struggled to find a reason to take my next breath, these words are a war cry. If I had a fight song, this would be it. Don’t give up. It may be an uphill battle, but it’s a worthy fight. For me, the wars that rage on at night often seem a little less overwhelming at sunrise. Another Bob Ross quote is appropriate here: “You need the dark in order to show the light” (n.d.). Sometimes it’s so difficult to see beyond the here and now. The hope that comes with tomorrow is too far out of reach to actually be worth considering. I am here to tell you that you aren’t alone in these struggles. The sun will rise, bringing with it a promise of new discovery and grace. I have struggled, currently struggle, and will struggle going forward. We’re in this together. I see you. Please see me.


 

References

American Music Therapy Association. (1998-2018). Retrieved from https://www.musictherapy.org

Brennan, Julia. (2016). Inner Demons. Inner Demons. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/juliabrennan/innerdemons.html

Buchanan, Britton. (2018). Where You Come From. Lyrics retrieved from http://www.metrolyrics.com/where-you-come-from-lyrics-britton-buchanan.html

Chord. (n.d.). Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/chord

Gokey, Danny. (2014). Tell Your Heart to Beat Again. Hope in Front of Me. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/dannygokey/tellyourhearttobeatagain.html

Johnson, Brian & Jenn. (2017). You’re Gonna Be Okay. Bethel Music. Lyrics retrieved from https://bethelmusic.com/chords-and-lyrics/youre-gonna-be-ok-bright-ones/

Lovato, Demi. (2015). Stone Cold. Confident. Lyrics retrieved from

Perri, Christina. (2011). Jar of Hearts. Love Strong. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/christinaperri/jarofhearts.html

Perri, Christina. (2014). Human. Head or Heart. Lyrics retrieved from http://www.metrolyrics.com/human-lyrics-christina-perri.html

Ross, Bob. (n.d.). From The Joy of Painting. Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/65452/20-bob-ross-quotes-make-life-better

Stirling, Lindsey. (2016). Something Wild. Brave Enough. Lyrics retrieved from

Photo credit: Unsplash.com

The F Word

silence

There are words in the English language that make me cringe. For example, the word varicose makes my skin crawl. Scabies is another word that makes me want to take a bleach bath because I find the sound of it to be so disgusting. I have a love-hate relationship with the word weenus – part of me thinks it’s fun to say, while the other part of me can’t stand it. Yes, weenus is a real word…a part of your anatomy, in fact…go look it up.

There is another word…the F word…that absolutely scares the living crap out of me. We all know the F word. We all struggle with the F word. Some go their entire lives without experiencing the F word. Certain people don’t know how to express the F word. Others don’t know how to ask for the F word. It is a terrible and powerful word. It’s absence can cause relationships to end, while its presence can change the world. In the end, every single one of us must embrace the F word.


Forgive (Verb): “Stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake” (n.d.).


Why is the concept of forgiveness so difficult to wrap our brains around? The short answer, I believe, is that is requires us to let go. We as humans like to be in control. We like to hold onto things and to own them, which allows us to feel in control of our world. It’s easier to be angry and know what’s going on than to be vulnerable and face unknown emotions.

angry

According to Thesaurus.com (n.d.), which pulls its list from the 2013 Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, some antonyms for forgiveness include: condemn, accuse, blame, sentence, charge, and punish. Ouch. Those are some heavy concepts. When I think of the opposite of forgiveness, I think of a festering resentment that is seeping into the deepest corners of my being. It is a disease – a disease that will likely be fatal if left untreated. I like how the Mayo Clinic describes what happens if forgiveness is withheld: “If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). Oh…and guess what can happen if you hold onto a grudge? You can “become depressed or anxious” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). Seems like an important detail, so I’m just going to tuck that away for future reference.

Although the list of situations resulting in a need for forgiveness are too numerous to count, in my world there are only two main types of forgiveness. Those two type are forgiveness of others and forgiveness of self. I personally think the latter is much more difficult for a number of reasons. Before I get into those reasons, my stream of consciousness is telling me to turn left at the fork in the road. In case you were wondering, left takes us to the topic of forgiveness of others.

Saying F You to others.

At some point in our lives, we have all been hurt by another human being. The fact of the matter is that many things in this world hurt because this world is ugly, but some things cause significantly more pain than others. For example, if someone snatches up the parking spot I had my eye on and then flips me the bird, I may be less likely to hold a grudge than if a significant other were to cheat on me with someone else. Two uncomfortable situations with two vastly different resulting pain scales.


Grudge (noun): “A strong feeling of anger and dislike for a person who has treated you badly, especially one that lasts for a long time” (n.d.).


Look at the parts of speech for forgive and for grudge. A grudge is a thing. It’s alive. It’s feeding on your resentment and thriving on your anger. Forgiveness is an action. You can’t passively forgive. It is a conscious decision that must be acted upon. In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Alex Lickerman says, “To my way of thinking, forgiveness involves recognizing that the person who harmed us is more than just the person who harmed us… At its core I believe forgiveness is an acknowledgement that a person who’s harmed us still has the capacity for good” (2010). I mean…wow. I can’t say I’ve ever really broken forgiveness down to the point that I see one broken person acknowledging another broken person. Forgiveness has a lot in common with namaste. We are looking at someone who has wronged us and saying, “Hey…I’ve messed up plenty of times before too. I owe it to both myself and to you to find peace with this situation.” You are looking past the wrongdoing and seeing the humanity that surrounds it on all sides.

humanity heart

What’s more, “as you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). Speaking from personal experience, there is something so degrading and humiliating about being hurt by another, especially if it is a conscious act on their part. There have been times in the last few years when all I can see in front of me is the action of another, and how it drastically changed my life forever. Infidelity is a big one. Finding out that my husband of several years had been actively cheating on me with the same woman for nearly all of those years made me feel like a character out of the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids or Antman. Tiny. Insignificant. It’s hard not to see it as a reflection on yourself when someone carries on in a way that they know is going to cause irreparable damage to the relationship, not to mention the wellbeing of the souls involved. But what he did to me does not determine who I am as a person. It certainly has no bearing on my worth as a woman, as someone’s potential partner, or as human being. Likewise, I would argue that is has no bearing on his worth as a man. I would certainly think twice about being his partner, but he is human and no less worthy of forgiveness than me.

The important thing to remember is that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to let them hurt you again. If you want to give them another chance, more power to you. But forgiveness does not mean turning a blind eye and painting a target on your back so it’s easier for them to hurt you next time. You do not forgive at your own expense, but rather for your own sake. “There is great value in mastering the skill of forgiving but not forgetting,” says author Dr. Kurt Smith, “Taking good care of ourselves requires regular forgiveness of others. Remember, we do it for us, not for them. And we don’t obsess, but we don’t forget, either, so we can take the valuable life lesson with us” (2014). Always forgive, but guard and protect yourself too.

guard

I remember sitting on the couch next to my soon-to-be ex-husband after finding out about his secret “other” life. We were sitting in silence because…really…what is there to say at that point? When life as you know it ceases to exist, it’s hard to find any words. I remember looking at him and saying, “I forgive you.” And in that moment, what took my breath away was that I realized how deeply I meant it. I can’t even begin to describe the weight that was lifted. I still grieved. I still hurt at a depth I had never experienced before and will hopefully never experience again. But I was at peace. I forgave and moved on with my life, making sure he was not part of it so that I could heal and find out what I was truly made of. I still haven’t found out what I’m made of, by the way, but each year seems to chip a little more of my façade away and I’m starting to catch glimpses of who I am.

Saying F You to yourself.

This. This is the hardest task of them all. I was able to forgive my ex-husband and the pain got easier because he was no longer in the picture. Out of sight, out of mind. But when it comes to forgiving ourselves? There is no escaping ourselves. There is no running away from our thoughts or self-abuse. When it comes down to it, “it’s easier to forgive others. After all, they don’t live in your head, reading you the same old riot act” (Lawrence, 2003).

We have all done things we are ashamed of. We have all hurt other people, whether we care to admit it or not. As someone with a self-proclaimed guilt complex, it comes as no surprise to me that “difficulties with self-forgiveness are linked with suicide attempts, eating disorders, and alcohol abuse, among other problems” (Breines, 2012). Figuring out how to forgive ourselves is kind of a big deal and may have hefty consequences.

As with any good apology, I think the best place to start is to say “I’m sorry.” And we have to mean it. A truly heart-felt apology is one that acknowledges the pain and suffering caused. We may have apologized to the other person, but we also need to apologize to ourselves. I feel this is important because it is the first step in recognizing that, yes, you screwed up big time, but you are human and will only poison yourself by starting a long term relationship with self-hate and regret. I find the following statement incredibly encouraging in my own battle to forgive myself: “Importantly, self-forgiveness need not be all-or-nothing. It’s a slow process that may not result in a full release of negative feelings or an exclusively rosy view of oneself. Rather than being a form of self-indulgence, self-forgiveness might be better seen as an act of humility, an honest acknowledgment of our capacity for causing harm as well as our potential for doing good” (Breines, 2012).

For years I have had the unhealthy perspective that I have been paying an ongoing penance for wrongs done to others in the past. I have accepted each bad or painful thing that has happened to me as karma’s way of making sure justice is done. Combine that with my knack for overthinking, a raging guilt complex, and a depression streak a mile wide. Probably not a healthy outcome. I’m working on it. I have reached out to specific individuals I have wounded in the past and expressed sincere apologies. I felt better after doing that, but still have been unable to reach the point of fully being able to accept my human flaws. In the meantime, I try to do my very best to never cause that kind of pain again.


The emotional impact of withholding forgiveness can be devastating. If we refuse to forgive someone else, it can cause bitterness, anger, and maybe even a sense of entitlement. If we refuse to forgive ourselves, it can cause our self-worth to plummet and may take away our fragile belief that even broken people can make a difference. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that the good I do now is for the sake of the here and now – I am spreading love and goodness to those around me in this moment, not because I need to pay for my past sins. This is life…not some purgatory. Forgive others so that you may live without bitterness. Forgive yourself so that you may see your own worth and then spread love and joy in a world that so desperately needs some TLC. Go on – don’t be afraid of the F Word.


Resources

Breines, Juliana. (2012). The Healthy Way to Forgive Yourself. Great Good Magazine. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_healthy_way_to_forgive_yourself

Forgive. (n.d.). In online English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/forgive

Grudge. (n.d.). In online Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/grudge

Lawrence, Jean. (2003). Learning to Forgive Yourself. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/learning-to-forgive-yourself#1

Lickerman, Alex. (2010). How to Forgive Others: The freedom forgiveness brings. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-in-world/201002/how-forgive-others

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692

Smith, Kurt. (2014). 4 Reasons to Forgive but Not Forget. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/4-reasons-to-forgive-but-not-forget/

Thesaurs.com. (n.d.). In 2013 Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus (3rdEd.). Philip Lief Group.Retrieved from https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/forgive

Cover photo credit: Pexels.com

Other photo credits: Unsplash.com

I See You.

i see you

“The real warriors in this world are the ones that see the details of another’s soul. They see the transparency behind walls people put up. They stand on the battlefield of life and expose their heart’s transparency, so others can finish the day with hope. They are the sensitive souls that understand that before they could be a light they first had to feel the burn.” Shannon L. Adler


One of my favorite words of all time is Namaste. I wish it’s because I’m some super fit yoga master, but it boils down to a love of the concept. Namaste essentially means that my soul honors and respects your soul (Spiritual Science Research Foundation, n.d.). Regardless of your own spiritual persuasion, how simple and yet utterly powerful is that? What’s even more amazing is that it is a common greeting in India. Can you imagine someone coming up to you, looking you in the eye, and saying, “I see you. My broken and beaten spirit respects your broken and beaten spirit.”

Besides the fact that this would be way out of the norm and borderline creepy, think about the implications. That person is acknowledging that there is more to you than just skin, bones, and some gooey insides. You aren’t just social status, a political party, or a mental illness. You aren’t a religion, a sexual orientation, or even a gender. Strip all that away and you are a soul – a soul that deserves respect and love in equal parts. You deserve to be seen.

Here’s the kicker, though – the only way to truly see someone else is to look outside of ourselves. How true that “when we zoom out, we start to see a completely different picture. We see many people in the same struggle” (Brown, 2010, p. 68). We are all human. We are all stumbling around in the dark looking for meaning and hope. It should not be a solitary, lonely journey to find the light that does exist. If we hope to come together, this will require a great amount of respect, empathy, and compassion.


“When compassion wakes up in us, we find ourselves more willing to become vulnerable, to take the risk of entering the pain of others.” Sue Monk Kidd


give

Respect is a noun: “Esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person” (n.d.).

Empathy is a noun: “The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation” (n.d.).

Compassion is a noun: “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering” (n.d.).

We all learned in school that a noun is a person, place, or thing. I like to think of respect, empathy, and compassion as living, breathing things. They must be nourished, cared for, and exercised on a regular basis, otherwise they will become emaciated and possibly even die. This society is sinking fast because we have lost sight of the humanity – the souls – that surround us every day. We don’t acknowledge and respect each other. Empathic actions are few and far between, rarely without some sort of agenda.

The sooner we realize that life is a level playing field, the better equipped we will become to face our challenges together. Brené Brown says that “compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others” (Brown, 2010, p. 16). I love the almost negative vibe this statement gives off. It would be great if a little compassion would kick start a revolution that would make life happy and full of butterflies and unicorns. But we live in a broken, dank, stinking world full of lonely hearts. True compassion brings lonely hearts together. It may not bring happiness or even joy, but it will bring shared hurt and darkness to the surface so that status, income level, or politics are no longer a barrier to camaraderie.

Misery loves company. Empathy brings our miserable selves together so that we can face the uphill battle as a team. I may carry you today, but tomorrow you will need to support me.

love breeds love

Empathy breaks down walls. Whenever I am feeling upset or frustrated with someone, I try to take a step back and consider times in my life when I have behaved in a similar manner. Again – the key is recognizing that we are all fallible, imperfect humans…kindred spirits in our brokenness.

An everyday example is when someone makes a mistake while driving in front of, behind, or beside me. Instead of diving head first into road rage, I think about the time a few months back when I did something similar. I have failed to start right away at a green light. I have failed to use my blinker when changing lanes. I have unintentionally swerved into the lane beside me while fiddling with the radio. Who am I to get upset with them for doing something I myself have done (probably more than once!)?

Another example is if a server at a restaurant is running behind, seems distracted, or makes a mistake. I’ve noticed that people who tend to fly off the handle about these things have never worked in the restaurant business, so they don’t necessarily understand the many possible causes of a delayed order or a drink mix up. Also I/we don’t know what’s going on in their personal life. For all I know, they may be going through a particularly traumatic divorce, are mentally preparing for some grueling finals at school, or just had to put their pet to sleep. I know when I am stressed or just went through an emotional experience, my memory suffers and I have a more difficult time keeping track of things. Knowing how I feel when I’ve had a rough day/week/year, how can I judge someone else for not smiling or for taking 10 minutes to bring me my salad instead of five. Unless you know exactly what is happening in someone else’s life, it’s so much better to see the humanity in their actions and acknowledge that they are no different from you or me.

If you see a homeless person, a drug addict, or an alcoholic, don’t get on your high horse and behave as if they are a lesser human than you. Likely, whatever caused them to go down their chosen path is a combination of genetic disposition and some sort of traumatic life event. When stigma is placed and stories are forced underground, we end up alone and seeking out unhealthy coping mechanisms. Just because I am currently living with a roof over my head and don’t self-medicate with alcohol every night doesn’t mean my own coping mechanisms are any healthier. We can judge a person until we’re blue in the face, but ultimately, they are no different from us.

Another thing worth pointing out is that, just because you disagree with their lifestyle or don’t condone some of their choices, it does not give you the right to treat them with anything other than respect, empathy, and compassion. It’s like saying the color blue is better than the color yellow. Why? Because it’s my favorite color and I like it better. But yellow is just as beautiful a color, but because you are biased, you declare that blue is right and yellow is wrong. That may seem like an absurdly simple example, but it dumbs down a tragic epidemic that has been sweeping this nation for years – the loss of respect for every human’s beauty and the appreciation for basic human goodness. We are all in this together, folks. The sooner we as a collective group can see the beauty in that, the sooner our society’s rifts will start to heal.


“Allow beauty to shatter you regularly. The loveliest people are the ones who have been burnt and broken and torn at the seams, yet still send their open hearts into the world to mend with love again, and again, and again.” Victoria Erickson


I’ve felt a growing sense of urgency about this post over the last few days, especially going into Christmas. I challenge myself and everyone else to make a conscience effort to live in a way that spews forth love, not hate…mercy, not malice…forgiveness, not blame.

A message to the hurting (which is basically everyone): You are not alone. You don’t have to face your mountains and valleys by yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. A little vulnerability has the potential to save lives. Don’t give up. Hold out your hand and someone will take it. I see you. Dear, sweet, struggling person….I see you.

Namaste.

References

Adler, Shannon L. (n.d.) Retrieved from Goodreads.

Brown, Brene. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

Compassion. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/compassion

Empathy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/dictionary.cambridge.org/us/amp/english/empathy

Respect. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/respect

Spiritual Science Research Foundation. (n.d.). Definition and Meaning of Namaskar (Namaste). Retrieved from https://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/spiritual-living/how-should-we-greet/define-namaskar-namaste-meaning/

Photo credit: http://www.unsplash.com

A Chronic Rescuer: The darker side of love

broken heart

It took me a long time to be able to look in the mirror of life and see my own patterns. And in that time, I forgot how to love myself. I forgot that I have worth. I forgot that I matter too. Let me tell you a story.


Growing up as the youngest in a family comes with certain responsibilities. I am a firm believer in the role that birth order plays in personality development and familial relationships. According to Alfred Adler’s work on birth order and personality, some traits often seen in youngest children are “confidence, ability to have fun and comfort at entertaining others” (Swanson Topness, 2014). Regarding youngest children, a 2006 CareerBuilders.com article says that “because they often identify with the underdog, they tend to champion egalitarian causes.” It goes on to list famous babies of the family, including Cameron Diaz, Jim Carrey, Drew Carey, Rosie O’Donnell, Eddie Murphy, and Billy Crystal.

Speaking as someone on the inside, I’ll let you in on a little secret: so many youngest children are comedians because we like to make people feel good. When we observe someone in pain or in a glum mood, our reaction is usually, “What can I do to make this person’s day a little brighter? What can I do to make them forget about their pain for just a little while?” As a child, I always saw my role as the family comedian, not because I like the attention so much as because I want happiness and joy for those who mean the most to me. This is a beautiful trait, but can be turned into something not so beautiful. In my case, I allowed that innocent behavior to morph into a people pleasing mentality that led me down the path of a chronic rescuer.

love

I had goosebumps when I came across this definition of a rescuer: “A person who prevents something from failing” (Rescuer, n.d.). If you believe that your purpose in life is to prevent love, joy, and happiness from failing for those around you, but forget that you yourself are a valuable factor in that equation, it can lead to depression, anxiety, and all sorts of dark places. For me it led to one unhealthy relationship after another – one broken marriage after another. I put others before me, sometimes to a fault. No, not sometimes to a fault. Always to a fault. I will compromise and cave to any demands if I believe it will make the other person happy. While this is often successful in the short term, it is far from sustainable. It cannot last.

Let me tell you why it cannot last. As much as I would love to believe that I can provide endless support and happiness, I can only give so much for so long without receiving anything in return. Ah, but what if I live in denial and simply don’t acknowledge that fact? What if I just fake it till I make it? If those around me are happy, that’s all that really matters…right? Right?!

Wrong. Take a long look at the image below. At first glance, this photograph might make you think, “Wow. What a true representation of a wonderfully symbiotic and supportive relationship.” Look again. Look how that hand is bent at the wrist. How long can it be expected to hold that position before fatigue causes it to slip in a way that will likely damage both itself and the tree. In life, I end up supporting the full weight of someone else’s hopes and dreams (not to mention their extensive physical possession wish list), with no hope of reciprocation. Without the give-and-take support of a truly loving and committed relationship, we will fail, which is exactly what happened with my last marriage. But that just opens a can of worms. If I am not enough for someone else, who am I really? Where is my purpose?

support

As I am left picking up the pieces after the divorce, one of my realizations is that I have no idea who I am and I certainly don’t love the glimpses of me that I do see peeking out from the shadows. I have always become whatever my significant other or friends or family need me to be. Instead of loving myself for who I am, which will in turn encourage others to love me for who I am, I try to be whoever they want or need me to be. I find my identity in creating a self that matters to a specific individual. Whoever they need me to be so that I can bring joy into their life and make it just a little bit better, well, that’s who I will be.

While reading through some past journal entries, I came across this entry: “I hit the physical checklist items for [ex’s name]’s dream girl, so at least I have that going for me. Now I have to face the hard journey of becoming his emotional/mental dream girl.” Umm…excuse me? Even I can see how unhealthy that is and I WROTE IT.

I also do my very best to cover up, hide, or extinguish the mental health issues I have battled my entire life. Who wants to be with a crazy person…a bonafide mental case?! I’ve always hated those parts of me, so I thought anyone else should hate them too. I have spent my adult life being told by my significant other in every serious relationship that 1) you worry too much and should just stop stressing, 2) you have issues, 3) you need help, and eventually 4) I can’t deal with this. There comes a point when, no matter how hard I try to keep it hidden, my anxiety and depression bleed into the life I have created with another person. In the end, their rejection is always what hurts the most. It leaves me wondering why my all just wasn’t good enough.

You might be asking yourself right about now why I would ever stay in or prolong such unhealthy relationships. The answer is simple: I’ve never felt worthy of anything better. I thought that if I could love others so completely, I would somehow develop worth over time. If I could just prove to the world that I make it a better place and that I contribute a little bit of joy, then I have a purpose. If someone needs me, I am valuable, if not valued. I became a victim of my own good intentions. The unfortunate side of this mentality is that it draws a certain manipulative and selfish person – one who uses and abuses a giver until that giver has nothing left to offer. Sometimes the abuse is intentional, sometimes it’s not. Either way it is present. Because I have never understood my great value as an intelligent and loving individual, I accepted the abuse and then stuck around for more.

And there it is. Therein lies the true symbiotic relationship between ourselves and others. We must love ourselves so we understand how much we are worth. In turn, this will bring our standards up so we don’t tolerate being treated as less than we are worth – “if we want to experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthyof love and belonging” (Brown, 2010, p. 23). What’s more, according to Brown, “we can only love others as much as we love ourselves” (p. 26). How do you like them apples?

As my failing marriage heaved its last dying breath, I wrote this in my journal: “I need to focus on me, not rescuing someone else who doesn’t actually need or want to be rescued. This time I get to rescue myself. And hopefully turn into a wiser, stronger human in the process. I need to let myself be me – not whoever someone else needs me to be or wishes I was. I need to fit into my own world…not someone else’s.”

I leave you with this quote from an unknown author, as well as a brief message to all the “takers” out there.

“There is a rare breed of people that go all in. They keep their word, they give it all, they go the extra mile for those they care for. These individuals hardly ever receive the same passion and effort in return, yet never change and always give their all, hoping that one day maybe, just maybe, they find someone as rare as them to love them as fiercely and with as much devotion” (unknown).

To all the takers out there: You are as worthy of love as the next person, but it should never be at the expense of someone else. You are not better than anyone else. You are not more deserving. No one owes you anything. The only thing we owe each other is such a high degree of respect and kindness that it is virtually impossible for us to take advantage of or abuse another soul. Step away from your selfish tendencies, realize the world does not revolve around you, and start to show some appreciation for the people in your life who give without expectations. We are all worthy of love, but that love must be a two-way street. A dear friend put it this way to me recently: “It’s okay for someone to use and abuse you only if you are able to use and abuse them right back.” That’s what being there for each other truly means in the end.

worthy

References

Brown, Brene. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

CareerBuilders.com. (2006). Oldest, Middle Youngest: Who’s Most Successful. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.aol.com/amp/2009/01/26/oldest-middle-youngest-whos-most-successful/

Chronic. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster online dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chronic

Rescuer (n.d.). In online English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/rescuer

Swanson Topness, Ellen. (2014, Jan 31). Adler’s Birth Order Theory. Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/73327-adler-birth-order-theory/