Keeping Hope Alive: Radical Courage in Difficult Times/Working the Steps Step 9, Part 3

Making amends has led me to differentiate my attitudes about myself and those that others may have about me.   Learning to value my own self-image and to understand what I have taken on from others’ treatment of me, for the good or for the ill, has helped me make vital changes in my behavior and my habits.   In dialogue with my sponsor, my spiritual director and an analyst, I have come to what Paul the Apostle calls a “sober (realistic) estimate of myself”, an estimate that is constantly changing and evolving.

Those changes began as I did my moral inventory in Step 4, making a list of my strengths, gifts, abilities and personal resources along with the inventory of my failures and flaws, my character defects and the ways I had inflicted injury on others.   With this new understanding of making amends, I was able to take a sober look at the ways in which I had inflicted injury on myself.   Thankfully my sponsor helped me see and understand I had put myself down, hurt myself or actually neglected to care for my life.   She kept me from falling into the ditch of beating myself up and kept steering me toward taking my place in the place of grace and mercy.  Just because I made a mistake didn’t mean that I was a mistake!

With  attitude changes I noticed that my behavior began to change.   It didn’t happen all at once, but over time and is still on-going.  I stumbled around, making new choices about behavior, but then I began to notice that the more conscious I was and te more I gave myself the same kind of grace and mercy that I was willing to give to others, the better I felt.    The more I opened up to allow my sponsor, my spiritual director and my analyst to know how I had punished myself through the years, the more I began to accept myself as a human being who had make mistakes.   The more acceptance I experienced from those helpers, extraordinary instruments of God’s love and self-described wounded healers, the more I was able to accept the grace and mercy of God.

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Most recently, the work of Kristin Neff, University of Texas researcher and professor in human development and the author of the bestselling book Self-Compassion: The  Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, has been a powerful force in helping me  know how to give empathy to myself.   The more I can hear my disappointments, fears and self-recrimination, the more I can also give compassion to myself.  The more I can forgive myself, the better I am at extending grace and mercy to others.  Learning to give to myself what I have given to others has made me feel more at home in my own skin.

Our culture is one of rampant narcissism that seems to be accepted as a norm, which it is not.   Instead of living with the understanding that we are all  in this together, particularly during the current pandemic, the long-held value of individualism has prevented us from embracing the idea of behaving for the common good.

When I first began telling people about self-compassion and using some of the methods I’d learn in workshops, some responses indicated attitudes in others I had found in myself.   “Is self compassion “letting yourself off the hook” when you really need to be a little tough on yourself?”And “What is self-compassion, anyway? It sounds like self-indulgence to me.”   Self-care and self-nurture are good and healthy practices, but self-compassion goes beyond either in feeling with, having empathy with the part of ourselves that is frightened, wounded or weary.  It is the part of our adult self that can give understanding and solace to the wounded child within us.  Self-compassion motivates us to forgive ourselves for the thing we think we can ever forgive;  it is abundant love that heals.

I have been in two workshops with Dr. Neff and an 8-week group process of learning Mindfulness Based Self-Compassion, all of which have been game-changers for me.  In one of the workshops, Dr. Neff facilitated with her colleague, Harvard professor Dr. Christopher Germer.   Their work and who they are as persons and teachers is filled with compassion, grace and mercy.

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In a class at the Jung Center in Houston, Dr. James Hollis once commented after 9/11, “What if each of those persons who did this heinous thing had taken care of the violence in his own life?  What if every citizen could take responsibility for his or her own inner violence instead of projecting it out on others or inflicting it on other innocent beings?”

Indeed.  What if?

I took Dr. Hollis seriously.   And in this moment of conflict in our country and our world, I am taking seriously tending to my own biases, prejudices, anger and resentment.  I want to be a part of the solution to the multiple and terrible problems we, as a human family, are facing.  When anger or hate spring up in me in this  hate-mongering society, I understand that it comes from fear, but instead of censuring myself, I practice the Steps over and over.  I take responsibility for my own inner turmoil.  I own my own reactions, and then I make amends to myself in whatever way feels appropriate.  And then, I start over,  surrendering the chaos within to the One we call Prince of Peace.   I comfort myself as I would a frightened child, and then, I begin again to walk the way I believe I am meant to walk.

It’s always morning somewhere on this planet.  Starting over with a new day can happen any time of the day.

And when it comes to starting over, we each get as many chances as we need.   God’s mercies are new every morning.

Grace to you — Jeanie

Making it Practical

Make a list of the ways you have hurt, discounted, neglected or abused your body, your mind, your soul or your self-esteem.

Make a list of the ways you have allowed others to use or abuse you.

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