So I saw this article on self-compassion, and I want to talk about it.
I want to talk about it, because self-compassion is a practice that has absolutely and unequivocally changed the way I move through the world.
However, I can’t talk about it honestly without talking about my drinking, so this is going to get a little personal, y’all. Even if you don’t relate to my story of addiction, stay with me.
Some of you may or may not know that I used to drink. Lots! I started on peach pastel “champagne” at around 15, moved over to espresso martinis and lemon drops in my early 20’s, and settled into a steady routine of various shades of wine around 25. Occasionally, when the massive quantities of bottles stacked up for recycling, I would tell myself, “I’m not alcoholic, I just have European sensibilities.” It was never, ever, less than a half bottle at dinner. Most often it was more. Sometimes much more. Once, it was five bottles of Chardonnay (a “tasting”) over the course of an afternoon with a friend. One afternoon. One friend. I used to wake up, like clockwork, at 2 in the morning, and lie awake for almost exactly two hours. I would dedicate this time to a special practice I call “self-loathing”.
I really did. Dear friends, I would itemize all of the ways I knew better and could do better, and how I was just a little extra trash, because I knew better but DIDN’T do better. I knew in surgical detail what this consumption was costing me financially, emotionally, physically.
This happened nightly, because there was never a night without alcohol. Fourteen hours a week of concentrated self-loathing. Fifty-six hours a month. I became an expert.
I would take penance: run to the gym, clean the house. Fortunately, I did not loathe myself during other hours – not audibly.
I had the good fortune to work in a terrible job with a wonderful woman. I don’t remember if I was engaged in a full-fledged confessional (it’s possible), but she started talking about the concept of self-compassion. She used words that struck me as distinctly old-school woo-woo, like “inner child”.
But listen: the “inner child” is an absolutely apt metaphor, because we are all on a fundamental level, soft-bodied, comfort-craving creatures who lack meaningful lifetime experience and are driven by base desires. On some level, we are all fumbling as toddlers, bundles of feelings and impulse, and inescapable bodily functions.
At those two o’clock in the mornings, I gave time to the idea that I could forgive myself a litany of fuckups, just as one would forgive a puppy for pissing on the carpet or chewing a precious family photograph. Ideal? No. Deserving of compassion and understanding? Yes and yes.
At two in the morning, I started to silence that voice that spewed vitriol in my own direction. I started to regard myself as that kind of fucked-up little mammal who meant well, but who kept pissing on the carpet (Metaphorically, you guys. Metaphorically). I began to respond to myself in same the way I would respond to my loved ones: with gentle forgiveness, and encouragement to do better.
Do you know what? It was transformative.
It cleared the space so that I could really learn to love this incarnation.
My world is much more richly textured, now. Some days I am given to delusions of grandeur – I won’t go into detail, because it’s embarrassing, but let me tell you: those days are fun. Other days, I am convinced that I move through the world with all the social grace and sexiness of a high-pitched Mr. Bean. Some days, I am basically a rocket scientist; other days, it takes me ½ an hour to realize that if the office kettle is broken, I can still make tea in the microwave (true story). I let myself have all those moments: moments of being amazing and moments of being a little weird and kinda gross, because frankly, we all are all of those things, and none of them affect our ultimate value.
I did, ultimately, learn to moderate my drinking. I still need to be careful: if alcoholism is a riptide and sobriety is the shore, I still stand in the inter-tidal zone. I am vigilant about portions, and about balance: marking my sober days on a calendar, and paying attention to the contents of the recycling.
The self-compassion allows me to still love myself when I fuck up (and fuck up I do). It also lets me see honestly where I am, and allow me to adapt my behaviour accordingly.
Even more, the self-compassion also allows me to spend time painting, even though I will never achieve perfection in paint. It gives me permission to write when I should be cleaning out the sentient beings that may have spawned in my fridge. It lets me take responsibility for my failings, and move forward.
All of this is easier without the weight of untempered shame.
I am imploring you to try it. I promise it will feel profoundly ridiculous and embarrassing, but so does everything. It is like the lifting of a heavy blanket that you didn’t know was suffocating you.
2 thoughts on “Self-Compassion”
I’ve been doing a daily mindfulness practice – which I’ve been failing at for years – but I found this app called “calm” and now I’m rocking it. I tell you this because the day before you wrote this I started the 7 days of self care/compassion part of the program so it seems fortuitous. I’ve been learning self care over the last 10 years, because, before that, I just never did it. For a lot of the same reasons you didn’t either. I, too, have had to learn moderation after years and years of going all out. That became shaky lately, during my Mom’s illness, I’ve developed a facial tic and I lost the moderation for a couple months and so now I need to get back to myself, be kind to myself, be forgiving of myself. I’m not so good at compassion for myself in the middle of the night when all the spectres arise to point out all the wrong moves I made. I also have come to realize that I have no compassion for others when I don’t have compassion for myself. It’s a journey, right? I’m honored to be on this one with you. xo
Thank you so much for sharing this. Yes, it is a journey, full of delays and detours. And yes, the judgy middle-of-the-night voice that screeches “why aren’t you doing better?” is the same voice infects our interactions with others. Of course we can learn from our mistakes and do better, but that bitch has no place in the classroom. Please be extra kind to yourself – managing family illness is a place of intense vulnerability. I am glad the app is helping! xo