We’ve all had the experience of having to deal with negative thoughts - often about ourselves - that swirl around inside our heads until they become whirlpools of self-doubt. Mine usually come around whenever I dwell too much on the non-acceptance directed at me by relatives and in-laws over the years. The memory of a single incident sometimes pops up and can instantly deflate me. But these are the easiest for me to handle because I can quickly recognize for them for what they are and can release them straight away.
Other memories that come as the sum of feelings years in the making are much more cunning than those easily brushed aside. They sneak in, a series of small cellophane memories of old home movies that play in my head. I think I manage to push them aside but they somehow manage to link together as continuous frames of old dramas and before I know it, I have a mess of stuff to edit away, to leave on the cutting room floor. And, if I’m not very, very careful, all the “stuff” can spiral me downward into a full-blown depression.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address reactions to painful, old memories.
Many of us realize we can’t control the events of our lives in every, single case. We try to stay away from situations that might create new and less-than-desirable memories. We know sometimes new situations simply present themselves and they can be distasteful and unavoidable. But we can remind ourselves that we only own own reactions to events like these, not always the events themselves.
Single events that suddenly present themselves are generally easier for me to deal with; I try to stay in the moment, picture my boundary wall or protective bubble, and leave the event as early as possible. Usually, although not always, this keeps too much of other people’s yuck from sticking to me. (My wall and bubble are non-stick, by the way.)
However, memories don’t allow us the opportunity to just walk away. They’ve already happened and we can’t change them. But that’s just where our power to deal with them lies: realizing we can’t change the past or do anything differently to modify the event itself. We can’t go back, no matter how much we may want to do just that, nor can we change anyone’s opinion of us in the context of biological family and family-by-marriage.
And a while back - when I paused long enough to really consider my family and family-by-marriage interactions, their natures and their own family dynamics - the “AHA!” of realizing their opinions of me don’t mean jack to me was and still is liberating.
We often spend so many years selling ourselves out by morphing into someone else’s vision of ourselves and of trying to fit in. We rationalize pain rather than work through it.
I try not to waste any more of my life at it. So many years filled with constantly changing expectations and trying to meet them; love and connection withheld by people who couldn’t face their own lives and created stories of blame toward me to justify their own unwillingness to assume their responsibility - all of it found me self-injuring as my life-force seeped from me. My dreams disappeared along with parts of my soul during those years. Inviting those parts back, welcoming their return, and honoring them were hard-fought and hard-won.
I won’t give them up again.
No more self-sacrifice on altars of deception, on dogma that says “Unless you are blood, you will never be enough. Unless you willingly close your eyes and keep drinking from our toxic well of lies and self-deceit, we will never accept you” or “Unless you assume the blame for us not staying in touch, we won’t come around.”
I’ve begun to worship at a different altar, one of trees and sky, sun and moon, all of creation. An altar that didn’t require deception and self-deception, only love and wonder and awe and gratefulness.
My dogma - honesty, curiosity, inclusivity - celebrates, it doesn’t denigrate or blame or neglect.
When our thoughts veer toward destructive, let’s focus on the instructive as much as we can. When others’ wounded-ness triggers our own in such a way that we begin to rate our worth according to others’ standards, it’s time to stop.
And not just stop but come to a screeching stop.
I stop. Sit. Remind myself what’s happening. Clear out the remnants of gunk and junk, get back on my own path, worship at my own altar according to my own dogma.
In this season of shortening days and lengthening darkness, I hope you create beautiful altars unique to you and write your own dogma according to your own truth.