The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reading My 1992 Journal

At the end of March, I thought it would be interesting to write some posts from the “that was then, this is now” perspective. I decided that when I posted a topic from my current viewpoint, I would choose a passage from my 1992 journals that represented my state of mind on the same topic then.

I only made it through one “that was then, this is now” post before I realized how much I dreaded picking up my old journals.

After that, prior to reading my journals, I had to ask myself, “Right now, do I have the emotional energy necessary to read these?”

I have found that reading the details of raw, soul-crushing events - as they happened - evokes in me a consuming sense of self-compassion.

The journals detail all sorts of harrowing events that had been partially purged through written word. My range of feelings at that point in my life was very limited. When I was injured, my emotions swung like a pendulum – either all the way to the right and numb - or all the way to the left with unmanageable anxiety and agitation. Other emotions – such as sadness were beyond my scope of experience.

Over the years, I have learned to stay present with a wide array of emotions. Today, I fully feel the sadness when I read those journals and grieve deeply for that old part of me and what she endured.

Each time I scan my words looking for passages pertinent to a current post, I find myself absorbed in old stories that I’d forgotten about. Sometimes, I read in disbelief.

Nonetheless, it isn’t the stories that are important here; it’s the process that is significant.

During the time I wrote the journals my therapist told me that I needed to get angry and mourn. I couldn’t. I had no frame of reference. Instructing me to feel powerful emotions was not enough.

I didn’t learn to process my feelings as a child. When a child is terrified, their pain can easily spin out of control. A caring parent teaches the child to modulate their pain by comforting them with love and assurance. In the safety of loving arms, a child learns to reign in their emotions. Through example, this mechanism becomes internalized in the child and they eventually learn to soothe themselves. Emotional self-soothing is a quality I lacked as a child and needed to learn to internalize for myself.

Years later, another therapist understood that I literally needed to be taught the same way a child is taught. She explained how to seek out people to receive empathic responses until I could internalize them for myself.

At first, self-compassion was forced and awkward; something I had to create space for in order to honor my feelings.

Today, self-compassion is an automatic response. I don’t experience the old feelings of anxiety and fear. Nor do I feel re-injured as I have in the past. For so long, recalling stories of past abuse continued to abuse me. The experience still felt present. Yet, the gift of authentically grieving is that my memory of the abuse no longer abuses me. Instead, I simply feel a great deal of self-compassion for the me of long ago.

I need to respect my energy level enough to ask myself, “At this moment, do I have the reserves to mourn?” If I don’t, I should save my journals for another day, but when I do, as I peel away each layer of pain, I become increasingly stronger.

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