I used to be my worst enemy. In word or in deed I sabotaged myself. I have written in here of self-hurting; of my inner-editor-hater; of suicidal ideation; of self-abnegation and even self-hatred. Rather than repeat the sad refrains that used to replay over and over again in my mind like a bad pop lyric, I am here to tell you today how I stopped these self-destructive behaviors and became a Rebel Thriver. I tell this story in the hopes that it helps one of you.
My therapist squinted at her notepad and flipped the page over as I explained a few things I like about myself. She waited for me to stop talking and then she smiled.
“Did you hear that?”
“You just said that you like a few things about yourself.” The corners of her mouth turned up and then I then I found that I was grinning this silly, child-like grin.
“I did, didn’t I?”
“You said, and I quote, ‘I am of great value.’” She looked me in the eye and I looked away, blushing. Then she added, “So next week, whenever you can, I want you to practice saying that whenever you feel like hurting yourself or whenever you feel bad about yourself.”
Before I left her office, she made me say, “I am of great value” a few times. I felt like Helen Keller, learning a new language. The words felt funny on my tongue. And something in my heart felt warm. I blushed each time I said it, and yet it also felt good. Really good.
The week kicked along, and things at home didn’t go so well. Sometimes, when I felt like hell, I managed to choke out the words, “I am of great value,” but more often than not, I fell back into my tired pattern of thinking that I hated myself, or even feeling that the world would be better off without me. I reread that sentence and cringe; I hope you don’t judge me for it, but it’s the truth and that’s what I tell when I write.
At one point, I even called my therapist, desperate and forlorn, and she took a tough love stance with me. She told me to wait until I saw her in a couple of days, and until then, to keep trying, and when that failed, to pray.
A few days later, I sat on her tan sofa. She sized me up, and nodded. She nods a lot. It’s a mannerism or early Parkinson’s. Then she said, “Tough week?”
After I told her just how tough it was, she put her notepad down. “Okay. Let’s try something different. It’s Lent. So I am going to ask you to do something for the rest of Lent.”
I gulped. I hadn’t done anything for Lent. As a lapsed Catholic and mediocre Methodist, I almost never do. But I trust my therapist. “Okay. Okay. What.”
“No thoughts of suicide.”
“For all of Lent?” I waited for her to nod. And then I added, “I can do that and I can do one better. No self-destructive thoughts period.” I grinned. The cocky, athletic, high-achiever side of me was engaged. It was a challenge. And I was eager to show that I could meet it.
About ten minutes into my first day, I heard a thought and it wasn’t a good one. I swayed, and felt it pressing in on me. I had screwed up and gotten annoyed with one of my children. I almost went on to growl, “I am a shitty mom. Because I am a shitty mom, I am not worthy. I hate myself . . . “ But I did not. With an uncertain smile, I whispered, “I have great value; I mean, I am of great value.”
In another 10 minutes, I had to push away another negative thought. And then another. And another. By 10 a.m., I was exhausted. Utterly drained. I could not keep mumbling, “I am of great value” every few minutes. It just didn’t seem like enough.
The darkness encroached. I wanted to lie down and rest, which is what I used to do when I felt suicidal. I would lie face down on my floor and lie on my hands. This time, I tumbled out of my chair and looked out the window. The sun blazed through the trees and shone in my eyes. And it gave me an idea: turn the light on the darkness.
I spent the entire day, eyes tracking sunbeams, and turning the light on the darkness that raged inside me. Forgive me if this sounds weird, but I am making an objective report: I felt like I was battling demons. And finally I held a weapon strong enough to defeat the depredations they had wrought upon me all of these years: light.
I imagined that a bright light filled me. And rather than turn it on each demon, or each hurtful thought, I filled myself with light. And the light circled and branched out inside me, like an unquenchable torch. And nothing could extinguish it.
How do you deal with negative and/or self-destructive thoughts? Have you come up with any effective strategies, and if so, would you like to share them?