"Radical acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is.”― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
I sing the words under my breath as the kids jam in the backseat: I'm friends with the monster that's under my bed, Get along with the voices inside of my head… I ask them about monsters, and they say they've never seen any. I wish I couldn't picture mine so clearly. It was next to my bed, not under it. Inside of my head now. I've internalized the voice of the abuser and trauma-driven self-talk rattles around on loop-repeat as my modus operandi.
New Year's Eve, and I'm thinking about the monster. Trying to get a visual. I sit down to draw, sketch a little girl walking in the darkness covered by a cape. The monster grows giant in charcoal strokes as I draw in the shadows behind her. A little girl runs away with dirty hair. A grown woman walks with head down and hands in pockets. There is another reflection, skewed, elongated. Most people can't see the cloud of thoughts I carry with me everywhere. I can feel them buzzing, like exploding sizzles of color in pastels bursting over me. A personal fireworks show whenever I am lost in thought.
Just a week ago, I got lost in the sandstorm of pain, the inevitable tide of emotion in the wake of trauma. I lost myself so completely I tried to lose myself forever. In the midst of the memory-driven panic, something inside of me must have wanted to be found. I called my therapist on her help line, and she sent someone to find me. I spent a few days recovering in the hospital.
This, then, is my one resolution for 2014: stop running - from myself, from my pain, from my past.
I once thought my goal for each day was wisdom. This is too lofty for baby steps toward healing. What I search for instead is mindfulness: the ability to stay in the present moment, whatever that moment is. Keep your mind out of the past and off the future so you can live fully in the now. Which, after all, is the only moment any of us are promised. Mindfulness helps me believe that I'm not in danger when everything in my physical body is tuned to high alert, a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't include forethought. I see other survivors, like me, who jump at sudden noises, squirm in chairs while they try to stay still, pace instead of sit, fidget, gesture, everything a big puff of smoke meant to confuse and intimidate the enemies that are no longer there.
I see my past mistakes as signs of weakness, stupidity, naiveté. What I forget is the courage it took to stand back up each time. The gritting of the teeth as I look terror in the eye and walk on. The fortitude to get out of bed and face the day when you live in fear of being maimed, torn apart, desecrated, destroyed.
This is the year I will accept the past, one memory at a time. I cannot change it; there is no hope for a better past. Acceptance, admitting the truth - that's the only way back out of the darkness that threatens to consume me. I am learning that to accept something as true does not mean you agree with it, like it, want it, or support it. It just means you are saying: this was. This happened. To me. I couldn't stop it, I hated it, it burned my very flesh and altered the development of my mind and personality. This is how I plan to cut the chains that bind me to the trauma and swallow my ability to cope, believe, trust, love, empathize, accept my self as I am now.
I always struggle to pick a word that I want to define my year. I picked Hebrew twice but my love affair with that language is definitely over. In 2012, I picked "succeed". That, more than the words before, became a solid foundation on which to build the next 365 days: my dissertation was approved; I graduated with my PhD; cancer went into remission; homeschooling blossomed; I landed the job of my dreams. It was a really good year - minus the depression and anger and all they brought with them. For 2013, I chose the word "less". I was panicking that money and status and privilege could destroy us. Ironically, I thought of less in terms of "less me, more god". Instead, I ended the year with less faith and somehow, fewer questions. Less soul clutter, less mind pollution, less bondage. Sometimes the heart knows better than the mind what is necessary: last year, it was not less of me, but more. I needed to clear my head of the absorbed misperceptions and negative beliefs. I needed to come to terms with myself, and I did. I ended the year feeling more love toward my self than ever before, a sense of adventure as I began to explore, for the very first time, who I am and what aspects of myself I liked.
This year, I tossed around words like "sophrosyne" - a Greek word often simply translated as prudence, meaning the state of a healthy mind, characterized by self-control, moderation and a deep sense of self. I landed for awhile on a related Greek word, "metanoia" - the journey of changing one's mind, heart, self, or way of life. I considered run-of-the-mill English words like change, being, healing, identity, self, understanding. There were some more heady terms like metamorphosis, transformation, equanimity, mindfulness, intuition, authenticity, unafraid, justice, diversify.
I landed again and again, in the synonyms of the words I pondered, on acceptance. I couldn't get away from it, and for good reason - whether it is accepting the past or accepting myself or accepting my limitations and mistakes, I definitely need more of it. And so I landed, for a few days, on this word. It grew on me. It seemed to encompass all the other goals for the year in one simple term. I write my list of goals from this singular perspective: that acceptance will mean more health, happiness, balance and beauty in our lives, my life.
This year, I will strive to:
1. accept myself
2. accept my past, trauma and all
3. accept the good things in my past as well
4. accept my life circumstances
5. accept my burdens, fears, and failures
6. accept my family, one member at a time, just as they are
7. accept others - students, coworkers, friends, strangers
8. accept ambiguity and uncertainty
9. accept that some answers will always elude me
Have you ever thought about selecting a word that speaks to the personality you want your year to take on? Or perhaps describes a goal you will work on, a concept you are trying to understand, or something you want to change or maintain? Join me at OneWord365 if you wish to read more stories or contribute your own…