At the end of the adult day treatment program, we had to pass around a certificate and have it signed by all the other participants. This was an opportunity for people to wish you well and everyone had to write something, even if they had just started the program that week. It was a final exercise in giving and receiving with an open heart. The instructor collected them at the end of the session and then would pass them out to those of us "graduating" as we left the room.
During the course of the program I had shared my history of divorce, single motherhood, return to school, moving across country, bankruptcy ---the shame of being unable to work at this time---the feeling like this was not a "real" condition---and my debilitating fear of having to face people at work (how would I talk to them? What would I say? How would any of them take me seriously? Would they tease me? Talk behind my back? Treat me like I was broken?).
I had also learned I had some serious problems with perfectionism and was desperate to show that through doing things well, I had worth, value and could justify my place in this world. I had sobbed in front of my therapist more than once as I tried to break through this "shield of perfectionism" (as Brene Brown calls it) that prevented me from letting people see the real me--afraid that I would not be good enough.
The scariest part was I had this shield for so long, I didn't know who the real me was. Instead of spending time just sitting with thoughts, I filled my calendar, cleaned my house, watched a movie, etc. just to avoid spending time alone with me. I even justified my TV time by making sure I also have laundry to fold!
I also learned along the way that I had some serious anger issues from work and when I got wound up talking about it, those around me saw a part of me I don't let out often because it is like trying to manage a kitchen fire. Throw water on it and you are in for an out of control raging blaze. Try to put a pot lid over it to smother it and you have to be very very careful---because while the flame will go out, the heat is still there.
As the sheets of those who started the program with me came and went, it was easy to find things to write on each page. Each of them were brave and honest, thoughtful and real, and through sharing their stories, I had come to recognize their story in mine, and mine in theirs.
No matter our differences--and they ran from generation, to gender, culture and language---we all had struggled with self-compassion during challenging times. We all battled anxiety and depression, were on some kind of medication for it but had worked hard five days a week for eight weeks to better understand ourselves, the world and were ready to take responsibility for continuing to work toward a healthier, happier life.
At the end of class, I retrieved my sheet from the instructor and stared in disbelief at the lengthy praise. In this program, I was ready to receive--help, guidance, support---I was not ready to ready how I had been able to do this exact thing for others. This was when I recognized the spark of what used to burn so brightly in my soul....the desire to make a difference. Those who started the program in the weeks following my start spoke of how I had made them feel welcome, really listened to them, confirmed for them that they were NOT crazy and helped them dare to speak their truth.
Only now, a year later, can I take this piece of paper from its special place and read what was written and believe that it really is me that made an impact on others. It has whet my appetite for more of this wonderful feeling---much like when I do Reiki, I get far more out of it than I give! I am finally able to flip the mirror and see what everyone else saw that day. Someone ready to inspire, lead, encourage and support others who want to do the soul work it takes to get to the good stuff!
Perhaps that will be my next Work in Progress....