Giving our selves permission to be just where we are while we're there so that we can be fully present to these trying, challenging, difficult times and can learn what we need to from them.
Being Exactly Where You Are
If it's not okay to be where you are while you're there, you can never truly be anywhere at all… You don't have to love or even like what's so for you now… But, to grow, to heal and to flourish, you do need your own permission to be just exactly where, who and how you are in this moment and for as long as it's so!
For much of my 42nd and 43rd years I was mired in agonizing struggle. Seriously depressed, I was trying to extricate my self from the challenging relationship in which I'd been enmeshed for seven years. (See Others' Views for more about this time in my journey.)
My partner and I had moved back to California just days after my 42nd birthday. This after a difficult two-year sojourn in South Bend, Indiana where we'd moved to support my partner's terminally ill sister and the sister's young adult children. Even before we'd made that move to Indiana, I'd known that I needed to leave the relationship. Yet, the complicated inner turmoil I felt around breaking away and the press of her family crisis both combined to keep me from doing what I needed to do. While we were in Indiana, I'd been able to push the issue out of my mind.
When we came home to California, we had a trying re-entry. We'd planned to live in my bed-sitter van in a friend's driveway, hoping this arrangement would allow us some time to decompress after the cross-country move, the driving through blizzards en route and the stress we'd lived with for two years in Indiana. We'd anticipated having a few quiet weeks at our friend's before beginning the search for more permanent living arrangements. That wasn't to be. Our two road-weary cats, unusually heavy rains, unexpected leaks in the van, soaking mud all around us and our friend's life having pretty much fallen apart just before we'd arrived, made this plan untenable.
We tried a week-to-week arrangement at a motel with a hot plate and our ice chest. In the continuing monsoon rains, this was another depressingly gloomy situation. Having neither a real nest nor any comfortable separate space added to the stress of our dislocation. Attempts to deal with the taxing physical circumstances exaggerated the already problematic differences in our values, coping skills and interpersonal styles – the differences that had been at the core of our ongoing struggles with each other.
I wanted desperately to throw in the towel, to end the desolation I felt in our painful integration. I'd repeatedly come to the edge of giving voice to this truth and then be overwhelmed with fear. Gut-wrenching terror would constrict my breathing, blur my thinking, leave me panicky and in confusion. From standing at the brink of speaking, I'd bolt backward into the mire of the intolerable situation.
I felt intense hatred for my self around this failure of courage. As we moved forward together into finding a place to rent, buying stuff to replace what we'd left behind in Indiana and beginning to make a new home for our selves, I felt humiliated by my self-betrayal.
For months, as we did this and as I worked to build yet another psychotherapy practice, I sank further and further into despair and self-blame. The Hatchet Lady, my vicious inner critic, kept up her tormenting litany of my failings. I was depressed, feeling hopeless and being plagued by sleepless nights filled with obsessive self-condemnation.
My partner and I would move between tense, cold silences and long hours of trying to process what was happening between us. I couldn't speak the truth of what I was feeling, so my need to leave was never given voice. I hated how I would dissemble during those hours of our attempting to problem-solve issues that were, for me, truly beside the point. I hated my self for feeling so crazed. And, most of all, I detested my self for violating my commitment to always speak my truth.
The self-loathing around being unable to find a way to extricate my self from living this lie-of-a-life further undermined my already devastated self. I could barely get out of bed each day. I wanted to die: it seemed the only way I'd ever get free of this suffocating enmeshment.
Being ready to die opened a tiny crack of possibility for me. I finally found the strength to risk leaving physically, even without being able to speak about my reasons. The emotional entanglement continued and escalated as I left. There were several short, repeating cycles of moving back and moving away again. Still, being in my own separate energy field even some of the time was calming. In my desperation, I was able to let in some loving support that a local couple (new friends) generously and unconditionally offered. They were okay with me being as confused, obsessed with and self-destructively addicted to the relationship as I might be.
Their ability to stay with me without judgment, their acceptance of my process, their willingness to let me be wherever I needed to be until I was done being there, their belief that I would indeed somehow, someday be done being there and their capacity to stay out of trying to fix me – all this gave me a template for new ways to be with my self. Gradually, I began talking differently to my self and being more generous with what felt like my craziness – the despair, the inability to speak my truth, the inability to let go of this destructive involvement. I began holding all of it without the scathing self-condemnation, reminding my self that I was doing the best I could in the moment. I started giving my self permission to be exactly where I was – even if I hated being there – because I grasped that I'd have to be where I was for however long I needed to be there.
Despite how convoluted it all looked to my inner critic, I felt certain that I was involved in a healing process. Everything inside of me felt so different when I gave my self the same room I'd been helping my clients to give to themselves for years: room to let me be without judging me for where or how I might or might not be. Now I, too, could be allowed, honorably, to be clumsily bumbling along until I found my way. My friends' unconditional acceptance had given me the seed from which I created a loving, accepting internal voice. This new-inside-of-me voice evolved into what I called the good-Mommy-Inside-me.
Baby step by baby step, I grew better at accepting my process. I could hate how tangled I was feeling without hating my self for feeling so tangled. Instead, I felt sorry for my poor struggling self. As I grew more accepting of and compassionate toward this beleaguered self, I became more present in my experience, able simply to witness all of my turmoil.
More present in the experience and as witness to it, I had glimpses of insight into what my struggle was about; glimpses that the judging and criticizing had prevented me from seeing. I saw into the complex primal attachment that was keeping me tied to this relationship.
When we had first begun our sharing, my partner and I had appeared to be two significantly empowered go-to figures in our community. Yet, I had been magnetically drawn to the damaged little selves I saw beneath the surface of my partner's public big-person persona. Unasked, I nevertheless instantly dedicated my self to nurturing those unacknowledged wounded parts of her. Though I'd never had permission to own or to nurture the similarly broken little selves hidden within me, in this relationship (and unbeknownst to me) my wounded parts identified with my partner's. Then, as I nurtured and mothered her, my own unacknowledged hungers were, through the identification, being able to have an illusory (and secret) sense of being fed by me.
Leaving the relationship would have meant cutting off the vicarious nourishment that till then was the only sustenance these parts of me were getting in the world. The starvelings in me were petrified that they would die if I left the relationship, if I stopped nurturing my partner. Every time I took another step toward emotionally separating from the relationship, I would feel I was teetering on the brink of annihilation, both of my self and of my partner. It was this terror that would, each time, pull me back into the enmeshment.
Giving my self permission to pay attention to the hungry parts of me provided a doorway for deep healing to happen. As my inner starvelings became more visible to me I – without judgment – began to own how impaired I was beneath the layers of strength from which I'd lived. I began to feel as loving toward and devoted to my own needy self as I'd till then only been able to feel toward my partner's neediness.
As I turned my capacity for unconditionally loving and nurturing toward what was broken in me, I could directly feed my own till-then-denied hungers. This change in focus was the start of the arduous but successful process of individuating my self out of the entanglement with my partner.
Giving our selves permission to be exactly how and where we are while we're there allows us to be fully present in/to our most challenging experiences. The more present we are in/to these, the sooner we get what it is we need to learn in and from them and the sooner we come to the other side of them. This is true even when where we are is someplace we hate. And, it's especially true when we seem to be staying in that hated, uncomfortable place for an excruciatingly long time.
Consider giving your self permission to be just exactly where you are while you're there – even when you truly wish you didn't have to be there at all.