We’re in the midst of a world-wide crisis with COVID-19. How do we get through it? How do we deal with the anxiety, grief, and uncertainty?
Here’s the story of how self-compassion helped me through a difficult time, excerpted from my book, Out of Love: Finding Your Way Back to Self-Compassion.
Sometimes life stops you in your tracks and forces you to take a good look at who you’ve become.
My wake-up call came in August of 2016, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a double mastectomy and a lot of soul searching, I realized I had not been happy for many years, and I needed to make some big changes in order to live a more meaningful life. One of these changes was to leave my husband of almost ten years.
In my marriage, I had perpetuated the pattern of surrounding myself with critical people. My husband did the best he could, considering the challenges he faced, but I found myself stifled in our relationship, unable to grow into the person I wanted to be. For months, I agonized about how to tell him I was leaving. I knew it would break his heart, and I desperately wanted not to do that. Finally, on a February day in 2017, with the help of a counselor, I told him.
Later that night, I received a call from the sheriff’s department: There’d been a car crash in West Oakland. A concrete pillar. He’d died instantly.
When I returned to our apartment, I found a suicide note and two Google Map printouts of the crash site. The counselor, our friends, our family, me—we were all in shock. There’d been no signs. That must have meant it was my fault.
It had all happened in rapid succession within the course of six months—the breast cancer diagnosis and double mastectomy, the difficult decision to leave my husband, his subsequent suicide. How was I ever going to make sense of all this? How was I ever going to live without blaming myself every day for my husband’s death?
In the fall of 2017, I went back to school for my PhD, determined to study how self-compassion can help us move through transitions. Because that’s what self-compassion has been doing for me, day by day.
Change isn’t easy. It can be a slow and arduous process, very much like the process of metamorphosis that changes a caterpillar into a butterfly. In one of the four stages, the soon-to-be butterfly turns itself into mush, dissolving all the old to make room for the new. Likewise, I’ve had to let go of the past in order to embrace the new and accept feeling like mush sometimes. As we allow the process of transformation to move through us, we must be gentle with ourselves. We can’t control what happens, but we can choose what story to tell about it, and that makes all the difference.
In August of 2018, two years after my cancer diagnosis, I remarried and became a stepmom. My second husband, Daniel, loves me for who I am and inspires me to be my best self. He gives me room to grow. As in all relationships, of course, there are challenges. What’s so amazing about self-compassion is that I can be the container for myself, taking care of me even when the world around me seems to be falling apart. Knowing that I can do this emboldens me to make authentic, vulnerable choices, like breaking my heart open and loving again.
(Excerpted from Out of Love: Finding Your Way Back to Self-Compassion, by Marianne Ingheim, She Writes Press, May 2020)