Early in my recovery from co-dependency, I remember someone suggesting I should shift the focus from taking care of others to taking care of myself. At the time, that seemed like an almost impossible order. What did I like to do? What did I need? What did I want? Where would I find the time to do it? Would I be selfish to put myself first? I hadn’t a clue.
Baby steps led to long strides, which led to giant leaps, and I discovered it was pretty exciting to explore what my needs and desires were, and it felt pretty bold to meet them. I loved it.
Fast forward to today. I do a pretty good job of being self-responsible and taking care of my needs, and as a result I have for the most part created a life full of purpose and meaning, one that is sourced from a full cup overflowing. Even with the ups and downs of daily life, the days of martyrdom are just a past life memory.
But recently I found myself overextended. Overcommitted. Depleted. Exhausted. In a way that I haven’t felt in years.
Oops! I thought I had that self-care thing down pat. I thought I had learned to set boundaries where appropriate, say no without guilt, to stay centered in myself. I thought I had learned that I could give to others while still taking care of myself. How in the world did I not see this coming until it was too late?
Now I could beat myself up for not recognizing I had fallen into a pattern of taking on more than was humanly possible. I could promise myself I will do better next time, that I will work harder at acknowledging my limits. I could create a list of all kinds of ways to nourish myself and recharge my battery.
Here’s the thing though. Sometimes, it is our stumbles and missteps that are the answer to our prayers. I had been praying to be shown the ways in which my negativity was blocking my spiritual growth, and my prayers were answered. Loud and clear.
In the midst of exhaustion and overwhelm, my normally strong defenses fell apart along with everything else, and the unconscious negativity I am so ashamed of and so desperately want to hide from others came out sideways, directed at someone I care about. Ouch.
While not something I am proud of, it gave me an opportunity and the necessary motivation to face this destructive part in me that needs healing. Not push it back into hiding, but face it, feel it, and hold it in compassion. It ushered in the humility of being human, and served as a reminder that I am not what I do. Positive or negative.
If I had been perfect at taking care of myself, I would have probably been more adept at keeping this destructive aspect of myself under wraps, where it would continue to fester and hurt myself and others unnoticed (at least by me). When I am afraid of an unexamined part that lives in me, I cannot heal it. I cannot outgrow it. I remain imprisoned by it.
So while self-care is still a goal I aspire to, perfection is something I am willing to let go of. For the time being at least. Sometimes falling apart is the most necessary next step on the spiritual path.
And I want to remember that it is not my negativity that is the problem, but rather that voice inside me that tries to convince me to pretend my negativity doesn’t exist. The voice that uses shame to keep me guarded behind my mask. That voice is actually a lower self trick, designed to make me think it is protecting me, when in reality it is only protecting my negativity. And it’s time to call it out for what it is.
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TREASURE IN THE DEPTHS: Identifying Hidden Obstacles to Fulfillment.