I grew up in the church. Every once in awhile, somebody would pray for patience.
I didn’t think too much about it until one of the church ladies told me, “Don’t pray for patience.”
“Why not?” I asked, in all of my teenager naivete.
“Have you ever thought about what happens should you pray for patience?” she asked. “Think about it. You’re asking for stuff to happen to you that will build this part of your character. You’re praying for tough things to happen, things that get on your last nerve.”
Now anytime I hear someone pray or wish for patience, I chuckle. Partly due to this memory, and partly from my own experience with that old idiom, “Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it.”
My Intention Word
With the coming of each new year, I reflect on the past year and think about where I’m heading in life. I think about my mistakes and successes and what I’ve liked and not liked and how I feel about it all. I head to a labyrinth and spend time going inward.
Often while I walk, I hibernate deep inside my heart and dig around and, pretty soon, an intention word appears. Not a New Year’s resolution; this is deeper and more long lasting than that (that’s what she said). An intention word is a way to stay focused throughout the year, to encourage personal growth, and – yes – to build character.
This year, my intention word is Healing. For decades, I’ve dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and all that comes with it. I didn’t start to even believe in the concept of healing until the last couple of years, and as that time has passed, I’ve noticed more and more my own power to help my brain and nervous system heal.
So when my intention word was Healing, I was like, oh that totally makes sense.
Be Careful What You Wish For
There was a lot I didn’t realize when I opened myself up to the process of healing. Like how I won’t have any control over the when, where, and how of this whole Healing thing. Or how much emotional energy this process can take during any given moment or hour or day or week. Or how stuff will simply just come out of nowhere.
Recently, I dried off from my shower and caught a glance of my body in the mirror and heard, “You are fat. You are ugly.”
This isn’t new. I’ve “heard” this message for 35 years, and I’m 45 years old. But this is the first time I really heard it, noticed it for what it was.
And it occurred to me that the voice inside my own head that was saying these words wasn’t my voice.
“Who are you?” I asked.
There was silence.
“I know what my own voice sounds like,” I said. “And this isn’t my voice. Who are you?”
Finding the Root
There was silence, but there was also a memory.
I remember standing in the bathroom, looking into the mirror at 10 years old after an incident with my abusive father and thinking this very thing – “I am fat. I am ugly.”
Because to a 10 year old, there’s no cognitive way to consciously place responsibility and blame where it belongs – in this case, my father. A child’s brain says, “This terrible thing happened because I’m bad, and it is my fault.”
The child victim blames herself. I looked in the mirror and thought, “I am fat. I am ugly.”
And I’ve said it every time I’ve looked in the mirror since that moment.
That was the root of that voice, those repeated phrases I’ve heard over and over again, every time I’ve looked into a mirror.
Healing My Little Girl
I wish that I could tell you that in that moment and with that realization, I was healed. This isn’t really how that works.
But this part of the process is absolutely necessary, that whole “finding the root” business.
Because we can treat symptoms all day long and that’s great, but finding the root is what helps us heal.
I stood there, still in front of the mirror, still drying off from my shower, still looking in the mirror at myself. I even nodded as the memory of my 10-year-old self replayed.
I focused on my 10-year-old girl, because I know that she’s still there, in my heart. I imagined taking her by the hand and looking her in the eye, and saying, “Thank you for protecting me. I know that’s what you were doing.” Then I hugged her and told her, “I don’t need this protection any more. I’ve got both of us.”
The disembodied voice was – is – still there when I look into a mirror. Healing isn’t instantaneous. Healing is a collection of moments. Healing is noticing and digging to the root and discovering what is needed and changing.
That disembodied voice still says, “You are ugly. You are fat.” It’s on a loop. Do you know how to change a message on a loop?
Make a different recording.
Like looking into the mirror and saying, “I was a child. I did not abuse myself, and I’m not doing it now. I am beautiful. I am free.”
I am beautiful. I am free.
I am healing.
Maybe it’s really a good thing to get what you wish for.