This week's lesson in Arianna Huffington's Thrive course is about self forgiveness and gratitude.
Wow, I have been musing on this teaching all week. I have been meditating, walking and thinking about it, writing about it, having resistance to it, intrigued and yet repelled by this exploration.
I've realized that I have had so much shame about the ways that I have hurt others and the ways in which I've hurt myself.
I'm a former alcoholic, and I struggled for years with it, like one does with an abusive lover. I loved alcohol and hated what it made me become. At one point in my life I was being held in a mental institution after I used a razor to attempt to commit suicide. I remember looking out of the gated windows of my hospital room thinking, something is deeply wrong with me, I must truly be crazy, my life isn't working and I honestly don't know what to do about it.
Many years later, I got sober and I then went through an extraordinary spiritual transformation. I found all of these wonderful healing gifts that had been hidden inside of me open in a very magical and powerful way.
My healing career began.
I found that I had an increased ability to help people profoundly that were suffering the way I used to.
What didn't make sense to me at the time was that I was having radical breakthroughs with those I worked with professionally but at the same time, a lot of my personal friendships and romantic relationships started to break down.
I saw dark shadowy parts of my psyche that were still there! I was very confused and ashamed by this reality.
I thought this doesn't make any sense; I finally found my purpose on the planet and now I get to heal others instead of all the pain and wreckage I caused for so many years in my alcoholism, and still these dark shadows in my personality continued to emerge.
I wanted to cut those parts of myself out, I wanted to amputate the unkind ways, the rage, the depression that still plagued me. I secretly thought, I'm a fraud. I'm saying I'm a healer and yet I can't keep my own relationships healthy, I can't even heal myself.
I remember a boyfriend and I arguing once and he said, "How can you be a healer? You're so selfish and negative and unloving!" I said "I know, you're right, I don't know, I honestly don't know how the two can be true, but somehow they are." I meant that, I really didn't know. I didn't understand having this gift to heal and yet still struggling with my own mess.
I've done extensive studies on the lives of complicated artists: Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, Miles Davis Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson. I studied fallen spiritual leaders like Jim Jones. He convinced his followers, through coercion and force, to drink a lethal dose of poison on his compound, ending in thousands of deaths.
I realize now I was struggling with my shadow and just really just needed to know, how can one have so much talent and yet overdose on pills, beat their wives or have horrible reputations for crazy behavior, and unkind ways? I thought if I can understand it in them, perhaps I can understand in some small way my own conflicted world.
Through studying the lives of tortured artists but mostly of course through my own personal journey with my shadow I've learned that either you harness your fire, or it burns you and those around you to a crisp, and that that often takes time to master. The bigger the creative fire the more need to tend to and nurture and heal it's shadowy opposite.
This week, as I'm coming to this very personal place inside of me into what it is to forgive myself, I'm noticing forgiveness beginning to emerge.
I was meditating and thought, I have had the experience of being the kind healing loving one and I've experienced myself as the unkind, destructive one.
At this point in my life I have gratitude for my journey in the light and the dark.
I've come to that, I have spent my entire life trying to pour water on my destructive fire, to douse it out.
Like an alchemist, one who transmutes metals, I have been on a journey to understand and harness this fire in me that has wild capabilities to heal and yet the wild capability to harm.
It's the same energy! I've just learned how to use it for good on the planet. That rather than needing to destroy or amputate parts of myself, I've needed to get to know them deeply, to show them compassion and love, transmuting them into an ability to heal myself and to help others to heal and to understand their own healing journey.
That kind of nuance has taken time, and of course, I'm still learning.
In the same way one doesn't stop using fire because it has the capacity to burn your house down and everyone in it, but rather one learns, wow, I must have respect for this element and learn how to use it to warm the house, and feed my child.
I am grateful to the fire in me, This innate wildness that once used to burn houses down, now warms the hearts and souls of the hurting. I am grateful I didn't douse her out with water!
I often think would Janis Joplin be dead, would Jimi Hendrix be dead now, if they had learned that with great creative fire comes a need for supreme respect and reverence for this element inside that requires transmutation to be used for creation rather than destruction?
I forgive myself for not knowing, like a baby how to handle this complex beautiful fire inside of me.
I forgive me for burning myself and others out of ignorance.
I am so very grateful for the very thing that I thought was my greatest flaw! I finally arrive at the understanding that my every unkindness, depression, wild crazy madness inside of me was a brilliant untamed fire that was longing to be transmuted into a discovery of who I truly am, a powerful woman, a loving woman, a compassionate healer.
Do I regret the harm I've done to others, to myself? Do I wish I had had the insight and self love to act differently? Oh my, Absolutely, every single day!
It's just that now with deeper self knowledge and wisdom that has come with time, I'm able to forgive myself. I can use like fertilizer, the ills of my past to grow in compassion for myself and others that are on this journey of understanding love and it's opposite fear.
The good news? We get to turn our mess into our message!
I'm grateful that I now get to tell others, Hey, you don't have to be perfect! You can get it wrong and in getting it wrong you can learn and grow, eat some dirt on those falls and receive the nutrients from the soil of life, to get back up! To transmute the fire inside into healing blessings and Love!!!
Another powerful week in the Thrive course! The journey continues.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.