Just because we may be doing our best, doesn’t mean that we don’t shake shrapnel from our skin now and again which may embed itself in the flesh of those nearest to us. Shedding pain doesn’t make us villains, but the more pain that we try to shove out of ourselves by force, the more pain we are likely to cause, both in re-opening our own wounds and in creating new injuries for others. Even those of us with zero malicious intent can be very harmful.
For a time not at all long ago, I was feeling very much so like the villain in my own life, and it destroyed my sense of self and my sense of worth. I completely disintegrated, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I couldn’t grasp the chasm of difference between the way I, the way my behaviors were being received and what I was thinking and experiencing internally. This does not change the fact that there are people who needed to remove themselves from my sphere for their own health and happiness. It has been, is still a hard journey accepting that, despite my desires to the contrary, I was not able to protect others from the fallout of the insecurity and unhappiness and mental anguish that was damaging my own life.
If you are swinging knives desperately to ward off some demon that you cannot seem to understand or even see, the people you care most about will end up sliced and stabbed in trying to protect you from both those demons and from your own knives.
But that does not make you a demon, yourself.
We do the best we can with what we have. I had to accept the fact that I did not have the awareness, the skills, the self-respect to tend to certain issues that had been plaguing me for years. I had to accept that I could not outsource my stability and well-being and confidence and contentment to those around me. I had to accept that there was something deeply lonely and unattended to in my core that is mine alone to make peace with. No one can resolve it but me. Support helps and in some instances is imperative (family, friendships, therapists… these have been my guiding lights), but the work, the cultivation of awareness, the attention to my needs, and the growth toward mending… Those are mine alone.
When we see a stray, a cat or a dog, who has been living on the streets, fending violently for itself, just a creature against the world, we recognize that there are behaviors that they have acquired to adapt to harsh environments that have allowed for their survival. If we try to save this creature or better its circumstances, we may be scratched or bitten or attacked. Somehow, this knowledge does not lessen our compassion for the creature. If you’re anything like me, your heart breaks even more to see how scared and hurt a thing it is that it can’t recognize love and care for what it is, that it can’t fathom the idea of accepting tenderness. It can’t quite understand what that looks like or how to behave in response. Somehow everything is a threat. We shield ourselves against possible injury, sure, but we also persist diligently in trying to heal the little being of its pains.
We are those creatures. We are the strays. We have all acquired certain survival skills that are not well suited for domesticity. But we are also the rescuers. With animals, we show empathy. We look to help them better understand love. We look to teach them skills, patiently and caringly, to better receive and show love. But when we are the injured ones, we rarely take the time to extend the same kindnesses to ourselves. And so we scratch and bite and attack those nearest us, those who are wanting to show us the most that we are loved and safe and wanted. We scratch and bite and attack ourselves, when so very deeply, all we want is to be able to be a loving, cuddled little pet.
You are not the villain. Nor am I. You are not the hero, and likewise I am not either. We are simply injured little creatures and fierce protectors, perpetually discovering new vulnerabilities in ourselves and capable, truly, of creating loving environments to allow those vulnerabilities to mend and to resolve and to become our greatest strengths.
I have a little rescue pup. I found her on the streets when she was only three months old, and she was terrified of everything, quite literally afraid even of shadows. I spent years patiently teaching her that every little scary thing she encountered was okay, that a blinking light wasn’t dangerous, that a friendly old lady wasn’t going to hurt her. Now and again, we still find a little thing that startles her, and we slow down and we approach it quietly and safely and without harshness or frustration, and she learns that it isn’t something scary after all. And the next time she encounters it, she doesn’t show the same fear response. She doesn’t run away as frightened. She doesn’t bark as loudly. She shows more confidence.
Sprout is five years old now, and she has made so very much progress. And the thing is, she is the most compassionate little dog I’ve ever met. Every time I make the sharp inhale of pain, she comes to check in on me to see if I’m hurt. If I sigh in melancholy, she places her paw on my arm and looks up expectantly in case I start to cry. If I do cry, she is in my face, smooching away tears and cuddling into my neck. She’s come to check in on me from the other room a number of times as I’ve been writing this, hearing me start to sniffle and feeling moved to make sure I’m okay.
It sounds silly to say, but I know that as a person, I want to be like Sprout. I want to know what hurt feels like, what fear feels like, and to simultaneously be mended enough in my own struggles to be able to nurse someone else in their times of need. That is my life’s aim, to be able to care for others from a place of empathy and strength because I have been able to care for myself from that same place.
When we take care of our little wounded creatures, those creatures become capable of providing so much care and comfort and joy. For me, that is all I want in the world. But I know being able to care for others starts with caring for myself. And caring for myself came first and foremost from acknowledging that I… I am not a villain. I found the repetition to be very important in the beginning of trying to heal. I used it like a mantra. And now I offer it to you.
You are not a villain.
You are not a villain.
You. Are not. A villain.
Now, go spend some time snuggling your inner wounded pet. Be the patient and kind and compassionate rescuer your sweet, scared creatureself needs and deserves.