Compassion… for myself

“How could I have not realized this before? Why was this so hard for me to wrap my heart and head around?” were the questions that filled my mind as I listened to an old friend explain what he saw some forty years ago in that hospital room.

For the first time he described seeing his six year old friend, lying on that bed, her body bright red without the cover of her skin. He too was just a small boy, same age, and the image permanently imprinted on his heart.

This grieved me. Suddenly I saw myself as a wounded little girl and felt the empathy he had for her. For the first time I saw myself as a victim. My memory was always from the vantage point of looking out, groaning in pain and being embarrassed that my friends, who visited me, would see me naked, because naked I was.

I realized in that moment, I never thought of what I actually looked like in the hospital.

Hearing what he saw, I realized, it was a horrific scene… I was a horrific scene.

The scars that remain from those procedures I know well, and I have found healing in and through my scars, but suddenly, I realized I never dealt with my wounds? This image that my friend, a little boy then, saw was me…

I also realized how important it was for me to see myself truthfully. I needed to clear my own perceptions of what I went through.

Why is it at 44, did I feel shock at the image of what he saw? But why hadn’t I ever felt sadness or empathy for that little girl before?

It is amazing how we struggle to see ourselves truthfully. And what is even more amazing is how we struggle to give ourselves the same grace and compassion we so freely give to others.

I have met so many women who too cannot see their own truth. They cannot see that when they were abused as a child that they were a victim, and cannot hold any responsibility or guilt for what was done to them.

I have also met women who suffered from domestic violence, yet they carry guilt for what their children witnessed, they struggle to acknowledge that they suffered too, that it was not their fault. Because the truth is he alone holds all responsibility and he is the one who exposed his children to HIS behavior.

So for those women, today, I want to ask you, the same questions I asked those women, who sat with me and struggled with seeing their truth, nor allowed their hearts to give compassion to themselves.

My question to you today is, if you walked in and saw a little girl, who was in her room crying because of what was done to her… in that moment, what would you do for her, what would you say to her, and how would you help her?

Would you not run in, wrap a warm blanket around her, pick her up and hold her in your arms and run out that front door, whispering, “It will never happen again, you are safe now.”

Do you blame her, or does she hold any responsibility for what happened? Of course not.

This time, I want you to open that door again and see a little girl in her room crying, but this time it is you, you as the child you were. Do for her what you did for the other little girl. Run to her, wrap her with a warm blanket, pick her up and hold her, and walk out that front door whispering, “You safe now, and it is not your fault.” Because isn’t that what she deserves? And as you think of her, it is okay to grieve for her, because she was a victim. She needs your compassion to ever truly heal.

Or, to the woman abused by her husband, I ask, if you walked in and found a woman, slumped in that corner, afraid that “he” will return, terrified what her children witnessed when she was helpless to stop it- what would you say to her, how would you comfort her, would you tell her it was her fault? …And don’t you deserve the same grace and comfort that you would offer that other woman today?

No matter what your wounds are, if you fought cancer, or faced an accident and carry the scars to prove you survived, remember the woman or child that was wounded. She needs your compassion, because she suffered.

I have spoken to so women in jail, and so many of them reveal this terrible truth, that they were introduced to drugs at a very early age, and most commonly by their own parents. How tragic. Can’t they see how tragic that was? How unfair that was. They need to stop blaming themselves for the child that was hurt so young. Once she can give herself the compassion she deserves, and stop blaming herself for falling into the claws of addiction, she can fight that grip and realize that what was done to her was wrong, and those abusers will not have the last word in her life. Because in spite of what they did, she can overcome, she can fight this, she can change the cycle.

There is this crazy tendency in all of us to hold ourselves more accountable than we do others. We can see a child or woman suffering and we are quick to help, but can’t show mercy to ourselves or even perceive that we have been a victim too. We are able forgive others, but can’t forgive ourselves and even hold ourselves responsible for things and people we had no control over.

And there are also moments we make mistakes, sometimes terrible mistakes, and now we sentence ourselves to a life-long penance that we feel we can never truly pay.

The reality is that we cannot change what happened. We can however, take off the guilty lenses and see that we suffered, at times we were a victim, we were harmed, and experienced pain we did not deserve. We need to stop blaming ourselves for something we couldn’t control, we need to give grace to ourselves that equals that which we would offer another. And if we stumbled and the pain was something we caused, we can look back and still offer compassion by changing our perspective to learn from those moments and use that learning experience to make a difference.

The truth is, pain happens. It happens to the best of us, it happens to the worst of us. We all at some point experience pain, because pain is unbiased, it transcends all human nature, ethnicity, title, and wealth. But the good news is triumph over pain is also available to all.

My healing challenge to all women who have suffered, been a victim, hold guilt for things in their life that they were responsible for or those incredible tragic moments when they were innocent yet harmed, I ask you to go back in your heart, to that very moment where tragedy and great pain took over, and ask yourself if you saw this happen to another, what would you say to her, how would you help her. Would you believe her pain? Doesn’t she deserve compassion?

…And then… be compassionate to yourself, be truthful, be honest, and do what so many can’t, give yourself grace and let the healing begin.

To that little girl in the hospital room, forty years ago, I say to her for the first time, “I am sorry. I am so sorry.”

-written by Andrea Casteel Smith, author of Scarred Beautiful, A Memoir.