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I’ve pretty much decided that the person I most need to ‘hug it out’ with … is me. (For the uninitiated, ‘hugging it out’ is to end an argument or dispute with a hug showing that the ill will is over). The person I am the cruelest to … is me. The person I am most frequently at odds with…is me. The person I am the hardest on…is me.

Not a real comfortable thought. Pretty crappity, actually.

And how did I come to this bit of wisdom?? By getting slapped upside the back of my head with it via the Universe. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I choose to pay attention – and when some issue comes up for me in separate instances in quick succession, I figure that it’s being brought front-and-center for a reason. I choose to believe the reason is because it’s something I must be ready to look at or deal with.

On Monday, in two separate instances, I was forced to confront the fact that I have an absolutely impossible time saying anything good about myself in a true and real way. And I don’t mean that I can’t admit that I do things well – but that’s surface stuff. I can’t say nice things about who I am as a being. And that sucks.

The first slap? During our art journaling group, where the page topic was “I am beautiful and sacred because…” People, I had nothing. I looked around at my friends who were busily listing out the ways they knew they were beautiful and sacred, and I sat there frozen like a deer caught in headlights. I actually felt my brain do that open-mouthed, fish gasping, um-um-um, thing. I finally picked some stuff that I felt like I could convince myself was true and put it on my list. And somewhere in the back of my mind, the justifications started, “That was just hard because you weren’t focusing. It’s nothing. You know all this stuff. Blah. Blah. Blah.”

And I went about my day. That night (as I wrote about in my last blog), I attended a ‘floating salon’ where we were talking about our womanness and what it is to be a woman, etc. One of the things that we were encouraged to do as a part of embracing our juicy selves was to brag. About ourselves. Again, the deer-in-headlights, fish gaping reaction. My brain panicked and just kind of stuttered.

As you all know, I am verbose. Loquacious, even. When asked to come up with even one brag, I had nothing. And as much as I’d like to say it’s because I am some paragon of modesty, up for sainthood or something, I can’t because I’m not.

What I am is a product of my upbringing – the child of Midwestern parents whose genealogy includes a whole lot of stoic folks. Talking about yourself is pretty much a no-no. When you’re asked how you are, the proper response is “Fine. And you?” And then they say, “Fine.” And then you talk about the weather. Bragging? That’s anathema.

I can admit that’s a convenient ‘out’ for me – when you become an adult and make your way in the world on your own, it’s on you to iron out the wrinkles that are inherent in any upbringing (different upbringing = different garment = different wrinkles – but no matter what, we’ve all got wrinkles). Once you’re out there on your own, I figure you don’t get to point at your mommy and daddy and say that’s why this or that is screwy with you. What you get to do is sit with your wrinkle and figure out why you’re still hanging onto something that obviously doesn’t work for you anymore. And replace it with something a bit healthier, or with a better fit for you.

And the reason I’m clear on the fact that I can’t simply point to my Midwestern upbringing, shrug my shoulders and let it go is because this was the second time today that I needed to be able to say something good and positive about myself, and it was the second time I was utterly stymied by that simple task.

What’s one good thing I can say about myself? Well, it’s another ‘easy’ one because it’s about something I do, not something I am. I am an awesome cheerleader for people – I am awesome at telling other people how awesome they are. It’s absolutely effortless for me to see their good stuff and tell them about it.

Why in the hell can’t I do that for myself? I am okay at telling myself the things I am good at – I can at least acknowledge it. I am utter crap at telling myself the things I am. You know, I don’t even know if I am clear on what I am. What I embody. What I shine forth.

I’ve thought about this for a couple of days now, and I think it has to start with stopping something. I have to stop telling myself all the ways I fail. I have to stop pointing at all the missteps and small mistakes and flogging myself with them. I have to stop telling myself perpetually that there is something wrong with me.

A few weeks ago, one of my dear friends posted a video on her blog. And I found myself going back to watch it again and again. It was called “There is nothing wrong with you.” I watched it, and I cried. Because no matter how much self work I’ve done, no matter how much excavating I’ve done inwardly, no matter how many books I’ve read or classes I’ve attended, I still believe that I am something to be fixed. To be improved. To be healed. To be amended, appended, adjusted. That I need to improve, remove. That I need to tweak and pull and twist myself continually in the aim of finally achieving…what?

And you know what? It’s not true. I am not broken. I am not faulty. I am not sick. I am not damaged. I am not a screw up. I am not a failure. I am not something to be fixed.

There is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with you, either, by the way, though you think there is.

I think that somewhere along the way, I stopped focusing on what the path of mastery is supposed to be about and started getting stuck in fixing all my foibles. That is not the path of mastery. The path of mastery is noticing. It is attending. It is being present. It is noticing who you are and what you do, and how it makes you feel – and then knowing that the path continues beyond that point of notice, offering you opportunity after opportunity to make new choices. Nowhere in that is there any inherent judgment. I slapped the judgment in there all by myself.

It’s reflective of that distinction that good parents make when correcting a child – to make sure to say that it was a bad choice, or a naughty thing to do, but to never tell the child that they are bad or naughty. Somewhere along the line, I stopped making that distinction for myself, and started telling myself that I was wrong, that I was broken, that I was bad. And I forgot that it was the things I did – which can always be changed, and new choices made – which could be judged, if judging is even necessary.

I’m sharing the video on here again, because I need to watch it again. There is nothing wrong with me. I cannot hear that enough times, and maybe neither can you.

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For the past few weeks, things have felt really intense. A few different things have been chasing around and through my thoughts – mantra-like – that wanted to be written. And every single time I sat down to write them, the words wouldn’t come, and nothing I felt was translated onto the page. It was obnoxious. So, today, I am determined to expel at least one of these imps into the blogosphere, even if it doesn’t come out quite right.

I keep thinking about my past selves. I keep coming back to the summer I was fifteen. It was a super sucky time in my life – my family life had entered turbulent waters, I was a teenager (‘nuff said), and I was dating a boy two years older than myself who was intensely controlling and abusive. Not a whole lot of bright spots there.

On Mother’s Day, the boyfriend and I were in the car, and we’d had a fight (can you call it that if you aren’t able to rebut anything? Then it’s really more attack-like – or at least that’s how it felt). On the way to an outing with his family, I already smelled trouble – he was in a dangerous mood, and on the road we took to get to our destination, the same set of train tracks crossed three times. He charged the train with the car at each crossing, as though determined to send the both of us to oblivion.

Things did not improve from there, and I ended up demanding to be taken home. On the return trip, I was alone with him and his anger, which poured out of him, came out and spilled over, seething. He sped – he knew it scared me, terrified me. The needle on the little car was buried, and I know that we were going over 100 miles an hour. And then he had a moment of clarity, of sense breaking through the rage. He tried to stop, but it was too late. The wheels on the car locked up, and we were still careening endlessly toward the T-stop, and the field of trees beyond it.

A strange thing happened then. I relaxed. I surrendered, knowing that there was nothing I could do to change it. I closed my eyes, and we crashed into the rear end of a van sitting at the corner, waiting to turn.

I leaned my face over the plastic console – I was bleeding profusely, and even then all I could think about was that he’d be furious that I’d ruined the upholstery in the car. It never even occurred to me that the car was demolished. He plucked me from the side of the car, and set me in the ditch.

A woman came, and she put her arm around me. She had a white sweatshirt on, with a pretty lace collar – the kind my mother wore. I never saw her face – too much blood and glass in my eyes. I pulled away, saying, “I don’t want to ruin your shirt.” She made me feel safe, and somehow, I felt no panic, no fear. She tucked me back into her, and said, “Don’t you worry about that now honey.” I didn’t see then or know then what she knew, what the boyfriend knew – that my face looked like hamburger.

The lady called my mother, on Mother’s Day, to tell her what a mother never wants to hear. There’s been an accident.

They strapped me in, and carted me off in the ambulance. I cracked jokes the entire time they scrubbed my raw skin with gauze and antiseptic. I laughed in the dark. They x-rayed my knees and told me the cartilage behind one kneecap was cracked vertically, and would eventually give me problems. That there was nerve damage. That there would be physical therapy. The only time I cried was when the doctor told me that they’d have to stitch up the cut on my eyelid (I sincerely detest needles – and there was going to be one repeatedly heading toward my eye. Shudder – still gives me the heebie jeebies).

I overheard the policeman telling my mother that if any one thing had been different, we would have died. That we should be dead. That it didn’t make sense because when cars hit like that, the engine comes up into the passenger compartment and crushes legs, and that didn’t happen. That we should have flown through the window, since we hadn’t had seatbelts on. That we shouldn’t be here. That somehow, miraculously we were.

They wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom alone – later my mom told me that she was afraid of what would happen when I saw my face. They took me home, and I lay there – a bundle of nerves and pain. I reacted to the ointment they slathered liberally over my cuts, and it burned. I looked like someone had taken a blow torch to that side of my face.

Finally, I went into the bathroom. Alone. I stared in the mirror at the stranger there. Scabs from hairline to jaw line, from ear to nose. Grotesque. Somewhere deep inside, a caged thing stirred. I sobbed, staring at this ugliness on the outside, feeling the ugliness inside. Who will ever want me like this? Who, who? Who will ever want me like this?

I’d had the appropriate amount of teenage vanity – I was no beauty queen, but I had liked my face. I had a pretty porcelain complexion, with rosy cheeks – the kind that turns absolutely crimson and livid with too much sun. I had a smattering of freckles, and my mother’s eyes. I had my mother’s face, reimagined. And now, I was a monster.

The boyfriend was shades of remorse for about two days and five minutes. It took far longer for my face to heal, much less my spirit. The scars stood out fuchsia and angry on my cheek – slashes. My friends said, “They look cute, like cat’s whiskers.” That so did not help, but I knew what they were trying to do, and I let them have that – I let them feel like they could make it better.

Who will ever want me, like this?

At the checkup, my mom asked the doc about plastic surgery. He recommended someone, and we made an appointment. Somewhere in my fifteen-year-old mind was the desperate hope that they would be able to work magic, to make it all disappear.

We arrived at the office and met with the surgeon. He said that if they attempted to fix any of it, it would likely make it worse. I would just have to heal on my own. I was choking on tears, but I thanked him for his time, and we walked out of the office.

I made it to the elevator, my mom rubbing my arm. I couldn’t hold it in anymore – I needed to grieve for the girl I’d been and would never be again. I sucked in hard, and started sobbing, quietly asking, Who? Who will ever want me like this?

The elevator stopped to let a woman on, and I felt ashamed for crying. I felt exposed – and still, I couldn’t stop the hiccupping sobs. My mom briefly told the woman what had just happened. And the woman, this stranger, tucked me into her and held me. Told me that I was beautiful, and that someone, somewhere would see that and know. She held me in all my grief and sorrow. She said the words I could never have believed out of my mother (your mother has to love you, has to see you as beautiful, no matter what happens). She held me and rocked me, and there were tears in her voice when she comforted me.

Years passed, the scars healed and lightened, blending into my natural paleness. I still have to avoid the sun, because that whole side of my face is more sensitive. For more than ten years, I picked small glittering shards of glass out of my cheek and forehead. Tiny diamonds. Everyone who saw me then, broken, thought that I would never look the same. For the most part, I do. But I never was the same, and that was the important part.

I made decisions following this that came from a deeper well of strength and courage than I’d been able to access before. I became more assertive. I wore the scars, for a time, as a warrior’s badge of honor. I wore them in daring, and with a chip.

And then I didn’t need the warrior so much anymore. And I was able to soften. Eventually, I was able to see in this what I was meant to see – that cry, that Who? Who will ever want me like this? had been there before the scars, and lasted far past them. That cry is universal. That cry reflected the brokenness and ugliness I felt inside, about who I was – and my fear that I was far too flawed for love.

I softened. Each time I think about the woman on the side of the road, and how she tucked me into herself, and held me, I cry. Each time I think about the lady on the elevator, and the compassion she showed a stranger, the way she held me tight like I was sobbing for both of us, I cry. And I know that we are angels to one another.

We turn to each other in elevators and lobbies, in checkout lines and on street corners, and say, “I see you. You matter. Someone, many someones, want you – just like this.”

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)