My wasband used to say this thing sort of tongue in cheek but sort of seriously. “The lesson will be repeated until learned”. It always bugged me but only because there’s truth in it. One of the things I had to learn to do in recovery is to identify when I’m having a negative feeling and what kind of feeling that might be. I seriously didn’t know the difference between angry, sad, annoyed, hurt, ignored; it was just all one big mass of yuck that I avoided it at all costs. Once I stopped numbing the yuck I got to feel ALL the feelings in all of their complexity and intensity. Oh goody.
When I have a gross feeling the first question I have to ask myself is “is this new or is this old?”. In early recovery it’s hard to tell because everything feels new but as we go along it becomes clearer which are which. More often than not it’s an old feeling and so the next question is, “what pattern am I repeating here?”
OK that’s a lie. The next question is always, “Why does this keep happening to me?!?” then I move on to the pattern thing. The point is, I have to move quickly into identifying where I’m staying in a loop where the painful thing I keep experiencing is allowed to keep presenting itself. The lesson will be repeated until learned.
Hannah Gadsby said, “We learn from the part of the story that we focus on.” The part of the story I focus on is usually the part where I’m the victim of a real or perceived rejection. What I learn from staying in this rejection is that I’m not worthy. Not worthy of respect, not worthy of acceptance, not worthy of love. And there I will stay, sitting in my full diaper until I decide to look at the pattern and learn something from it.
There are two steps to this. Step one is looking at the other person’s part. I have to consider what painful place they may be operating from that caused them to behave in this way towards me if, in fact, they did anything at all (sometimes my hurt comes in the form of silence from another). I have to cultivate compassion and forgiveness for them and it’s so hard when I think someone’s being an asshole. It requires me getting off my high horse and forces me to look at things from their perspective. I know this step is incomplete if there’s any lingering feelings of resentment.
Understanding where they’re coming from is not where I stop. If I do stop there and just say, “Well, that’s their problem and it’s not about me” and leave it at that, then I’ve essentially bypassed the part where I learn something about myself, dooming myself to another cycle of repeating the pattern.
Step two is turning inward and looking at the uncomfortable, gross feelings for what they are. Old wounds reopened. I focus in on where this wound came from, not so much the person or situation that caused it (and if I do get stuck here, see step one), but more from a place of recognizing it and leaning into it rather than avoiding it. I work at cultivating self compassion, forgiveness and a letting go of sorts.
This is the hard part, this is the real work. It’s only from this place that I can learn from the feelings, heal them, create a new story and operate from a new understanding of myself. It’s only from this place I can re-parent myself, create new healthy ways of coping and redefine who I am.
This work has no end, it’s relentless, ever-changing and exhausting at times, but this is what evolution and growth is to me. It’s my duty as a human to do it. This is what my recovery looks like today (and tomorrow and the next day…)