Discovering the richness, comfort and nourishment in surrendering into feeling sorry for our selves and pulling the covers up over our heads.
Covers Over Our Head
Sometimes the best thing to do is to give your self permission
to pull the covers over your head and to feel sorry for
your self – just until you're good and ready to stop!
(And, you really will be ready to stop sometime!)
In the spring of my 42nd year I began the years-long journey of extricating my self from an intense, symbiotic seven-year relationship. What had started as a love that took me to never explored edges of my being had become a painful enmeshment in which I'd gradually lost the threads of connection with my inner self.
We were both experiencing the deadening undertow of what we had become together. For a long while despair and frustration paralyzed both of us. We spun round and round in repeated, ultimately useless attempts to fix our selves, each other and the relationship. Consultations with a therapist only deepened the morass.
That June, in desperation and terror I packed my clothes and papers into the van in which I had once lived and tried to leave. I unpacked back into our house later that same day, too panicked to go ahead and take the step of leaving. Two more days of anguish (and the mounting terror of staying) finally allowed me to repack the van and drive away in the blistering heat of an Ojai summer day.
At first I lived in the van parked in my friends' driveway with access to their air-conditioned garage-office and guest bathroom. Then, I found a partly furnished guest apartment on a ranch where I could live rent-free in exchange for feeding a large menagerie of physically challenged animals and birds.
Except when I was seeing clients or feeding the animals I was unable to stop crying. Breathing was a struggle: I'd stand in doorways and force my self to exhale so that inhaling would become a possibility.
I would occasionally, for a moment or two, recover a small scrap of my once familiar balance. Then, a phone call with my ex would catapult me back into the anguish and terror. It was as if we'd been conjoined twins and the outcome of our separation surgery was in doubt. Did we each have enough of an internal life support system to survive? That I had done the actual leaving mattered not at all; I felt abandoned and bereft, completely betrayed by the loving.
Never before had my capacity to function been so undermined. Never before had I been so unable to find or feel my own strength and wholeness. Never as an adult had I felt so devastated, so helpless in my anguish.
It took all the energy I had to drag my self through the day. Typically a night owl, I'd crawl into bed at 8:30 or 9:00 P.M. I packed lots of pillows all around me and literally pulled the covers over my head. I rocked and wept and thought I'd never get through the pain and suffering. I howled and keened and slept and dreamed.
And, I felt unremittingly sorry for my self. It didn't occur to me to think that this wasn't okay or that it was weak or self-indulgent, useless or unproductive. I seemed to have no choice in the matter of how I felt just then. Thinking positively was beyond me, even though it had, before this, been my usual way of coping with challenging times. I was entirely out of cope, bereft of hope.
I surrendered into the feeling sorry for my self. It felt comforting and nourishing. It felt real and appropriate. It felt compassionate and caring to the broken, wounded parts of me. It went on for a very long time. After a while, it became more of an intermittent experience. In between covers-over-the-head times there were occasional hopeful moments, brief flashes of feeling that survival and resurrection might be possible. Gradually, there were more and more of these hopeful moments and, after that, longer and longer hopeful periods between shorter and shorter sieges of feeling sorry for my self. At some point I noticed I no longer had anything about which I needed to feel sorry for my self. (In that growing season, at least.)
Giving way to feeling sorry for my self had always before seemed a dangerous entry into a downward spiral from which there would be no return. Everything I was ever taught inspired this fear of "giving in" to feeling bad. In the past, I'd had the strength and energy to fight the pull to collapse into feeling bad. I'd get busy, do constructive things or get into doing for others (how many articles about depression counsel just this!).
In this extremely trying time, when my suffering was too severe for me to use my old ways, I experienced a powerful and liberating truth. Feeling bad, feeling sorry for my self, is not dangerous, not the start of a spiral into hopelessness. When I can surrender into the middle of it while being tender and compassionate with my aching, wounded self, it is a process: a path to my deepest self, a doorway to healing.
We live in a culture in which feeling bad, sad, despairing, grieving or depressed leads us to feel like a pariah, a carrier of some awful contagion. We are everywhere and every way encouraged to get over it: take an anti-depressant; think positively; focus on envisioning better feelings; don't be a drag on our friends/family/colleagues by showing our sad faces. Submitting to this inexorable pressure leads us to close off from the rich, empowering discoveries that come from compassionately embracing our darker moments. It also keeps us from discovering the truth that the only real way out of hard feelings is through them!
Consider taking some time for pulling the covers over your head, curling up with a teddy bear and feeling sorry for your self the next time you're having a hard time.
(Lesley Hazelton's The Right to Feel Bad, SARK's Transformation Soup and Elizabeth Lesser's Broken Open offer words – if you want them – to help support you as you risk being with the darker moments and risk feeling sorry for your self.)