Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I can help myself.

His feet shuffled along the floor as he slowly made his way into the elevator. I waited, patiently. His feet were shoeless. His toes where they peeked out from beyond the edges of his frayed and dirty jeans, were black with dirt. The staff accompanying him to the elevator saw me inside and smiled. "He's going to second," he told me.

I swiped my card and pressed the button for the second floor. "I'll bring you up a pair of shoes and socks," the staff member told the man as the doors swept closed.

The man stood leaning against the far corner of the elevator wall. He kept his head focused on the floor.

"I'm sorry," he said to me.

I was taken aback. "Sorry? You have no need to apologize to me."

"I'm so slow," he replied as the elevator gave a small jerk and stopped. The doors started to open. He kept his eyes focused on the floor. "I'm sorry to be such a burden on everybody else." He started to shuffle his feet towards the exit. "I don't like being dependent upon others."

"Sometimes, when we fall, we need to rest before getting up again. Sometimes, we need people to help us get up."

He stopped momentarily at the edge of the opening to the elevator. "Hmm" His right shoulder lifted slightly then quickly lowered itself. "Doesn't mean I have to like it," he muttered as he made his way onto the second floor.

No. It doesn't.

When I first got my life back I hated being dependent. Being broken. Being broke.

I hated my life and with my hatred, I hated me.

To heal, I had to change my state of mind. I had to accept my reality. I was broken. Very, very broken. Until I admitted my state of being, I could not accept help without attaching pity to the outstretched hands. I hate being pitied.

Last evening, I returned to the shelter for a course I give with a volunteer -- Project Forward. The course is designed to assist clients in taking down the roadblocks inhibiting their progress forward. Tactical and practical assistance is given in dealing with fines and obtaining pardons from Corrections Canada. We provide tools to file back taxes, unpaid child support and more. My role in the program is to be the cheerleader. To provide the tools that will help individuals build their self-esteem, confidence, sense of worth.

As the evening began, the encounter with the man on the elevator was still fresh on my mind.

"How many here hate living here?" I asked the ten participants.

All ten hands lifted into the air.

"How much time to you spend thinking about what you hate?"

One man looked up from where he was staring at the boardroom table and said, "Too much."

I nodded my head. "Yeah. We all do it. We find something to hate and spend our energy thinking about what we don't like, don't have. What went wrong. What happened. Who's to blame. And, in the process, we hate ourselves for what we've done, where we're at."

I looked around the room. It was quiet. Still. "How many here hate themselves for what's happened to their lives."

Slowly, hands started to rise. "I can't help myself," a woman said, the elbow of here small pudgy hand resting on the table top. Her head leaning into her arm.

"If you won't help yourself, why should I?" I asked her.

I could feel the tension in the room tighten. Bodies stirred. My co-facilitator gave me a startled look.

I smiled. "If you're going to spend your time hating yourself, refusing to help yourself, there's nothing I can do that will make a difference. You don't believe you deserve anything than what you've got."

"But I do," the woman wailed. "I do deserve more than this. I want out of here."

"Then stop it." I replied. "Stop hating yourself. Stop giving up on yourself. Stop treating yourself with disrespect."

Tears started to appear in her eyes. "How do I stop it? I can't."

I took a breath. I softened my voice. "Somewhere you started to hate yourself. Somewhere you started to believe this was all you were worth. You didn't always believe it. So.... that means, at some time you believed differently. You changed your mind once. You can change it again."


"I think it's different for each of us. I know for me, the first step was to quit the inner dialogue that was killing me. I had to commit to not waste my energy hating myself and to turn my focus on learning to love myself, in all my brokeness. In all my woundedness."

"How can I love myself," another man asked. "Look at my life."

"It's not for me to look at your life and judge you. And I don't believe it helps you to look at your life and hate yourself for the state you're in. What do you want?"

"I want to get out of here," he replied without hesitation. "I want to get my own home again."

"Then focus on that. Focus on doing what it takes to get what you want. Every bit of energy you expend hating what your life is, means you're not working towards making it what you want it to be. Quit judging yourself. Love yourself and give yourself a break. You deserve it."

The woman who didn't believe she could help herself lifted her head from where it was resting against her arm on the table. "What if we don't know how?"

"Isn't that why you're here? To learn new ways of doing things?"

She nodded her head. "Yes."

"Then applaud yourself for having the courage to step forward. To know you need help, to reach out for it, that takes strength. It also says, you're willing to help yourself. Perhaps what you're not willing to do is admit you have courage. Perhaps the habit of telling yourself negative things is greater than your habit of telling yourself you're strong."

"I quit smoking," the man who had asked how he could love himself when his life looked the way it does piped up. "That was hard, but I couldn't afford the smokes. I want out of here so bad I had to give it up."

"Wow! That takes courage. And it takes commitment. You're capable of both. So, to me, that tells me you're capable of anything you set your mind to. Why not decide to quit hating yourself?"

He smiled. "I could do that. Couldn't I?"

"I believe you can. I believe we all can."

The question is: Where do you use excuses to keep yourself from loving yourself, just the way you are. Where do you believe you can't help yourself and thus refuse the help that others extend?

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