I received a call today from a woman who wants me to paint a portrait of her granddaughter. Actually she called several days ago and left a message. She left her number, but not her name. It took me about an hour to prepare to call her because I am rather phone phobic in the last few years. When I did get the courage up to call her, a different woman answered the phone and didn’t know who I was. Luckily today I was home and identified the woman’s voice and picked up the phone. She is going to send me several photographs so that I can get a feel for her granddaughter’s features, but there is one particular picture that she wants me to paint. I am looking forward to the challenge of this. I think this project will pull me out of some of the negativity I’ve been falling into. Practical work is good for the soul.
A few days ago I was feeling too detached, when Nancy called me on the phone. Despite my phone phobia, I quickly answered. She had called me once before, but I had felt too self-conscious to answer, but this time I knew I needed her help. She was warm and smart and funny and very willing to be my friend. She had cautioned me to follow the positive thoughts instead of the negative ones and she encouraged me to be my own best friend. She said she worked at being her own best friend using affirmations.
After we had ended our conversation, I lay on the couch and said aloud, “I am a good woman.” I felt awkward saying it, but I persisted. And for the last couple of days I’ve been saying this to myself throughout the day. I think the reason I have trouble really believing that I am a good woman is because of the abuse I endured in my last romantic relationship. I’ve been alone for so long now that I forget that I was an abused woman. While I praise others, I unconsciously belittle myself. I feel both guilty at not “saving” my ex-boyfriend and ashamed as if there is something inherently wrong with me. Years ago my ex-boyfriend one day would praise me and the next day might treat me hatefully. I knew he was sick. I knew I was sick, but I internalized some of the put downs he would throw at me. I learned in an abusive relationship that I wouldn’t be allowed to express my anger and so I stuffed it inside and started to attack myself unconsciously.
Three years after I left the relationship I was thrust into the world of schizophrenia. The voices became my abusers and I returned to being some kind of psychic victim. Sometimes it felt like forces greater than myself were struggling for ownership of my soul. I felt like a human rag doll. But there were always guiding voices. Yes, it felt like I was close to abandoned at times, but never completely. And to this day I find some communion with the voices. There is method in their madness and sometimes I get lost wanting to understand them. I don’t know if I can ever accept that these voices that I continue to hear are purely crossed wires in the brain. Many, many people believe in God, but resist the idea of sentient life other than human life. But for me it rings quite true.
But back to the -- am I a good person or a bad person? dilemma (which seems to affect many people suffering from schizophrenia). This is a big issue for my voices. They won’t commit either way or jump from one perspective to another as if they are trying the view out. Is their lesson that I have to decide for myself? Well, this is a good lesson because I do have to decide for myself, which leads back to affirmations. One reason I think I can approach affirmations is because I believe human nature is essentially good. We all started out innocent, babies every single one of us.
Every single one of us has learned by mimicry. Monkey see, monkey do. Some mimic well, others not so well, some rebel and others follow the new thing. Positive learned behavior needs healthy role models and let’s face it, we are not the healthiest creatures on this planet. We are human. We make mistakes. We need some guidance. Some people guide themselves through reason and intellect, others through emotions and intuition. Some believe in the spirit of man to succeed and others believe in the spirit of God to direct. But children want to be loved and if they can’t be loved the right way, they accept the wrong way.
Love is the measure of goodness in life. If parents have trouble loving their children and children have trouble loving their parents, as is too often the case, bad behavior or mindsets develop on both sides. Bad, as in hurtful to the self and to others. And from there it is passes on to friends and lovers and co-workers. Are we “good” or “bad”? The best answer I can come up with to that question is that we are misguided. When we are young and impressionable we form imprints of behavior that we repeat over time in different situations. If we have not been taught by responsible children or adults to love in a healthy manner (and I do believe some children are very aware of the difference between right and wrong), we proceed to love in an unhealthy manner. When I write “love”, I mean all kinds of loves--family, friends, lovers, teachers, therapists, etc...
If we can accept that most of us have been misguided at some point in childhood and youth and stop thinking in terms of internalizing the mistake and branding ourselves as “bad”, we can put the focus on solutions instead of on problems. We can say honestly--”I am a good person who has made mistakes.”--without being swallowed up by the “who has made mistakes” part. And I know we all have at least one serious regret in our lifetimes, if not many. We are human, it comes with the territory. But we can’t live in the past or rewrite the past, we can only work with the present moment. Learning from past mistakes is important as long as we apply what we’ve learned to the present and don’t fall into forgetfulness, denial or simple avoidance.
Of all the qualities a child should be taught, I think honesty towards self and others is perhaps the most important quality. It connects us with our roots which combine innocence with intelligence.
So, I am a good person...who has made mistakes. I don’t forget that I’ve made mistakes and I don’t forget that I am good. Well, that’s the goal.