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The Mirror Reflection: A Journey From Self-Hate to Self-Love

Maybe because Monday is Memorial Day... maybe just because... before opening my eyes, I remembered Zen Master John Daido Lorri saying something that pushed me in my Zen practice. Referencing the Iraq war that we started under false pretenses, he said, "If you want to know shock and awe, realize that You are Buddha (Universal Identity of Loving Presence). That is the real shock and awe! If you want to know shock and awe, realize compassion." He said from there... the challenge isn't how will you? It could simply be a matter of when will you?

I've consistently shared an invitation with people who practice recovery with me, passed down to me by my sponsor. It's simple, direct, and clear: "Stand in front of the mirror, look into your own eyes, tell yourself that you love yourself, and truly mean it."

This practice took years for me to embody without thinking and feeling stupid or squirming. Given my history of failures and disappointments, and people in my family willing to eagerly remind me about the crazy things I did in active addiction, I found it easy to harshly criticize and condemn myself while looking in the mirror, yet found it challenging, if not nearly impossible to express love for myself and honestly believe it.

Was this due to the impact of an addiction-mind, poverty-mind, or negativity-mind? 100%.

These states of mind, skeptical... self-doubting... restless... irritable... discontent... sarcastic... emotionally unavailable... and sometimes prone to dissociation, were symptoms of addiction, which is functionally a disease of self-obsession abiding in negative thought.

The above said I persisted, struggling to look myself in the eyes, say, "I love you," and truly mean it, without the internal sensation I was faking it. Because of not giving up on myself, one day, it honestly happened. But this didn't happen naturally. It was me doing something that can be unnatural for an addict. It was following directions because I gave myself unreserved permission to trust my sponsor, his sponsor, and his sponsor; because there were sharing their experience, not their theories or opinions, with me.

My grand-sponsor told me, "Consciously and intentionally create the option for loving yourself by acting as you do." I was like, what? Act as I love myself? He said, "Duh! You heard me! Wonderful! Now act like the person you truly want to be and see if you stop doubting your actions no matter what the thoughts in your head say about you. Your actions of self-care and self-love could be the evidence that verifies that the thoughts are lying to you about yourself."

I followed his directions. But, what did my specific actions look like?

I did my Step-work as hard as I did active addiction... relentlessly. Instead of hiding behind words and being indirect, I gave myself permission to be vulnerable and stopped pretending to be invincible, embracing rigorous honesty as much as I could tolerate, in a given moment. I began to challenge the thoughts in my head that I mistook for facts, realizing with the help of my sponsor that most of them were untrue. I began going to therapy, talking through some of the experiences that haunted me, the emotional abandonment in my family, the family 'not-so-secrets,' the sexual and physical violence from other family members that were a part of my trauma experience influencing me to be distant and aloof.

This process also involved developing a meditation practice, learning to sit with my own mind without succumbing to the bombardment of thoughts, to sit quietly amidst the noise. The freedom I gained through this inner work cannot be underestimated, as the addiction mind can be an exceptionally stubborn jailer.

And so now... Shock and awe... It was me realizing I wasn't broken. I wasn't damaged goods. I wasn't a worthless piece-of-shit. I wasn't a misfit. I wasn't a loser. I wasn't impersonating recovery. I was a human being who, when misaligned physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually from my authentic values, could do harm, and by accepting responsibility, I could flow in harmony with my life, instead of being in battle with myself.

This newfound freedom doesn't exempt me from reality. I don't possess superhuman abilities such as levitation or walking on water. But it does allow me to experience pain without unnecessary suffering over life's hardships. This outcome isn't the result of being a "Strong person" but because of being honest about living my way into new ways of thinking because people in recovery help to lift me up through healing, instead of holding or influencing me down in sickness. Experiencing this life has shifted my perspective from shock and awe to reverence and awe.

As my mentor Ruth Friscoe used to say, "We are doing nothing short of what is heroic. That's the point of our medallion." Welcome to your own Memorial Day experience.

--Appreciation and Respect

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