He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit came to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
– Les Miserables – What Have I Done (Valjean’s Soliloquy)
I bit my lip. It was the only thing I could think of to prevent myself from crying. There was a long pause after my therapist spoke, as if we were both waiting for the weight of her words to sink in. I was touched, no doubt; they were words that could make me believe.
Just before it had been said, we did a mindfulness exercise. She instructed me to place my hand over my heart. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but whatever transpired, it cause such a stir inside of me. After the exercise was over, I darted my eyes, lost in thought.
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
“This exercise really resonated with me,” I said. “There have been so many times I’ve told myself to just live from my heart, but every time I open myself to the possibility, every time I feel my heart opening, this protective part takes over and shuts the whole process down.”
“Amanda, living from your heart not only means that you’re soft and open — our actual heart has chambers and there are different compartments to our heart. In addition to being open, your heart also has the capacity to be protective and aggressive against anything vulnerable. Yours just seem to be overactive in wanting to be protective. That’s okay, we just got to work on the other chambers in your heart, too. So it’s not just one or the other. You have a heart that is both soft and open as well as aggressive and protective. It’s a part of being human, of being who you are.
My eyes dart away again to a shopping bag i see on the floor. I don’t want to make eye contact, fearing she’ll read my mind: Was she just talking about my heart? Did she just say I have a heart? Who does that? Who takes the time out to talk genuinely about the nature of another person’s heart? I didn’t want to forget it and yet, it overwhelmed me. Protective me reappears once again. I begin to shut down.
“Something just happened. What are you thinking?” she again asks.
Too late, she’s read my mind, I think to myself. Might as well fess up. “It’s just hard for me to accept that you value me as a person.” I finally said.
“It’s true, Amanda, I value you as a person. I value what we share here when we see each other. I value your writings — I always read them and your diary card. I value that you share a part of yourself with me: your thoughts, your feelings, your vulnerabilities. I value the soft and open heart of yours as well as that protective, aggressive side. All of you, Amanda, I value all of you.”
Her words pierce me. I’m all choked up, holding back tears, furrowing my brows, biting my lip. She waits for the words to wash over me and soon enough feelings of unworthiness encroach. I’m fighting to keep it together: to receive and accept what she has said and at the same time not fall apart. The same, loud, chaotic, abusive movie in my mind begins to play and I don’t feel like I should receive these beautiful words. It’s as if it’s the first time anyone has ever said those words to me. It’s not that I had not lived in a loving and affectionate environment, but for someone to say they accept all of me — especially the parts of me that even I believe shouldn’t exist — that is something. She believes there is a space for it all. And that means I don’t have to fight with myself anymore.
If someone can accept all of me, maybe it’s about time I’ve accepted myself for all that I am. It’s odd to say, that you haven’t been loving yourself… but I haven’t. There’s this myth that has been embedded in my bones that I am not worth this life, that I shouldn’t exist. Today’s conversation has left a crack in that reasoning. Maybe I’ve gotten it all wrong. Maybe I can start believing in a different truth. The truth that I am acceptable as I am. It’s a start.