“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
I remember the morning my mom told me my dad didn’t live with us anymore. I was almost four, and we were sitting at the dining room table at breakfast, and she told me he was going to be living somewhere else, and that eventually I would visit him there. I went into their bedroom, and looked through all his drawers and closets. His denim shirts were gone, his sun lamp was gone, and so were the styrofoam heads that held his different wigs; he was an actor. When I saw he’d left his robe, I thought he’d have to come back, but I was wrong.
It had been a confusing time already. My beloved grandma had died the week before, and I’d been too young to visit in her hospital room that last day. Which was probably good. I remember my grandma laughing, and hugging me, full of life. But suddenly it seemed people were disappearing, and not peripheral players, either. We’d seen my grandma almost every day of my life. She and my mom were really close. She and I were really close. It amazes me to think about the impact she’s had on my life, and to realize I didn’t even get four full years with her. And now my dad had gone to some unknown place, and I had no real sense of time. I don’t know how my mom got through that conversation with me without crying.
For years, I lived in fear of being left. I didn’t realize I was doing this, of course, but it’s obvious in the rear-view mirror.
I tried to be a good girl. I thought if I got straight-A’s and looked right and behaved well, then maybe I’d be safe. And that followed me into my adulthood. I entered into relationships with people not thinking about what I wanted or needed, or even if I was having fun, but solely focused on how I could be perfect for them. How I could make myself indispensable. Un-leave-able.
And I’m sharing this with you not because it’s a heartbreaking tale. I hear worse stories every day. Lots of people get divorced (not that it makes it easy on the children involved), lots of people lose their grandparents. The proximity in my case was unfortunate because it was like a bomb went off, or an earthquake shook the foundation of what I’d known, but my parents had been keeping up appearances because my grandma was sick that last year, and they didn’t want her to worry. I know someone who watched his father die at eight years old while they were playing. I know someone whose dad left when she was seven and never looked back. I can’t even wrap my head around how you could leave your kid and never look back. And then there are stories of abuse and neglect and all kinds of things that would leave you on your knees.
My point in sharing is that our pain does not just magically disappear. If we don’t examine it when we become conscious adults, it swims beneath the surface of everything we do, wreaking havoc on our lives.
And life doesn’t have to be that way. We all want to heal. We all want to be happy. We wrote it into our Declaration of Independence, so there’s not much doubt that we value happiness. It’s just that the large majority of us will seek to heal in all the ways that make things worse.
Because we long to heal, we call into our lives those dynamics that reflect our deepest wounds. Mostly, we don’t even know we’re doing that. If you’re afraid of being left, you probably have an excellent and uncanny and perverse knack for picking people who struggle to commit. This is no coincidence. Because, presto! Now you have your chance to heal, right? All you have to do is get your partner to want to be with you, and that will be the balm for your original wound. Except it won’t, because if you pick people who struggle to commit, you set yourself up to be left again, thus confirming your deepest fear that you are the kind of person it’s easy to leave. Or worse, that you just aren’t worthy of love. You’re leave-able, not lovable.
There’s the hard, long road, and there’s the hard, short road. I’m not going to lie about that, those are the choices. I mean, those are the choices unless you happen to be one of the three people in the world who had idyllic childhoods. And even if you are, someone else has probably come along and broken your heart by now. Chances are, you probably have some issues, some stuff to work through like any other human. And it’s not a level playing field as I mentioned above, so what you’ll need to heal, and how long it will take and what tools you’ll use are all personal. But avoiding that work is a surefire way to prolong your pain and allow unconscious drives to rule your life. The longer you wait, the longer you suffer. There’s no reason your past has to screw up your present. You are not stuck in a time-warp. The hard, long road is avoiding the work and watching your pain seep all over your life until you just can’t stand it anymore.
The hard, short road involves figuring out what you need in order to heal. And that’s personal work, and it isn’t comfortable. It might mean finding a wonderful therapist. It might mean you begin a yoga practice. For me, I needed both of those tools. I think of therapy as the “top-down” part. You figure out what your tendencies are. You bring these unconscious drives to the surface, and you name them, so you can work with them. Yoga is the “bottom-up” part. You get on your mat, and you see your tendencies arise, because they follow you into every aspect of your life. If, for example, you’re dealing with a relentless inner critic, you can bet that voice will show up with you on your mat.
Identifying your problems is not enough. You have to reckon with them. @YogisAnonymous
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In my case, I had to learn how to starve a shaming voice, and feed a loving and compassionate one. It took me a long time and a lot of work to get right with myself, and it’s still a daily practice, but at this point, I’m in the maintenance part. Of course things come up that might tap an old wound, but the wounds have scar tissue, they aren’t raw and bleeding, and they aren’t unknown to me. They’re almost like old, familiar friends. Ah, fear of abandonment. I feel you. I see you. I tip my hat to you. But you don’t own me anymore.
If you’re an adult, and you’ve had enough time as an adult to recognize patterns in your life that aren’t serving you, I’d get on that. It’s my personal belief that it isn’t a luxury to pursue healing modalities until you find a mix that works for you; I believe it’s your responsibility. You have this life. You have a body. You have time and energy. These things are all gifts. Then, there are your own, particular gifts that are born of your own experiences and perspective and ways of looking at the world. There’s only one of you. So if you don’t figure out how to set yourself free, you rob the world of gifts only you can bring to it. And that would be a tremendous shame.
Ally Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher, writer and life coach, who streams online yoga classes all over the world. She’s the co-creator of YogisAnonymous.com, which has been featured in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, Self Magazine, Shape Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She’s a regular contributor for The Huffington Post, a wellness expert at MindBodyGreen, and writes an almost-daily blog. She’s the mama of two amazing kids and one energetic Labradoodle. She’s excited about her first book, “Sex, Love and Yoga: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times” due from Llewellyn Worldwide in 2016. You can follow her on Twitter or FB.