Tag Archives: recovery

Read for my life

“The primary purpose of a novelist is to practice empathy.” –Lee Martin

I would posit that is also the primary purpose of a reader, or at least this particular reader, which may be why bibliotherapy (as distinguished from reading self-help books) has historically proven to be a rather effective practice for me.  Reflection and empathy are fairly instinctive for me, so I tend to seek and find connections with my life in nearly everything I read.  (I choose to believe that this a benign function of my natural empathy rather than a case of raging narcissism.) Some particularly meaningful texts for me include The Great Divorce and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, The Shack by William P. Young, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, and lately the novels of Susan Howatch.

Howatch’s novels, at least the two I have read so far, seem designed to exploit my navel-gazing tendencies in order to show me myself, which makes me wonder whether this is another case of God using a cute boy to lead me to the words I need to hear. (Sigh.)  I opened the first book, Glittering Images, in search of answers about Friend, but wound up learning a great deal more about myself, and the most important takeaway was probably that “I was working to give [his] death meaning by my own rebirth,” which also echoes the lesson of The Great Divorce.

Glamorous Powers features a protagonist much more, I thought, like myself: possessed of intuition honed to the point of psychic ability, requiring more psychic space than was made available by his family, a teacher of difficult students, and, most importantly, wrestling with what he perceives as the call to leave his former calling.  (Did I mention that he’s a monk?  So…toss celibacy and austerity in there for good measure.)  I dog-eared and underlined not a few passages that seemed particularly relevant:

“I think that any corruption of your call is going to come from the dark side of your personality within you, not from the dark forces of the Devil without.” (see the end of my post Born This Way)

“Because he was a good monk he did his best to go on as usual, but slowly the bad fairy tiptoed back into his life and all those unfortunate flaws in his personality began to emerge again.  Our hero became restless and dissatisfied.  He fought to overcome these feelings by diverting himself with hard work, but this only made him exhausted and once the echaustion began he slipped into a depression.” (What a succinct description of the last 18 months of my life!)

“I had the opportunity to rise above my own pain by thinking of someone other than myself.” (An admirable and oft-felt sentiment of mine, except when it degenerates into codependency.)

There was a point in my reading, however, when I started seeing others in the character that was supposed to be me, and myself in other characters.  (Which leads me to wonder whether I am not so different from everyone as I thought!)

“Men had always let her down, never asking her to dance, never taking any genuine interest in her, never realising she was just as much a human being as the girls who has the luck to be pretty.”

“You married a woman you didn’t love because you knew that if she left you, you wouldn’t care enough to suffer as you’d suffered once before.” (Bend the genders a bit here…the point is a warning that my efforts to avoid my own suffering can do immeasurable damage to others.)

I guess I probably shouldn’t attempt to quote the entire book on here, which is kind of what I feel like doing.  There’s a whole other dimension of parent-child relations that I haven’t even begun to process, so I’m just going to sum this session of bibliotherapy thus: Be yourself, and let others be themselves.  My parents, particularly my mother, have had a hard time doing this for me, and that I think is one of the roots of my difficulty in doing so for others.  But I’m determined to revisit the topic of boundaries this summer and beyond, and I do think it will enrich most, if not all, areas of my life.

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Born This Way

Yesterday I went with my friend Skye to participate in a flash choir performance of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” sponsored by The Harmony Project, Equality Ohio, and other groups whose names I have forgotten.  My intent was not to make any sort of political statement (I rarely do), but to spend quality time with a friend I haven’t seen in ages, and to belt out my summer anthem.  This year has been about learning and loving who I am, messy emotions and all, and Gaga puts it so well:

I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way

I’ve spent much of this past school year wishing I were somewhere–and someone–else.  Someone who had it all together.  Someone who was happy, and therefore (in my mind), likeable.  Someone simple.  But I was not those things, and for a long time I could not cut myself any slack for having such a hard time, which of course made everything worse.  In therapy, I found space to recognize, perhaps for the first time, my own howling grief and the inchoate sense of loss unresolved.  I started searching for parts of myself I thought lost: my dominant intuition, long bound and gagged; my deep emotions that are at once my greatest strength and most dangerous vulnerability; my place in the bigger picture; my genuine needs and desires.

As the pieces started coming back together, I came upon the topic of codependency, and while I do not fit the classical definition related to substance-abuse, I certainly suffer from a pathological need to be needed and craving for approval–with my parents, working with colleagues and students, in my romantic relationships.  (Friendship seems to be the one bulwark against this tendency, and even there I’ve noticed it pop up with certain people.)  So I started reading codependency literature and plotting ways to renovate my personality.

As I reviewed some work I had done in the fall, though, I came to the realization that I was born this way: Developer was among my StrengthsFinder themes, INFJs are inherently complicated but warm and also the rarest personality type in the U.S., and in the Haugk Spiritual Gifts inventory I scored highest in Generosity, Nurturing Leadership, Mercy, Servanthood, and Helping.  Suddenly I stopped feeling like a circus freak. I remembered what one of my teachers (who is also an INFJ) told me last summer: “God knows who you are and has someone who accepts, loves and even needs your craziness, creativity and overflowing intensity.”  Codependency, like any sin, is simply a perversion of what God intended for His creation, but through Christ I have the power to take back what is mine/His.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: Lion King says it best.

You have forgotten who you are, and so you have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become....Remember who you are.

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