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Self-Pity

(This post comes from John Joseph.)

D.H. Lawrence once wrote “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” (Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence). I wish he could say the same for me. Of all the issues raised by my lifelong recovery from childhood sexual abuse, self-pity is one of the most pernicious and destructive. Would to God that it would drop from the bough, but it doesn’t.

The best that I can do with self-pity is to manage it like an addiction. Addictions have a mind of their own, a life of their own, and exercise control over me by promising relief from existential, mental, or emotional distress. Unfortunately, addictions never deliver what they promise. They can’t. The details may differ addiction to addiction, but the results are always disastrous and lead me to a mouthful of corn husks with a pig pen for a penthouse. They just never pay off. And that’s where managing them comes in, especially in recognizing that feeling sorry for myself is a slippery slope into addictive behaviors. I’m so predictable.

If you’ve never attended a Twelve Step meeting, it’s difficult to describe the inherent power of Step One—admitting that you and I are powerless over whatever is controlling us. A billion words or more have been written about this first step, yet few ever come easily to them. We mostly come crawling to them after waking up in the dregs, bruised, bleeding, and drenched in the sledge of whatever’s gotten hold of us, whatever we’ve given ourselves over to for the umpteenth time, be that heroin or hatred. To finally admit that something has control of us is just the admission that God, our Higher Power, is waiting to hear.

Once we can bring ourselves to admit that we aren’t the center of the universe and admit that we’ve surrendered all of our self-control over to a substance, a feeling, a destructive behavior, or to another human being, healing and freedom can break in. For me, admitting that self-pity is not only unattractive but overwhelmingly destructive and controlling is a great first step to freedom from it and from all the awful things that come with it.

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