A couple of weeks ago I suffered a setback. I did the exact opposite of what I have worked so hard to build over the last couple of years. This was not an isolated incidence. Every now and then, these complete “failure” type of days knock at my door, and punch me right in the gut. They leave me in a dark place, lost, floundering and feeling ashamed of myself.
I had begun, once more, to start my days with doughnuts and coffee, ending them with a burger and fries. I decided I would not go to the gym, I would not go out for a walk, I would not bathe, I would not meditate or check on a friend, I would not read with my children, and certainly would not call my loved ones. I would simply not do anything productive or good for myself. Within minutes I had brilliantly managed to get back into old destructive habits. I’m not sure what particular event started this cascade of negativity, but I do know the days got worse as I continued to be harder on myself.
We all know those moments. Moments when we minimize everything we’ve done and instead focus on every little thing that we haven’t done. I think we’ve all been there. And I think we all know the guilt and self-defeat that follows. Why couldn’t I stop? Why was I was able to watch myself spiral downwards, wrecking everything I’ve worked so hard to build over months and years.
One day turned into five days of complete loss. I remember lying in bed just crying, as shame and guilt took over. On the 6th day, I stumbled upon these words from a beautiful hadith:
Usamah bin Zaid (RA) narrated that the daughter of the Prophet (SAW) sent for him as her child was dying, but the Prophet (SAW) returned the messenger and sent her good wishes saying, “Whatever Allah takes away or gives, belongs to Him, and everything with Him has a limited fixed term (in this world), and so she should be patient and anticipate Allah’s reward.” She again sent for him adjuring him for the sake of Allah (SWT) to come. The Messenger of Allah (SAW), accompanied by Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah, Mu’adh bin Jabal, Ubayy bin Ka’b, Zaid bin Thabit (RA) and some other men went to see her. The child was lifted up to the Messenger of Allah (SAW) while his breath was disturbed in his chest. On seeing that, the eyes of the Prophet (SAW) streamed with tears. Sa’d said, “O Messenger of Allah! What is this?” He replied, “It is compassion which Allah has placed in the hearts of His slaves, Allah is compassionate only to those among His slaves who are compassionate (to others).”
Another version says: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “Allah shows compassion only to those among His slaves who are compassionate.” (Bukhari)
How can I be so hard on myself when my Lord is the most Merciful and Compassionate, and loves the compassionate? I sat on the floor, tears streaming down my face. At that moment I realized this guidance was offered to my soul not accidentally, but at the right time. I got off the floor, and my inner voice said ‘It’s okay, I will start again now’.
And that is exactly what I did.
As a mother, a wife, a sister, a worker, a friend, I don’t always do what I’m supposed to for others or, as a matter of fact, even for myself. We all have different priorities, and mine are guided by the various roles I play. Sometimes, I fall short of putting a wholesome dinner on the table, I surf the web when I should be working, I don’t clean up, get to the gym, check up on a friend, call my loved ones, or even read with my children. I procrastinate, when I have deadlines approaching. Eventually all these don’ts lead to feelings of hopelessness, shame, and guilt. And it doesn’t take long before we’re in the rut of “I can’t do this anymore.” After all, most of us are conditioned to stimulate negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves much faster than thinking good about ourselves, or giving ourselves a break.
Trust me, I’ve been there, “I’m tired, my children are too young, it’s too difficult, I’m not good enough, it’s not meant to be, I’m not strong enough…” I’ve said them all. I often wonder why it’s so easy to feel unaccomplished and defeated, despite putting in all the hard work. My conclusion: we are living in an era where technological innovation has led to advancement, and yet has blinded us to reality. Odd, right! As much as social media and the internet allows us to see into a world that would otherwise be a secret, it shows us deceit – perfection in marriages, kids, jobs, bodies and ultimately perfect lives. We have raised our expectations to unrealistic and unattainable standards and kept ourselves in a perpetual cycle of self-defeat.
On that day, when I stumbled upon the verse from the hadith something happened. I decided to be kinder to myself. Just hearing myself say, “It’s okay, I’ll start again, now,” was enough encouragement to pick myself up. Why are we so hard on ourselves? What if we treated ourselves like a friend in distress? What if we forgave ourselves more often? Instead of focusing on what we didn’t do, what if we focused on what we did do? If we look at what’s right, instead of what’s wrong. Sounds foreign doesn’t it?
My situation, environment, and challenges haven’t changed. I still play the same roles in life, and with that, I have the same responsibilities. However, my inner voice has changed and become my friend.
I have started to practise positive affirmations. I am human, I will fail sometimes. But that’s okay. Perfection belongs to Allah (SWT). I may not understand the good in this situation but it is there. Allah (SWT) will not burden me with what I cannot bear. I am trying my best. Which favours of my Lord will I deny? I am a beautiful creation. I accept the good and the bad, because my Lord has declared it. After every hardship will come ease. I love and approve of myself. Allah (SWT) is sufficient for me.
Forgiving myself has done something wonderful for me. It doesn’t mean I give up, It means that when I fail at something, I will not beat myself up, I will aim for a better tomorrow.
When I start to feel a downward spiral coming I start focusing on positive affirmations. For however long they last, I continue to feed my brain with acceptance, and compassion. Not allowing preprogrammed circuitry to turn towards thoughts of defeat and shame.
I’m sure you’ve heard the quote “Sometimes when you are in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, when you’ve actually been planted”. That’s how I’ve learned to see my dark moments.
Instead of beating myself up, I acknowledge there is an imbalance somewhere in my life – something that needs to change, something that needs to be done. And sometimes it’s not as simple as screwing a lid back on and moving forward. It takes some time to figure out where exactly something is missing- mind, body, soul or a combination. Whether it’s increasing my acts of worship, being more compassionate towards myself, taking a break, making better food choices, exercising and meditating, doing an act of kindness towards another, volunteering, there is some part of me that needs to be addressed in order for me to grow. And it’s these “dark or fall” moments that allow us to reach our full potential.
So remember – shame is a venomous feeling. Learn to fight it and replace it with compassion. Learn to accept yourself, forgive yourself. And you will notice, in the face of “failure” you will try harder tomorrow.
Reena Vanza is a Health Promotion Specialist with a focus on mental health. She provides interactive educational workshops that aim to empower women with knowledge and the right tools to take action towards an optimal well-being. Her approach is an integration of modern sciences, faith based principles, mindfulness and holistic health. Her fb is abeautifulhealth and her blog is http://abeautifulhealth.ca/