Today is the 15th anniversary of my abusive, tyrannical father’s death. I’ve always loved the irony that I was liberated on Bastille Day! It has taken me six years to read and digest Dr. Robin L. Smith’s Hungry: The Truth About Being Full. Today seemed like the perfect time to review a book about our “birthright” to tell the truth about what we deeply long for, want, and need:
When Daddy took his last breath, I felt like I took my first breath.
My dad took to the grave his fervent wish that I’d never been born. He intentionally deprived me of what every kid needs: unconditional love and acceptance. It’s hard to sail when there’s a gaping “not good enough” hole in the bottom of our boats. Dr. Smith aptly describes it:
We hunger to be who we were born to be. We hunger to have people in our lives who desire our freedom and emancipation from the slavery of trying to be someone other that who we are. We hunger to love the skin we’re in. . .for what’s real. . .if we don’t have a real self, we have nothing. We may seem to have it all. . .still poor beggars hungering for a real self. . .
I could only count on God and me.
Dr. Robin was a frequent guru guest on Oprah. She was wearing a mask:
It was as if I’d been invited to a five-star restaurant and was served only water. I suffered, watching others dine ~ and then wondered why my stomach was so empty. . .many of us live a spiritual form of identify theft. . .forced to live an identity that is not our own. . .
I felt like an orange whose juice and nutrients has been offered to satisfy and nourish others, leaving no life for itself. . .
I woke up and realized that I was lost, my ship was way out in the middle of a choppy, unfamiliar ocean. . .I was lost and needed to be rescued.
These metaphors were exactly how I’ve described my existence, and I frequently had to put the book down to grieve deeply and process the pain which was corroding my soul.
Our souls aren’t for sale.
– Dr. Robin L. Smith, Hungry
Dr. Robin is an abuse survivor who had to learn how to protect herself from “parasitic relationships.” She had to jettison the toxic twins of shame and blame. She had to reclaim her birthright. She had to learn to give to herself what she so freely gave to everyone else: self-nurturing. She had to answer the hard questions:
Who are you?
Who are you really?
We have to become our own true friend.
Dr. Robin L. Smith, Hungry
“Tough love” is a bullshit, popular concept founded in shame and blame. Dr. Robin asks “where is the love?” We need to be gentle and tender with ourselves and get rid of relationships that don’t feed our souls:
The idea is that people can be forced into compliance with a heavy dose of self-loathing. But lasting change requires self-compassion. Shame makes us withdraw and constrict. . .
Has shame ever truly motivated anyone to change, or does it just lead to a never-ending spiral of guilt and failure?
In essence, our healing springs from silencing the abusive message that we aren’t good enough to be treated with dignity and respect. This message cripples us:
We end up being owned by those who betrayed and hurt us. They control our energy, our time, our minds, and our health. As long as we are more focused on them and how they’ve “done us wrong” than we are on our right to be free, the power remains in their hands. . .
When we can’t forgive, we allow the offender to control whether we’re happy or miserable, a success or a failure, peaceful or angry, beaten down or lifted up. We’re trapped by the injury. It begins to define us as a victim.
I’m not big on the concept of forgiveness. I think it makes more sense for abuse survivors to accept the fact that we can’t erase the experience. We can, however, learn to give ourselves compassion and take the time to grieve:
It is really a gift to ourselves ~ a way of releasing our hurt and resentment and attending to our legitimate hunger. It’s a way of taking ourselves seriously. . .
What we focus on grows. . .We must feed the thoughts and actions that empower our lives and starve those that harm us. . .engage fully in life. . .
We teach people how to treat us by how we treat ourselves. . .
When we know ourselves, trust ourselves, and surround ourselves with loving, healthy, and honest support, we are able to create the life we are worthy of living.
The book ends with the traditional Christian benediction.
Dr. Robin L. Smith: THE TRUTH ABOUT GREAT MARRIAGES (Book Review + More), 10/27/11