Imagine you have a small pebble in the palm of your hand. Close your fingers tightly around the pebble so you have a fist. Now try to hold someone’s hand with your hand in the fist, gripping the pebble as tightly as you can. At least two things will happen here: 1) the pebble is going to start digging into the palm of your hand causing pain, and 2) you won’t be able to hold the other person’s hand. The pebble is everything you didn’t get growing up, it is the harm that was caused by alcoholism or addiction, it is emotional pain from our past.
The first step toward relieving that pain and creating room for opportunity is to actively heal. Holding that pebble in a fist is hurting you, not anyone else (though it may very well be preventing you from being close to others). If you grew up around addiction the pebble has most certainly left a scar, but as long as you continue to hold it the damage just gets worse. You have to put down the pebble, let go of resentment, live in the present moment and experience what is true for your life today. Once you put the pebble down you have acknowledged your own suffering and you have taken the first compassionate step toward taking better care of yourself.
This exercise is designed to help you let go of those things that are causing you pain and start building the tools to live a compassionate life:
Physically hold a pebble in a closed fist for as long as you can , as tightly as you can for up to a minute;
After a minute (or however long you could hold the pebble) drop the pebble and look at your hand. How deep is the indent, how red, what is the level of pain you experienced?
The pebble is a metaphor for the emotional damage of alcoholism or addiction so now list three things that cause you pain today that are related to alcoholism/addiction or the person in your life suffering from these conditions (there may be a lot more, but for now only pick three, you can repeat this exercise);
Ask yourself how you can put these things down metaphorically. If it is a relationship that is causing you pain what boundaries can you create to reduce the exposure? If it is a behavior you engage in can you do one thing different to start to improve? Do you need help from someone else?
Pick no more than three things you are going to do every day to help you from picking up the pebble that is your pain, just choosing one is fine but no more than three;
Get a journal (online, in paper, whatever you prefer);
Mark thirty pages and write down your selected acts of personal care on each of the thirty pages;
On the thirty-first page write a promise to yourself of a reward that you get when you complete your thirty days (be realistic about what you can do, and let is be a simple reward: go for a massage, have an ice-cream cone, watch a favorite movie, nothing huge but something that will make you happy while you do it);
Start your journey of self-healing and building the skills of compassion. Everyday take your actions. In this exercise if you miss a day that’s okay, there is no punishment, just go back and keep working until you get to your thirty days. If it takes a year that’s fine, if it takes a month that’s fine. The goal is to start practicing self-care, and that starts with accepting that you are not going to do everything right every time.
When you come to the end of thirty days, celebrate! Now you can decide if you want to do it again and you can expand the experience to consider how you can bring a greater understanding of the pain we all experience to how you deal with the people around you: can you be more patient, can you be more specific in your requests, can you ask for what you need?
Learning how to be compassionate with ourselves is about learning how to take care of the injuries we have. We acknowledge our hurt and then act to heal, and in building that care for ourselves we find ways to care more for the people around us and perhaps we are a step in helping not just ourselves, but everyone we touch with learning how to put down our pebbles and stop passing them on!