An Open Heart
By Jackie McCullough
It is safe to open our hearts.
What does that mean? Those of us who were abused as children have lived with closed hearts. We were not given the chance to open our hearts.
I started my recovery from childhood abuse in 12-Step programs. In 1989 I went to my first Al-Anon meeting and was afraid to go in, so I asked my friend, Joan, if she would like to attend an Al-Anon meeting. She agreed to go and we started our recovery together. We had both been to counselors who hadn’t helped us, but Al-Anon was giving us hope. At the meetings and in the Al-Anon literature they said there is a Power greater than ourselves and we can “Let Go and Let God.” Neither of us had talked about our feelings to each other (or anyone) before and now we spent hours talking about the things we were learning and about our feelings. It took me several years just to identify my feelings, because I had cut myself off from them for so long. It took me about six months to even be able to speak in the meetings.
I finally started to open my heart. Melody Beattie said in Journey to the Heart, “We don’t open our hearts by being a tower of strength. We don’t open our hearts by glossing over things in our head. We open our hearts by feeling what we feel. We open our hearts by being vulnerable, honest, and gentle.
We’ve become so strong, self-sufficient. I can deal with that, we say. No big deal. I’ll keep moving on.
Yet many circumstances we’ve been through, and some we’re going through now, cause break lines in our heart. Some of the fractures are small. Some are big. They really hurt. Maybe certain people in our lives weren’t there for us, aren’t there for us now in a way we’d like them to be. Maybe some deceived us unconsciously or betrayed us deliberately. I can deal with that, we say. I understand. They have their own issues. I forgive…
Yes, people do have their own issues. And we do forgive. But now it may be time to learn gentleness, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness for ourselves as well.
We don’t open our hearts by ignoring the break lines. We take our hand and gently run our fingers across each crack. Yes, it’s there. Yes, I feel it.
Yes. I’m ready to heal my heart.”
Many people in twelve step meetings I attended had learned to share with open hearts. They didn’t hold back for fear of others judging them, they just spoke their truth. The result of that was an outpouring of love from the people there.
So often we keep our hearts closed up and walled off in an effort to “protect ourselves.” I have found there isn’t really any protection in a closed heart.
Kathy Martin was my therapist for 13 years. Here are some quotes from my book, Kathy Said, You’re Not Lost to Me. Perhaps something here will help you or your loved ones.
You are feeling hopeless today because you felt hopeless as a child and something has triggered those feelings now. Your life is not hopeless, and letting yourself feel those feelings today will reduce the reservoir of old hopeless feelings. They are just feelings, they are not reality.
Many times I thought I had slipped backward (in healing) because of the overwhelming Kathy said:
You can’t go backward (in your healing). You are feeling these bad feelings now because your psyche wasn’t ready to feel them before. You are going forward and healing all the time.
You are good.
Repeat after me: “I am good.”
I would often hesitate to cry because it seemed as though if I started I would never stop. Kathy said:
You have always stopped crying before. Feelings come and feelings go. Crying is healing.
My husband thought I was insane and my family said I was crazy.Kathy said:
You aren’t crazy. Some of the behaviors of your parents were crazy, but you aren’t crazy.
Are you sure?
Yes, I’m sure, Sweetie.
Kathy said: It’s not the feelings, (or feeling the feelings) that make us depressed, it’s holding down the feelings so as not to feel them. No WONDER I was so depressed. I was holding down a LOT of feelings!
Kathy said: Remember you are good.
Oh, yes, she must believe I am good; she keeps reminding me that she believes that.
I found it so hard to make decisions (I always had). Kathy said:
You will know who to trust. You can trust yourself. You can trust yourself to make appropriate decisions for yourself. Hard to believe, but I kept reminding myself.
Another Melody Beattie quote: “Your healers will come to you. The people, the ideas, the resources you need to heal will come. They’ll appear on your path. Sometimes you’ll think it’s almost magical. Sometimes you’ll resist, saying, That can’t be right. It’s too easy. But your healers will come when you need them, when you’re ready. Your heart will guide you if you listen…Let yourself receive the healing you need. Let yourself share your healing gifts with others. Find the balance that’s right for you. Trust yourself and the wisdom of your body, mind, and heart about what feels right, who feels right, and when it works for you.”
A healed heart is an open heart.
Jackie McCullough, Life Options Coach/Counselor/Teacher helps individuals take control of their lives. She is the author of Kathy Said, You’re Not Lost to Me, a self-help book for people struggling with anxiety and depression. With a new powerful approach to our lifelong beliefs, plus a modality called Life Options Dialogues, she helps people uncover the beliefs that are keeping them stuck in unwanted feelings and behaviors, like stress, anxiety, and depression.
Life Options teachings help them learn how to live happy empowered lives, no matter what is going on around them. The end result is becoming present, and non-judgmental, so their lives are easier, happier, and more effective. Jackie studied and was certified at the Option Institute International Learning and Training Center in Sheffield, Mass. She now counsels and teaches self-empowerment to those struggling with unwanted feelings and behaviors. She loves to see people take charge of their lives with her gentle processes, to go from “Survivors” to “thrivers.” She counsels in-person and face-to-face on line.
Jackie lives in the Rochester, NY area, is a member of the American Counseling Association, her local Youth Board, Henrietta Interracial Clergy Council, and Unity Church of Greater Rochester.
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