Cancer Chronicles, Part 26

I know, I know, I’ve written about blame and cancer before, but as blame keeps coming around in so many forms, I wanted to write about it again. When my breast was first diagnosed with cancer, and after the shock, I went through different periods of blame: myself (what did I do to cause this?), my surgeon (who was non-relational and didn’t offer much guidance), my history with food (the sugar, the sugar, and the fact that I didn’t eat real protein until I was 30 years old). And every time, every single time, it felt awful. I didn’t help anything, it kept me spinning in my mind. It shuttered my heart. Wham.

It occurred to me the other day that blaming myself (or anyone else) was like compulsive eating. In the same way that eating takes the focus away from what is actually going on (feeling sad, hopeless, angry, joyful, happy, lonely) and puts it on food, then guilt, then shame, blame also shuts down whatever is going on. If I am feeling sad about a situation or interaction—let’s say a friend has said something that I found hurtful—and I immediately go into blaming myself for my part of what happened, I never get to feel either the impact of what she said or be curious about what is going on for her. It’s as if, with both compulsive eating and blame, my heart shuts down and all I end up feeling is bad about myself. Blame (and compulsive eating) is like throwing sand in the wheels of sensing, feeling, thinking clearly.

What I’ve been doing recently, since blaming myself used to be a favorite pastime, is noticing the collapse in my body—stomach sinking, heart closing, feeling like I’m two inches tall—and then backtracking and asking myself about the story I am entranced by. “You did it wrong” always shows up in one form or another. And then, I stop. I just stop the blame, like stepping outside a trap. And I ask myself what I’d be feeling if I wasn’t blaming myself (or someone else, because it turns quickly to blaming someone else. Blame is blame, and if I’m willing to blame myself, I’m also just as likely to blame someone else). The thing about blame is that if it worked, we’d all feel better when we do it, and we don’t. Just so with food. If it made anything better for longer than five minutes, we’d feel great whenever we binged. Or ate when we weren’t hungry. And we don’t. It’s okay to feel the full range of feelings. To have hearts that are vulnerable, open, willing and not shuttered over by blame or ice cream.

The photograph is of Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion. And me. Reminding myself that compassion and kindness is always here, in the background, waiting to be noticed.

To read more in the Cancer Chronicles, click here.

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