I have done a lot of stupid and counterproductive things in my life.
I made choices that I am not proud of, choices that hurt others, and choices that kept me small, broken and struggling.
Many of these bad choices I remember acutely, the memories triggered every time that a similar situation comes up. Again I feel ashamed and stupid, all that shame training from my mother coming up and slapping me hard in the head.
There are still things I freeze up over, not doing the work and instead tossing and turning in bed, feeling my own flagellation over another self-inflicted failure. It makes no sense, but once you are used to the hair shirt you can feel alone and lost without it on. I know I am expanding and extending the pain and damage, I ask for help, but it almost never comes.
Martyrdom, though, can be addictive. There is a certain endorphin rush when you beat yourself up, when you choose to hang on the cross and sip vinegar.
For many of us, our own martyrdom, our own self-flagellation defined the experience of our life. We searched for every trick we could find to keep ourselves small and broken, working desperately to kill off or at least silence that still small voice inside of us. Some even made a commitment to totally break themselves, be lying in the gutter, before they engaged the human parts of them that they believed they needed to be ashamed of.
That addiction to self-flagellation is very potent. We can easily convince ourselves that our own martyrdom, our attempt to kill off the “evil” parts of us is holy work, We can believe that whenever some bit of us that has done bad is revealed it needs to get beaten out of us, smashed until we hurt and learn our lesson.
The lesson, though, is that that no amount of martyrdom will ever purge our human nature, will ever cleanse our difficult history, will ever purify us. We cannot become other than what we are, cannot become some shiny, perfect thing, no matter how much we may desire that.
Maybe this is why Christians believe that the martyrdom has already occurred, with a saviour doing the work, so that we can come to peace & love, making the most of our God-given humanity.
Compassion is required to be in relationship with humans, and that means compassion is required to be in relationship with ourself.
The only way out of hell is through. We do need to tap into the pain we hold inside, do need to release and process it. Choosing to self-flagellate, to martyr again every time we reveal some choice where we hurt ourselves or others in the past doesn’t serve any real purpose, other than keeping us small and broken.
Unwiring our buttons, those trigger cues for addiction, has to be the goal of soul recovery. We need to be able to feel the feelings and not then try and stuff them with whatever we used, be that chemicals, shiny new purchases, or the twisted joy of destructive self-abuse.
Our lives are not now and never have been perfect. There is no way we can ever make them perfect, living in a finite world where every choice has a cost so no choice is ever perfect. Absolutism has no place in human life and can only lead to recrimination and pain.
The choice to fall back on our addiction, though, even an addiction to martyrdom and self-flagellation is neither compassionate, wise or useful. Those choices are driven by fear rather than love, by an attempt to separate ourselves from the mess rather than seeing is deeply and beautifully connected to it.
Beating myself up for my past will not make my future better. Instead, it will only keep me small and broken.
And yet, I struggle with that urge everyday.