One of the important ideas from ACT is that you are the context for your experiences rather than just your thoughts and feelings – you last your whole lifetime while your thoughts and feelings just pass by. What’s happening in your life now is one chapter of it. Not all chapters will be enjoyable, but together they could be seen as making a rich tapestry of experiences that give a sense of who you are. Without any of those experiences you might not be who you are today. I like the film ‘sliding doors’ for showing how even changing small details of how your journey unfolds can make a big difference.
For me, these ideas have been important in a few ways in the context of my miscarriages. My miscarriages are important in my journey as a mother, as that’s how motherhood began for me. I’ll always feel like I’m a mum to a larger brood of children than I’ve carried to full term. The yearning for more children will probably always be with me – fading in and out in intensity but never really gone. I have a much more developed empathy now for anyone facing infertility, pregnancy loss or a future without children than I would have if I’d never miscarried. I’d have less energy for speaking up for those without a voice. Less gratitude for the healthy children I’ve held extra close tonight. Less knowledge of how much fight, strength and tenacity I have in reserve. I’d have had less physical and emotional pain if I hadn’t miscarried. I find it hard to imagine who I’d be as a mum if I hadn’t though and it’s tempting to say I’d be a less good one.
Sometimes though in the coal face of emotional pain and suffering, it might feel during miscarriage like that is all there is. It might feel like that is who you are and who you always will be – that you’re defined by it. I’ve had moments like that.
What I’d say is that mindfulness and defusion can help get enough space from the pain sometimes to see that there is choice in how to respond and what to do with that.
The idea of self as context and how that differs from identifying yourself as being your thoughts and feelings can be abstract but helpful to get to grips with. Metaphors can help.
I live beside hills, so my favourite metaphor is that of a mountain with changing trees, flowers and plants across the seasons and stages of the climb. So in spring, the walk might include April showers and daffodils. In summer, there might be cherry blossom, bird song and bunny rabbits – though it might get a bit hot and sweaty. In the autumn, beautiful bright leaves might fall from the trees as the light shades change in the late afternoon. In winter, the ski slopes might cover with snow and it might get slippery for hikers. I’d put it to you that you are the unchanging mountain underneath while your thoughts and feelings are like the changing seasons. Your experience of miscarriage might be like a rocky eroded path on the mountain – always there but easier or harder to carry depending on the season. Like the mountain seasons, whenever it’s a painful bit to tolerate, if you can hold on another day it’ll often shift once again.
Other than a mother through miscarriage – who are you?
Some questions to ponder –
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
If you could invite anyone you wanted round for dinner – who would you have?
In a film of your life who would play you? What would be your best bits? The bits you learned most from? The ones you hurt most over? The moments that healed you?
What words would you want others to say in a celebration of your life if you live to be 100?
What music would you want played in a soundtrack to a film about your life?
If you were an animal in another life, what would you be?
If you were a penny sweet, what would you be?
If you only had one day left on the planet, what would you do with it?
What have you always wanted to learn how to do?
What job would you do other than your current one?
What would an abstract colour painting of your soul look like?