For Me, Self-Love Requires Both Mercy and Defiance

Michael Cornwall, PhD
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This is my 31st article on MIA and the most personal. It’s about being tender and loving with myself when I’m suffering, and how for me that means being merciful and defiant at the same time.

As a boy who was abandoned by my parents at an early age, I’ve always felt vulnerable to the disapproval and judgments of others, afraid of being shunned, forgotten and rejected.

Especially when I was in madness, I felt freakish and alien – an outsider, as if looking in on the warm world of others from outside a window pane, the window condensed with moisture on the inside from delicious food cooking – with me unseen standing out there in the fading light of evening – while happy lives of family occurred inside the houses with the safety and warmth, and warm dinner food and love – of them all together, in a vision that broke my terrified and isolated heart.

But I somehow realized that love can be portable. That I could carry it in me like a little flame in a secret chamber of my heart.

So even when I was homeless sleeping in the rain under a tree with bugs crawling all over me or sleeping in the dugout of the high school baseball field, I could hold that loving grace through the night.

People who knew me then looked at me strangely, I know – the pre-med Michael now an unwashed wild-eyed denizen to be dodged on the street – them crossing to the other sidewalk side when they saw me approaching.

But I held my heart light closer then to balance the pain of those chance encounters.

So when I figured some of it out, I realized I’d never digested the poison pill completely – the one marked “unworthy of love.”

I refused. I said fuck that – I deserve the mercy they’d give a dog. I’ll give it to myself. I’ll love myself if no one else will.

And I did. And I still do.

I’m almost 70 now but I had a dream recently that proved to me how much my defiance has always helped me embrace love.

I was being led along a mountain hillside with a rope around my neck in a procession of captured slaves by mounted horsemen with long spears or pikes – the mounted King’s men.

For some reason, unbidden the words welled up inside of me…

“There’s one thing I’ve always wanted to say… ”

And then I shouted at the top of my lungs knowing it would bring my certain death…

“FUCK THE KING!”

“FUCK THE KING!”

At once to my left a huge mushroom about 10 feet tall erupted from the hillside. It was full of numinous vibrant energy and the sky over it became a mosaic of thousands of small shimmering patterns of ecstatically beautiful circular energy, as a huge chorus of voices intermingled in sustained notes of sacred release all brought about by my treasonous and blasphemous defiant cry against the tyranny of the king.

I can still hear that long sustained note of a thousand souls in my head.

Love is my birthright – and I believe it’s yours too. Please don’t let them tell you otherwise.

There’s a love that doesn’t wait to be claimed, received.

There’s a love that doesn’t wait and long to be returned.

There’s a humble love that just is, is.

A hidden flame that just burns, burns.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the beautifully worded reminder. I, too, am alive because of that flame. For the most part psychiatry is devoid of love and never having experienced it, cannot comprehend it. In psychiatrist Michael Corry’s words :” I’d like to plunge a dagger into the heart of psychiatry, but I couldn’t find a heart.”

    “My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure.” Alfred Lord Tennyson

    Had you not suffered, you would not have been able to help the thousands you have helped.

    God bless.

    • Amnesia, having read some of your posts and your “Iatrogenic Insanity” piece about the abuse and injury you experienced at the hands of lunatic psychiatry and its drugs and electroshock, I recall you saying you planned to write a book. Is it in the works?
      Has your recovery advanced or do you still struggle with many of the after effects of psychiatric poisoning and shocking?

      Dr. Cornwall, this is a lovely piece you have written. Everyone deserves love and compassion as you have pointed out. It was lucky you did not fully digest the poison pill or allow your flame to be extinguished.

  2. Very interesting dream, kind of like my own “awakening.” And, I too, refused to give up on my belief in an undeserved and eternal love; even while doctors were declaring me “irrelevant to reality” to my face, and claiming in their medical records that I was “w/o work, content, and talent.” It’s still staggering to me to this day that psychiatrists believe such insults and lies are “appropriate medical care,” however. But I’m glad you understood you are loved, and it’s important to love yourself, especially during the hard times. Love truly is the answer, and I for one, am truly grateful for your contributions to the common sense within humanity.

    Your dream is somewhat similar to the many days of my drug withdrawal induced awakening to the tale of my dreams, in that I felt that millions of wonderful souls (or energy forces) were trying to save me from the evil doctors and others who had so harmed me. It is the story of a collective unconscious where the eternal love, and the majority, largely via a lyrical libretto of sorts, saved me from the evils of unjust psychiatric defamation and torture.

    Let’s hope it’s true that we are all connected, as some theorize, and that the decent will some day live in a just and loving world where cooperation, not competition, is what drives humanity forward. I do still believe that is what the majority hope for to this day, and I personally pray for the day. All my best, my fellow survivor, via belief in love.

  3. Love it, Michael!

    I was raised to be extremely respectful to ‘authority,’ at all cost. So when I began to encounter oppression and discrimination as I journeyed through the mental health system, I had a really hard time knowing how to address the perpetrators, given that I had this program in my head that said, “Suck it up, they are your superiors.” That’s what I learned in my family.

    And of course, it’s that mental program which made me feel split and ill, because in reality, I was not showing myself and love or self-compassion, and therefore, lacked self-respect.

    So when I finally took an agency to legal task, that was my way of saying ‘fuck you’ in a “socially acceptable” way, via legal protocol, and it felt good. And still, metaphorically, it led to my ‘death,’ as word did spread and I was blocked from the professional community because I had gone against authority in a legal way.

    The good news of course is that it was not a death, but a re-birth, which led to everything good, grounded, and aligned that my life is at present. I believe it was because I spoke and embodied my truth, regardless of to whom I was speaking, and I acted out of self-love over some stupid and self-sabotaging family programming that would not allow me to take care of myself appropriately. As a result of defying that programming, what had ailed me disappeared, and my life transformed.

    So it must have been that damn program that ailed me, the one that made me feel as though I were neither worthy nor deserving of respect. That’s what I really to what I said, “Fuck you.” I know I deserve better, and I start with giving myself the respect I deserve. That, alone, is enough to bring about good healing.

    Thanks, as always, for the inspiration.

    • Oh, and btw, probably the most empowering and self-loving lesson I learned in all this, and one that will serve me wildly for the rest of my life, is that the messier, least perfect, most ’embarrassing’ and self-conscious making parts of the journey are my BEST opportunities for remembering self-compassion, self-respect, and self-love. After all, nobody’s perfect, and we’re all messy at times. Otherwise, we would not be human.

      I really learned to most love the imperfections that are me, and all that paradox and contradiction that make us human, because they are authentic and true. Such is life and humanity…

  4. Dear Michael,
    What a beautiful post, thank you so much on your post about what I see as learning and growing to love oneself in a world that often unfortunately that does not support love and kindness. You are a peaceful warrior, fierce and graceful.
    Blessings of peace and good health to you,
    Susan

  5. Dear Michael:

    I really loved your images about what it feels like to be an outsider. Short, Concise and powerful. Makes me remember how people crossed the street to avoid me. I think being vulnerable like this really helps heal wounds and remind us why we do what we do. Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Clyde Dee