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Digging a Hole

By Thea Iberall

I once dug myself into a hole so deep that I had no idea how I would get out.

I remember staring at the kitchen wall one April 15th feeling stressed by all the work I was doing. As I stared, I knew I had a few more hours to save myself but the task seemed too enormous. So I did not file my taxes that year. The next day, no IRS agent came knocking on my door. I felt a bit of relief even though I knew I did wrong. The next year, I did it again. Same reason. And then again. And then again. For 5 years, I didn't pay my taxes because I couldn’t cope.

It became my secret. And my burden. My debt was growing, my credit cards were maxed out. Stories of IRS agents arresting people froze my brain and heart. At night, I would go to sleep feeling the weight of my burden. In the morning, for a brief moment, I'd have respite until I remembered the extent of the problem and the dark cloud would once again descend on me. I felt hopeless much of the time. If anyone found out, it would be the end of me. I purported to be a spiritually authentic being, holding myself to a sharp measure of honesty. And yet, I had this secret that I didn't tell anyone. When new love came into my life and I knew I would have to disclose my secret, I was sure it would be a relationship killer. Who would want to be with someone so immature that they were deeply in debt, breaking the law, and sure to go to jail? The letters from the IRS piled up. The amount I owed was impossible. My credit card debt got worse. It was a deep, deep hole I stared into every day feeling absolutely hopeless with despair. There are two words that sound so similar yet there is a world separating them. The first one is humiliation which is about feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and judged. Humiliation comes from the Latin word humiliare, which means "to humble." It holds loss of self-esteem and self-respect. It holds self-loathing, shame, and self-judgment. It's how I felt. The other word is humility. I don't think I ever understood this word until I started to climb out of the hole I created. When I began, I challenged myself to keep my head up high as I walked through the muck. I did not crumble as I made the phone calls to the IRS and worked out a plan. I made myself a role model. I kept smiling. I stopped my negative self-talk. I practiced self-love, self-compassion. It became numbers and excel spreadsheets. I asked for what I needed. I embraced myself. I spoke honestly with agents and institutions, and I thanked them. I was present and accountable. I trusted things would work out, even if it meant I would have to go to jail. It was a relief to have the mess out in the open. I stopped loathing myself. I accepted my process. When thoughts of humiliation came to mind, I practiced a mantra: I am a good person; I love myself; I walk with my head held high. I stay honest with my feelings and speak from my truth. Today, I am debt free. All my taxes are paid. I barely remember the pain of carrying that burden. But I took to heart this lesson in humility. Humility means facing a situation without my ego attached to the outcome. I remind myself I am a good person if I do something that doesn’t align with my values of honesty, openness, and respect. If I have done something to be ashamed of, I correct my mistakes and make amends. I hold my head high loving my scared inner child through the whole process. Humility is about facing everything with expectancy, willingness, acceptance. And love.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.” - C.S. Lewis

Participants’ Reflections:

  • The first thing that came to me was help. How hard it is to learn to ask for help. I began to look back at me as a kid and me as a parent. One of the things now that is helpful, when I see new parents talking to their children and the children are frustrated, the parents are saying, “Do you need help? Let me help you.” That’s pre-verbal. Eventually, the child understands and it is second nature that when one is having trouble, one asks for help. When I grew up, that wasn’t it. No one assumed I needed help. Thank you for the reflection.

  • Thank you very much for being so vulnerable. We have a son who recently won an award and he put the word ‘humble’ in the materials he had to write to document it. My spouse thought people would misunderstand his use of the word. In society, humble sometimes means one is weak, meek, and self-effacing. That’s not what my son meant. It meant to him that he asks for help and he wants to be the best teacher for the kids. He thinks the kids deserve that. He is ambitious too. But ambitious and humility can exist in the same person because he wants to be that good for the kids, not for himself. Which is what you are talking about. That helped me get that seeming paradox about being ambitious and humble.

  • I like the definition of humility being not having your ego attached to it.

  • Thank you for telling us that story. I was anxious with you and then relieved that you found your way out. What stood out for me was the C.S. Lewis quote. When we are beating up on ourselves, we are focused on ourself and not looking at the rest of the world. It reminded me of a phrase that has helped me ‘hold it loosely.’ When we hold something loosely, light can get to it. You can see spaces in between. That was the shift I made yesterday in the journaling practice. From beating up on myself, I realized I was holding myself up to a standard of perfection in every way. In the journaling, I was able to see that I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was. Thank you for the process, for your vulnerability and sharing with us and inviting us to be who we are and face what we have.

  • Thank you. I was not sure where you were going with all that and I couldn’t imagine you in a jail. I grew up always hearing that ‘you’ve got to always pull your own little red wagon.’ Maybe that’s true when you are little. But as we get older, the wagon gets heavier. I’ve spent a big part of my life and it’s still hard to ask for help. I’m independent. I can take care of myself. I love it when people ask me for help, I love whatever I can do for a friend.

  • Something happened yesterday that really affected me. I needed gasoline and I found a station where there wasn’t a long wait, only four cars in front of me. I got to the pump and it said ‘out of gas.’ I talked to the people behind me to let me back up. Plus I was on the wrong side of the pump and had to manipulate my car closer to the pump. One person got upset about my difficulties and he gave me the finger and it really upset me. I offered to pay for his gas. He started shouting at me. Maybe I needed to talk about it this morning. I’m telling myself to let it go because he was a perfect stranger but I’m having trouble doing that. I thought about the times I’ve gotten mad at people and took it out on them. Maybe I’ll learn from this to be gentle with people. We make mistakes in life. What you did took longer to resolve. We need each other and we need to be patient with each other.

  • It’s tough to stay in acceptance when I want something and I think someone is in my way of getting it. That was his agenda. But we start accepting their agenda, thinking we are bad because someone thinks we are bad. The goal is to let it go.

  • The thing I am left with is I wonder what is making him so unhappy. I have softened from anger to feeling empathetic towards him.

  • Thank you. I’ve been learning to just expect that the help will be there when I need it. It helps the neighborhood I live in. Also, being open to it—this is what I need and it will come. In the past few weeks, I’ve had experiences of this. I found a piece of furniture that I needed in a thrift store. I had no idea how to get it home, but complete strangers walked by and helped me. It happened again with a dresser I found on a lawn. Strangers and friends helped me get it home. They were happy to do it. I’ve learned that. It’s a gift to let someone help you.

  • That’s a lesson in expectancy, living in expectancy instead of fears and expectations, saying I’m not going to be able to do this. Instead, saying ‘I don’t know how to do this, but the universe will help me figure it out.’ A great reminder. Thank you.

  • Thank you for your honesty. I related to the shame as it grew and grew. That’s what I do when I feel ashamed of my behavior, I want to make it secret and hold it inside. I think that’s a huge pattern that needs to be released. I work at it and sometimes it comes out and sometimes it doesn’t. I just moved and it stirred up things in terms of what people are talking about. Asking for help is a growth process for me. I recently have thought about who am I going to ask for help. I notice that and realize the moving process put me in a position where I couldn’t do what I am used to doing. I’m used to looking to my spouse for help, but he no longer can help. I have friends I can reach out to.

  • This thing about humility. I am participating in an anti-racism event next week and we’ve gotten some negative comments on an article that’s been published about it. I wanted to respond to the comments but I didn’t want to put my name on my reply. I realized I was hiding out of fear. I have admitted it. That’s part of my process of being in humility, that I admit I am in fear. Now I have awarenesses for new choices. It’s an ongoing process accepting ourselves where we are.

  • Thank you for joining me on this ongoing adventure. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. We all learn from each other’s wisdom and journey. I’m appreciative that you are here and I thank you. I hope you go out into this day and have a gentle, blessed day thinking about what it means to be in humility versus humiliation. Be grateful for yourself and for everyone.

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