If you cringed over the book title Stop Being Mean to Yourself by Melody Beattie, you're not alone. It was recommended to me by a friend when I was still living in Belgium. He was quick to tell me not to be put off by the cheesy title, that this was a book worth reading. He assured me that while it was classified as a self-help book, it was really a story of self-discovery, and it had come to him during a pivotal time in his life and had a profound effect on his thinking.
I loved the story of how the book came into his hands. My friend was at the library with his young son and when it came time to check out, his son laid Stop Being Mean to Yourself on the counter with his other books. It was clearly a book beyond the scope of his reading skills as well as his presumed interests. Rather than set the "inappropriate" book aside, my friend let his son check it out and take it home. His son never attempted to read it, but one evening my friend opened its pages and found words he needed to hear to begin healing after a painful divorce. The book opened many doors in his heart and in his life.
When he recommended it to me in Belgium, I checked the English-language library there and they didn't have it. It wasn't available on interlibrary loan either. As soon as I moved back to the U.S., I checked my local library for the book and they didn't have it either. The author, Melody Beattie, is best known for her book Co-Dependent No More and this title, her follow-up to that enormously successful international bestseller, was not as popular. Despite the recommendation of a trusted friend, I wasn't sure I'd like the book and wasn't willing to invest in buying a copy at that time.
Soon I was absorbed in the travails of mending Crack House and trying to find peace in my life back in America. I put thoughts of the book aside. In January, when I made a commitment to myself to begin reading more and taking better care of myself, I remembered my friend's words, went online, and ordered the book immediately. When I finally picked it up last week, I burnt through its pages with passion, not a typical reading experience for me.
Stop Being Mean to Yourself reminded me of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, because it is the story of spiritual awakening wrapped in the story of a journey to foreign lands. Both authors embark on their trips not knowing what to expect but feeling driven to go, to move forward without expectations, to receive and to give whatever the journey offered along the way.
Melody Beattie travels to Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt in what she describes as a business trip, personal trip, and destiny trip. A former journalist, she considered the trip research for her next book, but it was a journey not about uncovering facts but finding truth. For this she was willing to venture alone into the Middle East, including the hills of war torn Algeria, a breeding ground for terrorists in 1996, the year she took her journey.
Beattie was twice detained and interrogated for hours by security personnel, and she uses these interrogations to frame her story, to take us along on her travels. As she explains her itinerary and motivations to her questioners and recounts her experiences, she begins to process what she has learned along the way.
"I had all sorts of illusions about this trip. I had dreams about traveling to the deepest parts of Africa, on safari. Maybe I'd learn something from the Pygmy tribes, some magical secrets to life. Or maybe I'd have a grand revelation in the pyramids about the mystery of life after death...What I learned about [instead] was the mystery of life before death."
Beattie lacks Gilbert's lyrical writing style and finely honed sense of humor, but she is nevertheless a skilled writer and storyteller, relating her adventures with a sense of suspense and excitement. Like Gilbert, she delivers her spiritual revelations with honesty and simplicity, embedding them in her travel tales. My copy of the book is tagged with Post-it notes marking the passages I want to re-read and reconsider, the truths I need to meditate on.
So even if the title puts you off, if the thought of self-help books makes you roll your eyes, if you think you already have all the answers to life's questions, give Stop Being Mean to Yourself a try. You might be surprised where its pages take you.