Updated: Jul 28, 2020
One must lose one's life in order to find it. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh
It seems for the first few decades of our lives we are trying to build ourselves up so that we acquire things, talents, responsibilities, and reputations, but lose track along the way of who we are and what we most want for ourselves. Everything we work so hard for in our thirties in effort to feel accomplished and valued many of us let go of completely in our forties. We seek to simplify, minimize, inviting more stillness and joy into our lives.
Others though, can't separate themselves from the identity they have acquired, but still have this underlying fear that they can't continue living this way. In effort to keep it together, they reach for another easy fix. Maybe this is a drink, maybe a drug, a snack, maybe a temporary partner, or maybe just a small piece of chocolate, several times a day, but we tell ourselves this is a temporary lapse, a well deserved pat on the back. We'll get back on track tomorrow.
Many times I'll meet with clients who are concerned they need an anti-anxiety or anti-depressive medication but, also share that they really don't want to take medications. They want to feel healthy, but haven't a clue how to capture that. They're hopeless and feel very defeated. After listening to them describe their burdens I realize that what they are sharing isn't necessarily pathologic emotions or imbalance, but rather an immense amount of tolerance to toxic behaviors and environments that have caused such overwhelm that they no longer have time to feel their emotions. Maybe they are exploding and angry, but still they are expressing themselves in a way that builds walls around hurt and pain they don't want to feel. It's easier to be mad than it is to express hurt feelings. It's easier even to rage on occasion than it is to admit this person you've invested so much in is completely toxic, and now you need to protect yourself and walk away.
No one wants to cry. Even if we can accept that it doesn't make us weak, we simply haven't the time for feelings. After many months of meeting with my own therapist, I was sharing with her experiences in which I felt I had better identified toxic situations and protected myself with healthier boundaries. I was grateful for my growth, but as I eagerly shared my progress tears began to flow. I was having more difficulty articulating myself, which grew increasingly frustrating. I wasn't even sure where all these emotions were coming from and admittedly, they were all a little unfamiliar to me. Exacerbated, I finally said, "I am so sorry I keep crying. I don't know why I am and I know I am wasting a lot of time." To that she slapped her legs and said, "Oh Penny, and just when I thought we had come so far!"
I see the same in my own clients. As they get healthier, implement self-care and start prioritizing their own needs, they begin to feel their own emotions again but this is when they feel as if they are falling apart and need to pull themselves together! One shared with me that as she was getting her eyebrows threaded and the pain caused an overwhelm of emotions. Once the tears started to flow, she unleashed years of hurt and then felt as if she was unstable, wondering if she was losing her mind. However, I felt nothing but thrill for her as she described the memories that surfaced and the feelings that followed. She had buried these for so long and they were significant! She was describing profound trauma but didn't appreciate that her intense feelings were a normal, healthy response. Trauma should create huge emotions as these are designed to motivate action for self-protection.
The number of times I've cared for clients who have lost a loved one or who were juggling way too many responsibilities after just having a baby and were given pharmaceuticals from their provider rather than encouragement to find space to safely face their emotions and draw healthy boundaries for themselves is heart-wrenching. When a mother returns to work soon after birth and leaves her child behind, she should feel separation anxiety! Crying and anxiety in this circumstance is a healthy response to a healthy bond between mom and child that is now under threat. This is not pathologic and does not need numbing by medication because we don't want to take the time to strategize a more creative solution.
We can't avoid dealing with these emotions and live our best lives. In my mind, when clients share these experiences, I often feel as if they are finally breaking through. This is healing! We detox our kidneys and liver, and cleanse our guts. We accept this as healthy and necessary. Our bodies also hoard emotions we can't fully express immediately and at some point, we need to make time for an emotional detox. If our burden is traumatic, then it may require a bit more work to release them. We may need more time. We may need a therapist to help us see more clearly. We may need to feel these emotions several times as their impact dampens and finally releases from our body completely. Many of us can identify with how refreshing it can be to watch a few sappy movies so we can get out a really good cry.
Denial is a huge barrier to emotional detoxing however. It can be really hard to admit to oneself that they've lost their child, that they chose the wrong partner, that they could have made better decisions a long time ago. Burying emotions just feels safer. Holding on to our illusions provide us security. Humility can draw blood. For many, giving up control is exactly what is necessary to experience healing. Our bodies become ill sometimes because we just can't hold it all together any longer. If only we could embrace our emotions as we do sleep, handing ourselves over to the forces of nature to be restored, recharged, and renewed.
We simply weren't created to be stable. Nothing really is in fact, very stable. Our planet moves through seasons. Our oceans have tides. Our moon moves through cycles. Plants and animals change daily from our initial sprout to our last breath. It is exhausting trying to control something that is meant to be uncertain. However, the body wants to heal itself. We can find balance in the instability. Sometimes we need to fall, to really let go, to experience our greatest growth.