I used to ask my therapist what I was supposed to do with all of my bad feelings. “Feelings aren’t good or bad,” she’d say. “Feelings just are. The only thing you can do is feel them.” She was only partly right, as it turns out. The other thing I can do is run from them – but that never seems to work out very well for me.
A few weeks ago, when Jay’s sentencing was looming, I was really struggling with – well, with everything. I couldn’t concentrate, I found it difficult to connect with Jared and the kids, and I felt frustrated that I wasn’t able to control my attitude or mood. It was as if I was stuck in an infomercial for a bad self-help book with a constant loop of affirmative chatter running through my head.
I grabbed on to every thought I had and questioned whether or not it was appropriate.
I analyzed every feeling and judged it as good or bad.
I tried to will myself into a happy place of acceptance.
I knew what I was doing. I knew that I was trying to handle the pain instead of feel it. I was trying to do what a happy person is supposed to do. I was trying to be highly evolved and emotionally mature and, as my mom would say, “all zen and shit.”
All that trying to be “better” was getting in the way.
In my effort to control my thoughts, I’d become completely disconnected with my feelings.
Finally, after spending a few hours with my mom – who lets me be whatever the heck I need to be in that moment – I found myself crying alone in the car as I drove back to my in-laws’ house.
I stopped trying to be present, and instead I was afraid.
I stopped trying to be positive, and I let myself be pissed.
I stopped trying to find perspective, and allowed myself to be irrationally angry and sad.
Ah, there I was. I recognized myself instantly and was relieved to finally see the real me through all the mantra bullshit. I was relieved to feel, fully and authentically.
And then I started to let go.
It was the strangest thing. Once I let all of my irrational fears and ugly tears come flooding into the light, it was much easier to start making my peace with whatever I was afraid of. Letting go or being present or whatever was no longer a simple slogan, but a willful act.
This is a lesson I have to learn over and over again.
A week or two after my automotive crying jag, I had a panic attack in the guest room that Jared and I call home. I immediately got up from the bed where I was working beside him and went into the bathroom to try to breathe my way through it. When that didn’t work, I got in the shower and began to pace back and forth in the tub as the hot water ran over me. When that didn’t work, I sat on the toilet and cried.
Of course, that’s when Jared walked in.
I stopped crying and tried to smile, assuring him that everything was fine. He didn’t buy it and I let all my fears about our upcoming move come tumbling out.
“I’m sorry,” I cried. “I’m trying to be strong and supportive and positive!”
He laughed at me and put his arms around me.
“You have been all those things,” he said, “but it’s OK to be scared, too. Don’t ever not tell me when you’re scared because of how you think you’re supposed to be.”
He’s so smart sometimes.
Pretending not to be scared doesn’t make the fear go away.
In fact, pretending to be anything doesn’t seem to do much good at all.
The only way, it seems, to be brave is to admit you are afraid. And then choose courage.
The only way to be present is to acknowledge you’re uncertain about the future. And then choose faith.
The only way to have peace is to let yourself see the chaos and pain around you. And then choose hope.
Yes, happiness is always an option. But a real decision can only be made when you are honest about all of the choices. And you can’t, as it turns out, even feel happiness if you’re running away from your feelings.
Someone needs to help me remember that.