Let’s talk about our feelings. Or, at least my feelings. I really am not good at identifying feelings. I have been through hours of therapy over the years and one of the biggest take-aways has been that I am terrible at addressing, accepting, identifying, acknowledging and sharing my feelings. I am really good at expressing my thoughts and opinions, but apparently, those aren’t the same thing. I am not lying when I tell you that I actually have a list I printed off a website (something like “Feelings for Dummies”) so I could peruse a list of feelings and check them off if I was experiencing them. Like Multiple Choice. So, now that I have laid the foundation for my entry today, let us continue…
Warning: this blog may be a bit “all over the place”, but that seems appropriate since we are talking about Feelings. Let me start by telling you about some of my history of not feeling or at least feeling emotions that are mis-labeled.
I remember having a conversation with my husband years ago about how angry I was at some friends. I was fired up and indignant about being left out of information I felt everyone else knew but me. I was ready to just move on and do life without any friends at all. Who needs ’em!? My husband listened patiently for a bit and then said something like, “‘Is it possible that your feelings are just hurt and that makes you sad?” And just like that, I burst into tears. He was right, I was sad and wounded. Anger just felt like a powerful way to express myself. Those other kinds of emotions feel vulnerable and that is extremely hard for me.
Next: When I had Leukemia and didn’t know it yet, there were several symptoms that were unexplainable. No one, including me, could put a finger on anything that might lead to a diagnosis or solution. I was tormented with possible scenarios. I was aware of myself enough to know that life had thrown our family some pretty big curve balls over the past couple of years and that I was barely coping with them. One symptom of my stress was that I didn’t feel anything at all. No highs. No lows. No joy, anger, relief, sadness, fear. It was all the same: numbness.
I began to believe that maybe the permanent lump in my throat was a cluster of emotions that were “stuck” in me–that my many other symptoms were my body’s way of clueing me in that I had some junk that needed to be brought to the surface. I’d stuffed it down so long, it was logical to me that it would start manifesting itself physically. Unfortunately, it was actually Leukemia, but the other conclusion still makes sense to me.
Though I am getting better at identifying my emotions, mostly due to 12-Step recovery principles, I still struggle identifying, dealing with and accepting my emotions. I was reminded of this in full color when I was in California helping my college student get settled. More specifically, I was kicked in the teeth with the realization that I had been stuffing some significant feelings about him being 21, not needing me, living in an apartment, and probably (and hopefully) never living at home again.
And here’s the main problem with not dealing with your emotions as they come; they tend to sneak up and surprise you when you are not expecting them. Something cracks the dam and they come gushing out sideways in the middle of Goodwill over a $9.00 lamp and a $3.00 picture frame.
You act like a lunatic because you chose to “deal with it later” when you felt that sadness and fear and concern come on you during the summer. But today is the “later” and you have dozens of emotions that are spinning in you like a tornado. And the damage is the same; random and powerful.
While I was in California, when circumstances were threatening to overwhelm me, a wise friend said “sometimes you just have to do your job. You can set your emotions on the shelf for a bit. They can come out later for a visit. But they can’t visit right now.” That was a very helpful perspective that got me through the next few hours of crucial decisions I had to make. But as I thought more about it, I said to her, “the problem for me is that I tend to forget to invite them to come for a visit so they just pop in and surprise me when I least expect it!” Like, in the middle of Goodwill, for pete’s sake.
As I sat to write this morning I prayed and asked God what exactly He wanted me to say. I was floundering a bit between a few struggles I have been having that I wanted to get out of my head. And, as usual, He showed me. I was leaning towards writing about this “Feelings” crap, but wasn’t convinced that’s what He had in mind. I turned to the reading for this date in my Recovery book and I started to cry. Here is what one of the paragraphs said:
“…I have learned that feelings aren’t shortcomings. The true nature of my problem was my stubborn refusal to acknowledge feelings, to accept them, and to let them go. I have very little power over what feelings arise, but what I choose to do about them is my responsibility. Today I can accept my feelings, share about them with others, recognize that they are feelings, not facts, and then let them go.”
God gave me feelings and the ability, with His help, to handle each of them. Sequestering them on a shelf or shoving them deep down in my soul only leaves me susceptible to surprise visits. It’s ever so much easier to deal with my feelings one at a time.
Maybe you struggle with this too. Let me know if you need my list of emotions for dummies and join me in doing the work of identifying, accepting and letting go of your feelings before they do what mine did last week. Trust me, it’s not pretty.