I believe this to be true...so why have I spent so much of my life trying to not feel? The lengths I have gone to, extreme. Pushed to the brink of insanity and death, I have attempted to live this life, free of feelings.
There have been times, many of them actually, where I have been in a good level of acceptance about my feelings. Of course, this only came after many years of sobriety and a faith that can only be achieved after many, many years of practice. In the beginning, I forget, it was hard, very hard to make it through one single day with all that I was feeling. Crushed, griped, held by feelings and fears that would have felt the same had they been nameless.
I am working with someone new to sobriety right now. Today is her sixth day...she is doing well, but I know that every single day is a crap shoot. I know all too well that at any moment, that beast will be upon her and she will do what she has to do to stop the maddening swell of feelings that threaten to drown her, literally.
The fact that she has made it this far, a testament to her fortitude and strength. She has beaten the odds and is using the only tools I know to stop the deafening madness that colors every thought and action. She is doing the work, and because she is, she is getting the reprieve.
I was watching a movie with my daughter and her friend last night, a rare treat since she her usual answer to this request is, “Ummm, no thanks.” But last night we sat and watched a movie. It was about a pig, but really, to me at least, it was about what grief does to a person. There were two examples: a man who apparently had it all, who lost his wife, and then left it all. Regulated himself to a tiny cabin in the woods where life was simple, peaceful and routine. Then there was the other man, equally grief stricken, who stayed in the fast lane life, hardened, angry, isolated yet not alone.
The man who lived in the woods was actually alone, except for his truffle sniffing pig. And then she was taken from him. The man who lived in the mansion was alone while being surrounded by people he despised, kept at distance, to include his only son.
And it made me think. “Yes, this is what grief does to you. Isn’t interesting how one man, left conventional life and lived in peace and harmony with his grief. While the other, chose to remain in the life he had but became hardened and callous to all the life that surrounded him...”
There is something to be said for chosing to allow grief to just take you, rather than fight it at every turn...
I have done both. I have felt the thickness of grief’s solidity, callousing me to life, and love and people and pets. I have been that person. I have taken all that has happened, all that I have lost and I have hated, been angry, hostile, upset and disturbed. I have been that person far too often I am afraid.
But I have also had moments, more than moments really, days and weeks and dare I say months, where I have been bursted open with grief. Laid bare and vulnerable by all that I felt and feel. I have hiked mountain tops, sobbing uncontrollably solely because I was overwhelmed with the beauty and how very much I felt a part of it I felt, even for a moment.
I have been chastened by grief, and I have been laid bare. How is that possible that one human being can be both? And I know that that particular journey is not over for me. No, not yet. It is always a choice. I get to choose how to respond. I think that we all are bent towards a particular direction, shutting down or opening up. For me, the struggle is always in the opening. I want to close. It is in my DNA. I want to protect, harden up, callous myself to life and all of its fucking feelings. But once I get there, instead of relief, I just get more pain. It is as if the tightness which pulls me inward, actually hardens me to life. The gravitational pull so all encompassing and strong that I am rendered motionless, unable to pull myself from myself, a human ball of muscle and sinew, unable to reach out and miserably uncomfortable in this position, yet, unable to change trajectory.
And as bad as all that feels, it pales in comparison to opening. To feeling. To allowing all the thoughts, feelings and stories to flood me. Honestly, I feel like Houdini in the straightjacket, submersed in water, hostage to my own ideas, thought and concepts. Held motionless, restrained and submerged. Unable to breathe, or move, feeling with every moment passing, life draining from me.
Sometimes, if I am honest, it just feels easier to give up. To just surrender to life and death and all of that right there. To just allow the circumstances of my life to bring about an end to all the struggle. To just allow myself to stop feeling.
But then, almost without my knowledge and surely without my consent, I begin again. The opening, the feelings stir and lurch me into motion. I will feel it because not feeling has become more painful than feeling. And I do the work required to free myself from my watery ordeal, held no longer by the bonds of my own misery and depression.
The struggle back to the surface, challenging and hard but once I take that first breath again, I know that all that was information I needed to see that the strategy of closing off and down, far more painful than the risk it takes to open.
As I watched the two men grieve, I saw myself in both. I was overcome with this belief that I found disturbing and refreshing at the same time: Life is meant to be felt. Sometimes the feelings are good and life supporting and other times they are decimating and life ending. Regardless, they are all meant to be felt, not shut down and off. They are meant to be entertained and survived. All of them.
It brought me such a peace. To know that life and all its feelings is what this whole fucking thing is about. It isn’t about avoiding or escaping. It is about finding the motherfucking bravery to stand on the shores of yourself and allow the tidal waves of feeling to overwhelm you, trusting that there will always be a raft, a swim, a rescue boat, unless you choose not to see them.
In physical form, I sat on my couch in my living room. Mentally I was transported elsewhere. Onto a large cliff on the side of myself. Rain pelting me, wind whipping my hair into a frenzy. Me rooted to myself, granting myself permission once again to be me, and to allow for life to be about feeling all the things I am privileged enough to experience: heartbreak, loss, grief, fear, love, joy, peaceful abiding, serenity and the great equalizer, boredom.
I am not sure how we all end up in this place where we believe that we are supposed to only seek the pleasurable things...given all my Buddhist reading and practice, I believe that is just how we come into this world. And most of us, live that way the whole of our lives. But some of us, and I will arrogantly place myself in this group, get to see that the only way to really live is to feel it all. To lean into the hard, difficult feelings, to allow myself room to be broken, abused, afraid and alone. To really feel those very hard things and to move forward on this life’s journey, content with the knowledge that to feel is to live, and it is not guaranteed to always be pleasant.
Painful or pleasurable, there are lessons in both. And the only thing that is more painful than feeling and living is trying to avoid both.