Wow. Yes. Sitting in emotion is rough. Burying it is way easier. I stuffed and buried like my life depended on it.
The thing about NOT sitting in emotion is that the emotion doesn’t stay locked inside forever. It does not remain stuffed inside. Those strong, buried emotions become like play doh in a fun factory- when squeezed tight, it comes out through every crack and hole and crevice exploding out into the world around it.
I learned this the hard way.
Sometimes avoiding emotion is a way to cope and survive. It’s a mechanism that allows us to continue on in a circumstance. When my daughter was rushed to the emergency room at 10 days old and given life-saving measures like intubation and blood transfusions, my adrenaline took over and I was in full mama bear mode. It was later that week, once she was settled into the intensive care unit and my son was with grandparents that I fully fell apart and started to feel all of what had taken place. The shock and trauma of her month-long ICU hospital stay took weeks to sink in and be processed by my brain and body. For awhile, even after she was stronger, I had flashbacks of finding her lifeless and barely breathing. These flashbacks were terrifying, even though I knew she was on the other side of it.
I think of stuffing emotion as the daily occurrence to just not deal/avoid/bury/shut down. Oftentimes we’ve decided or learned that emotions are not safe to feel, and that crying is not tolerated or appreciated. I get why people become addicts. Feeling pain is not enjoyable. Shopping, eating, drinking, smoking…. whatever…. can numb it away and distract us. I’ve never been so tempted in my life to reach for all of those things. I just can’t though. I’ve worked hard in therapy and through the love of my close friends to drudge up the gunk and pain and yucky. It hurts. It really does. And I can’t always deal with it- not in an open-searing-wound sort of way. I have to be strong for my kids and work and move through my life and forward. But this new life of non-stuffing and pro-dealing-with-shit is a long process of being willing to feel and explore and be vulnerable. For me, it involves verbally processing what I’m feeling with a friend until I am more connected to what’s going on inside of me. And then I let myself feel it. And then I move to do something healthy with it…. like go to bed early if I’m exhausted from all the emotion. Or watch a funny movie. Or take a bike ride. Or make a delicious new recipe. Or invite some peeps out. Or journal about it. Or play the piano. Or play a game with my babes. Basically I just live my life while feeling. As simple as it sounds, it’s a newer concept for me.
A turning point for me was when I did a workshop on feelings and art. The instructor asked us to do a marking/scribble/jot/whatever with a paint brush in whatever color felt like anger and put it on our paper. I did the same for happiness. For peace. For sadness. She then interpreted what those markings were likely saying. My anger “mark” was in red and started up high and went diagonally down to the right. She told me that indicates stuffing that anger down deep and that maybe I don’t think I’m allowed to feel it. One of my close friends was also in the workshop sitting next to me and said, “oh that’s true, you totally do that.” I stared at the mark in red. Really? I did? I never thought of myself as an angry person. But that was because I was Christian and didn’t think I was allowed to feel all of the anger and feelings that I felt.
Feelings are a part of life. What we do with them matters. The more I went to therapy and dug into those feelings I realized I had reasons to be angry and to feel that anger. The anger was present. I had to acknowledge and deal.
After the anger came the grief. And good grief, that was heavy.
At one point I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling these emotions so strongly. In the middle of breaking down, I realized that it was grief from a decade, not just an event. It was anger from years of pain and sadness bursting forth out of my heart and into my consciousness. I wasn’t crying just from the current set of circumstances, but from the years of sadness that I never let out before. I felt like my body was busting at the seams with emotion.
So I felt it. And then I carried on.
Isn’t that all any of us can do when faced with the death of someone or some thing? Someone told me to have a good cry, take a shot and then put lipstick on and face the world. Sage advice.