For the last couple of months I’ve found myself in the pickle of “feeling all the feels” as I like to say. For those of you who live a more sophisticated life than I do, this means that I have — for lack of a better phrase, obviously — been overcome with a lot of different feelings. Don’t even know the names of some of them, where they came from, if/when they’re leaving. Or if they’ll rear their ugly little heads in the worst or most inconvenient of times. Even after the world’s extensive (collective) research on feelings, there’s a lot I still don’t know. And it’s not for a lack of trying.
Remember that time you played goalie in middle school and you were of course being pitted against the most aggressive and accurate shooter from the opposing team? Let’s just be honest, your team’s defense was nothing to write home about. Anyway, it came down to this. Your forehead vs. the ball. And your forehead may be the only body part that you may be able to thrust into the way of said ball in order to prohibit the other team from scoring. That was always my strategy, anyway.
What ended up happening was that I would get nailed exactly halfway between each eyeball with the tough pleathery ball — I was often left on the floor with a rush of pain and impulse to burst into a million pieces whilst flooding the room with my crocodile tears. But I NEVER wanted to let it get that far. I would always secretly remind myself “you can cry later, when no one’s looking.” I felt like being pelted with soccer balls was painful, yes, but not so painful that it would justify a public display of emotion or hurt. I was 8.
I had to let go of that strict “cry only in private” a long time ago. Since then it’s gotten easier for me to let my emotions run wild (for better or for worse). But there have been many times lately where the feelings and responses aren’t so cut and dry.
Milestones can be the times and places where we find a lot of conflict like this. Anniversaries of deaths, goodbyes, cross-country moves, graduations, mistakes and injuries, arguments, sobriety, relapse, relationships. There are both good and bad things that happen on the daily, and I was starting to make myself silly by trying to create a single file line and just feel one at a time. On so many occasions I have felt like screaming “PICK A NUMBER, PEOPLE!” It ain’t that simple.
In a moment of utter exhaustion and engulfed in my own emotions, my good friend reminded me that “the biggest disservice you can do to yourself is to not let yourself feel what you NEED to feel to deal with the grief either though busyness or by making yourself feel like you shouldn’t feel that way.”
Sidebar note: this girl could write self-help because she’s been writing my recovery over and over again.
As social as I am and as busy as I like to be, I’ve realized I have a tendency to busy myself when I (a) don’t want to deal with emotion at all, or (b) know that there’s a lot of emotions to deal with, but don’t know how to start. What a disservice.
It all got me thinking about what one should and shouldn’t feel. The reality is this: only you have experienced your life. Someone may have gone through the exact same thing you’ve gone through and experienced joy or relief. And here you are — a mess. Feeling like you’re dying a slow death on most days, and a quicker death on others. Or maybe you’re experiencing a mix of both! Those, to me, are the most confusing.
Empathy is great but it can only get you so far. I don’t live for empathy. It’s necessary, but it doesn’t help me to feel my feelings because only I can do that. Empathy can, however, be a mirror. It can remind me that others have been through similar things. That doesn’t mean there’s a precedent or that there’s a rule-book for how to push through/carry on/get over or out/etc. It just serves as a reminder that we’re not sitting so far apart on this long-ass roller coaster ride.
How can joy reside in such dark places? How does sorrow find its place in some of our greatest accomplishments? I don’t know. But thank God there’s joy somewhere, sometimes. Because life does get ugly.
What my friend reminded me of is 100% true. And on top of that, it has reminded me that it’s okay to feel it all, even at the same time. Just don’t not do it. (Yep, double negative. I don’t even care.)
So go play goalie. And cry when you get hit in the face if you want to. No one will think you’re a coward. They’ll just breathe a sigh of relief to know that you are human too.