The last 2 nights sleep has eluded me. I lay there trying to let go and sleep, but in vain. Something inside me is demanding my attention, but I’m trying to ignore it. I think I can win by reading or just lying there willing myself to sleep, but after 3 hours I give in. I begin to listen, and what I hear is both upsetting and transformational at the same time; I believe feeling pain is a weakness.
Actually, most people believe that feeling our pain is a weakness, and that being stoic makes us strong. I have spent time living in England and later in Ireland, and this theme became really apparent to me in that part of the world. I hated how people held their emotions in, but at the same time I was ashamed that I couldn’t do the same. When I was pregnant with my first child, a strange thing began to happen, whenever I would chop an onion I would cry. Now I had cried once or twice before when chopping an onion but now it happened without fail, but on the other hand I could not cry when I was sad. I had grown up being a crier, although I wasn’t proud of it and felt rather ashamed of myself, crying at movies or something on TV. It also made me cry to see someone getting picked on and I felt weak for it, when really I wished that I could stand up for that person, instead of just standing there crying. Being in Ireland, my feeling of shame and weakness for being emotional intensified. I looked at these Irish women who were so ‘strong’. They seemed able to cope with so much and still ‘get on with it,’ but this was clearly a facade.
When I owned my children’s shop in Dublin, it became a kind of therapy room. A safe place where women would come in ‘shopping,’ but leave with some transformational healing. I would talk to them about how they were feeling, they would cry, let go and then walk out refreshed and renewed. On some level I still didn’t see how this was helpful, because the next time I would see them, they might never mention the conversation. They probably felt a bit ashamed that they had cried with me, which made me feel as if I had done something wrong!
During this time the accumulation of pain, without an outlet, became overwhelming and I was becoming angrier and angrier. I have since been able to let myself cry but I’m aware that I’m still hateful towards myself for it, and for someone who helps others to feel and process their feelings, I am both shameful and relieved to see this about myself. I thought that I had worked through it before and gotten to the other side but it’s clear to me now that I’m still holding onto a false sense of ‘strength’.
I have written about this before, how I began this work because I wanted to help people, and most people who come to me cry the first time they meet me. Even when I meet people on the street and start talking to them about their feelings, a lot of people cry. My husband just shrugs and says, “She makes everyone cry!” It’s a release of the pain they’ve been holding in, and it is incredible to see the changes that can happen following this initial release. In my life I have endured an enormous amount of trauma, but what I have realized in the last few days is that, I have been seeing my experiences as a strength, like a badge of courage. Yes, I can say that the trauma has made me stronger, not simply because I have endured it but because I have delved deep into the pain to uncover the gifts that were there for me to find.
Living with my mother’s emotional roller coaster was overwhelming to me, and I’m sure it was not easy for her either. I can only imagine how she must have felt after her outbursts. I didn’t really understand what Valium was at the time, but I liked the way it would calm and subdue her. Sure, who wouldn’t want that! But what I realize now was that I learned about emotions through experiencing my mothers’ wildly erratic emotional landscape, which frightened me, and I in turn developed the need to turn off my feelings or ‘get over’ them quickly. I associated feelings with being bad. Even when I am overly happy about something, I feel shameful for it. If one emotion is bad, all are bad. I recognize that on some level my ability to ‘hold it together’ made me feel superior to my mother, or anyone else for that matter. Of course this was buried so deep in the subconscious that I feel shameful for saying it out loud now. Even though I thought that I’m comfortable writing this blog and baring my soul, I am in fact feeling a deep weakness (for being ’emotional’) and vulnerability (fear of being attacked for being emotional) by writing this. When I meet people who tell me my blog helps them I feel good, but if someone comments on the pain that I have shared, I feel like they are looking on me with pity for being so emotional.
So what to do? How can I let this go? The answer comes…open your heart. The fear of opening my heart and being judged for my feelings is like being ashamed for having a nose; we all have one! It’s about accepting that this is the way life is; Emotional, without it there is no life! Every day there are wars and murders and hurt caused by the suppression of emotions. When we allow ourselves to feel, without fear, we can go deeper and get to the understanding of what the emotion is telling us, which brings us peace and freedom. I will simply have to accept that feeling my emotions makes me weak and vulnerable and soft, and in doing so opens up my hardened heart, which gives me the strength to live a full life by embracing all experiences.