There is some popular rhetoric out there that negative feelings can be extinguished simply by overriding them with positive thinking and affirming thoughts. But we can’t wish the ugly stuff away.
Yeah I know. Damn it.
And what a well-oiled machine I have developed for ignoring, for dismissing, for arguing against my real experience: “I shouldn’t feel like this, it isn’t valid, it isn’t justified, it’s stupid, I don’t have the right!” This stale soliloquy, come to find out, is my red light. I am going to go out on a limb and assume I am not alone and that underneath, we often grapple with pervasive fear that keeps us from acknowledging the real story instead of holding on to the story we wish were true.
Who would I be if I admitted I felt this way?
Possibly human. Plausibly humble. Positively wise.
“Stating what is, even if what is is not “good,” is being more positive than pretending it’s good. It is connecting to something authentic, seeing it so we can change it, starting us in the direction of positive change instead of keeping us in the same place of denial – totally disconnected from what is. Which, ironically is really the negative scourge. Gratitude for what we have does not make pain go away. Sorry. Although gratitude can totally amp our connected worldview and lessen the effects of our pain, it doesn’t replace holding the space to feel our pain. Giving words to what needs to be felt is not being a whiner. It is a healthy part of the healing process. And it’s not weak – it takes strength to do. If you never acknowledge where you are, you will never be with it long enough to give compassion the right-of-way. You will never heal.” ~ Mary McInnis Meyer (Check out Mary McInnis Meyer’s whole post here.)
Oh what grief I could have saved myself in the first year of motherhood had I given permission to my own experience instead of comparing it with what I thought it “should” have been, the real or perceived experiences of other mothers! How much suffering I could have avoided if I could have allowed it to be just as it was: a mixed bag of beauty and painful growth, moments of despair and profound gratitude, anger, humility, redemption, so much letting go. So much grace.
And what great liberation we can find in the words of others who are brave enough to say the things we think we are not “supposed” to say. The things we may be ashamed of, the feelings and thoughts we have kept in the closet because maybe as long as we don’t look at them – as long as we don’t show them to anyone – maybe they really aren’t there. Maybe I can paint my experience differently, I can pretend I am the mom, the partner, the friend, the sister, the sibling I want to be. The one I “should” be. That is why words are so powerful and that is why truth sets us free. Hearing someone else’s truth often gives us the courage to speak our own. It doesn’t have to be pretty. But the real story is more beautiful that the one you had planned anyway.
Here in lies the practice. We keep coming back to unpack the closet. And we see that we are not our feelings at all, what a relief! We are so much more! Our feelings just tell us what our experience is. Having the courage to open the door and see what is really there. To greet our experience just as it is, with all of the ambiguity, juxtaposing desires, sometimes incongruent and contradictory feelings, both the light and dark – the full range and complexity of what it means to be a human living. And why should I want or expect to be anything more than what I am? A flower does not wish to be an oak, it just blossoms where it is! What a tragedy, if the flower spent all of it’s energy wishing to be a butterfly and missed the chance to bloom?
And it’s okay sometimes to say: “I can’t look at this right now. It is too uncomfortable. I am choosing to numb out because I don’t have the energy or courage yet to face this.” That is the practice too! Sometimes admitting that you are not ready to face something IS the most courageous act you can take in the moment.
We can’t wish the ugly stuff away. But there is better news: we don’t have to.
I am so thankful I have people surrounding me who I can be real with when shit gets real. It is measureless. And a partner who has his own shit but somehow we can unite to support each other. So when I am whining again: why do I always have to be the one having to accept a different story from the one I wanted? They can hold space and remind me of the amazing human being that I am and:
- a) forgive me for being temporarily daft
- b) gently – or bluntly – remind me that everyone is facing a different version of the story than they wanted. That is the path.
But: c) it really does suck sometimes
and furthermore: d) it’s okay to say so.
More folks telling the real story:
Karen Maezen Miller: Cheerio Road (I have written about Karen Maezen Mille’s work before.)
Mary McInnis Meyer: Real is the New Good
Other mamas who talk straight and skip the sugar coating:
Janelle Hanchett: Renegade Mothering
Lola Lolita: Scary Mommy
Meaghan O’Connell: Life is hard. Here is someone.
Biz Ellis and Theresa Thorn (podcast): One Bad Mother
Glynis Ratcliffe: The Joy of Cooking (for Little Assholes)
What other refreshing real voices are out there owning their story in all its raw, resplendent glory? I would love to hear from you.
Keep on keeping’ it real.