Right now I'm reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown which is the sequel to Daring Greatly; a book about how being vulnerable incites a revolution of the heart and of interpersonal relationships. Rising Strong is about getting back up off your feet after a fall. The "fall" can be defined as being vulnerable and the risk inherent or it can be defined as making a mistake or being hurt by the mistakes of others. If you know me at all you know that I am going through counseling and it's precisely because I am face down on the floor of the arena of life and I'm not quite sure how to get back up. I can't stop talking about my experience of counseling within my community because I feel stuck and overwhelmed. Those two emotions are enough to shut me down like a transformer blowing and shutting down the electric grid of a city. This is a recurring pattern and a problem of power. The city of my soul is unsustainable. This aligns with Brown when she says:
When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don't go away; instead, they own us, they define us.
I have let my surge in emotional energy suck me down into a pit and I am over it. The other night, in an attempt to feel anything at all, I drove to Mt. Tabor with my journal and I Will Follow You Into The Dark by Death Cab for Cutie humming out my phone speaker. I used to be so good at feeling. I'm a "high-feeler" and so ordinarily almost anything can get me to cry- tears of happiness or despair. The only emotion I could force out of my body in the moment was anger at these punk kids that parked right behind me, got out of their car, and walked right in front of my view of the city and it's lights to take photos with the flash on. They had the FLASH on for photos of the city at night. So dumb. The only real feeling scrawled out onto the page I had open in my journal is "YOU ASSHOLES. YOU ARE STANDING IN MY VIEWPOINT". And so I drove home angry and frustrated.
The truth is, I am often times the one standing in my own viewpoint. I have shut down so often and so much that it's becoming harder and harder to connect. And I desperately want to. I'm asking myself as Brown does:
How do we reckon with emotion rather than off-load it?
And her answer is simple:
Give yourself permission to feel emotion, get curious about it, pay attention to it, and practice. This work takes practice. Awkward, uncomfortable practice.
I woke up this morning and made a list of all the things I'm feeling. My list is currently two 8x10 pages long. It feels like too much; so much so that I cringe even looking at it. But isn't that what happens when we begin the rehabilitation process? We think "This is stupid! I want this to be fixed now! I want to be able to feel without all this work." And the truth is it shouldn't have to get to this point. But when it does you have to be willing to flex the emotional muscles you didn't even know you had. I recently read an article about rehabilitating people to walk who have been paraplegic for years. Rehabilitation of this kind has seemed so impossible that many have lived with the loss of their bodies ability to move around. And yet a new discovery has been made; that if you place people who can't walk into a machine that can move their legs for them and simulate walking you can eventually, after repeated occurrences, create new pathways in the brain and new nerves in the legs that will allow for walking with no assistance. To me, even though it's steeped in science, this is nothing short of a miracle.
This idea is not so different with our emotions. I think this is why my friends, and our culture, is pretty obsessed with cathartic experiences. Being at the point of having to experience external stimuli to make me feel is not ideal. But when I'm there, when I've fallen and don't know how to get back up, when I feel so overwhelmed my body refuses to feel, I know I need tools to get me back into feeling. Journaling is one of those things. Creating art is another. Listening to music is also very healing. But I think most of all being vulnerable and allowing myself to feel in front of others is going to be the first step back home. And that's hard to listen to because I'm introverted. But I need other people. I need safe people who have space for me. And I hope that, if you are face down on the floor of the arena like me and if you are trying to rise after a fall, you can see that you need other people too and that someone has space for you and all that you feel.