I woke up this morning in the middle of a vivid dream: I was with my 2 very small children and we were waiting for my then-husband to get out of jail. I have not had this dream in a long time. But I immediately felt betrayal, anger, and fear all over again, surprisingly fresh. I have not been in this situation for over 10 years now, as my ex was released quite a long time ago (after serving almost 4 years). And yet, emotions were still there- vivid and so tangible in my dream that I could taste the acidity from stomach acid that would just not stay down during that time, and almost reach out and touch my baby son’s soft hair as I wondered how to raise my kids alone with such a horrendous cloud over us. My chest was practically boiling with emotion.
My cousin Anne lost her adult son in a motorcycle accident; my friend Craig’s marriage unraveled after 20 years of marriage; my Dad is losing his physical prowess that framed his life for 76 years; my friend Michelle’s teenage daughter ran away and was gone for over 2 weeks; my new friend Chris lost her husbandin a freak snowmobile accident; and you have your own story. Getting to the other side of these feelings just seems impossible. And yet, we must.
My sweet friend Leanne has instructed me endlessly about getting through -not around, not over, not sideways, but through the emotions to the other side. I have perfect memory of her instructions, even if I cannot follow them. “Anne- There is no way around emotions,; we have to live, breathe, and swim in them before they will dissipate”. So I have more swimming to do…
The song Work by Jars of Clay (http://www.jarsofclay.com/ a really great Christian rock band) has a line “I have no fear of drowning, it’s the breathing that’s taking all this work” is so true. When I swim laps, the breathing part is much harder than the strokes needed to keep my body afloat. I always end up gasping and gurgling and grabbing for the mouthfuls of air until I slow down, don’t try to go so fast, and just try to find a rhythm.
All the emotions need to flow. I need to try as effortlessly as possible (a paradox?!) to breathe while swimming through them as they bubble up past me. Sometimes the same emotional situation will bubble up around me for weeks or months, (or decades?!) before it loses its toxic shock completely. My only job is to do as Dorie sang in the movie Finding Nemo “just keep swimming”.
This is not easy. We all grew up in dysfunctional families. Mine would rather work 20 hours straight doing the job of 8 draft horses than “relax” into bubbling noxious emotions. Paving new reactions to stimuli is anxiety-provoking work. Our brain’s neurons are not used to it, and they rebel by producing anxiety for our tender hearts to misinterpret as all kinds of other things rather than the good thing it actually is.
Letting myself experience intense emotions feels more like spewing garbage disposal waste from inside my heart and lungs than simple words like “feeling sad, or anger or jealously” implies.
This week, I have no list of 10 magic bullets to do to keep my head screwed on straight while surviving the Spewage Factor of life. But I DO KNOW when I am sneaking around the feelings. So here is a list of what I do when I am shirking my real work:
1. Not praying, basically avoiding God- I do this by staying up too late reading or watching TV or anything to keep my brain numbed
2. Working lots and lots of hours- letting the overly responsible draft horses move into my brain
3. Telling, talking and practically singing the whiny “I’m such a victim” song
4. Drinking and eating too much- thereby bloating my brain
5. Avoiding true sincere friends who look me in the eye and ask me how I am
6. Looking for a fresh face to distract me from myself
7. Arriving home with brand new shoes, clothes, dishes, books… stuff
8. Allowing my boundaries to flop over, particularly with my kids
9. Not sitting down quietly to allow the bubbles in
10. **The Kicker** Controlling others or being overly responsible for loved ones in my life who are capable of and need to take care of their own business without my interfering or my God-forbidden-unasked-for advice (which I am particularly gifted at giving!)
“Yet time, and showing up, turns most messes to compost, and something surprising may grow”. My favorite quote from my favorite author, Anne Lamott,in Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith. The mud and muck might just evolve into something wonderful and miraculous, if we can sit with it long enough to let it mature.