The Pain In The Feeling

What if pain—like love—is just a place brave people visit?
— Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir

The other day I spent the majority of the afternoon in bed. I wasn’t sick or physically tired but emotionally I was exhausted. The week had caught up with me and by the time Sunday was here, my heart and my head had enough. And so I let the pillows, blankets, and hum of traffic wrap me in their protective space, and for the first time all week I let myself feel. I cried out my worries, confusion, and pain. I cried myself to sleep and then cried some more, but by the time I left my bed I felt renewed. Those things that I cried over were no longer such a burden on my heart. 

There is a spectrum of thoughts (dare I say feelings?) out there about feelings: what you feel isn’t what you are, your feelings lie to you, don’t share your feelings, or get over your feelings and move on. I understand this because it’s how I’ve operated most of my life, but recently I’ve realized that none of these things are true for me anymore. How can I not be what I feel? I am my feelings. My feelings are me.

The feeling I struggle with the most is emotional pain. I’ve often been told I’m strong and people say things like they don’t know how I do it, or they wish they could be like me. In painful or sad situations I do tend to come off as “strong.” I’m calm and not overly emotional, but I’m not some superwoman fearlessly shouldering my pain and flinging out into the universe. The strong front is only a coping mechanism to deal with the pain, or more truthfully, to not deal with it.

Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.
— Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir

I have been an avoid-er. I’ve avoided feeling, accepting, and sharing pain my entire life. All this avoiding caught up with me when, a few years ago I almost lost my marriage to addiction, anxiety, and depression. The resulting pain was so strong that some flames broke through, but most of it I choked back, stamped out, and shoved down. I told myself I was strong and I just didn’t have time to deal with the pain. I was busy helping my husband recover, rebuilding a life, and taking care of a new one. But what I was really telling myself was I didn’t want to deal with it; instead of letting the fire out, I let it burn me up from the inside. Swallowing the pain, swallowing my feelings, did more damage than good.

Being a mother has taught me a few things about feelings. When my son cries it’s usually for a reason. He’s hurt, scared, unsure, angry, or a number of different emotions. As adults we’ve been conditioned to brush this off. “Oh you’re fine,” I find myself saying. “Stop crying,” I demand. But this is dismissive and tells him he’s not worthy of whatever he’s feeling in that moment. Why can’t I let him express and deal with his pain and fear? Why can’t I let myself? Slowly, I am. I’m starting to embrace the pain in the feeling. I have to be conscious about it, but now when pain flares, old or new, I recognize it, I welcome it, and I let it burn on the outside. I want to be a mother, wife, woman, and friend that loves fearlessly, hurts deeply, and celebrates wildly.

Today I invite you to join me. I invite you to feel whatever you’ve been avoiding. I invite you to find out what cracks your heart wide open, to breath out the fire, and let it burn until it’s created something beautiful. Today I invite you to feel.  

 JOURNALIST: Michelle Windsor