Our emotions, the ones we aren’t supposed to have, are directly tied to some of our deepest values. They are there because things that are important to us have occurred. When we lose someone, we grieve because we loved them. We cry because it hurt to lose them. Those emotions indicate the depth of things that are of value to us. In that there is something so very right.
Yet, we’ve been socialized to believe that we shouldn’t grieve, feel sad or anxious. Still we do feel because life happens and it isn’t all pretty. Having those feelings indicate that something is wrong; that we are abnormal, different than the rest. So when those emotions show up we fight to get rid of them, to not be abnormal, to not be different. But we do feel them, all of them, at different points. So we are stuck feeling that we shouldn’t feel what we do and that feeling it indicates that we are wrong, weak, and broken. In that we grab at so many mindless things in an attempt to cope and change how we feel. I want to feel better so I grab chips, a beer, or my iPhone. I binge watch a season of the latest rave on Netflix and drown my sorrows. At the bottom of the bag, bottle or the end of the season I wake up somewhat zombie like and try to step back into my life. Don’t get me wrong, at the right time and in the right place I can happily eat a bag of lays, share a bottle of wine and binge on Netflix with no regrets. It’s the timing that’s key.
When I grab at those things in an effort to escape my own experience, I lose part of me. My sadness, shame, anxiety and grief speak volumes about who I am, what’s important to me and what I want my life to be about if I am willing to have them.
I wrote this FB entry 2 years ago. My wife’s cousin died suddenly 7 yrs ago today. It was tragic. She was too young. A mom. Full of life. And it hurt. I sat with it for a while and struggled to experience my grief, my wife’s grief and understand what does it mean… Here were my thoughts:
Honouring your life requires that your death be ever present in our minds. It was too early. To soon. Not expected. It hurts. It feels wrong. Yet here we are in your absence. We are given moments to live. We continue. The past is complete; the future not guaranteed. Honouring your death requires that we allow it – your sudden loss – to impact the moments we are given. The now. The challenge is not allowing those moments to pass without living. See there is the loss. How can we honour your memory if we are not changed? how can we honour your memory if we exist without life. We are – if we honour you with a legacy where your life and death change ours – obligated to live differently. We are required to let the grief that fills us move us to moments of life where we live differently and fight for the moments that you miss. Honouring your death means fighting to live. Fighting for smiles. Fighting for laughs. Fighting for compassion. Fighting for love. Fighting for sorrow and moments of vulnerability where we share authentic reality. In this there is both vitality and honour. In this, your death spurns us on to live differently; to love differently. In this you are not dead to us, but a memory ever present that reminds us to cherish each moment we are given – to live it to our fullest – because it may be our last.
When I reflect on Rebekah’s death the memory hurts, and I automatically desire to drown it, but that emotion and her memory stand strongly to remind me that I want to live, to have life and not when I come to die discover I drowned the very essence of who I am in a bag of lays and a Netflix series.
Our emotions are guiding and telling. They are mine after all. They show up in the moments that are important to me, stop me, and remind me what my values are. They give me a light to indicate where I should invest my actions and choices. They are, in essence helping me become more of who I am and less of what I’m not.
“Love and loss are poured from the same vessel. There is no way to turn away from what we have lost without turning away from what we have loved.” Kelly Wilson Ph. D.
I started my journey not willing to have some emotions; most of them actually. I had a deep sense that there was something that was fundamentally wrong with me because they were there. I’m glad, five years in, that I’ve learned to stop, ponder them with a little curiosity and wonder if they are here what do they have to teach me about who I am. I’ve learned that those emotions, aren’t what’s wrong with me, but the very thing that’s right with me.
There is science behind that journey: acceptance and commitment therapy. Our hope for Saturday afternoon is to walk far enough through some of these processes that we can leave looking at emotion from a different perspective by connecting it to our values and allowing it to empower us into our lives.